Sen­a­tors launch bi­par­ti­san ef­fort to shore up Oba­macare

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - Robert Pear and Thomas Ka­plan

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.

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Sen. La­mar Alexan­der, R-Tenn., said his panel will work to “sta­bi­lize and strengthen” the in­sur­ance mar­ket for 2018.

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