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Trump issues order to deregulate health insurance, promising 'Obamacare relief'

Tribune Washington Bureau

October 12. 2017 1:04PM
President Donald Trump smiles after signing an Executive Order to make it easier for Americans to buy bare-bone health insurance plans and circumvent Obamacare rules at the White House in Washington Thursday. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump moved Thursday to scale back rules on health insurance across the country in the administration's most ambitious effort to date to use its regulatory powers to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

The controversial new executive order Trump issued aims to open the way for a greater number of relatively cheap health plans that could offer skimpier coverage than allowed under the health care law, often called Obamacare.

His new order will "provide millions of Americans with Obamacare relief," Trump said as he formally released the order. The changes will "increase competition, increase choice and increase access to lower priced, high quality health care options."

"People will have great, great health care," Trump added, speaking to an audience made up of Cabinet officials, Vice President Mike Pence, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul and owners of several small businesses, who the White House said would benefit by the new plans.

But while loosening consumer protections in the ACA might make insurance cheaper for those in good health, that would happen at the expense of millions of sicker Americans, who will have to pay more, warn patient advocates, state regulators and others across the health care sector.

The president's moves, which come after congressional Republicans repeatedly failed to roll back the 2010 health care law this year, also renewed fears that Trump is determined to deliberately destabilize insurance markets and weaken Obama's signature domestic policy achievement.

The administration has already taken steps to undermine those markets, including sharply cutting federal support for efforts to enroll people in marketplace coverage next year.

The ACA imposed new requirements on insurers, prohibiting them from turning away sick consumers or placing annual and lifetime limits on medical coverage, something that was once commonplace, and mandating a basic set of benefits. Those include coverage of prescription drugs, maternity care and mental health treatment.

Republicans have long complained that these requirements drive up costs.

Trump's order leaves many important parts of the new plans unsettled. That's because the president cannot scrap the existing insurance protections altogether. They are in the law and can therefore only be changed by an act of Congress.

Instead, Trump's executive order directs federal agencies to develop new rules that would allow insurers to bypass some of these requirements through alternative kinds of insurance plans.

How effective the new plans will be at lowering costs for some -- and how much of a threat they pose to the marketplaces -- will depend on how aggressively the agencies act in writing those new rules. They face constraints from existing federal laws, and their new rules could draw challenges in court, just as Republicans challenged Obama-era rules that they argued overstepped the president's authority.

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