Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday announced that the committee will hold hearings to begin work on a bipartisan bill to bolster the Affordable Care Act (ACA)'s exchange market.
The announcement for the hearings comes after Senate Republicans last week failed to advance three separate measures that would have partially repealed the ACA. Since then, Republican senators have been looking into how they could revive efforts to repeal and replace the ACA.
The committee will hold bipartisan hearings beginning the week of Sept. 4 "on the actions Congress should take to stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market" to ensure "Americans will be able to buy insurance at affordable prices in 2018," according to a committee release.
Alexander said the goal of the hearings—which will involve several stakeholders including governors, insurance companies, and state insurance commissioners—is to craft a "small, bipartisan, and balanced" stabilization package for 2018 by mid-September. Insurers face a mid-August deadline to file premium rates for the 2018 coverage year, and they must make final decisions about whether or not to participate in the exchanges by Sept. 27, Modern Healthcare reports.
Alexander said the stabilization package "should include funding for the [ACA's] cost-sharing reduction" (CSR) payments and "greater flexibility for states in approving health insurance policies." Some insurers have said they would scale back or withdraw from the exchanges without greater certainty that CSR payments will continue, and others have said the uncertainty could result in larger premium rate increases. Meanwhile, some insurers have signaled they would file lawsuits if the payments are not made.
Alexander also said he has urged President Trump to temporarily continue making the CSR payments to insurers to afford Congress time to work on the short-term plan. Trump in a series of tweets Saturday appeared to threaten to stop making the payments, which the administration has been making on a monthly basis. Trump wrote, "If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!"
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said he is "pleased to see ... Alexander taking the lead and beginning to hold hearings on what we're discussing here."
Larry Levitt, a senior vice president for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, "It's getting very late in the game to really affect premiums for 2018." But he added, "congressional action could give insurers greater assurance of future stability and prevent any further exits."
However, some conservatives expressed concern. Michael Needham, CEO of the conservative Heritage Action, in a statement said, "The Senate's inability to produce 51 votes for a piece of legislation that delivers on a seven-year campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare is not license for a bipartisan bailout of a failing law" (Gaudiano/Collins, USA Today, 8/1; Roubein, The Hill, 8/1; Dickson, Modern Healthcare, 8/1; Cancryn, Politico, 8/1; HELP release, 8/1).
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