Burlington County Times

NJ Health Care Advocates Accuse Trump Of Health Care 'Sabotage'

Burlington County Times — October 15, 2017

By David Levinsky, Staff Writer

New Jersey Democrats and health care advocates blasted President Donald Trump's decision to end Affordable Care Act subsidies, predicting the move would cause insurance premiums to skyrocket and create "chaos and confusion" among consumers.

Advocates sounded the alarm about Trump's action Friday during a conference call with Democratic House members Frank Pallone and Bonnie Watson Coleman, who described the president's move as a "foolhardy and spiteful" effort to undermine the Obama law.

"This has been an unprecedented week of sabotage by the Trump administration," said Pallone, D-6th of Long Branch, referring to both the White House's actions to end "cost-sharing reduction subsidies" and Trump's Thursday executive order to allow small group and short-term insurance plans to expand and be sold across state lines.

"This is really about a narcissistic president hating everything the previous president did, especially health care," added Coleman.

Both Democratic lawmakers said they would fight to try to restore the subsidies, which go to insurance companies in order to lower out-of-pocket costs like copayments and deductibles for low-and-middle-income customers.

More than 6 million people benefit from the cost subsidies, including about 150,000 in New Jersey, officials said. They cost the federal government about $7 billion now, but the expense was expected to more than double within a decade.

Pallone warned that insurers will still be required to keep out-of-pocket costs manageable for those consumers who qualify for the assistance, but they would likely seek to recoup the loss by raising premiums above what they would have to cover increased medical costs.

Ray Castro, senior policy analyst for left-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, predicted premiums in New Jersey would rise as much as 20 to 30 percent.

Lower-income individuals and families who receive assistance from the ACA's premium credits will be largely protected from the hike because the federal government will pick up most of the added expense, but he warned that those who don't qualify for credits will face the brunt of increases likely to be $1,000 or more.

Some of those consumers, particularly young and healthier ones, might opt to drop insurance altogether, exacerbating the situation by shrinking the risk pool.

"It's going to be overwhelming for consumers," Castro said.

Democrats aren't the only ones interested in restoring the cost-share subsidies. Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur, who helped author the House bill that sought to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, said he continues to work with conservative Freedom Caucus chair U.S. Rep Mark Meadows and other lawmakers to try to craft legislation to restore the subsidies by properly appropriating the funding for them.

He expects the legislation will be unveiled this week, adding that it would also include additional health care reforms intended to bring down costs and give states added flexibility to allow insurers to sell less-expensive plans that don't meet all of the ACA's minimum requirements.

"To get something passed in the House and signed by the president, we have to do things that will bring costs down. That's always been the rub," MacArthur said Friday. "Democrats have shown no interest in giving states flexibility. They just want to shovel enough money to make Obamacare work."

Pallone and other advocates argued that GOP leaders have resisted every Democratic overture to improve the Obama health care law, rather than repeal or undermine it.

"If you start selling insurance without essential health benefits, you're essentially selling junk insurance," Pallone said. "It creates an unlevel playing field. Younger and healthier people will buy it because it's cheaper ... But older and sicker people will be left in the insurance pool and will have to pay more."

Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for liberal advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action, said Trump's actions have created confusion among consumers in advance of the November open enrollment start, but that her group would continue to perform outreach to urge people to enroll and purchase coverage through the ACA marketplaces.

"The Affordable Care Act is not imploding," Collinsgru said. "The Affordable Care Act is being dismantled from within by Trump."

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