Trump’s Taken Two Huge Swipes At Obamacare In Under A Week

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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Obamacare is getting its legs knocked out from under it and the program has one person to thank: President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration announced Tuesday evening that it is significantly cutting grants for a program intended to help individuals navigate the Obamacare insurance marketplace, Obamacare’s navigator program.

For the second year in a row, the Trump administration is cutting navigator funding, citing the program’s ineffectiveness at getting people to enroll in Obamacare. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma announced Tuesday the federal government will provide the navigator program $10 million in the fall of 2018, down $99 million from the end of 2016, constituting an 80 percent overall reduction in funding.

That isn’t the only blow Trump is dealing the navigator program. In addition to slashing its funding, the administration is fundamentally reshaping how the program will operate.

When the program began in 2013, navigators helped people enroll in Obamacare plans that complied with all 10 Obamacare Essential Health Benefits (EHBs). Obamacare-compliant plans provide a number of standard coverage benefits, like maternity care, drug coverage and other services.

The Trump administration is shaking things up, directing navigators to help customers enroll in coverage outside of Obamacare-compliant plans, like short-term, limited duration plans the administration has been pushing for months. (RELATED: Trump’s Next Move To Knife Obamacare)

It is important to note that navigators do not work for a specific insurance company, which already try to sell their plans to consumers. Navigators are not supposed to favor one company over another, but rather help consumers find the best coverage to fit their individual needs. At least, that is the theory behind the program.

Verma’s announcement comes just three days after the administration announced it is temporarily freezing billions of dollars of payments to health insurance companies intended to help them manage higher-risk patients. (RELATED: Trump Deals Another Blow To Obamacare)

The federal government provides Obamacare insurers risk adjustment payments, which are supposed to cushion insurers from taking steep loses on high risk patients in the Obamacare marketplace. The government paid out over $10 billion in these in 2017.

CMS announced the abrupt halt of these payments Saturday evening, citing a February 2018 ruling from the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico that invalidates them.

The insurance industry is speaking out against the administration’s decision to halt these payments, calling it a crucial blow during a time when insurance companies are trying to come up with premiums and packages for 2019. (RELATED: Obama Gave Trump Some Laughable Advice About Obamacare)

“We are very discouraged by the new market disruption brought about by the decision to freeze risk adjustment payments. This decision comes at a critical time when insurance providers are developing premiums for 2019 and states are reviewing rates,” trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) said in a statement. “We encourage the Administration to reevaluate its decision and work with all stakeholders to make health care more affordable for all Americans.”

Insurers themselves are voicing concerns for market destabilization following the announcement.

“This action will significantly increase 2019 premiums for millions of individuals and small business owners and could result in far fewer health plan choices,” Blue Cross Blue Shield Association President and CEO Scott Serota said in a statement. “It will undermine Americans’ access to affordable coverage, particularly those who need medical care the most.”

Over the course of his first 18 months in office, the president has slowly targeted Obamacare with a series of moves intended to undermine the system and disrupt the marketplace. (RELATED: Trump’s Next Move To Knife Obamacare)

The president has rolled back funding for a program intended to help individuals navigate the insurance marketplace, Obamacare’s navigator program, signed an executive order to allow for groups to purchase insurance across state lines, stopped federal funding for Obamacare subsidies, pushed for consumer access to more affordable short-term, limited duration health insurance plans, cut Obamacare’s open enrollment period in half and its advertising budget 90 percent.

Trump made repealing and replacing Obamacare a key part of his successful bid for the presidency in 2016, but he has, thus far, been unable to materialize that goal.

The House was able to pass a version of Obamacare repeal in May 2017, but the Senate was unable to get anything accomplished, failing a handful of times to find consensus on some version of repeal and replace, or even repeal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he is ready to move on from the issue, but he has said he would entertain a proposal that was guaranteed to get enough votes to pass.

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