Republicans are trying to prime the ground for Obamacare repeal with a key message: The law was failing anyway.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, incoming Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and other top GOP leaders have kept up their barrage against the Affordable Care Act's premium increases and reduced competition, even after their massively successful election last month.
"This law is hurting families in America," Ryan said before Congress left Washington for the holidays.
"This law is canceling insurance plans people wanted, this law is giving people repeated double-digit premium increases, this law is raising deductibles so high it doesn't even feel like you have insurance," he said. "So you have to bring Obamacare relief as fast as we possibly can in 2017, and that is our plan."
Aware that they would bear the blame if millions of people lose their health plans, the Republicans are trying to frame their planned efforts to repeal the healthcare law not as an attack on health coverage but as a rescue effort.
Coverage for 22 million Americans is at stake if Congress ditches the healthcare law's Medicaid expansion, insurance subsidies and individual mandate without replacing them, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
That's why Republicans are insistent that they plan to repeal the law, but delay its demise to buy them some time to come up with a replacement.
"Once Obamacare is repealed, we will make sure there is a stable transition period so that people don't have the rug pulled out from under them," Ryan's office said this week in a statement, one in a series of Obamacare-themed releases this month.
Ryan unrolled a blueprint for replacing the law over the summer, but lawmakers haven't decided how closely their final plan will mimic it. So for now, they're arguing that whatever they come up with will certainly be better than President Obama's healthcare law.
"Coverage isn't healthcare," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady told reporters last week, after his members spent a day huddled over Obamacare strategy. "What American families are finding out … is this is not coverage they can afford.
"We are rolling up our sleeves as Ways and Means Republicans to develop this new approach to healthcare," Brady said.
The attacks on the healthcare law are nothing new. As marketplace insurers revealed double-digit premium increases over the past year, and some companies announced they're dropping out altogether under heavy financial losses, opponents of the healthcare law said their dire predictions about the law were coming true.
President-elect Trump regularly called the law a disaster and vowed on the campaign trail to repeal it. And Republicans held a practice vote early in 2016 for how they would repeal big parts of the law should their party win the White House.
But coming up with a health reform that works is much harder than attacking existing policies, and there's wide acknowledgement that it will be tricky for Republicans to agree on a replacement that provides wide access to coverage while bringing down costs.
Making things even tougher, fewer Americans want the healthcare law repealed now than before Trump won the presidential election. Fifty-two percent of Republicans say they want the law repealed, down from 69 percent who expressed that view before the election, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
So Republicans are laying the groundwork for repeal by hammering Obamacare's failings and downplaying it successes. Just because the law expanded coverage to millions more Americans doesn't mean it's good coverage, they argue.
Price, who soon will be leaving his post as House Budget Committee chairman, acknowledged the coverage expansions this week. But he argued that coverage doesn't equal care.
"Health insurance is only as valuable as a patient's ability to receive actual healthcare," his statement said. "And on that front, Obamacare is failing — actually reducing access to healthcare."
It's a message Republicans likely will continue advancing into next year, as they work to repeal the law and craft a replacement.
"It's clear #Obamacare is failing the American people — that's why we're focused on the tools it takes to repeal it," Ryan tweeted this week.