Senators Aim To Restore ACA Subsidies To Insurance Companies

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Days after President Trump blocked subsidies to insurance companies, a move that's now linked to huge premium increases for many Americans, some senators want to put the subsidies back. Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray say they agreed on how to fund Obamacare cost reduction payments for two years.

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LAMAR ALEXANDER: Our goal is to stabilize and then lower the cost of premiums and to enable all Americans to have access to health insurance.

INSKEEP: President Trump himself spoke favorably of the agreement, even though it would reverse his executive order and stabilize Obamacare, which he wants to repeal. Of course, we don't know if this plan would pass both houses of Congress. People watching with great interest include Republican Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who's on the line. Governor, good morning.

CHRIS SUNUNU: Well, good morning, Steve, thanks for having me on.

INSKEEP: Would you urge your party to stabilize the markets the way the two senators want to do?

SUNUNU: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I got to say, you know, look, let's start with Obamacare has failed. I mean, it really has. We're looking at 45 to 50 percent premiums increases right here in the state of New Hampshire. Now, we've been able to stabilize our market. We've worked with our health care providers and negotiated some good deals to stave off I think the disaster that you've seen in some other states. But these CSR's are critical and, well, we want Obamacare repealed. We want more flexibility to the states. You can't just cut off the CSR's and kind of do this in half measures. You got to go all in or all out.

INSKEEP: And we should be clear, Governor, when you're talking about 45 to 50 percent increases coming up in New Hampshire - and news reports have said that you're correct, that's what's being faced in New Hampshire and even bigger increases in other states - those increases are linked to President Trump's executive order to end these subsidies. So let's be clear about this. If Congress does not reverse this, does that mean the Republican Party will own the pain, will own these big premium increases that people are about to face?

SUNUNU: Well, no, just to be clear. We were - we in New Hampshire are facing 43 to 47 percent increases with the CSR's in place. We're looking at 55 percent or even more with the CSR's now out of place. So we were in a tough situation no matter what.

INSKEEP: OK.

SUNUNU: So - and I - people have to remember the Republicans are working hard. I wish they would get something passed - I think everybody would wish they would get something passed - to fix the problem of the last eight years. They really are. What I'd like to see is both parties to come together. I'm a big believer in bipartisanship. I think what you're seeing with the CSR proposal right now is a good first step in working with both sides of the aisle, people putting good ideas on the table. Nobody - nobody can claim Obamacare is working. I mean, these premium increases are so high that if we did nothing and kept Obamacare in place, we're still going to lose 15,000 people off our exchange next year because they simply can't afford it. They're going to choose to take their chances that the government isn't going to come after them with the individual mandate.

INSKEEP: What do you - what do you say, though, Governor, to conservatives who are now saying essentially what you're saying, this is a failed system, we want to just repeal it or replace it and it's a diversion to talk about fixing it?

SUNUNU: Well, I think the closest thing we've seen in a bill that I couldn't fully support but there were aspects that I really liked was Graham-Cassidy. And that provided tons of flexibility - a giant block grant back to the states that provided the states to design their own system and essentially start re-instilling a free market back in to health care, which we don't have right now. Our health care costs are really based on politics more than anything.

INSKEEP: But you're willing to fix the current system for two years under this plan by Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray if it were up to you. Is that right?

SUNUNU: Well, I'll take a two-year plan so they can get their act together and give us a long-term plan. I mean, if you have to do it stepwise, I don't think that's the best solution. I'm a big believer in long-term solutions. But you got to do something because right now states have to make decisions. We don't know - we have to make decisions based on an unknown platform out of Washington right now. So that's creating a lot of chaos within the states. And remember, we're the implementers, right? We're the managers of this nationalized program that has failed. So providing states flexibility, re-instilling a true free marketplace back into the country and somewhat allowing people to buy insurance across state lines, associate plans, all these are little pieces of the puzzle that allow more flexibility into the system.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Governor, you mentioned that you favored Graham-Cassidy, the proposal that didn't ultimately get anywhere in the Senate that gives states a lot more power, which must sound appealing if you're a governor. But it appeared that that legislation, had it passed in the form that it was written, would have caused tens of millions of people to lose health insurance. Why was that a good idea?

SUNUNU: Well, so let's back up. I liked - I did not favor Graham-Cassidy in the whole because New Hampshire would've lost close to a billion dollars of funding. It was - it was - it wasn't - it's simply wasn't fair. Some states were getting billions of more. I liked the flexibility. What I want to see is the flexibility of Graham-Cassidy without penalizing states, you know, the billions of dollars that places like New Hampshire and even Massachusetts were going to face. So there's a middle ground there. But the flexibility is far and away the most important aspect. When you meet with the governors and those of us that manage with this, that's the number one thing we all agree on. Flexibility is key, but you can't just strangle off all the funds at once. You've got to be able to let states manage themselves, and by doing that, we can create efficiencies and naturally lower the costs.

INSKEEP: And I guess that's what might take a couple more years to sort out in Congress in your ideal scenario.

SUNUNU: Well, I hope it takes a couple more months to be honest. These guys got to do their job. They really do. It's frustrating on both sides of the aisle. They really have to understand they have a true obligation to the people of America. They've got to get off their butts and do their job. We're working hard in New Hampshire. I know other governors are working hard in their states. The federal government has to get up and start standing up for the American people.

INSKEEP: Republican Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire. Governor, thanks very much.

SUNUNU: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.