Republican lawmakers propose more conservative Obamacare fix

FILE PHOTO: A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the website in New York in this October 2, 2013 photo illustration. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two prominent Republican lawmakers from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday proposed short-term measures to stabilize Obamacare health insurance markets that would compete with bipartisan legislation under discussion in the Senate.

The proposal outlined by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Republican Representative Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, includes provisions to suspend requirements for individuals and employers to buy health coverage under former President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.

The recommendations appear to address many of the Trump administration’s objections to a short-term fix drafted by senators Lamar Alexander, a Republican, and Patty Murray, a Democrat. Democrats are likely to oppose such changes as undermining the viability of Obamacare’s subsidized insurance market for individuals.

Like the bipartisan proposal, the Hatch-Brady fix would reinstate billions of dollars in subsidy payments to insurers that Trump jettisoned earlier this month. Insurers say they had to raise monthly premium rates by 20 percent on average for 2018 to account for the lost subsidies, but could reduce consumers costs if they are restored.

“It is encouraging to see a growing consensus that Congress should fund the cost-sharing reduction payments for two more years,” Alexander said in response.

But the Hatch-Brady legislation would also repeal the individual mandate, or requirement that everyone purchase health insurance or else pay a fine, from 2017 to 2021. It would retroactively repeal the employer mandate from 2015 to 2017 and introduce restrictions on abortion that have yet to be detailed.

Health industry experts and Democrats say the individual and employer mandates are critical to making Obamacare work.

Murray called on the Senate to move forward with the deal she has worked on with Alexander “and move away from partisan dysfunction on healthcare,” which she said could take health coverage away from millions of people.

The Alexander-Murray bill is expected to have the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate, but it is not clear whether it could find enough support in the House. President Donald Trump initially expressed support for the deal, but has since insisted it include more far-reaching provisions toward repealing Obamacare.

Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb, additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington; editing by Michele Gershberg and Susan Thomas