Trump backs bipartisan fixes to ObamaCare markets

Trump backs bipartisan fixes to ObamaCare markets
© Greg Nash

President Trump at a closed-door meeting with GOP senators on Tuesday said he would support two proposals meant to stabilize ObamaCare’s insurance markets in exchange for a repeal of the law's individual mandate, several Republicans in attendance said.

The two bills would fund key ObamaCare insurer payments, and provide billions to help states create reinsurance programs for high-cost patients.

Passage of the measures could prove crucial to winning support for the Senate tax bill, which includes repeal of ObamaCare’s mandate, from Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGrassley panel scraps Kavanaugh hearing, warns committee will vote without deal Collins 'appalled' by Trump tweet about Kavanaugh accuser Poll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it MORE (R-Maine).

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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKim, Moon toss ball to Trump in ‘last, best chance’ for Korean peace GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' Collins: Kavanaugh accuser should 'reconsider,' testify on Monday MORE (R-S.C) told reporters after the lunch that Trump said he’d back the two bills.

“He said that today: If the tax bill passes with an individual mandate repeal he would” support the bills, Graham said.

Collins met privately with Trump, Graham and Senate Health Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Tenn.) before the larger meeting. She urged Trump to support the two bills, arguing it would mitigate the effects of repealing the individual mandate. She also met with the president before Thanksgiving.

Collins left the meeting feeling she’d been reassured by Trump that he’d support both bills.

“[Trump] said that he understood the need to have something to offset the premium increases and appeared very open” to signing the two bills into law, she said.

The Maine senator said she, GOP leadership and members of the Finance Committee also met Tuesday to talk about passing the two proposals.

“I think they’re eager to help me get to yes,” she told reporters after lunch, smiling.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that repealing the mandate would increase premiums by 10 percent and result in 13 million fewer people with insurance.

Collins has been a swing vote on tax reform and has pushed to have the repeal of the mandate removed from the tax bill, arguing that it would destabilize the markets. Trump had pushed for leadership to include a repeal in the bill after Republicans failed to fully repeal the health care law over the summer.

Asked if she were feeling more optimistic about the tax-reform bill, she said: “That is a fair assessment because I believe a lot of my concerns, it appears are going to be addressed.”

One of the bipartisan bills, authored by Alexander and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal Trump health official defends funding shifts to pay for detained migrant children Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh MORE (D-Wash.), would fund ObamaCare insurer payments for two years and give states more flexibility to define their insurance plans.

Trump canceled the payments, called cost-sharing reductions, in October. He has since waffled on whether he would support the bill, and Republican leaders have said they wouldn’t put the bill on the floor without expressed approval from the president.

The other, authored by Collins and Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonPolitical shenanigans mask true problems in Puerto Rico The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh controversy consumes Washington | Kavanaugh slated to testify Monday | Allegations shake up midterms MORE (R-Fla.), would provide billions in federal funding for state-run reinsurance programs that help insurers cover high-cost enrollees.

It’s unclear what vehicle the bills would be in, though several senators said it could be included in a year-end spending deal to prevent a government shutdown. Government funding is currently set to run out next month.

Democrats so far appear unwilling to support Alexander-Murray if Republicans repeal the mandate through tax reform, arguing it would hurt the healthcare law, known as the Affordable Care Act.

“You can't sabotage the entire system and then say you're going to do a small little fix on top of that sabotage,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

“Murray-Alexander was never designed to be in a situation where there was a direct bomb thrown into the ACA. Murray Alexander is great but first our Republican colleagues should abandon the idea of sabotaging the ACA.”

This story was updated at 4:46 p.m.