Negotiations continue over insurance payments on Capitol Hill

Trump ends insurance subsidies for poor people
Trump ends insurance subsidies for poor people

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  • Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray have sought a health care deal
  • President Donald Trump's announcement last week added new urgency

(CNN)Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said Monday he's getting encouragement from both President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to reach a health care deal soon that would restore cost-sharing reduction payments in exchange for state flexibility on some plans.

"The President has encouraged me to try to get an agreement with Sen. Murray," Alexander told reporters, a reference to Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate's health committee. "Sen. Schumer has encouraged me to try to get an agreement with Sen. Murray. I find that very encouraging when both the President and Sen. Schumer encourage me to do something."
Alexander confirmed to reporters Monday that he spoke to Trump over the phone Saturday about restoring the CSR payments and that the President was supportive of him reaching a deal, something even some GOP colleagues have resisted.
    For weeks, Alexander has been working with Murray on legislation that would appropriate CSR payments for two years in exchange for state flexibility, but after Trump announced Thursday that he would stop making the payments himself their negotiations have been met with even more urgency.
    Without CSRs -- funding the federal government gives to insurers to reduce health care costs of low-income people -- health care experts have warned that insurers could leave the Obamacare marketplace or raise premiums in the future. Alexander and Murray have tried to negotiate a plan that would require Republicans to agree to fund CSRs if Democrats agreed to allow states to offer some insurance plans that did not comply with some Obamacare regulations.
    But negotiations have been slow in part because GOP leaders and even rank-and-file members have expressed concerns about allocating money for Obamacare, a law they've campaigned to repeal.
    Alexander acknowledged Monday that there was still work to do to convince his GOP colleagues to back a compromise even if one could be negotiated with Murray: "What I've asked the Republican leadership to do is give us a chance to see if we can develop a consensus among Republicans as well as Democrats and then if we can maybe we can enact it."
    Over the weekend, staff for both Alexander and Murray continued negotiations, but there is still no solid timeline for when a plan would be revealed.
    "We're still talking. I hope we can get a result. The sooner the better. We want whatever agreement we have to benefit people in 2018 by holding down the increase in premiums and by beginning to lower them in 2019. It doesn't just depend on -- as I've said many times -- what Sen. Murray and I think," Alexander told reporters. "Our goal is to find a consensus of a significant number of Republicans and Democrats who are willing to support and co-sponsor a limited agreement that extends cost-sharing payments for two years and gives states meaningful flexibility."