Tue | Oct 16, 2018

'Obamacare' mandate repeal would remake market for consumers

Published:Thursday | November 16, 2017 | 12:00 AM
In this October 18, 2017, file photo, Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Millions would forgo coverage if Congress repeals the unpopular requirement that Americans get health insurance, gambling with their own wellbeing and boosting premiums for others.


Millions are expected to forgo coverage if Congress repeals the unpopular requirement that Americans get health insurance, gambling that they won't get sick and boosting premiums for others in a sharp break with the idea that everyone should contribute to health care.

Just as important, the drive by Senate Republicans to undo the coverage requirement under former President Barack Obama's health care law fits neatly with the Trump administration's effort to write new regulations allowing for skimpier plans with limited benefits and lower premiums.

Put the two together and the marketplace for about 18 million people buying their own health insurance may look very different in a few years. Consumers would have layers of new options with different pluses and minuses. They'd notice a shift away from the 'Obamacare' requirement that health plans cover a broad set of "essential" benefits. New winners and losers would emerge.

Defending the GOP's move, the Senate's chief tax writer said on Wednesday that the 'Obamacare' fines on people who go without coverage amount to a tax on working people.

"It's a terribly regressive tax that imposes harsh burdens on low- and middle-income taxpayers," said Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

raised costs

But Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said doing away with the coverage requirement will undermine insurance markets and raise costs, particularly for those who need care. She accused Republicans of "sneaking devastating health care changes into a partisan bill at the last minute".

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repeal of the insurance requirement would save the government $338 billion through 2027, mainly because fewer people would seek subsidised coverage. That would give GOP lawmakers money to offset some of the tax cuts they are proposing.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the number of uninsured would rise by 13 million by 2027, reversing

coverage gains seen under Obama. Because fewer people would be paying into the insurance pool, premiums for individual plans would rise about 10 percent. Little impact was expected on employer coverage.

Repealing the mandate would be like taking away the stick that nudges people to get comprehensive health insurance, while the skimpier plans envisioned by the Trump administration's regulation writers would be like new carrots introduced into the marketplace, said Katherine Hempstead, who directs health insurance work for the non-partisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.