WASHINGTON - A bipartisan pair of swing-state governors hope to break the stalemate over health care, sending Congress a proposal on Thursday that aims to bolster the individual market, increase state flexibility and restrain rising premiums.
The plan — spearheaded by Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich and Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper — would preserve and strengthen key elements of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Their plan would, for example:
- Keep the individual mandate, which requires most Americans to purchase insurance, until and unless lawmakers can find a better incentive to get healthy individuals to get coverage.
- Explicitly guarantee the federal government continues to pay insurance companies subsidies that help them offer plans with lower deductibles and copays to low-income individuals.
- Continue the federal government’s efforts to promote enrollment in Obamacare by funding outreach efforts that encourage people to sign up for insurance on the exchanges.
In a nod to Republicans, the governors’ plan also calls for making it easier for states to seek waivers from the ACA’s regulations — speeding up and streamlining the federal approval process. But the bulk of the proposal is aimed at addressing the current problems in the individual market, which has been thrown into turmoil by the GOP-led Congress’ failed push to repeal and replace the ACA.
Most Americans get their insurance through their employers or through government programs, such as Medicare. But those who purchase insurance in the individual marketplace face higher premiums and fewer choices because the fate of the ACA remains in flux.
“Continuing uncertainty about the direction of federal policy is driving up premiums, eliminating competition, and leaving consumers with fewer choices,” the governors wrote in in a letter to leaders in the House and Senate. “We ask you to take immediate steps to make coverage more stable and affordable.”
Six other governors also signed on to the plan, including one Republican, one Independent and four Democrats.
Whether Congress can move forward on the Kasich-Hickenlooper plan, or any bipartisan health care bill, is far from clear.
Many Republican lawmakers remain committed to killing Obamacare, a promise they campaigned on for seven years, and will staunchly oppose any legislative fix to the 2010 law. And President Trump has threatened to “let Obamacare implode.”
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But there are a handful of GOP lawmakers, in the House and Senate, who want to craft a bipartisan fix to protect those Americans most at risk of losing coverage.
“If your house is on fire, you want to put out the fire, and the fire in this case is the individual health insurance market,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate health care committee, said in an Aug. 1 statement after the Senate failed to advance a pared-down ACA repeal bill. “Both Republicans and Democrats agree on this.”
Greg Moody, director of Kasich’s office of health transformation, said the governors’ plan builds on the efforts by Alexander and others who seem committed to a less partisan, more pragmatic approach to health care.
“We’re one month from insurers having to make decisions about next year, so if Congress and the administration are going to act, it’s going to be right now,” Moody said. “There are a group of governors here who think this is urgent.”
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