Report: Trump Official Offered Insurers Quid Pro Quo For O’Care Repeal

Cheriss May/SIPPL Sipa USA

This story has been updated to include the response of the Trump administration.

A top official in the Health and Human Services Department allegedly suggested that if insurers supported the House GOP Obamacare repeal bill, the administration would continue funding subsidies that President Trump has threatened to halt that keep out-of-pocket costs down for low income consumers, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The offer — said to have been put forward by Seema Verma, the Trump-appointed administrator of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (pictured above) — left insurance industry officials “stunned,” the newspaper said.

“It made no sense,” one of the officials told the Times.

The Trump administration has rebuked the Los Angeles Times’ account of the meeting.

“The statement about Administrator Verma suggesting that the administration would fund CSRs is absolutely false. What she said at the AHIP meeting in April was that no decisions had been made about CSR’s,” said Jane Norris, CMS communications director, who, according to the CMS, attended the meeting.

The subsidies are known as cost-sharing reduction payments, and they go directly to insurers to subsidize costs like deductibles and co-pays for low-income consumers, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. They are the target of a House GOP lawsuit mounted in 2014 against the Obama administration that claims the payments are illegal because they were not explicitly appropriated by Congress. The case is on hold while the House GOP and the Trump administration figure out their next steps, but Trump on his own has threatened to halt them because he believes that would force Democrats to negotiate on repealing Obamacare.

Insurance companies have warned that an elimination of the payments will cause them to jack up their premiums to make up the shortfall or withdraw from the market entirely. Insurers have also raised concerns about the whether the Trump administration will continue to enforce the individual mandate after an executive order signed in January suggested they wouldn’t. Early filings for the 2018 plan year have shown major hikes in premiums, which Republicans have pointed to to justify their repeal effort.

“Obamacare has failed,” Alleigh Marre, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the LA Times. “For this reason, Republicans are reforming healthcare so it delivers access to quality, affordable coverage to the American people.”

The House GOP bill passed narrowly earlier this month, with almost no support from the insurance industry, health care providers or patient advocacy groups groups.

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