Senators to Hold Hearings on a Bipartisan Fix for Health Care

Senators to Hold Hearings on a Bipartisan Fix for Health Care

By Yuval Rosenberg

Mark your calendars: Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced today that they will hold bipartisan hearings on Sept. 6 and 7 focused on stabilizing premiums in the individual insurance market. The first hearing will be with state insurance commissioners; the second will be with governors.

In a statement, Alexander noted that 18 million Americans buy insurance on the individual market.

“My goal by the end of September is to give them peace of mind that they will be able to buy insurance at a reasonable price for the year 2018,” he said. “Unless Congress acts by September 27—when insurance companies must sign contracts with the federal government to sell insurance on the federal exchange in 2018— 9 million Americans in the individual market who receive no government help purchasing health insurance and whose premiums have already skyrocketed may see their premiums go up even more. Even those with subsidies in up to half our states may find themselves with zero options for buying health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges in 2018.”

Health Secretary Tom Price Under Fire for Use of Private Jets

U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) listens to opening remarks prior to testifying before a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Car
CARLOS BARRIA
By Michael Rainey

Back in 2009, Tom Price spoke out against House Democrats who wanted to spend $550 million on private jets for lawmakers to use. A Republican representative from Georgia at the time, Price told CNBC that the purchase of the jets was “another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok.” Now Secretary of Health and Human Services, Price seems to have changed his mind about the virtue of government officials using private jets at taxpayer expense. Just last week, Price used a chartered private jet to travel to three HHS events — including one at a resort in Maine — at an estimated cost of $60,000, Politico reports. 

While previous HHS secretaries typically flew commercial, reports indicate that Price has been traveling by private jet for months. “Official travel by the secretary is done in complete accordance with Federal Travel Regulations,” an HHS spokesperson told Politico.

Critics on Twitter have been harsh:

Social Security Benefits Due for a Bigger Bump in 2018

U.S. Social Security card designs over the past several decades
© Hyungwon Kang / Reuters
By Michael Rainey

In a few weeks the Social Security Administration will announce its cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for 2018. Inflation data for the month of August suggests that the adjustment could be the highest in five years, possibly over 2 percent, according to the Washington Examiner. Adjustments for the past five years have been relatively small: The cost of living adjustment for 2017 (announced last October) came in at a modest 0.3 percent, and the adjustment for 2016 was zero. Some retirees have complained in the past about small COLAs, but it’s worth remembering that higher adjustments are driven by higher inflation, which is bad news for people living on fixed incomes.

Americans Are Less Satisfied with Government Now Than a Year Ago

By Yuval Rosenberg

Gallup finds that just 28 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed, down from 33 percent a year ago. And as we approach some potential fiscal battles, it's worth noting that the lowest satisfaction levels since Gallup started updating the measure annually in 2001 came in 2011 (19 percent) after a debt ceiling showdown that led to the U.S. credit rating being downgraded by S&P analysts and in 2013 (18 percent) during a federal government shutdown. 

Maybe Don’t Count Out Obamacare Repeal Just Yet

File photo of a demonstrator holding a pamphlet outside a "Defund Obamacare Tour" rally in Indianapolis
© Nathan Chute / Reuters
By Yuval Rosenberg

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) told reporters on Friday that he’s getting close to securing enough votes to pass the last-ditch ACA repeal and replacement bill he’s put forth with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Ron Johnson (R-WI).

“I am pretty confident we’ll get there on the Republican side,” Cassidy said. “We’re probably at 48-49 [votes] and talking to two or three more.” And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has asked the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the effects of the Cassidy-Graham bill, which would speed up the scoring process.

Of course, those last two or three votes have been the challenge for the GOP all along, and they may not be any easier to round up this time. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who voted for a prior repeal bill, said Friday that he won't support this one. Plus, opponents are already stepping up their criticisms about the effects of the bill. And time is running out: Cassidy and his colleagues only have until September 30 to pass the bill this year under a process that would require only 50 supporters in the Senate. So while the Obamacare repeal may still have life, it remains a longshot.