HealthCare Roundtable e-News – March 6, 2019

House Lawmakers Unveil Bipartisan Bill to Delay Health Insurance Tax Through 2021

After much debate and several on-and-off suspensions, House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have proposed a bill to delay the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance tax. The bill seeks to delay the implementation of the $16 billion tax on health insurance companies until after 2021, following the approach of the bipartisan Senate legislation. Known as theHealth Insurance Tax Relief Act, the legislation is authored by Reps. Ami Bera (D-CA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Jackie Walorski (R-IN), and Kenny Marchant, (R-TX). In the Senate, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Doug Jones (D-AL), John Barrasso (R-WY), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Tim Scott (R-SC) took the lead on the bill. “Failing to pass the bill, which would ensure the health insurance tax is delayed for another two years, would cause millions of American families to see higher health insurance premiums,” said Rep. Bera in a statement. Lawmakers have suspended the tax since 2015, arguing that the requirement would raise premiums and contribute to instability in the insurance marketplace. Insurance companies were expected to pay more than $260 billion to the government over ten years, and have naturally fought against the levy, asserting that the tax would rapidly drive up premiums for consumers.  The legislation enjoys support from a wide range of national organizations, including consumer groups, providers, disability advocates, and health plans. The Public Sector HealthCare Roundtable recently joined a group letter supporting the legislation. 

Democrats Divided on Support for ‘Medicare for All’ Bill

House Democrats rolled out their first version of the highly anticipated ‘Medicare for All’ bill, a measure that’s drawn in some controversy among party members and has resulted in segmented support in recent weeks. While progressives in the party are looking for build on momentum from midterms last year and prepare for the 2020 elections, other party members are turning their heads without publicly criticizing the bill’s most liberal elements. In an interview with The Hill, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY.) expressed some confirm over the misleading nature of the bill. “The problem with that is if you’re trying to market it to the public and convince them it’s a good idea, the public understands what Medicare is…This would be something very different,” he said. “I don’t consider that to be Medicare for all. It’s universal health care, on demand, unlimited…It’s all single-payer, no private insurance. It’s a very different thing than Medicare.”  While many Democrat leaders have opted not to comment on the ‘Medicare for All’ bill, House Republicans are looking to brand the bill as the Democrat’s primary healthcare vision in an effort to recover from their failed Obamacare repeal. Energy and Commerce ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) referred to the bill as “worse than we anticipated.”

Progressive Health Groups Call on Democratic Leaders to Pursue More Aggressive Drug Legislation

A coalition of progressive health organizations is calling on Democratic policymakers to challenge their Republican counterparts and take stronger stances on drug pricing reform. The coalition, which is made up groups including Center for American Progress, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Doctors for America and other allies of House Democrats, is pushing congressional members to consider bolder actions as the House are gearing up to propose new drug pricing legislation. In a letter to House Democratic leaders, the coalition suggests that although Medicare negotiation “is a much-needed reform, it is not the only solution needed to reach most Americans…We need reforms that lower stratospheric launch prices for new drugs and prevent price gouging on existing drugs for all payers.” The Democrats’ first phase of drug pricing reform is well underway as the party continues to look for “low hanging fruit” that will gain bipartisan support. The second phase, however, is where Democrats plan to bring forward more partisan legislation beyond allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. The coalition stated in the letter that they will continue to support the party’s actions and assist in any way possible.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Announces $10 Billion Proposal to Strengthen ACA Markets

The Blue Cross Blue Shield association released a legislative proposal last Thursday (Feb. 28) as part of an effort to sustain Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. The proposal includes boosted tax subsidies and cost-sharing payments, a reinsurance program and resumes reimbursements to insurers for cost-sharing reduction payments, and a cap on premiums for all individuals enrolling in exchange plans at 12 percent of income. In a briefing last week, the Blues’ senior vice president in the Office of Policy and Representation, Justine Handelman, stated that the goal of the proposal is to make coverage “more affordable for those who have not had any assistance.” The proposal itself is estimated to reduce premiums by an average of 33% and provide coverage for an additional 4.2 million people. While the proposal itself comes with an annual price tag of $10 billion, the Association is hopeful that it will receive a range of support, particularly after this past election year where many candidates campaigned on platforms supporting healthcare protections. Getting the Trump administration to sign off, however, will likely be more challenging.