Despite the politically polarized climate, the U.S. Senate this week held bipartisan hearings on proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. The hearings come in the wake of a failed effort by the White House and GOP Congressional leaders to repeal and replace the law known as Obamacare over the summer.
The bipartisanship has been greeted by many as a welcome change, and some analysts are optimistic that it could lead to legislation that would make the AC work more smoothly.
"I think because it's bipartisan and it's really sort of tweaking at the edges of what the Affordable Care Act offers, it may go a long way," says Barbara Zabawa, owner of the Wisconsin-based Center for Health and Wellness Law.
Zabawa, who is also a clinical assistant professor in the College of Health Sciences at UW-Milwaukee, says she believes the prime objective of legislation in the short term should be to stabilize shaky insurance markets and give states more flexibility in making sure their markets are working. "Insurance generally tries to insure against uncertainty," she explains, "so if the market is uncertain because government is unable to make any decisions about what the law's status is, that uncertainty fuels unstable markets and increases in premiums."
One area that Zabawa says some lawmakers are looking at in particular is so-called cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which are designed to help people at 250% or below the federal poverty rate help afford their insurance responsibilities - things like deductibles and copays. Senators are considering whether to try to stabilize those payments, which go to insurance companies, for another year or two.
But even with the bipartisan effort to explore solutions, Zabawa says the chances of change happening quickly or painlessly are pretty low. "A lot of the objections are still there," she says. "I don't think anything changed in the five or six weeks Congress was out."