Feb 1, 2017

Alexander will push Republicans to give financial help to insurers

(Carolyn Kaster / AP)

Senate HELP Committee chairman Lamar Alexander used an Obamacare hearing Wednesday to signal that he'll push for financial help for insurers in the individual insurance market — a goal confirmed by his aides. It was a sign that Alexander, ever the pragmatist, will try to convince other Republicans that they can't keep holding out against "insurer bailouts" if they want the post-Obamacare market to be stable.

The key quote: Some things "can be done temporarily to stabilize that market for two or three years while we discuss everything else. And I think it means Republicans are going to have to approve things we might not normally support" and so will Democrats. Read on for more highlights from the hearing.

Our takeaways:

  • Alexander wants at least one year of financial relief. He's pushing for cost-sharing subsidies paid to insurers (which lower out of pocket costs for low-income enrollees) and reinsurance payments (which compensate insurers who enroll sick, expensive people) to be continued at least through 2017, his office confirmed.
  • He made the case that there's already an emergency. Look at this exchange with Marilyn Tavenner, the president of America's Health Insurance Plans, the main health insurance trade group: Alexander: How essential is cost-sharing and reinsurance at least temporarily in order to avert serious emergency in the individual market for between 11 million and 20 million Americans?Tavenner: I think they're critical. They are required. Alexander: In other words, you mean insurance companies would pull out of those states if they didn't have either of those things?Tavenner: I think we would lose more insurance companies.
  • Insurers are all pretty much on the same page. They want narrower special enrollment and grace periods to crack down on people gaming the insurance system, a larger ratio of what older people pay in premiums compared to younger people, and the temporary continuation of Obamacare payments to insurers.
  • Insurers also want speed. They have to submit their benefit plans for 2018 by May and rates by the mid-July, for approval in August. That means ideally, Congress should act no later than March, two insurance officials said.

Besides Tavenner, the health insurance officials testifying were Julie McPeak, the commissioner of Tennessee's insurance department, and Janet Trautwein, the chief executive officer of the National Association of Health Underwriters. Both said they'd also like to see Obamacare's insurer regulations loosened. Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear also testified.

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