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Phia Group Media

Another One Bites the Dust

By: Brady Bizarro, Esq.
It turns out that the reports of Obamacare’s death were greatly exaggerated, at least for the 2017 calendar year. Earlier this week, Senate Republicans scrapped their last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). This time around, the repeal bill, named after its sponsors, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), received a sudden burst of momentum in the past few weeks, mostly due to the September 30th deadline, after which procedural protections expire and Republicans will need sixty (60) votes to pass a healthcare bill.

Like the earlier repeal bills, Graham-Cassidy would not have truly repealed the ACA, but it would have made fundamental changes to it. The centerpiece of this bill was the proposed repurposing of nearly all federal money currently allocated to states for premium tax credits, cost-sharing reductions, and the Medicaid expansion, into a giant block grant distributed to the states. Along with this pinch of federalism, the bill’s sponsors proposed repealing the individual and employer mandates and providing some flexibility to insurers with regard to ACA coverage mandates (provided those insurers offered “adequate” alternative coverage options). In the end, however, this bill ran into the same hurdles that plagued the other repeal bills; moderate Republicans were unwilling to make deep cuts to Medicaid and roll back protections for people with pre-existing conditions, at least not without hearings and regular order.

Now, many political supporters of the President are urging him to turn the page to tax reform, a policy area where Republicans are more unified and perhaps the last opportunity for the Trump Administration to secure a major legislative victory before the end of the year. That does not mean that the GOP is about to abandon the top campaign promise of most Republicans in Congress. We fully expect Republican leaders and the Trump Administration to revisit this issue after they deal with tax reform (possibly after Thanksgiving). Just this week, Senator Graham told reporters that he was optimistic and that it is merely a question of “when,” not “if” repeal was going to happen.

So where does this all leave us? What does this mean for the self-funded industry? It means that for the rest of 2017, Obamacare is staying put. Whether or how strictly the Trump Administration will enforce the ACA remains to be seen. The President has already indicated his intention to sign as many executive orders as he can to ease the regulatory burden of the ACA (his first proposal, to permit states to sell policies across state lines, really only affects the fully-insured market). Meanwhile, HHS, the IRS, and other federal agencies will have to prepare for open enrollment on the exchanges and a new coverage year.