News From The Hill: November 9, 2017
Congress continues to work on a number of high-profile items moving into the end of the year. Most notably, the effort to craft a bipartisan package to help stabilize the insurance markets continues to move forward incrementally. In this regard, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and the HELP Committee Ranking Member, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) released the Individual Market Stabilization Bill. The legislation is narrow and only addresses a few key elements of the new insurance markets. Unlike previous health reform proposals that have busted the budget and/or dropped millions of Americans from insurance, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this proposal would reduce the deficit by nearly $4 billion while generating no change in the number of Americans covered. Senators Murray and Alexander continue working to build support for their proposal.
In an effort to play a role in the ongoing health reform discussion, the other healthcare committees of jurisdiction, namely the Finance Committee in the Senate and the Ways & Means Committee in the House, released a counter proposal. The alternative agreement is co-led by the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and the Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX). The counter-proposal combines much needed funding with some structural reforms, including a repeal of the individual mandate and exemptions for employers that did not provide minimum coverage required by the Affordable Care Act. It remains to be seen how any reform package will move forward later this year, but expectations are that the various committees of jurisdiction may try to negotiate a compromise measure.
It is important to note that there were also calls to advance repeal and replace efforts through the emerging tax cut effort, but those calls have been largely rebuffed by congressional leadership. In addition to working on a tax cut proposal and a market stabilization package, lawmakers are also trying to work quickly to finalize a budget agreement and advance final appropriations measure for FY 2018.