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Governors’ health care plan urges stabilizing markets

A bipartisan governor duo is urging Congress to retain the federal health care law’s unpopular individual mandate while seeking to stabilize individual insurance markets as legislators continue work on a long-term replacement law.

The recommendation is part of a compromise plan that’s designed to be palatable to both parties. It was endorsed by six other governors.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, shared their plan in a letter to congressional leaders Thursday. They acknowledge retaining the mandate may be a difficult sell for Congress, which has failed so far to pass a replacement health care bill.

“The current mandate is unpopular, but for the time being it is perhaps the most important incentive for healthy people to enroll in coverage,” they wrote to House and Senate leaders of both parties. Experts concur that keeping younger, healthier people in the insurance pool protects against costs ballooning out of control.

The letter was signed by the governors of Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Kasich and Hickenlooper also recommend that President Donald Trump commit to cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers and that Congress fund those offsets at least through 2019. Those payments reimburse insurers for providing low-income people with legally required reductions on copays and deductibles. If Trump follows through on threats to pull the plug, premiums would jump about 20 percent.

The governors note that the National Governors Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Insurance Commissioners all have identified the payments as “an urgent necessity.”

The governors support creating a temporary stability fund that states could tap to reduce premiums and limit losses; continuing to fund educational outreach and enrollment efforts under the Affordable Care Act; exempting insurers that agree to cover underserved counties from the federal health insurance tax; and supporting states’ efforts to find creative solutions for covering the uninsured.

The governors said states can pursue lots of options without federal assistance, but in some cases they are “constrained by federal law and regulation from being truly innovative.”

After Republicans’ failure to pass a replacement of President Barack Obama’s health care law, Kasich and Hickenlooper teamed up to push for health care exchanges that would stabilize the market and assure affordability. Both took pains to quash speculation that their collaboration and public appearances suggested a bipartisan presidential ticket was in the making for 2020.

Kasich ran for the GOP presidential nomination won by Trump and has not ruled out another run; Hickenlooper was considered a possible running mate for Democrat Hillary Clinton last year.

They are expected to be in Washington next week to testify on their proposal. But congressional action on even a modest compromise is expected to be difficult following years of harsh partisan battling over the Republican drive to dismantle the health care law.

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