WASHINGTON D.C. - After a series of plans to appeal the Affordable Care Act failed to get the needed votes for approval back in July, many are wondering: What is the current status of health care reform?
Members on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) said compromise is not out of the question.
"There is a desire on this committee, let's make fixes,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), HELP Committee member. “Some of the big picture fixes there may be disagreements about, but we're trying to take steps that stabilize the market."
Kaine is one of 22 senators on the HELP Committee, focused on stabilizing the Affordable Care Act and individual health insurance marketplaces. In a series of hearings in September, health care stakeholders from across the country are speaking on the issue, guiding the crafting of a bipartisan proposal by committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Was.). Alexander said the bill will provide more state flexibility and continue to fund cost-sharing reduction payments (CSR), which help off-set costs for insurers servicing low-income consumers. Without funding these CSR payments or even announcing a plan to fund them, insurance premiums will almost surely spike in 2018.
"If we don't do something, West Virginia rates will go up at a minimum of 15-20 percent, just because of the uncertainty that the CSRs are going to be there to protect the insurers,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (R-WV).
With President Trump threatening to cut off CSR payments and the recent introduction of two other vastly different health care proposals, perhaps the amenable HELP Committee is not a reflection of Congress as a whole.
“Medicare for All,” proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is essentially health care paid for everyone by the government. Though, he did not divulge the details on how this would be economically feasible.
On the other end of the spectrum, some members of the GOP continue efforts to overhaul Obamacare. Proposing to replace it with an annual block grant given to states to help individuals pay for health care.
Manchin, who has expressed support for the bipartisan approach, said the greatest danger to the country is if lawmakers simply do not act.
"That means that nothing is done, there's no guarantees for CSRs, the rates are so high that the pressure will be so bad, just let it implode,” Manchin said. “That would be the greatest travesty to our country."
The pressure is on for lawmakers who want to see change within the next year.
Insurers must submit their premiums and decide on their participation on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces by early October, which means Congress has just days to act. When it comes to timing, there's additional pressure on republicans hoping to repeal and replace Obamacare.
They have until the end of September to use a legislative loophole that only requires 50 votes to pass their bill, leaving Sens. Graham, Cassidy, Heller and Johnson very little time to get their proposal through both chambers of Congress and on President Trump's desk.