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 AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke 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 MurrayOvernight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal Trump health official defends funding shifts to pay for detained migrant children Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh 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.