Levin Floor Statement on H.R. 954

Sep 27, 2016 Issues: Health Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) today delivered the following remarks on the House Floor in opposition to H.R. 954, a bill that would exempt individuals from paying the Individual Shared Responsibility Provision under the Affordable Care Act if their CO-OP closes mid-year:

(Remarks as delivered)

Mr. Speaker, this bill before us today is yet another attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act, plain and simple. In fact, it is now the 65th such attempt by Republicans since the ACA was signed into law.

There is no denying that the ACA has provided quality, affordable health coverage to more than 20 million previously uninsured Americans. And importantly, individuals can no longer be denied coverage – as they could in the past – for pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.

And thanks to the ACA, a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of uninsured Americans has fallen to just 8.6% - the lowest level ever recorded. Let’s also not forget that over the last few years, health care costs have been growing at the slowest rate in more than 50 years, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. And the ACA improved Medicare’s coverage for prescription medicines and preventive care for seniors.

This bill undermines the Individual Shared Responsibility Provision of the ACA, which is important in making many of its benefits possible, including no one being denied coverage, no pre-existing conditions, and no gender discrimination.

There are provisions in the ACA to provide when coverage is interrupted in the middle of a policy. In cases of CO-OP closures during a policy year, there is the ACA provision of a special enrollment period (SEP) to allow individuals to continue to have coverage.

The Department of Health and Human Services indicates that each individual affected by a mid-year CO-OP closure was contacted at least 20 times, providing individuals with additional plan choices they could enroll in during the special enrollment period. All individuals in states with mid-year CO-OP closures had additional choices available to them.

And in instances when purchasing a new plan would be financially difficult, these individuals could also apply for a hardship exemption from the individual mandate penalty. HHS has a number of avenues for individuals to apply for an exemption for a variety of life circumstances where premiums are a financial burden. 

The Joint Committee on Taxation scored this bill using a generic model, since there were no available data on the number of individuals potentially impacted.

Every step of the way, Republicans have worked to undermine CO-OPs and ensure their failure. Republicans were responsible for the severe reductions in the amount of money available to the CO-OPs from federal loans and strict limits to risk corridor payments. CO-OPs that misestimated the risk pool should have been eligible for risk stabilization payments to help weather the early years of an unknown market – but the Republicans made sure those stabilizing funds wouldn’t be available, as part of their effort to kill the ACA with a thousand cuts.

The American Academy of Actuaries noted that weakening the individual mandate – as this bill would do – will lead to both higher premium costs for patients and higher costs to the federal government.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield, one of the largest insurers in the nation, agrees that exemptions from the mandate will drive prices higher.

We know that this bill will not be signed into law. This morning, the White House released its Statement of Administration Policy on this legislation, stating:

“The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 954.  The Administration remains committed to providing Americans with accessible, quality, and affordable health coverage, including by addressing issues that arise when their health insurers stop offering coverage during the year.  In such circumstances, the Administration has offered special enrollment periods, provided consumer outreach, and worked with state departments of insurance to ensure consumers have smooth transitions to other health plans.  Individuals for whom coverage is unaffordable or who experience a hardship also may quality for an exemption from the individual-responsibility provision of the law.  These options are available to all consumers in these circumstances, not just those enrolled in coverage through CO-OPs.

“H.R. 954 would exempt anyone whose CO-OP ends coverage during the year from the individual-responsibility provision.  This is unnecessary given consumer protections already available.  Moreover, it would create a bad precedent for using exemptions from the individual-responsibility provision to address unrelated concerns about the Affordable Care Act.  The individual-responsibility provision is a necessary part of a system that prohibits discrimination against individuals with pre-existing conditions and requires guaranteed issuance.  The provision helps prevent people from waiting until they get sick to buy health insurance or dropping health insurance when they believe they do not need it.  Weakening the individual responsibility provision would increase health insurance premiums and decrease the number of Americans with coverage.

“The Administration always is willing to work with the Congress on fiscally responsible ways to further improve health care affordability and the Affordable Care Act.  The President's Budget offers a number of proposals to do so.  However, H.R. 954 would be a step in the wrong direction, because it would create a precedent that undermines a key part of the law and would do nothing to help middle-class families obtain affordable health care. 

“If the President were presented with H.R. 954, he would veto the bill.”