President Donald Trump has told advisers repeatedly he wants to end Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies that are crucial to the marketplaces continuing to work, and he has publicly said it would make sense to blow up the system, put the blame on the Democrats and force a negotiation.
But after the inability of Republicans in Congress to repeal and replace the law, the White House is not expected to immediately end the subsidies, officials said, even as Trump stews in the legislative defeat. And they could remain in place indefinitely, some officials said.
The administration has slowed a decision to hear from lawyers, who are studying how the payments could be ended and what legal liabilities the administration could face if the payments stop, according to administration officials.
Lawyers and some administration officials have raised questions about ending the payments but are expected to offer an analysis later in August, West Wing officials said. One official said the analysis could arrive as soon as next week. A different official said the White House was in no hurry and wanted to consider all factors before making a decision.
Another payment is due approximately Aug. 22.
Insurers rely on the subsidies — estimated at $7 billion for this year — to reduce costs for low-income Obamacare customers. If the funding is scrapped, it’s anticipated that insurers would jack up premiums by around 20 percent or bolt the Obamacare markets altogether.
The White House is also facing blowback from Republicans who are pushing the administration to keep the subsidies, White House and Capitol Hill officials said. Many Senate Republicans — notably Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is trying to craft a bipartisan market stability bill with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray — want the payments to continue, at least for two months to allow the GOP time to appropriate the funding. In recent days, Republicans in leadership have also privately urged the administration to continue the payments, White House officials said.
“I don’t think anybody ought to do anything to hurt the American people. Obamacare is not working," said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). "Until we can get the thing fixed, I think we have to try to maintain the status quo."
Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, said last weekend a decision would be made this week. And Trump continues to lean towards ending the subsidies, officials said.
But several other officials said to not expect a decision this week.
Some White House officials have grown increasingly annoyed that Republicans want the payments continued even as they failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, according to two White House officials. Conservatives have said the administration should not continue to pay the subsidies, and some have questioned if they are even legal. And some in the West Wing essentially see the subsidies as a "bailout to the insurance industry," one White House official said.
Whether the president is eventually willing to pull the trigger — and whether lawyers sign off on the decision, or whether Trump listens to lawyers — remains unclear. Sen. John Thune, the third ranking Republican in the Senate, said Trump pulling the subsidies would force quick action.
“If he doesn’t [continue the funding], then Congress will have to look at what our options are," he said.
Paul Demko contributed to this report.