The prez boosts health-in­sur­ance choice

New York Post - - POST OPINION - BETSY McCAUGHEY is Betsy McCaughey is a Lon­don Cen­ter se­nior fel­low and au­thor of “Beat­ing Oba­maCare.”

FREE at last! That’s the mes­sage for mil­lions who don’t get health cov­er­age at work and, un­til now, faced two dis­mal op­tions: go­ing with­out in­sur­ance or pay­ing Oba­maCare’s soar­ing pre­mi­ums. On Thurs­day, Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced changes that will al­low con­sumers to choose cov­er­age op­tions cost­ing half of what Oba­maCare’s cheap­est bronze plans cost.

Democrats are al­ready ac­cus­ing the pres­i­dent of kneecap­ping Oba­maCare, but th­ese changes will re­duce the num­ber of unin­sured — some­thing Democrats claim is their goal.

The Af­ford­able Care Act re­quires ev­ery­one to buy the one­size-fits-all pack­age. You have to pay for ma­ter­nity care, even if you’re too old to give birth. You’re also on the hook for pe­di­atric den­tal care, even if you’re child­less. It’s like pass­ing a law that the only car you can buy is a ful­ly­loaded, four-door sedan. No more hatch­backs or two-seaters.

Trump’s tak­ing the op­po­site ap­proach, al­low­ing con­sumers choice. His new reg­u­la­tion will free peo­ple to again buy “short­term” health plans that ex­clude many costly ser­vices, such as in­pa­tient drug rehab. Th­ese plans aren’t guar­an­teed to be re­new­able year to year; the up­side is they cost much less.

Short-term plans have been around for years. But af­ter Oba­maCare pre­mi­ums be­gan soar­ing, th­ese plans be­came very at­trac­tive to peo­ple who were in­el­i­gi­ble for an Oba­maCare sub­sidy and balked at pay­ing full freight.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of cus­tomers signed up for them — un­til the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion slammed the door shut. A year ago, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama slapped a 90-day limit on the plans, as a way to force peo­ple into Oba­maCare no mat­ter how un­af­ford­able.

Trump is re­mov­ing Obama’s 90-day limit, re-open­ing that low-cost op­tion. That’s good news for 8 mil­lion peo­ple cur­rently get­ting whacked with an Oba­maCare tax penalty for not hav­ing in­sur­ance, and an­other 11 mil­lion unin­sured who avoided the penalty by plead­ing hard­ship. Count on many of them to buy cov­er­age when they have an af­ford­able op­tion. That will re­duce the num­ber of unin­sured.

Yet Democrats are rant­ing that Trump’s reg­u­la­tory changes are sab­o­tag­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act. They warn that healthy peo­ple will aban­don the Oba­maCare ex­changes to buy th­ese low­er­cost plans, desta­bi­liz­ing the sys­tem. It’s a wild over­state­ment. The 83 per­cent of Oba­maCa­re­ex­change buy­ers who get sub­si­dies are un­likely to drop out. As for the small num­ber pay­ing full freight, of course many (though not all) will opt for af­ford­able al­ter­na­tives.

And why shouldn’t they? Af­ter all, Oba­maCare un­fairly forces the healthy to pay the same for in­sur­ance as the chron­i­cally ill.

Peo­ple with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions should be sub­si­dized, but in­stead of bur­den­ing healthy in­sur­ance buy­ers in the tiny in­di­vid­ual mar­ket, the en­tire na­tion should chip in. That’s what Re­pub­li­can Oba­maCare re­place­ment bills pro­posed. Oba­maCare’s “com­mu­nity pric­ing” is the big­gest rea­son pre­mi­ums have soared since 2013.

That hasn’t been a prob­lem for the mil­lions get­ting sub­si­dies. But it clob­ber­ing the 8.8 mil­lion who don’t. Their pre­mi­ums have more than dou­bled since 2014 and are set to go up an­other 25 per­cent to 35 per­cent this win­ter. Ex­pect a good num­ber to bail out and buy the cheaper op­tions avail­able be­cause of Trump’s new reg­u­la­tion.

A less de­tailed part of Trump’s an­nounce­ment gives the green light to so-called as­so­ci­a­tion plans, which would al­low small em­ploy­ers and per­haps even in­di­vid­u­als to group to­gether across state lines, giv­ing them the same pur­chas­ing clout as large multi-state em­ploy­ers. Time will tell whether th­ese work out.

Trump has now seized the ini­tia­tive, af­ter con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans fell flat on their faces and failed to ad­dress the pain Oba­maCare is in­flict­ing on con­sumers stuck in the in­di­vid­ual in­sur­ance mar­ket.

The pres­i­dent should keep go­ing. What’s next? Trump should use his dis­cre­tion to stop en­forc­ing the tax penalty on those who don’t buy Oba­maCare-com­pli­ant plans, in­clud­ing buy­ers of short­term plans.

Then he should can­cel the sweet­heart deal his pre­de­ces­sor weaseled for mem­bers of Con­gress and their staff mem­bers. Even though the Af­ford­able Care Act re­quires them to buy cov­er­age on Oba­maCare ex­changes, Obama ar­ranged for them to have a choice of 57 gold plans and have John Q. Pub­lic pick up most of their costs. It’s an out­rage.

Once mem­bers of Con­gress are feel­ing the same pain as ev­ery­one else, they’ll be more fo­cused on re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing the dys­func­tional health law. In the mean­time, Trump is wisely pro­vid­ing re­lief where it counts the most — in peo­ple’s wal­lets.

Pen pal: Trump signs the or­der that will ex­pand health-care op­tions.

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