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Trump Makes 'Obamacare Relief' Changes Via Executive Order

President Trump shows an executive order on healthcare that he signed in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — In what Democrats branded as a gutting of Obamacare protections, President Trump today signed an executive order that could allow some employers to offer coverage across state lines with expanded access to Association Health Plans.

The order also directed the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments to consider expanding coverage through short-term limited duration insurance plans, which are not subject to Obamacare mandates and cost less than full-coverage Affordable Care Act plans. The order also asked Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services to consider how more businesses can use Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs).

At a White House signing ceremony, Trump called his order “the first steps to providing millions of Americans with Obamacare relief.”

“This will cost the United States government virtually nothing, and people will have great, great healthcare. And when I say people, I mean by the millions and millions,” he said. “…The competition will be staggering. Insurance companies will be fighting to get every single person signed up, and you will be hopefully negotiating, negotiating, negotiating, and you’ll get such low prices for such great care.”

Of the short-term duration plans, Trump said that “they were so attractive that, just last year, the previous administration crippled the market in an effort to keep people from fleeing the failing Obamacare plans.”

“In fact, they prevented these plans from lasting more than three months. They will take action to fix that and to make these affordable, flexible plans much more widely available. So we’re going to have a very widely available plan that’s going to cost much less,” he said.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has pushed for the Associations Health Plans changes as he blocked legislative efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, called the order “one of the most significant free market health care reforms in a generation and is a rare move by Washington to reduce government interference and provide more affordable health care options to everyday Americans.”

Paul said he’d been working with Trump on the idea for “several months.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) comments on the order were brief: “Obamacare is failing and people across the country are hurting,” he said. “I am pleased that the administration is looking for new ways to promote more affordable health insurance policies to better meet the needs of working families.”

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Trump of “sabotaging the system, using a wrecking ball to single-handedly rip apart our healthcare system” after he didn’t get a legislative result.

“This executive order is just the latest in a series of steps he has taken to sabotage the healthcare system at the expense of millions of Americans,” Schumer added. “This order couldn’t be further from the ‘great healthcare’ the president promised. It will send costs soaring for older Americans and those with preexisting conditions, and add further chaos to the markets.”

“If the system deteriorates, make no mistake about it, the blame will fall squarely on the president’s back.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Dem on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee who has been working on a bipartisan Obamacare fix with chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), called Trump’s new policies “the latest and worst in his yearlong effort to create Trumpcare by sabotage.”

“They will force patients across the country to pay more for their care, lose quality coverage options, and find themselves with surprise medical bills when they can least afford it,” she said. “…The president has made a lot of promises to families about their healthcare, and if he truly wants to keep them, he’ll stop trying to create Trumpcare by sabotage, accept that repeal is off the table, and support Congress in getting our work done for patients and families.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) argued, though, that allowing “those in individual or small-group markets to join together in large groups to get lower rates is a win-win for Texans struggling from Obamacare’s skyrocketing premiums and lack of access to quality healthcare.”

Still, he added, Congress should continue work on repeal legislation as the administration implements the executive order.