Week ahead: Congress tackles children’s health care, insurance stabilization


Congress’s health care to-do list is fairly long.

Efforts to craft a bipartisan insurance stabilization bill and reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are underway.

But with senators in their home districts this week, it’s hard to see much movement on either one. (However, the House is in.)

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are trying to find common ground to stabilize the ObamaCare exchanges after Senate Republicans failed to pass a bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Alexander — who chairs the Senate Health Committee — gave some ground in the talks, agreeing to fund key payments to insurers for two years. He initially only wanted to fund the payments for one year, but Democrats were hoping for two.

These cost-sharing reduction payments compensate carriers for discounting out-of-pocket costs for certain ObamaCare consumers, and insurers have been pleading for long-term certainty that they’ll continue. The Trump administration has been making the payments on a monthly basis, which has been making insurers skittish.

Alexander said, though, that there is a “difference of opinion” that still needs to be worked out with Democrats on how much flexibility to give states to change ObamaCare rules through waivers.{mosads}

Meanwhile, funding for CHIP and community health centers expired at the end of September — and neither has been reauthorized. States still have money to keep their children’s health programs running until at least December, but advocates say the uncertainty isn’t easy for states, as they’ve already crafted their budgets.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a partisan bill to reauthorize CHIP and community health centers on Wednesday with offsets Democrats have slammed. On Thursday, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the panel’s top Democrat, urged for renewed bipartisan negotiations.

“I’m concerned that the Republicans’ actions in Committee will make it more difficult to come to a bipartisan agreement and will further delay reauthorization of CHIP, Community Health Centers and other important public health laws,” Pallone said in a statement.

“In order to expedite action, I call on Chairman [Greg] Walden [R-Ore.] to return to the negotiating table so that we can develop a bill that can garner strong, bipartisan support,” he said.

A committee spokesperson called the suggestions for paying for the bill “reasonable,” and wrote in an email that Republicans are open to ideas from Democrats to come to a bipartisan agreement “but Congress must move forward quickly [so] children and critical public health programs do not suffer.”  

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee passed a bipartisan CHIP reauthorization, but hasn’t released how to pay for it. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said CHIP and the insurance stabilization bill should be tied together, an idea that didn’t sit well with Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Outside the Capitol and across the country, groups that help with ObamaCare outreach and enrollment are gearing up for when the marketplaces open on Nov. 1.

ObamaCare supporters argue that the Trump administration is sabotaging the law, and this year could see decreased enrollment because of decisions from the White House. ObamaCare’s foes say a failed law shouldn’t be propped up.

Events and hearings

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Examining How Covered Entities Utilize the 340B Drug Pricing Program” 10 a.m. Wednesday at Rayburn House Office Building 2123

The House Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing titled “Member Day: Testimony and Proposals on the Opioid Crisis” 10:15 a.m. Wednesday at Rayburn House Office Building 2125

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Tags Charles Schumer Lamar Alexander Orrin Hatch Patty Murray
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