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December 15, 2018

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Bipartisan health care plan would reduce deficit, experts say

Alexander Murray

J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, meet before the start of a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, the morning after they reached a deal to resume federal payments to health insurers that President Donald Trump had halted.

A bill that would fund health care payments that have been called “bailouts” by President Donald Trump would drive down the deficit, according to congressional budget experts.

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., are sponsoring legislation that would fund cost-sharing reduction payments, among other provisions. The Congressional Budget Office and staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation released an estimate Wednesday saying the legislation would reduce the deficit by $3.8 billion within 10 years and would not substantially change the number of people with health insurance coverage.

The Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act of 2017 is similar to a plan released over the summer by the House Problem Solvers Caucus. These bipartisan efforts are a contrast to several failed measures crafted solely by Republicans.

Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, said in a statement Wednesday that Democrats and Republicans need to work together to stabilize health insurance markets.

“The CBO's nonpartisan analysis reaffirms why this bipartisan health care agreement is the right way forward,” she said. “This legislation will help keep coverage affordable for hardworking Nevada families while reducing the deficit. This deal is our best path forward right now to prevent our health care system from unraveling and protect affordable health care for Nevada families.”

Nevada anticipated that the cost-sharing reduction payments would end, and the Division of Insurance allowed carriers to adjust their rates with that in mind, said Heather Korbulic, executive director of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange. Without cost-sharing reductions, premiums are now being subsidized by the Advanced Premium Tax Credit.

Advanced Premium Tax Credit subsidies are actually more expensive for the federal government. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the federal government will pay an additional $194 billion over the next 10 years.

The only returning carrier to Nevada’s exchange is Health Plan of Nevada, where customers who do not receive federal health insurance subsidies can expect to see an increase of about 36 percent. Customers who qualify for subsidies can expect little to no impact.

“Those consumers that don’t receive the subsidies are going to take the full brunt of that,” Korbulic said.

Save My Care, an advocacy group supporting the Affordable Care Act, released an ad Tuesday urging Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., to restore cost-sharing reduction payments and cosponsor the Alexander-Murray bill.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval is among 10 governors who have signed onto a letter to congressional leaders urging Congress to act on the measure.

“Federal law requires insurers to provide discounted cost-sharing for lower income Americans,” the governors said. “With the elimination of federal payments for the cost-sharing reduction program, insurers are faced with significant financial losses, which could force them to withdraw from the marketplace, or, in some states, request significant rate increases.”

Open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. The exchange is part of the individual market for consumers who are not eligible for either Medicare or Medicaid, and who don’t get insurance through their employer, Korbulic said. People can call or go online for help finding a plan.

“We are trying very hard to cut through the noise in Washington, D.C., and let people understand in Nevada that the exchange is ready to help you get enrolled, that there are plans, and that subsidies exist,” Korbulic said.

Heller did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday on whether he supports the Alexander-Murray bill. He was one of the sponsors on a previous failed proposal, Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson bill. The CBO said millions more would go without coverage under that GOP plan.

Heller said in an August campaign email that the bill would “get the power out of the swamp in D.C. and into the hands of state and local government.”

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