24 hours later, Senate health deal all but completely dead

24 hours later, Senate health deal all but completely dead
© Greg Nash

A Senate healthcare deal to extend critical ObamaCare payments to insurers appears all but completely dead just 24 hours after it was announced.

President Trump reversed course Wednesday and said he opposed the deal, while Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanConservatives leery of FBI deal on informant Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — House passes 'right to try' drug bill | Trump moves to restrict abortion referrals Hillicon Valley: Trump claims 'no deal' to help Chinese company ZTE | Congress briefed on election cyber threats | Mueller mystery - Where's indictment for DNC hack? | Zuckerberg faces tough questions in Europe MORE’s (R-Wis.) office said the Senate should keep its focus on repealing and replacing President Obama’s signature law.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePoll: 8 in 10 people in key states concerned about driverless cars Hillicon Valley: Mnuchin urges antitrust review of tech | Progressives want to break up Facebook | Classified election security briefing set for Tuesday | Tech CEOs face pressure to appear before Congress Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (S.D.), the third-ranking Senate Republican, acknowledged the deal had “stalled out.”

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Some Republican senators said they were working on changes to move the bill in a more conservative direction, but those efforts appeared to have little chance of success.

Democrats, who hailed the agreement on Tuesday, signaled they were preparing to blame Republicans for walking away from the deal crafted by Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA GOP lawmakers want Trump to stop bashing Congress The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by CVS Health - A pivotal day for House Republicans on immigration MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump official won't OK lifetime limits on Medicaid Dems warn against changes to federal family planning program Overnight Health Care: Drug company under scrutiny for Michael Cohen payments | New Ebola outbreak | FDA addresses EpiPen shortage MORE (Wash.), the panel’s top Democrat.

“Lamar and Patty came up with a deal,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer: Trump should take Kim Jong Un off 'trip coin' Overnight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' Free traders applaud Trump as China tariff threat recedes MORE (N.Y.) told reporters. “This is the agreement.”

The compromise would provide two years of payments to insurers, compensating them for lowering the out-of-pocket health care costs of certain ObamaCare enrollees. Trump announced he was canceling the payments last week, arguing the previous administration lacked the authority to make them.

Without the payments, the Congressional Budget Office has said premiums could rise as much as 20 percent, and enrollment would likely fall.

Democrats say Trump is seeking to sabotage the law by ending the payments, along with other administrative moves he’s made that they say could damage ObamaCare.

The Alexander-Murray language would also grant states more flexibility to waive ObamaCare rules, a key Republican ask. Lower-cost insurance plans that provide fewer benefits, known as copper plans, would be allowed.

In a nod to Democratic demands, it would provide states with $106 million to fund ObamaCare outreach. Trump had slashed the money for advertising by 90 percent. 

Conservatives have called the payments to insurers a bailout, an argument echoed by Trump on Wednesday.

In response, Alexander said that he was open to adding any language the White House might have to strengthen a provision already in the bill to ensure that insurers can’t keep the payments for themselves, but rather have to pass savings on to consumers in the form of rebates or another mechanism.   

Alexander has been trying to rally support by warning Republicans that premiums would increase 20 percent without the insurer payments and there would be chaos in the market. There’s not much time left, as ObamaCare’s exchanges open for business Nov. 1. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — House passes 'right to try' drug bill | Trump moves to restrict abortion referrals House approves 'right to try,' sends bill to Trump's desk Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-Wis.) said he is pushing for more sweeping changes to move the bill to the right, and has spoken with Alexander. 

Johnson is seeking to increase the duration of short-term health plans; expand health savings accounts; not enforce the employer mandate; and waive the individual mandate penalty for 2017. 

Johnson argues he’s working to shore up conservative support in the House.

“[Alexander and I] are both interested in getting a result,” Johnson told reporters Wednesday. “He's dealing with the hurdle of the Senate. I'm trying, to some extent, to deal with the hurdle in the House and maybe both of our efforts can come together and show members of Congress that this is what we're going to need to do to really alleviate the increasing premiums, which are going to hurt Americans.”

It seems unlikely that Democrats will agree to any of those demands, however.

Schumer blasted Trump for reversing course after the president had previously made phone calls to Alexander encouraging the talks. He warned that ObamaCare was becoming TrumpCare given the administration’s actions, and that the GOP would own it.

“The president's in charge,” Schumer said. “Republicans have the House and Senate. If there's problems in the healthcare system, it falls on their shoulders.” 

Many observers think folding the deal into a government funding bill in December is its best chance of passage. Schumer said that is one option, though he held out hope the agreement could pass before then. 

Only a handful of Republicans, Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiKeeping Pruitt could cost GOP Congress, Trump in the fall Trump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress GOP, Dem lawmakers come together for McCain documentary MORE (Alaska), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA GOP lawmakers want Trump to stop bashing Congress Senate panel advances Trump's CIA nominee MORE (S.D.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Sarah Sanders: ‘Democrats are losing their war against women in the Trump administration’ MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerLawmakers push for House floor debate on war authorization Pressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Corker turns downs Trump's offer to be ambassador to Australia MORE (Tenn.), have said they support the deal. Murkowski and McCain voted against the a scaled-down ObamaCare repeal bill in July, helping to sink the measure. 

“Obviously until the president’s on board, yes there are probably changes that need to be made to satisfy the president,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHouse easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump Senate panel clears bill to bolster probes of foreign investment deals McConnell tells senators he might scrap August recess MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican, said. “I think the president's support is going to be key.”