In March, the Trump administration saved Obamacare in Idaho. It was a hard decision for administration officials, who harbor no love for the health law. But it was the right call.
Idaho officials wanted to help residents who have been harmed by Obamacare’s premium-inflating regulations. So they planned to allow insurers to sell health plans that don’t comply with those rules and mandates.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma blocked Idaho’s plan. She explained that Obamacare “remains the law” and that she has “a duty to enforce and uphold the law.”
Idaho officials shouldn’t let this setback dissuade them from pursuing affordable coverage. Consumers are suffering — double-digit premium increases on the Obamacare exchanges have become the norm. In 2018, premiums for all plans on the state’s marketplace increased 27 percent, on average. For popular silver plans, premiums rose an average of 40 percent.
Idahoans can blame these price hikes on Obamacare’s burdensome regulations. For instance, the law mandated that all plans offer a specific list of “essential health benefits” covering everything from psychotherapy to pediatric vision care. Such requirements impose financial burdens on insurers, forcing them to raise prices.
Obamacare also prohibited insurance companies from turning away patients based on their health status, or charging older, sicker patients more than three times what they charged younger, healthier ones — two valuable strategies for keeping costs down.
Obamacare has made it all but illegal to sell basic, low-cost plans. Idaho officials are more than justified in their frustrations. Even so, any attempt to relieve patients from Obamacare’s devastating consequences must be done within the bounds of the law.
Short-term healthcare plans are one such legal alternative. The Trump administration recently proposed a rule which gives 60 days for comment to allow patients to purchase short-term healthcare coverage that lasts just shy of a year. If the rule is passed, plans should be available for purchase late summer or early fall. Since these shorter plans aren’t subject to Obamacare’s mandates, they tend to be much cheaper than exchange policies, creating an affordable coverage alternative.
Also consider association health plans, which allow small businesses and self-employed individuals to band together to purchase health insurance. AHPs are also exempt from many of Obamacare’s mandates. Expanding them would provide cheaper coverage to small businesses and individuals.
Idaho officials shouldn’t have to choose between upholding the rule of law and giving patients access to affordable coverage. Until Obamacare is gone for good, Idaho officials should look for more creative ways to expand affordable healthcare.