Govs. Kasich, Hickenlooper propose bipartisan plan for health care changes

PHOTO: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, joined by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, speaks during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, June 27, 2017. Carolyn Kaster/AP
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, joined by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, speaks during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, June 27, 2017.

In the wake of Republicans failing to pass their Obamacare replacement plan this summer, two governors say they have a plan to fix the health insurance markets that already has bipartisan support from other governors.

Today, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper sent a joint plan, titled "Blueprint for Stronger Health Insurance Markets," to Congressional leaders.

"The current state of our individual market is unsustainable and we can all agree this is a problem that needs to be fixed," the letter states. "Continuing uncertainty about the direction of federal policy is driving up premiums, eliminating competition and leaving consumers with fewer choices."

The two governors said they have been working for months on a plan they hope will appeal to both sides of the aisle.

Kasich, a Republican, and Hickenlooper, a Democrat, call for keeping the individual health insurance mandate as a way to keep healthy people enrolled in coverage.

Their plan also asks Congress to provide more insurance choices in underserved counties. Just last week a small county in Ohio became the latest in the country to have only one insurance provider on the marketplace, a problem facing many counties across the country.

To entice insurers to cover these areas, Kasich and Hickenlooper's plan proposes to give them an exemption from the sales tax they are normally required to pay on premiums for health policies sold on the mareketplace, under the Affordable Care Act. The plan also asks Congress to allow individuals in underserved counties to buy into the Federal Employee Benefit Program, so rural workers have the same options as federal workers.

The Trump administration, they say, needs to commit to making cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments. They note that failing to make CSR payments could dramatically drive up premiums and balloon the federal deficit, as the Congressional Budget Office reported.

The two governors also plan to ask Congress to provide CSR payment funding through 2019 to encourage carriers to stay in the market and give Americans peace of mind that they can afford their insurance.

Kasich did not support Republican plans to repeal and replace Obamacare, particularly because he was concerned about plans to phase out the Medicaid expansion, in which Ohio participates. After the Senate failed to pass their replacement bill, Kasich said their efforts were too one-sided.

"This is where they should call the Democrats in and they should demand Democratic participation," said Kasich on Fox News Sunday the weekend after the vote.

This afternoon at a press conference, Hickenlooper said there is no perfect solution, but he hopes their proposal will pave the way for compromise in Congress.

"In many cases, Governor Kasich’s staff and my staff had to put aside personal preferences to tackle this issue," said Hickenlooper. "Is this going to fix all that’s broken in our system? No. But it’s taking a big bite out of a very large problem."

"This is just a first step, but it’s a significant step because it shows us that we can make steps across party lines," he continued.

The letter has bipartisan support with signatures from several governors: Brian Sandoval, R-Nevada, Tom Wolf, D-Pennsylvania, Bill Walker, I-Alaska, John Bel Edwards, R-Louisiana, Terry McAuliffe, D-Virginia, and Steve Bullock, D-Montana.

On Sept 6 and 7 the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hear proposals from governors -- including Hickenlooper -- and health insurance providers on how they would fix the individual markets. The two governors hope Congress will adopt their proposals.