Bipartisan Health Care Bill Aims To Stabilize Individual Market And Keep Premiums Down

Oct 17, 2017
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Here's one you've heard before. There's a health care bill affecting the Affordable Care Act making its way through Congress. But this bill might have a different ending than the failed Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare. It is a short-term fix that aims to stabilize the individual market and keep premiums down. It's bipartisan. And today President Trump said he supports it. Well, joining us now is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hey there, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: Where did this deal come from? Start there because lawmakers had been saying they had moved on from health care, that they were all about focusing on a tax bill now.

DAVIS: So this is coming from two senators, Republican Lamar Alexander from Tennessee and Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington. They've actually been working on this for months. And it has sort of ebbed and flowed as Republican efforts to repeal and replace the law ebbed and flowed. Every time we thought the bill would go away this, bill spiked up. Every time it came back, it went away. It had been muted. And I think what revived it was ultimately the president's decision last week to end subsidies to insurance companies. And the bipartisan deal that has been reached by Alexander and Murray, he briefed Republicans on at lunch today. And this is what he told us afterwards.

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LAMAR ALEXANDER: This is a small step. I'd like to undersell it, not oversell it. So hopefully we'll be giving Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer legislation co-sponsored by a significant number of Republicans and Democrats later this week. And then we can see where it goes from here.

KELLY: All right. Senator Alexander there underselling his bill.

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KELLY: Tell us a little bit more about what exactly it would do. The goal is to bring premiums down.

DAVIS: Right. It is a small-in-scope piece of legislation. What it would do is continue those payments that President Trump decided to end for two years. Those subsidies help keep premium costs down for lower-income Americans. We haven't seen legislative text yet. But what Lamar Alexander told us is that it will also give states more flexibility on what their health care plans can do. Although, he did say that it will not affect preexisting conditions, which is an issue that has bedeviled Republicans in the past.

KELLY: Sure.

DAVIS: And it would also allow states to sell limited catastrophic plans to people older than 29. Right now the Affordable Care Act says you can only buy one if you're under 29. They think this will help get more people covered. And there's some money in the bill to help promote people to sign up for coverage, which is something that Democrats like.

KELLY: Are the politics tough here, though, for Republicans? I mean, they have, as we said, tried and failed to repeal Obamacare. And now they're going to vote to stabilize Obamacare?

DAVIS: This is a reason why there's - it's reason to be skeptical about that this can pass where others have failed. They need to find 60 votes so they can overcome any kinds of filibusters in the Senate. And they say they won't - they need to be able to have those 60 votes to go to their leaders and say, you should bring this bill up for a vote. Realistically, they need at least 12 Republicans on board. That's assuming all 48 Democrats vote for it to get to that magic number of 60.

KELLY: And what about on the Democratic side? Why would they vote for this?

DAVIS: Right. You know, Senator Chuck Schumer - he's the minority leader. He was asked about this today, and he was candid. This is what he said.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: There are no assurances. And look. We know that they're going to continue to try to repeal and replace. But when they see the actual consequences, they run away from them.

DAVIS: Democrats say they have a policy incentive to sort of bolster the existing system. And they see a political advantage to this, too. If this does come to a vote, it will be the first time most Republican lawmakers will have to go on record, in political terms, voting in favor of Obamacare.

KELLY: All right. To be continued - that's NPR's Susan Davis reporting from Capitol Hill. Thanks so much, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

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