ST. GEORGE — The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Monday that fewer health plan issuers had applied to offer coverage under the federally facilitated health insurance exchange in 2018.
Following the report, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price issued a statement saying insurers find former President Barack Obama’s health care law “unworkable” and that they were “abandoning it in droves.”
The report comes out the same day President Trump put increased pressure on divided Senate Republicans to pass their stalled “Better Care Reconciliation Act” before Congress leaves for the August recess.
According to the CMS report, 141 individual market qualified health plan issuers submitted initial applications to offer coverage using the federally facilitated exchange eligibility and enrollment platform in 2018. This represents a 38 percent drop in initial filings from last year.
Each participating issuer is required to sign a final qualified health plan contract by the end of September in order participate in the exchange in 2018.
“Barely half the number of issuers who initially filed to sell plans on Healthcare.gov in 2016 want to participate in 2018,” Price said in his statement, “and a vast majority of them left before the most recent open enrollment period.”
The situation has never been more dire. Americans are continuing to lose what health coverage they have and are forced to choose from fewer options or pay the IRS for the right to go without. This further limits their access to the doctors and healthcare services they need.
Congress must act now to repair the damage Obamacare has inflicted and put in place a patient-centered system that is responsive to the needs of individuals and families, not the demands of Washington.
Price was in Utah at the end of June to discuss, among other issues, these very sentiments as they pertained to the Republican Senate bill to repeal and replace Obama’s health care law.
Previous to his Utah visit, Price wrote an op-ed for Deseret News where he said Utahns have “a long and proud tradition of knowing exactly what they are for: family, community, industry, responsible stewardship of government and the God-given right to a free conscience.”
“These are the very values protected and enshrined in the Senate plan,” Price wrote.
Despite Price’s sentiments, the “Better Care Conciliation Act” faces mixed reviews from Utah senators. Sen. Orrin Hatch worked closely on the drafting of the bill in his role as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; however, Sen. Mike Lee and four other GOP senators came out in opposition of it just hours after its release. Lee said it didn’t go far enough to repeal and replace Obamacare and lower healthcare costs.
The Republican bill was released on June 22, but amidst unified opposition among Democrats and several GOP senators either wavering or outright opposing the bill, a vote was delayed on June 29.
Trump renewed pressure on Republicans to pass the bill before the August recess, but according to The Associated Press, the week-long July 4 recess saw GOP support erode even further for the bill fashioned by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Previous to the recess, McConnell said he was willing to alter the bill to attract more support. Proposed revisions include rolling back some of its Medicaid cuts, adding additional money to combat abuse of opioids and other drugs, beefing up health care subsidies for lower earners and allowing insurers to sell low-cost policies offering meager coverage.
Moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters she hoped McConnell’s changes “are more than tweaks and they’re an overhaul of the approach, or else I won’t be able to support it.” She said lawmakers of both parties “should work together to fix” flaws in Obama’s law – an approach that would contradict GOP doctrine, which has long called for repealing the 2010 statute.
Collins has criticized the bill for causing millions of people to lose health care coverage and blocking federal payments to Planned Parenthood.
Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who joined Lee as one of the five original GOP senators opposing the bill, has repeatedly said it doesn’t go far enough in dismantling Obama’s statute. Paul said it will “have to look more like repeal” for him to support it.
“I think we’re still at impasse,” Paul told reporters Monday in Shelbyville, Kentucky. “Some people think that they can add enough goodies, federal spending on there, to buy off the votes of Republicans.”
Paul said he spoke with Trump over the weekend. He said he thinks Trump wants “what I want, which is a conservative vision of health care which involves repealing Obamacare.”
At least a dozen GOP senators have expressed opposition to McConnell’s initial bill or criticized it. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority and Democrats stand united against the bill, meaning that just three GOP defections will doom it.
Conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was also among the five GOP senators and has proposed letting insurers sell any policies they’d like, as long as they also sell one that covers a list of services like maternity care that Obama’s law requires. Its fate was uncertain.
Meanwhile, a study found that the number of uninsured adults has grown by 2 million this year, underscoring that recent coverage gains have begun to erode.
The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, published Monday, found that the uninsured rate among adults was 11.7 percent in the second three months of this year, compared with a record low of 10.9 percent at the end of last year. The losses were concentrated among younger adults and people buying their own health insurance policies, the survey found.
The reduction could reflect rising premiums and dwindling choices in the insurance markets created under Obama. It could also flow from Trump administration actions and comments about withholding support for the law, which some insurers have said are making them reluctant to offer coverage in some areas.
Associated Press reporters ALAN FRAM; BRUCE SCHREINER in Shelbyville, Kentucky; and ANDREW TAYLOR and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR in Washington contributed to this report.
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