This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held two of four scheduled bipartisan hearings on Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual market stabilization. The committee heard from state insurance commissioners on Wednesday and governors on Thursday.
As we have reported, the committee is holding the series of hearings early this month and, according to Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), plans to have a market stabilization package ready by September 27 in order to keep premiums affordable for the 18 million Americans who buy their insurance plans on the individual market. September 27 is the date by which insurance companies must sign contracts with the federal government to sell their coverage on the federal exchange in 2018.
The state insurance commissioners who testified at Wednesday’s hearing were Oklahoma’s John Doak, Washington’s Mike Kreidler, Tennessee’s Julie Mix McPeak, Pennsylvania’s Teresa Miller, and Alaska’s Lori Wing-Heier. Collectively, they indicated a desire for Congress to fund a multi-year appropriation of the ACA’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments. They also want more control over their state insurance markets, which could be achieved by shortening the current six-month approval period for 1332 budget neutrality waivers and allowing the governors to request such waivers without state legislature approval.
The governors who testified at Thursday’s hearing also supported increased flexibility for states to govern their own insurance markets, and most called for changes in the 1332 waiver program. The five governors included Steve Bullock (D-MT), Charlie Baker (R-MA), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Bill Haslam (R-TN), and Gary Herbert (R-UT). Though their testimony reflected their differing experiences with the ACA and its effects on their respective states, all of them agreed that Congress should take action to ensure CSR payments to insurers for low-income exchange participants, and the majority of governors requested funding through 2019.
Next week, the HELP Committee will hear testimony from state flexibility witnesses and other healthcare stakeholders representing doctors, hospitals, insurers, patients, and insurance commissioners.
Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) hope to negotiate and pass a stabilization package out of committee in the next 10 days in order to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote before the September 27 insurer rate filing deadline. We will keep you updated.