Health Reform Weekly
A weekly compilation from Aetna of health care-related developments in Washington, D.C. and state legislatures across the country.
Week of October 21, 2013
Republicans hoping to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA) had a bad week last week. Not only did the battle over the government shutdown not go their way, polls now show that public support for the health care law is beginning to climb meaningfully for the first time since the ACA was enacted in 2010. U.S. News and World Report coverage states that strong opposition to the law has dropped 10 percent since 2010. U.S. News coverage also shows 72 percent opposed the shutdown over Obamacare. However, voters are roughly split on whether they support or don’t support the law.
New research from The Commonwealth Fund last week found that a majority of small employers currently offering health benefits to their employees are interested in the features of the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) marketplaces. Fifty-six percent of small business owners are interested in the marketplaces’ ability to offer employees a choice of health plans while paying a fixed cost, 70 percent are interested in getting one bill and paying one check each month, and 68 percent would value the ability to compare plans’ costs and benefits as they can in the SHOP marketplaces. The research also confirmed that cost by far is the most important factor in purchasing decisions for small businesses.
A deal was finally struck last week to end the 16-day government shutdown and avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt. Brokered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the deal passed the Senate by a margin of 81-18. In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) disregarded the so-called Hastert rule, which requires that a majority of the GOP caucus support legislation before it comes to the floor, in order to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. In the end, the Senate-brokered deal passed the House 285 to 144, with 198 Democrats and 87 Republicans voting in favor. Just after midnight on Thursday, President Obama signed the legislation.
The deal extends funding for all federal agencies until January 15, 2014. The discretionary spending level of $986 billion extends the level from fiscal year 2013, including automatic sequestration cuts. The debt limit is suspended until February 7. As part of the agreement, both chambers are to convene a bicameral conference to reconcile their budget issues by December 13. The deal also requires beneficiaries of any federal subsidies under the new health care law to verify their household income to ensure eligibility. It also provides retroactive back pay for all federal workers, both furloughed and essential staff, for the period in which the federal government was shut down.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) released a statement last week emphasizing that House Republicans will focus on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the coming weeks. A number of House committees are planning to hold hearings on ACA implementation issues during the next stretch of the 2013 session. For example, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) has indicated that his committee will focus on the operational issues that have surfaced since the exchanges launched on October 1. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has raised questions about the costs associated with resolving the technical problems the exchanges have experienced.