U.S. Senate backers of Obamacare deal seek support but prospects unclear

U.S. Senate backers of Obamacare deal seek support but prospects unclear Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), flanked by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), speaks to reporters following a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Proponents of a bipartisan deal struck by two U.S. senators to stabilize Obamacare sought on Wednesday to win Republican support for the measure, which would restore subsidies to health insurers that President Donald Trump has scrapped.

With 2018 health insurance markets facing potential chaos, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray were hoping to build broad support for a short-term fix for former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Their proposal would meet some Democratic objectives, such as reviving subsidies for Obamacare and restoring $106 million in funding for a federal program that helps people enroll in insurance plans.

In exchange, Republicans would get more flexibility for states to offer a wider variety of health insurance plans while maintaining the requirement that sick and healthy people be charged the same rates for coverage.

The Trump administration said last week it would stop paying billions of dollars to insurers to help cover out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income Americans, part of the Republican president’s effort to dismantle the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Trump and other Republicans have disparaged the payments to insurers as a “bailout” but the president on Tuesday indicated support for the efforts by Alexander and Murray as a one- or two-year fix while work continues to unwind the law.

While the two senators’ proposal has broad Democratic support, it is unclear how many Republicans will endorse it and whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan will allow a vote on the plan.

It also remained unclear how fully Trump supported the plan and whether he would sign it into law.

Republican Senator Susan Collins, a moderate who helped kill earlier efforts to repeal and replace the healthcare law, said she backed efforts to shore up Obamacare, but that it remained unclear if there would ultimately be enough support.

“Now, the White House is sending conflicting messages,” she told CNN in an interview on Wednesday, adding that the insurer payments had been “mischaracterized” as a boon for the industry.

Collins said she did not know if McConnell would schedule a vote but that “if it comes to the floor, I think the votes are there.” She said it also could win House approval if Trump “reiterates his support.”

Republicans, describing Obamacare as ineffective and a massive government intrusion in a key sector of the economy, have sought for seven years to repeal and replace it. Scrapping the law was also a top Trump campaign pledge. But the party, which has controlled the White House and Congress since January, has so far failed to make good on its promise.

Democrats have fought to defend Obamacare, which extended health insurance to 20 million Americans.

(Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

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