Here's How Trump is Going Around Congress in His Quest to Destroy Obamacare
Obamacare surges on, with the public continuing to approve of it and health insurers coming back to the markets after sitting last year out. The Republican Congress failed to repeal it, so the Trump administration has redoubled its efforts to gut it. Last week it suspended key payments to insurers, this week it's slashing grants to nonprofit organizations that act as navigators, helping people sign up for the law.
It's the second year of massive cuts to the groups, having reduced spending by 80 percent over the past two years. This year it will spend just $10 million, down from $36 million spent last fall and $63 million under the Obama administration in 2016. The excuse Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is giving is that they believe the navigators don't sign up as many people as private entities like insurance brokers.
Not only is the administration gutting the program, it's making them help people enroll in the plans Trump has concocted that don't comply with the consumer protection standards and other requirements of the law. These plans have been allowed under the law, but can only last a limited duration of three months, but the administration is going to publish a regulation in the coming weeks allowing consumers to enroll in these plans for a full year. These limited benefit plans will compete directly with the comprehensive insurance on the exchanges, and navigators will be forced to sell consumers on them.
These "association health plans" are just one more facet of Trump's Obamacare sabotage, cheap plans with limited coverage intended to draw healthy people out of the Obamacare markets. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (OR) calls the new move "federally-funded fraud—paying groups to sell unsuspecting Americans on junk plans."
Speaking for the navigators, Fred Ammons, who supervises the Insure Georgia organization, said: "This is a huge cut to navigator programs across the country. It will virtually eliminate face-to-face in-person assistance. It means less help, much less help, to underserved, hard-to-reach populations, people who live in rural areas or have low literacy or don't speak English as their primary language." These are people who are not going to go to an insurance agent or broker.
Last year a massive organization of volunteers stepped up to fill in for the navigators the administration slashed, and had remarkable success in getting people enrolled. Trump is doing his damnedest to prevent a repeat of that, to suck people out of Obamacare, just because he can.