Health Reform Moves to the Senate

Health Reform Moves to the Senate

Now that the United States House of Representatives has passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), action on repealing, replacing or repairing the current health reform law has moved to the United States Senate.  Instead of just making changes to the House-passed legislation, the leadership of the upper chamber has made it clear that they will be taking independent action and will work at their own pace.  Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced last week that, “We’re writing a Senate bill and not passing the House bill. We’ll take whatever good ideas we find there that meet our goals.”

The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has specified that true debate on the AHCA and any Senate-drafted legislation cannot occur until the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) does a cost analysis of the House-passed legislation.  The CBO is not expected to release its estimate of how many people the AHCA would cover and how much it could cost the federal government until the week of May 22.  That analysis will be used to define the structural parameters of the Senate bill, which means official Senate debate on health reform cannot start until at least June. Senate efforts are projected to take two or more months.

Between now and then, Senators have begun preliminary discussions about what the scope and shape of a Senate-passed health reform bill could be.  The Senate Republican leadership has appointed a 13-member working group to discuss ideas and hash out conflicts privately.  The members of the group represent a wide ideological mix of people, but they are all Republicans.  The official members of the Senate working group are:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT)

Senate HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY)

Senator John Thune (R-SD)

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)

Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO)

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY)

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)

Senator Robert Portman (R-OH)

Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)

This larger group is also pulling in other Republican Senators who are interested in health reform on an issue-specific basis, including Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who have drafted their own health reform alternative bill.  While so far the work in the Senate on health reform has been done on a partisan basis, last week all 48 senators who caucus as Democrats sent a letter to Majority Leader McConnell to “request that the Senate work in a bipartisan, open and transparent way to improve and reform the health care system.”

As potential health care reform changes work their way through the legislative process, Kistler Tiffany Benefits will monitor all happenings for our clients with a focus on how employer-based health plans may be affected.  Through our leadership positions in several Washington, D.C.-based professional organizations, we will advocate for consumer protections, employer flexibility and reducing overall medical care costs.  If and when changes are adopted that will impact our clients and their employees, we stand at the ready to help you implement them.

By Jessica Waltman, Special Contributor

Jessica Waltman is a health reform strategist, with more than 20 years of experience in health insurance markets and health policy. She is the former Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, for the National Association of Health Underwriters.