Bill aims to offer ACA exchange relief; House GOP may vote on healthcare next week

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Two Tennessee senators have introduced a bill designed to provide temporarily relief for people who may not have options in the ACA exchanges.

The GOP’s efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act may have crumbled late last week, but two Republican senators have introduced a bill that they say would provide relief to people who may not have options on the law’s insurance exchanges.

Major payers have either planned to fully exit the exchanges or severely reduce their offerings. Humana revealed last month that it will exit all ACA marketplaces in 2018, while Aetna, which left a significant number of exchanges for 2017, said it will not re-enter any it has exited. Anthem has not ruled out an ACA exchange exit either.

RELATED: Humana to exit ACA exchanges in 2018

These exits will leave some people who rely on the exchanges with no options available for the 2018 enrollment period, Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a post announcing their joint bill. The senators were prompted to take action because many of their constituents would be directly impacted by the exchange exits.

“There are 34,000 Knoxville area residents who rely on an Affordable Care Act subsidy to purchase insurance, and after the one remaining insurer pulled out of the exchange for 2018, these subsidies are worth as much as bus tickets in a town with no buses running,” Alexander said in the announcement.

The bill (PDF) would allow people with no options to buy insurance with their ACA subsidies outside of the exchanges, as long as they purchase a plan that’s been approved by their state for sale in the individual market. The program would be available to people living in counties that the Department of Health and Human Services has certified to have no exchange plans available.

The bill would also waive the individual mandate penalties for these individuals. Its temporary authority would be in place through the end of the 2019 plan year.

Meanwhile, despite pulling the American Health Care Act on Friday as it lacked needed votes, House Republicans may be planning another attempt at a vote on the bill next week, two legislators told Bloomberg. The lawmakers, who spoke to the outlet anonymously, did not make clear what changes, if any, were made to the bill to help it pass successfully on a second attempt.

RELATED: White House on ACA repeal and replace: 'It's not over'

House Speaker Paul Ryan and others in the House have intimated that their efforts on healthcare are not over, and the Trump administration has said the same. The GOP has not publicly established a clear direction for repeal and replace round two, however, a move critics have roundly mocked on social media as "Zombie Trumpcare."

RELATED: 'Zombie Trumpcare'? Don't count on it, some say

The House Freedom Caucus, which played a key role in sinking the original healthcare bill, said Tuesday that conversations with party leadership on healthcare were productive, and that they were looking forward to working with them and President Donald Trump. Both hard-line and more moderate Republicans called for a unified effort on future reform.

Evidently, those calls for unity had not reached the president’s ears on Thursday morning, as he posted on Twitter that the GOP should “fight” the Freedom Caucus in 2018: