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Insurance lobbying group urges Senate leaders to ditch 'skinny' Obamacare repeal

  • AHIP, a top health insurance lobbying group, opposes so-called skinny Obamacare repeal.
  • The group urges Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer not to take up the proposal, which would reportedly roll back only parts of Obamacare such as the individual and employer mandates.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a press conference after a closed-door Senate GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill, June 27, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a press conference after a closed-door Senate GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill, June 27, 2017 in Washington, DC.

A key lobbying group for health insurers on Thursday urged Senate leaders not to take up a so-called skinny Obamacare repeal, contending the measure would increase costs and reduce coverage rather than fix the insurance market's flaws.

America's Health Insurance Plans said "uncertainty" in the individual health insurance market would not be resolved by skinny repeal. The reported plan that Republicans aim to push through this week would roll back only parts of the landmark health-care law, including potentially the individual mandate and employer mandate, without an immediate replacement.

"We would oppose an approach that eliminates the individual coverage requirement, does not offer alternative continuous coverage solutions and does not include measures to immediately stabilize the market," AHIP wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Separate GOP plans to immediately replace the Affordable Care Act or repeal it with a two-year transition period failed in the Senate amid Republican divisions. The skinny proposal is seen as a final attempt to push a plan through the Senate before the chamber tries to reach a plan that could also get approval in the House.

Republicans have not yet released text of a possible skinny repeal plan, so its exact provisions are not yet clear. The GOP is aiming to craft it Thursday in a way that will not run afoul of budget rules that allow the party to pass it with only a simple majority rather than 60 votes. A 60-vote threshold would require Democratic support that does not currently exist.

A Congressional Budget Office score requested by Democrats estimated that a skinny repeal plan would leave 16 million more people uninsured and make premiums about 20 percent higher than under current law. However, that report was based only on widely reported outlines of a skinny repeal proposal, meaning it does not capture a concrete bill the Senate will field.

AHIP argued that eliminating the individual mandate, which requires individuals to have insurance or pay a penalty, "will likely result in fewer people covered and a deterioration of the risk pool, which will increase premiums."

Insurance companies need to collect payments from healthier people in order to offset the costs of sicker ones. Without a mandate, it is expected that some healthy people will drop their coverage.

AHIP urged action in several areas, including to protect cost-sharing reductions. These subsidies help to keep costs down for some low-income Obamacare consumers. Insurance companies pay the subsidies, which are then refunded by the government, but that could stop.

The health insurance industry has called for those payments to continue, saying they help to stabilize the individual market. Some congressional conservatives and pockets of the White House have argued against keeping those subsidies, which they say Congress never authorized.

The lobbying group also called for "a mechanism to stabilize" health-care exchanges.