House Democrats Trot Out First Bills to Shore Up Obamacare

WASHINGTON (CN) – House Democrats rolled out new bills Wednesday clapping back at Republican efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, specifically targeting short-term, limited-duration insurance policies. 

The four bills introduced Wednesday are the first steps in reversing the Trump administration’s rollbacks for President Barack Obama’s landmark health care legislation, cuts that included slashing advertising and outreach budget by 90 percent. The Trump administration also eased the process of approval for Section 1332 requests, which allows states to waive certain requirements of the Affordable Care Act in favor of state-focused health coverage options. 

But these efforts have “sabotaged” the Affordable Care Act’s potency, committee Democrats say. Slashed enrollment advertising and encouragement of potential state subsidies of short-term coverage plans, led healthy young people to choose cheaper, sub-par coverage that drives up premiums for everyone else opting for government health care.  

And these short-term coverage plans, according to witnesses Katie Keith of Georgetown University and Jessica Altman of the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, aren’t a great deal for many Americans who want an alternative to Affordable Care Act premiums. 

Although the costs for short-term care – packages meant to “fill the gap” between long term coverage – can be substantially lower, insurers are not required to disclose how much the consumer will actually be paying outside their premiums. Additionally, many of those plans do not cover pre-existing conditions, and can drop individuals who begin to seek treatment for them after signing up.

While one of the proposed bills seeks increased transparency on what exactly is included in these short-term plans – an idea that generally has bipartisan support – other legislation calls for doing away with the plans altogether.

“These junk plans are exactly that – junk,” Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said. “This profiteering at the expense of people’s health is unacceptable.”

Altman told the panel the plans seem to cover a lot on the surface, but not things like maternity care, substance abuse rehabilitation or certain injuries. And “coverage levels are not reflective of costs of services,” Altman noted, citing coverage of $100 to $200 for ambulance rides that actually cost thousands. 

Short-term plans are “on average about 54 percent less expensive,” Keith said, adding, “There is no secret to that, the reason is because they can exclude people with pre-existing conditions.”

In fact, Altman noted, 70 percent of the price difference between short-term plans and Affordable Care Act plans comes from the exclusion of pre-existing conditions. 

Both sides of the aisle expressed support Wednesday for coverage of people with pre-existing conditions.

Expert witness Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute said policies like the new Section 1332 guidelines aren’t meant to drive a stake into the Affordable Care Act, but rather give more discretion to states to tailor health care needs specifically for their own citizens. “Cost relief” is the driving force behind state discretion, Turner said. 

GOP lawmakers balk at the rising costs of Obamacare premiums for constituents who fall into middle-range tax brackets. And putting healthy people in the pool with the chronically ill, some say, just adds to the premium hike. 

Kentucky Republican Brett Guthrie asked Turner if she anticipated increased state innovation if states were granted more leeway to make their own health policy decisions.

“Absolutely,” she said. “People are just desperate for choices. They feel shut out of the market not only because of the premiums but also because of the deductibles, which can be $10,000 a year.”

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