Republicans Threaten Another Shutdown Over Obamacare

CREDIT: AP Photo/Molly Riley

A year after shutting down the government, a group of Senate Republicans are pressuring House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to oppose any funding bill in the lame duck session that includes appropriations for a small program contained in the Affordable Care Act, potentially triggering another showdown.

The group of 14 lawmakers, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), have taken aim at the risk-corridor component of the health care exchanges, a temporary program designed to prevent premiums from skyrocketing during the early years of Obamacare implementation. Under this provision, the federal government will give insurers who under-estimated how much they’d have to pay out in claims a portion of the profits from insurers who overestimated their costs and set their premiums too high. The goal of the measure is to stabilize the health care market and keep premiums level.

In their letter to Boehner, however, the senators point to a government report finding that the administration “would need an additional appropriation in order to make payments in FY 2015 corresponding with the 2014 plan year” and argue that funding the initiative would “put taxpayers at risk of a large bailout if insurers systematically lose money on exchange plans.”

Supporters of the law claim that the provision is one of several consumer protections that crafted to stabilize the health care market during Obamacare’s first three years, when insurers will have little historical data upon which to base health premiums for new customers. They argue that should the senators succeed in shutting the program down, insurance companies could potentially pass on premium increases to millions of Americans.

The Republican senators disagree. “The American people expect us, as Members of Congress, to fulfill our Oath of Office and defend the Constitution,” they write. “Therefore, we must act to protect Congress’ power of the purse and prohibit the Obama administration from dispersing unlawful risk corridor payments providing for an Obamacare taxpayer bailout.” The senators did not explain how Boehner should undercut the program, though Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski and Steven Dennis speculate that the House could “add an explicit prohibition on risk-corridor spending in the next spending bill.” Such a move would likely be opposed by the White House an could lead to another shutdown.

Congress will need to pass a funding bill in the lame duck session to keep the government open past Dec. 11.