Clint Cooper: Tennessee Senators offer a bridge

Posted on March 31, 2017

Too many politicians throw up their hands, blame the other guy or say the system's broken when an issue seems unworkable.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is not one of those.

After a House Republican health care bill was pulled last week, the state's senior senator knew that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance market was failing and would continue to create problems for his constituents and others across the country .

Alexander's proposal, co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., would allow people who qualify for government insurance subsidies to use that money to purchase any state-approved plan on the private market if they have no other options under the federal marketplace.

Because of what the federal government says must be offered in the health care plans and because insurance companies have lost millions of dollars on such plans since the dawn of the ACA, more and more companies are leaving the ACA marketplace.

Some states are down to one insurer; 32 percent of counties across the country have only one. In areas of some states, like Knoxville in Tennessee, no options will be available in 2018. And the clock is ticking because insurers must get state approval for their 2018 rates before advertising them in late summer and early fall.

To be sure, Alexander and Corker both still want the ACA to be repealed and replaced with something better and more affordable. In the meantime, they want to be sure options are available.

"This is not a permanent solution," Alexander said. "Congress has a responsibility to continue its work to solve this problem and to give Americans more choices of lower-cost health insurance."

Word has begun to filter out of Washington — despite last week's declaration that GOP health care was dead — that the work continues to go on. It must. The federal marketplace is collapsing, and all insurance premiums have risen — or private insurance benefits decreased — because of the ACA.

Alexander and Corker's bill also would free Americans from having to pay a fine for not having insurance if it is determined there are no health insurance options for them on the specific state exchange. Currently, the law demands Americans either have insurance or pay a fine.

The bill, the Health Care Options Act of 2017, if approved, would be in place through the 2019 plan year.

It's apparent there will be no serious repeal-and-replace action in the immediate future. But the two Tennessee senators' plan is a serious attempt at bridging the problems between the failing federal exchanges and whatever might come next.