Or­der loosens health plan rules

Back­ers say move will lower costs; some warn mar­ket will desta­bi­lize.

Dayton Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jes­sica Wehrman Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump

With Congress un­able to re­peal the 2010 health care law known as Oba­macare, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is tak­ing a se­ries of steps aimed at un­rav­el­ing the law that ex­tended health care cov­er­age to 20 million Amer­i­cans.

T he lat­est came Thurs­day, when Trump signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that loosens re­stric­tions on as­so­ci­a­tion health plans — plans that al­low small em­ployer groups and in­di­vid­u­als to band to­gether to buy health in­sur­ance.

Trump’s or­der di­rects the Sec­re­tary of La­bor to con­sider the ex­pan­sion of such plans, which could po­ten­tially al­low U.S. em­ploy­ers to form in­sur­ance groups across state lines.

Trump also di­rected his ad­min­is­tra­tion to con­sider ex­pand­ing ac­cess to low-cost, short-term-du­ra­tion in­sur­ance, which is not sub­ject to Oba­macare re­quire­ments. Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gues that do­ing so would cre­ate far cheaper op­tions for those seek­ing in­sur­ance.

Fi­nally, the or­der di­rects Trump’s cab­i­net to con­sider ex­pand­ing ac­cess to Health Re­im­burse­ment Ar­range­ments, which are em­ployer-funded ac­counts re­im­burs­ing em­ploy­ees for health care ex­penses.

“With these ac­tions, we are mov­ing to­ward lower costs and more op­tions in the health­care mar­ket and tak­ing cru­cial steps to­wards sav­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple from the night­mare of Oba­macare,” Trump said in a White House cer­e­mony where he was flanked by law­mak­ers and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence. He said his ac­tions will cost the United States gov­ern­ment “vir­tu­ally noth­ing, and peo­ple will have great, great health care.”

To sup­port­ers, Trump’s or­der opens up new in­sur­ance al­ter­na­tives at po­ten­tially lower prices, help­ing to fol­low through on a cam­paign prom­ise to undo the 2010 law that Repub­li­cans have made since the law was passed.

But de­trac­tors re­peat­edly used one word to de­scribe the move: sab­o­tage.

“In­stead of em­ploy­ing back­door tac­tics meant to un­der­mine im­por­tant health­care pro­tec­tions, Pres­i­dent Trump should come to the ta­ble with mem­bers of both par­ties to pur­sue mean­ing­ful health­care re­form that ben­e­fits Ohioans,” said Sen. Sher­rod Brown, D–Ohio. He ar­gued that the ex­panded as­so­ci­a­tion plans would limit ac­cess to health care ben­e­fits such as ma­ter­nity ser­vices and emer­gency care and desta­bi­lize the Oba­macare mar­ket by flood­ing the in­sur­ance mar­ket with skimpier plans.

“If the sys­tem de­te­ri­o­rates, make no mis­take about it, the blame will fall squarely on the pres­i­dent’s back,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Demo­crat.

Brown and others — in­clud­ing Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich — had ar­gued for a bi­par­ti­san so­lu­tion to shoring up the Oba­macare mar­kets, and Sen. Patty Mur­ray, a Wash­ing­ton Demo­crat, and Sen. La­mar Alexan­der, a Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, had en­gaged in talks aimed at shoring up the mar­kets.

But they’ve been un­able to forge an agree­ment, and sev­eral Repub­li­cans on Thurs­day lauded the pres­i­dent’s ac­tion.

“Oba­macare added a tan­gled mess of bu­reau­cracy, man­dates and reg­u­la­tions to our health care sys­tem,” said Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp. near Colum­bus. “The pres­i­dent is tak­ing a nec­es­sary step by in­struct­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion to do what they can un­der cur­rent law to restore the free mar­ket, lower costs and im­prove ac­cess to qual­ity care.”

Rep. Jim Jor­dan, R–Ur­bana, said Trump was “do­ing what vot­ers sent him here to do.”

“To­day’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der on health­care will start to give ev­ery­day Amer­i­cans the re­lief they need from soar­ing pre­mi­ums,” he said, while re­it­er­at­ing his call for Congress to fully re­peal the 2010 law.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, mean­while, said Trump’s ac­tions were part of a plan to loosen Oba­macare reg­u­la­tions.

“This has long been part of our strat­egy to try and help Amer­i­cans get ac­cess to more af­ford­able health care, to bring more choice and com­pe­ti­tion into the mar­ket­place and lower pre­mi­ums, so it’s in per­fect keep­ing with what we’ve been plan­ning all along,” he said.

Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der fol­lows com­plaints that his ad­min­is­tra­tion has dras­ti­cally cut back on pro­grams aimed at ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about their health care op­tions ahead of the Oba­macare open en­roll­ment pe­riod, which be­gins Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15.

On Thurs­day, Ohio’s Demo­cratic House del­e­ga­tion — Reps. Joyce Beatty, D-Colum­bus, Tim Ryan, D-Niles, Mar­cia Fudge, D-Cleve­land and Marcy Kap­tur, D-Toledo — sent a let­ter to Cen­ter for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tor Seema Verma com­plain­ing about cuts in ser­vices and out­reach pro­grams aimed at en­rolling cit­i­zens in health care plans.

Among their com­plaints: The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has cut the Af­ford­able Care Act “nav­i­ga­tor” pro­gram, which pairs those sign­ing up for health cov­er­age with a pro­fes­sional trained to as­sist them. The bud­get for that pro­gram was re­duced by 71 per­cent, and the law­mak­ers say that the cuts forced the Ohio As­so­ci­a­tion of Food­banks to leave the pro­gram, leav­ing the state with no nav­i­ga­tors. They’re also up­set that the ad­ver­tis­ing bud­get in­form­ing Ohioans that it’s time to en­roll has been vir­tu­ally elim­i­nated.

“In­di­vid­u­als will now be with­out the help they need to en­roll in health care plans even though ev­ery Amer­i­can is re­quired to have health in­sur­ance un­der cur­rent law and face tax con­se­quences if they fail to ob­tain cov­er­age,” the group wrote. Michael Dul­man of the Wash­ing­ton Bu­reau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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