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Senate Hearing on Healthcare

In a press release issued on August 22, 2017, Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patty Murray of Washington announced that the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) would hold hearings in September on how to stabilize the health insurance market for the 2018 enrollment season. Alexander and Murray are ranking members of the committee, and enrollment for next year starts on November 1.

The first hearing is slated for September 6, and HELP is expected to gather input from state insurance commissioners on stabilization techniques to be employed this year. A second hearing will follow on September 7, during which state governors will offer their opinions on how to stabilize premiums and offer assistance to customers nationwide.

Following a tumultuous summer of political clashing over healthcare reform, the Senate is ready to get back to work on fixing problems within the current healthcare system.

The timing of the hearings is critical. Insurance carriers have until September 27 to sign federal contracts offering health plans on the exchanges for 2018. Several major insurers pulled out of the marketplace for next year, citing financial losses and uncertainty over the continuation of cost reduction payments ([hnd word=”CSR”]s).

These CSRs offset the cost of lowering premiums and providing financial assistance to lower-income customers who earn up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Without them, insurance companies lose profits and in many cases, can’t break even on their products. The HELP committee will hear feedback from state insurance commissioners and governors because, according to Alexander, these leaders understand their individual markets and are “closest to the problem.” The senator assures that the 2018 stabilization package passed by Congress will include CSR payments.

The HELP committee is bipartisan and consists of several dominant voices in the political arena today, including Rand Paul (R-KY), a strong dissenting voice among Republican senators in recent reform measures and a former presidential candidate; Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME), both of whom voted against “skinny repeal” of Obamacare and have been adamantly against recent Republican reform efforts; Al Franken (D-MN), who assured the public last week that there would 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: