More Republican senators back bipartisan Obamacare deal




  • In US
  • 2017-10-19 20:45:33Z
  • By By Richard Cowan and Yasmeen Abutaleb
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stands in the subway on Capitol Hill in Washington
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stands in the subway on Capitol Hill in Washington  

By Richard Cowan and Yasmeen Abutaleb

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan deal to stabilize Obamacare by restoring billions of dollars of federal subsidies to health insurers picked up Republican support in the Senate on Thursday despite President Donald Trump's opposition but still faced an uphill battle.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray formally introduced legislation to shore up the insurance markets created under the 2010 healthcare law by reviving the subsidies, which Trump has discontinued, for two years to help lower-income Americans obtain medical coverage.

The senators announced that the deal now has the support of 12 of the 52 Republicans in the 100-seat Senate, as well as 12 Democrats.

While Alexander predicted in remarks on the Senate floor that the plan "will become law in some fashion before the end of the year," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not committed to bringing it to a vote, and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan is against it.

Lobbyists and congressional aides closely following the matter said the legislation could make it onto the Senate floor tucked inside a bigger "must-pass" bill that Congress needs to act on in December, such as a broad spending measure to prevent a federal government shutdown.

Trump campaigned for the presidency last year promising to get rid of Obamacare, the signature legislative achievement of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama. But his fellow Republicans who control Congress have failed to repeal and replace the law thanks to deep intra-party divisions.

Obamacare, formally called the Affordable Care Act, extended health insurance to 20 million people but Republicans call it government interference in Americans' healthcare.

TRUMP REVERSES POSITION

Trump initially indicated support for the Alexander-Murray agreement but reversed himself, saying on Wednesday "I can never support bailing out" insurers.

Senator Mike Rounds, one of the bill's Republican co-sponsors, said that if Trump decides he does not support it, "then it will not go forward." When a reporter noted that Trump does oppose it, Rounds replied, "That was yesterday."

Gabelli Funds portfolio manager Jeff Jonas, who focuses on healthcare, said there was too much political uncertainty for investors to latch onto any one thing, with Trump "flip-flopping every day" and Ryan not supportive of the bill.

Among hospital stocks, Community Health Systems closed up 3.7 percent, Tenet Healthcare Corp rose 2.9 percent and HCA Healthcare Inc gained 3 percent. Most insurers rose more modestly.

Without the subsidies, insurance premiums for some of the 10 million Americans who get coverage through Obamacare markets will surge. Noting that some conservative Republicans object to the subsidies, Alexander asked, "What's conservative about creating chaos so millions can't buy insurance, or at least failing to deal with the chaos that has been created?"

The bill has broad support among Democrats, but had just seven Republicans on record supporting it only a day earlier.

If passed in December, as opposed to before the Nov. 1 beginning of enrollment for 2018 Obamacare insurance policies, it would be unlikely to affect premiums for next year, meaning its benefits might not be felt until 2019. Insurers have already decided whether to participate in the Obamacare markets and set higher rates to build in the possibility that the subsidies would vanish.

Insurers say they do not profit from the subsidies, but pass them on directly to consumers to reduce deductibles, co-payments and other out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income people.

The bill would also give more flexibility for states to offer a wider variety of health insurance plans while maintaining the requirement that sick and healthy people be charged the same rates for coverage.

Many Senate Republicans are nervous about the prospect of voting on any healthcare measure -- no matter what legislation it may be attached to -- that buttresses Obamacare.

Part of the fear, one senior Senate Republican aide said, is that Trump's former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon is recruiting hard-line conservative primary challengers to run against incumbent Republican senators next year. The aide said incumbents do not want to be forced to cast a controversial vote to stabilize Obamacare, a law reviled by many conservatives.

If all 46 Senate Democrats and two independents back the Alexander-Murray bill as expected, the support of the 12 Republicans means the bill has the 60 votes needed to reach the super-majority required to pass most legislation in the Senate.

Trump on Thursday underscored his concerns about the bill. He urged Alexander and Murray to be "careful with respect to the insurance companies," which he said are "extremely talented at making money."

Alexander and Murray said their legislation does not bail out insurers. Alexander said House Republicans passed an Obamacare repeal and replace bill in May that also would continue subsidy payments for two years.

Alexander said Trump has called him four times in recent days on this subject, including a Saturday night call when he was at a restaurant and "my dinner got cold." He urged the president to support the initiative.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Yasmeen Abutaleb; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker in Washington and Michael Erman in New York; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by James Dalgleish and Alistair Bell)

COMMENTS

More Related News

Schumer takes back wall offer in new immigration push
Schumer takes back wall offer in new immigration push

WASHINGTON (AP) - Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer has taken back his offer of billions of dollars for President Donald Trump's long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Back to work: Government shutdown ends after Dems relent
Back to work: Government shutdown ends after Dems relent

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump signed a bill reopening the government late Monday, ending a 69-hour display of partisan dysfunction after Democrats reluctantly voted to temporarily pay for resumed operations. They relented in return for Republican assurances that the Senate will soon take up

U.S. House would accept bill funding government to Feb. 8: Ryan
U.S. House would accept bill funding government to Feb. 8: Ryan
  • US
  • 2018-01-21 19:06:02Z

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Sunday that the House of Representatives would accept a bill funding the government through Feb. 8 and ending the current shutdown of federal agencies if the Senate can pass the measure. "So we will see sometime today whether or not they have the votes for that (in the Senate)." Senate Republican leaders have said the chamber will vote on the measure to fund the government through Feb. 8 at 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT) on Monday, unless Democrats agree to hold the vote sooner.

Democrats, GOP hold out hope for ending government shutdown
Democrats, GOP hold out hope for ending government shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump's budget director is holding out hope that feuding Democrats and Republicans in Congress can reach a short-term spending agreement before the start of the workweek Monday, but he worries that the government shutdown could last for several more days if progress

Trump: Senate should change rules if shutdown stalemate continues
Trump: Senate should change rules if shutdown stalemate continues
  • US
  • 2018-01-21 15:01:08Z

By Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that if the government shutdown stalemate continued, Republicans should fund the government by changing Senate rules, which currently require a super-majority for appropriations bills to pass. "The Dems (Democrats) just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: US

facebook
Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.