In a sign of just how broken the Congress is, the big news in Congress today is that the Senate is beginning hearings on potential legislation. That doesn't happen too often lately, and particularly not on healthcare reform. There haven't been any of those since Republicans took control. In either chamber. But this time they're talking to experts and everything. What the Senate is looking at accomplishing in order to stabilize Obamacare markets isn't particularly ambitious, policy-wise, but politically could still be a massive challenge.
The Senate health committee was holding the first of four scheduled hearings Wednesday, with testimony planned from five states’ insurance commissioners. The session comes with analysts expecting 2018 premium increases to match or exceed the average 25 percent boosts on midlevel plans sold this year on the government’s Healthcare.gov online marketplace. Insurers say additional upsurges are possible due to uncertainty over actions by the Trump administration. […]
The bipartisan push is being led by health committee chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and the panel’s top Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington state. Alexander wants a bill approved by late September — when insurers must decide whether they will sell policies on the government marketplace — in hopes that the legislation would avert even steeper premium increases. […]
Alexander envisions a bill that would finance government subsidies to insurers for 2018. The payments, which cost around $7 billion this year, compensate companies for lowering out-of-pockets costs for customers’ deductibles and co-payments, which Obama’s law requires. Almost 7 million lower-earning people benefit from the reductions.
The insurance companies are required by the law to lower those costs, and we've had a ginned up legal fight for several years over their reimbursement with Republicans arguing the law didn't specifically authorize them. That's where the Trump administration comes in, threatening to refuse to make the payments. This could have been easily settled years ago with exactly what Alexander and Murray are attempting—legislation. It's not actually going to be all that simple now—Alexander is talking about the payments for one year, Murray wants them for several years. And they're not only talking about these payments.
In return for the money, Alexander wants to "make it easier for states to get waivers so insurers could provide less stringent coverage than Obama’s law requires." What he really intends here is "vague" but he says "he personally would not favor easing requirements, including coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions and specified services, like maternity care, that insurers must provide." That will be the rub in the success of this effort in getting actual bipartisan support in the Senate, its potential success in the House and, as always, with Trump.