SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch decried desires from some members of Congress to provide a "bailout" for the Affordable Care Act in a speech Tuesday to the Senate Finance Committee.
Hatch, who chairs that committee, told his colleagues in remarks delivered in the U.S. Capitol that "an Obamacare bailout that is not accompanied by real reforms would be inadvisable."
"At this point, it’s pretty clear that the parties will need to work together if any of this is going to improve," said Hatch, R-Utah. "That said, I am concerned that many of the proposals for a bipartisan solution would amount to little more than a bailout of the current system. This, in my view, would be a mistake."
Hatch specifically questioned whether only ensuring the payment of cost-sharing subsidies would be enough to keep monthly health insurance premiums down.
"If we simply throw money into the system to maintain cost-sharing subsidies or make payments to insurers, without fixing any of the underlying problems, we would just be setting up yet another cliff, and likely another partisan showdown, in the future," the senator said.
"Even worse, we wouldn’t be helping to reduce premiums or increase insurance options for the vast majority of middle-class families, whether they get their plans through the exchanges or elsewhere."
In a tweet sent out in late July, President Donald Trump similarly characterized cost-sharing reduction payments as "bailouts" of insurance companies.
Cost-sharing reduction payments have reimbursed federal health exchange insurers for the financial losses they sustained by lowering deductibles and coinsurance rates for consumers. The federal government dispersed $7 billion in such payments last year.
Efforts at comprehensive health care reform, including the Better Care Reconciliation Act that Hatch's office played a large role in drafting, failed in late July. Some Republicans and Democrats in Congress have since begun discussing less-extensive legislation that would make smaller, bipartisan changes to the Affordable Care Act.
Hatch's speech comes on the heels of such an effort in the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The chairman of that committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, has said he and other members of that body hope to agree on a modest-scale bipartisan piece of legislation by the end of this week.
Alexander has expressed support for continuing cost-sharing reduction payments, saying they're needed in order to stabilize insurance markets. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert also asked Alexander's committee earlier this month to support the continuation of cost-sharing reduction payments, saying 110,000 Utahns ultimately benefit from those funds.
"Of course, I’m neither naïve nor oblivious. I don’t want to simply watch health care costs increase and choices diminish even further while purists in Congress demand the unattainable," Hatch said Tuesday. "We will likely have to act at some point, maybe even this year, to protect American families from the failures of the current system."
Hatch said he has supported different bipartisan health reform measures, specifically pointing to Congress' successful delay of multiple Affordable Care Act taxes.
Hatch also said Tuesday that he wants lawmakers to slash regulations on both individuals and businesses that require the purchasing or providing of health insurance.
"Personally, I also believe members on both sides of the aisle should be open to rolling back, or at least amending the individual and employer mandates, two of the most unpopular components in Obamacare," he said.