Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. (Photo: Alexander)

A crucial GOP senator says that after weeks of effort, there’s not enough agreement among lawmakers to advance a small package of bipartisan changes that would stabilize the Affordable Care Act public health insurance exchange system.

“We have worked hard and in good faith, but have not found the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats to put a bill in the Senate leaders’ hands that could be enacted,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who leads the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

Alexander had been working with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington on a package of fixes, such as making payments to health insurers to help poorer people afford to use their coverage, and giving states flexibility in how they run the Affordable Care Act.

(Related: Insurers Are ‘Holding a Knife to Their Own Throat’: Kaine)

Murray said she was “disappointed that Republican leaders have decided to freeze this bipartisan approach” and is confident she and Alexander can reach a deal.

“We identified significant common ground and I made some tough concessions to move in Chairman Alexander’s direction when it comes to giving states more flexibility,” she said in a statement.

At the same time, a last-ditch Republican effort to repeal many parts of the law has gained traction. That bill, which Senate GOP leaders have said they’ll bring to the floor for a vote if the necessary 50 votes can be found, would replace many of the Affordable Care Act coverage programs with grants to states.

Alexander’s bill could have siphoned momentum from the GOP repeal effort, and his decision to abandon it could help the repeal bill, which is being pushed by senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. The Graham-Cassidy bill has received a lukewarm endorsement from Republican leaders, who were embarrassed when another repeal bill failed dramatically on the Senate floor earlier this year.

Democrats oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill, which will need at least 50 of Republicans’ 52 votes in the chamber to pass.

— Read Anthem to Sell ACA Exchange Plans in Virginia to Fill Gap on ThinkAdvisor.


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