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Murkowski Suggests Tax Vote Depends on Stabilizing Individual Health Insurance Market

Alaska Republican says Alexander-Murray bill is needed before mandate repeal

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted against the GOP health care bill in July. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted against the GOP health care bill in July. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski suggested Thursday that her vote on the current version of the Senate GOP tax overhaul is contingent on the passing of a separate bill to stabilize the individual health insurance market.

The tax legislation now includes a section to repeal the individual mandate in the 2010 health care law — a provision that opens up more than $300 billion in revenue — but could also threaten the viability of the overall law.

The measure has caused some heartburn for moderate Republicans, particularly Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, two of the three senators who helped sink the GOP effort to repeal the health care law this summer.

Murkowski believes legislation from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions leaders, Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray, is necessary before the mandate — which supporters of the law say is a critical foundation for the current insurance markets — is repealed.

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“I think that there is a path and I think the path is a reasonable path,” Murkowski said of her support for the measure. “If the Congress is going to move forward with repeal of the individual mandate, we absolutely must have the Alexander-Murray piece that is passed into law.”

Without such a measure — which would, among other things, appropriate money for so-called cost-sharing subsidies — Murkowski says middle-class Americans may not receive the kind of tax relief the GOP is aiming to provide.

“There is a path forward. It just means that some who have said some nasty things about CSRs are maybe just going to have to acknowledge that, well, this might be the way that you thread this needle,” she said. “If that tax cut is offset by higher premiums, you haven’t delivered benefit.”

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that removing the mandate could lead to millions more uninsured individuals over the next ten years and could raise health care costs for some, particularly sicker Americans.

Twelve Republican senators — along with every Democratic member — have come out in support of the Alexander-Murray bill, enough for it to pass under the regular 60-vote threshold in the chamber.

“It’s been frustrating to me that even with the bipartisan support that we have, that it’s met with such resistance,” Murkowski said.

The Senate is expected to vote on its tax overhaul the week after the Thanksgiving break.  

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