The Trump administration moved Tuesday to allow health insurers to sell lower-cost, less-comprehensive medical plans as an alternative to those required under ObamaCare – in a plan that drew swift protest from congressional Democrats.
The proposed regulations would allow insurers to sell individual consumers "short-term" policies that can last up to 12 months, have fewer benefits, and come with lower premiums.
The plans also would come with a disclaimer that they don't meet the Affordable Care Act's consumer protection requirements, such as guaranteed coverage. Insurers could also charge consumers more if an individual's medical history discloses health problems.
But at a time of rising premiums, Trump administration officials touted the option as a boost for those who need coverage but don’t qualify for the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies and would otherwise face paying the full premium cost.
"We need to be opening up more affordable alternatives," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters. "It's one step in the direction of providing Americans with alternatives that are both more affordable and more suited to individual and family circumstances."
Wary of any effort to undermine ObamaCare, however, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill accused the administration of trying to green-light the sale of “junk” policies.
“Since day one, the Trump administration playbook on health care has been to sabotage the marketplaces, jack up costs and premiums for millions of middle-class Americans. Then – as a supposed life-line to a self-inflicted crisis – offering junk insurance that fails to offer protections for those with pre-existing conditions or coverage of essential health benefits and more,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement, “Americans purchasing these shoddy, misleading short-term Trumpcare plans will be one diagnosis away from disaster, discovering they have been paying for coverage that may not cover basic care such as cancer treatment, preventative care or maternity care.”
She claimed the move would, in turn, drive up premiums for those with pre-existing conditions.
The proposal comes after congressional Republicans failed to pass legislation to repeal and replace the ACA, though did repeal the individual requirement to buy health insurance.
Critics of Trump's approach say that making such short-term policies more attractive to consumers will undermine the health care law's insurance markets, because healthy customers will have an incentive to stay away from HealthCare.gov and its state-run counterparts.
Democrats say the solution is to increase government subsidies, so that more middle-class people will be eligible for taxpayer assistance to buy comprehensive coverage. Under Obama, short-term plans were limited to periods of no longer than three months.
Trump administration officials reject the notion that they're trying to undermine the ACA. One major health insurance company, United Healthcare, is already positioning itself to market short-term plans.
The administration's proposal will be open for public comment for 60 days. However, for 2018, short-term coverage won't count as qualifying coverage under the Obama health law, which means consumers with such plans would legally be considered uninsured, putting them at risk of fines.
The repeal of the individual mandate does not take effect until next year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.