GOP chairman downplays prospects for bipartisan ObamaCare fix

The Republican Senate Health Committee chairman is now downplaying the chance of crafting a bipartisan deal to stabilize the health insurance markets, a nod to the chamber’s shift back toward partisan health care policies.

“I know how to get bipartisan results,” Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare Time to end fiscal year foolishness MORE (R-Tenn.) said. But “I'm not a magician, and it requires my persuading [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.], Speaker [Paul] Ryan [R-Wis.], the president, that we're right about it.”

Last week, Alexander believed a bipartisan deal was possible as the panel finished the last of four bipartisan hearings to stabilize the insurance marketplaces. His hope was that one would be crafted by early this week, enabling the Senate to pass a bill by the end of the month.

But Alexander pointed to both the new GOP effort to repeal ObamaCare, and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersMellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) Former Sanders campaign manager: Don't expect email list to be shared with DNC Adult film star: Trump and Stormy Daniels invited me to 'hang out' MORE’s (I-Vt.) single-payer push, as sucking the oxygen away from bipartisan efforts to stabilize the Affordable Care Act.

“But since, Sen. Sanders and 15 Democrats renewed their push for ‘Medicare for all,’ Republicans began a new effort at repeal and replace. It obviously makes achieving a bipartisan consensus more difficult,” Alexander said.

Ryan has told McConnell that an Alexander-Murray deal "isn't viable" for the House GOP, according to a source familiar with the discussion.
"Our focus is on repealing and replacing this failing law and we are encouraged the Senate is making progress," said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong. 

Democrats say that they are still pushing for a bipartisan deal. Keeping the talks alive could be a way to give Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSessions torched by lawmakers for marijuana move Calif. Republican attacks Sessions over marijuana policy Trump's executive order on minerals will boost national defense MORE (R-Alaska) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.) an alternative health care proposal to point to outside of the GOP-only effort.

Democrats say they have made concessions to the GOP and continue to talk, but that the obstacle now is about politics and not policy.

A Senate Democratic aide said Democrats had made concessions to Alexander in the talks, agreeing to “substantial state flexibility” on making changes to ObamaCare regulations, something that Alexander has pushed for.

The aide said Democrats had agreed to changes to the substance of what states can waive, a further step than just speeding up the process for a state to get a waiver.  

During the hearings, the outline for a potential agreement emerged. It seemed likely a deal could fund payments to insurers compensating them for lowering the out-of-pocket costs of certain ObamaCare enrollees.

It also appeared that states could get more flexibility in pricing and plan approval, and that anyone — not just those under 30 — would be able to purchase catastrophic health plans.