Republican says he’ll push health deal, Trump keeps distance

WASHINGTON (AP) — The authors of a bipartisan plan to calm health insurance markets said Wednesday they’ll push the proposal forward, even as President Donald Trump’s stance ricocheted from supportive to disdainful to arm’s-length and the plan’s fate teetered.

“If something can happen, that’s fine,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I won’t do anything to enrich the insurance companies because right now the insurance companies are being enriched. They’ve been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody has ever seen before.”

The agreement by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., on a two-year extension of the federal subsidies to insurers that Trump has blocked gained an important new foe on Wednesday. The anti-abortion National Right to Life said it opposed the measure because it lacked language barring people from using their federally subsidized coverage to buy policies covering abortion, said Jennifer Popik, the group’s top lobbyist.

In another blow, Doug Andres, spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Ryan “does not see anything that changes his view that the Senate should keep its focus on repeal and replace of Obamacare.” With hard-right conservatives wielding considerable influence among House Republicans, it was unclear if Ryan would be willing to even bring the measure to his chamber’s floor.

Alexander and Murray shook hands on their agreement this week after months of intermittent talks. Failure to restore the federal payments to insurers could result in higher premiums for millions buying their own individual policies and drive carriers from unprofitable markets. Many in Congress would love to avoid blame for two such tumultuous events.

The compromise has won warm endorsements from Democrats and some Republicans. It includes steps won by Republicans to make it easier for insurers to avoid some coverage requirements under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

But Trump has lambasted the subsidies as insurance company bailouts. Other GOP lawmakers are loathe to prop up Obama’s statute, a law they’ve long vowed to repeal.

“I think right now it’s stalled out,” No. 3 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota told reporters.

The money reimburses carriers for lowering co-payments and deductibles for about 6 million lower-income customers, which the companies must do under Obama’s statute.

Without those funds, insurers would likely boost premiums by an average 20 percent, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected. This would especially hit many buying their own health insurance who earn too much to qualify for tax credits that help lower earners reduce their premiums.