CBO says Alexander-Murray bill wouldn't soften the blow of individual mandate repeal

Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander during committee hearing
Democrat Sen. Patty Murray, left, and Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander may have worked together on an ACA stabilization bill, but she is pushing back against the GOP's assertion that the bill will lessen the destabilizing effects of repealing the individual mandate.

The Congressional Budget Office appears to have validated Democrats’ argument that an Affordable Care Act stabilization bill won’t really mitigate the effects of repealing the individual mandate.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., had asked the agency about what would happen if Congress passed legislation nixing the requirement that all individuals buy health insurance—as the Senate GOP’s tax bill would do—at the same time as the bill she drafted with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Both Murray and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have been vocal skeptics of such a compromise, which Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins has advocated for and President Donald Trump recently indicated he supports.

Indeed, the CBO’s letter (PDF) to Murray confirms her point that passing her ACA stabilization bill would do little to mitigate the negative effects of repealing the individual mandate.

The CBO previously estimated that an individual mandate repeal would decrease the number of people with health insurance by 13 million over 10 years and hike the average premiums in the individual market by about 10% in most years of that decade. If both the Alexander-Murray bill and an individual mandate repeal were passed at the same time, “the interactions among the provisions would be small,” the agency said, and the effects on premiums and coverage would be similar to its previous projection.

On Tuesday, the Senate Budget Committee advanced the GOP tax bill, and it’s possible that the measure could see a floor vote this week. If all Democrats vote against the bill, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes in order to pass it. That slim margin has made party leaders’ effort to appease every GOP senator akin to solving a “Rubik’s cube,” as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it during a Tuesday press conference.

It appears, however, that efforts to woo Collins have worked—regardless of the CBO’s guidance about the individual mandate repeal. Collins said Wednesday that she will vote in favor of advancing the tax bill despite some of her qualms about it, The Washington Examiner reported.