The Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Sept. 12 and 14 continued its series of hearings examining methods to stabilize the individual insurance market. The hearings, spearheaded by Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) are aimed at developing a bipartisan plan to stabilize the insurance markets, following the Senate’s failed attempt to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The hearing Sept. 12 examined state flexibility, specifically the ACA's 1332 waiver process. Increasing state flexibility in obtaining a 1332 waiver is popular with the Administration and congressional Republicans, but it has been met with skepticism from Democrats. In her opening statement, Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) cautioned, “[t]his has to be a conversation about moving forward, not backward, when it comes to affordability, coverage, and quality of care…Democrats will reject any effort to use this discussion as a way to erode the guardrails and protections that so many patients and families rely on.”
Emotions ran high during the Sept. 14 hearing, which featured various health care stakeholders. Robert Ruiz-Moss, Vice President of Anthem, testified during the hearing and was met with criticism by several of the committee’s Democratic members. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) accused Anthem of sending Congress a “ransom note” and pulling out of various markets in order to win concessions from Congress. Similarly, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) criticized Anthem’s decision to pull out of Virginia markets, saying, “I just want to communicate to all insurance companies: there is no way, none, that Congress is going to tolerate a situation where persistently there are counties in this country where people cannot buy insurance on the individual market. We just won’t tolerate it.”
Chair Alexander had called for the hearings with a goal of reaching an agreement on how best to stabilize the marketplaces by Sept. 15. While it appears that this deadline will pass without an agreement, the Chair has indicated he will continue with this effort.