- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Trump administration on Thursday signaled it would block Idaho’s bid to offer plans that flout Obamacare, saying they sympathize with efforts to extend cheaper options but the 2010 law remains in place.

Seema Verma, who oversees federal insurance programs, told Gov. C.L. Otter, a Republican, in a formal letter that she believes his push “would be failing to substantially enforce” the federal health law.

Idaho had been vetting individual-market plans that would impose annual limits on claims and set prices based on medical history - two things barred by the Affordable Care Act.

Some plans wouldn’t cover things mandate by Obamacare, like maternity care.

The moved enraged Democrats and was viewed as a key test of how far red states could test the limits of President Obama’s law under President Trump, after Republicans failed to repeal it.

Ms. Verma said while she appreciated Mr. Otter’s attempt to address soaring costs, especially for unsubsidized customers, she couldn’t look the other way.

Obamacare “remains the law and we have a duty to enforce and uphold the law,” she wrote.

“If a state fails to substantially enforce the law, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has a responsibility to enforce these provisions on behalf of the State,” Ms. Verma added. “This is certainly not our preference.”

She said Idaho, with some tweaks, might be able to offer similar plans under Mr. Trump’s bid to offer short-term plans for up to a year.

There is a GOP effort to codify this change and let people renew these plans, setting up a parallel market for healthier people that could siphon valuable enrollees from Obamacare’s exchanges.

It’s unclear if Idaho will attempt to forge ahead with its plans, despite the federal warning.

Jon Hanian, a spokesman for Mr. Otter, said they were still reviewing the letter late Thursday and had no comment.

Blue Cross of Idaho has submitted a set of Obamacare plans that would operate under the new states rules outside of the state’s exchange. Customers who use them could not qualify for Obamacare’s taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Democrats viewed the administration’s decision Thursday as a mixed victory, noting Mr. Trump still wants to hack away at their prized program.

“I’m glad to see (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) enforced the law and rejected this outrageous and clearly illegal attempt by the State of Idaho to eliminate critical consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act, such as the protections for people with preexisting conditions,” Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, said. “Make no mistake, however, while this is the right decision, the Administration continues its many efforts to undermine the law and chip away at its protections, including by encouraging Idaho to sell junk plans in another way

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