- Associated Press - Friday, October 13, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The Democratic leadership in the New Hampshire legislature on Friday called on Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to protect residents from possible rate increases resulting from President Donald Trump’s decision to halt payments to insurers under the Obama-era health care law.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the Republican president’s decision Thursday. The White House, in a separate statement, said the government cannot legally continue to pay the so-called cost-sharing subsidies because they lack a formal authorization by Congress.

State House and Senate leaders issued a joint statement Friday demanding that Sununu and the Republican-controlled legislature pass a reinsurance program so residents whose premiums go up can get some relief.

They also are calling on state Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to sue the Trump administration to protect the payments the federal government sends to insurance companies to offset the costs of deductibles and copays of low-income residents insured through state marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act.

“President Trump’s decision to end cost-sharing reduction payments will dramatically hurt New Hampshire families’ ability to afford and access the health insurance they need,” said a statement from Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn, Senate Deputy Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff and House Deputy Democratic Leader Cindy Rosenwald.

“The Trump administration’s varied attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and its protections are shameful and it is abundantly clear that this effort is an attempt to settle a political score rather than act in the best interest of the American people,” the statement added.

New Hampshire’s Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny insisted Trump’s decision won’t create further financial instability in New Hampshire because insurers set rates assuming they’ll lose the money. Sevigny said he had hoped the federal government would not end the payments, but the three companies offering plans in New Hampshire’s individual markets filed their proposed rates assuming they wouldn’t get the payments.

A recent analysis conducted for the insurance department estimated that among the 97,000 people in the state’s individual market, 74 percent who either get federal subsidies or are part of the expanded Medicaid program likely will see their premiums drop or remain flat in 2018. But the 26 percent who pay the full cost will see increases averaging 52 percent. More than 19,000 people in New Hampshire benefit from the cost-sharing subsidies, which cost the federal government $18.2 million.

Earlier in the day, Sununu, who has long supported the cost-sharing arrangement, said in a statement that the “ball is now in Congress’ court, and New Hampshire’s Congressional Delegation must work together to resolve this issue, and finally fix Obamacare’s inherent flaws.”

Members of New Hampshire’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, meanwhile, roundly criticized Trump’s decision.

Sen. Maggie Hassan said Trump was “cruelly and intentionally raising health care costs for millions” while Rep. Carol Shea-Porter expressed concern the decision would not only lead to rate hikes for those who buy subsidized insurance but also for “millions of Americans who buy their own coverage.”

“That’s because insurance companies say they are going to charge everyone more to make up for the lost funding,” Shea-Porter said. Congress must act immediately to fund the subsidies “and protect our constituents from Trump’s vengeful and destructive actions,” she said.

Rep. Annie Kuster said the move by Trump shows he was focused on destroying the Affordable Care Act.

“There is support among both Republicans and Democrats for continuing these payments and for measures such as reinsurance programs that would help to stabilize the individual marketplace and rein in costs, but President Trump is hell-bent on undermining, not fixing the ACA,” she said in a statement. “Sadly, President Trump’s damaging executive order will make working together across the aisle to improve our healthcare system all the more difficult.”

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