Late on Tuesday, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced that he was formally ending the process to produce a bipartisan bill to stabilize the ACA marketplaces. Alexander said they were unable to find “the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats to put a bill in the Senate leaders’ hands that could be enacted.” The legislation was being worked on with HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) and would have temporarily funded the ACA’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments and provided additional flexibility for states to implement the law. NAHU is very disappointed in this decision and encourages Congress to find other bipartisan agreements on ways to provide immediate relief for the health-reform law.
The decision by Alexander followed a joint statement by the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) earlier in the day that they would oppose the package. Ryan argued that the House would not be able to support the package due to the CSR funding, calling it a “bailout of insurers,” and that it would serve as a “red line” for the chamber’s Republicans. Ryan noted that there was not enough state flexibility being proposed in the deal and that Democrats were uncooperative, though it is unclear how much state flexibility Ryan was seeking in exchange for funding the CSRs. The White House claimed it would not support temporary funding for the CSRs unless the law itself was repealed—a non-starter for Democrats. The White House and Ryan instead said they would support the Senate’s repeal-and-replace efforts with the Graham-Cassidy proposal, expected to be voted on next week.
NAHU has long favored a bipartisan process for reforming the ACA and has had considerable success in garnering incremental reforms. These include a delay to the Cadillac/excise tax and Health Insurance Tax, and repeal of the small-group expansion and auto-enrollment provisions, the law’s 1099 requirement, the long-term care CLASS Act and the $2,000/4,000 deductible cap. NAHU is very concerned about the repeal/replace legislation expected to be considered next week, and we urge Congress to instead continue working on bipartisan piecemeal changes to the ACA, where lawmakers can find consensus on fixes to improve the law’s impact on agents and brokers and your clients.