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GOP senator: Health care deal unlikely this year


Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C) says he doesn't think Congress is going to reach a deal to repeal and replace Obamacare in 2017.  "It's unlikely that we will get a health care deal," Burr said in an interview with a North Carolina news station on Thursday. "I don't see a comprehensive health care plan this year."

The Senate has been working on a health care bill since the House passed its own last month, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas) said a bill would pass through the chamber by "the end of July at the latest."

But there are deep divisions on issues such as how to handle the Medicaid expansion and Obamacare's insurer regulations, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has lowered expectations.

McConnell last week said he did not know how the Senate would get to 51 votes on health care, and suggested moving tax reform legislation could be simpler.

Conservative and centrist Republican senators have very different views on what the health care bill should look like. That is complicating any effort to build a consensus GOP position around a bill against what is expected to be unified the Democratic opposition.

Burr indicated the Senate is looking for ways to stabilize the Obamacare markets in the short term.

Some states are in danger of having no insurers on the exchanges next year, and some senators have said they're looking for a way to address that.

"Most of my time has been spent trying to figure out solutions to Iowa losing all its insurers, to Tennessee potentially losing theirs ... that both aid the exchanges or transition it to something that's life after the Affordable Care Act," he said.

It's unclear what the Senate is considering, but a bill by Health Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) would allow people who live in states with no insurers on the exchanges to use their subsidies for other health plans. They would also be exempt from Obamacare's individual mandate.

But insurers are also still waiting to hear from the Trump administration about whether it will continue Obamacare's cost-sharing reduction payments, which reimburse insurers for giving discounts to low-income customers.

The Trump administration has made the May payment, but said it hasn't made any decision about future payments.

Insurers filing rate proposals for 2018 have cited uncertainty around the payments as their reason for double-digit premium increases.

The House approved legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare in April. Major provisions of that legislation are not expected to survive in the Senate, however, both because of opposition from senators and special budgetary rules being used to move the legislation. Those rules prevent Democrats from filibustering the bill, but also impose restrictions on it.

By Jesse Hellmann