No certainty on cost-sharing payments to insurers

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Insurers didn’t get certainty from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price that they’ll continue to receive key payments from the federal government, despite Democratic pressure at a Thursday Senate Finance Committee hearing.

The administration hasn’t said how long it will continue the payments to insurers that go toward decreasing out-of-pocket costs for lower-income ObamaCare consumers. Lawmakers have said they want to stabilize the market in some way, but haven’t said definitively if Congress will decide to fund cost-sharing reduction payments.

“I notice it’s in your budget through fiscal year 2018. What should we believe?” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) asked Price.

{mosads}Price responded that his answer might not be satisfying, but as the current defendant in the House v. Price case, he couldn’t comment beyond the fact that “the budget reflects the payments of the CSR payments through 2018.”

Price never committed, however, that insurers would continue to get these dollars regardless of what happens with the lawsuit.

Insurers have been pleading for certainty that they’ll continue to receive this money, which totals about $7 billion this year, as they’re in the midst of filing premium rates for 2018 and deciding if they’ll stay in the ObamaCare exchanges.

Several insurance companies have already said they would exit the ObamaCare exchanges in some markets, citing uncertainty over CSR payments as one of the reasons behind the decision. The latest to do so was Anthem in Ohio, which leaves about 20 counties without a healthcare plan to buy on the state’s exchange.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) accused Price of sabotaging the market.

This is a common sentiment among Democrats, who say Republicans are responsible for insurer pullouts because they won’t commit to continued CSR funding. They also point to the GOP efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“Nobody is interested in sabotaging the system,” Price responded. “Nobody is cheering the challenges that we have in this system.”

Republicans say ObamaCare’s failed policies have led insurers to increase the cost of premiums and leave the insurance markets the law created. They say they are working to fix the healthcare system with an ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill.

As Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) tried to close the hearing, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) asked for additional time, in part to add more criticism on how the administration is handling CSR payments.

“In the administration’s budget, to their credit, they fund cost-sharing,” Carper said. “The president keeps taking it back in his tweets, in other things … raising questions. And it’s the questions, it’s the lack of certainty, predictability for the insurance companies that drive up the prices.”

Tags Bill Nelson Debbie Stabenow Orrin Hatch Tom Carper

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