The Trump administration says it is willing to continue paying subsidies to health insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act even though House Republicans say the payments are illegal because Congress never authorized them. The statement sends a small but potentially significant signal to insurers, encouraging them to stay in the market. The future of the payments has been in doubt because of a lawsuit filed in 2014 by House Republicans, who said the Obama administration was paying the subsidies illegally.
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Republicans are talking about repeal-and-replace as “three pronged”—pass the current House bill, deregulation through Mr. Price’s executive action, and then measures that can later be attached to must-pass bills. Mr. Price’s letter is the beginning of prong two.
Republicans have an obligation to try to revitalize insurance markets, and not only because Americans depend on coverage. Repealing and replacing ObamaCare is also an opportunity to show that conservative ideas can work in health care. The reason the opposition is so furious is that liberals fear they might succeed.
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‘ObamaCare is collapsing,” President Trump said during his address to Congress last week, “and we must act decisively to protect all Americans.” House Republicans have heard the president’s message loud and clear. On Monday night the congressional committees we lead released the American Health Care Act, which will rescue those hurt by ObamaCare’s failures and lay the groundwork for a patient-centered health-care system.
Our fiscally responsible plan will lower costs for patients and begin returning control from Washington back to the states, so that they can tailor their health-care systems to their unique communities. The bill will improve access to care and restore the free market, increasing innovation, competition and choice.
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Anthem Inc. and other U.S. health insurers complained to the White House for more than a year that they were losing money on people who waited to sign up for Obamacare coverage until they were sick.
They pleaded with the Obama administration to stem their losses by tightening up on the enrollment rules. When their pleas went unmet, UnitedHealth Group Inc, Humana Inc, and Aetna Inc pulled out of most of the government subsidized health insurance market.
But now that the new Trump administration and Republican lawmakers control the future of healthcare, the industry is getting a new hearing.
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As high health costs persist, insurance affordability remains a challenge for many employers and individuals. However, allowing insurers to sell coverage across state lines could result in unintended consequences such as market segmentation that could threaten the viability of insurers licensed in states with strict benefit coverage, issue, or rating rules. The ability for high-risk individuals to obtain coverage could be compromised as a result. If rules governing insurance are consistent across the states, as they are under the ACA, market segmentation could be minimized. However, potential premium savings would also be minimal, as premiums would continue to reflect local health care costs, regardless of location of the insurer.
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As Republicans in Congress look to repeal and replace the ACA, they’re considering a return to high-risk pools like one in Wisconsin, which some considered a national model. The “Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan” — which ran from 1979 to 2014, when the federal health law’s exchanges started — was funded through premiums, insurance company assessments and reduced payments to providers. “Pooling the high-risk individuals together and managing their needs separately was a huge factor in the state’s success in offering a competitive insurance market,” J.P. Wieske, the state’s deputy insurance commissioner, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee this month.
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The new administration should issue two new rules for the 2018 enrollment season:
- It should let online brokers complete enrollments for people who qualify for subsidies. No need to redirect these applicants to HealthCare.gov.
- It should stop imposing user fees to prop up its unnecessary website and finance ad campaigns.
These two changes would set loose an army of insurance carriers, traditional brokers and private online exchanges, all competing to enroll people in subsidized coverage.
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Following an Obama administration order, the IRS had been set to require taxpayers to indicate on line 61 on their form 1040s whether they had maintained health coverage in 2016 or paid the penalty. The IRS would have rejected returns if taxpayers failed to report their coverage status. But the IRS announced this week it would not reject returns that failed to check the appropriate ObamaCare boxes—an early indication of the administration’s efforts to provide relief from ACA mandates.
“This year, the IRS put in place system changes [initiated by the Obama administration] that would reject tax returns during processing in instances where the taxpayer didn’t provide…information [attesting that the taxpayer had health insurance].
“The recent executive order [issued on day one of the Trump administration] directed federal agencies to exercise authority and discretion available to them to reduce potential burden. Consistent with that, the IRS has decided to make changes that would continue to allow electronic and paper returns to be accepted for processing in instances where a taxpayer doesn’t indicate their coverage status.”
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The conceit that the five major commercial health insurers will consolidate to three seems to be dissolving, as four of those insurers called off a pair of mega-mergers on Tuesday. After 18 months of courtship among the Big Five starting in 2015, the outgoing Obama Justice Department’s antitrust division sued to block the $34 billion Aetna- Humana tie-up as well as Anthem’s $48 billion acquisition of Cigna. Federal judges blocked both transactions earlier this year. Anthem had planned to appeal but on Tuesday Cigna pulled the plug after Aetna and Humana did the same.
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