House Republicans began work on their version of a health-care overhaul, with top lawmakers offering early details of what GOP-led legislation could look like.
Although not specifying when legislation would hit the House floor, chairmen of four of the most powerful House committees said Thursday they would each start working on aspects of health-care legislation that falls under their jurisdiction.
Rep. John Kline (R. Minn.), the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said Republicans wouldn't be held to any "artificial deadlines" on the legislative effort.
Lawmakers said there was unlikely to be a single, comprehensive approach, as had been followed over the last two years by Democrats. Rather, there would be a series of smaller bills targeting specific areas of health care that Republicans want to overhaul.
Republicans said that would include limiting the ability of patients to sue medical professionals—a longtime GOP priority that had been left out of the Democratic law.
Earlier Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee held an initial hearing on overhauling "medical malpractice" laws. The panel's chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas) said "almost every physician" in the country was practicing "defensive medicine" because of the fear of getting sued. Changing this, he said, would bring the cost of health insurance down for everyone.
House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.) said his panel would begin work on legislation codifying a ban on any federal funding for abortions as part of any health-care law.
The issue was one of the most contentious during the health-care debate over the last two years, and the legislation only won final approval after Democratic leaders made repeated commitments to lawmakers in the House and Senate that no funding for abortions would be allowed as a result of the law.
Mr. Upton also said he was behind an effort to allow insurance companies to sell health insurance across state lines. The current law allows insurance firms to sell policies to people living in other states but obliges them to abide by the regulations in place in that other state.
A Republican House aide said the proposed change would allow people to shop for insurance policies in other states that are more suitable or cost effective for them.
The lawmakers declined to put a number on how many Americans they hoped their various efforts would extend medical insurance coverage to, saying their focus would be on bringing the costs for health insurance down, which would make it more affordable for those who are currently uninsured.
Ultimately, regardless of what legislation Republicans are successful in passing through the House, any substantive efforts at striking down key elements of the current law are almost certain to be blocked in the Senate.
Democrats view the health-care law as the signature domestic policy achievement of President Barack Obama's first two years in office, and are unwilling to countenance any efforts to radically overhaul it.
There are, however, narrow changes to the overhaul that the two parties' lawmakers could potentially agree to.
One could be an attempt to remove an onerous tax-reporting requirement on small businesses that was included in the health-care law to increase corporate tax collection in an attempt to help pay for the cost of the law. Small business owners have complained that the costs of complying with the measure far outweigh any benefits to it.
Democrats and Republicans support its repeal, but they disagree on how to fill the $19 billion hole in the health-care law that would be left behind.