Senate panel plans two hearings on girding health insurance

By Alan Fram

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate health committee will hold two hearings early next month on how the nation’s individual health insurance marketplaces can be stabilized, as party leaders grasp for a fresh path following the collapse of the Republican effort to repeal and replace much of former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

GOP and Democratic leaders are exploring whether they can craft a bipartisan but limited bill aimed at curbing rising premiums for people who buy their own insurance.

In many markets, consumers are seeing steeply rising premiums and fewer insurers willing to sell policies.

A Sept. 6 hearing will feature state insurance commissioners. The next day’s witnesses will be governors.

Both groups will be bipartisan, but aides said the names will be released later.

The push for even a modest compromise is expected to be difficult following years of harsh partisan battling over the Republican drive to dismantle Obama’s 2010 health care law.

Last month, the Senate rejected an effort by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, to erase much of that statute following defections by GOP senators and unbroken Democratic opposition.

Before Congress departed for its August recess, health committee chairman Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, and that panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Seattle, said they would try writing a bill aimed at steadying the individual marketplaces.

Alexander has said he’d like the bill to include a one-year continuation of federal payments to insurers who reduce costs for lower-earning customers.

Those payments are required by Obama’s law but have been blocked by a federal court, and President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to discontinue them in hopes of gaining bargaining leverage over Democrats.

Insurers, many lawmakers of both parties and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office say cutting off that money would cause premiums and the federal deficit to rise.

In return, Alexander wants to make it easier for states to let insurers provide policies with lower premiums and less coverage.

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