Pelosi Unveils Bill to Bolster Obamacare — and Dems’ Election Hopes
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders unveiled legislation Wednesday aimed at making Affordable Care Act insurance plans cheaper to buy and encouraging states to expand their Medicaid programs.
“The legislation (H.R. 1425) is largely a repeat of bills the Democratic-controlled House already passed, mostly largely along party lines,” Bloomberg Law’s Alex Ruoff writes.
The package, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, would expand tax credits for plans sold through the Obamacare exchanges and allow more middle-income families to qualify for subsidies. It would cap enrollee premium costs for “silver” plans at 8.5% of income, instead of nearly 10% under the current law. It also seeks to entice the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid to reconsider by having the federal government cover 100% of the costs for the first three years, mirroring the original expansion plan.
The bill would also allow the government to negotiate the price of some prescription drugs, a measure that would offset costs of expanding coverage.
The legislation would reduce the number of uninsured by 4 million Americans, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) told reporters, citing Congressional Budget Office estimates. CBO also found that the package would reduce deficits over 10 years by $15 billion.
The House will vote on the bill on Monday, Pelosi said.
Election-year messaging: The bill stands no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate, but gives Democrats another way to signal to election-year voters that they are prioritizing health care — and to draw a contrast with the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and GOP efforts to undermine Obamacare.
“We have become the party of health care — this is increasingly our brand, this is what we have fought for,” Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), chairwoman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, told The New York Times earlier this week. “They are becoming the party of drinking bleach.”
At the same time, as Politico’s Susannah Luthi and Alica Miranda Ollstein note, the latest plan “is less ambitious than the platform put forward by Joe Biden and doesn't include a public insurance option that could compete with private plans. It also would not expand eligibility for Medicare or Medicaid.” House Democrats, they report, privately acknowledge that the bill was largely crafted with campaign messaging in mind.
Trump has sought to lower health care and prescription drug costs through a series of executive actions, many focused on encouraging competition by increasing price transparency. But many of Trump’s efforts to lower costs have met with legal or other setbacks, and the administration has yet to release a comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare.
The White House is expected to present legal briefs on Thursday asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the 2010 health care law.
“Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear the brief from the Trump administration as to taking down the Affordable Care Act, right in the heart of the time of the pandemic,” Pelosi said. “It was wrong any time. Now it’s beyond stupid, beyond stupid.”
Trump Scores a Court Win on Hospital, Insurer Price Disclosures
The Trump administration won a federal court ruling Tuesday upholding its plan to require hospitals to disclose the secret rates they negotiate with health insurers.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called the decision “a resounding victory for President Trump and HHS’s agenda to lower Americans’ healthcare costs.” The president celebrated the decision in a Tuesday night tweet: “BIG VICTORY for patients – Federal court UPHOLDS hospital price transparency. Patients deserve to know the price of care BEFORE they enter the hospital. Because of my action, they will. This may very well be bigger than healthcare itself. Congratulations America! ‘’
The American Hospital Association, a hospital trade group, had sought to block implementation of the Trump administration’s rule, arguing that it violated the First Amendment and goes beyond the intent of the Affordable Care Act. Insurers also oppose the plan.
“The proposal does nothing to help patients understand their out-of-pocket costs. It also imposes significant burdens on hospitals at a time when resources are stretched thin and need to be devoted to patient care,” Melinda Hatton, the AHA’s general counsel, said in a statement after the ruling. “Hospitals and health systems have consistently supported efforts to provide patients with information about the costs of their medical care. This is not the right way to achieve this important goal.”
Hatton said the AHA plans to appeal the court’s decision and seek an expedited review. The administration’s rule is scheduled to take effect in January.
Trump Admin Cutting Funding for 13 Coronavirus Test Sites
The Trump administration plans to cut funding for 13 Covid-19 testing sites in five states, including seven sites in hard-hit Texas, according to multiple reports this week. The other sites facing a loss of federal funding are in Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The testing sites were set up during the initial response to the coronavirus pandemic, but federal officials have decided not to extend funding for them beyond June 30.
Responsibility for operating the sites will be transferred to the states.
The Trump administration has downplayed the withdrawal of funding, with testing czar Adm. Brett Giroir telling reporters that it is “providing federal support in a different way,” including hundreds of other federally funded testing sites.
Even so, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose home state is experiencing what Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called a “massive outbreak” of the disease, is pushing back on the decision. A Cruz spokesperson told NBC News that the senator “has urged and will continue to urge [health officials] to extend the community testing sites in Texas.”
The decision to withdraw funding comes as President Trump has claimed that he told officials to slow down testing in order to reduce the number of detected cases. Lawmakers have criticized the president’s comments, including some Republican senators. “No, no, no. We need tests and we need … millions of them, tens of millions of them, especially when we start opening up this fall,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said when asked if the country could reduce testing after President Trump argued that slowing down testing would result in fewer cases.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on Wednesday charged that the funding withdrawal is driven by Trump’s desire to reduce the case count.
“The pandemic is clearly getting worse in states nationwide — and instead of trying harder to stop it, President Trump is apparently trying harder to hide it,” Murray said in a statement. “It’s completely unacceptable that while billions in federal dollars Congress passed to support testing sit unspent, this Administration is closing testing sites in states where new COVID-19 cases are rapidly on the rise. The President should reverse this clearly counterproductive step immediately.”
Cities Plan to Slash Spending as Coronavirus Devastates Local Budgets
Hundreds of cities, towns and villages in the U.S. plan to reduce spending significantly as they respond to budget shortfalls resulting from the coronavirus crisis, and many are already cutting back, according to a new report from the National League of Cities.
In a survey of 1,100 municipalities, the group found that more than 700 plan to delay or cancel road repair projects, critical infrastructure upgrades, and the purchase of new equipment. About 800 cities said they are cutting spending on services, including police, fire, sanitation and recreation. And about a third said they expect to furlough or lay off workers.
The NLC estimates that local budgets will see a shortfall of $134 billion in 2020, and $360 billion between 2020 and 2022. The reduced spending will have a powerful negative effect on small businesses and the quality of life, NLC said, especially in smaller municipalities.
A call for additional federal assistance: The CARES Act in March created a $150 billion fund intended to assist states, territories, tribal areas and local governments. But many smaller cities were excluded from benefiting directly from the fund and so far only 36 municipalities, all with populations over 500,000, have received aid, worth a total of $7.9 billion.
The NLC called for new legislation that would allow smaller cities to receive aid directly, and for the Treasury to start specifically targeting smaller municipalities. “Without direct appropriations to cities, we fear that funds for these municipalities will never reach their intended targets,” the group said.
Poll of the Day: Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate Change
About two-thirds (65%) of Americans say the federal government isn’t doing enough to reduce the effects of climate change, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Among the policies with broad bipartisan support: planting a trillion trees around the world to absorb carbon dioxide emissions, tax credits for businesses that capture carbon emissions and stricter fuel efficiency standards for vehicles.
Quote of the Day
“Inheritances compound over generations, one reason societies often choose to tax them as a way to combat rising inequality and level the playing field. Our tax system has always been one of our most potent tools for expressing and acting upon our values. But in this area, it is failing and only getting worse.”
– Lily Batchelder, a professor at New York University School of Law, in an op-ed in The New York Times Wednesday. Batchelder says an inheritance tax would raise roughly $790 billion over the next decade, while restraining the growing power of an economic hereditary elite.