President Trump said Tuesday that he believed Republicans should let Obamacare fail, but it is not clear whether he plans to help it along by cutting off the law's federal funding to insurers.
Trump did not specifically refer to the funds, called cost-sharing reduction subsidies, on Tuesday, but tweeted: "As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!"
At other times when Trump has proposed allowing the law to collapse he has raised the possibility of cutting off the subsidies to bring Democrats to the table to negotiate healthcare. The funds help insurance companies reduce out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income people who buy coverage on Obamacare's exchanges. Though they are being distributed to insurance companies now, their future remains uncertain because of ongoing litigation about whether they were illegally distributed as well as lack of clarity from Republicans on the future of Obamacare.
The White House wouldn't say whether it planned to cut off the payments.
"I don't think the White House needs to do anything for the failure to continue," said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, principal deputy White House press secretary.
The exchanges are struggling because not enough young, healthy people have enrolled in the plans they offer to balance out the costs of sicker enrollees. Insurers have left exchanges in different states, and residents of 38 counties are facing the prospect of having no insurer to purchase coverage from next year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Other insurers are requesting significant rate increases on premiums next year, citing uncertainty about the subsidies and lack of clarity about what will happen to Obamacare.
The ramifications of ending the payments could worsen the effect, however. They are expected to total $7 billion in 2017, and the outcome of dropping the payments has been projected to be so explosive that experts have dubbed taking this route the "nuclear option" for undoing Obamacare. Stopping the funds would cause some insurers to drop customers from plans and exit the exchanges as soon as they can or to increase premiums by at least 20 percent, on top of increases already planned for next year.
Asked about the payments, the White House said it had "nothing to add" and that the administration held the same position it had "for months," but did not reiterate the details. The administration has said before that it is waiting to see what happens with a healthcare bill in Congress, as it could invalidate the payments or make changes to them. The bill that senators defeated Monday contained a specific allowance for them.
The proclamation from Trump came after he tweeted the day before that Republicans should pursue a "repeal and delay" strategy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced soon after that he intended to have the Senate vote on a bill they supported in 2015, which was vetoed under former President Barack Obama, but enough Republicans came out against the bill to prohibit it from moving to debate.
• Sarah Westwood contributed to this story.