Senate panel to hold bipartisan hearings on healthcare

The Senate Health Committee will begin holding bipartisan hearings the first week of September on how to stabilize and strengthen the individual insurance market, the panel's top Democrat and Republican announced Tuesday.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMontana governor raises profile ahead of potential 2020 bid Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Trump administration to explore importing prescription drugs MORE (R-Tenn.) — the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — said the goal is for the panel to craft a bipartisan, short-term proposal by mid-September, as insurers must finalize how much their premiums will cost by the end of that month.

“We need to put out the fire in these collapsing markets wherever these markets are,” Alexander said at the beginning of a HELP Committee hearing on nominations.

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The committee plans to discuss the issue with insurance commissioners, patients, insurance companies, governors and healthcare experts. The committee’s staff will beginning preparing for the hearings this week, Alexander said.

The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Top Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families MORE (D-Wash.), said she welcomed the bipartisan hearings and appreciated Alexander’s willingness to work with her on the issue. Alexander and Murray have previously crafted bipartisan deals, such as a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act last congressional session.

The move comes as some Senate GOP leaders are openly admitting they don’t see a path forward on their seven-year-long campaign pledge to repeal ObamaCare, at least for now, after a scaled-down repeal bill failed to pass the upper chamber early Friday morning.

Still, in a press conference Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress GOP to White House: End summit mystery Sunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Ky.) noted the vehicle to repeal ObamaCare hasn’t yet expired.

“We're continuing to score some of the options on healthcare [from] Senator [Rob] Portman [R-Ohio], Senator [Ted] Cruz [R-Texas], Senator [Lindsey] Graham [R-S.C.] , Senator [Bill] Cassidy [R-La.],” he said.

Even before last week’s vote, some Republicans have called for an open and bipartisan process. Others have said that letting Alexander and Murray work on healthcare in committee is at least one path worth pursuing.

“We're not adverse to that,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said early Friday morning, after the skinny repeal bill failed.

“I just don’t have high hopes that we're going to get anything that really solves the problems that we think exist with ObamaCare today,” Thune said.

Stabilizing the individual market could be one area of bipartisanship, though it’s already drawn ire from conservatives, who argue that any action would be providing bailouts to insurance companies.

The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House, consisting of 43 Republicans and Democrats, unveiled proposals to fix problems with the Affordable Care Act on Monday. Included in the list was congressional funding for cost-sharing reduction payments.

Insurers have been pleading with Congress for long-term certainty that they’ll continue to receive crucial payments compensating them for subsidizing out-of-pocket costs for certain consumers. Without them, premiums on the ObamaCare exchanges would spike, insurers warn.

The Trump administration has been funding these cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers on a monthly basis. In tweets over the weekend, President Trump threatened to cancel the payments, which total $7 billion in fiscal 2017, if Republicans don’t pass a healthcare bill. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Sunday a decision would come this week.

“He’s going to make that decision this week, and that’s a decision that only he can make,” Conway said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Alexander said he has urged the president to continue CSR payments through September to give Congress time to work out a short-term solution.