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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate HELP Committee Begins Series of Hearings on Stabilizing the Marketplace

    Len Marquez, Senior Director, Government Relations

    The Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Sept. 6 began a series of hearings addressing how to stabilize the health insurance marketplaces. The first hearing featured state insurance commissioners from Oklahoma, Washington, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Alaska. The second hearing featured Governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Steve Bullock of Montana, Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Gary Herbert of Utah, and John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

    The hearings are aimed at developing a bipartisan plan to stabilize the marketplaces. In his opening statement before the Sept. 6 hearing, Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) specified that he wanted to reach an agreement on how best to stabilize the marketplaces by Sept. 15. This deadline would provide additional information and some predictability to insurers facing a deadline of whether to remain in the marketplace by Sept. 27.

    Additionally, Chairman Alexander stated, “If Congress acts quickly we can limit increases in premiums in 2018; continue support for co-pays and deductibles for many low-income families; make certain that health insurance is available in every market; and lay the groundwork for future premium decreases…To get a result, Democrats will have to agree to something – more flexibility for states – that some are reluctant to support. And Republicans will have to agree to something – additional funding through the Affordable Care Act – that some are reluctant to support. Health insurance has been a very partisan topic for a very long time, but the bottom line today is that 18 million Americans need our help, and I hope we can stay focused on getting a result.”

    Various proposals to shore up the markets were mentioned at both hearings. During the Sept. 6 hearing, Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak encouraged Congress to continue funding cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) stating, “The CSR funding issue is the single most critical issue that you can address to help stabilize insurance markets for 2018.” Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Theresa Miller advocated for maintaining robust underlying baseline requirements rather than relying on the waiver process to address market issues. Finally, Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler encouraged Congress to establish a temporary reinsurance program.

    At the Sept. 7 hearing, the governors also proposed various methods to stabilize the marketplaces and lent their support to several ideas proffered by the state insurance commissioners, in particular the continued funding of CSRs and the idea of federal reinsurance. The governors featured also supported the idea of additional flexibility through the waiver process and stressed the importance of keeping younger, healthier individuals in the market. Finally, the governors urged Congress to address health care costs, including the increasing drug costs. 

    The hearings will continue next week, with a Sept. 12 hearing on state flexibility and a Sept. 14 hearing featuring health care stakeholders.