Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer push for public option; Republicans offer ‘emergency’ ACA fix

U.S. lawmakers from both parties are introducing reforms aimed at addressing the turmoil in the public health insurance exchanges.

On the Republican side, Senate Committee of Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is spearheading an “emergency" measure that would allow eligible individuals to use government subsidies to buy health insurance outside of the exchanges according to an announcement.

Meanwhile, Alexander’s colleagues across the aisle are preparing to launch a campaign Thursday aimed at speeding access to a public health plan option in addition to plans offered by private insurers, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said in an email to FierceHealthPayer. The effort will sponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), along with 22 other lawmakers.

Both moves arrive in the wake of news that a third of Americans may have just one insurer available to them on the public exchanges next year, leading to concerns about functional monopolies. Further, President Barack Obama reached out to insurers this week about enrolling more young, healthy and uninsured consumers as a way to balance insurers’ risk pools. 

“Our legislation would provide a temporary means to lessen the burdens of Obamacare,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), said in the announcement, adding that the GOP proposal may offer less expensive options than exchange plans.

Schumer, though, argues “we need more competition in the insurance markets, not less,” saying that Republicans should join Democrats in expanding health plan choices instead of “trying to put insurance companies back in charge.”

For his part, Alexander said in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday that the ACA exchanges' troubles require both short- and long-term fixes. Without structural changes, “there may be entire states with no insurer willing to sell plans on their Obamacare exchanges in 2018,” he said.