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Governors Push for Fast Action on Health Coverage

Kasich, Hickenlooper et. al. call for hasty stabilization

Presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at the American Conservative Union's CPAC conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on Friday, March 4, 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at the American Conservative Union's CPAC conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on Friday, March 4, 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A bipartisan group of eight governors, led by Ohio’s John Kasich and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, submitted a health care proposal to congressional leaders this week that urges them to move quickly to stabilize the individual insurance market and to promote participation on the federal exchanges from both consumers and issuers.

Their suggestions come as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is gearing up for a set of September hearings on market stabilization, one that will include Hickenlooper, with hopes of advancing legislation to strengthen the exchanges ahead of the open enrollment period that begins in November. 

“We strongly encourage that Congress and the Administration take immediate action to stabilize the individual health insurance marketplace. If there is a clear signal to consumers and carriers that the individual market is viable, then additional state-based reforms will be more manageable and we can succeed in preserving recent coverage gains and controlling costs,” they wrote in a letter dated Wednesday to the four majority and minority leaders.

Several of the governors’ asks would require Congress to address certain moves made by the Obama administration which the Trump administration has appeared hostile toward.

The plan by Kasich, a Republican who ran for president last year, and Hickenlooper, a Democrat, includes the support of six other governors. They are Republican Brian Sandoval of Nevada, independent Bill Walker of Alaska, and Democrats John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Steve Bullock of Montana.

Bullock is set to testify with Hickenlooper on a governors panel next Thursday before the health committee, following a Wednesday hearing featuring state insurance commissioners.

Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced two additional health care hearings Thursday. Both will occur during the second week of September, when lawmakers will hear from health care industry stakeholders and from experts on increasing state flexibility on the individual market.

Many of the governors’ proposals are ideas that have been floated by policy experts and officials, such as funding the 2010 health care law’s cost-sharing reduction payments, strengthening federal risk sharing programs such as risk adjustment and reinsurance and creating a stability fund.

Alexander said he welcomed the governors’ plan, but suggested the panel’s September hearings and any following legislation would be more narrowly tailored and a first step.

One new idea the governors proposed is to exempt insurers that enter underserved counties from the law’s health insurance tax. Additionally, consumers in those counties should have the option of buying into the Federal Employee Benefit Program, they say. 

The governors are also encouraging the federal government to continue funding outreach and enrollment efforts to encourage new consumers — particularly younger and healthier people — to purchase insurance.

In years past, the Obama administration announced public-private partnerships and worked with so-called navigators across the country to sign up new and returning customers, but the Trump administration has not announced similar types of plans.

The group also proposed steps around some of the health care law’s more controversial areas. They advocate for maintaining the law’s individual mandate for now, but also say states should be allowed more flexibility in choosing reference plans for the 10 essential health benefits.

The governors are urging lawmakers to consider issues around the cost of health care by committing to value-based purchasing and to improve price transparency so that consumers know more about health care costs.

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