Bills to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and repeal a controversial Obamacare panel advanced to the House floor on Wednesday after a fiery, partisan debate.
The House Rules Committee advanced the bills during a hearing Wednesday and the full House is expected to vote on them this week. Both bills face an uncertain future in the Senate. The hearings featured major partisan debates tinged with anger over Obamacare as Democrats charged Republicans with using the bills to chip away at the Affordable Care Act after congressional efforts to repeal the law failed.
“I have to be honest and say this is part of an effort on the part of your party to continue this repeal effort,” said Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
CHIP traditionally has been a bipartisan program, but has been mired in disputes between Democrats and Republicans over how to fund the program.
Republicans sought to fund the five-year reauthorization, as well as two years of community health programs, by cutting an Obamacare disease prevention fund.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that drafted the CHIP bill, said that funding children's health insurance would fall under disease prevention.
The bill also would shorten the grace period for Obamacare customers to pay premiums or face losing their insurance.
And it would raise Medicare premiums for seniors who earn more than $500,000 a year. That revenue-raiser was taken out of an earlier version of the bill but has been put back in.
Pallone said the premium increase would mean wealthy seniors would opt out of Medicare to get coverage elsewhere, causing problems for the entitlement program.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who sits on the rules panel, defended the decision to raise premiums for wealthy seniors.
“At some point somebody is going to have to put more money into it,” he said.
A separate bill would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB, a panel of experts created by Obamacare that would recommend cuts to Medicare if spending reaches a certain level.
The White House signaled its support for the bill in a statement on Wednesday, noting that the president's budget called for the elimination of the panel.
Democrats charged that the spending isn’t expected to reach that threshold for another four years.
“You’re killing something that doesn’t even exist,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., also on the rules panel. “I think IPAB is something important to have. I don’t see urgency when it isn’t going to come in for four years.”
Democrats are also perturbed that Republicans are not seeking a funding offset for the IPAB repeal, which could cost $17 billion, and are seeking an offset for CHIP.
“You are basically helping cripple the Affordable Care Act," Pallone said.
Republicans and some Democrats have long wanted to repeal the panel because it takes away authority for cutting Medicare from Congress.
“There is no question that Medicare must be modernized, but I believe that IPAB is not the right approach and a bipartisan group of my colleagues agree that it isn’t the right way to deal with issues,” said Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ga., of the bill that has some bipartisan co-sponsors.
Pallone doubted that the bills would be taken up in the Senate, even though the CHIP program expired Sept. 30. Most states won’t run out of federal funding until early 2018, with some running out as early as late this month.
“Part of my concern is that the bills are gonna go nowhere,” Pallone said. “I know that in effect what we are doing today with all two of these bills, both CHIP and IPAB, is essentially punting until the end of the year. The Senate isn’t going to take these bills up.”
Pallone was referring to adding CHIP to a new spending and debt ceiling deal after the current one expires in December.
The Senate Finance Committee passed its own version of CHIP but that did not include funding offsets.