Senate panel will hold hearings on fixing Obamacare markets

Key Points
  • A Senate committee will hold hearings next month on fixing Obamacare.
  • The panel's chairman Lamar Alexander wants to take action before the Sept. 27 deadline for insurers to enter individual marketplaces for next year.
  • It comes after the latest GOP push to repeal Obamacare failed last week.
GOP senators refocus efforts on health-care reform

A Senate committee will hold a series of hearings next month on ways to fix Obamacare markets.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will start the hearings the week of Sept. 4, according to the panel's chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, and ranking member Patty Murray, D-Wa. They said "state insurance commissioners, patients, governors, health care experts and insurance companies" will give input. The senators did not say who, specifically, will testify.

The announcement comes after the latest Senate Republican push to repeal the health-care law failed last week. Multiple key senators indicated that they wanted to move beyond repeal for now as they appear to lack the votes needed to pass a bill rolling back Obamacare.

The hearings are notable because the GOP-controlled Senate did not hold open hearings during its effort to repeal Obamacare in recent weeks.

"There are a number of issues with the American health care system, but 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 at a Tuesday hearing.

Alexander said he asked President Donald Trump to make cost-sharing reduction payments through September so that Congress can reach a bipartisan deal to stabilize markets next year. The senator wants Congress to act before Sept. 27, the deadline for companies to participate in state individual marketplaces next year.

He added: "Unless Congress acts by September 27, millions of Americans with government subsidies in up to half our states may find themselves with zero options for buying health insurance on the exchanges in 2018."

Trump has suggested his administration could stop making the key subsidy payments for low-income consumers known as cost-sharing reductions. Insurers would still have to make the payments, but without government funding. That would intensify Obamacare's problems, likely either causing insurers to leave state marketplaces or raise premiums.

Several senators, including top-ranking Republicans and Alexander, have said those payments should continue while Congress figures out a fix for individual markets.

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