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Bipartisan health care deal once again possible

Six weeks ago, a bipartisan deal to make needed changes to the health care system seemed possible, if somewhat improbable.

A key Senate Committee began hearings on suggestions from state officials, health care professionals and patients on how to fix problems with the Affordable Care Act. The Republican committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and its top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, both expressed hope they could craft an agreement on some key issues.

Four weeks ago, it seemed implausible, as the Senate announced plans to vote on the third attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, also known as Obamacare, and Republican leaders suspended the work of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Three weeks ago, it seemed impossible. Senate Republicans announced they did not have the votes to pass the latest version of health care reform and would concentrate instead on tax reform. Murray’s call to resume bipartisan talks seemed to fall on deaf ears. Later, President Donald Trump announced the end of federal cost-sharing reductions that lower insurance costs to some participants on Obamacare, prompting predictions of rate hikes in 2018.

Then on Tuesday, the chance of a bipartisan deal once again seemed possible. Alexander and Murray announced an agreement on a proposal to make key changes in Obamacare based on those hearings and later discussions with colleagues.

“We found there was much more we agreed on than disagreed on when it came to strengthening health care and controlling costs in the near term,” Murray said Tuesday in a speech on the Senate floor.

Some are things Republicans have advocated, such as high-deductible, lower-priced plans as an option for states, and others are key Democratic points, such as continued cost sharing reductions for at least two years.

The bill isn’t drafted, but it even got a nod from Trump, who said during a press conference it could be “a very good solution” for one or two years until Republicans could repeal Obamacare.

Murray said she hopes the agreement can become law and would work with Democrats and Republicans to find support. The agreement was the product of the “regular order” of hearings and bipartisan compromise that could set Congress on a different path than the one it has been on for the last seven years, she said. But there are no guarantees.

“I’m encouraged by the progress we’ve made to prevent premium increases and to push back against President Trump’s recent actions, but this deal is not done yet,” she said in an email.

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