Lamar Alexander's new goal: Add ACA fixes to long-term spending bill

Lamar Alexander
Sen. Lamar Alexander is not giving up his fight to pass an ACA stabilization measure that Congress has repeatedly tabled. (Image: AMSF2011 / CC BY 2.0)

As Congress rushes to prevent a government shutdown, one lawmaker is looking ahead to a potential long-term spending bill—which he hopes will include bipartisan measures to stabilize the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has been pushing his fellow Congress members for months to pass a bill that he crafted alongside Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., which would fund cost-sharing reduction payments for two years and take other steps to shore up the exchanges.

He and the bill’s supporters have seen setback after setback in their bid to pass that and another measure—sponsored by Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson—which would set up state-based reinsurance programs. Neither measure made it into the stopgap spending bill that Congress passed in December, nor do they look likely to be included in short-term budget bill that lawmakers are now considering.

RELATED: Health programs on the line if Congress doesn’t get votes to avert a government shutdown

But Alexander, who chairs the Senate’s Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said this week that he sees an opportunity to include the two ACA fixes in a long-term omnibus spending bill that Congress will pass at some point, according to the Washington Examiner. 

The prospect of those bills passing would be a welcome one to health insurers that sell plans in the individual markets, which are stabilizing but have an uncertain long-term future. Yet while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump have offered support for the bills, House Republicans are not yet sold.

Meanwhile, Trump raised eyebrows Thursday morning by tweeting that funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program “should be part of a long-term solution” rather than a short-term extension.

However, unlike recent short-term spending bills that Congress has passed, the stopgap spending measure that House lawmakers are currently considering would fund CHIP for six years. GOP lawmakers included that funding in a bid to win Democratic votes, but that move doesn’t appear to have had the desired effect. House Democrats are holding out for a fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and they resent what they see as Republicans’ attempt to use CHIP as leverage.

“No one should pit CHIP against Dreamers in a cynical, partisan political game,” added Topher Spiro of the Center for American Progress.