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Bipartisan group floats ObamaCare fixes

Bipartisan group floats ObamaCare fixes
© Greg Nash

Dozens of House lawmakers from both parties unveiled a series of proposals on Monday designed to fix problems dogging the Affordable Care Act.

“The last great hope for this country is that Republicans and Democrats prove they can work together,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus, said in a statement.

The group’s plan features five prongs.

It would create a “stability fund” to help states reduce premium costs for those with pre-existing conditions; repeal a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices; overhaul the employer mandate by exempting businesses with fewer than 500 employees, up from the current 50-employee threshold; and make technical changes encouraging states to “experiment” in new ways to reduce costs and offer more coverage options, including efforts to sell plans across state lines.

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Perhaps most significantly, the proposal would also guarantee federal payments, known as cost-sharing reductions, to insurance companies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income patients. President Trump is threatening to cancel those payments to make ObamaCare "implode," and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Sunday that “no decision’s been made" about future payments.

“He’s going to make that decision this week, and that’s a decision that only he can make,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The continued uncertainty sets up a potential showdown with Republican lawmakers who want to maintain the subsidies.

Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus have been meeting quietly in recent weeks to draft bipartisan reforms to ObamaCare as Republicans struggled to pass a repeal-and-replace plan in the upper chamber. After the Senate repeal plan failed last Friday, the House group rallied over the weekend to finalize their reform package, focused heavily on propping up ObamaCare’s insurance markets for both individuals and employers.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), a freshman Democrat who co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus with Reed, said on Monday that premium hikes in his state are evidence that fixes to ObamaCare are “sorely needed.”

“We all heard what [Sen.] John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Meghan McCain: Melania is 'my favorite Trump, by far' Kelly says Trump not likely to extend DACA deadline MORE said — it's time for bipartisan solutions,” he said.

The plan carries risks for both parties. Republicans have, for years, hammered ObamaCare as an unworkable design the must be scrapped in its entirety in favor of more market-friendly reforms. By pivoting to offer fixes that would stabilize the law, they’re sure to face an intense backlash from conservatives on and off Capitol Hill who will accept nothing short of repeal.

Democrats, meanwhile, have vowed to work with Republicans on bipartisan reforms, but party leaders have shied away from proposing specific fixes amid the GOP’s repeal effort and encouraged members to do the same. The Democrats sense the GOP’s repeal struggles bolster their argument that the Republicans simply can’t govern, and many don’t want to rush to aid the Republicans as the 2018 midterm elections draw closer.

What happens next is unclear.

Trump, who had made ObamaCare repeal a central promise of his campaign, has repeatedly aired his frustration with the Senate’s failure to pass a bill, but he’s also delivering mixed messages about the Republicans’ path forward. Initially, he proposed that Congress move on to other issues and “let Obamacare implode.”

But over the weekend, the president took to Twitter urging Senate GOP leaders to get working on a repeal plan that can win 51 votes.

“Unless the Republican Senators are total quitters, Repeal & Replace is not dead!” Trump said on Saturday. “Demand another vote before voting on any other bill!”

Peter Sullivan contributed to this report, which was updated at 10:12 a.m.