White House Demands Threaten Bipartisan Effort To Bring Down Health Premiums

on March 1, 2018 in Washington, DC.
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 01: U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a meeting with leaders of the steel and aluminum industries at the White House March 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump announced planned tariffs ... WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 01: U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a meeting with leaders of the steel and aluminum industries at the White House March 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump announced planned tariffs on imported steel and aluminum during the meeting, with details to be released at a later date. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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After previously signaling support, the White House appears to be throwing a wrench into bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill to craft a rescue package for Obamacare’s troubled individual market—demanding provisions that would undermine the purpose of the bill and push insurance premiums even higher.

Senators have been working for months on a handful of health insurance stabilization bills, including a federal reinsurance program and the restoration of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) funding terminated by the Trump administration last year. The White House’s own budget office says restoring the CSR payments could bring down premiums as much as 20 percent, while the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says it would save the government more than $30 billion. The independent health care consulting firm Avalere estimated that both policies together could lower premiums 18 percent and increase insurance enrollment by 1.3 million people.

With many Republicans hostile to any measures that would prop up the Affordable Care Act’s market, lawmakers see the March 23 omnibus budget as the best and possibly only vehicle to pass them.

But earlier this week the White House released a new list of demands for the legislation that could further damage the already volatile market and tank the bipartisan bill’s chances of passage.

“The White House has transmitted legislative ideas that reduce health insurance premiums, expand affordable coverage options, lower overall Obamacare spending, and ensure taxpayers are not forced to subsidize abortions,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement to TPM. “While some in Congress might advocate using taxpayer money to shore up Obamacare exchanges, if there are no reforms that provide relief for middle-class Americans, such measures would just be a bailout of a failed government program.”

In exchange for funding the CSRs and a reinsurance program, the Trump administration is demanding the bill make short-term, off-market insurance plans more widely available and allow insurers to charge older patients five times as much as they charge younger enrollees (under the ACA the ratio is 3:1). The White House also indicated that they would insist on language in the bill that could potentially bar any private insurance plan that covers abortion from receiving a cost-sharing subsidy—something Democrats have already told TPM they consider “a complete nonstarter.”

“Any efforts to provide taxpayer money to stabilize the exchanges must be properly designed so that public dollars do the most good and that ensures all federal dollars are life-protected,” the White House document obtained by Politico reads.

The demand for encouraging the proliferation of short-term plans, which can deny patients coverage or charge them more based on their gender, age, and health status, will be especially problematic for many members. The cheaper, skimpier plans are expected to lure many younger and healthier people out of the more-regulated individual market, leaving the remaining risk pool smaller, sicker and with higher premiums.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the lead Democratic negotiator on the stabilization bill, said in a statement to TPM that she hopes the White House backs down from these demands.

“I certainly hope the President and Republican leaders won’t once again sabotage an opportunity to undo some of the damage they’ve done by choosing to play politics with women’s health and making last-minute, harmful demands that would raise families’ costs even more and place an age tax on seniors,” she said.

Other lawmakers, however, remain optimistic about the bill’s prospects.

“We’ve had very good conversations with the administration, and we’re proceeding well,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said in a statement to TPM.

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Notable Replies

  1. “We’ve had very good conversations with the administration, and we’re proceeding well,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said in a statement to TPM.

    Just f*ck off already, Susan.

  2. That’s gone really well in the past – see Immigration and DACA.

    Don’t hold your breath Sen. Collins.

  3. I had the opposite reaction. My mind is put at ease knowing that Collins believes things are proceeding well rather than her being stressed by her very serious concerns™.

  4. Susan just won’t learn will she?

  5. Totally OT, but wonderful…

    BREAKING: 9th Circ. Won’t Shut Down Kids’ Climate Suit Against Feds

    Law360 (March 7, 2018, 3:27 PM EST) – The Ninth Circuit on Wednesday refused to reverse a lower court ruling that gave 21 children a green light to sue the U.S. government for allegedly endangering them and future generations with policies that contribute to climate change, saying the government hadn’t sufficiently shown the case had to be shut down.

    A three-judge panel rejected the government’s petition for writ of mandamus that sought to undo or put on hold U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken’s refusal to dismiss the suit. Mandamus relief is inappropriate at this early stage of the case, since Judge Aiken hadn’t even issued a discovery order yet, nor have the plaintiffs lodged a motion to compel discovery, the panel said.

    The ruling echoed concerns the Ninth Circuit judges expressed over the government’s mandamus bid during oral arguments in December.

    The plaintiffs — a group of young people and activists — claim the federal government has violated their constitutional rights and those of future generations by promoting and authorizing fossil fuel development in spite of its climate change and health consequences.

    In June, Judge Aiken declined to certify her denial of the government’s motion to dismiss for an interlocutory appeal. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a petition for writ of mandamus days later, asking the Ninth Circuit to either direct the lower court to dismiss the case or to stay proceedings in the district court until it decides on the merits of the petition. The government said the petition was its last remedy to halt the allegedly improper case.

    The government is represented by Eric Grant of the U.S. Department of Justice.

    The plaintiffs are represented by Julia A. Olson of Wild Earth Advocates and Philip L. Gregory of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP.

    The case is In re: USA, case number 17-71692, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

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