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Republicans Protect Insurance Industry, Call It ‘Stablizing Obamacare’

Above Photo:  By Brennan Linsley, AP.

NOTE: The dialogue about healthcare in the United States is heavily focused on healthcare markets, as if having a ‘stable healthcare market’ would solve the healthcare crisis. The reality is that health care is not a commodity, it is a public good. Treating health care as a market means that things are good when prices and profits are high for corporations. But, things are not good for patients when prices are high. Market-based health care means people only get the health care they can afford, not the health care they need. It means that people have to stop and make a financial decision before seeking care, and often that means choosing not to seek care or self-rationing. A stable healthcare system would be universal, comprehensive and paid for up-front through progressive taxes. That’s why we advocate for National Improved Medicare for All. To win, the people will need to demand it, because currently it is off the table for Republicans and Democrats. If you agree, please join  – Margaret Flowers

The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed a regulation aimed at “stabilizing” the ObamaCare marketplace by making changes favorable to insurers to help prevent them from bailing out or hiking premiums.

The move is surprising, given that President Trump has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But his administration is now in the position of trying to shore up the law’s marketplaces, at least temporarily, while Congress debates replacement plans and timing options.

Now that he’s president, Trump faces the possibility of being blamed for premium hikes or insurers dropping out if the market deteriorates.

Trump has also taken steps to chip away at ObamaCare. Most prominently, he signed an executive order that, while not specific, called on agencies to loosen ObamaCare requirements.

Democrats warned the executive order would only add to uncertainty for insurers trying to plan for 2018, but some said the signal from the new regulation could be positive.

The regulation includes several changes that insurers have long pushed for, which could help them shore up their finances in the ObamaCare market, helping prevent them from leaving the market or hiking premiums.

“This proposal will take steps to stabilize the Marketplace, provide more flexibility to states and insurers, and give patients access to more coverage options,” said Patrick Conway, acting head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“They will help protect Americans enrolled in the individual and small group health insurance markets while future reforms are being debated.”

The regulation requires people enrolling through extra sign-up periods outside of the normal time to provide documentation proving that they qualify — for example, that they really moved residences. This change is intended to cut down on sick people gaming the system and driving up costs.

The regulation would also reduce the duration of the sign-up period for 2018 coverage by roughly half, lasting from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, instead of the end of January, as in previous years. The shortened sign-up period could cut down on enrollment, though its effects are uncertain.

Even if ObamaCare is repealed, there will still almost certainly be a sign-up period for 2018 because repeal would not go into effect right away.

A range of other adjustments include loosening rules to allow slightly less generous, and possibly cheaper, plans to be sold.

Ben Wakana, a former spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama, called the regulation “terrible” on Twitter, saying it would drive up costs for consumers. He pointed to the change allowing somewhat less generous plans, saying the move would lead to higher out-of-pocket costs for people.

Insurers, though, praised the regulation. America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurer trade group, said “we commend the administration” for proposing the rule. Insurers have also noted, though, that they need funding for programs like ObamaCare payments known as cost-sharing reductions, in order to ensure a stable marketplace.

In a statement, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman GregWalden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), chair of the panel’s health subcommittee, framed the new regulation as providing “relief” from “the damage of ObamaCare.”

“These changes help protect taxpayers and stabilize markets,” they said.

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