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Senate health care talks focus on state innovation waivers

HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray and Chairman Lamar Alexander in a hearing. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

Members of the Senate HELP Committee honed in on idea today that might help resolve the biggest sticking point (so far) in their effort to stabilize the Affordable Care Act. Republicans and Democrats are divided over how much leeway states should have to waive certain provisions of the ACA, including some of its most popular consumer protections.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt raised a middle-ground approach that caught the attention of HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander: keep federal guidelines around how much of an enrollee's total health care costs plans must cover, but to give states more flexibility over which specific benefits plans cover. Leavitt said he and Alexander discussed the idea before the hearing.

  • Currently, it's difficult for states to get around the ACA's essential health benefits, which mandate which benefits — like mental health care or maternity coverage — plans must offer.