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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayBuilding strong public health capacity across the US Texas abortion law creates 2022 headache for GOP Top Democrat says he'll push to address fossil fuel tax breaks in spending bill 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 CassidyBill CassidyCassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Hillicon Valley — Presented by American Edge Project — Americans blame politicians, social media for spread of misinformation: poll Biden signs bill to strengthen K-12 school cybersecurity MORE (R-La.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRepublicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention 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 HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears 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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