After what has become routine drama around the federal budget, Congress finally approved a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) on Wednesday to keep the government funded through December 9 and avoid a shutdown mere weeks before Election Day. President Obama signed the package just 36 hours before government funding was due to expire. Democrats held up the package over $170 million in federal funding for Flint, Michigan, of which Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) were able to work out an agreement on Tuesday. The package also includes $1.1 billion in Zika-related funding, 233 days after the funding request was initially made, as well as temporary funding for the opioid epidemic, and $500 million for flood cleanup in Louisiana. The House voted 342-85 to pass the package following the Senate’s 72-26 vote on passage.
With the CR out of the way, NAHU is making a strong push to include our federal policy priorities in the final end-of-year package that will need to be voted on in early December. Congress is scheduled to be back in session for just 12 legislative working days before the current CR is due to expire. The “Christmas Tree” package—so named because members of Congress “decorate” the funding package with their “ornaments” of preferred legislation—has the best chance for NAHU to include language from our bills, such as removing broker compensation from the medical loss ratio, prospective reporting, treating COBRA as creditable coverage for Medicare, and restoring Medicare’s open enrollment period. We are also hopeful that following last year’s “Christmas Tree” package, that included delays of the Cadillac/excise tax and the health insurance tax, we can permanently repeal both of these taxes.
Finally, before heading out of town, the House passed H.R. 954 by a largely party line vote of 258-165. The CO-OP Consumer Protection Act would temporarily exempt from the individual mandate those who were enrolled in CO-OP plans that have ceased to exist due to the insurer’s closure. The bill was sponsored by Representative Adrian Smith (R-NE-3), who represents constituents who were the first to experience a CO-OP closure when CoOportunity Health, which provided coverage to Iowa and Nebraska, failed and was taken over by Iowa state regulators in December 2014. Since then, 15 additional CO-OPs have closed, leaving just six of the 23 original CO-OPs remaining in operation. The legislation now heads to the Senate where, if passed, it will face a likely veto by President Obama. This week, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy noting that the bill would be vetoed, citing that there are already consumer protections in place for these consumers and that the bill would set a bad precedent for using exemptions from the individual-responsibility provision.