After Supporting Obamacare Repeal, Alexander Takes On Tall Task Of Extending It | Nashville Public Radio

After Supporting Obamacare Repeal, Alexander Takes On Tall Task Of Extending It

Aug 23, 2017

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander says the next round of hearings on health care will take place during the first week in September.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which he chairs, made that formal announcement on Tuesday, setting a schedule that has senators hearing from state governors and insurance commissioners immediately after returning from their summer recess.

Alexander's goal is to have a plan ready by the end of next month. But he's going to have a lot of convincing to do.

Alexander worries that millions of Americans — including as many as 350,000 Tennesseans — won't have any health insurance options next year unless Congress keeps the Affordable Care Act going. So he's asking lawmakers to do so, even as he continues to favor Obamacare's eventual repeal and replacing it with a system that encourages insurers to compete. 

Alexander says a limited, bipartisan bill that encourages insurers to stay in the market is the best solution in a Congress that's deeply divided over what to do next on health care.

"There are many things that many of us are for. When the house is on fire, you got to put out the fire," Alexander told reporters after a Nashville ceremony honoring his wife on Tuesday. "And the fire is in the individual market."

Alexander thinks Congress can douse that fire by extending subsidies to insurers for one more year. Those are payments President Trump has threatened to stop in order to push Obamacare into collapse.

Alexander also wants to give states more flexibility to relax policy requirements. But states and insurers haven't shown much interest in developing 50 different coverage schemes.

And the House of Representatives has given no indication it's prepared to keep Obamacare going, even for the short term.

So one of Alexander's first tasks at next month's hearings will be getting everyone on board.