Earlier this week, Senators Alexander and Murray announced an agreement on a bipartisan bill to stabilize the individual health insurance market. While the Alexander-Murray bill isn’t perfect, it marks an important first step toward bipartisan action on health care, and away from damaging efforts to repeal the ACA, radically overhaul Medicaid, and take away coverage from tens of thousands of Montanans.
Governor Bullock should be commended for supporting this bill and for laying the groundwork for the agreement through his work with governors of both parties. When the governors released their health care “blueprint” in August, they showed it is possible to reach bipartisan agreement on proposals that can strengthen the individual market and make coverage more affordable for consumers.
This bill would also directly benefit Montana’s consumers. By guaranteeing payment of CSRs, the agreement would lower individual market premiums, prevent insurer exits, and save the federal government money – next year, and even more so in 2019. By restoring funding for outreach, the agreement will help hundreds of thousands of people get coverage they need and help keep premiums low for all consumers, since outreach is especially important to encouraging healthy people to buy insurance.
Some of the provisions in the Alexander-Murray bill do raise concerns. For example, its changes to waivers go beyond those proposed in the bipartisan governors’ blueprint, and could increase the risk that waivers in some states could make coverage less affordable for some people. And, the bill is also only an initial and incomplete response to the Trump Administration’s actions undermining the ACA marketplaces.
Congress should guarantee CSRs permanently, not just for two years, to provide greater certainty and stability to the market. And, Congress should address the harmful actions foreshadowed by the Administration’s recent executive order, which would raise premiums, destabilize the individual and small group markets, and undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Overall, however, the bill represents significant progress. In addition to the bipartisan group of ten governors, including Governor Bullock, numerous patient, provider, consumer and insurer groups support it. It has two-dozen Senate co-sponsors from both parties.
Some House and Senate Republicans, along with the Administration, are rejecting the Alexander-Murray bipartisan stabilization package for the partisan Hatch-Bray proposal, which attempts to hold CSR payments hostage for a renewed version of a “skinny ACA repeal” bill.
Senator Daines should reject the harmful Hatch-Brady proposal and offer his support to the Alexander-Murray bill so that Congress and the President can enact it into law without delay. The sooner this agreement is enacted into law, the more it will do to help consumers and strengthen markets in 2018.