Trump says Congress is working on short-term health care fix

WASHINGTON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump expressed optimism on Monday that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will craft a short-term fix for healthcare insurance markets after he last week scrapped Obamacare subsidies to insurers.

Trump, speaking to reporters at the start of a meeting with his Cabinet, said he believes congressional Republicans will agree to a long-term fix for healthcare by early next year, but said he does not expect Democrats to support that effort.

He did not provide details on what might be included.

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"I think we'll have a short-term fix and then we'll have a long-term fix, and that will take place probably in March or April," Trump said.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that he was hopeful that an agreement was near to stabilize Obamacare.

"If he's (Trump) now supportive of an agreement that stabilizes and improves the existing system under the Affordable Care Act, we certainly welcome that change of heart," Schumer said.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray have been trying to craft a bipartisan deal aimed at helping stabilize health insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

The two senators have been meeting privately for months on a possible bipartisan deal. Republicans repeatedly have failed to pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare with their own, more limited healthcare program.

It was not clear whether Trump was specifically referring to the Alexander-Murray effort in his remarks.

Despite the two senators' months of work, Trump said Republicans and Democrats in Congress were meeting "because of what I did with the CSRs – because I cut off the gravy train. If I didn’t cut the CSRs ... they’d be having lunch and enjoying themselves."

CSRs are cost-sharing reduction payments from the federal government to insurers aimed at lowering premiums for lower-income people who want to participate in Obamacare.

Two Senate Democratic aides familiar with the negotiations said on Monday that the two senators were nearing a deal.

Republican aides were not immediately available for comment.

Congressional aides have said that such a deal could include two years of funding to continue the subsidies that Trump has revoked, coupled with new flexibility for states on their handling of some Obamacare provisions.

The Obamacare subsidies cost $7 billion this year and were estimated at $10 billion for 2018, according to congressional analysts.

Trump criticized the subsidies as "a disgrace" and "a total gift" to insurers, while Democrats said Trump's move to cancel the payments would hurt poor and middle-class people and drive up premiums significantly.

In August, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that some premiums could shoot up 20 percent next year if the federal subsidies were discontinued.

Trump also said his administration would take steps to bring down prescription drug prices, which he said are "out of control." (Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Richard Cowan and Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis)

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