Business groups urge immediate action to stabilize health care market

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A coalition of insurance and employee benefits groups on Tuesday urged Congressional leaders to act quickly on bipartisan legislation to stabilize the health insurance market, saying immediate action is necessary to reduce premiums.

Specifically, the groups called on Congress to pass proposals that would establish a premium reduction, or reinsurance, program to help insurance companies cover the costs of high-risk patients and to provide funding for cost-sharing reduction benefits that were cut by President Donald Trump last year.

The bills were drafted in response to Trump’s action as well as Congressional repeal last year of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all individuals carry health insurance, actions that many business groups fear will lead to chaos in the marketplace that will result in higher premiums for both individuals and employers.

“Destabilization increases uncompensated care, resulting in cost-shifting from health care providers to large employer payers,” said Ilyse Schuman, senior vice president of health policy for the American Benefits Council, which was among the signatories. “Accordingly, a stable individual market is important not only for those directly served by it, but also for the many millions more covered by employer-sponsored plans.”

Since insurance companies will soon begin setting rates and deciding whether to continue selling policies in the ACA marketplace, the groups said time is running out and urged that the proposals be included in the omnibus appropriations bill that Congress needs to act on by March 23.

“It’s important to send a message now about the stability of the market before decisions are made for 2019, not afterwards,” Schuman said.

The reinsurance program is designed to keep premiums lower for everyone by helping to cover the costs of patients with significant health issues. The cost-sharing reduction plan would reinstate federal reimbursement of the discounts that the ACA requires insurers to provide to lower income individuals to help reduce out of pocket costs.

Enacting both legislative provisions could lower premiums by up to 27 percent in 2019 and increase enrollment and expand coverage to as many as 1.7 million Americans, the groups said, citing independent analyses by Avalere Health and Oliver Wyman.

“In addition, this legislation will help physicians and hospitals better serve the health care needs of patients in their community and lower costs for businesses that provide coverage to their employees,” the letter said.

“Congress has an important opportunity to act and reduce premiums for consumers for 2019, but time is running short,” the groups wrote. “… Let’s deliver on the promise to reduce premiums for millions of Americans and their families.”

In addition to the American Benefits Council, the letter was signed by America’s Health Insurance Plans, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Federation of American Hospitals and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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