Trump threat to end health­care cover pay­ments

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UNITED STATES: US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump threat­ened on Sat­ur­day to end gov­ern­ment pay­ments to health in­sur­ers if Congress does not pass a new health­care bill and goaded them to not aban­don their seven-year quest to re­place the Oba­macare law.

In a Twit­ter mes­sage yes­ter­day, Trump said ‘‘if a new Health­Care Bill is not ap­proved quickly, BAILOUTS for In­sur­ance Com­pa­nies and BAILOUTS for Mem­bers of Congress will end very soon!’’

The tweet came a day af­ter Se­nate Repub­li­cans failed to muster enough votes to re­peal parts of the Af­ford­able Care Act, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sig­na­ture health­care bill com­monly known as Oba­macare.

The first part of Trump’s tweet ap­peared to be re­fer­ring to the ap­prox­i­mately US$8 bil­lion in cost­shar­ing re­duc­tion sub­si­dies the fed­eral gov­ern­ment pays to in­sur­ers to lower the price of health cover­age for low-in­come Amer­i­cans.

The sec­ond part ap­peared to be a threat to end the em­ployer con­tri­bu­tion for Congress mem­bers and their staffs, who were moved from the nor­mal fed­eral em­ployee health­care ben­e­fits pro­gramme onto the Oba­macare in­sur­ance ex­changes as part of the 2010 health­care law.

Trump has pre­vi­ously threat­ened to sus­pend the pay­ments to in­sur­ers, which are de­ter­mined by the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices. In April, he threat­ened to end the pay­ments if Democrats re­fused to ne­go­ti­ate over the health­care bill.

Re­spond­ing to yes­ter­day’s tweet, Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Chuck Schumer said that if the pres­i­dent car­ried out that threat, ‘‘every ex­pert agrees that (in­sur­ance) pre­mi­ums will go up and health care will be more ex­pen­sive for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans.

‘‘The pres­i­dent ought to stop play­ing pol­i­tics with peo­ple’s lives and health care, start lead­ing and fi­nally be­gin act­ing pres­i­den­tial,’’ Schumer said in a state­ment.

Trump later urged Se­nate Repub­li­cans to try again on a health­care vote. The Se­nate is in ses­sion for an­other week be­fore it is sched­uled to be­gin an Au­gust re­cess.

‘‘Un­less the Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors are to­tal quit­ters, Re­peal & Re­place is not dead! De­mand an­other vote be­fore vot­ing on any other bill!’’ Trump said in a sub­se­quent tweet. Many in­sur­ers have been wait­ing for an an­swer from Trump or law­mak­ers on whether they will con­tinue to fund the an­nual gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies. With­out as­sur­ances, many plan to raise rates an ad­di­tional 20 per cent by an Au­gust 16 dead­line for premium prices.

With Repub­li­can ef­forts to dis­man­tle Oba­macare in dis­ar­ray, hun­dreds of US coun­ties are at risk of los­ing ac­cess to pri­vate health cover­age in 2018 as in­sur­ers con­sider pulling out of those mar­kets.

In re­sponse, Trump on Sat­ur­day again sug­gested his ad­min­is­tra­tion would let the Oba­macare pro­gramme ‘‘im­plode.’’

He has weak­ened en­force­ment of the laws re­quire­ment for in­di­vid­u­als to buy in­sur­ance, threat­ened to cut off fund­ing and sought to change plan ben­e­fits through reg­u­la­tions.

Mean­while, some con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans were still try­ing to find a way for­ward on health­care.

Se­na­tor Lind­sey Gra­ham said in a state­ment is­sued on Sat­ur­day that he and two other Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, Dean Heller and Bill Cas­sidy, had met Trump af­ter the de­feat to dis­cuss Gra­ham’s pro­posal to take tax money raised by Oba­macare and send it back to the states in the form of health­care block grants.

Gra­ham said the move would end Democrats’ drive for a na­tional sin­gle-payer health­care sys­tem by putting states in charge.

‘‘Pres­i­dent Trump was op­ti­mistic about the Gra­ham-Cas­sidy-Heller pro­posal,’’ Gra­ham added. ‘‘I will con­tinue to work with Pres­i­dent Trump and his team to move the idea for­ward.’’

PHOTO: REUTERS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has urged Se­nate Repub­li­cans to try again on a health­care vote.

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