Deborah Barfield Berry, USA TODAY/October 17, 2017
WASHINGTON — Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate announced they have reached a bipartisan deal to shore up the Affordable Care Act health insurance markets for two years while Congress continues to grapple with GOP efforts to replace the law.
Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., the leaders of the Senate health committee, said Tuesday they have struck a deal for a two-year extension of subsidies for insurance companies to cover low-income clients — subsidies that President Trump canceled last week.
Alexander told reporters the deal would also expand authority for states to experiment with alternative standards for insurance plans that deviate from federal requirements, but it would not do away with the requirement to cover people with pre-existing conditions. The deal would also not eliminate so-called essential health benefits — such as mental health and maternity care — that insurance plans must cover.
Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare ran aground in part because of concerns of both Democrats and Republicans that these provisions would be eliminated.
The agreement would involve a two-year extension of federal payments to insurers that Trump halted last week. Unless the money is quickly restored, insurers and others say that will result in higher premiums for people buying individual policies and in some carriers leaving unprofitable markets.
“This agreement avoids chaos,” Alexander said. “Over the next two years, I think, Americans won’t have to worry about the price of health (insurance) and being able to buy insurance in the counties where they live.”