Health Care Reform Flatlined. But Lawmakers Aren’t Giving Up

WASHINGTON — Republican plans to replace Obamacare are fading fast, but that doesn’t mean Congress is done with health care.

On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee kicks off the first of four scheduled hearings this month examining the individual health care market with the goal of producing a bipartisan bill that makes modest fixes.

Ideas on the table include funding cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments that President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off, adding a reinsurance fund to help with unexpected patient costs, and providing a backup option for counties with no insurers under the Affordable Care Act.

It’s a major departure from the Senate leadership’s earlier approach, which cut out Democrats and hearings in favor of closed-door negotiations among small working groups of Republicans. That effort flamed out in July when three Republican senators shot down a “skinny repeal” bill designed to advance negotiations with the House.

Despite claims of imminent collapse by Trump and other Republicans, Obamacare’s markets have stabilized somewhat. Insurer profits are up this year, and no counties are currently slated to go without coverage, although some are facing steep premium increases.

But there are still significant problems. Congress and the White House haven’t fully signaled how they’ll fund and administer Obamacare next year, and insurers have been hiking premiums in response. In particular, insurers have been unnerved by Trump’s threats to cut off the CSR payments that they are owed for lowering out-of-pocket costs.

Image: Lamar Alexander, Bill Haslam and John Duncan

Sen. Lamar Alexander, left, Gov. Bill Haslam and Rep. John Duncan share the stage during a get-out-the-vote rally in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2014.