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In flipflop, Trump cools to bipartisan health deal

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A bipartisan effort to stabilise Obamacare's individual health insurance markets ran into political headwinds on Wednesday when US President Donald Trump warned against the plan if it meant "bailing out" insurance companies.

[WASHINGTON] A bipartisan effort to stabilise Obamacare's individual health insurance markets ran into political headwinds on Wednesday when US President Donald Trump warned against the plan if it meant "bailing out" insurance companies.

Senate Republican Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray announced their deal only a day earlier, raising the prospect that Congress might soon pass legislation that would help low-income Americans purchase health insurance, days after Mr Trump ordered a cut to such subsidies.

"I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co's who have made a fortune w/ O'Care," Mr Trump tweeted.

The comment left some Republicans skeptical about the viability of the deal, which would authorise some US$7 billion in subsidy payments in both 2017 and 2018 to health insurers that help millions of poorer Americans afford coverage.

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In exchange, the deal grants states greater flexibility to regulate coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

But Mr Trump's latest conflicting statement about the package appeared to confound Republicans.

"We got a lot of work to do," said number two Senate Republican John Cornyn.

"Until the president's on board, yes, there are probably changes that need to be made to satisfy the president," he added.

Asked whether her deal with Mr Alexander was still alive, Ms Murray told reporters: "of course it is." Republican Senator John Kennedy was not so sure.

"I think that probably kills the effort," Mr Kennedy told Fox News, speaking of the Trump tweet.

Senate Health Committee chairman Alexander, who said he believed his bill could pass Congress before the end of the year, insisted the so-called cost-sharing reductions, or CSRs, were not bailouts to insurers.

"We have language in our bill to make sure that those benefits go to consumers, not to insurance companies," Mr Alexander said.

Mr Trump last week signed an executive order scrapping the payments, a move experts warned would cause some insurance rates to spike by up to 30 per cent next year.

While Mr Trump says he wants to eventually repeal Obamacare and replace it with state block grants like the plan which collapsed this summer, Alexander warned that "chaos" could ensue if cost-sharing payments stop and premiums skyrocket in the interim.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer blasted Mr Trump for being "totally inconsistent" about supporting and then opposing the deal.

"He keeps zigging and zagging, our only hope is maybe tomorrow he'll be for this again," Mr Schumer said.

AFP