The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has held three hearings in the past few days attempting to reach a bipartisan agreement on stabilizing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance markets and will hold a fourth hearing later this week.  HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Minority Member Patty Murry (D-WA) are leading the bipartisan efforts.  Senator Alexander has proposed formal authorization of subsidy payments to insurers and loosening requirements governing state waivers.  An apparent sticking point is the state waivers.  Senator Alexander and other Republicans believe the waivers are too stringent to permit states to enact changes that will lower health care costs.  Democrats insist that the waiver limitations are necessary to prevent states from eviscerating beneficiary protections.  The initial HELP Committee hearing was held on September 6 with insurance commissioners from five states testifying (Oklahoma, Washington, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Alaska).  The second HELP Committee hearing was held on September 7, with Governors from five states participating (Massachusetts, Montana, Tennessee, Utah, and Colorado).  The third HELP Committee hearing was held on September 12.  Witnesses included former Secretary of Health and Human Services and Utah Governor Michael O. Leavitt,  and Bernard J. Tyson, President and CEO, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan.  The final HELP Committee hearing will be held on September 14 and will address stakeholder concerns.

On September 12, the U.S. Senate on Finance also held a hearing on health care reform.  The hearing was entitled “Health Care:  Issues Impacting Cost and Coverage” and witnesses included former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Acting Administrator Andrew M. Slavitt and Edmund F. Haislmaier, Preston A. Wells, Jr. Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation.

Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reportedly are introducing legislation that would repeal large parts of the ACA and leave significant discretion to the states.

Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) reportedly will introduce single-payer health legislation that would create a national Medicare-like insurance system and eliminate most individual out-of-pocket costs.

As we previously reported, CMS announced that for the upcoming ACA open enrollment period it will significantly reduce funding for open enrollment advertising and navigators.