- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2018

President Trump’s health secretary said his stance on an Idaho’s insurer’s plan to skirt the letter of Obamacare is “just a question of timing” and that he will probably wade in once state regulators vet the push to sell non-compliant plans.

“I need a case in controversy, I need to know there is actually action happening,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told the Senate Finance Committee.

Blue Cross of Idaho said it will sell robust, Obamacare-compliant plans on the state’s web-based exchange next year, yet it’s also applying to offer five “Freedom Blue” plans this week off the exchange.

Those plans would offer most of the benefits that compliant plans provide.

However, people with pre-existing conditions might be forced to pay more and there is a $1 million annual cap on claims — things not permitted under Obamacare.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said that’s a clear violation of the law, so Mr. Azar should report back how he plans to deal with it within 30 days.

“I think that this case is really being watched,” Mr. Wyden said. “This has very substantial implications.”

Mr. Azar said he doesn’t want to get involved prematurely — state regulators just received the proposal. But he promised to measure the proposal “against the standards of the law,” if the plan proceeds.

Mr. Wyden said he set a deadline for HHS’s response because Idaho is forging ahead on its own, without submitting a waiver to permit the changes.

“They’re not planning to come to you and ask permission,” Mr. Wyden said. “They’ve made the argument they can just do it on their own.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, echoed those concerns during Mr. Azar’s appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee later in the day.

“These news reports are pretty clear, what they’re proposing,” Mr. Pallone said of the Idaho plan. “And I would think that if you felt — and I do — that they were in violation of the law, you could initiate and start some kind of investigation now.”

Mr. Azar said he doesn’t want to probe what amounts to newspaper reports at this point, though HHS would likely review Idaho’s actions before it actually sold any of the relevant plans.

“I fully expect that we would do so,” he said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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