Trump moves to halt sub­si­dies to health in­sur­ers

The Star Malaysia - - World -

WASH­ING­TON: In a brash move likely to roil in­sur­ance mar­kets, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump plans to halt pay­ments to in­sur­ers un­der the Obama-era health­care law that he has been try­ing to un­ravel for months.

Two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the de­ci­sion de­scribed the plan late Thurs­day night, seek­ing anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rised to speak pub­licly.

The White House said in a state­ment that the gov­ern­ment can­not legally con­tinue to pay the so-called cost-shar­ing sub­si­dies be­cause they lack a for­mal au­tho­ri­sa­tion by Congress.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has been mak­ing the pay­ments from month to month, even as Trump threat­ened to cut them off to force Democrats to ne­go­ti­ate over health­care.

The pres­i­dent’s ac­tion is likely to trig­ger a law­suit from state at­tor­neys-gen­eral, who con­tend the sub­si­dies to in­sur­ers are fully au­tho­rised by fed­eral law, and the pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion is reck­less.

Word of Trump’s plan came on a day when the pres­i­dent had signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der di­rect­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies to de­sign in­sur­ance plans that would of­fer lower pre­mi­ums out­side the re­quire­ments of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Af­ford- able Care Act.

Frus­trated over set­backs in Congress, Trump is wield­ing his ex­ec­u­tive power to bring the “re­peal and re­place” de­bate to a head. He ap­pears to be fol­low­ing through on his vow to pun­ish Democrats and in­sur­ers af­ter the fail­ure of GOP health­care leg­is­la­tion.

On Twit­ter, Trump has termed the pay­ments to in­sur­ers a “bailout”, and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have ques­tioned their le­gal au­tho­ri­sa­tion.

It’s un­clear if the pres­i­dent will get Democrats to ne­go­ti­ate by stop­ping pay­ment.

Ex­perts have warned that cut­ting off the money would lead to a dou- ble-digit spike in pre­mi­ums, on top of in­creases in­sur­ers al­ready planned for next year.

That would de­liver an­other blow to mar­kets around the coun­try al­ready frag­ile from in­sur­ers ex­it­ing and costs ris­ing.

In­sur­ers, hospi­tals, doc­tors’ groups, state of­fi­cials and the US Cham­ber of Com­merce have urged the ad­min­is­tra­tion to keep pay­ing.

Lead­ing GOP law­mak­ers have also called for con­tin­u­ing the pay­ments to in­sur­ers, at least tem­po­rar­ily, so con­stituents main­tain ac­cess to health in­sur­ance.

Se­nate Health, Ed­u­ca­tion, Labour and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee Chair­man La­mar Alexan­der is work­ing on such leg­is­la­tion.

The so-called “cost-shar­ing” sub­si­dies de­fray out-of-pocket ex­penses for peo­ple with low-to-mod­est in­comes, and can re­duce a de­ductible of US$3,500 (RM14,759) to a few hun­dred dol­lars.

As­sis­tance is avail­able to con­sumers buy­ing in­di­vid­ual poli­cies; peo­ple with em­ployer cov­er­age are un­af­fected by the dis­pute.

Nearly three in five Health­Care. gov cus­tomers qual­ify for help, an es­ti­mated six mil­lion peo­ple or more. The an­nual cost to the gov­ern­ment is cur­rently about US$7bil (RM29.5bil). — AP

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