Deal to prop up Obamacare stalls after confusing Trump signals
A bipartisan deal to prop up Obamacare exchanges has “stalled out,” a top Senate Republican said Wednesday after President Donald Trump created confusion about whether he supports the measure.
John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate’s No. 3 Republican leader, told reporters the pact had come to a standstill as Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said he opposes the deal. In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan also signaled his opposition.
Trump had personally encouraged Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to reach a deal with Democrat Patty Murray of Washington, but as soon as the deal was announced Tuesday, he started sending conflicting signals about his stance.
Trump on Wednesday morning tweeted: “I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care.” He didn’t specifically say whether he opposes the legislation or whether he considers it a bailout of insurers.
The president further deepened the confusion during a meeting with senators later Wednesday morning.
“Lamar Alexander’s working on it very hard from our side. And if something can happen, that’s fine,” Trump told reporters. “But I won’t do anything to enrich the insurance companies because right now, the insurance companies are being enriched.”
Coming days after a decision by Trump to scrap subsidy payments to Obamacare insurers, the deal had appeared to be the only Obamacare legislation with a chance of passing Congress this year. It could help stem a flight by major insurers out of the individual insurance market in many states, with Americans due to begin signing up for 2018 coverage in two weeks.
But even though a number of Republicans are eager to prevent a collapse of the individual health insurance market, opposition from Trump would likely doom the measure.
Trump has appeared to try to straddle the divide in his party on Obamacare, both encouraging Alexander to reach a deal with Murray and reveling in dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Alexander said Trump pushed him in phone calls last week to reach a short-term deal to stabilize the Obamacare exchanges.
Alexander told reporters Wednesday he agrees with the president that the legislation shouldn’t enrich insurance companies and that the measure has “strong language” to prevent that. “My feeling on this is one way or another by the end of the year, it will become law,” he said.
Trump called Alexander Wednesday morning and said he’d review the bill and see if there’s anything he wants to add, Alexander said at an Axios event. Senators planned to introduce the bill on Thursday, Alexander said, who also said he is open to changes suggested by the White House.
The two-year deal would allow crucial subsidies to health insurers to start flowing again, potentially lowering insurance premiums for those in the program next year.
The package would give states new flexibility on how their Affordable Care Act markets are run. It will also encourage states to meld their markets together, and let more people buy low-cost, limited-coverage plans.
The flexibility would allow states to implement Obamacare in a way that provides customers coverage similar in affordability to plans under the current law. At the same time, states can’t degrade consumer protections Obamacare requires plans to offer, such as maternity care, mental health services and a ban on discrimination against pre-existing conditions, Murray said on the Senate floor.
The agreement also restores some of the money the Trump administration slashed for outreach regarding open enrollment in Obamacare plans.
Perhaps the chief obstacle to the deal being enacted is the wariness of some key Republicans to embrace it. Last week, Ryan of Wisconsin praised Trump for planning to end the payments and he has never encouraged any short-term fix to stabilize the exchanges.