Even without the pressing needs of Hurricane Harvey, the budget, the debt ceiling, and tax reform, Congress already had its hands full this month with the nagging reality of ObamaCare.
Tuesday marks the deadline for insurance companies to set their premium rates for next year’s individual market. About 9 million middle-class Americans may be facing another health care gut punch with potential rate hikes as high as 20 percent.
“First of all we’re going to see premiums go up substantially,” said Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute. “We’re also going to see a continued increase in co-payments and deductibles. And finally we’re going to see a continued shrinking of choices.”
The Republican Congress is in no mood to revisit a repeal-and-replace bill that it couldn’t pass after seven years of promising to do so. But there is one nugget of hope — a bill co-sponsored by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and ranking member Patty Murray, R-Wash. It would provide desperately needed stability to the insurance markets.
“If your house is on fire, you want to put out the fire, and the fire in this case is in the individual health insurance market,” Alexander said in August.
The bill has some appeal to Republicans by giving the states flexibility in how they implement ObamaCare. Some Democrats like it because it provides $7 billion to cover low-income people.
It would also give insurers some badly needed guidance when little appears to be coming from a dysfunctional Washington.
“If you are trying to determine your pricing, your premiums, you need to have a sense of which patients you’ll be covering, what kind of health status they have, ” said Ceci Connolly, CEO of The Alliance for Community Health Plans. “So, with a giant question mark over the individual market, it’s very hard to plan and price accordingly,” she says.
The Alexander/Murray bill is not a cure-all. It does nothing to fix what many critics believe is ObamaCare’s built-in flaw — that older and sicker people with pre-existing conditions continue to flock to the exchanges while the younger and healthier, who were expected to subsidize the less healthy, are not.
Doug McKelway joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in November 2010 and serves as a Washington-based correspondent. Click here for more information on Doug McKelway.