Senate Health panel aims for deal on stabilizing markets early next week

Senate Health panel aims for deal on stabilizing markets early next week
© Greg Nash

The Senate's health panel intends to craft a bipartisan bill to stabilize the insurance markets by early next week, enabling the full Senate to pass it by the end of the month, according to Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets Corker pressed as reelection challenges mount Overnight Health Care: CBO predicts 15 percent ObamaCare premium hike | Trump calls Sanders single-payer plan ‘curse on the US’ | Republican seeks score of Sanders’s bill MORE (R-Tenn.).

Alexander laid out the goal Thursday during the Health Committee’s fourth hearing on stabilizing the markets ahead of a Sept. 27 deadline for insurers to sign contracts to sell plans on HealthCare.gov, with open enrollment beginning Nov. 1. Last week, Alexander said he’d hoped for a deal by the end of this week.

In his opening remarks, Alexander laid out the main themes that emerged in the three previous hearings, and it’s expected that these could be included in a stabilization package:

1. Funding cost-sharing reduction payments, which compensate insurers for lowering the out-of-pocket costs of some ObamaCare enrollees.
2. Expanding “copper plans” to those 30 and over, so they could buy catastrophic plans with lower premiums and higher deductibles.
3. Granting states more flexibility to approve health insurance plans and prices in their state.

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Alexander also mentioned an “actuarial equivalency,” which could let states offer plans with varied benefits as long as its value is similar to plans in the exchanges and the individual market.

“I simply won’t be able to persuade the Republican majority in the Senate, the Republican majority in the House, and the Republican president to extend the cost-sharing payments without giving states meaningful flexibility,” Alexander said.

The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayWeek ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets Policymaking commission offers a glimmer of hope in hyper-partisan Washington Dems call on DeVos to work with CFPB to protect student borrowers MORE (Wash.), said she’s “confident there’s room for common ground, right here in the coming days.”

She addressed concerns Democrats have had about proposals that could “undermine the essential health benefits,” the ObamaCare requirement that insurers cover an array of services from mental health to maternity care.

“That would be unacceptable — and I don’t think either side expects that we settle those larger issues in this current negotiation,” Murray said in her opening remarks.