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Senators take a bipartisan step toward a health care fix

Two leading senators reached a bipartisan deal Tuesday to stabilize health insurance markets under Obamacare. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said their two-year compromise would fund federal subsidies that President Trump ended last week. Judy Woodruff sits down with Lisa Desjardins to discuss how this plan will give states more flexibility.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two influential U.S. senators have reached across the political divide to try to stabilize the health insurance market under Obamacare. The two-year plan would fund federal subsidies for insurance companies to cover low-income clients. President Trump cut off those payments last week.

    Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander and Washington state Democrat Patty Murray said their compromise gives states more flexibility.

  • Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-tenn.:

    We concluded that the best course would be to take this limited bipartisan first step that would avoid the chaos that could occur during 2018 and 2019 if premiums continue to skyrocket and millions of Americans find themselves without a way to purchase health insurance.

  • Sen. Patty Murray, D-wash.:

    When Republicans and Democrats in Congress take the time to work together under regular order, rather than retreating to partisan corners, we can truly get things done that help the people that we serve.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Our Lisa Desjardins joins us now with more on what’s in this deal and its prospects.

    So, first, what’s in it?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, let’s go through it.

    Here’s what this does. It’s a two-year deal to try and stabilize the health care market. First, it would fund those cost-sharing subsidies for two years that the president announced last week he wasn’t going to fund unless Congress acted. It also would allow anyone in America to buy — anyone in the individual market to buy a catastrophic plan.

    Judy, right now, that’s limited to people under 30 years of age. Finally, Judy, it would streamline the waiver process for states, so that states who feel like they had an exception or a particular need could get waivers more quickly from the Affordable Care Act.

    Judy, President Trump, who himself said he was going to end the CSRs and wanted Congress to act, he said he likes this deal, he supports it. Still wants reform, repeal and replace long-term. But he supports this short-term.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let’s talk about two of these things you mentioned.

    Catastrophic plans, what is that? What does that mean? And when you talk about waivers, what does that mean, and how would this change it?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The catastrophic plans right now are only available to people under 30 years old.

    And what they are essentially is, they keep all the essential benefits that every other plan has, but if a person under this plan gets sick, Judy, they would be on the hook to pay more. They basically have a higher deductible. They pay a higher percentage of their health care costs.

    They’re gambling that they won’t get sick when they buy these plans, but they get a much lower premium. Everyone could buy these plans under this deal.

    And then, when you’re talking about the waivers, Judy, the examples that they give in Congress here are examples like, say, Iowa wants a waiver to, say, co-pays for opioids would have to be higher because, say, they are having a problem with opioids, or they have a particular emergency.

    They have a few counties that don’t have any insurers. This allows a fast-track process, in fact, half the time, they say, for those waivers to go through.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And why do the sponsors think this changes or helps the market?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They think that what this will do is, it will individuals who have soaring premiums more options, especially those catastrophic plans, and more importantly I think right now it will fund these subsidies that really are driving the insurance market quite wild.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK, so the $64,000 question, what are the prospects? What does it look like?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right, the, I don’t know, $1 trillion question.

    Unclear. I think the best hope for this is that they will get Democratic and Republican votes. And in the Senate right now, there’s a lot of positive feedback from both sides.

    However, we have to watch in the House, where already one conservative, Mark Walker, has come out against this. Waiting to hear from the speaker of the House himself, but this probably has the best chance of anything, Judy.

    And it’s worth noting that senators spent five weeks on this. Doesn’t sound much. But that’s more than just the few days they had on the last deal. They had five hearings on this, only one hearing during the rest of the year. They’re saying this shows how the Senate can do things if given time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was so interesting. When Murray and Alexander came together some weeks ago, it was said no chance. It’s been resurrected.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Well, these are two senators who have worked quietly behind the scenes, again, the exact opposite of what we have seen with all the drama previously on health care, where there were big moments and people coming to the microphones.

    These two senators have plowed ahead. And it seems they have really been thinking about the dangers to individuals of what was happening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Working largely quietly behind the scenes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Imagine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, we thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You’re welcome.

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