WASHINGTON: A bipartisan approach to fixing rather than repealing the existing health care reforms gathered pace Wednesday, after Republican and Democratic senators joined forces to begin work on shoring up the insurance markets.
In a clear effort to move beyond the health-care rancor of recent months, Senate Health Committee chairman Lamar Alexander and the panel’s top Democrat Patty Murray announced comprehensive hearings, beginning the week of September 4, aimed at averting potentially steep insurance rate hikes next year.
Congress should focus on the actions needed “to stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market so that Americans will be able to buy insurance at affordable prices in 2018,” Alexander said in a statement Tuesday.
In the House of Representatives, a similar appeal to bipartisanship has led some 40 lawmakers, about evenly split between the two parties, to create a Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to quietly go about drafting ways to stabilize the health care industry.
The moves could be seen as a rebuke to President Donald Trump after his efforts to dismantle Obamacare collapsed in Congress, and as he mulls scrapping federal contributions to subsidies that help low-income Americans purchase health care through the program.
Trump has branded the subsidies “bailouts” to the insurance companies.
But Alexander warned that “Americans will be hurt” if the government does not honor its commitment to paying the so-called cost-sharing reductions, or CSRs.
In order to compensate for the added costs, the US government is paying some $7 billion directly to insurers this year — a figure expected to rise to $16 billion in 2027.
Premiums in the individual market could spike 20% if the government CSR payments end, according to the health-focused Kaiser Family Foundation.
Alexander and Murray plan to invite a broad group of witnesses to their hearings, including state insurance commissioners and governors, patients, health care experts, and insurance companies.
The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said Wednesday he was “very happy” to hear Alexander was committed to a bipartisan process, after several Republican efforts to roll back the Affordable Care Act crashed.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sounded committed to moving beyond a partisan push to rip out Obamacare, saying the chamber would soon “turn its collective attention” to tax reform.