By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic and Republican U.S. governors on Wednesday urged the Trump administration, as well as Congress, to continue funding payments to health insurance companies that make Obamacare plans affordable, calling it critical to stabilizing the insurance marketplace.
Republican President Donald Trump, frustrated that Obamacare survived attempts to repeal it, has threatened to cut off about $8 billion in subsidies that help control costs for low-income Americans under the Affordable Care Act, Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature domestic initiative.
"The Administration has the opportunity to stabilize the health insurance market across our nation and ensure that our residents can continue to access affordable health care coverage," said a statement by the Health and Human Services Committee of the National Governors Association.
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"A first critical step ... is to fully fund CSRs (cost-sharing reduction payments) for the remainder of calendar year 2017 through 2018," the statement said, adding this was needed as Congress and the administration address long-term reform efforts.
The committee is led by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican. Earlier this year, the governors sent a letter calling on Congress to fully fund the cost-sharing payments.
Some Congressional Republicans have joined Democrats in urging Trump to continue the payments. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the health committee, said Tuesday the president should pay the subsidies through September while lawmakers work on bipartisan legislation to fund the outlays for another year.
But the Senate's No. 2 Republican John Cornyn hesitated when asked Wednesday if he would support such legislation.
"I've said before that I'm not in favor of throwing money at insurance companies without reform, so that’s going to be the nature of the conversation," Cornyn told reporters outside his office.
Asked what reforms he'd like to see, Cornyn mentioned the "skinny" Obamacare repeal bill the Senate voted down last week. Among other things, it would have repealed the requirement that every American have health insurance or pay a penalty.
Insurers say that the cost-sharing payments are passed onto customers in the form of lower deductibles and co-pays that make care more affordable for low income Americans.
Insurers are finalizing 2018 premium rates for the individual Obamacare market, with many saying their decision hinges on government guarantees for cost-sharing subsidies.
Molina Healthcare Inc said on Wednesday it would stop selling Obamacare plans in Utah and Wisconsin, joining a slew of health insurers that have exited Obamacare markets amid uncertainty over the healthcare law.
Anthem Inc, one of the largest sellers of these plans in 2017, has pared back offerings or mostly exited five states including California and may exit more.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told CNN the administration was still considering whether to end cost-sharing subsidies.
(additional reporting by Caroline Humer and Susan Heavey; Editing by Tom Brown and David Gregorio)