WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse
(D-RI) joined Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen
(D-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and 36 of their Senate colleagues in calling on
the Trump Administration to withdraw recent changes making it easier for states
to promote “junk” health care plans, which typically lack protections for
people with pre-existing conditions and which would increase health care costs
for millions of Americans.
Under the Administration’s new guidance,
states are able to use federal subsidies to pay for the subpar plans by
utilizing a section of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) originally intended to
give states the flexibility to implement targeted improvements that expand
coverage, reduce costs, and provide more comprehensive benefits. The
Senators argue in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar,
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, and
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin that the Administration is improperly using
Section 1332 to allow states to do the exact opposite.
“We have serious concerns they will
increase health care costs for millions of consumers while weakening
protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. In light of
substantive concerns that we have with the impact on patients, and procedural
concerns that we have with the manner in which these significant policy changes
have been promulgated, we ask that you immediately withdraw this guidance and
re-engage with stakeholders, states, and Congress,” the Senators wrote.
The Senators make it clear in the letter that
the Administration’s actions do not reflect Congressional intent when the 1332
waiver program was created, stating that “the Administration’s recent
guidance significantly changes enforcement of these four important guardrails,
undermining Congressional intent and posing a significant risk to consumers
that now have affordable and comprehensive health coverage.”
The proposed changes, which were outlined in
guidance provided by the Administration and in a discussion paper released
several months ago, will also allow states to increase out-of-pocket maximums
and reduce the value of coverage, weaken essential health benefits, and
implement changes that increase health care costs for the majority of
beneficiaries if a state can demonstrate costs will be lower for some.
“We ask that you immediately withdraw this
guidance and work with us and other stakeholders on policies that maintain
protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions and improve
affordability,” the Senators conclude.
In October, Reed and Whitehouse joined
colleagues in forcing a vote on a discharge petition that would have blocked
the Trump Administration’s rule to expand junk insurance plans. The
measure was supported by 50 Senators, including one Republican.
Ultimately, the petition did not receive the simple majority needed to
pass the Senate.