WASHINGTON -- A key moderate Republican urged President Donald Trump on Sunday to back a bipartisan Senate effort to shield consumers from rising premiums after his decision to halt federal payments to insurers.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called the move "disruptive" and an immediate threat to access to health care.
"What the president is doing is affecting people's access and the cost of health care right now," said Collins, who has cast pivotal votes on health care in the narrowly divided Senate. "This is not a bailout of the insurers. What this money is used for is to help low-income people afford their deductibles and their co-pays."
"Congress needs to step in, and I hope that the president will take a look at what we're doing," she added.
Her comments reflected an increasing focus Sunday on the bipartisan Senate effort led by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., to at least temporarily reinstate the payments to avoid immediate turmoil in the insurance market, even as Trump signaled he wouldn't back a deal without getting something he wants in return.
The payments will be stopped beginning this week, with sign-up season for subsidized private insurance set to start Nov. 1.
"The president is not going to continue to throw good money after bad, give $7 billion to insurance companies, unless something changes about Obamacare that would justify it," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation, using the colloquial term for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"It's got to be a good deal," Graham said.
In his decision last week, Trump derided the approximately $7 billion in annual subsidies as bailouts to insurers and suggested he was trying to get Democrats to negotiate and agree to a broader effort to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, a bid that repeatedly crashed in the GOP-run Senate this summer.
The payments seek to lower out-of-pocket costs for insurers, which are required under Obama's law to reduce poorer people's expenses -- about 6 million people. To recoup the lost money, carriers are likely to raise 2018 premiums for people buying their own health insurance policies.
Alexander and Murray have been seeking a deal that the Tennessee Republican has said would reinstate the payments for two years. In exchange, Alexander said, Republicans want "meaningful flexibility for states" to offer lower-cost insurance policies with less coverage than Obama's law mandates.
Still, congressional Republicans are divided over that effort. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has suggested that Trump may oppose any agreement unless he gets something he wants -- such as a repeal of the Affordable Care Act or funding of Trump's promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
On ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., whether Democrats could threaten to shut down the government unless the payments are restored. The government faces a Dec. 8 deadline on the debt limit and government spending.
"We're not about closing down government," Pelosi replied. "The Republicans have the majority. They have the signature of the president. It's up to them to keep government open. We don't go down that path."
Pelosi instead praised the bipartisan effort to restore the premiums, saying that although negotiations with Trump are "a little far down the road," Alexander and Murray "are trying to find common ground, and that should be encouraged."
Collins praised the Senate effort so far, which included public hearings by the Senate health and education committee. Still, she acknowledged a potentially tough road in reaching a broader agreement.
"I hope we can proceed, but Democrats will have to step up to the plate and assist us," said Collins, who is a member of the committee. "It's a two-way street."
The scrapping of subsidies would affect millions more consumers in states won by Trump last year, including Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, than in states won by Democrat Hillary Clinton. Nearly 70 percent of the 6 million people who benefit from the cost-sharing subsidies live in states that voted for the Republican.
Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press that his state had anticipated that the insurer payments would be halted, but not so quickly. He called for the payments to be reinstated right away, describing a hit to Ohio -- a state also won by Trump in November -- for at least the "first two or three months."
"Over time, this is going to have a dramatic impact," Kasich said. "Who gets hurt? People. And it's just outrageous."
Nineteen Democratic state attorneys general have announced plans to sue Trump over the stoppage. Attorneys general from California, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New York were among those saying they will file the lawsuit in federal court in California to stop Trump's attempt "to gut the health and well-being of our country."
A Section on 10/16/2017
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