Health and Science

Obamacare delays pile up: Feds just want more time

Health care advocates demonstrating near Trump Tower in New York, January 13, 2017.
Erik McGregor | Pacific Press/LightRocket | Getty Images

And you thought Obamacare was going to be dead by next year.

Two new actions by the Trump administration suggest that the Affordable Care Act may be around for at least a little while more — if not longer.

Both moves underscore the difficulty Republicans face in undoing that health-care reform law, as well as a desire by the GOP to get some breathing room until they figure out how to accomplish that goal.

The first move came Friday, when federal heath officials called for health insurers to get more time to propose the premium rates they want to charge customers for Obamacare plans that go into effect in 2018.

Those officials want insurers to have until June 21 to set those rates, instead of the original May 3 deadline.

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The extension would give insurers more time to get a clearer picture of the health-care usage of their current customers who buy individual plans on and off of government-run Obamacare exchanges.

The extra time could provide insurers who were considering exiting those marketplaces next year an incentive to stick around.

"This is a welcome move that provides more time for health plans to gain clarity on transition plans and market stabilization," said Kristine Grow, spokeswoman for the industry group America's Health Insurance Plans.

The second move came Tuesday when the Department of Justice and GOP members of the House of Representatives asked a federal judge for three more months to decide how to resolve a lawsuit that challenges the legality of certain key Obamacare subsidies.

The House had sued the Obama administration claiming that cost-sharing subsidies issued insurers by the Obama administration were illegal because Congress had not appropriated the funds. The subsidies offset the out-of-pocket health expenses of low-income customers of Obamacare plans.

A federal judge had already ruled that the subsidies were not legal. But the Obama administration was appealing that ruling, and the subsidies were allowed to continue.

But now the Trump administration has the option of dropping a defense of the lawsuit. If that were to happen, and the decision in favor of the House was allowed to stand, the subsidies would be eliminated. That, in turn, could lead many Obamacare customers to stop paying for their plans because they would see as unaffordable the cost of actually going to the doctor or hospital or getting other care.

If that were to happen, a number of insurers could decide to stop selling Obamacare plans because they would be left with fewer customers. And those who remained would tend to be people who were heavier users of health care.

That prospect has given GOP leaders pause and led them to consider continuing the subsidies, which would cost up to $11 billion this year, at least temporarily.

President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress have said they want to repeal Obamacare. Trump and a number of GOP lawmakers also want to replace the health law with new legislation.

However, the push to repeal-and-replace has slowed down amid concerns that millions of people could end up losing their insurance coverage.

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