How Both Sides Are Trying To Sell Their Bipartisan Obamacare Deal

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, meet before the start of a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, the morning after they reached a deal to resume federal payments to health insurers that President Donald Trump had halted. Sen. Alexander says Trump called him Wednesday morning "to be encouraging" of bipartisan efforts to come up with a plan to stabilize health insurance premiums.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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Senators who have haggled for months over a deal to stabilize Obamacare’s individual market released the draft text of their bill late Tuesday night, and have since been attempting to sell the plan to their wary colleagues.

The proposal would fund cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers for two years, allow more people to buy skimpy “copper” health plans, make it easier for states to waive some insurance regulations, and undo the Trump administration’s deep cuts to the budget for urging people to sign up for Obamacare.

In separate memos obtained by TPM, Democrats and Republicans are making very different arguments in support of the deal, touting their victories in the negotiation and playing down the concessions they made to the other side.

As senators, armed with these talking points, start whipping votes, hostility to the deal from right-wing groups and House Republicans and near-constant position-shifting by President Trump could ultimately doom the effort.

In the memo circulating to Senate Republican offices this week, proponents of the plan argue that the bill will lower insurance premiums and allow states to implement changes to their health care systems—including reinsurance programs that would bring costs down by about 20 percent and trigger “NO new federal spending.” Under the bill, their memo says, states will cut their “federal waiver approval time in half” and enjoy “fast-track approval for emergency situations.” They argue that the new scheme will allow states to drastically rewrite Obamacare’s regulations, citing as an example a waiver application from Iowa that would benefit higher-income patients at the expense of the poor.

The memo ends with a stark warning about what will happen if Congress does not pass the bill: higher insurance premiums, more federal debt, and insurers fleeing the market and leaving Americans with zero plan options. This “chaos,” the memo cautions, will send Democrats on a “four-lane highway to single payer solution.”

The memo making its way around the Senate’s Democratic offices takes a much different tack by highlighting a provision that goes completely unmentioned in the GOP’s fact sheet: the restoration of the funding for open enrollment outreach.

The bill “mitigates the damage done by the Administration’s sabotage by restoring resources for outreach and enrollment before 2018 open enrollment begins,” the memo states, adding that it “requires HHS to increase funding for outreach and enrollment assistance activities for 2018 and 2019” and “puts in place extensive reporting requirements to make sure HHS and CMS are held accountable
for implementing open enrollment in 2018 and 2019.”

While it acknowledges the waiver provisions in the deal, the Democrats’ memo focuses more on what states would not be able to do. In bold, the memo emphasizes that the deal “would not affect any of the ACA’s core elements—like patient protections, tax credits, essential health benefits—that millions rely on.”

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters that both sides are attempting to recruit their colleagues with these arguments.

“What we’re going to try to do is get as many supporters on both sides of the aisle, probably an equal number, to co-sponsor the bill—like 10 and 10 or 15 and 15,” he said. “Then, I will urge Senator McConnell to move it to the floor. If that happened, I’m quite certain it would pass. Then there would be pressure on the House.”

Referencing President Trump’s numerous flip-flops on the bill this week and lamenting that he “can’t stick to a position,” Schumer added: “If the President would come out strongly for the bill and stick to that, that would help us.”

Read the Democrats’ memo:

Read the Republicans’ memo:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.
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