Spending bill agreement – Yesterday (3/21/18), Congressional leaders announced agreement on a $1.3 trillion spending bill to keep the federal government funded through the rest of the fiscal year. Since October, the government has been operating on five continuing budget resolutions, the most recent of which expires on March 23. The bill includes funding for a wide range of programs and initiatives, including the Gateway tunnel in NYC, border security, safety grants to schools to prevent gun violence, and improvements to the national background check system for gun purchases.
CSRs, reinsurance not included -- Unfortunately, agreement could not be reached on funding to help stabilize the individual health insurance market for 2019; in particular, the Cost-Sharing Reductions (CSRs) and a reinsurance program to help offset the claims costs of high risk members. While there was wide, bipartisan support for the funding, both sides failed to agree on how federal abortion restrictions would apply.
Market stabilization has been the highest priority for the Blues system, as well as the broader insurance industry and key members of the House and Senate since the failure of repeal and replace last summer. Without them, 2019 premiums for people who buy insurance on their own will be 13% higher (national average), on top of other normal trend. This is due to the repeal of the individual mandate penalty (starting in January); without it, younger, healthier people will tend to go without coverage, leaving people with higher health care needs and costs.
Statement from BlueCross BlueShield Association - “It’s deeply disappointing that lawmakers did not include critical market stabilization measures in the Omnibus budget bill that would have made coverage more affordable for individuals and families, especially those who are not eligible for assistance in purchasing coverage. The Congressional Budget Office estimates these measures would reduce premiums by 10 percent in 2019 and 20 percent in later years for the millions of Americans who purchase health coverage on their own.
Unless Congress acts now, premiums will again increase significantly and consumers could have even fewer health plan choices. Already, half the counties in the U.S. have only one insurer. Congress must find a path forward to provide consumers with the peace of mind they deserve. Millions of Americans are depending on lawmakers to act.”
Efforts will continue – It appears the House will vote on the bill Friday, meaning the Senate will have to act on it immediately thereafter in order to avoid a government shutdown. Alternatively, Congress could pass another very short-term continuing resolution, giving the Senate more time to act.
While the spending bill represented the best opportunity to get market stabilizers passed in time to affect 2019 individual premiums, BCBSA, plans, the insurance industry and other stakeholders will continue to explore other legislative options.
News and Media
August 3, 2017:
Senators Plan Bipartisan Hearings On Health Care
Dave Anderson, CEO of HealthNow New York, talks with Steve Inskeep about lawmakers' plans to hold bipartisan hearings on health insurance exchanges. NPR's Scott Horsley has details and analysis.
June 6, 2017:
What's next for the American Health Care Act
The Point of Health podcast features Donald Ingalls, Vice President, State and Federal Relations of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. The episode covers the latest updates on Republican's efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.