Alexander and Murray announce 24 co-sponsors of bipartisan Obamacare fix

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., sitting next to ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sit down at the start of a hearing looking at ways to fix the No Child Left Behind law during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015. Alexander said he is open to discussion on whether the federal government should dictate standardized testing or leave it up to states. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

AP

Last Updated Oct 19, 2017 2:02 PM EDT

Two key senators on Thursday announced that the bipartisan proposal they've crafted to fix Obamacare's cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments has a total of 24 original co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, reached an agreement with his ranking member, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and it's backed by 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans.

The short-term deal would extend CSR payments for the next two years and would eliminate the question about whether paying them is legal. The agreement would permanently amend Obamacare to give new flexibility for states to create insurance policies that have a larger variety and lower costs and it also would continue CSRs during 2018 and 2019.

"This is a first step," Alexander said on the Senate floor. "Improve it, and pass it sooner rather than later."

Here are the co-sponsors:

  1. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee
  2. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota
  3. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina
  4. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona
  5. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine
  6. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa
  7. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
  8. Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina
  9. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee
  10. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana
  11. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa
  12. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia
  13. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington
  14. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine
  15. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire
  16. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota
  17. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware
  18. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri
  19. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota
  20. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana
  21. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota
  22. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia
  23. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin
  24. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire

Alexander noted that the subsidies pay for co-pays and deductibles for low-income Americans and he noted that every Republican in the House who voted to repeal and replace Obamacare earlier this year voted for a provision in their measure that would continue CSR payments for the next two years.

The GOP senator said that he and Murray are open to improving the language of their agreement and they both emphasized that they wrote it so that it requires states to make sure that the benefits of the payments go to the consumer and not insurance companies.

Alexander said that the short-term deal resulted from negotiations with Murray, with whom he had already been working, when President Trump called him on Columbus Day weekend to inform him that he would cut off the CSR payments and to request that Congress put together a short-term deal to continue them. Publicly, Mr. Trump has repeatedly slammed the subsidies, claiming they enrich insurers. He complained earlier this week that the nation's biggest insurers "have absolutely taken advantage of this country and our people. And I stopped it by stopping the CSRs." Last week he declared, "I don't want to make the insurance companies rich. If you look at their stock price over the last number of years — take a look at what's happened with those insurance companies — they're making a fortune by getting that kind of money."

Murray said that CSR payments have "nothing to do with politics" and have everything to do with whether families can "make ends meet." 

After President Trump announced last week that he would end cost-sharing subsidies paid to insurers under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Republican and Democratic senators announced they had reached a deal to continue the payments for two years and allow states greater flexibility under President Obama's signature legislation. 

Initially, the president embraced the bill, saying at Rose Garden press conference, "For a period of one year, two years, we will have a very good solution." He called it a "short-term solution, so that we don't have this very dangerous little period, including a dangerous period for insurance companies, by the way."

But later that day, in a speech at a conservative think tank, he qualified his earlier comments. "While I commend the bipartisan work done by Senators Alexander and Murray - and I do commend it - I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies." The White House later pointed to this remark to illustrate that Mr. Trump, in fact, opposes the Alexander-Murray plan. 

Many conservatives have denounced the deal, though, because it does not repeal and replace the ACA.