Affordable Care Act reform hopes renewed after GOP repeal abandoned

THE SENATE GOP has abandoned its effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and Rhode Island officials want to renew efforts to strengthen it. / BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/ANDREW HARRER
THE SENATE GOP has abandoned its effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and Rhode Island officials want to renew efforts to strengthen it. / BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/ANDREW HARRER

PROVIDENCE – Local hopes for bipartisan health insurance market-stabilizing legislation were rekindled Sep. 25 when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, opposed the latest Affordable Care Act repeal, known as the Graham-Cassidy bill, prompting Rhode Island officials to urge continued work on improving the ACA.

Last week Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, acknowledged that his bipartisan Affordable Care Act reform effort lacked enough votes as a second Senate GOP effort to repeal the ACA took the spotlight.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called off the repeal effort in light of Collins’ opposition. In Rhode Island, officials called for a return to bipartisan reform of the ACA.

“Senator McConnell has dumped Trump Care for now. Thank goodness. Now, Republicans and Democrats should come together, in a bipartisan fashion and through regular order, to address the challenges facing our health care system,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a member of the HELP Committee.

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“Those of us on the HELP Committee participated in a series of bipartisan hearings and meetings this month on health care. We heard from bipartisan governors, health insurance commissioners, providers and other important stakeholders. We discussed bipartisan actions Congress should take to stabilize our health insurance markets, lower costs across the system and improve the quality of care. We have charted a bipartisan course. Together, let’s get to work to better Americans’ health care,” Whitehouse said.

Sen. Jack F. Reed, D-R.I., also advocated a bipartisan approach. “I urge President Trump to start listening to the American people and working together in a constructive way to strengthen, not sabotage, the Affordable Care Act.

“I support bipartisan solutions to lower prescription drug costs and help stabilize health insurance costs for all. Instead of sowing more uncertainty and repealing consumer protections, Republicans should start working with Democrats to improve the law and bring down costs,” Reed said.

“The failure of Graham-Cassidy to move forward at this point is good news. As the largest health plan in the region serving all populations, regardless of age or life circumstance, we will always oppose measures that take way coverage from tens of millions of Americans, including the most vulnerable, and drives up costs for people with pre-existing conditions. It goes against our mission of improving the health and wellness of the diverse communities we serve,” said Tufts Health Plan President and CEO Tom Croswell. “We will continue to advocate for a constructive, bipartisan solution that provides access to quality health care to all residents of the U.S. We hope the Congress can work collaboratively to come up with solutions that move our country and its approach to health care forward.”

Before Alexander abandoned his reform effort, a group of 12 leaders of the state-based health insurance marketplaces, including Zach Sherman, executive director of HealthSource RI, sent Alexander a letter recommending the following strategies to achieve individual market stability:

  • Assure consistent funding of cost-sharing reduction payments.
  • Establish a permanent, federal reinsurance program.
  • Maintain flexibility states had to experiment with innovative strategies for providing access to health care, known as state innovation waivers.
  • Promote stability through a commitment to certainty and long-term solutions.

“I am hopeful the failure of Graham-Cassidy and the upcoming sunset of reconciliation signals the end of efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Millions of Americans, and tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders, have felt the positive impacts of the ACA and now have access to high-quality, affordable health coverage. We have heard Congress may resume committee hearings on bipartisan legislation to improve the ACA. I hope they continue this work in earnest, starting with efforts to stabilize the individual market and preserve cost-sharing reductions,” Sherman said.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.

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