A bipartisan attempt at healthcare

Glen Cove congressman jumps into the debate


U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove, announced Monday that the Problem Solvers Caucus had reached a bipartisan agreement to try to stabilize health-insurance markets amid the ongoing, and rancorous, health care debate in Washington.

The goal of the Problem Solvers Caucus, of which Suozzi is a vice chairman, is to work across party lines to act, rather than talk. The group comprises close to 40 Democrats and Republicans.

After a series of failed attempts by Congress to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, the caucus “hopes to restore some predictability as insurance companies make decisions about premium prices in 2018,” according a news release sent by the Problem Solvers Caucus.

“How we as a nation approach public health is critically important,” said State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove. “We must answer the question of whether there is a national right to health care. This is a compelling question of political philosophy, with the Republicans and Democrats seemingly at odds.”

Health care spending accounts for nearly 20 percent of the economy, Lavine added.

Suozzi said the Problem Solvers Caucus originally did not plan to tackle health care, but after the partisan divide over it deepened, members decided to make it part of their agenda. After three weeks of work, they believe they have reached an agreement to provide some immediate relief.

“There’s been no agreement on health care whatsoever,” Suozzi said. “This is the first bipartisan effort on health care in the past seven or eight years.”

The plan is non-binding and would need majority support within the House in order to pass, as well as approval by the Senate and President Trump. It’s unclear how many representatives in the larger Congress would support the plan.

Suozzi outlined five points in it:

Bring cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments under the congressional oversight and appropriations process, but ensure that they have mandatory funding.

Create a dedicated stability fund that states could use to reduce premiums and limit losses for providing coverage — especially for those with pre-existing conditions.

Adjust the employer mandate by raising the threshold on the requirement for employers to provide insurance under the employer mandate to businesses of 500 employees or more. The current employer mandate places a regulatory burden on smaller employers and is a disincentive for many small businesses to grow past 50 employees, according to Suozzi. Additionally, the definition of “full time” under the employer mandate should indicate that a full-time work week is 40 hours.

Repeal the medical device tax. This tax adds a 2.3 percent sales tax on medical device supplies, and the costs of the tax are passed on to consumers.

Provide technical changes and clear guidelines for states that want to innovate on the exchanges or enter into regional compacts to improve coverage and create more options for consumers.

“I think what they’re proposing are great ideas,” said Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head. “A lot of them are very logical. I don’t think they’re a heavy lift for the rest of the Senate to go along with, or even [for] the president to go along with.”

Lavine said he believes action is needed now. “Political representatives talking past each other will only worsen the crisis,” he said.

Suozzi said he believes the Problem Solvers Caucus could help sway policy. “The idea of having this block of votes sends a very strong message that we can move an agenda forward,” he said, adding that both Democrats and Republicans in the Problem Solvers Caucus have been speaking to leaders.

“Senator Schumer said time and again that there should be a bipartisan effort to improve the Affordable Care Act,” said Marisa Kaufman, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York.

“This proposal makes permanent the vital cost-sharing payments, which keep premiums down and coverage up. This is a vital first step the administration must take instead of threatening to withhold them and drive up premiums and drive down coverage.”

After Congress’s August recess, Suozzi said he hopes to use the proposal to lay the groundwork for legislation that would shore up the individual insurance markets and reduce premiums.

He added that the caucus plans to look further into reducing health care costs overall and ensuring that there are programs to help people make healthy choices so they don’t get sick in the first place.

“This is a life-and-death issue for so many people,” Suozzi said. “It’s irresponsible for anyone to say let [the ACA] fail. What we need to do is get off this divide and start realizing we have important work to do to make people’s lives better.”