A demonstrator in support of U.S. President Barack Obama’s health-care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), holds up a “Don’t Take My Care” sign after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to save Obamacare tax subsidies outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S. last year. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Obamacare Votes Promised Senator Collins This Year Delayed

(Bloomberg) -- Two bipartisan measures designed to bring down Obamacare insurance premiums will be left out of a year-end spending bill after Republicans agreed with the party leaders to let debate slip into next month.

A vote on extending a program that provides health insurance to low-income children will also likely slide into 2018, even as several states face a funding squeeze that could leave many families without coverage.

Republican Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine said in a joint statement that it’s clear Congress will only pass a short-term spending fix and, therefore, they will wait until early next year for their bills to be considered in a longer-term spending package. The White House has signaled its support for both measures.

The senators said they will offer the bills “after the first of the year when the Senate will consider the omnibus spending bill, the Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization, funding for Community Health Centers, and other legislation that was to have been enacted this week.”

Collins’ Vote

The bills would fund Obamacare insurance subsidies known as cost-sharing reduction payments that help offset low-income Americans’ health costs and provide money to help states set up high-risk insurance pools. Collins had sought to have the measures brought up by the end of this year as part of a deal to win her support for the Republican tax overhaul. The senator was worried about the effect on insurance premiums of a provision in the tax bill that repeals the Obamacare requirement that everyone have heath insurance. 

Alexander and Collins said both measures would blunt the effect on rising premiums.

“It’s hard to attach our bills to a year-end package when there’s not a year-end package,” Alexander said.

Collins spoke to House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday morning and he expressed support for her high-risk pool proposal, possibly with some changes. Vice President Mike Pence told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday while he was in the Capitol that he and the president also are supportive.

Some states are running out of money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, funding for which lapsed in September, and it’s unclear how they will fare if Congress doesn’t take up a five-year reauthorization until next year.

A Patch

The House will “probably” include a patch to help those states avoid running out of money in the short-term spending measure, said Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma.
The patch is unlikely to include new funding but instead will be similar to a move Congress has made before to reallocate funds for the program from states that don’t run out until a later date to ones that need money sooner, Cole said.

CHIP is a shared federal-state program that covers children of parents who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to pay for private insurance. About 2 million of the 9 million children covered through CHIP may lose coverage as soon as January, and another million could lose coverage in February, according to a report from Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.

In Alabama, health officials have warned that they won’t take new enrollees in the state’s CHIP program effective Jan. 1 and that children already enrolled could lose coverage Feb. 1.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.