Last week, HHS Secretary Alex Azar gave a speech at the conference of the conservative policy and lobbying powerhouse ALEC in which he bashed the Affordable Care Act as a “broken law” with “inherent instability.”
Azar called the individual insurance market “the market where Obamacare has done the most damage,” and said that because of the ACA’s regulations “we ended up with the unaffordable insurance market we have today.”
Azar did not acknowledge, however, that most of that “damage” is the result of the Trump administration’s policies, including the repeal of the individual mandate, the sabotage of the 2017 open enrollment period, and most recently, the introduction of skimpy, short-term, off-market insurance plans designed to draw younger and healthier people out of the regulated market.
But as Azar and other Trump administration officials aggressively push these “short-term” plans — which can be renewed for up to 3 years, can reject people with pre-exisiting conditions, and can refuse to cover basic services and medicines — state governments are pushing back against their sale.
A growing list of states, including California, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington State either already have or are working to implement laws either strictly regulating the short-term insurance plans or banning them altogether, warning that they are a completely inadequate substitute for health insurance and will drive up premiums in the individual market.
Relatedly, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam recently vetoed bills passed by his GOP legislature that would have expanded the use of short-term plans, and his administration announced that the just-approved expansion of Medicaid in the state is expected to bring down insurance premiums significantly — because tens of thousands of people who were getting individual market subsidies will now be covered by Medicaid.
In a perfect trifecta of the Trump administration’s war on public assistance, hostility towards unions and a predilection for health care meddling, HHS has proposed a rule banning home health aids serving people on Medicaid from automatically paying union dues. Nearly half a million unionized workers help low-income elderly and disabled patients, and the new rule would make it more difficult for them to organize for better pay and working conditions.
And as we draw closer to the midterm elections, in which control of the House and possibly the Senate hangs in the balance, Democrats are recognizing that health care is a major strength for them, and are teeing up personalized health care-related attacks on Republican candidates.
For example, Democrats in Florida are going after Senate hopeful Gov. Rick Scott (R) for his pre-politics career as a hospital executive whose company was fined hundreds of millions for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid, and for his refusal to expand Medicaid while in office.
“If Scott has an Achilles heel, it’s health care,” a Florida Democratic strategist told TPM.
Similar strategies are playing out in other close midterm contests. Attorneys General Josh Hawley and Patrick Morrisey, who are running for Senate in Missouri and West Virginia respectively, are coming under attack for signing onto a lawsuit attempting to gut the ACA.
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