Senate Convenes 10am Hearing Today on Fixing ACA Problems

All Eyes On Senate HELP Today
Dan Diamond Politico September 6, 2017

The US Senate HELP committee will hear from five insurance commissioners on the need to stabilize premiums and help individuals in the individual insurance market. It's the first bipartisan Senate hearing on fixing Affordable Care Act problems in more than seven months. See details and 10 a.m. livestream.

— What's at stake. With less than two months before Obamacare's next open enrollment, Sen. Lamar Alexander is hoping the committee can quickly reach consensus on how to fix the troubled individual market, where about 18 million Americans shop for coverage. The committee chairman wants to draft a bill with the support of Democrats and Republicans by the third week of September, an ambitious timetable that will be complicated by the chamber's other legislative priorities, such as a Hurricane Harvey relief package and debt ceiling deal.

— What Alexander will say today. POLITICO got an early look at the chairman's opening remarks: "This is about taking one small step on a big issue which was been locked in a political stalemate for seven years — health insurance. This step is not so small to 18 million Americans — songwriters, the self-employed, farmers — those who do not get their health insurance from the government or on the job. ... To get a result, Democrats will have to agree to something — more flexibility for states — that some are reluctant to support. And Republicans will have to agree to something — additional funding through the Affordable Care Act — that some are reluctant to support."

— Patty Murray lays out her priorities. In a Washington Post op-ed, the ranking member of the HELP committee reiterates that she wants several years of funding for cost-sharing reductions as well as other commitments to shore up markets for the long-term. "We need a multiyear solution to offer certainty to patients and families and to truly help prevent premium increases," the Democratic senator writes. Murray also stresses what she won't do. "I will reject any effort to use this process as a back door to pass parts of Trumpcare that would erode protections for people with preexisting conditions — for example, women seeking maternity care or those with mental illness or substance-use disorders," Murray writes. Read the op-ed.

HOUSE DEFERS TO SENATE ON ACA FIXES — Any move to stabilize the insurance market and amend the Affordable Care Act will have to originate in the Senate and must happen in the next few weeks, said Rep. Tom Reed , co-leader of the House's Problem Solvers Caucus. Reed, a Republican who represents the Southern Tier, said he hopes he can use the roughly four dozen House members of the caucus to amplify efforts at reaching consensus while Sens. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, and Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, work on legislation that can reach President Donald Trump's desk. "If we start the whole process from a partisan approach, I think it is doomed to be a failure," Reed said Tuesday during an interview with POLITICO New York. "[We have] big problems and I want to be a voice — and I will stand with anyone on both sides of the aisle who are willing to help the American people." The bill died in the Senate and with it any real hope of a flat-out repeal, Reed said. He is now intent on helping to fix the Affordable Care Act. Wholesale rollback of Medicaid expansion is "unlikely," he said, though changes to reimbursement models remain a possibility.

... Whether that optimism is prescient or naive remains to be seen as Congress faces a daunting to-do list, with many potential landmines that could blow up into partisan bickering. The House is scheduled to be in session only 11 more days this month and must pass a budget to keep the government open, fund post-Harvey (and possibly Irma) relief efforts, reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program, and, at some point in the near future, raise the debt ceiling. Read more here.