GOP leaders unveiled the Senate’s revised health care bill on Thursday, and the updated legislation included a version of a controversial amendment drafted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would allow insurers to offer cheap, bare-bones plans that cover few health care services as long as at least one plan per state complies with Obamacare’s regulations.
To address concerns that Cruz’s amendment would lower prices for the young and healthy by making them skyrocket for the people who need a comprehensive insurance plan or have a pre-existing condition, the amendment purports to allocate billions in additional funding that states could use “to assist such health insurance issuers in covering high risk individuals.”
But as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told reporters on Thursday, there is no additional money. Instead, the amendment takes money already appropriated in the bill for other needs and says it can be used for these payments to insurers under the Cruz Amendment.
“It seems to me you’re using that money over and over again,” she said. “It’s supposed to relieve the cost of high premiums. It’s supposed to solve the problem with deductibles being unaffordable. It’s supposed to be available for high-risk or reinsurance pool. It’s supposed to be available under the Cruz Amendment to help prevent a huge increase in rates for people with pre-existing conditions.”
Matthew Fiedler, a fellow at Brookings Institute’s Center for Health Policy, confirmed this double-dipping to TPM.
“The overall bill adds $70 billion to the stability fund,” he said. “But the Cruz amendment then redirects that same money to make payments to insurers designed to mitigate the problems that the Cruz amendment would create in the ACA-compliant market.”
“That funding will, of course, not be available to serve the stability fund’s other purposes,” he added.
Those other purposes include assisting the people booted off of Medicaid due to hundreds of billions of cuts in funding for the federal health care program, easing their transition into the individual health insurance market. It is also meant to provide funding for health savings accounts (HSA) that people could use to pay their insurance premiums.
Tim Jost, a health care law expert and professor at Washington and Lee University, said he doubts the funding is adequate to meet all of these needs.
“It gives an additional $70 billion to the states and then the Cruz amendment gives it to insurers that offer compliant plans in addition to noncompliant plans,” he said.
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.