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Health care, business groups want Congress to pay insurers

Posted September 5

— A coalition of powerful health industry and business groups asked Congress on Tuesday to finance federal subsidies to insurers for at least two years, a stance that defies President Donald Trump's threats to halt the payments.

The money — which cost taxpayers $7 billion this year — reimburses insurance companies for trimming out-of-pocket costs for millions of lower-earning customers. Those cost reductions and the subsidies are required by President Barack Obama's health care law, but a federal judge has said Congress didn't legally authorize the money.

"Persistent uncertainty" about whether Trump will block the money "is a significant driver of current market instability," the groups wrote. They reiterated assessments by insurance companies, nonpartisan budget analysts and others that ending the payments would further drive up premiums for millions of Americans buying individual policies and encourage some companies to stop selling coverage.

A two-year extension of the payments "would go a long way to bring much needed stability" to insurance markets, they said.

Groups signing the letter include America's Health Insurance Plans, representing insurers, plus the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the Chamber of Commerce.

They sent it to the leaders of the Senate health committee, who hope to craft a bipartisan bill addressing the issue this month.

Health committee chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., wants to extend the subsidies for a year. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the panel's top Democrat, has said she wants a multi-year extension.

Asked in an interview Tuesday whether he could reach a compromise on the issue with Murray, Alexander said, "Patty Murray and I have found middle-ground" in the past. That was a reference to bipartisan packages the two have produced on education and government drug approval processes.

Congressional Democrats and many Republicans favor extending the payments.

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