Skyrocketing health insurance premiums across Virginia, caused by the Obama-era Affordable Care Act (ACA), have caused a breakdown in the health insurance industry. Spurred on by turmoil in the marketplace, Republican lawmakers have tried for years at the state and federal level to piece together the broken exchange system.
Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) spoke in front of the House Commerce and Labor Committee earlier this month about rising premiums and a system that is in disrepair. He explained that even though the mandate of marketplace is not the way to go, his constituents and people across the Commonwealth need help to secure adequate health insurance.
“I think you all heard testimony that the individual marketplace is broken, and I’m trying to do something so these folks don’t run around without insurance, and cause our costs for medical care and people going into the hospital to go up and up and up,” Reeves told the committee.
From his perspective, the individual marketplace is the “weak link.” In an effort to rectify the problems with the individual insurance markets and unaffordable premiums, Reeves, along with a few other Senate Republicans, sent forth bills to the General Assembly this session to alleviate the stranglehold the marketplace has on the industry.
Reeves put his support behind Senate Bill 844 to allow Virginians to purchase short-term health insurance plans which are necessary in the case of a moving to a different job or subsequent life changes. Introduced by Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), the bill will swap out the current 90-day short-term plans for ones that offer 364-day coverage.
Dunnvant also sponsored Senate Bill 935 which will make it easier for small businesses and organizations to create insurance pools to lobby for better prices in the healthcare industry.
Furthermore, on the lines of Republican-led healthcare insurance fixes, Senator Glen Sturtevant (R-Richmond) sponsored Senate Bill 964 set to create catastrophic plans outside the insurance marketplace. These plans would have high deductibles, but far lower premiums. They will also be available to Virginians under 30 years old, to whom they are current restricted.
“This is a bill that attempts to address an issue we’ve all dealt with, which is constituents who come to us and say their health care premiums have gone up and up and up, year after year after year, such that they are unaffordable,” Sturtevant told the House Commerce and Labor Committee.
Some argue that a federal fix is needed to completely patch the holes in the marketplace. For now, to prop up the insurance marketplace, healthy people must purchase insurance policies to fund those who consistently use healthcare insurance to receive care.
These bills will essentially allow healthy individuals to buyout of the marketplace – another blow to the defunct ACA.
In a report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Peter Cunningham, a professor of health behavior and policy with Virginia Commonwealth University, said that some people, mainly young, healthy people, would be helped by the new Republican-led legislation. However, making up for the loss to pay for those who use their healthcare insurance regularly, would mean that premiums in ACA marketplace risk pools must increase.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think that the people who are going to be helped are going to outweigh the potential harm that’s going to be done if it really contributes to a further weakening and destabilizing of the ACA marketplaces,” Cunningham said.
Whether cost-sharing subsidies or alternative avenues of funding are sought to fix the marketplace, it will not fix the root of the problems. And the problem is the government’s mandate to intercede into the private healthcare industry.
Nonetheless, the bills would help reduce costs across the board since healthy individuals will at least have some kind of insurance rather than forgoing it – a possible top priority for some considering the loss of the individual mandate.
“This is going to offer a way for folks who are healthier who want to pay a lower monthly premium and be subject to a higher deductible to keep them and bring them into the market,” Sturtevant said of his bills to help expand access to catastrophic plans.
Reeves acknowledges that the marketplace is broken, but still is working to help the people he represents while in the General Assembly.
“I can tell you in the Senate we’ve deliberated this,” he told the House committee. “I think this is a decent way to take care of, at least my constituents where they have a 300 percent (premium) increase. Otherwise, we have nothing going forward.”