Warner, Kaine urge Trump to stop sabotaging healthcare insurance market

healthcareU.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, urging him to take swift action to stabilize the healthcare insurance marketplace. On May 4, the majority of health insurers filed initial rates with the Virginia Bureau of Insurance proposing to raise premiums between 15 and 64 percent in 2019 – a move that could impact more than 400,000 Virginians who purchase their health care coverage through the individual marketplace.

“We are concerned that these substantial rate increases will negatively impact hundreds of thousands of individuals in Virginia that purchase their plans on the health insurance marketplace,” wrote the Senators. “Additionally, we are disappointed to know that these increased costs are largely a result of policies the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Republicans in Congress have pursued and implemented.”

In 2017, the Trump Administration ended cost sharing reduction payments under the Affordable Care Act, a move that subsequently destabilized the individual marketplace and increased premiums for people who do not receive financial assistance on the marketplace.  Since then, Congressional Republicans and the Administration have taken several steps to undermine the success of the Affordable Care Act, including repealing the individual mandate and expanding the availability of short-term health plans that don’t cover many basic health care costs such as prescription drugs, maternity care, or preventive health services. According to experts, expanding the availability of these plans – which don’t protect consumers from discrimination on the basis of age, gender, or pre-existing conditions – will draw younger and healthier consumers out of the health care marketplaces and further raise premiums for individuals who depend on the individual market to purchase their health care coverage.

In filing their proposed rates for 2019 with the Virginia Bureau of Insurance, insurers directly cited the elimination of cost-sharing reductions, the expansion of short-term plans, and the elimination of the individual mandate to justify double-digit rate increases.

“Double digit premium increases are not only unacceptable, they are also avoidable. We are committed to work with you to take proactive steps to lower premiums in Virginia and across the country. This would include prioritizing proposals that would establish a federal reinsurance program and continuing cost sharing reduction payments while adopting policies to hold harmless those people who do get financial help in the marketplace,” the Senators told Sec. Azar. “We also would encourage you to revise your recently proposed rule to expand the use of short term limited duration plans. Finally, we urge you to reverse recent policies to shorten the annual open enrollment period, slash funding for consumer outreach and assistance, and other efforts to undermine consumer protections. Without these important changes it is likely Virginians and other Americans will continue to experience significant premium increases in the future.”

In addition, according to a study by Medicare’s chief actuary that was released on Tuesday, President Trump’s plan to expand short-term health insurance policies will drive up federal spending by $1.2 billion next year and by a total of $38.7 billion over 10 years – significantly more than the Trump Administration’s original estimates.

Sens. Warner and Kaine previously raised similar concerns in a public statement after Virginia insurers filed their initial rates for 2019.