Republicans emerged from key meetings Wednesday cognizant of the challenges of repealing Obamacare and intent on avoiding the political pitfalls that cost Democrats their congressional majorities six years ago.

Congressional Republicans met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence to begin ironing out a strategy for replacing the Affordable Care Act with conservative healthcare reform.

They’re moving quickly to lay the groundwork for an overhaul of the system. But as to the details, that legislation will have to be developed deliberately and might not be ready for final passage for at least 12 months.

The goal, Republicans say, is to avoid unpopular disruptions — people losing doctors and coverage they like, for example — that soured voters on President Obama’s signature law and could boomerang on them in the 2018 midterm elections and cost them seats in Congress.

“We have to be careful,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told the Washington Examiner. “It has to be really well thought out.”

There are both policy and political challenges for President-elect Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill to consider as they navigate the complicated legislative process of transitioning the healthcare system governed by Obamacare into whatever they build in its place. That’s the case even though Obamacare remains broadly disliked by the American public due to a failure of the law to deliver as intended.

Republicans are committed to continuing at least two reforms implemented under the Affordable Care Act that voters like: exclusions against denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions and allowing parents to keep children on their insurance until age 26.

Repealing an unpopular law while maintaining its popular components is a delicate two-step, and Republican lawmakers are nervous about pulling it off.

“We’ve been saying all along, we don’t want to pull the rug out from under people while we’re replacing this law,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters during a joint news conference with Pence. “We want to make sure there is an orderly transition.”

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Jason Altimire is a Democrat who credits his opposition to Obamacare for his ability to weather the GOP wave of 2010 in conservative-leaning Western Pennsylvania House seat. He lost two years when Republicans redistricted him out of his seat.

Altmire said that Republicans have to guard against two particular political pitfalls that he believes cost his party control of the House, and nearly the Senate, in Obama’s first midterm election.

First, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s jammed through a partisan bill, disenchanting voters on the process and setting them up to dislike Obamacare regardless of its benefits, he said.

Second, Republicans risk creating an unintended batch of new problems in the process of changing what’s failing or disliked about the law, such as the mandate to purchase insurance.

“That’s what Republicans are struggling with,” said Altmire, who works in the healthcare field and now lives in Florida. “You have to do it all. You just can’t do a piece of it and leave the other parts of the market unresolved, because you’re going to get a bad outcome if that happens.”

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For Republicans, making a healthcare overhaul work for them in 2018 requires good policy and good messaging.

Republican strategists and policy experts who watched what the Democrats did wrong eight years ago say lawmakers need to keep in mind that healthcare is very personal to most Americans. They might not like the healthcare system broadly and be angry about rising costs, but many of them probably like their doctors and are at least comfortable with their current plans.

Voters won’t reward Republicans for replacing Obamacare with a “better system” if their personal healthcare experience deteriorates in the process.

Republicans haven’t unified around a replacement yet, but most of their proposals rely on market forces and delegate control from the federal government to states and consumers.

“Healthcare is not a commodity. It’s an individual experience — an individual need,” said GOP pollster David Winston, who has worked closely with congressional Republicans on healthcare messaging. “What Republicans need to do is define the value proposition of their healthcare proposal.”

The phrase “orderly transition” uttered by Ryan during his news conference with Pence is one that many Republicans are using to describe why they won’t suffer the same fate as the Democrats did eight years ago.

Trump could sign legislation repealing Obamacare as soon as eight weeks from now.

But the new administration and congressional Republicans are planning for a phase-in period of a couple of years, so that the law can be dismantled, and the new one implemented without the sort of disruptions that could turn voters against the effort or the finished product.

Republicans who are confident in this approach say the only thing that could trip the process up is resistance from insurgent conservatives on Capitol Hill, and their supporters on the outside, who are dissatisfied with a gradual pace and want the full repeal of Obamacare to take hold immediately.

“If the conservative outside groups that raise their money on attacking Republicans refuse to accept yes for an answer — if they always keep moving the goalposts — you could get an intractable problem in the House where you can’t pass anything,” GOP strategist Brad Todd said.

Editor’s Note: “The original version of this story misidentified when Jason Altmire’s tenure in Congress ended. He left Congress in 2012 after losing his bid for re-election.”

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