Trump strikes a blow for health care freedom
Free at last! That’s the message for millions who don’t get health coverage at work and, until now, faced two dismal options: going without insurance or paying ObamaCare’s soaring premiums. On Thursday, President Trump announced changes that will allow consumers to choose coverage options costing half of what ObamaCare’s cheapest bronze plans cost.
Democrats are already accusing the president of kneecapping ObamaCare, but these changes will reduce the number of uninsured — something Democrats claim is their goal.
The Affordable Care Act requires everyone to buy the one-size-fits-all package. You have to pay for maternity care, even if you’re too old to give birth. You’re also on the hook for pediatric dental care, even if you’re childless. It’s like passing a law that the only car you can buy is a fully-loaded, four-door sedan. No more hatchbacks or two-seaters.
Trump’s taking the opposite approach, allowing consumers choice. His new regulation will free people to again buy “short-term” health plans that exclude many costly services, such as inpatient drug rehab. These plans aren’t guaranteed to be renewable year to year; the upside is they cost much less.
Short-term plans have been around for years. But after ObamaCare premiums began soaring, these plans became very attractive to people who were ineligible for an ObamaCare subsidy and balked at paying full freight.
Hundreds of thousands of customers signed up for them — until the Obama administration slammed the door shut. A year ago, President Barack Obama slapped a 90-day limit on the plans, as a way to force people into ObamaCare no matter how unaffordable.
Trump is removing Obama’s 90-day limit, re-opening that low-cost option. That’s good news for 8 million people currently getting whacked with an ObamaCare tax penalty for not having insurance, and another 11 million uninsured who avoided the penalty by pleading hardship. Count on many of them to buy coverage when they have an affordable option. That will reduce the number of uninsured.
Yet Democrats are ranting that Trump’s regulatory changes are sabotaging the Affordable Care Act. They warn that healthy people will abandon the ObamaCare exchanges to buy these lower-cost plans, destabilizing the system. It’s a wild overstatement.
The 83 percent of ObamaCare-exchange buyers who get subsidies are unlikely to drop out. As for the small number paying full freight, of course many (though not all) will opt for affordable alternatives.
And why shouldn’t they? After all, ObamaCare unfairly forces the healthy to pay the same for insurance as the chronically ill.
People with pre-existing conditions should be subsidized, but instead of burdening healthy insurance buyers in the tiny individual market, the entire nation should chip in. That’s what Republican ObamaCare replacement bills proposed. ObamaCare’s “community pricing” is the biggest reason premiums have soared since 2013.
That hasn’t been a problem for the millions getting subsidies. But it is clobbering the 8.8 million who don’t. Their premiums have more than doubled since 2014 and are set to go up another 25 percent to 35 percent this winter. Expect a good number to bail out and buy the cheaper options available because of Trump’s new regulation. Trump has now seized the initiative, after congressional Republicans fell flat on their faces and failed to address the pain ObamaCare is inflicting on consumers stuck in the individual insurance market.
The president should keep going. What’s next? Trump should use his discretion to stop enforcing the tax penalty on those who don’t buy ObamaCare-compliant plans, including buyers of short-term plans.
Then he should cancel the sweetheart deal his predecessor weaseled for members of Congress and their staff members. Even though the Affordable Care Act requires them to buy coverage on ObamaCare exchanges, Obama arranged for them to have a choice of 57 gold plans and have John Q. Public pick up most of their costs. It’s an outrage.
Once members of Congress are feeling the same pain as everyone else, they’ll be more focused on repealing and replacing the dysfunctional health law. In the meantime, Trump is wisely providing relief where it counts the most — in people’s wallets.
Betsy McCaughey is a London Center senior fellow and author of “Beating ObamaCare.”