Price, Democrats spar over fu­ture of Oba­macare

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOWELL JR.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s health sec­re­tary re­fused to say Thurs­day whether his boss is com­mit­ted to mak­ing dis­puted Oba­macare-sub­sidy pay­ments through the com­ing year, un­nerv­ing Democrats and leav­ing in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to strug­gle with de­ci­sions about whether to re­main part of the trou­bled health ex­changes.

“No­body is in­ter­ested in sab­o­tag­ing the sys­tem,” Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price told mem­bers of the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee — though he wouldn’t say how far the pres­i­dent is will­ing to go to prop up a law that he has re­peat­edly said is fail­ing, and has de­manded be re­pealed.

The big­gest ques­tion is whether Mr. Trump will make bil­lions of dol­lars in cost-shar­ing pay­ments to in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to cover out-of-pocket med­i­cal ex­penses for their poor cus­tomers. With­out a guar­an­tee of those pay­ments, com­pa­nies have said they’ll have to raise pre­mi­ums.

Mr. Trump’s bud­get as­sumed the pay­ments will be made, but he’s still try­ing to fig­ure out how to set­tle a court case brought by the House against the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which saw a judge rule the pay­ments il­le­gal.

“I’d like to be able to share more, but as the de­fen­dant in the case, I’m not able to do so,” said Mr. Price, who be­came a named lit­i­gant when Pres­i­dent Obama ceded way to Mr. Trump and his team.

A string of in­sur­ers have ex­ited Oba­macare pro­gram or re­quested dou­ble-digit rate in­creases in re­cent weeks, cit­ing prob­lems with the 2010 health law it­self or with Mr. Trump’s wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to it.

The plans must pick up cus­tomers’ costs whether they’re re­im­bursed or not, so they’re re­quest­ing higher-than-ex­pected pre­mi­ums in case Trump de­cides to yank the pay­ments.

“To me, it’s like pulling the rug out from some­body and say­ing, ‘Oh my gosh, they fell down,’ ” said Sen. Deb­bie Stabenow, Michi­gan Demo­crat.

Mr. Price said the 2010 Af­ford­able Care Act’s shaky frame­work — not the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions — are the main driver of eco­nomic pain in the mar­ket­place, so it needs to be re­placed with mar­ket-ori­ented re­forms.

He also re­minded Democrats that ap­pro­pri­at­ing the cost-shar­ing pay­ments is Congress’ job, even if Mr. Trump is let­ting Trea­sury dis­burse money while the court case is pend­ing.

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