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Senators reach deal on resuming payments to health insurers

By The Associated Press

This article was originally published October 17, 2017 at 1:11 p.m. Updated October 17, 2017 at 2:16 p.m.

file-in-this-jan-31-2017-file-photo-senate-health-education-labor-and-pensions-committee-chairman-sen-lamar-alexander-r-tenn-accompanied-by-the-committees-ranking-member-sen-patty-murray-d-wash-speaks-on-capitol-hill-in-washington

FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2017 file photo, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., accompanied by the committee's ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.


WASHINGTON — Key senators reached a breakthrough deal Tuesday on resuming federal payments to health insurers that President Donald Trump has blocked. Insurers had warned that unless the money is quickly restored, premiums will go up.

At the White House, the president spoke favorably about the bipartisan compromise, which is still likely to face opposition in Congress.

The agreement would involve a two-year extension of federal payments to insurers that Trump halted last week, said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Unless the money is quickly restored, insurers and others say that will result in higher premiums for people buying individual policies and in some carriers leaving unprofitable markets.

Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., have been working for weeks on health care legislation, separate from repeated and unsuccessful efforts by GOP leaders to dismantle Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Emerging from a closed-door GOP luncheon on Tuesday, Alexander said, "Senator Murray and I have an agreement," and added that Trump has encouraged them and the "president likes this idea."

While the agreement is a breakthrough, they still need to secure the support of fellow Republicans and Democrats. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was noncommittal while Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., welcomed the agreement as a step forward that will provide stability for insurance markets in the short-term.

Murray hailed the bipartisan effort, saying "when Republicans and Democrats take the time ... we can truly get things done" for the American people.

In brief comments at the White House, Trump offered support.

"It is a short-term solution so we don't have this very dangerous little period," the president said.

Murray and Alexander began talks on extending the payments months ago, when Trump was frequently threatening to stop the subsidies. Both had said they were close to a deal, but GOP leaders shut the effort down in September when the Senate revisited the Republican drive to repeal Obama's law. The repeal effort failed, as did an earlier GOP attempt to dismantle the law in July.

Trump's halt of the payments and worries about its effect have galvanized lawmakers in both parties to take action to prevent it.

Even so, strong opposition by some conservatives means the congressional fate of a compromise would be uncertain. For their part, Democrats believe Republicans in control of Washington will be blamed by voters for future health care problems and are reluctant to bend too far toward GOP demands for opening loopholes in Obama's law.

Alexander said Trump has twice in recent days urged him to reach a deal with Murray.

"He says he doesn't want people to be hurt in this interim," said Alexander, a reference to Trump's desire to revisit the effort to scrap Obama's statute next year.

Trump repeated his assessment of a law that's expanded health coverage to 20 million people and required insurers to cover specified services and limit costs, but has also seen premiums rise and limited competition in some regions.

"Obamacare is virtually dead. At best you could say it's in its final legs. The premiums are going through the roof. The deductibles are so high that people don't get to use it. Obamacare is a disgrace to our nation and we are solving the problem of Obamacare," he told reporters in the Oval Office.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump's stoppage of the payments "showed that he's willing to take a wrecking ball to our nation's health care for the sake of politics." He said congressional support for an agreement between Alexander and Murray would show lawmakers have "no intention of going along with President Trump's reckless sabotage of the nation's health care law."

Under Obama's 2010 overhaul, the government must pay insurers for reducing out-of-pocket expenses for lower-earning customers.

A federal judge has ruled that Congress hadn't legally approved the payments, but Obama — and initially Trump — continued them anyway. Trump halted them last week, even though by law insurers must continue reducing costs for lower-income consumers.

Trump and some Republicans consider the payments to be bailouts to carriers. But Democrats and some Republicans say halting them will create chaos in insurance market places.

The so-called cost-sharing reductions cost around $7 billion this year and lower expenses like co-payments and deductibles for more than 6 million people.

Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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Comments on: Senators reach deal on resuming payments to health insurers

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RBear says... October 17, 2017 at 1:48 p.m.

It's not that hard to provide affordable health care coverage to Americans when you work together. Now let's see which right wing senators will torpedo the bill. Those will be first targets in 2018.

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3WorldState1 says... October 17, 2017 at 2:49 p.m.

HE is a disgrace to this nation.

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ARMNAR says... October 17, 2017 at 3:26 p.m.

Boy...the Trumpfails are happening faster all the time!

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DerbiRider says... October 17, 2017 at 5:53 p.m.

Cleanup on isle Trump... again.

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gohogs17 says... October 17, 2017 at 5:57 p.m.

The subsidies were declared by the court to be illegal. How can they pass something that is illegal already? Just more political nonsense under the guise of bi-partisanship.

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mb1992 says... October 17, 2017 at 6:29 p.m.

GH, a court determined that the executive branch possesses no authority to pay the subsidies because Congress has not appropriated them. The appropriation compromise referenced in this article would remove any "illegality."

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rubythecat96gmailcom says... October 17, 2017 at 9:05 p.m.

3world remember civics ? and I thought you would be aware that it is congress that has the purse. what king obama did was unconstitutional. we have tree (3) branches of government the house has the purse. they were suppose to be the ones granting any money to insurance companies. all our current president did was put it back where it should have been all along. but it is my understanding that some panic filled congressmen threw something together real quick today to keep the insurance companies flush with money so at least the corporations will be happy for awhile.

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23cal says... October 17, 2017 at 9:18 p.m.

gohogs:
About "The subsidies were declared by the court to be illegal. How can they pass something that is illegal already?" The matter is in litigation and under a stay on appeal.
Also, as mb1992 poi9nts out, "The appropriation compromise referenced in this article would remove any "illegality."

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RBear says... October 17, 2017 at 9:21 p.m.

ruby, you probably need to do some research. Alexander and Murray have been working on a compromise even before the last Senate failure. I hardly call that "real quick."

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sjmays says... October 18, 2017 at 6:54 a.m.

There may be some benefit to insurance companies, but the real benefit will goes to the 30 or 40% of Americans who will be able to continue to have access to healthcare that they did not have before Obama care.

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