GOP Senators Discuss Short-Term Measures To ‘Stabilize’ Obamacare Markets

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Republicans coming out of a Senate health care working group meeting said a major focus of Tuesday’s discussion were short term proposals to entice insurers to stay in the fragile Affordable Care Act exchanges while a longer term legislative effort to repeal Obamacare is worked out.

It’s not clear whether such measures would come in the form of Trump administration executive actions or legislation from the Senate, and if the latter, whether that legislation would be separate from the main repeal bill.

“We need to decide whether that will going to be part of our legislative effort,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told reporters after the meeting, as he was heading into the full GOP conference lunch.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said Republicans were seeking feedback from insurers as to what it would take to bring more certainty to the individual market.

“We are trying to grapple with what we can do short term to stabilize these markets, to prevent them from collapsing, see if we can stabilize insurance rates at least for 2018. We’re running out of time,” Johnson told reporters.

The main concern insurers have raised as they prepare to file their intentions for 2018 is the fate of Obamacare’s cost sharing reduction payments, which subsidize insurers for keeping out-of-pocket costs down for low income consumers. They payments have been the target of a House GOP lawsuit, and President Trump has repeatedly threatened to halt them to hasten a collapse of Obamacare, which he thinks would bring Democrats to the negotiating table.

The Senate Republicans said Tuesday that the CSR payments were part of the health care working group’s discussions, but they wouldn’t say whether the Trump administration needed to do more to make clear that they would continue.

Republicans in the past have blasted the subsidies and other Obamacare programs for insurers as “bailouts” but are now floating proposals to continue them, as they would take the blame for a collapse of the market due to the current political and policy uncertainty.

“I support doing what we need to do, in the short term, even though they may be policies I don’t support,” Johnson said.