Senator says deal is reached on package of fixes for ACA

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(Bloomberg) -- Senator Lamar Alexander said a bipartisan deal has been reached on a package of fixes to stabilize the Affordable Care Act just two weeks before Americans start signing up for 2018 coverage.

The two-year deal would allow crucial subsidies to health insurers to start flowing again, potentially lowering insurance premiums for those in the program next year. President Donald Trump’s administration announced last week that it was cutting off the payments, and on Tuesday Trump called the agreement a short-term solution.

“This is a small step,” Alexander said on the agreement, which he worked out with Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat. “President Trump has encouraged this.”

The deal still has to make it through both houses of Congress and be signed by Trump. If it becomes law, it could end a chaotic week that saw the White House move to dismantle parts of the Affordable Care Act even as Trump took credit for pushing lawmakers to work out the fixes.

Trump has called the ACA a failure and pushed for full repeal of the law. Asked about the agreement at the White House, he said he had encouraged the effort but wanted to ultimately see states given blocks of money and be allowed to set up their own programs.

“The solution will be for about a year or two years; it’ll get us over this intermediate hump,” Trump told reporters.

Shares of health insurers with a large Obamacare presence surged. Centene Corp. climbed 2.9 percent to $93.57 at 2:17 p.m. in New York, while Molina Healthcare Inc. gained 2.7 percent to $61.51. Hospital chain Tenet Healthcare Corp. was up 3.1 percent.

Alexander said he’ll present details of the package to Republicans this week. Along with the insurance subsidies, the package would give states new flexibility on how their Affordable Care Act markets are run. It will also encourage states to meld their markets together, and let more people buy low-cost, limited-coverage plans.

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