Trump administration guts grants to help those in need get Obamacare

Trump administration freezes billions of dollars in payments to Obamacare insurers

On Tuesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it will reduce funding to so-called navigators, which are trained individuals or organizations that help consumers understand their options on the marketplace, to $10 billion from $36 billion in 2017.

The payments were created to stop insurers from losing money on very sick patients, who cost the most to treat.

Trump administration officials said they chose to suspend payments under the program because of a ruling in February from a Federal District Court in New Mexico.

The move is just the latest in a line of decisions by the Trump administration to undermine the ACA.

"We're urging CMS to find a legal or regulatory path that allows immediate action to reinstate these payment transfers and ensure that coverage for millions of Americans is not disrupted", Kris Haltmeyer, vice president for legislative and regulatory policy at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said in a statement. A spokeswoman for ConnectiCare said the insurer is "monitoring developments" related to risk adjustment payments and plans to file its 2019 small group and individual plan rates next week.

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Last August, federal health officials announced that they were reducing the navigators' aid by 41 percent, from $62.5 million, and slashing by 90 percent a related budget for advertising and other outreach activities to foster ACA enrollment. That's because many ACA customers will qualify for federal government premium subsidies, which are still alive and well in Obamacare. "This decision reflects CMS's commitment to put federal dollars for the federally-facilitated exchanges to their most cost effective use in order to better support consumers through the enrollment process", said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. But the justification was flimsy - a ruling last February by a judge in New Mexico that the government's method of calculating the payments was flawed.

The latest "Obamacare" flare-up does not affect most people with employer coverage.

It is unclear how many Americans are paying back some or all of the financial assistance they received to buy health insurance because their income turned out to be higher than they projected.

But CareFirst and Kaiser could ask to adjust their rates higher given the Trump administration's decision. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 27 percent of people under the age of 65 have what could be considered a pre-existing condition. That was incorrect. Federal law requires insurers to pay into the pool, but the money is from the companies, not the federal government.

Signaling the administration's long-term objectives, Andrew Bremberg, who oversees domestic policy at the White House, told reporters past year, "The president still firmly believes that Congress must act to repeal and replace Obamacare, but before that can be done, this administration must act to provide relief". Taken together, these moves will have the effect of damaging the ACA's marketplaces by attracting younger, healthier people, while forcing older, sicker people to either pay more for insurance or purchase sub-par insurance that might not cover services they need.

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