A group of 24 senators - 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats led by Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) - on Thursday released short-term bipartisan legislation to stabilize premiums and access to insurance in individual health insurance markets.
Senators Alexander and Murray said: “We have reached an agreement on bipartisan legislation that will extend cost-sharing reduction payments during 2018 and 2019, protect consumers facing higher premiums this year, and give states meaningful flexibility to create greater choices among health insurance policies in the individual health insurance market.”
“The goal of this bipartisan legislation is to stabilize and then lower the cost of health insurance premiums and ensure that Americans are able to purchase health insurance in the individual health insurance market. This legislation is based upon witness testimony from four bipartisan hearings that the Senate health committee held last month.”
Senator Alexander on Thursday spoke on the Senate floor. He said, “Our agreement permanently amends the Affordable Care Act to give new flexibility for states to create insurance policies that have a larger variety and lower costs and it continues the cost-sharing reduction payments during 2018 and 2019.
“Cost-sharing reduction payments are subsidies that pay for copays and deductibles for low income Americans. Every Republican in the House of Representatives who voted to repeal and replace Obamacare this year, voted for a provision that continued the cost-sharing payments for two years.
“The president says there should be no bailout of insurance companies. I agree 100 percent. So does Senator Murray. We have a page and a half to make it clear that insurance companies cannot ‘double dip,’ so the benefits go to consumers not insurance companies.
“Some conservatives object to the idea of paying them at all, but I would ask what's conservative about unaffordable premiums? What's conservative about $194 billion of new federal debt? What's conservative about creating chaos so millions can't buy insurance? What's conservative about a four-lane highway that would be the chaos that leads to a single-payer solution for insurance in this country?
“The people still objecting are listening to the groups around Washington, D.C. I would suggest they listen to some other people. Listen to the waitress, listen to the songwriter, listen to the brick layer, listen to the small businesswoman. The people of America, there are 350,000 in Tennessee, who may be terrified by the prospect of increasing premiums or even the prospect of not being able to buy insurance at all.”
“We haven't moved an inch toward our objectives in the last seven years of giving states more flexibility in creating insurance policies in the individual market. This agreement does.
“We have a solution here. Senator Murray and I – a total of 24 United States Senators – are offering it today.”
In addition to Senators Alexander and Murray, the bill was cosponsored by Republican Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Democratic Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.)
The bill language is here. A section-by-section summary is here.