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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.

Go deeper

Biden to tap telecom trio for NTIA, FCC posts

Jessica Rosenworcel. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is expected to name Alan Davidson as head of the telecom arm of the Commerce Department, Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner at the FCC, according to a person familiar with the process.

Why it matters: Internet availability and affordability has been a key policy priority for the White House, but the administration lagged in tapping people for the agency posts that oversee the issues.

2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook seeks fountain of youth

Data: Piper Sandler Taking Stock With Teens Study; Chart: Axios Visuals

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday said that the company is pivoting its strategy to focus on young adults, following reports that teens have fled its apps.

Why it matters: A series of stories based on leaked whistleblower documents suggest the company sees the aging of its user base as an existential threat to its business.

Too big to cover alone: Newsrooms team up

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

News outlets are increasingly willing to work together on big, multifaceted stories — including this week's reporting on leaked documents from a Facebook whistleblower.

Why it matters: Collaborative efforts help bring more resources to bear on complex stories, some of which require a global reporting effort. But they require high degrees of coordination, and competition can sometimes get in the way.