WASHINGTON — After spending nearly a year focused on a single policy goal — repealing and replacing Obamacare — congressional Republicans have hit a critical juncture. They don’t have the votes right now to kill the 2010 health care law, so do they undermine it and risk taking the blame for higher premiums or try to stabilize the system but anger their base?
The question is a central one now that President Donald Trump kicked the health care ball back into Congress’ court when he ended special payments to insurers known as cost-share reductions.
What to do next appears to be dividing Georgia’s two Republican senators.
Both Johnny Isakson and David Perdue loathe the Affordable Care Act and have been vocal about their distaste for years. They voted for all of the Senate GOP’s proposals to scrap the law this summer. They also both indicated after that repeal effort collapsed that they would at least be open to the idea of working with Democrats on some sort of compromise.
But at first blush it appears the two are divided on the bipartisan plan that emerged on Thursday to stabilize the Obamacare market.
The deal, negotiated by Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray, would guarantee two years of those cost-share reduction payments, under which the federal government reimburses insurance companies for providing coverage to poor people at subsidized rates, in exchange for giving states more flexibility regarding the kinds of coverage they could offer on their Obamacare exchanges.
In other words, the Alexander-Murray deal seeks to stabilize the Affordable Care Act — not kill it.
Isakson signed onto the deal as an original cosponsor. He called it a “good first step toward giving states greater flexibility and helping to avert unaffordable premium increases.”
“This agreement does not address every problem, and much more needs to be done to help Georgians who have been hurt by Obamacare, but we cannot and should not make perfect the enemy of the good when millions of families are about to face little or no access to affordable health care,” he said.
Perdue’s reception was chillier. He was not among the 12 Republicans to back the compromise right out of the gate and has avoided weighing in publicly. In a statement to Insider on Friday, his spokesperson didn’t close the door to supporting the plan later but also didn’t offer any plaudits:
“The reality is Obamacare is a failed law and continues to collapse,” the spokesperson said. “Costs are high and policy choices are limited in Georgia. Senator Perdue is still committed to repealing Obamacare and putting in place free market solutions that drive up competition and drive down prices.”
Trump himself has sent mixed signals about the agreement. He previously called the cost-share subsidies a “bailout” of insurers.