Price, Democrats spar over future of Obamacare
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say how far the president is willing to go to prop up a law that he has repeatedly said is failing, and has demanded be repealed.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.