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Trump takes over Obamacare political risks with end of subsidies

Laura Litvan, Zachary Tracer and Joe Sobczyk, Bloomberg News on

Published in Health & Fitness

WASHINGTON -- After months of pinning the blame for Obamacare's shortcomings on Democrats and watching his own party fail to act, President Donald Trump just took ownership of a struggle that's consumed Republicans for seven years.

Trump's decision late Thursday to end government subsidies to insurers to help lower-income Americans afford to use their coverage under the Affordable Care Act was the most drastic step he's taken to undermine his predecessor's signature achievement.

It also lobbed a live bomb into the laps of Republicans lawmakers 13 months before congressional elections after he publicly berated the party's Senate leadership for being unable to keep a longstanding promise to repeal the law.

"We're taking a little different route than we had hoped," Trump said Friday at an event with a conservative group in Washington. "Because Congress, they're forgetting what their pledges were."

The move is politically risky. Trump's action may force movement on a bipartisan effort in the Senate to craft legislation to shore up the Obamacare insurance exchanges and fix some of the law's shortcomings. But if that fails and thousands of voters see a spike in premiums in the next year, their wrath may be taken out on the president and on Republicans intent on holding control of Congress after the 2018 elections.

Adding to the political peril, it increases the odds of a government shutdown when agency spending authority expires on Dec. 8, as well. Democrats are all but certain to demand the health care payments in exchange for their support in any final spending agreement, and the administration is signaling it won't go for an Obamacare fix without getting something in return.

While Trump has called the Affordable Care Act a "nightmare," polls show the public disagrees. Two-thirds of Americans say they want the president to work with Congress to improve the Affordable Care Act, according to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted before Trump's action was announced.

The most prominent proposal to fix the law was being crafted by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.

The pair has been working on a measure that would combine continued cost-sharing subsidies with added flexibility for states to determine the offerings in the individual insurance market. They were making progress in recent weeks, although Alexander said last week that it was vital that they not only agree on their own proposal but also assure party leaders that there was consensus among other lawmakers.

Even if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were to allow a vote on the Senate floor, conservative opponents would likely filibuster the measure and slow debate.

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