- The Washington Times
Friday, July 28, 2017

Senate Democrats called on Republicans to immediately shore up Obamacare’s flagging insurance markets and “sit down and trade ideas” over health reforms, extending an olive branch after the GOP push to repeal the 2010 law fell into tatters early Friday.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said GOP defections that sank a “skinny repeal” of the 2010 Affordable Care Act provided the opportunity to start over with bipartisan reforms.


But first, he called on GOP leaders who control Congress to shore up Obamacare’s ailing markets with a number of specific fixes, from permanent funding for vital Obamacare payments to a “reinsurance” program that backstops insurers who are stuck with costly enrollees.

Democrats also want to let anyone stuck without an option on their Obamacare exchange to shop for insurance on the D.C. small-business exchange — the portal that members of Congress use.

“Nobody said Obamacare is perfect,” Mr. Schumer said, though accused President Trump and Republicans of undermining the law. “The problem is when they tried to just pull the rug out from the existing system.”

Every Democrat and three Senate Republicans teamed up early Friday to sink a pared-down repeal bill, 49-51, that would have repealed or delayed some of Obamacare’s mandates and taxes. The idea was to prolong the GOP’s sputtering repeal debate into a conference committee with the House, which already acted.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican dealing with a shocking cancer diagnosis, cast the deciding vote after midnight alongside Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who’d resisted leadership’s push to debate health care at all this week.

After sunrise, Mr. Schumer credited Mr. McCain’s “”internal gyroscope of right and wrong.”

He also called for a reset, saying quick patches to Obamacare should be followed by bottom-up negotiation in relevant committees.

“We should sit down and trade ideas,” Mr. Schumer said.

It’s unclear what form that cooperation might take. Democrats have shown little interest in working toward the GOP’s idea of a total overhaul of Obamacare, instead calling for boosting the government control and taxpayer spending that are at the heart of the 2010 law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on Democrats to offer their ideas, but said “bailing out insurance companies with no thought of any kind of reform, is not something I want to be part of.”

The wild card will be President Trump, who blamed Friday’s failure on Senate filibuster rules, saying Republicans were forced to craft a narrow repeal bill that met arcane budget rules, even though rifts within the GOP were the main sticking point.

Mr. Trump also seethed at the trio of Republican defectors and hinted — once again — he would spurn a program his administration is charged with administering.

“As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!” he said.

The most pressing decision facing Mr. Trump is whether to continue funding “cost-sharing” payments that reimburse insurers for helping low-income customers.

The House Republicans had won a ruling last year that President Obama was breaking the law by making payments to insurance companies even though Congress had specifically canceled that money.

The Trump administration could easily drop the appeal, but the White House and Republicans now must consider whether to appropriate the money or let the payments continue on auto-pilot.

Mr. Schumer said failure to fund the payments would be reckless and irresponsible.

Millions of Obamacare customers with incomes between 100 percent and 250 percent of poverty rely on the payments, and — with repeal off the table — health plans are still required to reduce their out-of-pocket costs whether they’re reimbursed or not.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said Friday the House GOP extended the payments as part of its repeal-and-replace package, recognizing the insurance markets needed stability during the transition to a new system, but there’s little appetite to fund them under the status quo.

“They’re at risk,” he said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican and vocal champion for Obamacare repeal, said it “would be hard” for House leaders to get the votes to appropriate the payments.

“I think many people view this as a bailout,” he said, “so we’ll have to look at it and see what is the best path forward.”


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