News Releases

Senate health committee hears from state flexibility experts in third hearing on steps to improve care for families in Washington state & nationwide 

At hearing, Sen. Murray made clear: “Democrats will reject any effort…to erode the guardrails and protections that so many patients and families rely on”   

Sen. Murray also pushed back against new Republican repeal efforts: “Senators [should] join our bipartisan conversations, instead of doubling down on harmful repeal efforts”   

ICYMI—Sen. Murray op-ed: “How we can find common ground on health care” 

***WATCH SEN. MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, the Senate health committee, joined by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the committee’s top Democrat, held its third scheduled hearing on bipartisan steps Congress should take to stabilize the individual insurance market with state flexibility experts. In her opening statement, Sen. Murray highlighted several areas of agreement between many witnesses thus far: multi-year certainty for out-of-pocket cost reductions, need for additional ideas to make health care work better for patients and families, such as establishing a reinsurance program, and end to Administration sabotage on open enrollment and consumer outreach.

Sen. Murray expressed her consistent concerns that suggestions on increased state flexibility could wind up increasing out-of-pocket costs and lead to the loss of guardrails that so many patients and families rely on.

NOTE: On Thursday, September 14th, the committee will hold its last scheduled hearing with health care stakeholders representing doctors, hospitals, insurers, and patients. On September 6th, during the committee’s first bipartisan hearing on improving care, Sen. Murray and her colleagues heard from Washington state Insurance Commission Mike Kreidler, OD, who joined state insurance commissioners from Alaska, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania to provide testimony on ways Congress can lower health care costs for patients and families.  

Key Excerpts from Sen. Murray’s Opening Statement:

“Even if we don’t agree exactly on the cause, we do agree on the challenge facing this committee: families will see higher premiums and fewer options as a result of uncertainty in our health care system….Now last week we heard some valuable recommendations in our conversations. First of all, Governors and state insurance commissioners, from all corners of the country—Republicans and Democrats—agree we need multi-year certainty for out-of-pocket cost reductions…Second, there’s consensus that, along with guaranteeing out-of-pocket cost reductions, we should consider additional ideas to make health care work better for patients and families…And third—and Democrats have been very focused on this from the start—there’s agreement the damage being done by this Administration on open enrollment and consumer outreach is having a real impact—and could potentially undermine our efforts to restore stability to our markets.”

“Today's hearing, on specific steps we can take to provide some flexibility to states and communities, is an important discussion…Now, I have to say, among the many measures cited as pressing priorities by our witnesses so far, state flexibility isn’t something they’ve said is needed to stabilize the market in the short term. And, while we’ve heard a lot of interesting proposals, I worry that many suggestions could wind up increasing out-of-pocket costs for patients and families—when our principal goal in these hearings and in our bipartisan negotiations is making care more affordable, not less.”

“So I commit on my end—and I know my Democratic colleagues do as well—to seriously listening and considering the ideas presented today. But I hope we can stay focused on our common goal of lowering costs for patients by stabilizing markets as soon as possible. And let me underscore what I’ve said many times: this must be a conversation about moving forward, not backward, when it comes to affordability, coverage, and quality of care. I want to emphasize that because Democrats will reject any effort to use this discussion as a way to erode the guardrails and protections that so many patients and families rely on.”

Watch video of Sen. Murray’s Opening Statement HERE.

Full Text of Sen. Murray’s Opening Statement:

Thank you, Chairman Alexander.

And thank you to our witnesses, as well.

Before I begin, I’d like to say a few words on the ongoing situation in the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts and the wildfires in the West.   

As a nation, our hearts continue to be with the families who have lost loved ones and all those whose lives have been upended by Irma and Harvey’s devastation.

We extend our deepest appreciation to the countless first responders, public servants, neighbors, and volunteers who have inspired us all through their bravery and self-sacrifice.

And I commit to working together with my colleagues over the coming weeks, months, and likely years to make sure all families have access to the federal resources they need to rebuild their lives and communities.

Now, I am eager to continue our conversation today on bipartisan steps we can take to restore certainty to the individual insurance market for patients and families—all across the country—who are worried about being able to afford the care they need next year and beyond.

So far, we’ve had focused, substantive discussions in our first two hearings—and in our many conversations off the committee—on areas of significant common ground around these goals. 

And that’s due in large part to the members of this committee—so I want to thank all my colleagues for their efforts.

I would also note, as Chairman Alexander has mentioned, our steps to open up this process to members off the committee. 

We committed to opening up this process at the very beginning of our talks, and I know I speak for many of our colleagues when I say these morning coffees have been very helpful. 

Now as I said last week, and I’ll repeat today, even if we don’t agree exactly on the cause, we do agree on the challenge facing this committee: families will see higher premiums and fewer options as a result of uncertainty in our health care system.

We also agree that we must act quickly.

And everyone here understands we have a very narrow window to do so.

Now last week we heard some valuable recommendations in our conversations.

First of all, Governors and state insurance commissioners, from all corners of the country—Republicans and Democrats—agree we need multi-year certainty for out-of-pocket cost reductions.

As discussed, many insurers are already making their plans and setting premiums well beyond 2018.

So, if we want to provide the kind of certainty actually needed to lower costs for patients and families, doing the bare minimum here is simply unacceptable. 

Second, there’s consensus that, along with guaranteeing out-of-pocket cost reductions, we should consider additional ideas to make health care work better for patients and families. 

One idea is establishing a reinsurance program to help offset costs associated with covering the sickest enrollees.

This is something that has come up consistently throughout our hearings, as have other options.

And third—and Democrats have been very focused on this from the start—there’s agreement the damage being done by this Administration on open enrollment and consumer outreach is having a real impact—and could potentially undermine our efforts to restore stability to our markets.

And like my colleagues, I strongly believe we need to address this issue.

Of course, these are just a few examples, and there are many more areas where we’ve seen agreement. 

And today's hearing, on specific steps we can take to provide some flexibility to states and communities, is an important discussion. 

Now, I have to say, among the many measures cited as pressing priorities by our witnesses so far, state flexibility isn’t something they’ve said is needed to stabilize the market in the short term.

And, while we’ve heard a lot of interesting proposals, I worry that many suggestions could wind up increasing out-of-pocket costs for patients and families—when our principal goal in these hearings and in our bipartisan negotiations is making care more affordable, not less.

So I commit on my end—and I know my Democratic colleagues do as well—to seriously listening and considering the ideas presented today.

But I hope we can stay focused on our common goal of lowering costs for patients by stabilizing markets as soon as possible.

And let me underscore what I’ve said many times: this must be a conversation about moving forward, not backward, when it comes to affordability, coverage, and quality of care.

I want to emphasize that because Democrats will reject any effort to use this discussion as a way to erode the guardrails and protections that so many patients and families rely on.

This may be a difficult needle to thread—I admit that—but it is clearly possible.

As we know, Governors Kasich and Hickenlooper, in consultation with nearly 20 other Governors nationwide, put forth a market stabilization plan, which maintained protections in current law for patients like those with pre-existing conditions and women seeking maternity care.

So let me clear—like any worthwhile compromise, I know we will not agree on everything at the outset. 

But if we can keep today’s discussion focused, work through these issues in a specific and balanced manner, while keeping our larger goals in mind—I do believe we can get “a result,” as Chairman Alexander would say.   

Now lastly, I must add, I am disappointed there are still some Senators trying to push us down a partisan path on health care.

Again, Republicans and Democrats are finally working together, and we have made critical progress. 

So it would be deeply disappointing if another partisan debate over Trumpcare erupted and derailed our efforts at this stage.

I hope these Senators will join our bipartisan conversations, instead of doubling down on harmful repeal efforts that people across the country have loudly rejected. 

With that, I want to say again how much I appreciate everybody for participating today.    

And I look forward to our discussion.

Thank you.

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