Senators near bipartisan deal to stabilize health insurance market

(Bloomberg) --Senators are nearing a deal on a bipartisan package to help stabilize Obamacare’s individual insurance markets.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, told reporters that he and his Democratic colleague Patty Murray, of Washington, are close to an agreement, but the real issue now is securing the backing of leaders from both parties and enough senators to move forward.

“It’s not a matter of just whether Senator Murray and I can agree,” Alexander said. “It’s a matter of whether she and I can find consensus among Republicans and Democrats that we believe can enact into a result. She and I might be able to come to an agreement tonight. But that won’t do the job.”

Alexander and Murray had been working on a small bill to fund subsidies for insurers to lower Americans’ health costs, and to provide states with flexibility to implement Obamacare until a now-failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act gained steam briefly. It’s unclear whether their restarted bipartisan effort will eventually be able to gain necessary support. President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have both indicated they wouldn’t support such a bill.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican leader, said he was upbeat about the emerging Alexander-Murray deal because the two are discussing offering added flexibility to states.

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The United States Capitol stands at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Senate leaders are poised to reach an agreement as early as today to bring a halt to the fiscal standoff, and now must race the clock to sell the plan to lawmakers before U.S. borrowing authority runs out this week. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“I’m encouraged that it’s more than just providing additional subsidies to insurance companies,” he said. “It looks like some real reform that’s part of it.”

He said that includes the ability to offer “copper,” or catastrophic, plans that are currently illegal under Obamacare for people who want bare-bones coverage.

The last GOP effort to repeal Obamacare from Senators Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Bill Cassidy, of Louisiana, didn’t get enough Republican support to warrant a vote this week. But Republicans have already signaled they will attempt yet another revival of their repeal efforts after dealing with tax reform.

Plowing Ahead

Graham also projected optimism on Thursday following what he described as an “awesome” meeting with President Trump on Thursday. Graham and Cassidy had attempted to get enough support for a vote in just a few days after introducing it Sept. 13 -- and after having only one hearing on it.

“We are working very closely with the president and his team to plow ahead,” Graham said. “I really do believe we will have the votes for the better process,” he added. “Truth of the matter is it’s not a substantive issue it’s a process issue.”

The Graham-Cassidy bill would make major changes to Obamacare starting in 2020, including using the money that funds the law to dole out block grants to states to use how they see fit to provide health-care coverage for their residents. The agreement Alexander and Murray are crafting is expected to seek to stabilize Obamacare markets over the next couple years.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was optimistic on the floor of chamber that Alexander and Murray were “on the verge” of a deal.

“I would hope it is a great start on bipartisanship” on other issues that are coming up, Schumer said, adding that he had spoken about the matter with Alexander this morning in the Senate gym.