Our View: Trump wrong to end reimbursements


Rocky Mount Telegram

Sunday, October 15, 2017

President Donald Trump’s reckless move on Friday to end federal reimbursement payments to health insurance companies will only exacerbate the problems afflicting the country’s health care system and likely drive insurance premiums out of reach for millions of Americans.

Those payments, which will come to about $7 billion this year, help more than 6 million people pay insurance deductibles and co-payments.

The federal payments are required under the Affordable Care Act to reimburse insurance companies for the law’s mandate that they reduce out-of-pocket medical costs for low- and middle-income customers.

Trump’s move to end the payments — which he incorrectly labels as “bailouts” to insurance companies — fulfills the threats he has been making to do so for months, which had caused uncertainty over the fate of the payments that already had prompted many insurance companies to raise their rates in anticipation of having to absorb those costs. Earlier this year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina announced it would seek a premium increase of 14.1 percent next year in order to offset financial losses if Trump eliminated the payments.

 Now even more insurers are all but certain to follow suit and hike their premiums as well.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners estimates that ending the payments will produce a 12 percent to 15 percent increase in premiums, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has pegged the hike at 20 percent. And that will be in addition to premium increases from growing medical costs.

Health officials and consumer advocates warn that the action could chase millions of Americans away from health coverage. And halting the payments could drive even more more insurance companies out of the health care marketplaces established under the Affordable Care Act. One-third of the counties in the United States only had one insurance carrier in their  market places in 2017. That figure now could easily increase to one-half in 2018.

More than 350,000 people in North Carolina qualified for and benefited this year from the Cost-Sharing Reductions insurance companies are required to provide that are funded by the federal reimbursement payments. Many of those people likely will be unable to afford health insurance next year if these payments are not restored.

All the president’s action does is to guarantee higher premiums, less people with health insurance and fewer choices of health insurance policies.