President Trump said Wednesday he’ll start working with Democrats to strike a health care deal, but said even without that, the GOP will have the votes for an Obamacare repeal by early next year.
Mr. Trump also said he’s readying an executive order to allow Americans to buy insurance across state lines, freeing up a marketplace Republicans say has been hammered by the strictures of Obamacare.
“That will probably be signed next week, it’s being finished now,” he said. “It’s going to cover a lot of territory and a lot of people, millions of people.”
The president spoke a day after Senate Republican leaders canceled a vote on a repeal plan, realizing they lacked the support of 50 senators needed to approve it by an end-of-September deadline.
The president said he will tackle the issue in January or February, betting he can pin down enough support even though three of the GOP’s 52 senators balked at the most recent plan and others were undecided.
“We have the votes for health care,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “I’m almost certain we have the votes.”
With Obamacare locked in for the upcoming months, Mr. Trump will have to make a number of key decisions about how to oversee 2018 enrollment — and what changes he can make on his own to the 2010 law’s structure.
He said he will act on an idea by Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, who was one of the opponents to this week’s proposal. Mr. Paul has urged the White House to let workers band together and buy “association” plans across state lines.
“Sen. Paul has been working hand-in-hand with President Trump on this very topic for several months. We are thrilled by this development,” Paul spokesman Sergio Gor said, deferring to the White House on future details.
Conservatives have long pushed the idea of selling insurance across state lines, saying it will stir up competition and drive down prices.
Some policy analysts are skeptical, however, saying markets will be skewed by plans that enter with cheaper plans and lower benefits, siphoning out the healthiest customers at the expense of plans left to cover the sickest.
“State regulators oppose it because it leaves them unable to protect their state residents, and insurers have had no interest in it because they have to be present in a state with networks to sell coverage,” said Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia who closely tracks the debate.
Whatever Mr. Trump decides to do, the man who would oversee his decisions — Health and Human Services Secretary Thomas Price — is under fire, facing a probe over costly taxpayer-funded trips he took.
“I’m not happy about it, and I let him know it,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House.
Asked if he would fire Mr. Price, the president said, “We’ll see.”
Rep. Ted Lieu of California and four other House Democrats called on Mr. Price to resign.
“At a minimum, the American people expect cabinet secretaries to lead with integrity, accept accountability, and use public resources responsibly,” they wrote in a letter to Mr. Price. “In light of your breach of the public trust, we write to urge you to do the right thing and immediately tender your resignation.”
Democrats also urged Mr. Trump and his Republican allies to shore up Obamacare in the coming weeks. They want to restart negotiations on a compromise bill that would fund insurer reimbursements in exchange for granting states more control over their markets, saying plans need certainty before 2018 sign-ups begin Nov. 1.
Senate Health Committee Lamar Alexander said he will do what he can, though many Republicans aren’t interested in funding or shoring up a program they view as hopelessly flawed.
“We hope that our Republican colleagues won’t just sit back, repeatedly threaten repeal, and watch as millions of Americans pay higher health care costs, said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. “That’ll be wrong substantively, and politically it’ll fall right on their shoulders.”
Mr. Trump said he is open to bipartisan talks on broader reforms, even as he boasted about momentum on the Republican side. He said the only reason the GOP couldn’t vote for repeal this week was because “we have somebody in the hospital” — an apparent reference to Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, who is ailing.
Mr. Cochran suggested the president’s facts were askew.
“Thanks for the well-wishes. I’m not hospitalized, but am recuperating at home in Mississippi and look forward to returning to work soon,” the senator tweeted.
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