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 RyanIndiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Indiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Inside Biden's preparations for first debate 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 ThuneTrump's border funding comes back from the dead Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices 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 AlexanderTaylor Swift thanks Cory Booker for signing Equality Act petition Taylor Swift thanks Cory Booker for signing Equality Act petition Senate health panel to move forward on package to lower health costs next week MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn Murray It's time to let Medicare to negotiate drug prices Ocasio-Cortez shares verse by the 'Congressional Destiny's Child' in promotion of new birth control legislation Ocasio-Cortez shares verse by the 'Congressional Destiny's Child' in promotion of new birth control legislation MORE (Wash.), the panel’s top Democrat.

“Lamar and Patty came up with a deal,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerUS women's soccer team reignites equal pay push Blue Dogs look to move forward on infrastructure project Democratic strategist says Republicans are turning immigration debate into 'political football' 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 JohnsonHillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach 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 MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Klobuchar, Murkowski introduce legislation to protect consumer health data MORE (Alaska), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsHouse panel advances bill to create cybersecurity standards for government IT devices House panel advances bill to create cybersecurity standards for government IT devices The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa MORE (S.D.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCain#JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday #JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday New poll finds little GOP support for spending cuts to specific federal programs MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Press: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment 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 CornynTrump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Overnight Health Care: Pelosi to change drug-pricing plan after complaints | 2020 Democrats to attend Planned Parenthood abortion forum | House holds first major 'Medicare for All' hearing MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican, said. “I think the president's support is going to be key.”