Senators launch bipartisan effort to shore up Obamacare
Republicans WASHINGTON — on both sides of the Capitol scrambled Tuesday to defuse President Donald Trump’s threat to cut off critical health insurance payments, moving around the president toward bipartisan legislation to shore up the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the influential chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced Tuesday that his panel will begin work in early September on legislation to “stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market” for 2018.
He publicly urged Trump to continue paying subsidies to health insurance companies to offset poor customers’ out-of-pocket medical expenses as work proceeds.
Alexander’s announcement was the first tangible indication of cooperation between the parties since Republican efforts to scrap the Affordable Care Act collapsed in the Senate last week. It was followed just minutes later by a pledge from a bipartisan group of House members to cooperate on health care legislation of their own.
Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off the subsidies, known as cost-sharing reduction payments, which reimburse insurers for cutting deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for millions of low-income people.
Alexander said it was important for Trump to approve the payments for August and September, and that Congress should “in a bipartisan way” approve a further continuation of the payments through 2018.
“Without payment of these cost-sharing reductions,” he said, “Americans will be hurt. Up to half the states will likely have bare counties with zero insurance providers offering insurance on the exchanges, and insurance premiums will increase by roughly 20 percent, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans,” a trade group for insurers.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the senior Democrat on the committee, welcomed Alexander’s statement.
Alexander said the committee would hold hearings starting the week of Sept. 4 “on the actions Congress should take to stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market, so that Americans will be able to buy insurance at affordable prices in the year 2018.”
“We will hear from state insurance commissioners, patients, governors, health care experts and insurance companies,” Alexander said at a confirmation hearing for five of Trump’s nominees for jobs at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Alexander said his proposal was a necessary response to an imminent crisis.
“In my opinion,” Alexander said, “any solution that Congress passes for a 2018 stabilization package would need to be small, bipartisan and balanced. It should include funding for the cost-sharing reductions, but it also should include greater flexibility for states in approving health insurance policies.”
“It is reasonable to expect that if the president were to approve continuation of cost-sharing subsidies for August and September, and if Congress in September should pass a stabilization plan that includes cost-sharing for one year,” Alexander said, “it is reasonable to expect that the insurance companies in 2018 would then lower their rates.”
Payment of the cost-sharing subsidies is a top priority for insurers and for Democrats in Congress, who say that cutting off the payments would cause havoc in insurance markets.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said his panel will work to “stabilize and strengthen” the insurance market for 2018.