(CNN)Angry Democrats say they have the perfect proof that Republicans don't yet have a plan to replace Obamacare: a draft legislation with a blank section labeled, "Placeholder."
Democrats mock 'placeholder' in GOP Obamacare bill
The bill, which is being written by Republican Rep. Greg Walden, is aimed at ensuring that people with pre-existing conditions are not denied coverage or charged higher premiums -- one of the most popular pillars of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. That unfinished legislation was one of four Obamacare-related draft bills that members of a House Energy subcommittee debated Thursday.
The seventh page of Walden's discussion draft ends abruptly under a section called, "Title II -- Continuous Coverage Incentive." It simply reads: "[Placeholder]."
Democrats were incredulous.
"I had to laugh when you said that the ACA was hastily built upon. I mean, the chairman's bill, literally, runs off the page," said Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, who waved the bill in the air from the dais. "Placeholder? Talk about hastily built. What is this, half-built?"
The subcommittee's top Democrat, Rep. Gene Green of Texas, referred to Republican proposals on Obamacare as "half-baked" and "alarming."
"It's truly fitting that today is Groundhog Day. Except unlike Bill Murray, it's not a comedy," Green said. "For seven years, we have asked Republicans to work with us to strengthen the ACA ... and for seven years, they told us they would not. This is real and not an abstract intellectual debate."
According to a committee aide, members of full Health Committee will receive a finished version of Walden's bill before the panel meets in the near future to mark up the legislation.
And Republicans insisted Thursday that the unfinished draft bill is hardly a sign that they don't have a plan -- but rather, proof that they are welcoming a range of outside input.
"This placeholder provides the clearest signal yet that we're working with patients and health care groups to draft language that balances important health statute protection with necessary risk mitigation tools," said GOP Rep. Susan Brooks.
Republicans do have ideas of how to handle those with pre-existing conditions even if they haven't yet committed pen to paper yet. And much of the input they received Thursday reiterated what's already in their talking points.
The GOP plan hinges on extending Obamacare's protections only to those who maintain continuous insurance coverage. Those who let their policies lapse, however, could find themselves excluded from the individual market or charged higher premiums for coverage. Republicans also want to cover these consumers by bringing back state-based high-risk pools, which were largely shuttered after the Obamacare exchanges opened in 2014.
This system would give younger and healthier adults a better incentive to remain insured than Obamacare's individual mandate, which penalizes those who lack coverage, said Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative American Action Forum. These young adults are key to making the system work because they offset the costs of those who are sicker.
Another plus is that high risk pools say that they would help keep premiums down for those in the individual market, while separately providing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
But critics fear that these consumers will receive inferior coverage in high risk pools -- many of whom were charged higher premiums and had waiting lists because they were underfunded. And they question whether a continuous coverage clause is really enough to draw in younger, healthier Americans when the threat of a penalty did not.
Walden acknowledged the balancing act at the start of the hearing. He noted that lawmakers should look to Medicare and prior federal health care laws for "guidance for the Congress as we consider how to best achieve the goals of protecting America's sickest patients and maintaining market stability. We can do both without Obamacare's unpopular individual mandate."