September Heats Up on the Hill as Congress Turns Back Toward Healthcare

  

As expected, Capitol Hill has turned out to be a beehive of activity in the month of September. With government funding, the debt limit, and hurricane relief funding taken care of, Congress is increasingly turning its eye back toward healthcare reform. Democrats and Republicans have each introduced new healthcare reform bills (which, shockingly, go in drastically different directions), and several House and Senate committees have held hearings on healthcare reform. On a positive note, there seems to be a significant shift toward bipartisan cooperation on healthcare reform (at least with respect to the individual insurance market) since the dramatic collapse of the Senate Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in the early morning hours of July 28th.

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) Unveil Yet Another Repeal and Replace Plan

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced a “new” healthcare reform bill this morning – which, it should be noted, is a very long shot for even seeing a vote on the Senate floor. At this point, the ACA repeal and replace effort feels like the movie Groundhog Day, in that we keep seeing the same proposals over and over again. The Graham-Cassidy bill – also supported by Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) – is not substantially different from any of the other repeal and replace bills we have seen from House and Senate Republicans. It repeals Medicaid expansion in 2020; it eliminates the $1 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund; it creates high-risk pools for individuals with pre-existing conditions; it defunds Planned Parenthood for a year; it puts a per-capita cap on Medicaid funding and gives states the option to convert their Medicaid programs into block grants (see ANA’s policy primer on block grants); and it ends premium tax credit assistance and cost-sharing subsidies and puts greater control of healthcare spending in state hands. As with all other repeal and replace proposals to date, the current proposal fulfills none ANA’s 4 principles for health system transformation. Under Senate rules, the Senate must vote on this measure (if it comes to a vote) by September 30th in order to pass with a simple 51 vote majority. We hope that it does not come to that.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Goes (Medicare For) All-In on Single-Payer

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced his Medicare for All Act of 2017. As the name implies, this plan would extended Medicare eligibility to all Americans and transform the American healthcare system into a government-run, single-payer system. This bill – which has the support of 16 Democratic co-sponsors (though notably no endorsement from party leadership) – would phase in Medicare eligibility by age over 4 years, eventually extending eligibility to Americans of all ages. The Medicare for All Act of 2017 would do away with the country’s current system of employer-based insurance coverage and, it should be noted, significantly increase the amount of money the U.S. government spends on healthcare services. The chances of it passing, however, are non-existent, given that Democrats are in the minority in the Senate and the House, and do not control the White House. Still, the introduction of the Medicare for All Act of 2017 does shift the conversation toward a single-payer healthcare system to a significant degree.

Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Shows Progress

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides healthcare coverage to low-income children whose families do not qualify for Medicaid; it is a crucial source of healthcare coverage for roughly 9 million children each year. CHIP funding is generally reauthorized every few years. The current CHIP authorization is set to expire on September 30th, placing the healthcare coverage of 9 million children at risk. Fortunately, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) of the Senate Finance Committee announced yesterday that they have reached a deal to extend CHIP for five years and would transition CHIP to its traditional federal-state partnership and provide additional protections for low-income children and flexibility for states (full legislative language will be released in the coming days).

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Holds Hearings on Insurance Premiums

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held hearings on September 6th, 7th, and 12th, focused on stabilizing premiums and helping individuals in the individual insurance market in 2018. The committee also has another hearing scheduled for September 14th on the same subject. Panelists during these hearings have included state insurance commissioners and governors, and the hearings have focused on affordability and state flexibility. The Senate HELP Committee is led by Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) and has begun to move forward in a bipartisan way to stabilize the individual insurance market with the goal of protecting consumers from huge price increases.  

With so much activity happening on Capitol Hall, it can be difficult to keep it all straight. ANA encourages you to engage with your senators and representatives and make clear to them that any healthcare reform effort must align with our principles of health system transformation: universal access to a standard package of essential health benefits for all citizens and residents; utilization of primary, community-based and preventative services while supporting the cost-effective use of innovative, technology-driven, acute, hospital-based services; the economical use of health care services with support for those who do not have the means to share in costs; and a sufficient supply of a skilled workforce dedicated to providing high quality health care services.

12 Days in September

  
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

President Trump joined with congressional Democrats yesterday to clear three major items from a jam-packed congressional agenda. The stopgap agreement will raise the nation’s debt limit, keep the government open through the end of the calendar year, and provide hurricane relief for the communities and states hardest hit this hurricane season. In doing so, however, Trump and congressional leaders have ensured that an even bigger debate awaits them in December, with an unclear outlook on how it will resolve itself.

The House also passed nearly $8 billion in disaster aid in response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey. But with Hurricane Irma bearing down on Puerto Rico and Florida, lawmakers may be called on to pass additional funding soon.

Meanwhile, lawmakers still face an overflowing agenda. Here’s a quick rundown of what else to expect this September:

  • Tax reform: The President and his administration have long signaled that they hope to pass tax reform legislation before the end of the calendar year. Their failure to pass health care reform legislation this summer, however, coupled with a long list of competing priorities, makes this increasingly unlikely.
  • Health care reform: Though congressional leaders have appeared to move on to other, more pressing issues, President Trump continues to indicate he wants lawmakers to take one more shot at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
  • Immigration: Following the President’s decision to rescind the policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the event that Congress fails to craft a solution in the next six months, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are searching for a legislative fix. Democratic leaders have asked Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to the floor for a vote, and have suggested they will attempt to attach the bill to other priority items to force leadership’s hand. Though widely championed by progressives, the legislation could face difficulty garnering bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, the Senate HELP committee will be holding a series of hearings to determine the best path forward on creating stability in the individual health insurance markets. Democrats are certain to use this forum to put a spotlight on the administration’s recent decision to slash funding used to promote the Open Enrollment period that starts November 1st. We’ll have an additional update for you later this week on these and other health care-related items.

“No”

  
Photo: Susan Walsh, AP
Photo: Susan Walsh, AP

Following a dramatic late night vote that saw Senators reject Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) so-called “skinny” bill repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are publicly calling for a fresh approach to reforming health care that embraces bipartisanship and transparency, and actively seeks solutions from experts who know health care best, including America’s 3.6 million nurses.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined with all 48 Senate Democrats to vote against legislation that would’ve stripped the individual and employer mandates introduced by the ACA, among other harmful provisions, and which was intended to pave the way for a conference committee of representatives from both chambers, who would be responsible for crafting a bill that both could pass.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) seemed unwilling to guarantee that his chamber wouldn’t just skip the conference process and pass “skinny” repeal itself, prompting McCain and others to publicly withhold their support early yesterday evening. While subsequent assurances from Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence were enough to win back the support of some of those Senators, McCain ultimately came to the same conclusion as his colleagues from Alaska and Maine, and voted no.

The nursing community showed up like never before in this fight, driving thousands of calls and e-mails to Congress. Hundreds traveled all the way to Washington, DC last month to deliver our message face-to-face with our legislators: The only way our country can truly reform our healthcare system is by working together. No more closed doors. No more dead-of-night deals. No more decisions made without a single nurse consulted.

While this victory is heartening, we know there are those who will continue pushing lawmakers and the administration to undermine our health system and harm those who have gained coverage as a result of the ACA. If you haven’t yet, please join our RNAction community to learn more and get the latest updates on how you can help ensure that our representatives in Washington continue to protect our care and put patients first.