Primary Source: Reps. Welch and Kuster Offer Plan to ‘Stabilize’ and Save Obamacare

  • Valley News political columnist and news editor John Gregg in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 20, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The two Democratic lawmakers who represent the Upper Valley in the U.S. House on Wednesday joined eight colleagues in unveiling a plan to stabilize the Affordable Care Act.

The five-part plan — which they dubbed “Solutions Over Politics” — is intended to ease the problem of skyrocketing premiums for individuals on the exchanges under Obamacare, and help markets where some insurers have dropped out.

The proposal from the Democratic lawmakers, none of whom are household names outside their Congressional districts, also comes as Senate Republicans are scheduled to meet this morning in Washington to discuss Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s latest plan to repeal and replace the ACA.

“We know that the Affordable Care Act has challenges that need to be addressed to expand access to health insurance and bring down costs, but the Republican proposal is not the right answer,” U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., said in a news release from the group of 10. “Today we’re announcing priorities for what I hope will be the first steps toward bringing together Republicans and Democrats behind commonsense proposals to improve the Affordable Care Act for all Americans.”

“Rather than repealing or replacing a landmark law that has expanded quality health care to millions of Americans, the focus of Congress should be on improving the Affordable Care Act,” said U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. “We can build bipartisan consensus by taking steps to stabilize the individual market where 7 percent of Americans purchase health plans.”

Their proposal is intended to stabilize the health care law by creating a dedicated annual $15 billion reinsurance fund which would be used to help insurers who otherwise are charging higher premiums across the board to make up for potential financial losses from insuring patients with pre-existing conditions.

They also say that in order to keep costs down for lower-income families, Congress needs to ensure that so-called “cost sharing reduction payments,” which reduce copays and deductibles remain in place. Translation: the Democrats aren’t going to embrace any major change to the taxes on high-end earners which help subsidize the program.

To stabilize the market, they also say the federal government needs to do more to encourage people — especially those who are young and healthy — to enroll in coverage, including better marketing. Supporters of Obamacare say the Trump administration has deliberately sabotaged efforts to promote the insurance marketplace.

They also call for the creation of more affordable options, ranging from the ability of people nearing retirement age to buy into Medicare to the expansion of catastrophic health insurance plans that still include essential health benefits and primary care benefits, and for keeping in place the mandate that individuals obtain insurance or pay a fine.

Open Sullivan House Seat

There’s been a bit of activity in plans to replace state Rep. Andrew Schmidt, D-Grantham, in the two-seat Sullivan 1 district after he resigned last month to move to New London.

Grantham resident Brian Sullivan, a former labor negotiator for the New Hampshire branch of the National Education Association, has told Democrats in Grantham and Plainfield he is interested in running.

“He’s actively meeting Democrats in the four towns that he’ll have to run in,” said Sullivan County Democratic Chairwoman Judith Kaufman, a Cornish Democrat. The district also represents Springfield, N.H., and the other seat is held by state Rep. Lee Oxenham, D-Plainfield.

Cody Dziegelewski, a Grantham resident and 2015 graduate of University of Vermont who lost a bid for the seat in a Democratic primary last year, also has told Democrats he is interested in running.

Sullivan County Republican Chairman Jim Beard, of Lempster, N.H., said he was “reluctant to talk names until I know more about the timing” of the special election.

The Grantham Selectboard was expected to meet last night and ask the Executive Council to start the process for a special election, which most likely would be in the fall.

Dartmouth Tech

Dan Rockmore, the director of the Neukom Institute for Computational Science and a multi-talented Dartmouth professor, is the new associate dean of the sciences in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Rockmore was to have assumed that associate dean’s post back in 2004, but that got scrapped after his ally, Michael Gazzaniga, the founder of the field of cognitive neuroscience, stepped down as dean of the faculty following an ugly no-confidence vote from a narrow majority of department heads.

In another Dartmouth appointment, V.S. Subrahmanian has been lured away from the University of Maryland to become the “inaugural Dartmouth College distinguished professor in cybersecurity, technology, and society,” one of the new academic clusters created by Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.