Senate bill helps Obamacare customers with no options

With an Obamacare repeal in congressional limbo, two Tennessee senators are introducing legislation aimed at providing relief to people living in parts of the country who have been left with no insurance options.

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., introduced legislation Wednesday that waives the individual mandate penalty for people who live in an area with no Obamacare insurer. The bill also lets an Obamacare beneficiary use their subsidy to purchase any health insurance plan outside of the exchanges, as long as the plan is approved by the state.

Corker and Alexander say the bill is aimed at giving people options as insurers have fled the marketplaces.

“There is also a real prospect that all 230,000 Tennesseans who buy insurance on the exchange—approximately 195,000 with a subsidy—won’t have any plans to buy next year,” Alexander said in a statement. Knoxville, for instance, does not have any insurers.

So far it remains unclear how many plans will be offered on the exchanges in 2018. Humana announced earlier this year it is pulling out entirely from Obamacare’s exchanges and other major insurers Aetna and UnitedHealth have pulled back significantly in 2017.

Last year there was one county in Arizona that was without any Obamacare insurer, although an insurer eventually stepped in to fill the void.

The bill comes less than a week after congressional efforts to repeal Obamacare crashed in the House. GOP leadership was forced to pull an Obamacare repeal bill because of defections from moderates and conservatives.

Corker hinted that at “some point” Congress and the Trump administration have to resolve the issues that are causing Obamacare exchanges to “spiral downward.”

After the bill was pulled on Friday, the White House and House leaders appeared to move on to tax reform. But House leadership pulled back from that sentiment on Tuesday, saying that they are still committed to repeal but don’t have a firm timetable.

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