Senators are nearing a deal on a bipartisan package to help stabilize the Affordable Care Act public health insurance exchange system.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told reporters that he and his Democratic colleague Patty Murray of Washington are close to an agreement, but the real issue now is securing the backing of leaders from both parties and enough senators to move forward.
“It’s not a matter of just whether Senator Murray and I can agree,” Alexander said. “It’s a matter of whether she and I can find consensus among Republicans and Democrats that we believe can be enacted into a result.”
Alexander and Murray’s effort is complicated by the continued presence of the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson bill, a bill to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act that failed to garner enough Republican support to pass this week ahead of a Saturday deadline. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who authored the latest repeal effort, met Thursday with President Donald Trump to discuss a plan to revive the legislation in the coming months.
“Over the coming weeks and months, we are committed to holding congressional hearings and working with our nations’ governors who believe returning power to states is a vast improvement over Obamacare,” Graham and Cassidy said in a joint statement.
Until the now-failed Graham-Cassidy bill gained steam, briefly, Alexander and Murray had been working on a small bill to fund subsidies for insurers to lower Americans’ health costs and provide states with more ability to adjust ACA health insurance rules. It’s unclear whether the restarted bipartisan effort will eventually be able to gain necessary support. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have both indicated they wouldn’t support such a bill.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican leader, said he was upbeat about the emerging Alexander-Murray deal because the two are discussing offering added flexibility to states.
“I’m encouraged that it’s more than just providing additional subsidies to insurance companies,” he said. “It looks like some real reform that’s part of it.”
He said that includes the ability to offer “copper,” or catastrophic, plans. Today, under the current ACA rules, most people who want to use an individual or family policy to avoid the ACA penalties on the uninsured must have a policy that covers at least about 60% of the actuarial value of the “essential health benefits” package, or standard benefits package. A copper plan could cover just 50% of the actuarial value of the EHB package.