Shaheen, Hassan highlight open enrollment, tout short-term Obamacare fix

  • Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan at an event in Manchester on Monday.

For the Monitor
Monday, October 30, 2017

New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators implored Granite Staters who need health insurance to take advantage of the national health care law’s open enrollment period, and ignore threats of repeal from the White House.

Democrats Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan spotlighted what they described as “sabotage attempts” by President Donald Trump and his administration to bring down the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. And the two senators touted the importance of a bipartisan bill that would “stabilize health insurance markets” in the short term.

Shaheen and Hassan made their comments Monday as they teamed up at an event at the Manchester Community Health Center to highlight the health insurance marketplace open enrollment period, which begins Wednesday. Nearly 100,000 Granite Staters buy their health insurance plans on the marketplaces or get them through New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion program.

The two senators, who are strong supporters of Obamacare, made a pitch for open enrollment.

“We want to get the word out because despite what many people may think, despite efforts by leadership in Congress to roll back and repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite the rhetoric from the president and the administration, the Affordable Care Act remains in place,” Shaheen said. “You can still sign up through the marketplaces, you can still sign up for expanded Medicaid.”

“It’s really important that all of us reach out to our friends, our neighbors, the people we work with, and let them know what’s available,” she added.

There was similar language from Hassan, who said that “it’s essential that Granite Staters take advantage of this open enrollment period.”

And both senators pointed fingers at the White House.

Shaheen said the administration cut back funding for marketplace outreach, adding “there have been some disruptions in the marketplace because of efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.”

Hassan also took aim at the White House, saying “I remain concerned about the efforts of the Trump administration to sabotage our nation’s health care system.”

“These sabotage attempts include the Department of Health and Human Services slashing the Affordable Care Act’s outreach and advertising budgets ahead of open enrollment. So just when we are here encouraging people to enroll, the administration has been taking resources away from this outreach effort, making it harder for people to find out about their options,” she added.

And Hassan charged that “it’s clear that the Trump administration doesn’t want people to know that they can enroll.”

The length of open enrollment was cut in half this year, to six weeks. It starts on Wednesday and ends on Dec. 15. And many states have experienced cutbacks in federal grants for marketplace outreach. But officials say New Hampshire was not affected.

The legislation the two senators championed comes from Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. Alexander’s the chairman and Murray’s the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which Hassan is a member. Their bill would guarantee the payment of a critical Obamacare subsidy for two years.

Shaheen said the bill would “address in the short term those disruptions in the marketplace.”

She added that the legislation would restore “the payments that go out to help people with cost of being able to afford insurance. It would keep all of the essential health benefits, the things that we want to make sure are in place for people.”

Hassan said that the measure “would stabilize health insurance markets and lower costs for hard working families.”

Both senators touted that the bill is backed equally by 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans.

“This legislation proves that it’s possible to work across party lines to make progress in our health care system,” Hassan added.

And she claimed that “if it actually came to the floor, it has the votes to pass because the Senate requires 60 votes to pass a bill like this and because we know that we have 12 Republicans already on the bill, and 48 Democrats in our caucus, if Leader (Mitch) McConnell would bring the bill to the floor, it will pass the Senate.”

Shaheen urged “let people know they can weigh in with the governor’s office here, the legislature, and the Congress, on the importance of getting this legislation passed.”

If the bill did pass the Senate, its future in the U.S. House of Representatives is uncertain. And the president has flip-flopped from support to opposition on the measure.