Published: Thu, July 12, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

Trump administration yanks health care away from more Americans

Trump administration yanks health care away from more Americans

The Trump administration said Saturday that it is temporarily halting billions of dollars of payments created to help insurers meet the Affordable Care Act requirement that they provide coverage regardless of whether a person is healthy or sick.

U.S. President Donald Trump departs after speaking at a Make America Great Again rally in Great Falls, Montana, U.S., July 5, 2018.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it will reduce funding to so-called navigators, which are trained individuals or organizations that help consumers understand their options on the marketplace, to $10 billion from $36 billion in 2017.

Similarly, a year ago the Trump administration ended Obamacare's cost-sharing reduction payments to health insurers. "It will undermine Americans' access to affordable coverage, particularly those who need medical care the most".

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Risk-adjustment payments are one way the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare's formal name - stabilizes health insurance prices. Instead, the federal government collects money from some insurers that enrolled healthier patients and then transfers money to other insurers who had sicker enrollees. The Trump administration claims it is obligated to suspend these payments because of a court ruling out of New Mexico questioning their legality, but there is reason to be skeptical.

"We are very discouraged by the new market disruption brought about by the decision to freeze risk adjustment payments", the group said in a statement Saturday.

In January this year, the federal district judge in MA upheld the methodology used by the federal government to calculate risk adjustment payments.

But Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said encouraging navigators to promote plans that don't comply with the ACA is "federally funded fraud: paying groups to sell unsuspecting Americans on junk plans that allow insurance companies to deny care on a whim and charge whatever they want is nothing but a scam".

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The suspension comes as insurance companies are hammering out rates for the next enrollment period. "As a result of this litigation, billions of dollars in risk adjustment payments and collections are now on hold", CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. Insurers say the sudden halting of those payments creates uncertainty at a critical time, as they are now developing their premiums for 2019.

Since Republican campaigns to kill Obamacare failed in Congress past year, the Trump administration has been taking every opportunity to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare surges on, with the public continuing to approve of it and health insurers coming back to the markets after sitting past year out. He says halting the risk adjustment program will disrupt the individual markets, and might even cause insurers not to participate next year.

The Trump administration has suspended more than $10 billion in Obamacare payments to insurance companies that lost money on state insurance exchanges.

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