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Healthcare Reform News Update for September 13, 2017

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 13, 2017

Uninsured Rate Falls to Record Low

The share of people in the U.S. who lacked health insurance for 2016 declined to a record low of 8.8 percent, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Tuesday. This is down from 9.1 percent in 2015. The number of uninsured Americans fell to 28.1 million in 2016, down from 29 million in 2015. Both the overall percentage and number of uninsured are record lows.

Other findings in the report:

  • Massachusetts had the lowest uninsured rate at 2.5 percent.
  • Texas had the highest rate with 16.6 percent.
  • States that expanded Medicaid had an average uninsured rate of 6.5 percent.
  • States that did not expand Medicaid had an average uninsured rate of 11.7 percent.

Bernie Sanders Unveils ‘Medicare for All’ Bill

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Wednesday rolled out details of his healthcare bill, Medicare for All Act of 2017. The bill has support from several Democratic senators; however, the measure has little chance of passing in a Republican-led Congress. The legislation would expand Medicare to cover all Americans, and people and businesses would no longer owe premiums to insurers.

Highlights of the bill include:

  • Americans under 18 would be immediately covered.
  • Those over 18 who are not currently eligible for Medicare would be phased in over 4 years.
  • Employer-provided insurance would be replaced, with businesses paying higher taxes.
  • Private insurers would remain to cover elective treatments.
  • Doctors would be reimbursed by the government.
  • Providers would sign a yearly participation agreement with Medicare to remain with the system.

Sanders’ description of the legislation omitted specifics about how much it would cost and final decisions about how he would pay for it.

At least 15 Senate Democrats had signed onto Sanders’ bill by late Tuesday. Those senators include California’s Kamala Harris, Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, and New Jersey’s Cory Booker.

Latest GOP ACA Replacement Bill to be Announced

Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday to discuss their Obamacare repeal bill. McConnell encouraged the senators to find the 50 votes needed to pass the legislation.

The bill would end funding for Obamacare subsidies and Medicaid expansion and instead provide money for state block grants.

Considered a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, the bill faces odds. Graham and Cassidy will introduce the legislation Wednesday along with Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Ron Johnson (R-WI).

House Democrats Request Funding for Obamacare Navigators

A group of 31 House Democrats sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking the administration to release funding for Obamacare navigator groups. Led by Representative Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, the letter pressed the president to reinstate grant money for the education and outreach services.

An excerpt from the letter: “Destabilizing the Navigator program could further compound the challenges consumers will face in understanding when and how to enroll. [D]iscouraging enrollment could weaken the market and drive up premiums.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Leaving Obamacare Small Business Exchange

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois announced that it will no longer provide group plans for small businesses through the ACA health insurance exchange. However, the company will continue to offer individual plans through the exchange.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 12, 2017

Several ACA Marketplace Navigator Groups Halt Operations

Navigator groups that help educate and enroll consumers in the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges are shutting down because they are not being paid by the federal government.

Last month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced plans to cut funding for the groups by 40 percent. However, CMS did not indicate how navigators would be affected. The University of South Florida, one of the country’s largest navigation services, is among the groups suspending activities.

Navigator contracts for the 2018 enrollment period from Health and Human Services (HHS) were to begin September 2, but navigators say they have yet to receive notice from the agency regarding funding.

Senate’s Bipartisan ACA Talks Hit a Speed Bump

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has reportedly suggested substantial changes to the Affordable Care Act in private negotiations with Senate Democrats. These changes would make it easier for states to waive some consumer protections and benefits. However, the proposals are opposed by Democrats and could stall a last-minute effort to stabilize health insurance marketplaces.

Rand Paul Objects Cassidy-Graham Healthcare Proposal

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) opposed the new Republican effort to replace Obamacare on Monday. Paul does not think the bill goes far enough to repeal the law. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I haven’t heard anybody talking about it,” Paul said.

The bill, authored by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is expected to fund key Obamacare payments known as cost-sharing reductions (CSR).

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 11, 2017

Senate Committee to Review ACA’s Innovation Waivers

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s push to stabilize the Affordable Care Act exchanges could include changes that make it easier for states to obtain innovation waivers, such as letting states essentially copy each other’s applications and letting governors submit applications without approval from the state legislature.

The committee scheduled 2 more hearings for this week—one on state flexibility and another with healthcare stakeholders.

Conservative Leader Offers Support for New ACA Repeal Bill

Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC), who leads the conservative Freedom Caucus of lawmakers, said the ACA bill being promoted by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) is the “most promising” option for replacing the federal healthcare law.

But the effort faces uphill odds. On Friday, President Donald Trump expressed doubt through a tweet: “Republicans, sorry, but I’ve been hearing about Repeal & Replace for 7 years, didn’t happen!”

Bernie Sanders to Release his ‘Medicare for all’ Bill

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will reveal his single-payer healthcare bill on Wednesday. He will be joined by cosponsors, medical professionals, business leaders, and patients.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 8, 2017

Five Governors Urge Congress to Aid Markets for 2018

In the second day of bipartisan ACA hearings with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, five governors agreed that guaranteeing payments to ACA insurers to help defray certain coverage expenses for consumers ranks as the most urgent step Congress should take.

Republican and Democratic governors from Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana, Tennessee, and Utah endorsed proposals to stabilize health insurance markets by providing federal money for continued payment of subsidies to insurance companies, offsetting the cost of discounts provided to low-income consumers.

The governors urged the committee to extend these payments for longer than the 1-year window favored by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert (R) said: “It would be irresponsible to allow these markets to collapse simply because of [federal] inaction.”

The group also requested simplification of the ACA federal waiver process and more flexibility over the benefits ACA health plans must cover.

Senate GOP Accepts Defeat on ACA Repeal

Senior Senate Republicans have given up on trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration and Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) tried to muster support for a plan to keep most Obamacare taxes and convert federal funding into block grants to the states.

“We’ve seen that we don’t have 51 votes to do it, so we’re going to have to do it bipartisan,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.

Optima Cuts Virginia Coverage in Half

Optima Health Plan announced its plans to exit about half the Virginia counties it served in 2017. The company will enter only the Charlottesville area, Halifax County, and Mecklenburg County, leaving 63 counties without a coverage option.

Anthem Reduces ACA Offerings in Kentucky

Healthcare insurer Anthem will now offer individual market plans in only 59 of the 120 counties in Kentucky. Initially, the company had planned to cover every county in the state. However, Anthem cited mounting policy uncertainty and a deteriorating market as its reason for the decision.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 7, 2017

Senate Committee Holds First ACA Hearing

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held the first of 4 bipartisan hearings on ways to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. Five state insurance regulators were questioned on a variety of ACA topics, including:

  • Reinsurance programs,
  • Cost-sharing subsidies,
  • Expanded regulatory waivers for states, and
  • Allowing people younger than 30 to buy only catastrophic care (also known as copper plans).

Trump’s $15 Billion Cut to HHS Rejected

A Senate appropriations subcommittee rejected a proposed multibillion-dollar cut to Health and Human Services (HHS) funding over concerns that it could hinder medical innovation.

In the president’s 2018 budget proposal, HHS received a $15.1 billion cut, a 17.9 percent decrease from the 2017 budget. The group released a summary of a forthcoming appropriations bill, recommending that HHS receive $79.4 billion in discretionary funding in 2018. This is an increase of $1.7 billion from what HHS received in 2017.

Impending Renewal of Children’s Health Plan Causes Concern

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which covers millions of children from lower- and middle-income families. The program is up for renewal Sept. 30. CHIP advocates are concerned that the busy legislative agenda facing Congress could complicate the reauthorization. Bruce Lesley, president of the advocacy group First Focus, voiced his concern: “With all that is on Congress’ plate, I am very worried that a strong, wildly successful program with strong public support will get lost in the shuffle and force states to begin the process of winding down CHIP.”

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