Congress will have a long to-do list as members return from their August recess. While outright repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act seems unlikely, there are still high-priority health care items that Congress must attend to.
As Congress returns to Washington this week, it faces a daunting to-do list of critically important legislative items. These must-pass measures include raising the U.S. debt ceiling to avoid default on necessary payments, approving a disaster relief package to support the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort (and possibly adding Hurricane Irma funds if needed) and enacting a federal budget agreement prior to the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. Given the necessary focus on these fundamental items, the bandwidth for continued action on a broad effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is limited. However, Congress is expected to discuss reform proposals to stabilize the market for individuals purchasing insurance through the exchanges, and pursue reauthorization of the historically bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) before current funding expires at the end of the month.
During the August recess, the repeal and replace debate shifted to activities that would target specific portions of the ACA needing improvement rather than driving towards broad repeal of the current law. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee, announced his panel will hold a series of hearings in September focused on market stabilization solutions that could be acceptable to members on both sides of the aisles. The first of these hearings is scheduled for September 6th and will feature testimony from the state insurance commissioners of Alaska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington. The second hearing, scheduled for the following day, will include testimony from the governors of Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana, Tennessee and Utah. Additional HELP hearings are scheduled for Sept. 12th and 14th, and are expected to feature testimony from various stakeholder groups and possibly state and federal agency officials. The Senate Finance Committee, which shares jurisdiction over health care issues, has scheduled a reform hearing on health care costs and coverage for September 12th, and the House is expected to continue its discussion of specific legislative fixes to address more narrow ACA provisions.