Bipartisan health care negotiations continue in Senate

Story highlights

  • Republicans tabled bipartisan work on Obamacare just weeks ago
  • GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander is back working with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray

Washington (CNN)Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, expressed cautious optimism Tuesday over the prospects of striking a deal on a bipartisan bill help stabilize the Obamacare marketplace saying that he and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray continue to work to find a way forward on health care.

"What we're trying to do and I appreciate the way Sen. Murray is doing it, is we're trying to find not just an agreement between the two of us because that won't do anything. We're trying to find a significant number of Republicans and Democrats who agree on a limited bipartisan consensus to stabilize the market in 2018 and 2019," Alexander told reporters.
The elements of the deal, Alexander said, would include state flexibility in exchange for two years of funding for what are known as cost-sharing reduction payments. Those payments are the stream of money the government pays to insurers to help offset the costs of insuring low-income people. The payments are currently being paid by the Trump administration, but Republicans have questioned the legality of that arrangement. The CSRs are the subject of a House lawsuit from when the Obama administration was making the payments.
    Insurers signed contracts last week that locked them into participating for 2018 and finalized the premiums they'll charge. Many carriers received double-digit rate increases because the Trump administration has not guaranteed the continued funding of the cost-sharing subsidies.
    Republicans tabled the bipartisan work on Obamacare just weeks ago when a Republican-only bill to repeal and replace large parts of Obamacare gained momentum in the Senate. The talks resumed, however last week after that Republican effort failed.
    Now, Murray and Alexander are trying to bring their colleagues on board with their plan.
    "I've talked to (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell and I've talked to (Senate Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer and I've told them that Sen. Murray and I are continuing to talk. We're talking today. We don't have an agreement. We don't have a consensus yet. We're going to keep talking and when we do, we'll take it to the leaders," Alexander said. "My hope would be that they would want to put it on the floor or take the appropriate next step whatever that may be."
    But asked if leadership was urging them to continue those talks, Alexander said "Well, I'm telling them that I am continuing."
    Murray also said she was "hopeful" about her talks with Alexander.
    "Chairman Alexander and I are continuing to talk and I'm very hopeful we can iron out final details quickly, because the sooner we do that, the sooner we can restore some certainty to our health care markets and the better chance we have of helping to prevent families' premiums from increasing," she said in an emailed statement.