Bipartisan health care plan wins governors’ backing

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A group of Republican and Democratic governors became the latest voices Thursday to endorse a bipartisan Senate drive to control health insurance costs in defiance of President Donald Trump.

Trump has threatened several times to block federal subsidies to insurers for lowering deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for millions of lower-earning customers.

Analysts and the insurance industry say halting the payments would lead to new premium increases, and leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are trying to quickly write legislation that would continue those payments for a year or more.

The support from the governors seemed to further isolate Trump on the issue. But with partisan feelings heightened by the failed Republican effort to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s health law, the prospects for a modest effort to shore up the Affordable Care Act are uncertain.

In testimony Thursday, three Republicans and two Democrats backed continuing those payments. Most governors said they should be extended for at least two years.

Gov. Gary Herbert, R-Utah, said abruptly ending those subsidies would “destabilize” his state’s markets where individual coverage is sold. Gov. Steve Bullock, D-Mont., said extending the payments for at least two years would be “the most important step” lawmakers could take to curb premiums and keep insurers from abandoning some markets.

Trump has called those payments bailouts for insurers and has threatened to halt them.

The governors also backed more state flexibility to decide coverage requirements and federal aid to help insurers afford high-cost customers with serious conditions.

The committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and the top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, have turned to a narrow bill aimed at strengthening the individual insurance market, where 18 million people who do not get coverage at work or through government programs purchase policies. Those markets are expected to see premium increases averaging at least 25 percent next year.