Week ahead: Senate panel looks to quickly strike deal on ObamaCare fix

Week ahead: Senate panel looks to quickly strike deal on ObamaCare fix
© Greg Nash

The Senate Health Committee is aiming to reach a deal in the coming week on a bipartisan bill aimed at stabilizing ObamaCare's shaky insurance markets.

However, timing is a challenge if Congress wants to have an impact on premiums and insurer participation in 2018.

Insurers must sign contracts by the end of September to participate next year, meaning Congress would have to pass a bill before that deadline

But there are still disagreements over the specifics of the bill, which Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Supreme Court allows states to collect sales taxes from online retailers | Judge finds consumer bureau structure unconstitutional | Banks clear Fed stress tests Supreme Court rules states can require online sellers to collect sales tax 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families MORE (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges —Dems, health groups demand immigrant children be quickly reunited with families White House releases sweeping proposal to reorganize government Democrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor MORE (D-Wash.) hope to work out by the end of the week.

Democrats want the bill to include multiple years of funding for key insurer payments, known as cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies, while Republicans only want one year.

Insurers have threatened to leave the market or hike premiums if they don't get more certainty on these payments.

But a bigger sticking point is the changes Republicans want to make to ObamaCare's 1332 waivers.

Expanding these waivers would potentially allow states to opt out of some of the law’s requirements, and Democrats worry this could undo patient protections.

Alexander warned Democrats Thursday that if they want Congress to fund the CSRs, they need to sign off on some ObamaCare reforms.

"It's pretty easy to be for extending cost-sharing payments and that's just more money, and we can argue about how long it will be. But we will have no chance of getting that, unless in addition to that, we have some restructuring of the market," Alexander said during Thursday's hearing.

"Part of which could be with making Section 1332 work better."

The committee will hold a hearing focused on the waivers Tuesday with a final hearing Thursday with testimony from stakeholder groups.

Governors and state insurance officials testified before the committee after lawmakers returned from their month-long recess.

Most Republicans appear to have moved on from trying to repeal ObamaCare this year, Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump floats tariffs on European cars | Nikki Haley slams UN report on US poverty | Will tax law help GOP? It's a mystery Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — House passes opioid bill | Planned Parenthood sues over teen pregnancy program | Azar to face Senate next week On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Supreme Court allows states to collect sales taxes from online retailers | Judge finds consumer bureau structure unconstitutional | Banks clear Fed stress tests MORE (R-La.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate panel advances three spending bills Trump says he will sign executive order to end family separations Trump backs narrow bill halting family separations: official MORE (R-S.C.) are still trying to push ahead with their own bill, which would block grant large portions of ObamaCare's funding to the states. Cassidy said he would introduce the bill Monday.

It's a long-shot, however, as the 2017 reconciliation bill Republicans were using to push through ObamaCare repeal and avoid a Democratic filibuster expires at the end of the month.

Their bill did get an endorsement from the White House, with Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway saying Wednesday that the president would sign it if Congress passes it.

Also the coming week, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing focusing on health care costs and coverage.

"In the seven years since Obamacare was signed into law, healthcare premiums have skyrocketed and in turn middle-class Americans have been saddled with increasingly higher taxes and healthcare costs," Finance Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchSenate panel to hold hearing next week for Trump IRS nominee On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs MORE (R-Utah) said in a statement.

"This hearing will allow Senate Finance Committee members to hear from experts about the drivers of increasing healthcare costs and the importance of significant, long-term reforms to Obamacare."

Congress is also nearing a deadline to renew funding for the popular Children's Health Insurance Program. Funding expires at the end of September.

 

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Hearings and events

The Senate Health Committee is holding a hearing Tuesday, titled "Stabilizing Premiums and Helping Individuals in the Individual Market for 2018: State Flexibility." The hearing is at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 430, at 10 a.m.

The Senate Health Committee is holding a hearing Thursday, titled "Stabilizing Premiums and Helping Individuals in the Individual Market for 2018: Health Care Stakeholders." The hearing is at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 430, at 10 a.m.

The Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing Tuesday, titled "Health Care: Issues Impacting Cost and Coverage." The hearing is at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 215, at 10 a.m.

 

The Hill events

Join us Tuesday, September 12 for "Turning Genes into Medicine: Reimagining Our Health Care System," featuring Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.). Topics of discussion include incentivizing medical innovation and the impact of new treatments on the American health ecosystem and patients. RSVP Here

Join us Wednesday, September 13 for "America's Opioid Epidemic: Search for Solutions," featuring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.). Topics of discussion include national and local strategies to tackle the opioid crisis, and addressing and eliminating barriers to treatment and recovery. RSVP Here

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