Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade Arielle Levin Becker / file photo
Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade Arielle Levin Becker / file photo

Washington – As a key Senate panel continues to seek a bipartisan fix for the Affordable Care Act, the Connecticut Insurance Department weighed in with its suggestions, including allowing people to buy a new, cheaper, “copper-level” plan with fewer benefits and higher out-of-pocket costs.

In a letter to Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade asked Congress to continue a moratorium on the ACA’s health insurance tax, a levy that will go into effect next year based on the premium dollars an insurer earns. Insurers are expected to pass this cost along to policyholders.

Wade also asked Alexander to add a new metal class to the “gold,” “silver” and ‘bronze” plans now offered on Affordable Care Act exchanges like Access Health CT. The new “copper” plans still would offer the same essential health benefits as the other plans, but have fewer or no additional benefits and carry higher co-payments and deductibles.

Wade also pressed Alexander to take action on cost-sharing reduction (CSR)  payments, an Obamacare program that subsidizes the out-of-pocket costs, including co-payments and deductibles, for low-income Americans.

Neither President Donald Trump nor Congress have committed to continuing those payments to insurers, who say they would need to substantially increase premiums to make up for their loss of CSR payments.

Alexander has said he’s open to continuing CSR  payments for a year, but insurers and others want assurances the payments would continue past 2018.

Wade is expected to issue a decision this week on sizable rate hikes requested by the two insurers that sell plans on Access Health CT, Anthem and ConnectiCare.

Wade also asked for a federally funded reinsurance program that would offset unexpected losses by insurers and for the ACA to allow insurers more flexibility in how they set their rates for plans sold on state exchanges.

The HELP Committee held two hearings last week, with insurance commissioners and some of the nation’s governors as witnesses, to try to find a quick, bipartisan way to stabilize the ACA insurance marketplace ahead of the 2018 enrollment period, which begins on Nov. 1.

In those hearings, witnesses asked for more flexible use of the ACA’s “1332” waivers, which allow states to opt out of some Obamacare requirements under certain conditions.

In her letter to Alexander, Wade said current waiver requirements “present a challenge” to Connecticut and other states because “the process requires states to put money upfront.”

She suggested allowing states to use existing federal funds to carry out their changes to the ACA and that a waiver application not require state legislative approval, just a request from a governor.

The HELP Committee will continue its hearings on what Congress can do to stabilize the ACA marketplace this week, with executives from Anthem and Kaiser Permanente among the witnesses.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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