House GOP warming to ObamaCare fix

House GOP warming to ObamaCare fix
© Greg Nash

Key House Republicans are warming to a proposal aimed at bringing down ObamaCare premiums, raising the chances of legislative action this year to stabilize the health-care law.

House GOP aides and lobbyists say that top House Republicans are interested in funding what is known as reinsurance. The money could be included in a coming bipartisan government funding deal or in another legislative vehicle.

Any action from Republicans to stabilize ObamaCare would be a major departure from the party’s long crusade against the law, but after having failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year, the discussion is shifting.

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Rep. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloOvernight Energy: Park Service closing Joshua Tree after shutdown damage | Dems deliver trash from parks to White House | Dems offer bills to block offshore drilling | Oil lobby worries about Trump trade fight Ex-GOP Rep. Ryan Costello joins group pushing carbon tax Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch MORE (R-Pa.) is one of the leaders of the push in the House and is sponsoring a bill to provide ObamaCare stability funding in 2019 and 2020. He notes the relatively short-term nature of his measure. 

“That reflects the political reality that we are not going to be doing some large, sweeping health-care bill in the next year,” said Costello, who faces a competitive reelection race this year. 

“I am optimistic that it would be under serious consideration for inclusion in the omnibus,” he added.  

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (R-Wis.) noted the possibility of action on an ObamaCare stability measure, particularly funding for reinsurance, at an event in Wisconsin in January, saying he thought there could be a “bipartisan opportunity” on the issue.

Action on the reinsurance payments is far from certain; conservative opposition to what some view as a bailout of ObamaCare insurers could stop the proposal in its tracks. But there is growing momentum for the idea, and Republicans said the proposal would likely be discussed more at the GOP retreat this week in West Virginia.

The push on reinsurance matches up with one of the ObamaCare bills that Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump GOP senator: 'No problem' with Mueller testifying MORE (R-Maine) has been pushing in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age Former Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' MORE (R-Ky.) gave Collins a commitment to support a reinsurance bill as well as another stability measure from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar Alexander Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Five things to know about the measles outbreak MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Wash.) in exchange for Collins’s support for tax reform in December.

Opposition in the House has always been the major impediment to those measures moving forward. But it now appears some of that resistance is softening, at least on the reinsurance measure, now that Republicans have repealed ObamaCare’s individual mandate through the tax bill.

Importantly, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenConservative groups defend tech from GOP crackdown Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders unveils new Medicare for all bill with backing from other 2020 Dems | White House slams Sanders' rollout | Drugmakers, 'middlemen' point fingers on insulin pricing House votes to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules MORE (R-Ore.), whose panel has jurisdiction, is supporting the ObamaCare stabilization efforts and backs Costello’s bill.

“Chairman Walden is supportive of Rep. Costello’s efforts to help states repair their insurance markets that have been damaged by Obamacare,” an Energy and Commerce spokesperson wrote in an email. “Rep. Costello’s bill is a fair approach to granting states greater flexibility to help patients and lower costs.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersWe can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's Overnight Energy: Wheeler vows to keep funds for Great Lakes cleanup | Inslee presses Trump on climate in House testimony | Dems seek more funds for Interior watchdog Inslee presses Trump on climate change in House testimony MORE (R-Wash.), the fourth-ranking Republican in House leadership, is also a co-sponsor of Costello’s stabilization bill. 

While House conservatives have opposed propping up ObamaCare, Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Mueller report poses new test for Dems Washington in frenzy over release of Mueller report MORE (R-N.C.) did not dismiss the payments out of hand on Tuesday.

“If it lowers premiums, I’m willing to listen to any ideas,” said Meadows, who is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.

He warned that he did not want a proposal to be an “insurance bailout,” but noted that he has been talking to colleagues in the House and Senate about the issue.   

Another obstacle for an ObamaCare fix is a dispute over abortion. Republicans are adamant that a stabilization measure must include restrictions on the new funding being used to cover abortion services, a notion that is problematic for Democrats. 

Reinsurance funding is used to help insurers cover the costs of especially sick patients, which helps relieve pressure on premiums for the broader group of enrollees.

The other main stabilization measure, from Alexander and Murray, would fund ObamaCare payments that reimburse insurers for giving discounts to low-income enrollees, known as cost-sharing reductions (CSRs).

Republican sources say there is less momentum in the House for funding CSRs than there is for the reinsurance measure. But even some Democrats are now questioning whether funding CSRs still makes sense, given that through a quirk in the law, President TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE’s cancellation of the payments last year actually led to increased subsidies and lower premiums for many enrollees.

Rep. Phil RoeDavid (Phil) Phillip RoeThe Hill's 12:30 Report: State of the Union takeaways | Sights and sounds from the night | Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface Activist who met with GOP lawmakers also promotes ‘black violence’ gene: report GOP lawmaker to be challenged by Dem he delivered as a newborn MORE (R-Tenn.), for example, a leading House Republican on health-care issues as co-chairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus, said Tuesday that he feels negatively about the idea of funding CSRs but likes the idea of reinsurance. 

Roe pushed back on the idea that the funding would be propping up ObamaCare, saying that the repeal of the individual mandate had changed the discussion because people no longer were forced to buy coverage.

Roe said he runs into people in his district paying more than $1,000 per month in premium costs.

“We’re going to have to do something,” he said.