Call­ing it a be­gin­ning, Trump signs new health care or­der

Rome News-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By Ri­cardo Alonso-Zaldivar As­so­ci­ated Press

He di­rects that rules be rewrit­ten to al­low con­sumers wider ac­cess to in­sur­ance with lower pre­mi­ums.

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump di­rected his ad­min­is­tra­tion Thurs­day to re­write fed­eral rules so con­sumers can have wider ac­cess to health in­sur­ance plans fea­tur­ing lower pre­mi­ums. He called his new ex­ec­u­tive or­der a “be­gin­ning” and promised more ac­tions to come.

Frus­trated by fail­ures in Con­gress, Trump is mov­ing to put his own stamp on health care. But even the lim­ited steps the pres­i­dent out­lined Thurs­day will take months for the fed­eral bu­reau­cracy to fi­nal­ize in reg­u­la­tions. Ex­perts said con­sumers should not ex­pect im­me­di­ate changes.

“With th­ese ac­tions, we are mov­ing to­ward lower costs and more op­tions in the health care mar­ket,” Trump said be­fore he signed his di­rec­tive in the Oval Of­fice.

But the changes Trump hopes to bring about may not be fi­nal­ized in time to af­fect cov­er­age for 2019, let alone next year.

Trump said he will con­tinue to pres­sure Con­gress to re­peal and re­place for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act, bet­ter known as “Oba­macare.”

One of the main ideas from the ad­min­is­tra­tion in­volves eas­ing the way for groups and as­so­ci­a­tions of em­ploy­ers to spon­sor cov­er­age that can be mar­keted across the land. That re­flects Trump’s long­stand­ing be­lief that in­ter­state com­pe­ti­tion will lead to lower pre­mi­ums for con­sumers who buy their own health in­sur­ance poli­cies, as well as for small busi­nesses.

Those “as­so­ci­a­tion health plans” could be shielded from some state and fed­eral in­sur­ance re­quire­ments. But re­spond­ing to con­cerns, the White House said par­tic­i­pat­ing em­ploy­ers could not ex­clude any work­ers from the plan, or charge more to those in poor health.

Other el­e­ments of the White House plan in­clude:

Eas­ing cur­rent re­stric­tions on short-term poli­cies that last less than a year, an op­tion for peo­ple mak­ing a life tran­si­tion, from re­cent col­lege grad­u­ates to early re­tirees. Those poli­cies are not sub­ject to cur­rent fed­eral and state rules that re­quire stan­dard ben­e­fits and other con­sumer pro­tec­tions.

Al­low­ing em­ploy­ers to set aside pre-tax dol­lars so work­ers can use the money to buy an in­di­vid­ual health pol­icy.

“This ex­ec­u­tive or­der is the start of a long process as the gears of the fed­eral bu­reau­cracy churn, not the fi­nal word,” said Larry Le­vitt of the non­par­ti­san Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion.

It’s also un­likely to re­verse the trend of in­sur­ers ex­it­ing state mar­kets. About half of U.S. coun­ties will have only one “Oba­macare” in­surer next year, although it ap­pears that no coun­ties will be left with­out a car­rier as was ini­tially feared. White House of­fi­cials said over time, the poli­cies flow­ing from the pres­i­dent’s or­der will give con­sumers more op­tions.

Democrats are brac­ing for an­other ef­fort by Trump to dis­man­tle “Oba­macare,” this time with the rule-mak­ing pow­ers of the ex­ec­u­tive branch. Staffers at the de­part­ments of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, La­bor and Trea­sury have been work­ing on the op­tions since shortly af­ter the pres­i­dent took of­fice.

The pres­i­dent’s move is also likely to en­counter op­po­si­tion from med­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions, con­sumer groups and per­haps even some in­sur­ers — the same coali­tion that so far has blocked con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans from re­peal­ing Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act.

Evan Vucci / The As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump shows an ex­ec­u­tive or­der on health care that he signed at the White House on Thurs­day in Wash­ing­ton. WASH­ING­TON

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