Senate Committee Completes Bipartisan Hearings on Health Care
Last Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held its final bipartisan hearing on efforts to stabilize the individual health insurance market. The committee heard testimony from provider, state and insurer stakeholders on stabilizing premiums and helping people in the individual insurance market. Despite these efforts, it was announced this week by Committee Chairman Alexander that bipartisan efforts had stalled and no further negotiations would take place.
The focus of each of the previous hearings, the Affordable Care Act’s Section 1332 waivers were again a topic of great discussion during this final hearing. Section 1332 “State Innovation Waivers” were included in the 2010 health care law to allow states the opportunity to pursue innovative methods of providing access to affordable, high quality health care while still maintaining the key elements of the ACA. However, there is growing concern over the potential scope of these waivers and their ability to significantly modify how states offer affordable insurance coverage through the marketplace.
Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said during the hearing that the Committee may reduce the six-month waiting period for these waivers to allow “copycat” approval of other states’ waivers, allowing for replication of various state models. In doing so the waivers would allow insurers to offer a wider range of plans and benefits. However, Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed concern that the waivers would put patient protections and benefits at risk. Learn more about the 1332 waivers here.
ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS (EHBs)
Essential health benefits – the ten health care services insurers are required to offer, including mental health and addiction services – have repeatedly been a focus during this year’s ‘ACA repeal and replace’ activities. Panelists at the hearing spoke of the importance of EHBs: serving as an incentive for younger Americans people to enroll in health care coverage and the high utilization of both mental health and maternity services. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) made clear that lifetime and annual limits would be in jeopardy if states were given the option to waive these required services EHBs.
On Tuesday, Chairman Alexander released the following statement about the Senate HELP Committee’s work over the last month:
“Senator Murray and I had hoped to agree early this week on a limited, bipartisan plan to stabilize 2018 premiums in the individual health insurance market that we could take to Senate leaders by the end of the month. During the last month, we have worked hard and in good faith, but have not found the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats to put a bill in the Senate leader’s hands that could be enacted.”
There do not appear to be any additional negotiations taking place at this time. All efforts and focus appear to have shifted to the latest “repeal and replace” efforts led by Sens. Graham, Cassidy, Heller and Johnson.