In a high-stakes bid for conservative support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to demands from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to allow insurers to sell low-cost, skimpier plans as part of a new health care bill.
Consumers could buy more bare-bones health insurance for less money under an amendment to the latest version Senate health plan, but insurers warn the change could cause premiums for older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions to skyrocket.
Premiums overall for those who buy their insurance on the market would rise much faster than they are now and there would be even fewer options for them, the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans said in a statement.
Insurers would be able to sell plans that don’t cover nearly as much as required under the Affordable Care Act, as long as they sell at least one plan that does under an amendment sponsored by Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.
That would encourage young, healthy people to buy plans that don’t meet the ACA, which AHIP says would lead to an “un-level playing field” for insurers selling to people who don’t get their insurance from their employers or through government programs such as Medicare.
“The individual market faces well-documented challenges to stability, including higher premiums, lower-than-expected enrollment, fewer plan choices” and a shortage of healthy people to offset the cost of covering the sick in some states and areas, said AHIP.
But there are ways to do this that don’t threaten the overall stability of the state and federal exchanges, said AHIP.
Despite an additional $70 billion to help cover the costs of high-risk patients, the bill was still roundly criticized as hitting people who as insurers offer non-compliant plans.
“This broken bill can’t be fixed,” said Joe Baker, president of the non-profit group Medicare Rights Center.
Even with the changes, the Better Care Reconciliation Act “still ends Medicaid as we know it, and it still yanks health coverage out from under millions of Americans, including older adults, people with disabilities, and those with pre-existing conditions,” Baker said in a statement.
People living with cancer and other chronic illnesses have been particularly concerned about the fate of the ACA, as many couldn’t get or afford insurance before the law.
Kathy Robinson of Plano, Texas, says she was born with a kidney disease and will need coverage for medication and other health care for the rest of her life.
“As a transplant patient, I feel covering pre-existing conditions is crucial,” says Robinson, 55. “I did not do anything to cause me to be ill.”
When the health network PatientsLikeMe polled members in May, nearly 60% said the ACA needed only “minor modifications” and just 23% suggested the law needed a “major overhaul.”
“Stop trying to repeal Obamacare, just fix it,” said Laura Porter, Sherburne, N.Y., who has diabetes, epilepsy and spinal injury. Congress needs “to work together and fix the issues right now.”
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