A bipartisan pair of U.S. senators reached an agreement Tuesday that could help stabilize the nation's health insurance marketplaces in the short term. But the legislation still faces an uphill battle in the upper chamber of Congress and may never see the light of day in the House.
The deal, reached by Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Lamar Alexander, would reinstate federal funding for insurance companies for the next few years while also providing states more flexibility from some Obamacare mandates. They say it buys the two parties some breathing room.
"This takes care of the next two years," Alexander told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday. "After that, we can have a full-fledged debate on where we go long-term on health care."
Last week, President Trump created this new crisis when he announced he was ending the Affordable Care Act's cost sharing reduction payments to insurance companies, which are what enable insurance companies to comply with Obamacare's mandate that lower- and middle-income Americans receive dependable insurance plans if they can't afford the full cost of the plans.
After declaring Obamacare "dead" on Monday, Trump seems to be putting his weight behind the new deal.
"The solution will be about a year or two years. And it will get us over this intermediate hump," Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden Tuesday.
While the final details of the legislation are still being worked out, the broad outline of the proposal would provide waivers to states if they prove the changes will bring down the cost of health care – a major concession to Republicans who tried and failed earlier this year to turn Obamacare into block grants.
In a concession to Democrats, the bipartisan agreement restores more than $100 million in Obamacare outreach funding that former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price had stopped using. Critics said Price's move was a blatant attempt by the Trump administration to kill Obamacare by trying to keep more Americans from signing up for exchanges.
"The president had been sabotaging this bill, and the agreement would undo much of that sabotage," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters after the agreement was announced.
Schumer and other Democrats were also up in arms that Trump canceled the insurance subsidies that are needed to keep health insurance markets afloat. But senior Republicans say Trump ended those Obamacare subsidies in order to force the two parties to work out their own, longer-term agreement.
"I think he wanted to create a forcing action to get Congress to do something," Republican Sen. John Thune told reporters Tuesday. "He was trying to trigger action by Congress."
Now that some action has been triggered, Sens. Murray and Alexander are working behind the scenes to form a broad bipartisan coalition to prove to party leaders they have the votes to pass the short-term fix, but they're already receiving pushback from the far right wing of the party.
"Obamacare is in a 'death spiral.' Anything propping it up is only saving what Republicans promised to dismantle," GOP Rep. Mark Walker said in a statement. Walker chairs the Republican Study Committee, a large and powerful bloc of conservative House members that has successfully derailed bipartisan agreements in the past.
Other Republicans, like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have characterized the deal as a "bailout" for insurance companies, which means this new Obamacare fight will test the strength of more moderate lawmakers in both parties who have largely been stymied in this Congress.