With the country fixated on the gun-control debate and Russia investigation, the Trump administration has quietly continued to weaken the Affordable Care Act, publishing new regulations that would allow skimpy "short-term" insurance plans to be sold and enable insurers to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.
Last week, the Health and Human Services Department published new rules expanding access to short-term plans, which were intended to cover short gaps in coverage, such as between jobs, reports Vox. Under the Obama administration, the plans could only be sold for 90 days. The Trump rules allow them to be sold for one year.
It's likely those lower-cost plans will attract younger and healthier consumers away from the Obamacare exchanges, leaving older and sicker people behind to pay higher rates. Short-term plans can be found for about 20% of the cost of the lowest-cost ACA plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
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Short-term plans don't have to comply with several provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as providing for preventative or maternity care. They can refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions and impose lifetime limits on coverage. And they don't have to cap consumers' out-of-pocket costs at $7,350 a year.
"These proposed short-term plans would actually be long-term scams," said Brad Woodhouse, director of the Protect Our Care campaign. "The Trump Administration wants to let insurance companies sell skimpy plans to unwitting Americans and then leave them holding the bill if they get sick or hurt. And if you're among the one in four Americans who has a pre-existing condition, today's news is especially bad: These skimpy plans will once again allow insurers to discriminate against you based on your medical history."
The Trump administration told CNN Money it would require insurers to explain the short-term plans' limitations to consumers. "It's one step in the direction of providing Americans with health insurance options that are both more affordable and more suited to individual and family circumstances," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
After the Republican tax cut bill removed the individual insurance mandate, the ACA exchanges were already facing further destabilization that would result in higher prices. The Trump administration refutes that. "We expect virtually no impact on the individual market premiums,” Seema Verma of HHS told "Vox" on Monday. “We strongly feel this could help millions of Americans who are looking for an affordable option.”
But an independent Urban Institute report, also released Monday, showed that the short-term plan changes and the Trump administration's previous meddling with the ACA will cause individual health-insurance premiums to rise 20% for 2019.