Sunday, October 22, 2017

McConnell says he's waiting to hear from Trump before deciding on bill to restore cost-sharing subsidies for Obamacare policies

Kentucky Health News

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Sunday that he's waiting for a clear signal from President Trump before acting on a bipartisan bill to restore cost-sharing subsidies for individual health-insurance policies under Obamacare.

“I'm waiting to hear to hear from President Trump what kind of health-care bill he might sign,” McConnell said on "State of the Union" on CNN. “If there’s a need for some kind of interim step here to stabilize the market, we need a bill the president will actually sign. And I’m not certain yet what the president is looking for here, but I’ll be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it.” He added, “I think he hasn’t made a final decision.”

On Oct. 12, Trump said he would end the subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for lower- and moderate-income people, because Congress had failed to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A few days later, he said he would support a bill to extend the subsidies for two years and give states more flexibility in Obamacare. But the next day, the president said "I can never support bailing out" insurance companies, which the government reimburses for the discounts.

The subsidies go to people with incomes up to 250 percent of the poverty line, about $30,000 for an individual and $61,000 for a family of four. About half the 80,000 Kentuckians with Obamacare policies get the subsidies.

Trump's press secretary suggested that the president could support the bill if it were changed, giving as an example even more Obamacare flexibility to the states: converting the funding to block grants. "White House officials said later that Trump would only sign an interim bill that also lifts the tax penalties that Obama’s health care law imposes on people who don’t buy coverage and employers who don’t offer plans to employees," reports Jill Colvin of The Associated Press. "The White House also wants provisions making it easier for people to buy low-premium policies with less coverage."

Democrats oppose all those ideas, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said McConnell should bring the bipartisan bill to the Senate floor because it would pass with the votes of all 48 Democratic senators and at least 12 Republicans. Sixty votes are required in the Senate to overcome filibusters, except on budget-reconciliation bills.

“We have an agreement. We want to stick by it,” Schumer said, referring to the deal between Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the chair and ranking minority member of the Senate health committee.

Replying to McConnell, Schumer said Trump “holds the key” to preventing further cost increases for Obamacare policyholders. He said, “Now that Leader McConnell has made it clear he will put the Murray-Alexander bill on the floor as soon as the president supports it, the president should say that he does.”

Even if the bill was to pass the Senate, it would face stout opposition in the House, where Republicans have greater control and Speaker Paul Ryan says he opposes the measure. However, Democrats will gain leverage near the end of the year, when their votes will be needed in the Senate to pass legislation to fund the government and keep it open. McConnell has said he opposes government shutdowns.

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