Senators Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D.-Wash.) today announced they have reached agreement on a bipartisan bill that will fund cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers serving the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (Obamacare) marketplaces for two years.
The CSRs — totaling $7 billion a year — were ended last week by President Trump, who called the payments illegal because Congress had never authorized them.
CSRs are allowed under the ACA to defray costs for low- to middle-income consumers on the Obamacare exchanges. Without them, insurers have consistently warned of as high as a 25-percent increase in premiums. Some increases have already been incorporated for the 2018 open enrollment period, which commences Nov. 1 and closes Dec. 15 this year.
“The uncertainty and the dysfunction cannot continue,” Senator Murray told reporters in announcing the deal.
In addition, the two politicos announced that the deal would give states “more flexibility in the variety of choices they can give to consumers,” signaling somewhat of a shift toward allowing states more say-so in Obamacare.
The Wall Street Journal is also reporting that, in a major concession to Republicans, the deal includes expansion of catastrophic insurance policies, now available only on a stop-gap measure to consumers under 30 or to those who can show an “economic hardship.” Now anyone will be eligible to buy a catastrophic policy without showing economic hardship if the bill passes.
In addition, the bill restores $106 million for advertising and promotion of Obamacare during open enrollment and extends open enrollment by 30 days..
Speaking in the Rose Garden, President Trump called it a “short-term solution” good for another year or two, after which he advocates switching to block grants to the states so they can implement their own health care systems.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D.-Ky.) was hesitant to comment, but remarked, “We haven’t had a chance to think about the way forward.” (The next day House Speaker Paul Ryan (R.-Wisc.) announced his total opposition to the compromise.)
Early comments by observers questioned if House Republicans, especially of the Tea Party wing, would support the measure. In the Senate, 60 votes would be needed, so at least 12 Republicans would have to join the 48 sitting Democrats to approve the legislation. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) said he was confident the bill would pass easily.