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Senate Aims for Bipartisan, Surgical Fixes to Stabilize Obamacare Premiums

(Rui Vieira/PA Wire)

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers who have been insistent on fixing Obamacare through regular order in Congress are getting their wish after legislators return from this month’s recess.

On Sept. 7, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will host five governors for a hearing on stabilizing premiums in the individual market: Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Steve Bullock of Montana, Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Gary Herbert of Utah, and John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

On Sept. 6, state insurance commissioners from Alaska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington and Tennessee will testify before the committee on stabilizing premiums.

Alexander told The Tennessean that he’s looking for a “bipartisan way to get a limited result that actually helps people” in the broader healthcare debate.

“I think what most senators are going go to be hearing when they are at home is ‘don’t leave us out to dry. We don’t want to get to the end of September and be told our premiums are going to go up again or our deductibles are going to go up again or we might not be able to buy any health insurance,'” Alexander said. “I think there is going to be appetite for a limited bipartisan solution just to this individual market. It’s just 6 percent of all the people who buy insurance. Most people aren’t aware of that. We talk about the Obamacare debate and it sounds like we’re talking about all 300 million Americans with insurance. It’s just 6 percent. They are every one important and they are some of the most vulnerable Americans, most vulnerable Tennesseans.”

“…I would prefer the Republican bill that would repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a different structure that gave more authority to states and more choices to consumers. That hasn’t passed. But I can’t sit around in September if it doesn’t pass and let 350,000 Tennesseans run the risk of more premium increases, more deductible increases and the possibility of not being able to buy insurance at all. Even if (a) Republican bill were to pass there is still plenty of work to be done over the long term on the individual insurance market. But they are parallel tracks.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, said in a statement that it’s “clearer than ever that the path to continue making health care work better for patients and families isn’t through partisanship or backroom deals.”

“It is through working across the aisle, transparency, and coming together to find common ground where we can,” she said, adding that the state leaders scheduled to testify “understand full well the challenges facing healthcare today and many have been outspoken about how the uncertainty caused by this administration has impacted the individual insurance market and therefore families’ premiums for 2018.”

“Through these and other planned public hearings, we have the critical opportunity to work together toward an agreement by the end of September to help prevent millions of patients and families from paying more for the care they need next year,” Murray said. “It is my hope that we can act quickly and in a responsible manner that builds upon our efforts to make health care more affordable, accessible, and higher quality for all.”