Alexander-Murray bill nets 24 co-sponsors—some of whom want to make the deal more conservative

Lamar Alexander
Sen. Lamar Alexander said he agrees “100%” with President Donald Trump that there should be no “bailout” of insurance companies. (AMSF2011/CC BY 2.0)

The Senate’s bipartisan Affordable Care Act stabilization bill isn’t dead—yet.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said Thursday that their bill had amassed 24 co-sponsors, including 12 Republicans. 

“We’ve already gotten a promising response from many members on both sides of the aisle,” Murray said on the Senate floor. “And I’m optimistic that, with Chairman Alexander working on this, we’ll continue to build momentum and we will get this done.”

In his own remarks, Alexander pushed back against those on the right who have argued Congress shouldn’t appropriate funding for cost-sharing reduction payments at all.

“… I would ask, what's conservative about unaffordable premiums? What's conservative about $194 billion of new federal debt? What's conservative about creating chaos so millions can't buy insurance?” he said.

RELATED: Special Report—8 ways to fix the Affordable Care Act

He also noted that he agrees “100%” with President Donald Trump that there should be no “bailout” of insurance companies—a concept Trump has railed against in recent days despite seeming to initially support the Alexander-Murray proposal.

Trump announced last week that he would stop paying the subsidies, which reimburse insurers for reducing enrollees’ out-of-pocket healthcare costs. The Alexander-Murray bill would fund CSR payments for two years.

“We have a page and a half to make it clear that insurance companies cannot ‘double dip,’ so the benefits go to consumers not insurance companies,” Alexander said.

The White House is also reportedly seeking other changes to the bill, however, such as the rollback of the ACA’s individual mandate. 

And Trump isn’t the only one that Alexander and Murray have to convince. Two of the bill’s Republican co-sponsors—Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.,—issued a statement indicating that they are working on moving the bill further right so it has a better chance of passing in the House.

The goal, according to the two senators, is to “include more flexibility provisions” like the ones found in the ACA repeal and replacement bill they authored—and which was ultimately tabled after it failed to garner enough Republican support. 

Senator introduces bill to delay health insurance tax

In a move applauded by health insurers, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has introduced a bill (PDF) that would delay the health insurance tax for two years.

The tax is set to return in 2018 after a one-year hiatus, and one analysis projected it would increase premiums by an average of 2.6%. 

America’s Health Insurance Plans sent a letter (PDF) to Heitkamp expressing its support of her measure, which is known as the “Small Business and Family Health Tax Relief Act.”

“By providing relief from the health insurance tax, Congress can spare the American people from higher costs at a time when affordability of healthcare is a major concern for individuals and families, small businesses, Medicare Advantage enrollees and state Medicaid programs,” the letter stated.

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