Obama Care in the News

President Donald Trump’s decision to cut off billions of dollars owed to health insurance providers under the Affordable Care Act caused those companies to substantially increase premiums to cover their losses, according to an analysis published Friday.

Enrollment on health insurance exchanges like HealthCare.gov begins Nov. 1 and runs until Dec. 15 in most states; a few have later deadlines. Consumers who use these exchanges or purchase their coverage directly from a health insurance company or through a broker can expect to see large rate hikes when they shop for plans. Prices already were set to rise before Trump’s action exacerbated the problem.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation studied documents that health insurance carriers submitted to regulators in 32 states and the District of Columbia. These documents detail price changes for health insurance policies and the justification for those changes.

Among those states, Trump’s action caused premium increases that range from 7 percent to 38 percent higher than they would have been for mid-level “Silver” health plans, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported. The analysis includes numerous examples of how specific insurers dealt with Trump’s decision to deny their reimbursements, based on information they provided to state insurance agencies.

This month, Trump halted payments to health insurance companies serving low-income customers. These so-called cost-sharing reduction payments are intended to reimburse insurers that provide discounts on out-of-pocket costs for people earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or $30,150 for a single person.

The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance companies to reduce deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing for eligible enrollees. The federal government is supposed to repay the companies for the expense. The payments are worth $7 billion this year and $10 billion next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

But Trump decided to cut off those funds. The spending to reimburse health insurance companies is the subject of a three-year-old legal dispute started by then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who alleged that then-President Barack Obama’s administration was unlawfully spending money Congress hadn’t authorized.

Last year, a federal judge sided with House Republicans over Obama, but allowed the federal government to continue repaying insurers while the case worked its way through the appeals process. When Trump became president this year, his administration became the defendant in the case, and continued to make the payments until his announcement this month.

After months of threatening to end the cost-sharing reduction payments, Trump followed through this month by stopping the payments and dropping the federal government’s appeal of the House GOP lawsuit. A group of state attorneys general has taken up the defense instead.

As a consequence, health insurance companies are set to lose an equivalent amount of money because they are still required to reduce eligible customers’ out-of-pocket costs.

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