Drowning out health care
Amid the chaos that passes for leadership in Washington these days, the fate of health care for millions of people, including in Massachusetts, hangs in the balance as President Trump continues to threaten to withhold subsidies that are the lifeblood for many.
Trump’s threats are roiling even the most stable markets such as in the Bay State with public and health industry officials unsure what is around the corner as 2018 bears down. State regulators put off approving next year’s rate increases for health insurers until at least next month because of the uncertainty of the federal subsidies that help reduce premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for lower-income people.
Massachusetts officials said the delay in setting rates was to see what happens in Washington. If the payments cease, health insurers here will have to reconfigure their requests to include the impact of the lost money. That will mean higher premiums for everyone and the changes will come with less than three months before they are implemented, making business people sweat their budget projections.
Trump made the August disbursements, which includes $132 million for Massachusetts, despite his vow to freeze the payments to force lawmakers to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act passed under his predecessor. But there’s no guarantee he’ll do it in September. Or October. Or any time after that.
Their fears are well-founded. Earlier this week, as attention was focused on the racial violence in Charlottesville and Trump’s equivocal condemnation of what occurred, the Congressional Budget Office released a report that estimates if the subsidies ceased, premiums for the most popular health plans would rise by as much as 20 percent while the federal deficit would increase nearly $200 billion over the next decade. The CBO also says the rate of uninsured would climb to 5 percent of the country’s population in the subsidies ended, compared to less than half of 1 percent under the current system.
The instability had caused some states to have “bare” counties with no access to health care for those who had to purchase it through the exchanges as some insurers pulled out of the markets. But many of those holes have been filled and now just two small counties – one in Wisconsin and one in Ohio both with less than 400 people relying on insurance through Obamacare – are the only ones in the nation that have been left without access.
With Congress on its summer recess, little, if anything, will happen in the next 30 days. But the clock is ticking and with attention being diverted elsewhere, there is not much time or energy to deal with the complex issue of health care. But with open enrollments and renewals just around the corner, it’s time to pay attention.
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