WASHINGTON — A key Republican senator said Tuesday he’s reached a deal with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on resuming federal payments to health insurers that President Trump has blocked. At the White House, the president spoke favorably about the bipartisan pact.
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 Murray have been working for weeks on health care legislation, separate from repeated and unsuccessful efforts by GOP leaders to dismantle former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Emerging from a closed-door GOP luncheon on Tuesday, Alexander said, “Senator (Patty) Murray and I have an agreement,” and added that Trump has encouraged them and the “president likes this idea.”
Background on the higher rates from over the summer negotiations. Note WA's 3 leading carriers sitting on surplus--according to docs linked in this story https://t.co/aVPnl8dCr6— Natalie Brand (@NatalieBrandK5) October 17, 2017
"I strongly believe that patients and families in every state across our country will be stronger if we can get this agreement signed into law—and I urge all of my colleagues to not only support it, but continue working together—because there’s no question there is a lot more to do," Sen. Murray said Tuesday on the Senate floor.
While the agreement is a breakthrough, they still need to secure the support of fellow Republicans and Democrats.
The Washington state Insurance Commissioner’s Office is set to approve 2018 rates next week, ahead of the open enrollment period.
The proposed rate changes released by the Insurance Commissioner’s office earlier this summer averaged a 22 percent increase across 11 insurers. Those rates will go even higher without the cost sharing reduction payments -- as much as 9 to 27 points, according to the Insurance Commissioner’s Office.
A spokeswoman for the commissioner says the rates will be approved at the higher level. However, if a bill is passed by Congress and signed into law, the Insurance Commissioner would require companies to charge the lower rates.
“Due to President’s Trump decision, the higher rates will still take effect for some people starting Jan. 1. If Congress can reach an agreement and pass a bill that’s signed by the president, insurers will be required to charge the lower rates. We’re not there yet, but I’m heartened by this latest development,” Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said in a statement.
In brief comments at the White House, Trump spoke favorably about the effort.
“It is a short-term solution so we don’t have this very dangerous little period,” the president said.
Currently, the rate increase in for WA individ. market is 22% across 11 insurers. Missing CSRs mean an additional 9 to 27 points added on to the already higher rate.— Natalie Brand (@NatalieBrandK5) October 17, 2017
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 impact have galvanized lawmakers in both parties to take action to prevent it.
NEW information from .@WA_OIC ---Rates in WA's individual market are approved, at the higher level, calculated based on missing CSR payments.— Natalie Brand (@NatalieBrandK5) October 17, 2017
PART TWO: .@WA_OIC says if and when a bill is signed into law—the Insurance Commissioner would require companies to charge *lower rates.— Natalie Brand (@NatalieBrandK5) October 17, 2017
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 gloomy 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.
KING 5 contributed to this report