Bipartisan Obamacare fix backed by Murkowski, Walker could cut deficit by nearly $4 billion

Congress has produced a health care bill that isn’t expected to dump millions of Americans off their health insurance.

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office has found a bipartisan short-term fix for Obamacare would reduce the federal deficit by nearly $4 billion over the next decade and “would not substantially change the number of people with health insurance coverage.”

The act would resolve pressing problems facing the individual marketplaces throughout the country, which are facing increasing rates and the potential for insurers to withdraw altogether, and is sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Both Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski—who’s been a key moderate on health care—and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker—an independent who’s allied with an influential coalition of bipartisan governors—have said they support the legislation.

The act would give states greater flexibility to change their marketplaces and enshrine cost-sharing reduction subsidies in federal law.

Those subsidies go to pay for the discounts insurance companies are required to give to low-income people to pay for out-of-pocket costs. Trump has cut off those subsidies, calling them a bailout for the insurance industry (A court decided late Wednesday that Trump can’t be forced into paying the subsidies).

An August CBO report on those subsidies found cutting them would actually spike the federal deficit by $194 billion through 2026 and rates on the standard Obamacare plans would be expected to increase by 25 percent by 2020.

Trump’s been lukewarm on the Senate proposal, bouncing between eager support for a bipartisan fix to frosty on continuing subsidies that he believes are a bailout.

Taken together, the future of the health care system remains uncertain, but a positive CBO report will give Alexander, Murray and their supporters some momentum heading into the end-of-the-year negotiations in D.C.

Alaska’s outlook

Alaskans signing up for health insurance through the individual marketplace (your humble editor included) will be seeing a big drop in premiums regardless of congressional action or Trump’s refusal to fund certain subsidies. Thanks to the Alaska-created reinsurance program, which got the thumbs up and funding from the feds, insurance premiums will drop by a little more than 20 percent on average for 2018 coverage.

The drop could be closer to 26 percent if subsidies that help certain low-income people with out-of-pocket costs like copays are reinstated as the bipartisan bill envisions or if Trump has a change of heart.

Either way, Alaskans will have a shorter time frame to find a plan and sign up for insurance thanks to another set of changes the Trump administration’s made to the enrollment periods, shortening it from three months to six weeks.

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