CTNewsJunkie file photo
Access Health CT center in New Britain (CTNewsJunkie file photo)

President-elected Donald Trump will have Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress when he takes office in January and he may use the advantage to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Last week, on the campaign trail Trump said he “will ask Congress to convene a special session so we can repeal and replace.” He called it a “catastrophe.”

During a press conference aired by C-SPAN Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said repealing Obamacare is “pretty high on our agenda as you know. I would be shocked if we didn’t move forward and keep our commitment to the American people.”

If Trump and the Republican Congress make good on the campaign promise millions could lose their health insurance, but Connecticut officials warned it’s not going to happen overnight.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who chairs the board of Access Health CT, which is Connecticut’s insurance exchange, said they don’t know what Trump really wants to do.

“Right now we’re serving over 800,000 people in this state with what you call Obamacare,” Wyman said. “We’re going to continue our program.”

There are more than 98,000 enrolled in plans with private carriers on Connecticut’s exchange and another 759,000 Medicaid recipients.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said they are urging people to understand their options and continue signing up for 2017 plans. Enrollment for plans that start in January began on Nov. 1. Enrollment goes until Jan. 31. Trump is expected to take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2017.

“No one should miss the opportunity to have coverage or continue to have coverage because of this,” Malloy said. “This is the peaceful transition of our leadership and we should do that which is best for ourselves and our families during that period of time.”

Wyman said that Connecticut has been a leader when it comes to implementing the ACA.

“Our leadership on healthcare is well-established. If there are any changes in the federal ACA, we will address them — and, as always, the priority will continue to be ensuring affordable, accessible, high-quality healthcare for our residents,” Wyman added.

It’s unclear if Connecticut would continue to operate its own exchange even if the federal government repealed the law. Before the ACA was passed, Connecticut explored options for creating its own exchange with a public option. Former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell ended up introducing her own health insurance plan for those with pre-existing conditions unable to purchase insurance in the private marketplace. That plan was discontinued when the exchange opened in 2014.

Connecticut was the first state, under Rell’s leadership, to agree to expand Medicaid. That expansion was supported largely by federal dollars.

The ACA, which was signed into law by Obama on March 23, 2010, requires individuals to purchase health insurance and each of those plans must include a benefit package that guarantees the coverage of certain medical procedures. It also requires insurance companies both on and off the exchange to make sure children can still access their parents insurance policy until the age of 26. Further, it requires insurance companies to cover individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.

Before the ACA, insurers could deny coverage to individuals who applied for their plans.

The ACA also provides tax subsidies to individuals making up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $97,000 for a family of four. The federal tax subsidies, which were challenged, were upheld in 2015 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2012, the court upheld the individual mandate.

It’s unclear what would happen if federal funding for parts of the ACA disappear, but U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy remained optimistic Wednesday that it wouldn’t be completely dismantled.

“I don’t think Republicans are so cold-hearted as to simply repeal a law and take health insurance away from 20 million Americans,” Murphy said. “Donald Trump stated in debates that his intention was to continue parts of the bill, like banning discrimination against pre-existing conditions.”

Murphy said they’ve been waiting for a Republican replacement plan to be offered for a long time.

“I think Republicans will find when they start to construct their ‘replacement’ plan that it likely won’t look much different than the law on the books,” Murphy added. “In the end, we may be talking about modifications to the existing law because it won’t be easy to replace it.”

Lynne Ide of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut said she hopes Murphy is right, but is slightly less optimistic.

“The post-election afterglow for Republicans will last a little while,” Ide said Wednesday.

She said any changes to the law would likely come in 2018, which means people will have at least another year under the current law. She said she understands how some of the recent headlines regarding large premium increases and skyrocketing prescription drug costs may have “whipped” some people into a frenzy, but she’s hoping cooler heads prevail.

It wasn’t that long ago that medical debt was responsible for more than half the personal bankruptcies in this country.

“It would be nice if we didn’t have to fight over a complete repeal of the law,” Ide added.