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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Health Care-Packed Week for Congress

Jane Sheehan

Senior Government Affairs Manager

Congress is back from summer vacation and has little time to waste on a packed September agenda. Legislative items on its plate this month include: passing a government funding bill and disaster relief; extending funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), community health centers, and other important health programs; addressing the debt ceiling; and pivoting to tax reform.

Additionally, key Republicans and Democrats have promised to come together to address affordability and stability in the marketplace. It’s going to be a very busy month. 

Key Senate committee will meet to discuss stabilization of health market

Up first, the Senate Health Education Labor Pensions (HELP) Committee will be holding four hearings over the next two weeks focused on market stabilization. The top Republican and Democrat on the committee hope that these hearings will provide a formal bipartisan setting for addressing rising premiums. (We live-tweeted the hearings.)

Over the next two weeks HELP will hear from state insurance commissioners, governors, health care stakeholders, state flexibility experts, and more. Senators on both sides of the aisle will have the opportunity to hear from the diverse group of witnesses and ask them questions related to their various areas of expertise. 

Following these hearings, the senators on the HELP Committee will work with their colleagues and caucuses to craft legislative solutions. 

We hope these solutions reflect the legislative priorities summarized in a letter sent to Congress this week, signed by 100 consumer and health care advocate organizations, including Families USA. The letter outlines our main asks for the bipartisan discussions, including guaranteed funding for cost-sharing reductions, restoration of premium stabilization programs, and adequate funding for federal navigators and consumer outreach.

During these upcoming discussions on stability and flexibility, we hope positive bipartisan conversations continue, but it is possible that less agreeable proposals will emerge.

Bipartisan proposal from Governors Hickenlooper and Kasich 

Last week, we got a preview of some of the proposals that may come before the HELP Committee. Governors John Hickenlooper (D-CO), John Kasich (R-OH), and six of their Democratic and Republican colleagues sent a letter to congressional leadership outlining their plan to stabilize the marketplace. 

It is encouraging that governors from both sides of the aisle could agree on many proposals that health care advocates, policy experts, insurers, and other state officials have stressed are needed for market stability. This includes: 

  • funding cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) through 2019
  • immediate external funding for reinsurance alongside long-term extension of the ACA’s premium stabilization programs
  • maintaining funding for outreach and enrollment efforts
  • closing the family glitch

However, other provisions in the plan, such as providing more state flexibility to erode federal essential health benefits and weakening requirements for 1332 waivers could undercut consumer protections and pave the road for policies that worsen access to and affordability of comprehensive coverage. 

At the HELP hearing on September 7, we expect to hear more from Governor Hickenlooper about the recently released proposal as he testifies on ways to strengthen the individual market. 

Other things to watch this week 

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on reauthorizing funding for CHIP on Thursday, September 7. Since funding for CHIP expires on September 30, and several states will run out of funding over the next several months, it is crucial that Congress acts soon to fund the program. CHIP covers 9 million children and has received bipartisan support in the past, so we are hopeful that this hearing will kick start legislative action on funding extension.

Many lawmakers in Congress are returning to D.C. with bipartisan intentions to improve the marketplace and ensure continuing health coverage for children. However, during this busy month it will be crucial to remind your lawmakers of your priorities and encourage them to move beyond the partisan repeal efforts that consumed so much of this year.