What’s the Fate of the DACA and Obamacare Fixes?

The Congressional Budget Office has weighed in on the Alexander-Murray proposal to stabilize the Affordable Care Act markets, and the news is positive.

A bipartisan bill to stabilize Obamacare would cut the federal deficit by $3.8 billion but wouldn’t do much to change health insurance premiums for 2018, according to a new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. It would not substantially change the number of people who are covered.

The report is about the bipartisan bill negotiated by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) which has broad support in the Senate but is unlikely to get a swift vote given opposition from President Donald Trump as well as from House Republicans.

CBO said Wednesday the savings calculated over a decade would stem in part from letting states offer so-called copper plans — or lower-cost policies that appeal to healthier enrollees in the Obamacare markets. Those plans would attract younger people into the market starting in 2019, the agency projected, prompting insurers to slightly lower their premiums over the long term and save the government a little more than $1 billion in subsidy funding over the next 10 years.

The federal government would also save money by funding Obamacare’s cost sharing subsidies for two years, preventing it from having to pay insurers more to cover separate subsidies tied to rising premiums. Those subsidies — the center of a court battle and ongoing partisan conflict — help cover medical bills for lower income enrollees. Trump recently cut them off, but Congress could resume them, either through legislation like the Alexander-Murray bill or through a big year-end spending bill.

There’s little chance that this bill will be introduced for a stand-alone vote. But it is not unlikely to be attached to some end-of-year must-pass legislation to keep the government operating.

Likewise, a DACA fix has bipartisan support but enough passionate opposition in right-wing circles to dissuade a vote that isn’t disguised.

Speaker Ryan admitted yesterday that he plans to ram home a DACA fix this way, although he denies that he’ll do the same for the Alexander-Murray bill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) privately conceded to a group of House conservatives on Tuesday that he plans to include a legislative fix for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children in a year-end spending deal.

Asked if he envisioned a December omnibus spending bill including Cost Sharing Reductions for Obamacare or some sort of solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Ryan told leaders of the Republican Study Committee that he didn’t believe CSR payments would be part of the deal with Democrats, but that DACA would.

Maybe Ryan figured he could only feed the leaders of the Republican Study Committee so much dog food in one sitting. My guess is that both proposals will be in there in the end, and a positive CBO score for the CSR payments makes this more likely.

It also makes it more likely that Ryan won’t have the votes to prevent a government shutdown.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.