KADNER: The curious case of a caucus in Congress working on Obamacare

SHARE KADNER: The curious case of a caucus in Congress working on Obamacare

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois. Brian Jackson / Sun-Times file photo

They call themselves the Problem Solvers Caucus and the goal is to work across party lines in Congress for the good of the country.

The 43 caucus members have a plan to address some of the major issues that could lead to the collapse of Obamacare this fall. The real problem, however, is that Republicans would like to blame Democrats for the failure of the health care plan and Democrats see a political advantage to pinning that failure on Republicans and President Donald Trump.


U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Western Springs, a member of the Problem Solvers, noted that the group, originally composed of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans, has some pretty strict rules.

For any measure to get its endorsement, it needs the support of 75 percent of its total membership and 51 percent backing from each political party within the caucus.

“It took a lot of hard work, a lot of negotiating, to get to the point where we could reach agreement,” Lipinski said.

From the Democratic perspective, repeal of Obamacare was off the table, along with any reduction in the expansion of Medicaid. The goal was to come up with a bipartisan proposal to avoid insurance premium increases under Obamacare that would make the program unaffordable and stop insurance companies from pulling out.

Republicans in the caucus wanted a change in the “employer mandate” provision of the law, raising the threshold requiring businesses to provide health care to their employees from 50 employees to 500. They also wanted to eliminate a government tax on medical devices.

Finally, GOP members of the caucus wanted to give the states greater flexibility to create plans that would allow the sale of insurance across state lines.

Lipinski said the Democrats gave into those demands, which they felt would not significantly impact the availability of health insurance or greater increase its costs to the public.

Members of both parties ultimately agreed that to solve the pending health insurance crisis, the government had to guarantee it would continue to make “cost sharing payments” for low-incomes Americans that signed up for Obamacare. The government had originally made such a promise to insurance companies, but Republicans filed a lawsuit and the courts said the Obama administration had acted unconstitutionally.

Nevertheless, the payments have continued under the Trump administration.

Studies have shown that insurance companies plan to raise their premiums 20 percent in anticipation of these payments being eliminated, an increase that would come on top of other Obamacare insurance premium hikes expected to reach 20 percent.

That would make health care unaffordable, Lipinski said.

In addition to promising to make the “cost sharing payments” mandatory, the bipartisan group voted to support a “stability fund” to cover chronic conditions.

The caucus Web site contends that 5 percent of Americans account for 50 percent of the nation’s health care costs. The stability fund would distribute money to states in order to limit the losses of insurance companies from claims made by that group of people who have chronic pre-existing conditions.

The fact is that Obamacare is seriously flawed. Eventually, this nation will have to adopt single payer national health care, Medicare for all.

But short term, there are millions of poor people and individuals suffering from serious health issue who need insurance and this seems like a reasonable proposal to address the problems that threaten Obamacare right now.

Lipinski admits the plan has no support from party leaders or the White House.

“We need the public,” Lipinski said. “I’m normally not an optimistic, but with the help of the people we can get this passed.”

I believe the public itself is more interested in placing blame than solving problems. There’s no passion for fixing anything that’s broken. That is too much work..

Email: philkadner@gmail.com

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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