Dem Senator: Lone Insurer Could Exit State's Marketplace

WASHINGTON – Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield could still exit the Delaware marketplace, leaving the state without a health insurance provider, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Thursday while detailing discussions with company leadership.

Health insurance providers all over the country have been pulling out of Obamacare exchanges. At least one-third of American counties, including five entire states, have a single healthcare choice under the Affordable Care Act. Many Republicans have blamed exorbitant taxes and fees under Obamacare, while Democrats have cited the uncertainty surrounding health insurance policy in general.

Aetna announced in May that it will be exiting the Delaware insurance marketplace in 2018, which would eliminate coverage for nearly 12,000 state residents. Highmark revealed last month that it’s proposing a 33.6 percent insurance rate increase through the Delaware marketplace.

“When I recently spoke with Highmark’s leaders, they shared with me that about half of that increase in cost proposed for this year is because of the unpredictability in the market,” Coons said Thursday during a town hall event hosted by his office.

In step with other Democrats, Coons claimed that the Trump administration could provide stability for insurance providers by continuing to enforce Obamacare provisions related to risk-corridor payments, cost-sharing payments and re-insurance. Without stability, Coons said that Americans will continue to see higher costs and fewer options for insurance. He suggested that lawmakers work to improve Obamacare in a bipartisan effort.

“I’ve never said (Obamacare) was perfect,” Coons said. “I wasn’t a member of Congress when it was passed. It was passed by only one party, and it was passed with the expectation that the ACA would be amended, would be fixed, would be improved over time, as experience showed some of its limitations.”

The GOP has pointed to the wave of Obamacare exchange exits and skyrocketing premiums as evidence that the health insurance program is failing. The Senate is preparing for a potential vote this week to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that if the GOP bill fails, legislation will be necessary to bolster insurance marketplaces, signaling doubt that Republicans can muster the votes needed to repeal.

Four conservative senators have voiced opposition to the bill because it does not go far enough in replacing Obamacare, including Texas’ Ted Cruz, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Utah’s Mike Lee and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson. Several moderate Republicans have also said the current legislation goes too far and can hurt their constituents.

Delaware Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro in a statement following Highmark’s proposed rate hike blamed the uncertain fate of cost-sharing reduction subsidies. Obamacare extends those subsidies to insurers in order to provide lower-income individuals with health insurance.

“In addition, it is unclear whether the ACA individual mandate will be enforced next year. If the federal government fails to live up to its obligations under the law, insurers will likely continue to exit the marketplace,” Navarro said.

Coons said that the Senate should be fighting for more affordable, more accessible and higher quality healthcare for all Americans, which he said the “Trumpcare” bill fails to do. He blasted the proposed $830 billion in cuts to Medicaid and $300 billion in cuts to tax credits for middle- and lower-class Americans. He described the GOP bill as “another tax break to our wealthiest citizens,” citing $540 billion in tax cuts over the next decade. He also lamented the loss of insurance for an estimated 22 million Americans under the GOP proposal.

Coons said his hope returning from recess this week is that Republicans will step away from proposed Medicaid cuts, which he said won’t win a single Democratic vote.

“I believe we can defend the best parts of the Affordable Care Act and work together in a bipartisan way to fix the parts of the ACA that need fixing,” the senator said.

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