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The Senate Committee on HELP

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) will hold hearings starting early September on how to stabilize the health insurance marketplace for the open enrollment period this year. According to a press release issued on August 22 by ranking members of HELP Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), these hearings will gather input from state insurance commissioners and state governors on how to stabilize the market, including premiums.

Open enrollment for the 2018 year starts on November 1, so these hearings will need to happen fast if Congress is to push stabilization efforts before customers return to the exchanges for next year. The first hearing is scheduled for September 6, during which state insurance commissioners will offer advice for implementing techniques to keep the marketplaces steady. The following day, state governors will give their input on premiums as well.

Healthcare reform has been rocky at best this year, with Republican members of Congress calling for an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) without coming to an agreement on how that should be done. After six months of political maneuvering, Senate Republicans shot down a skinny repeal bill that would have eliminated the ACA’s mandates, which could have caused mayhem in the market for 2018.

Now, senators are ready to get back to work when they start the fall session, Lamar Alexander chief among them. The senator from Tennessee insists that Congress will pass a stabilization package that includes cost-sharing reduction payments (CSRs). These CSRs have been a sticking point for insurers, who depend on them to offer lower pricing to customers who meet the federal guideline for extra assistance when applying for health insurance.

Several large insurers backed out of the marketplace in 2018 citing financial losses and uncertainty over CSRs. Carriers must sign federal contracts to participate in the exchanges by September 27.

Alexander believes that state insurers and governors are more likely to be able to address stabilization efforts because they are in his words “closest to the problem.” The HELP committee comprises 11 Democrats and 12 Republicans, including several vocal members from both ends of the political spectrum, such as Rand Paul (R-KY), a former presidential candidate and a hard-right senator who clashes with more moderate members of his party; Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME), two holdouts in recent Republican reform efforts; Al Franken (D-MN), who insists that there will be bipartisan efforts to reform healthcare; Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s running mate last year; and liberal icons Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Here’s the full list of HELP committee members:



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