I tuned in to watch the recent senate hearings on the actions Congress should take to stabilize the individual insurance market — and I saw something as rare as the solar eclipse: a thoughtful, bipartisan discussion on health care that focused on solutions, not polemics.
Governors and Insurance Commissioners from blue states and red states talked about ways to stabilize the marketplace so their constituents could obtain health insurance. Local and political differences were respected, but at the same time, the basic rules of how insurance works were acknowledged and agreed upon. Smart ideas emerged and New Jersey’s leaders should listen.
Urgency exists. Insurers only have until September 27 to finalize their plans if they are going to offer health insurance through the exchanges. What’s at stake? Nothing less than the stability of the marketplace and the ability of many people in our state to obtain affordable health insurance.
At the hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., voiced support for some of the same ideas — ideas that I believe are greatly needed.
Here they are:
Give states an easier path to set up reinsurance programs
Right now states can apply for a “section 1332 waiver” to re-tool their individual marketplaces. But the process is cumbersome, takes state legislative action, and involves at least a six-month review process at the federal level. Some states started the process awhile ago and are creating reinsurance programs to lower the overall costs of premiums in their marketplace. The senators would like to streamline the process for states and that’s good news.
New Jersey could set up a reinsurance program so that all medical claims above a certain threshold, say $100,000, would be paid mostly by a federally funded reinsurance program. Taking the most expensive claims out of the equation would lower premiums for everyone in the market. The lower premiums would then bring more people into the marketplace and further improve its health. New Jersey can, and should, crunch the numbers and design a reinsurance program that makes sense for us and apply for a section 1332 waiver. Meanwhile, Congress must pass legislation to simplify the process.
Fund cost sharing payments
The committee members agreed that Congress should pass a bill to fund the cost sharing payments that provide help with out-of-pocket expenses for people with incomes below 250 percent of the poverty line. These payments keep premiums down for the most price sensitive people in the marketplace, who on average are also healthier. They help keep the market stable. Otherwise, people with medical conditions will be the ones most willing to pay high premiums and high out-of-pocket costs. To work, insurance needs a mix of young and old, healthy and sick.
Congress must find the political will to improve the ACA. The clock is ticking. The glimpse of bipartisan cooperation and practical solutions that I saw at the committee hearings is the right place to start.