HHS Official Defends Trump on Obamacare

President Donald Trump has made history by not being shy about tweeting his disagreements on many things, including Obamacare. But his Cabinet officials have previously shied away from overtly political comments.

But Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Department of Health and Human Services agency that runs Medicaid and Medicare, stepped into the fray when she defended the Trump administration against charges of “sabotage” of the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

“I take exception to those out there who have made claims that we have tried to sabotage the health care of the American people, particularly when it comes to the health-care exchanges,” Verma said to about 1,500 attendees at the World Care Congress in Washington that I covered.

“Obamacare was failing long before Donald Trump became president and I became CMS administrator,” she said.

Many health insurers have fled the individual market after losing millions of dollars after the exchanges opened in 2014, she argued. Half of all counties in the country and 10 states now have only one insurer left in those markets as a result, she said.

Further, premiums and deductibles have risen sharply for individual market enrollees who make too much to benefit from the ACA’s subsidies, Verma added.

ACA supporters have argued that the administration and congressional Republicans have made the situation worse by stopping payments to insurers to cover subsidies for out-of-pocket costs for low-income people. In addition, Republicans have eliminated penalties for not having qualified coverage, which is expected to result in more young, healthy people dropping coverage.

Chet Burrell, outgoing president and chief executive officer of Maryland-based CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, told the conference that the ACA has succeeded in covering millions of new enrollees with comprehensive coverage.

But CareFirst has lost $600 million on its individual market enrollees because premium rates approved were inadequate to cover the cost of its ACA enrollees, who were sicker than originally expected, Burrell said.

The ACA would work better if it included a permanent reinsurance program to cover high-cost claims, and if more out-of-pocket costs were covered for enrollees, Burrell said. Maryland plans to institute a reinsurance program, which could drop premiums 20 percent to 30 percent from what they would otherwise be, which would help stabilize the individual market, he said.

Read my article here.

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