Sens. Lamar Alexander, Patty Murray near bipartisan deal to stabilize ACA markets, lower premiums

Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander during committee hearing
Sens. Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander are working to revive bipartisan ACA stabilization efforts.

In the wake of another stalled effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, senators working on a bipartisan plan to stabilize the individual markets said they're nearing a deal. 

Talks following a series of hearings aimed at finding fixes for issues with the ACA were sidelined when Senate Republican leaders geared up another repeal attempt with the Graham-Cassidy bill. A vote on that bill was postponed Tuesday. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that despite the time dedicated to the Graham-Cassidy measure, a deal is "on the verge of completion," Reuters reported

RELATED: Graham-Cassidy bill's collapse revives talk of bipartisan work on healthcare—but will it matter to insurers? 

The effort is spearheaded by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and ranking Democrat Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. Schumer said the pair has assured him they were finishing a proposal. 

"They both inform me they're on the verge of an agreement, a bipartisan healthcare agreement to stabilize markets and lower premiums," Schumer said. 

The HELP Committee convened the ACA stabilization hearings hearings following the GOP's failure to pass its "skinny repeal" in July. Earlier this week, Alexander said he was working to resurrect the HELP committee's work. 

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

“I will consult with Senator Murray and with other senators, both Republicans and Democrats, to see if senators can find consensus on a limited bipartisan plan that could be enacted into law to help lower premiums and make insurance available to the 18 million Americans in the individual market in 2018 and 2019," he said in a statement

Alexander said he would have voted for the Graham-Cassidy proposal because it meant more money and state control for Tennessee.

"But Graham-Cassidy primarily would have affected 2020 and beyond," he said. "I’m still concerned about the next two years and Congress has an opportunity to slow down premium increases in 2018, begin to lower them in 2019 and do our best to make sure there are no counties where people have zero options to buy health insurance.”

RELATED: Payer, provider leaders add patient perspective to Affordable Care Act market stabilization talks 

Alexander told reporters that the issue now is to secure support from leaders in both parties and their Senate peers to move forward, according to an article from Bloomberg. 

"It's not a matter of just whether Senator Murray and I can agree," he told the publication. "It's a matter of whether she and I can find consensus among Republicans and Democrats that we believe can be enacted as a result." 

Even if that is successful, the bipartisan measure could run into problems in the House, as Speaker Paul Ryan told Senate leaders that a deal "isn't viable" for House Republicans, The Hill reported

And even as a bipartisan deal nears, the Graham-Cassidy bill may still have life. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., released a joint statement Thursday after meeting with President Donald Trump, saying that the healthcare debate will continue. 

"Over the coming weeks and months, we are committed to holding Congressional hearings and working with our nation's governors who believe returning power to states is a vast improvement over Obamacare," the senators said. 

They said Trump is willing to work toward a bipartisan compromise on healthcare, but he shares their concerns "about simply throwing good money after bad in propping up a structurally unsound Obamacare system, which will eventually collapse."