BY JAMES FARRELL
When U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Little Neck) ran for office last year, he repeatedly promised to work across party lines, bemoaning dysfunction in Washington and vowing to get things done.
Now, he’s putting that promise to test.
Suozzi is a vice chairman of the “Problem Solvers Caucus,” a group of more than 40 Republicans and Democrats in Congress who seek bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems. The group has made headlines in recent weeks after producing new healthcare proposals. The reforms purport to offer a cooperative way forward following the recent failure of a largely partisan, Republican-led effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a pillar of Barack Obama’s presidency.
“Since the beginning of this year, under the 115th Congress and the new administration, there’s really been a one-sided effort for the president and the Senate and House majorities to try and repeal and replace,” Suozzi said on Monday. “Those efforts have not been very successful thus far.”
In a conference call with reporters to outline the plan, Suozzi explained that the Problem Solvers had been working on budget reform, infrastructure and tax policy “and weren’t going to go near health care.” That debate has been seeped in deep partisanship since the ACA passed in 2010 with unanimous Republican opposition and vows to repeal it. But Suozzi said that as the Republicans’ controversial replacement bill seemed poised to fail and the future of health care appeared uncertain, with many arguing for reform to the ACA, the Problem Solvers decided take up its biggest challenge yet.
“It was really such a third rail of politics,” Suozzi said. “But about a month ago … we saw things really falling apart and we felt that the anxiety that’s being caused in the country, the problems that are happening in the individual marketplace, that we had to take some sort of action as a bipartisan group.”
On a philosophical level, Suozzi says, the goal is to “demonstrate that people can work together across party lines to actually solve problems.”
“We are advocating, as the Problem Solvers Caucus, that this should now go through regular order, which is something that hasn’t happened during this process—which is that the committees actually hold hearings, and that they actually bring in expert testimony, that both sides work together, Democrats and Republicans,” he said.
On a policy level, the proposal offers five points with the overall goal of preserving the positive aspects of the ACA and stabilizing the individual marketplace, where Suozzi says the ACA has had problems keeping premiums down.
The first point in the plan is to guarantee funding for cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments. These are payments to insurers that help keep costs down. President Donald Trump, in recent weeks, has suggested he may not continue the payments, a move that critics say has created more instability in the market.
The second proposal is a stability fund or, as Suozzi said, “a reinsurance fund.” This would help insurance companies saddled with a large number of “high-risk” people or people with pre-existing health conditions, who may have health needs that traditionally drive up costs.
“Those first two items were things that were very heavily sought by most of the Democrats and some of the Republicans,” Suozzi said.
The third item, he added, came from the Republican camp—a proposal to change the employer mandate. Currently, the mandate requires that any company with at least 50 employees provide insurance for employees. The proposal would raise that number to 500. Suozzi said that they consulted experts to analyze the effect of this change, and they “don’t think it’s going to have a big negative impact.”
“And, God forbid, that some employers do no longer provide insurance—we believe that because the individual market will be stronger, it will actually be further enhanced, because you get more healthy people on the individual marketplace,” he said.
The fourth proposal, also from Republicans, would repeal a 2.3 percent sales tax on medical devices, while the fifth proposal promises to revisit technical requirements in order to give more flexibility to states interested in finding innovative ways to improve coverage.
“I believe this is an oasis in a desert of dysfunction,” Suozzi said.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.