Top Takeaways from this week – (1) Senate HELP Committee Chair Alexander & Ranking Member Murray continue to make progress on a market stabilization package; and (2) On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Schumer called for ACA market stabilization provisions to be combined with CHIP reauthorization.
This week, Senate HELP Committee leaders continued to work towards a bipartisan deal on legislation to provide short-term stabilization for the individual insurance markets. Although the deadline for insurers to submit their final rates for plan year 2018 passed last week, Senators are hopeful that a deal will help reduce costs for consumers. Open enrollment begins on November 1.
Senate Action –
Senate HELP Committee Chair Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Murray (D-WA) pressed on in their efforts to find towards an agreement on legislation to stabilize the individual insurance markets. While the deal would reportedly (1) fund cost-sharing reduction payments for two years, (2) allow for greater state flexibility through changes to section 1332 innovation waivers, and (3) make low-cost, basic health plan, known as copper plans, more broadly available for purchase, many details are still being worked out – including the scope and definition of state flexibility that will be allowed. On Wednesday, Chair Alexander commented on the difficulty in finding agreement, noting “We’ve made some progress, but the issue is still a difference of opinion on what amounts to meaningful flexibility for states.”
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) suggested that the market stabilization provisions should be combined with the CHIP reauthorization bills currently working their way through the House and Senate. “Now that the Senate Finance Committee has reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Leader McConnell should immediately put this bill to the Senate floor for a vote and include much-needed bipartisan provisions to stabilize the markets, lower premiums in 2018, and renew funding for community health centers and numerous other important health provisions that expired over the weekend.” While this would provide the stabilization provisions with a legislative vehicle, Senate Republicans, including Senate Finance Committee Chair Hatch (R-UT), strongly disagreed. In a statement, Chair Hatch argued, “we should not jeopardize vulnerable children’s health insurance coverage by turning the bill into a Christmas tree and adding controversial policies like bailing out insurance companies.”
Meanwhile, Sens. Cassidy (R-LA) and Graham (R-SC) are continuing to tweak their ACA repeal and replacement proposal in an effort to win additional support. On Monday, Sen. Cassidy remarked, “There are some things that inevitably have to change, but we do think that the format of what we’re doing and the principles of what we’re doing are good and that the American people will like it because it’s ultimately about fairness.” He added that he will continue to work over the next couple of months to refine and promote the plan so that everyone has a better understanding of how it will work.
Finally, on Tuesday Sens. Portman (R-OH) and Warner (D-VA) introduced the Commonsense Reporting Act of 2017 (S. 1908), which would streamline the employer reporting process and strengthen the eligibility verification process for the premium assistance tax credit and cost-sharing subsidy. Reps. Black (R-TN) and Thompson (D-CA) introduced companion legislation in the House. Press release: http://bit.ly/2y05YZZ Summary: http://bit.ly/2xZpy8z Bill text: http://bit.ly/2y01wue
House Action –
On Tuesday, House Committee on Energy & Commerce democrats sent a letter to Chair Walden (R-OR) requesting the Committee hold immediate hearings to consider measures to stabilize the individual insurance markets. Press release: http://bit.ly/2xWK0af Letter: http://bit.ly/2xWOHke
On Wednesday, the House Committee on Ways & Means advanced by a vote of 24-13 the Protecting Senior’s Access to Medicare Act of 2017 (H.R. 849), which would repeal a provision in the ACA establishing an Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which was intended to provide the Administration and Congress with recommendations to cut costs if Medicare spending exceeds a certain growth threshold. Today the Senate Budget Committee approved an amendment offered by Sen. Gardner (R-CO) to the 2018 Senate Budget Resolution also providing for the repeal of the IPAB. E&C Press release: http://bit.ly/2fPP6LM
Administrative Action –
On Friday, Oklahoma Secretary of Health and Human Services sent a letter to HHS Secretary Price and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin withdrawing its 1332 waiver, arguing that the Administration did not approve its proposal in time to help with 2018 individual market premiums. Letter: http://bit.ly/2xMffor
On Tuesday, Minnesota Governor Dayton wrote a letter to HHS Acting Secretary Wright and CMS Administrator Verma responding to the Administration’s approval of the state’s 1332 waiver, and requesting that CMS revisit its decision regarding pass-through funding. Minnesota maintains that HHS has the legal authority to provide Minnesota with additional funding due to the waiver’s projected budgetary impact on federal support for the state’s Basic Health Plan. Letter: http://bit.ly/2xVWOxt