U.S. Governors urge Trump to make health insurance payments

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and China's President Xi Jinping walk along the front patio of the Mar-a-Lago estate after a bilateral meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic and Republican U.S. governors on Wednesday urged the Trump administration, as well as Congress, to continue funding payments to health insurance companies that make Obamacare plans affordable, calling it critical to stabilizing the insurance marketplace.

In a statement, governors joined insurers pressuring Republican President Donald Trump to stand down from threats to cut off about $8 billion in subsidies that help keep down costs for low-income Americans under the Affordable Care Act, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic initiative also referred to as Obamacare.

“The Administration has the opportunity to stabilize the health insurance market across our nation and ensure that our residents can continue to access affordable health care coverage,” said the statement by the Health and Human Services Committee of the National Governors Association.

“A first critical step … is to fully fund CSRs (cost-sharing reduction payments) for the remainder of calendar year 2017 through 2018,” the statement said, adding this was needed in the short-term as Congress and the administration address long-term reform efforts.

The committee is led by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican. Earlier this year, the governors sent a letter calling on Congress to fully fund the cost-sharing payments.

Insurers are in the process of finalizing 2018 premium rates for the individual Obamacare market, with many saying their decision hinges on government guarantees for the cost-sharing subsidies.

Anthem Inc, one of the largest sellers of these plans in 2017, has pared back offerings or mostly exited five states including California and may exit more. Others, like Medicaid specialist Centene Corp, have filled in the gaps as Anthem and other insurers have left behind “bare counties.”

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told CNN on Wednesday the administration was still considering whether to end the cost-sharing subsidies.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called on Trump to make the cost-sharing payments in the near term, while the Senate’s health committee works on an insurance market stabilization package.

“President Trump continues to treat this critical program as if it’s some kind of political hostage,” after Republicans failed last week to pass their own repeal or replacement of Obamacare, Schumer said.

An appeals court has allowed a group of Democratic state attorneys general to defend the subsidy payments in a case filed by the Republican-led House of Representatives, potentially making it more difficult for the administration to settle the case.

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