Moderate Republicans Vote to Buffer Insurance Market from Trumpcare Impact
Oregon House Republicans have split over legislation that empowers the state insurance commissioner to rescue the individual health insurance market from a Trumpcare-triggered collapse, while House Minority Leader Mike McLane angrily accused a leading state official of political partisanship for suggesting that the American Health Care Act could be a disaster.
National Republicans have threatened to cut off copayment and deductible subsidies for the working-class, and the American Health Care Act would repeal the individual mandate while shifting subsidies away from those who most need them, a series of moves that independent experts predict would drive up premium costs and undermine the market.
On Tuesday, the Department of Consumer & Business Services introduced legislation that would allow the state agency to nullify state insurance law in case these dramatic changes do upend the market.
On Thursday, Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Canby, successfully won amendments that will protect against state government overreach to that bill, House Bill 2342.
“Did you seek these changes in the presidency of Barack Obama?” McLane interrogated Patrick Allen, the director of the Department of Consumer & Business Services at Thursday’s hearing. “If the disaster you fear came upon us, it sounds to me like it would merit a special session... I’m surprised to see you play into this national political narrative.”
Kennemer’s amendment places careful checks on the state agency’s power, requiring it to win the consent of the Health Insurance Exchange Advisory Committee, and limit any emergency changes the Division of Financial Regulation might make to just six months, in which time the Legislature would be better prepared to make a proper, long-term intervention.
“We’ve trusted DCBS … to have authority in these areas,” Kennemer said. “It seems to me they are the right conveners for an initial effort. I like the six-month term. Either way it has potential problems. When you don’t know if a problem is coming, but you think it’s likely, you should try to head it off.”
Under HB 2342, Allen would only be able to make changes necessary to avert the immediate destabilization of the insurance market if such disruption risked the life and health of Oregon residents.
Despite McLane’s swipe at Allen, the day after Donald J. Trump’s election on Nov. 8, 2016, Allen and Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali-Robison did in fact unveil a laundry list of proposals designed to address the negative aspects of Obamacare.
Those proposals were tabled after President Trump’s victory, since he had promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a move that was validated by the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of the American Health Care Act last week.
The Kennemer amendment makes House Bill 2342 a bipartisan piece of legislation, but the bill divides moderate Republicans from their conservative leadership and risked the ire of McLane.
Rep. Jodi Hack, R-Salem, joined Kennemer and the House Rules Committee’s five Democrats to adopt the amendment, while Rep. Greg Barreto, R-La Grande, stuck with McLane in opposition. The committee still must vote next week to send it to the full House for a vote.
Both Hack and Kennemer are from the Willamette Valley and serve on the House Health Committee as well as the Rules Committee, while McLane and Barreto represent Eastern Oregon districts.
The dynamic mirrors the division in the national party, in which moderate Republicans such as Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Vancouver, Wash., have broken ranks with conservatives like Rep. Greg Walden of Hood River, who authored the Obamacare repeal, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will end healthcare coverage for 24 million Americans, the majority of them poor people now receiving Medicaid.
Reach Chris Gray at [email protected].