- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer says measures to stabilize Obamacare should be tied to must-pass legislation that would renew a critical insurance program for children.

Congress let federal payments to the Children’s Health Insurance Program expire last month, as Republicans focused on an ill-fated push to replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act with state block grants.

Although states and D.C. won’t run out of money until December at the earliest, lawmakers say Congress needs to act fast before states notified parents about potential lapses in coverage.

The Senate Finance Committee advanced a five-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program by voice vote Wednesday, prompting Mr. Schumer to call for swift floor action alongside measures that shore up Obamacare’s insurance exchanges, too.

“Now that the Senate Finance committee has reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Leader [Mitch] McConnell should immediately put this bill to the Senate floor for a vote and include much-needed bipartisan provisions to stabilize the markets, lower premiums in 2018, and renew funding for community health centers and numerous other important health provisions that expired over the weekend,” Mr. Schumer said.

Bipartisan negotiators on the Senate Health Committee are working on a plan to fund contested Obamacare payments to insurers in exchange for giving states greater control over their markets.

They’ve yet to announce a deal, however, and it’s unclear if they can strike the right balance and win votes for a bill before signups begin, leaving the exchanges in political limbo.

Mr. Schumer is eyeing CHIP as a way to get the stabilization measures across the finish line, though his push may complicate negotiations in each chamber over the children’s program.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is marking up its own CHIP bill, but Republicans included a series of controversial offsets, such as redirecting $5.5 billion from Obamacare’s public health and prevention fund to community health centers.

They also want to shorten the grace period for Obamacare customers who fail to pay their premiums from 90 days to 30. Cutting off their coverage sooner would save money, Republicans say, because taxpayers wouldn’t have to keep paying exchange subsidies and cost-sharing payments for the delinquent customers.

Another provision would force wealthy Medicare recipients to pay more. Republicans say Democrats have supported similar efforts in the past, so it shouldn’t be a problem now.

“While some have called the offsets ‘partisan,’ we would call them ‘reasonable,’” Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, said.

Yet Democrats say they shouldn’t have to fiddle with other health programs to reauthorize CHIP, a program that enjoys bipartisan support.

“The opportunity existed for a bipartisan bill that would have moved the bill forward quickly,” Rep. Frank Pallone, the panel’s ranking Democrat, said Wednesday. “We’re in for a contentious markup that will likely make it more difficult to move a bill that has a chance of becoming law.”

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