- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Anthem, a major insurer, said Wednesday it will pull out of the Obamacare marketplace in Maine next year, as insurers navigate choppy waters in the wake of the GOP’s failure to pass a repeal bill and square away plans to stabilize the markets.

Affected residents will still have options on the exchange, though customers who want to re-enroll in Anthem plans will not be able to tap Obamacare’s taxpayer-funded subsidies.

The decision coincided with Wednesday’s deadline for insurers to commit to participating in the federal exchanges known as HealthCare.gov. Signups begin Nov. 1.

So far, every U.S. county is expected to have at least one option, though choice is dwindling and many consumers will face premium increases, as insurers lurched into murky territory following the collapse of repeal negotiations on Capitol Hill.

Anthem, which pulled out of other states for 2018, blamed its latest exit on a “shrinking and deteriorating” individual market — Obamacare fell short of enrollment targets in the early rounds — and rampant uncertainty from Washington.

“A stable insurance market is dependent on products that create value for consumers through the broad spreading of risk and a known set of conditions upon which rates can be developed,” the company said. “Today, planning and pricing for ACA-compliant health plans has become increasingly difficult.”

Beyond problems with the 2010 law itself, Mr. Trump has sown confusion by refusing to guarantee “cost-sharing” payments that reimburse insurers for picking low-income customers’ costs.

His administration is wavering on enforcement of the “individual mandate” designed to spur healthy customers into the markets, and it recently slashed 2018 enrollment outreach by more than $100 million.

A last-ditch push to replace Obamacare with a system of state block grants sputtered out this week in the face of three GOP defections.

Mr. Trump said Wednesday he will push for another vote to repeal Obamacare early next year. In the meantime, he plans to issue an executive order that lets people buy across states lines.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, had been pushing to let fast-food workers and others shirk the individual market by banding together to buy “association plans” across borders.

Mr. Paul was a key holdout in the latest repeal push, but Mr. Trump seems to think he can win over at least 50 Senate Republicans votes by January or February.

“We have the votes for health care. I’m almost certain we have the votes,” he said, while saying he’d negotiate with Democrats in the meantime.

It’s unclear what type of negotiations Mr. Trump is talking about.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the GOP chairman of the Senate Health Committee, is trying to restart talks on a “stabilization” bill with Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat, but many Republicans are loathe to vote for cost-sharing payments without major Democratic concessions or a clear path to repeal.

“We hope that our Republican colleagues won’t just sit back, repeatedly threaten repeal, and watch as millions of Americans pay higher health care costs, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said. “That’ll be wrong substantively and politically it’ll fall right on their shoulders.”

Also Wednesday, Senate Democrats asked the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general to investigate why agency officials plan to shut down the HealthCare.gov website for maintenance from midnight to 6 a.m. on five out of six Sundays during open enrollment, which lasts until Dec. 15.

“There has been no satisfactory explanation given for why these shutdowns are necessary, and they appear to be part of a pattern by the Trump administration to sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Brian Schatz, Cory Booker and Chris Murphy wrote in a letter to the inspector general.

They pointed to former Obama administration officials who said there is no reason for the site to be down that often.

• Dave Boyer contributed to this article.


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