Health chair: Congress may have to aid insurers during ObamaCare transition

Health chair: Congress may have to aid insurers during ObamaCare transition

A top Republican lawmaker indicated Wednesday that Congress might have to provide financial assistance to insurance companies to keep the individual market from collapsing during the transition away from ObamaCare. 

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderObamaCare becomes political weapon for Democrats Senate passes resolution requiring mandatory sexual harassment training Sen. Warren sold out the DNC MORE, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said Republicans might have to step outside of their comfort zone soon to prevent insurers from bailing out of the market and leaving millions without healthcare.

“What we’re told is if we don’t act by March or April, is that in many states there won’t be an insurance company there to sell you insurance,” Alexander said Wednesday at a HELP hearing focused on ObamaCare.

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“It’s also an area where Republicans are going to have to do some things we may not normally do, like cost sharing or reinsurance. We may not like those things, but we may have to do those things for the next two to three years to make sure people can buy insurance.”

Insurance experts at the hearing warned lawmakers that the insurance market could collapse without continued cost sharing and reinsurance payments that compensate insurers for offering discounts to low-income enrollees and for taking on sick, costly patients.  

“The absence of this funding will further deteriorate an already unstable market and hurt millions of consumers who depend on these programs for their coverage,” said Marilyn Tavenner, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the main health insurance trade group. She was the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama. 

Insurers could flee the system altogether, she warned, limiting the coverage options for roughly 10 million people already enrolled in the system.

That reality puts Republicans in a bind.

While the GOP once despised cost-sharing payments enough to sue the Obama administration, it may now have to offer them to keep the insurance market stable.

Experts also pushed Republicans to remain as transparent as possible while they work to dismantle ObamaCare. 

Some congressional Republicans voiced concern privately last week that the rapid-fire effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare might not work as smoothly as GOP leaders claim.

“Insurance markets do not respond well to uncertainty,” said Julie Mix McPeak, president-elect of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. 

“To the extent possible as you consider ACA reforms, it will be very important to remain transparent, as today’s hearing suggests; to engage stakeholders, and to minimize surprises in our regulatory system.”

But Democrats argued that Republicans were causing chaos in the insurance markets simply by pushing for an ObamaCare repeal.

“I want to be very clear: while my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not have a plan, they are creating Trumpcare by sabotage. It is a broken system of chaos and uncertainty that will hurt, not help, families,” said Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayA bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Overnight Health Care: ObamaCare sign-ups surge in early days Collins, Manchin to serve as No Labels co-chairs MORE (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking Democrat.

“I hope that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle stop the rush to repeal and start thinking about some of the consequences and encourage the president to do the same.”