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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.

"What we're suggesting here is rather than try to lay out 11 different categories, where everyone is exactly the same, the states have the flexibility to have actuaries determine if their benefit package is of equal value to those essential benefits," Leavitt told me after the hearing.

The concern: Doing this could lead to adverse selection if, for example, maternity coverage is no longer mandatory and only pregnant women choose plans that offer maternity coverage.

Other ideas floated at today's hearing included changing the rules governing how much of enrollee's health care costs must be covered; and giving states more flexibility surrounding cost-sharing.

The other big issue: How long to fund the ACA"s cost-sharing subsidies. Democrats are pushing for longer than a one-year extension, although Republicans outside the committee are largely loathe to fund them at all.

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Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.

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Over 3,000 detained in protests across Russia demanding Navalny's release

Russian police officers beat protestesters at a rally against of jailing of oppositon leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow on Saturday. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Police in Russia on Saturday arrested more than 3,300 people as protesters nationwide demanded that opposition leader Alexey Navalny be released from jail.

Details: Demonstrations began in the eastern regions of Russia and spread west to more than 60 cities.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain and GOP governor

Combination images of Cindy McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for U.S.VETS/Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of the Trump-endorsed Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.