Republican senators ditch bipartisan health care talks

Posted at 11:16 PM, Sep 19, 2017

A bipartisan group of senators has failed to reach an agreement on stabilizing Obamacare in 2018.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chaired a set of health committee hearings with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, said Tuesday that the effort to craft a "limited, bipartisan plan" to take to Senate leaders by the end of September had come to a standstill.

"During the last month, we have worked hard and in good faith, but have not found the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats to put a bill in the Senate leaders' hands that could be enacted," Alexander said in a statement.

Murray said she regretted Alexander's decision, noting the group had identified "significant common ground" and that she had agreed to give states additional flexibility over how they implement Obamacare.

The halt comes as Republicans have revived an effort to repeal Obamacare before the end of the month, when their authority to pass a bill with a simple majority ends. The White House has launched a full-court press backing a bill authored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy that would dismantle major provisions of the health reform law and overhaul Medicaid.

"I am disappointed that Republican leaders have decided to freeze this bipartisan approach and are trying to jam through a partisan Trumpcare bill," Murray said in a statement, "but I am confident that we can reach a deal if we keep working together -- and I am committed to getting that done."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reiterated that Democrats were willing to work with their peers across the aisle.

"We gave them many of the things they asked for, including copper [catastrophic] plans and wide waiver authority," said Matt House, Schumer's spokesman. "The Republican leadership is so eager to pass Graham-Cassidy that they're scuttling a balanced, bipartisan negotiation."

The health committee held four hearings in earlier this month in hopes of finding a path on how to shore up Obamacare in the short term. They met with governors from both parties, as well as insurance commissioners and other health care experts, to learn what needed to be done.

At the top of the Democrats' wish list was guaranteed funding for a key set of Obamacare subsidies at least through next year, a measure that governors, insurers and others have long stressed is critical. Alexander and several other Republicans acknowledged the need to continue supporting the health reform law, but that didn't sit well with some conservative GOP lawmakers.

Many witnesses also said they could use federal funds to help shield insurers from high-cost patients in reinsurance programs.

Republicans, meanwhile, stressed that they wanted to give states more flexibility and control over their own health care programs. They looked to expand the use of waivers from Obamacare's strict set of regulations, including those that protect those with pre-existing conditions. That was a major stumbling block for Democrats.