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Spotlight Back On Sen. Patty Murray After Latest Obamacare Repeal Failure

Manuel Balce Ceneta
AP Photo
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., leaves the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 17, 2017

With the failure of the latest Republican effort to replace "Obamacare," attention is turning once again to a stalled bipartisan effort to shore up the healthcare law.

That means Washington state's senior U.S. senator, Patty Murray, is back in the spotlight. 

Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, participated in bipartisan healthcare talks before they collapsed two weeks ago.

Now that the Republican bill known as Graham-Cassidy has failed to get enough GOP support in the Senate, Murray is calling on her negotiating partners to come back to the table.

"We need to pick up right where we left off and we need to do it right now," Murray told reporters in the halls of the Capitol on Tuesday. 

"The sooner we can get an agreement, the sooner we can act to stop President Trump's sabotage and prevent these premiums from increasing even further," she added.

Democrats have accused Trump of seeking to undermine the Affordable Care Act. Trump has said he wants to "let Obamacare implode" in order to pressure Democrats into negotiations. 

But bipartisan talks in recent weeks have focused on stabilizing the healthcare law and lowering premiums for the 18 million Americans who buy insurance on "Obamacare" markets. 

Murray said that work is urgent because premiums are poised to rise.

Insurance companies are expected to hike rates in 2018, in part because of uncertainty over whether the Trump administration will continue reimbursing insurers for subsidizing some customers' healthcare costs. Trump has threatened to cut off the payments. 

"The clock is ticking," Murray said. "Democrats are at the table and I hope Republican leaders will now allow us to get back to work on lowering costs for patients and families."  

Murray's Republican negotiating partner has been Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the Senate Health Committee.

On Tuesday, he said he was willing to resume talks, and would "consult" with Murray. 

“I would have voted for the Graham-Cassidy proposal because it meant more money and more state decision-making for Tennessee, and would have helped control the federal debt," Alexander said in a statement.

"But Graham-Cassidy primarily would have affected 2020 and beyond," he added. "I’m still concerned about the next two years and Congress has an opportunity to slow down premium increases in 2018, begin to lower them in 2019, and do our best to make sure there are no counties where people have zero options to buy health insurance.”

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.