Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) announced a deal to stabilize the individual health insurance markets. In addition to Alexander and Murray, the bill was cosponsored by Republican Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Bob Corker (R-TN), and Democratic Senators Angus King (I-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Al Franken (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tammy Baldwin (D-WE), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).
While the bill had 12 Republican and 12 Democrat sponsors/cosponsors, it appeared to have collapsed soon after it was announced. President Trump was initially onboard with the deal, but soon backpedaled his support after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) came out against it and the Republican Study Committee panned it as a bailout for health insurance companies. But the President was back on board after learning of the Republican cosponsors. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not taken a position on the bill.
The Congressional Budget Office projects health care premiums will rise 20-25% without congressional action. This deal would extend ObamaCare insurance stabilization payments in exchange for giving states more flexibility to waive federal regulations. The bill also allows all individuals to purchase a lower-premium “copper” plan on the individual market regardless of age or hardship status; requires HHS to report on consumer outreach, education, and assistance activities; and requires HHS to promulgate regulations for the implementation of Health Care Choice Compacts, which would allow plans to be sold across state lines in the individual or small group market.
Alexander made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor this week and remains optimistic on the deal he reached with Murray. One likely scenario is that it is included in a year-end “grand deal” package that includes some perks and concessions for both Republicans and Democrats on FY18 appropriations, funding for a border wall, and a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program.