Lamar Alexander says Trump still cheering bipartisan talks on health care

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Sen. Lamar Alexander on Thursday said President Trump is still cheering efforts to stabilize Obamacare’s insurance markets, despite shifting rhetoric from the White House and demands for changes to the bipartisan deal.

“I said, ‘If you have suggestions for improving it, that’s certainly your prerogative to do,’ and that’s what we would expect to happen in the legislative process,” Mr. Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said, recapping a recent phone call with Mr. Trump at the outset of an unrelated hearing before the Senate Health Committee.

Mr. Alexander said he will release final text of the plan later on Thursday and announce a “significant number of Republican and Democratic cosponsors for the legislation.”

As written, the plan brokered by Mr. Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, would give congressional approval to what’s known as “cost-sharing reductions” — federal money sent to insurers to reimburse them for covering out-of-pocket health care costs of lower-income Americans — for two years.

In exchange for continued payments, which Democrats wanted, the deal would also allow states limited flexibility from some Obamacare rules — though it would not have tinkered with the strict coverage requirements that force plans to include a broad range of services.

“Our hope is that now that we’ve put a proposal on the table, the Senate will consider it, the House will consider it and the president will consider it,” he said.

Mr. Alexander said Mr. Trump “encouraged the process, which he asked me to begin,” in their phone call late Wednesday.

House GOP leaders have dismissed the plan, however, saying the Senate should be focused on repeal efforts that sputtered out of gas earlier this year.

And Mr. Trump has toggled between support and criticism, saying he doesn’t want to “do anything to enrich the insurance companies.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the president shouldn’t worry, because the legislation made sure insurers didn’t “double dip” by pocketing both reimbursements and higher premiums.

Democrats are largely supportive of the deal, and Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, announced his support late Wednesday.

A bipartisan group of 10 governors urged congressional leaders to take up the bill, so insurers in their states don’t raise their premiums to make up for missing cost-sharing money or withdraw from the marketplace altogether. The new bill would stabilize the markets and keep costs in check, they said.

“Senators Alexander and Murray have negotiated in good faith and developed a bipartisan agreement that will help achieve these goals,” said the letter spearheaded by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. “Their legislation deserves a vote by the House and Senate.”

The health insurers’ main lobbying group — America’s Health Insurance Plans — the political-action arm of the American Cancer Society and AARP, which lobbies for older Americans, also support the plan.

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