Hatch Deals Blow to Bipartisan Health Care Bill

Prospects dim after opposition from Senate Finance chairman

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch is opposed to an emerging bipartisan measure to stabilize the health insurance markets. (Bill Clark/Roll Call)
Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch is opposed to an emerging bipartisan measure to stabilize the health insurance markets. (Bill Clark/Roll Call)
Posted October 18, 2017 at 3:20pm

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch has dealt an emerging bipartisan health care bill a body blow.

President Donald Trump has sent mixed messages on his stance on the legislation from Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and ranking Democrat Patty Murray of Washington, saying he opposed it Wednesday after saying he supported it Tuesday

But perhaps more importantly, Hatch, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, also came out on Wednesday in opposition.

“I can’t co-sponsor it because I don’t agree with it,” the Utah Republican said. “I think he’s trying to do a good thing, but it’s only temporary.”

When asked whether he could advance the bill over Hatch’s opposition, Alexander said he is “going to try to attract everybody’s support.”

It would be very difficult for legislation related to overhauling the health insurance system to move through the Senate, let alone reach the president’s desk, without the support of the Finance panel chairman, given its broad jurisdiction over health care.

Republicans and Democrats alike think Trump could be convinced to support the bipartisan health care bill. But GOP members previously said opposition from either Hatch or Alexander would prevent any proposal related to the insurance markets from advancing.

“If they oppose something, it’s not going to happen, that’s the respect they command in the conference. On the other hand, if they are behind it, people will take a second look even if initially they were not sure,” Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said earlier this year.

Tensions between Hatch and Alexander came to a breaking point earlier this year as the latter began his attempts to try to reach a bipartisan compromise on a bill to stabilize the insurance markets created by the 2010 health care law.

“Some are working on an approach that amounts to little more than a congressional bailout of Obamacare, including pumping tens of billions of dollars into the already failing system in the form of cost-sharing reduction payments,” Hatch wrote in The Washington Post last month, referencing the HELP committee effort.

The legislation from Alexander and Murray would appropriate funding for the cost-sharing subsidies to insurers, which reduce out-of-pocket costs for lower income individuals. It’s a provision that Trump and several Republican lawmakers have also expressed opposition to.

“Insurance company profits have doubled under Obamacare and you have the top priority for Senate Democrats is billions more in corporate welfare and bailouts instead of meaningful relief for the millions of people hurt by Obamacare,” Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said Wednesday.

Members of Senate GOP leadership tamped down expectations on the bipartisan health care bill.

“Right now, it’s kind of an open question,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota said on the legislation’s prospects. “We’ll see what they can come up with.”

Alexander said Wednesday he still planned on introducing the measure, recounting a conversation he had with Trump in the morning. 

“He said he would review the legislation, which is what I would expect a president to do,” the Tennessee Republican told reporters. “So we will keep working on it.”

Alexander still expects the legislation to pass by the end of the year.

“From my experience here, most of the ideas fail for lack of the idea, and whenever you put a well-formed idea out before this Congress, sooner or later it has a pretty good chance of being adopted,” he said.

Emily Wilkins contributed to this report.