New pressure on Sen. Murray's bipartisan health care talks

Sen. Murray has pushed for guaranteeing the payment of the ACA subsidies in the near term, while Republican lawmakers want more flexibility at the state level.

The Trump administration’s Thursday night announcement that it will end Obamacare subsidies puts new pressure on Washington Sen. Patty Murray to help devise a bipartisan fix.

>>Related: Ending CSR payments, what it means 

Since September, Murray, the senior Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, has been working on a health care compromise with Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the committee. Their goal is to stabilize a health insurance marketplace in chaos over uncertainty over the subsidies, also known as Cost Sharing Reductions (CSRs).

Murray wants a guarantee that these payments -- which help offset the costs of insurance for many lower-income Obamacare enrollees -- will continue for the short term, while Republican lawmakers want more flexibility at the state level.

“We have some really good solid ideas that we’re working on that I hope we can get put together in short order,” Senator Murray told KING 5.

Murray blamed the ongoing uncertainty over CSR payments for expected double-digit rate increases proposed by insurers in Washington’s individual market.

The proposed 2018 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 given the White House’s decision to end the subsidies -- as much as 9 to 27 points, according to the Insurance Commissioner’s Office.

“Insurance companies when they look at their rates know they’re not going to have them and they charge more for their policies. That’s why we’re seeing such huge increases. What Senator Alexander and I are trying to do are trying to assure those CSRs payments will be made so those insurance rates will come down,” said Murray.

“The other thing that Senator Alexander and I are trying to do is work within a waiver system that’s under the current law that allows states to be a little more flexible and apply for waivers, so they can manage their markets better. That will help us, not tomorrow, but it certainly will help us over the next year or two, and that’s one thing I’m very focused on,” she said.

A key concession offered by Senate Democrats includes allowing more Obamacare enrollees to sign up for “copper plans” – cheaper coverage that comes with fewer benefits, according one person familiar with the negotiations.

The timeline of a possible deal in the Senate is unknown, but Democrats are hoping for a deal as soon as possible, potentially as early as next week.

The Wall Street Journal reports that President Trump would support preserving the payments, if a bipartisan proposal by Senators Murray and Alexander materializes, according to an unnamed lawmaker in the article.

The negotiation would then head to the House, where Republican leaders sued the Obama administration over the payments in 2014.

 “The courts have ruled these payments unconstitutional, and the Congresswoman believes the power of the purse belongs in Congress and that these payments must be approved by the people’s representatives,” said a spokesman for Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris, the fourth-ranking Republican in the U.S. House.

“She’s committed to continue working in the House to find ways to fix our broken health care system, lower premiums, and provide relief to all Americans.”

While it’s unknown whether the potential Senate deal would be passed in the House, the bipartisan problem-solvers caucus has been working on its own proposed fixes. 

As leaders in the nation’s capital try to reach a deal, Washington’s Insurance Commissioner is preparing to approve 2018 rates as early as next week.

“For months, consumers and insurers have lived with the threat to end CSRs. The threat is now a reality,” said Commissioner Mike Kreidler in a statement.

Kreidler said the state’s insurers received $65 million in cost-sharing reduction payments last year, affecting more than 70,000 people enrolled in the state-based health insurance exchange. 

© 2017 KING-TV


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