On Tuesday, August 1, 2017, the Senate Health Committee (the “Committee”) announced hearings, to take place in September, on the issue of stabilizing the individual health insurance market. The announcement of these hearings is in response to continued legislative efforts to repeal Obamacare and President Trump’s threats to stop paying insurance companies cost-sharing subsidies, currently availed under Obamacare, that reduce out-of-pocket expenses for low-income policyholders.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, Chair of the Committee, is working with Democratic Senator Patty Murray to make the hearings bipartisan. Congress must develop a solution before September
27th, when insurers enter into contracts with the federal government over what insurance plans to sell on the exchange for 2018. If these subsidies are eliminated, then insurance companies will likely stop offering individual products through the exchange,
which is likely to affect a large number of the 18 million Americans who obtain their insurance in this manner.
In addition, a group of around 40 Republicans and Democrats, known as the “Problem Solvers Caucus” (“PSC”), have endorsed a white paper outline of ideas directed toward making some major Obamacare
improvements. While there is no formal legislative text at this time, PSC members are moving rapidly to garner broader support for their proposals in light of the most recent defeat of the Senate bill to repeal Obamacare and to force Republicans, once and
for all, to stop trying to get rid of Obamacare.
The PSC proposal includes mandatory funding for the cost-sharing subsidies for low income policyholders; repeal of the medical device tax; and raising the threshold of the “employer mandate”,
so that companies with 500 employees or more, rather than 50, are required to provide employee health insurance. PSC leadership has acknowledged that this initial proposal is an attempt to fix only certain pieces of Obamacare and should not be viewed as a
“cure all” to its shortfalls
The Committee and the PSC face a number of challenges. First, conservative legislators have made it clear that they are still favor of repeal. In addition, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office
has stated that a bipartisan healthcare proposal would not be approved by the House anytime soon. At the same time, however, other GOP members are insisting that it is time to leave “repeal and replace” behind and devote their efforts to reaching accord with
the Democrats on smaller fixes before September 27th.