Deal to prop up healthcare Act faces hurdles

WASHINGTON • A pair of leading Republican and Democratic senators have reached an agreement to fund key federal healthcare subsidies that President Donald Trump ended last week - and the President has expressed support for the plan.

But it was unclear whether Senate Republican leaders would embrace the proposal, leaving its long-term prospects in doubt.

The compromise from Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and his Democratic colleague, Ms Patty Murray, would provide states with greater flexibility under the Affordable Care Act in exchange for authorising cost-sharing reduction payments for two years.

Those payments help offset deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for low-income consumers who obtain insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

"Yes, we have been involved and this is a short-term deal because we think, ultimately, block grants going to the states is going to be the answer," said Mr Trump, referring to a Republican push to block funding for Obamacare.

His comments came just days after he moved to end the payments and punt the issue to Congress.

But within an hour of Mr Trump's remarks, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told Bloomberg TV that "the President wasn't interested in signing the original version of Alexander-Murray". He said: "It could be packaged with some type of larger deal."

Republican leaders did not immediately embrace the plan, raising questions about whether it would find any traction. "We haven't had a chance to think about the way forward yet," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Last week, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan praised Mr Trump for planning to end the payments, and he has never encouraged any short-term fix to stabilise the exchanges.

Resistance to the latest proposal is already building in the House.

Congressman Mark Walker, who heads the conservative Republican Study Committee, said that Republican lawmakers should be focused on repealing Obamacare, not propping it up.

WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Deal to prop up healthcare Act faces hurdles'. Print Edition | Subscribe