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Alexander to HHS Secretary Nominee Alex Azar: As Secretary, You Can Help Lower Premiums for the 350,000 Tennesseans in the Individual Health Insurance Market

“President Trump supports Alexander-Murray becoming law by the end of the year, which would give states – like Tennessee – more flexibility to use an innovation waiver to find ways to lower premiums, and you can approve these states’ innovation waivers.”

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 29, 2017 — U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today chaired a hearing for Alex AzarPresident Trump’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where he urged Azar, if confirmed, to work to lower Tennesseans’ health insurance premiums and stabilize the individual health insurance market. 

“If confirmed, you will be faced with skyrocketing premiums in the individual health insurance market that are currently a nightmare for the nine million Americans — including 150,000 Tennesseans — who do not receive a government subsidy to help them pay for their health insurance,” Alexander said. “In Tennessee, premiums have increased 176 percent in four years, and an additional 58 percent this year. Both Congress and the Administration need to act to provide relief for these Americans.”

Alexander continued, “I worked on an agreement with Senator Murray, which was co-sponsored by 11 other Republicans and 11 other Democrats, that would give states more flexibility to use the innovation waiver already in the law to find ways to lower premiums. It would also prevent a 25 percent price increase in premiums by 2020 by paying cost sharing subsidies, decrease the federal dollars spent on ACA premium subsides, and as a result, lower the deficit.  Yesterday, President Trump said he supported the Alexander-Murray agreement becoming law by the end of the year.”

Alexander concluded, “As HHS Secretary, there are other steps you can take to lower premiums and stabilize the market, such as approving states’ innovation waivers, which could increase access to lower cost plans and incentivize younger and healthier individuals to purchase insurance. If we can take these steps to stabilize the markets for the next few years, it will provide time to repeal and replace Obamacare with a better system. The American people deserve health care reform that is done in the right way, for the right reasons, in the right amount of time. It is about working toward long-term solutions that work for everyone.”

Alexander, as chairman of the Senate health committee, held four hearings in September on steps Congress could take to stabilize premiums in the individual insurance market so that the 18 million Americans – including 350,000 Tennesseans – who buy health insurance in the individual market will be able to buy insurance at more affordable prices. Julie McPeak, Tennessee’s state insurance commissioner who said in August of 2016 that the state’s individual health insurance market was “very near collapse,” and Governor Haslam testified at those hearings.

On October 17, Alexander announced he and Sen. Murray reached a short-term deal to stabilize the individual health insurance market and begin to lower the costs of premiums so all Americans have access to health insurance. Alexander has said the legislation is the “first step to avoiding chaos that could occur during 2018 and 2019 if premiums continue to skyrocket and millions of Americans – including thousands of Tennesseans – find themselves without a way to purchase insurance.”

Alexander also said today that Azar, if confirmed, will be coordinating a department-wide effort to combat the opioid crisis that is ravaging this country, where just last year, 1,631 Tennesseans died of a drug overdose – 12 percent more than the year before. In October, the Senate health committee held the first of a series of hearings on the opioid crisis with the federal response, where Alexander talked about efforts the committee has worked on to help prevent addiction, encourage appropriate prescribing and improve treatment.

Alexander said at last month’s hearing, “Last July, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act was signed into law, which established new programs and encouraged those on the front lines to work together to combat substance abuse. In December, as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, we updated drug abuse programs and provided $1 billion for prevention and treatment efforts.”

Azar, if confirmed, will also be in charge of overseeing new authorities in the 21st Century Cures Act, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called “the most important piece of legislation” in 2016. Alexander was the lead Republican Senate sponsor of Cures, which was signed into law last December. This past spring, the administration began issuing grants funded by Cures, including nearly $14 million for Tennessee. While the Senate health committee holds a courtesy hearing on the nomination of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Finance Committee receives his paperwork and will vote on his nomination.