- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Health care groups implored President Trump Wednesday to preserve Obamacare payments that are critical to the stability of the insurance market, as Republicans struggle to plot out their next steps on health reform.

House Republicans had won a ruling last year that President Obama was breaking the law by making the “cost-sharing payments” to insurance companies, which help low-income customers with deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs, even though Congress had specifically canceled that money.

The Trump administration could easily drop Mr. Obama’s appeal of the ruling, but the White House and Republicans now realize they may have to keep the payments flowing until they figure out how to get rid of Obamacare and dispose of the suit.

Health groups say they need to know whether the payments will be guaranteed through the end of next year.

“The window is quickly closing to properly price individual insurance products for 2018. The most critical action to help stabilize the individual market for 2017 and 2018 is to remove uncertainty about continued funding for cost sharing reductions (CSRs),” the main insurers’ lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a letter signed by key doctors’ groups, hospital associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Nearly three in five customers on Obamacare’s exchanges, or roughly 7 million people, with incomes between 100 percent and 250 percent of poverty rely on the cost-sharing payments, and — with repeal on hold for now — health plans are still required to reduce their out-of-pocket costs whether they’re reimbursed or not.

Earlier this week, the Health and Human Services Department said it hadn’t made any firm decisions on how to proceed.

“The administration is currently deciding its position on this matter. We have not been contacted by Democrats to help save Obamacare, perhaps because they consider Obamacare to be a losing cause,” HHS spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said.

Eliminating the payments could scare away insurers, resulting in fewer choices for consumers, while some plans would raise their rates by at least 15 percent both on and off the exchanges, the health groups said in their letter.

They said people who don’t qualify for tax credits might drop out of the market altogether due to rising rates and dwindling choices.

Mr. Trump has suggested he would let the Obamacare marketplace collapse so that Democrats would come running to the negotiating table, though his comments open himself up to claims he is sabotaging the market while his own party struggles to pin down its repeal-and-replace strategy.

Insurers must decide by June 21 whether to participate in the federally run Obamacare exchange known as HealthCare.gov.

“We are committed to working with you to deliver the short-term stability we all want and the affordable coverage and high-quality care that every American deserves,” the groups said. “But time is short and action is needed.”

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