- Associated Press - Friday, October 13, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - President Donald Trump’s plan to halt payments to insurers under predecessor Barack Obama’s health care law could potentially raise health insurance costs as much as 10 percent for up to 42,000 North Dakotans, state Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread said Friday.

It also has the potential to bring another insurer back into the North Dakota health insurance exchange, he said.

The subsidies targeted by Trump seek to lower copays and deductibles for people with modest incomes. Stopping the payments would trigger a spike in premiums for next year unless Trump reverses course or Congress authorizes the money.

Godfread said it’s possible that all 42,000 people who buy individual policies on the North Dakota market could be impacted. He plans to ask Blue Cross Blue Shield and Sanford Health Plan, the two insurers who sell policies on the North Dakota market, to absorb some of the impact to keep costs down for consumers.

“Long-term, they can make that difference up,” he said. “Short-term, it’s hard for consumers to do that. It’s really a balancing act at this point. Trying to keep companies in the marketplace, while trying to keep costs down so people who want (insurance) can afford it.”

Medica, which has offered policies in the North Dakota insurance marketplace, announced last month it was leaving the exchange in 2018 due to uncertainty over the cost-sharing reductions. With Trump’s announcement, they might be interested in coming back if allowable, Godfread said.

Medica spokesman Greg Bury said the company was “waiting for guidance from the Trump administration before making that decision.”

Trump’s plan could hurt efforts to get people to sign up for health insurance coverage, said Shelly TenNapel, chief executive director of the Community HealthCare Association of the Dakotas, which runs programs in both states aimed at helping connect consumers to affordable health care.

“I think this is a policy change that we would call a lose-lose situation, in that it’s going to cause higher premiums for people looking to buy coverage and it’s going to increase the federal deficit over time,” she said.

A coalition of state attorneys general was planning to sue to block Trump from stopping the subsidies. North Dakota Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Liz Brocker declined to comment on whether the state would be part of the coalition.

Opinions on Trump’s move differed among members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation. Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, a staunch Trump supporter, said “any appropriations to maintain funding for cost sharing reduction payments should be tied to meaningful health policy reform that provides more flexibility for states and better care for the American people.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, called Trump’s decision “disheartening” and said it “was about claiming a political win, not supporting American families.”


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