On Friday, President Donald Trump announced that his administration had stopped payments that lowered health care costs for those with modest incomes. Ending the payments will further destabilize the insurance market, raise insurance costs and ironically increase the budget deficit.
This craven political move is the latest from the White House as it seeks to doom the Affordable Care Act after the Senate failed twice in recent months to repeal it.
“What the president is doing is affecting the ability of vulnerable people to receive health care right now,” Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said during a Sunday morning appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
It is such a bad idea that bipartisan work in the Senate to fix problems with the ACA gained momentum after Trump’s announcement.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan plan to restart the payments, to restore funding to help people sign up for ACA insurance plans, and to make other tweaks to the ACA was announced. The compromise was negotiated by Sens. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, and Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, a well-respected duo that successfully rewrote the No Child Left Behind law.
“I strongly support the package because otherwise we will see chaos in the markets, and we are also going to see low-income people having difficulty in affording their out-of-pocket costs,” Collins said Wednesday on CNN’s “New Day.”
As Alexander and Murray look for co-sponsors for their plan, support from moderates like Collins should persuade both Republicans and Democrats to approve this crucial step, which is needed to avoid further erosion of insurance markets and higher costs for all Americans. Quick congressional action is required.
The government payments to insurance companies, called cost-sharing reduction payments, encourage them to take on lower-income subscribers by lowering their out-of-pocket costs such as co-pays and deductibles.
Without the payments, insurance companies are expected to raise their rates by another 12 percent to 15 percent for 2018 for the individual market, according to Mike Consedine, CEO of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Maine’s insurance superintendent, Eric Cioppa, in August approved double-digit rate increases, ranging from 18 percent to 27 percent, for 2018 health insurance plans on the individual market, increases precipitated in large part by uncertainty in the market caused by Trump and Republican efforts to repeal, and undermine, the Affordable Care Act.
Eliminating these payments would raise insurance costs, leaving an additional 1 million people without insurance next year. It will also worsen the federal deficit by $194 billion between 2017 and 2026, the CBO concluded. This doesn’t benefit consumers, insurance companies or the federal government.
In yet another effort to sabotage the ACA, the Trump administration cut spending for programs that encourage people to enroll in ACA plans by 90 percent. The enrollment period was cut in half and the website will be shut down for 12 hours every Sunday for maintenance. The Alexander-Murray compromise would restore some of the funding.
Efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act have failed. The responsible course is to make needed changes to the law without decimating it, which will leave millions of Americans without insurance and dramatically raise costs for those with insurance.