Speeches & Floor Statements
Posted on September 14, 2016
I am here to talk about another issue that is also a real emergency. Later today, I will introduce with other senators the State Flexibility to Provide Affordable Health Options Act. This bill addresses a real emergency. It provides immediate relief to families who use their ObamaCare subsidies to buy insurance on failing ObamaCare exchanges for the 2017 health care plan year.
Here is an example. If you are a single mother in Memphis who gets an ObamaCare subsidy to buy health insurance for your family, you might have read that Tennessee's insurance commissioner says your rates may be more than 60 percent higher for the same health insurance policy for next year, 2017.
You may be eligible for an ObamaCare subsidy. This could soften the blow of some premium increases, but there is also a good chance the insurance you currently have may be gone by this November, two months from now, when you sign up for your insurance for next year, 2017. You will have to figure out how to stretch your subsidy dollars as your options shrink. Maybe the new plan options don't include your doctor in their network so you will have to pay higher copays for your office visits. Maybe you need to buy a new plan altogether with new doctors. You can spend the new year trying to move all your records from your child's old doctor to your child's new doctor, if you can get an appointment.
This legislation will do two things for you and the nearly 11 million Americans who buy health insurance for themselves or their families on ObamaCare exchanges. Number one—it gives states with a failing ObamaCare exchange the authority to allow residents to use their ObamaCare subsidy to purchase any health care plan of their choice, even those off the exchange for the 2017 plan year.
This opportunity would be available in every single state. It will give governors the opportunity to step in if he or she determines this emergency relief is “necessary to ensure that residents of the state have access to an adequate number of affordable private health insurance options in the individual or small group markets.”
This bill means the mother in Memphis can shop around for a health insurance policy that meets her family’s needs but is unavailable on the exchange in Tennessee. When she goes to pay for it, she can use the ObamaCare subsidy currently limited to exchange plans.
The second thing this bill does is this: If a state chooses to use this authority to allow residents to use subsidies outside the exchange, the legislation will waive the ObamaCare law’s requirement that you must buy a specific health care plan or pay a fine of as much as $2,000 for a family of four next year. In other words, if that mother cannot find affordable insurance options that meet her family’s needs—meaning a plan that covers the right doctors and services on the ObamaCare exchange—then she doesn't have to waste her money or the taxpayer’s money on a plan she does not want or does not need. She will not be threatened with paying a fine if she doesn’t. The individual mandate and its penalty will be lifted.
Without this emergency bill, she is locked into a failing exchange. The only place her subsidy works is the exchange, and in the words of Tennessee's insurance commissioner last week, Tennessee’s exchange is “very near collapse.”
ObamaCare is unraveling at an alarming rate. In November, Americans in nearly one-third of the nation’s counties will have only one insurance carrier to choose from when they have to buy health insurance on their regional ObamaCare exchange. Most Americans on the exchanges will face higher rates.
In my home state of Tennessee, residents will see their rates increase between 44 and 62 percent, on the average, next year. So even for a healthy, 40-year-old, nonsmoking Tennessean with the lowest price silver plan on Tennessee's exchange, premiums increased last year to $262 a month. Next year, it is $333 a month.
Tennessee had to take extreme measures to allow these increases because insurance companies told the state: “If you don’t let us file for rate increases, we will have to leave.” If that happened, Tennesseans might have had only one insurer to choose from. That is what is happening in states all over the country as ObamaCare plans and rates get locked in for next year.
According to the consulting firm Avalere Health, Americans buying insurance in one-third of ObamaCare exchange regions next year may have only one insurer to choose from. People buying on an ObamaCare exchange will have only one insurance carrier to choose from in the following states: Alaska, Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The same Kaiser Family Foundation report found that in a growing number of states, states that have multiple insurers offering plans statewide will have only one insurer selling policies in a majority of counties. Tennessee is one of those States.
Last year, Tennesseans could choose ObamaCare plans between at least two insurers in all 95 counties in our State. For next year, 2017, it is estimated that 60 percent of Tennessee's counties will have only one insurer offering ObamaCare plans. North Carolina is experiencing the same thing. Next year, 90 percent of the counties in North Carolina are estimated to have only one insurer offering ObamaCare plans, up from 23 percent last year.
There is a similar picture in West Virginia, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, and Florida. Just last week, the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire published an article with this headline: “Maine health insurance cooperative leaves N.H. market, reeling from losses.” That is their headline.
The story goes on to describe how this health insurance plan will no longer be operating in New Hampshire after experiencing over $10 million in losses in the ObamaCare exchange over just the first two quarters of this year alone.
That move leaves more than 11,000 individuals in the Granite State looking for new health care plans.
The bill I am introducing will not fix ObamaCare for Americans. It is not a permanent solution, but it does give the mom in Memphis a real solution for next year, for 2017. It lets her know we are on her side and we have not forgotten her and her family as we seek to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with step-by-step reforms that transform the health care delivery system by putting patients in charge, giving them more choices, and reducing the cost of health care so more people can afford it, which is precisely the alternative Republicans offered in 2008, 2009, and 2010, when ObamaCare was debated and voted in.
It also highlights the big structural change we will need to make in the near future to avoid a near collapse of our nation’s health insurance market.
Americans get our insurance through many different places, some from Medicare, some from Medicaid, and most from their employers, but nearly 11 million buy their insurance through the exchanges.
If the ObamaCare policyholder isn't bearing the cost of the higher premiums I just described, then you, the taxpayer, will because a large portion of ObamaCare premiums are subsidized with tax dollars. There is no excuse for having a failing insurance market where taxpayers are paying most of the bill and costs are so out of control that we may soon have a situation where no insurance company is willing to sell insurance on an ObamaCare exchange.
Where does that leave these 11 million Americans? ObamaCare and its one-size-fits all takeover of health care robs states of their abilities to provide access to affordable health care plans in a way that makes sense for their State populations and economies.
ObamaCare was supposed to create a marketplace where people would have more access to affordable, private health insurance plans. Robust, private, market competition was supposed to spur innovative insurance design and help drive down costs. But just the opposite has happened, as those stuck in ObamaCare are facing fewer and more expensive options.
Long term, Americans should have the freedom to make their own choices about their families’ health care needs.
But short-term, in November, nearly 11 million Americans need freedom from the ObamaCare exchanges. And this legislation that I will introduce later today with other Senators will provide that immediately.