Week ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets

Week ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets
© Greg Nash

The leaders of the Senate Health Committee expressed optimism Thursday that a bipartisan deal to stabilize the insurance markets was within reach.

The goal, according to Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Trump administration to explore importing prescription drugs Bipartisan bill would bring needed funds to deteriorating National Park Service infrastructure MORE (R-Tenn.), is to put the final touches on a bipartisan package the week of Sept. 18 with the hope the Senate will pass it by the end of the month.

The panel held four hearings on the topic over the past two weeks, bringing in governors, insurance commissioners and experts as Alexander and the committee'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 (Wash.), attempt to craft a deal to help the insurance markets.

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At the final hearing on Thursday, Alexander laid out the main themes that emerged throughout the hours of discussion, and it's expected this could serve as the framework for a deal.

One, funding cost-sharing reduction payments, which insurers receive from the federal government as payment for lowering the out-of-pocket costs of some ObamaCare enrollees.

Second, letting people of all ages buy "copper plans," which are essentially catastrophic coverage with lower premiums and higher deductibles.

Third, giving states more flexibility to approve health insurance plans and rates.

Meanwhile, four GOP senators are pushing a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Time isn't on their side, as the fast-track vehicle Republicans were using to gut ObamaCare expires at the end of the month. Republicans are using a budget maneuver, called reconciliation, because it avoids a Democratic filibuster.

On Wednesday, GOP Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Lawmakers pitch dueling plans for paid family leave New push to break deadlock on paid family leave MORE (La.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Polling analyst: Changes to legal immigration ‘the real sticking point among Democrats’ Graham would consider US-Russia military coordination in Syria MORE (S.C.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonJuan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins GOP senator: Harley-Davidson is right to move some production overseas GOP senator: Trump’s policies doing 'permanent damage' MORE (Wis.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Jacky Rosen hits Dean Heller over health care in first negative ad GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh MORE (Nev.) released the newest ObamaCare repeal bill. The measure seeks to give control to the states.

Specifically, the bill moves money for ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion, tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments, and provides block grants to states with those funds. It also repeals the individual and employer insurance mandates and the medical device tax.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Overnight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Senate to vote Monday on Trump's VA nominee MORE (R-Ky.) has told Graham and Cassidy they need to find the votes themselves. Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (R-Texas) is measuring support for the bill, and GOP leadership has asked the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to prioritize an analysis of the legislation.

But Cassidy has expressed optimism he is close to getting the votes needed.

"I am pretty confident we'll get there on the Republican side," Cassidy told reporters in his office on Friday. "We're probably at 48-49 [votes] and talking to two or three more."

So far, no other measure — even a scaled down version of a repeal bill — has been able to garner the votes needed to pass the Senate. There's little room for error, as Republicans control 52 seats.

On Friday, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump McCain: Trump plays into 'Putin's hands' by attacking Montenegro, questioning NATO obligations MORE (R-Ky.) came out in opposition to the measure, calling it "Obamacare Lite" in a tweet.

But there's more going on in the health world than just ObamaCare repeal.

The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as well as funding for community health centers and Medicare extenders, is set to lapse on Sept. 30 if Congress doesn't reauthorize the programs.

The Senate Finance Committee announced a deal on a five-year reauthorization of CHIP. As of early Friday afternoon, the House hasn't yet announced any such package.

There also isn't much time, as the House is out this week and the Senate is only in for half of the week.

Also on Capitol Hill in the coming week, the Senate Special Committee on Aging is holding a hearing titled "Disaster Preparedness and Response: The Special Needs of Older Americans." It will be held Wednesday in the Dirksen Senate Office building, room 562, at 9 a.m.

 

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