Here we go again.
A group of Republican senators – led by Marco Rubio of Florida – sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and are calling on him to oppose any spending legislation for a program that’s part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act – a move that could potentially result in a government shutdown.
The GOPers call the so-called “risk corridor program” an “Obamacare taxpayer bailout.” Under the temporary provision, insurance companies would be given subsidies if they end up paying substantially more in medical claims then they initially expected, reducing the financial risk for the companies in the first few years of the new health exchange system.
The argument goes like this: Under Obamacare, insurance companies must sell policies to everyone equally, regardless of pre-existing conditions, so there is a chance that some insurers could wind up with a larger-than-expected number of unhealthy customers. The risk corridor provision provides protections from that possibility until 2016. The cost is covered by other insurance companies, which pay into the risk corridor fund when they set their own premiums much higher than was needed to cover their expenses.
Proponents argue the provision will help level out premiums and smooth over entry into the program as insurers learn how to accurately price policies in the new marketplace.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the provision will actually save the government $8 billion over the next three years.
But now that Obamacare is clearly here to stay – and is working – Republicans have zeroed in on the latest provision. The group of senators point to a report from the Government Accountability Office that says the Obama administration will need additional funding to dish out payments and argue taxpayers could be on the hook.
If the House refuses to allow the provision into the spending bill – which would be vehemently opposed by the White House – a stalemate and government shutdown could occur. To avoid a shutdown, lawmakers will have to pass new spending legislation in the lame duck session before Dec. 11, which is when the current continuing budget resolution expires.
Requests for comment from Speaker Boehner were not immediately returned.
“We must act to protect Congress’ power of the purse and prohibit the Obama administration from dispersing unlawful risk corridor payments …” the senators say. In addition to Rubio, the letter was signed by Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Mike Lee of Utah, David Vitter of Louisiana, Ted Cruz of Texas, Michael Enzi of Wyoming, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, John McCain of Arizona, John Boozman of Arkansas, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Last year, a 16-day government shutdown occurred after Cruz spearheaded an unsuccessful effort to derail Obamacare. In August, Rubio hinted Obama’s actions on immigration could also result in a government shutdown.
The government shutdown last year resulted in the GOP and Boehner’s approval rating taking a major hit.