Tag Archives: sabotage

Did Your Health Insurance Premium Go Up? Thank Donald Trump

There’s a reason the Republicans are frantically trying to load the federal bench–including the Supreme Court– with ideological conservatives: given Congress’ refusal to discharge its constitutional duty to oversee the executive branch, the courts are the only recourse for Americans opposed to the criminal enterprise that is the Trump Administration.

There are currently hundreds of challenges to that administration making their way through the courts, and a number of them are critically important. One of those involves the “take care” portion of the chief executive’s job description–the duty to “faithfully execute” the laws of the land.

People who depend on the Affordable Care Act–and all citizens who believe that Presidents have such a duty –should be rooting for the success of a lawsuit recently filed by four cities. 

Vox introduced its report on that lawsuit thusly:

Abbe Gluck argued, in October 2017, that President Trump’s “sabotage” of the Affordable Care Act violated his duty under the Constitution to ensure laws passed by Congress are executed. This week four cities — Baltimore, Chicago, Columbus, and Cincinnati —filed a suit making that very claim.

Here’s the essence of the argument:

Modern American history has never seen as full-scale an effort to sabotage a valid law as we have with President Trump and the Affordable Care Act — a law whose legality has been upheld twice by the US Supreme Court.

The president has a legal obligation, under Article II of the US Constitution, to “take Care that the laws be faithfully executed.” That means he must make sure that our laws are implemented in good faith and that he uses his executive discretion reasonably toward that end.

His agencies likewise have a legal obligation, under the Administrative Procedure Act — the statute that sets the rules for our entire federal regulatory apparatus — not to use their power to engage in arbitrary action.

The intentional, multi-pronged sabotage of the ACA that we have seen during Trump’s presidency — reaching new heights since attempts by Congress to repeal the law failed — violates both Trump’s constitutional obligations and quite possibly the obligations of his Department of Health and Human Services.

Like the pending lawsuits alleging violations of the Emoluments Clause, the take care clause has rarely–if ever–been the basis of a lawsuit.  At least in modern times, it certainly hasn’t been the basis of a case against a president, and that is entirely understandable: most legal scholars agree that presidents need a fair amount of discretion in enforcing the laws. Demonstrating that the person in the Oval Office is purposely undermining a law rather than exercising discretion is extremely difficult. Usually.

But this, of course, is Donald Trump–idiot extraordinaire. Far from masking his motives (making proof difficult),  he has trumpeted and tweeted them.

The ACA requires the federal government to support the open enrollment period — in which individuals must sign up for insurance or lose their chance to do so. The ACA requires the federal government to, among other things, maintain a website and work with local “navigators” and other groups to educate consumers and encourage them to sign up for insurance.

Trump instead set out to make open enrollment a failure.

He cut the enrollment period in half, from three months to six weeks. He shut down the federal enrollment website for nearly 12 hours every Sunday during the period — a crucial window when working Americans might enroll. He has canceled already- scheduled events in which federal officials had planned to visit states and help with enrollment. He cut advertising for enrollment by 90 percent, from $100 million to $10 million, even though his administration charged insurers on the exchanges user fees to generate money for that same advertising. (Those fees far exceeded $10 million.)

One day before the new budget year began on September 1, he announced a 40 percent cut to those navigator programs — after promising them $60 million in grants in May, and afterhis administration had said it would support navigators in order to partly offset the obstacles erected by the curtailed enrollment period.

Why would President Trump want to stifle open enrollment? Because that would seriously weaken the ACA’s insurance markets, which require a mix of healthy and sick customers to be stable. In line with that ambition, he also signed an executive order last week that directs his agencies to consider policies that would allow the sale of new group and short-term plans lacking many ACA protections. These alternative plans are likely to pull even more healthy individuals out of the insurance markets.

The same day, Trump announced his plan to cut off important cost-sharing payments that the ACA promises to insurers to compensate them for reducing what individuals have to pay in premiums…  creating extreme instability in the insurance industry… And Trump made clear that his goal in cutting off the funds was to harm he law. He tweeted the same day the policy was announced: “ObamaCare is causing such grief and tragedy for so many. It is being dismantled …”

Knowledgable observers calculate that premiums would have declined this year, rather than increasing, if not for Trump’s sabotage. That’s bad enough, but if a President can get away with eviscerating rather than enforcing valid laws with which he personally disagrees, the rule of law becomes meaningless.

 

Sabotage

While the media and the country are being distracted by the daily crazy/sleazy coming from Washington, the Trump Administration is working feverishly behind the scenes to dismantle the rules: rules that protect us from dirty air and water, from discrimination in housing and education, and rules that guarantee us access to health care, among others.

The unremitting attack on the Affordable Care Act has been particularly effective. The GOP may not have been able to repeal it outright, but regulatory sabotage has been the next best tactic. Thanks to the administration’s actions–neutering and threatening to eliminate provisions of the ACA that were included in order to keep premiums affordable, health insurance rates continue to rise.

According to Larry Levitt at the nonpartisan, respected Kaiser Foundation,

New analysis: Insurers did very well in Q1 of 2018 in the individual market under the ACA. If not for looming repeal of the mandate penalty and expansion of loosely-regulated plans, we’d be looking at modest premium increases and even decreases for 2019.https://www.kff.org/private-insurance/issue-brief/individual-insurance-market-performance-in-early-2018/ 

Evidently, however, the administration has decided that killing affordability by raising costs was too incremental; a recent article from The Washington Post reported on a much more direct attack.

The Trump administration took another major swipe at the Affordable Care Act, halting billions of dollars in annual payments required under the law to even out the cost to insurers whose customers need expensive medical services.

In a rare Saturday afternoon announcement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it will stop collecting and paying out money under the ACA’s “risk adjustment” program, drawing swift protest from the health insurance industry.

Risk adjustment is one of three methods built into the 2010 health-care law to help insulate insurance companies from the ACA requirement that they accept all customers for the first time — healthy and sick — without charging more to those who need substantial care.

As the article goes on to explain, two of the three methods were temporary;  risk adjustment, however, was to be permanent. Federal health officials are supposed to annually calculate which insurers had relatively low-cost consumers, and which had more expensive customers. Those with the lower-cost customers would make an adjustment payment to those whose customers were more costly.

This idea of pooling risk has had significant practical effects: encouraging insurers to participate in the insurance marketplaces the ACA created for Americans who cannot get affordable health benefits through a job.

In its announcement, CMS said that it is not going to make $10.4 billion in payments that are due to insurers in the fall for expenses incurred by insurers last year.

The announcement that payments due under the law would simply not be made is just the most recent measure taken by the Trump administration to demolish a law the GOP was unable to repeal legislatively. (It’s a tactic Trump is undoubtedly comfortable with–throughout his “successful” development career, he routinely stiffed architects, engineers and contractors. Wheelers and dealers who are willing to ignore the terms of contracts to which they are party are unlikely to have qualms about ignoring the obligations imposed by laws to which they are subject. But I digress.)

The administration has taken a number of steps to dismantle the ACA through executive powers.

Last year, health officials halved the length of the annual sign-up period for Americans to buy ACA health plans and also slashed by 90 percent the federal funds for advertising and other outreach efforts to urge people to enroll. Last October, the president ended another important subsidy to insurers: cost-sharing reduction payments, which cushioned them from the law’s requirement to provide discounts on deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs to low-income customers.

This year, the Department of Labor and HHS have worked to make it easier for people and small companies to buy two types of insurance policies that sidestep benefits required under the ACA and some of the law’s consumer protections.

There have been a couple of lawsuits in the lower courts over past calculations of these payments, with inconsistent results, and the administration blamed the withholding of funds on one of those decisions–a transparently trumped-up excuse. (Pun intended.)

“Risk adjustment is a mandatory program under federal law,” said Scott Serota, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. “Without a quick resolution . . . this action will significantly increase 2019 premiums for millions of individuals and small business owners. . . . It will undermine Americans’ access to affordable coverage, particularly for those who need medical care the most.”

Matt Eyles, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, noted in a statement that the timing of this latest move could be particularly disruptive, because this is the season during which insurers around the country decide whether to take part in ACA marketplaces for 2019 and, if so, what rates to charge. “This decision . . . will create more market uncertainty and increase premiums for many health plans,” Eyles said.

Of course it will. That’s the whole intent.

And if thousands of people are bankrupted or die as a result? Too bad. They weren’t Republican donors anyway.