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Congress seeks plan to achieve modest ways to change Obamacare

Congress is back in town and will make another try at changes to Obamacare. This time, however, their ambitions are more modest.

A small, bipartisan package has a far better shot at getting through the House and Senate after Republicans’ previous failures. The Senate is holding multiple hearings this week to talk about the Affordable Care Act’s state-based insurance markets.

Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today launched a series of hearings on helping 18 million Americans be able to access and afford health insurance in 2018. The panel today took testimony from state insurance commissioners.

Alexander said he is hoping the panel can lead an effort to take a logical first step in managing the looming health insurance crisis.

“If Congress acts quickly, we can limit increases in premiums in 2018; continue support for co-pays and deductibles for many low-income families; make certain that health insurance is available in every market; and lay the groundwork for future premium decreases,” he said in an opening statement.

The Senate committee will meet on September 7 to hear from governors; September 12 to hear from health policy experts on state flexibility; and September 14 to hear from a state insurance commissioner, doctors and patient advocates.

A bill—if one emerges—is likely to include money for “CSR” payments to insurers that help defray low-income Americans’ health costs. It may also give states flexibility to decide how they cover their citizens under the law.

The other big question is how any bill gets through Congress, given the crowded legislative agenda and issues like tax reform, hurricane relief, immigration and North Korea. One likely vehicle is a planned reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health coverage to millions of low-income children.

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