Senators seek stability in health insurance market, amid Trump threats to end payments

While Senate Republicans’ efforts to overhaul the health care system failed last week, lawmakers are still working on short-term reforms, most notably to keep insurance premiums from skyrocketing next year.

Led by Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, which oversees health policy, will begin holding bipartisan hearings in September on strengthening the individual health insurance market in the very near term.

“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,” Alexander said in a statement Tuesday.

The most immediate threat to the individual market, which was established under the Affordable Care Act, is the possibility that President Trump may stop making reimbursement payments, known as cost-sharing reductions or CSRs, which help insurers them keep low-income individuals covered. The next monthly payment of the subsidies is due the third week of August.

The president tweeted over the weekend that he might withhold the critical payments, which he called “bailouts.”

When asked, the White House did not comment on the possibility that Congress could limit the president’s ability to end the CSRs.

Julie McPeak, the president-elect of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and Tennessee’s insurance commissioner, told reporters Wednesday that insurance companies would likely balk at locking in rates for 2018 if they are unsure whether they’ll receive CSR payments that year.

“It’s a high-anxiety issue for our insurers,” she said.

State commissioners must set rates for the following year in mid-August, around the same time the CSR payments are due, in order to give insurers time to lock in contracts for the 2018 calendar year, which are due by the end of September.

“Telling those insurers who are already contractually bound to provide coverage through the rest of 2017 that CSRs won’t exist makes it very, very difficult for us, as regulators, to ask them to find contracts to ante up for 2018,” McPeak said.

Sen. Alexander has said his short-term priority is for the president to approve CSR payments for the next two months and, once lawmakers return from their August recess, for Congress to pass a bill…

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