Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus seeks common ground with solutions to stabilize health insurance markets

Members of the Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus released a five-point proposal this week to stabilize and restructure collapsing individual health insurance markets in some parts of the country before insurance plans are offered for 2018.

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), the co-chair of the Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said Republicans and Democrats proving that they can work together is “the last great hope for the country” after the 43-member caucus agreed over the weekend on five principles to provide relief to consumers navigating rocky health insurance markets.

“We’ve locked arms to continue the fight for the American people, their families and their healthcare,” Reed said. “Today, we are proud to deliver a set of bipartisan solutions to move health coverage forward so that our fellow Americans can also move ahead with restored hope in their own future and in the ability of Congress to resolve critical issues. We, as a Caucus, will continue to work together with bipartisan dignity and commitment to the American people, who deserve stable healthcare and a functional Congress.”

Reed and U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), the co-chair of the caucus, announced the plan on Monday with support from caucus members U.S. Reps. Ryan Costello (R-PA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA) and Fred Upton (R-MI).

Armed with a proposal to reform the Affordable Care Act to ensure that millions of Americans can still afford health insurance, the caucus aims to create incentives for providers to lower costs, while also improving patient choice and giving states more flexibility.

“Task one is to stabilize the insurance marketplace this year for all Americans,” Costello said. “We need to ultimately implement sustainable reforms to improve our healthcare system, and it needs to be anchored from the ideological center in order to pass both chambers of Congress and have the confidence of the American public. That’s the reality as I see it. I think a broad cross-section of my constituents and Americans agree, and that’s how I intend to help lead this effort.”

The proposal calls for cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to be brought into the congressional appropriations process and for funding for CSR payments to be made mandatory. CSR payments are important for helping low-income households better afford to participate in individual markets.

“With premiums increasing by 25 percent this year in my home state of New Jersey, it’s clear this bipartisan effort to stabilize the health insurance marketplace and lower premiums for everyone is sorely needed,” Gottheimer said. “This plan will help small businesses and families, especially those with preexisting conditions, by making permanent cost sharing reductions while protecting Medicaid for seniors and those struggling with substance abuse disorders.”

In addition to steadying insurance markets and lowering premiums, Upton said, his healthcare reform goals include providing stability to states that expanded Medicaid and to patients with pre-existing conditions. To help achieve those goals, the plan calls for a dedicated stability fund to help states cut premiums and offset the costs of providing coverage, especially to those with pre-existing conditions.

“The path forward to fixing the healthcare mess is seeking bipartisan, common sense common ground,” Upton said. “At the top of our list is stabilizing insurance markets and ensuring lower premiums for patients. Our other goals are simple and what I’ve fought for all along: protect those with pre-existing conditions and ensure states that expanded Medicaid, like Michigan, are secure. This will safeguard the most vulnerable amongst us so they do not have the rug ripped out from under them.”

In addition, the proposal calls for an end to the 2.3 percent medical device sales tax, which lawmakers said gets passed on to consumers and should be repealed.

The caucus also sought to ease the regulatory burden on small businesses. One proposal calls for changing the employer mandate, which requires that employers must offer health insurance to full-time equivalent employees, to apply only to companies with 500 or more employees. Furthermore, for the purposes of the employer mandate, a full-time work week would be defined as 40 hours.

“It’s critical to our democracy for members of Congress to put politics aside and come together to find solutions to the issues affecting our constituents,” Curbelo said. “Our healthcare system needs reform and I’ve been committed to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find market-based solutions that would result in increased coverage and lower costs. Together with my colleagues in the Problem Solvers Caucus we are committed to working toward compromise and consensus that can move the conversation forward.”

The caucus’ proposal also would implement clear guidelines for states in an effort to spur innovation on the exchange.

Department of Health and Human Services guidance would be revised to make it more attractive for states to share in health savings with all essential health benefits, and states would be able to enter into Health Care Choice Compacts that enable insurers to sell across state lines.

Ultimately the goal of Republicans and Democrats on the caucus is to work together to improve healthcare coverage while creating more options for consumers.

“It is our job to navigate the complexities of this issue on behalf of the American people in a bipartisan manner,” Thompson, speaking in support of the proposal, said.

The caucus also states that its healthcare proposal should be paid for with offsets within the federal government.