Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is putting together a new proposal to fund Obamacare insurer payments he hopes could get critical House support.
Johnson told the Washington Examiner Friday he hopes to put out legislative text sometime next week on a proposal that funds insurer payments in exchange for reforms to Obamacare. His proposal includes expanding the duration of short-term plans and expanding health savings accounts.
The efforts come as President Trump announced late Thursday he would end cost-sharing reduction payments that reimburse Obamacare insurers for lowering out-of-pocket costs for low-income Obamacare customers.
Johnson said he is talking with some House Republicans to get their support for a deal. This is key because Republicans have derided the CSR payments as "bailouts."
"I completely believe it is legitimate for people not to want to fund these collapsing markets," Johnson said, touching on a common complaint from Republicans.
If the payments are not made, however, then premiums will go up and "American taxpayers are out even more money" because tax credits to help people lower premium costs rise to meet any premium hikes, he said.
Johnson wouldn't say which members he is talking to, but noted that getting the House on board is a major hurdle to any bipartisan deal for the payments.
Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., have been in talks for weeks on a deal to fund the CSRs in exchange for more flexibility for states to waive Obamacare regulations. Johnson said he hopes that his proposal influences the one being crafted by the two senators.
"I hope this would inform them what type of deal the Senate would have to come to with any hope of passing the House," he said. "People need to realize there is a strong resistance to doing this among conservatives."
An effort by Murray and Alexander was scuttled last month in part because House Speaker Paul Ryan told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that a bipartisan deal wasn't viable with House Republicans.
The White House has also put cold water on the bipartisan talks. Trump said Friday that he is willing to work with Democrats but complained they vote against him on everything.
The legislation is still a work in progress, but Johnson outlined several principles he wants to include.
These include expanding the duration of short-term plans from 90 days to 364 and deeming that those plans satisfy the individual mandate for buying insurance. Currently, short-term plans don't qualify as insurance under the mandate.
Johnson also wants to let all Americans buy catastrophic plans, not just those under 30 years old as is the practice now.
He would also want to expand use of health savings accounts and require the federal government to publicize pricing and cost information to help increase price transparency for consumers.
Johnson also wants to require any insurer that gets cost-sharing reduction payments to roll back any premium hikes that were in response to the ending of the payments.
Insurers have already finalized rates for 2018 and numerous insurers have raised premiums due to the lack of commitment to fund the payments for 2018.
Insurers are required under Obamacare to offer plans on the law's exchanges that lower copays and deductibles for low-income Obamacare enrollees. The cost-sharing payments reimburse insurers for lowering the costs and without those payments then insurers will raise premiums to compensate.
Johnson said that a bipartisan deal to fund the payments would help everyday Americans and not insurance companies.
"The simple fact of the matter is that the fix is already in for Obamacare," he said.
He added insurers would get paid either through the CSRs or higher premiums, which the federal government would subsidize since tax credits go up with the cost of a premium.
It remains unclear if the principles Johnson laid out will get any support from Democrats.
Many Democrats criticized an executive order signed by Trump on Thursday that included calling for federal agencies to explore widening short-term plans. Democrats say the order was an attempt to roll back protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Johnson said that he hopes Democrats think about people who have been harmed by the law due to extreme premium hikes and are hampered by the limit on short-term plans.
"Hopefully Democrats are serious about fixing Obamacare and helping individuals that have been truly harmed by Obamacare," he said.