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Key Senate Republican warns GOP to change course on ObamaCare

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE (R-Tenn.) on Thursday told GOP colleagues bluntly that their efforts to repeal ObamaCare have failed and urged them to change course.

Alexander said Republicans need to come up with a new path on health care after holding dozens of votes over the years to repeal ObamaCare and always ending in failure.

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“We’ve had about 50 votes, maybe more, and we lost them all. And we made thousands of speeches and we lost them all,” Alexander said on the Senate floor.

He said that insisting on full repeal of the controversial law when the votes aren’t there would only hurt millions of Americans and could eventually lead to a single-payer health-care system if the current one collapses.

“I would ask what’s conservative about unaffordable premiums?” Alexander asked. “What’s conservative about creating chaos so millions can’t buy health insurance?”

Alexander argued the time has come for fellow Republicans to embrace a deal he negotiated with Democratic Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayBiden's pre-K plan is a bipartisan opportunity to serve the nation's children Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (Wash.) to shore up faltering individual insurance markets.

He argued that Republicans haven’t made any progress over the past seven years to give the states more flexibility in creating insurance policies for the individual markets.

He said his agreement with Murray would do that.

Alexander revealed that he has 11 Republican co-sponsors for a bill that would fund cost-sharing reduction subsidies through the end of 2019 in exchange for giving states more flexibility to waive ObamaCare’s regulatory obligations.

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He said the bill would authorize states to offer catastrophic insurance policies for people of all ages, encourage agreements to sell insurance across state lines and streamline the process for states to obtain federal regulatory waivers for innovative health insurance plans.

“It changes a law to make it easier for states like Iowa, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Alaska and many others to use their creativity to write policies that offer more choices and lower costs,” he said.

Some conservatives criticized the proposal when Alexander announced it earlier this week and President Trump indicated in a tweet that he might not support it either.

“I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co's who have made a fortune w/ O'Care,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of more than 150 House Republicans, also dismissed the deal.

“The GOP should focus on repealing and replacing ObamaCare, not on trying to save it,” he wrote on Twitter. “This bailout is unacceptable.”

Alexander pushed back on Thursday by noting that Trump called him while at dinner last week and asked the chairman to come up with a short-term deal to protect people from rising health-care premiums while lawmakers worked on another bill to permanently repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“I want to thank President Trump for his encouragement. He’s the one who called me 10 days ago and called me again last Saturday and called me twice yesterday,” Alexander recounted.

He said Trump told him, “I think I can get block grants to replace ObamaCare, but I don’t want people to suffer in the meantime.”

Alexander said House Republicans should support the measure because the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill they passed in May included language to extend the cost-sharing reduction payments for two years.

“The Congressional Budget Office has told us that if we don’t do it, if we let them expire, premiums in 2018 will go up an average of 20 percent,” he said.