Healthcare

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 Alexander (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 Murray (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 Cassidy (La.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Dean Heller (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 McConnell (R-Ky.) has told Graham and Cassidy they need to find the votes themselves. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (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 Paul (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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Tags Bill Cassidy Dean Heller John Cornyn Lamar Alexander Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Patty Murray Rand Paul Ron Johnson

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