Senate Dems push for expansion of ObamaCare subsidies in deal

Senate Dems push for expansion of ObamaCare subsidies in deal
© Greg Nash

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Top Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families MORE (D-Wash.) is pushing for major changes to an agreement on an ObamaCare fix, including an expansion of subsidies under the health-care law.

Murray, who is leading negotiations for Senate Democrats on the issue, wants to increase the ObamaCare tax credits that help people afford coverage, according to a Senate Democratic aide. That would be a significant expansion of ObamaCare that could help make premiums more affordable for many people.

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The changes are a major step beyond the original deal between her and Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMontana governor raises profile ahead of potential 2020 bid Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Trump administration to explore importing prescription drugs MORE (R-Tenn.), which would have mainly restored separate payments to insurers that President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE canceled last year.

Murray wants to both make the subsidies more generous for people who currently qualify for them, and expand eligibility so that people who currently make too much income to qualify would now be eligible for subsidies, the aide said.

The proposal was first reported by Axios.

The changes are sure to be politically controversial, given that they would represent a significant expansion of ObamaCare’s subsidies. Alexander has not yet said publicly what he thinks of the idea.

While it is unclear if there is a path forward for these specific changes, there is momentum building for some kind of ObamaCare stabilization action, likely in a long-term spending deal in March.

Democrats argue the extra subsidies are needed to make up for premium spikes that will occur because Republicans repealed ObamaCare’s individual mandate in the tax-reform bill. That removed an incentive for healthy people to enroll, and is projected to increase premiums.

Murray still wants to fund the payments that were originally part of the deal, known as cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which help low-income people afford out-of-pocket costs like deductibles, and make those more generous as well.

The Democratic aide called for “substantially expanding and increasing Affordable Care Act subsidies (including both tax credits and out-of-pocket cost reductions) to help more people afford coverage and to offset Republican premium spikes.”

Murray also wants to take steps to restore outreach funding to sign people up, which Trump cut, and to block the Trump administration from regulatory moves that create skimpier, cheaper insurance plans that Democrats fear will siphon healthy people away from the ObamaCare marketplaces.

Some experts have argued that it is actually better not to restore the CSR payments because of a quirk in the law that actually increased the subsidies for many people when those separate payments were cancelled. Murray’s solution, though, is to restore the CSR payments and also increase the subsidies to offset any negative effects.