Insurer exits bolster GOP case for ObamaCare repeal

The departure of insurers from ObamaCare is emboldening Republicans, helping them make the case to the public and to each other that the time has come to repeal the law.

In recent weeks, insurers in many states have grown skittish about offering ObamaCare plans in 2018, raising the possibility that large swaths of the country will be left without a coverage option on their exchanges next year.

“Seven years later, Obama-care still falls short of the mark,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchInsurer exits bolster GOP case for ObamaCare repeal Trump, Pence to meet with GOP senators on ObamaCare repeal Health groups want their say on Senate Republicans’ plan MORE (R-Utah) said in a recent statement.

Insurers are blaming the Trump administration for their proposed premium increases and their reluctance to offer plans. They say White House officials are wreaking havoc on the market by refusing to state whether they will continue to make cost-sharing payments meant to offset the cost of enrolling lower-
income enrollees. 

Amid the blame game, bad headlines for ObamaCare have been piling up.

Major insurers such as Anthem and Blue Cross Blue Shield have either scaled back participation or completely exited the state-based exchanges created by ObamaCare, leaving some consumers with limited options — or in some cases, no options at all.  

Last week, Anthem announced it would pull out of the Ohio marketplace next year. The insurer cited a “volatile” individual market as well as “the lack of certainty of funding for cost sharing reduction subsidies … an increasing lack of overall predictability.”

Anthem’s decision could leave around 20 Ohio counties without an ObamaCare insurer in 2018. 

The move came on the heels of similar announcements from insurers in Missouri and Iowa, where dozens of counties are at risk of not having an ACA plan to purchase next year.

And in North Carolina, Blue Cross Blue Shield — the state’s largest insurer — requested a nearly 23 percent premium increase for next year, specifically citing the uncertainty over whether federal cost-
sharing reduction subsidies will continue.

“ObamaCare is imploding, and we’re just seeing prices skyrocket and insurers flee the market,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin BradyInsurer exits bolster GOP case for ObamaCare repeal Conservatives push to drop border tax from tax reform Freedom Caucus chairman: ‘Time is of the essence’ on tax reform MORE (R-Texas) said recently on Fox News.

The more Republicans can convince the public that ObamaCare is failing, the easier it will be to convince the reluctant members of their own party that they need to take the political risk of voting for repeal.

“For the past four to five years, ObamaCare has had bad approval ratings,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. Now that the law has become popular, members are searching for a way to jolt their fellow Republicans into action.

“A lot of Republicans want to deliver,” but they want to make sure the public is on their side, O’Connell said.

Anthem’s departure in Ohio seemed to provide one such jolt.

Trump discussed Anthem’s move during a meeting last week at the White House with Republican congressional leaders. He also mentioned it during a speech in Cincinnati — a late addition to his schedule — where he called the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) the way to save
ObamaCare’s “victims.”

“ObamaCare is in a death spiral. ObamaCare is dead — everybody knows it,” Trump said.

Senate Republicans are working to craft a new version of the AHCA that can pass their chamber on a simple majority vote.

That task is proving delicate as leaders try to strike a balance between the concerns of moderates, who fear the bill goes too far, and conservatives, who fear it doesn’t go far enough.

While the negative headlines for ObamaCare have bolstered their case, the GOP bill is facing staunch opposition from industry groups and Democrats in both chambers. Senate Republicans are also taking heat for drafting the bill behind closed doors, without public hearings.

Tom Miller, a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said if congressional Republicans want to make a convincing case for repealing ObamaCare, they need better messaging. And for that, they need better legislation.

“Unlike being an opposition party, when you are part of the problem yourself, you have to indicate why it’s going to get better,” Miller said. “In the Senate, they need to build a path that’s more credible” than the House bill on lowering premiums and keeping insurers from bolting the market.

Recent polls suggest the public isn’t necessarily buying the argument that ObamaCare is failing on its own.

In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last month, 63 percent of people said Trump and congressional Republicans are responsible for any problems with the Affordable Care Act moving forward.  

Just about half of all the Republicans in the survey said they blame Trump and the Republican-led Congress for problems in the healthcare law. That’s a major shift from early April, when only 34 percent of Republicans said Trump was to blame.

“As Republicans are seen as having the power to control the successes or failing of the ACA, even members of their own party are placing the responsibility on them for making it work,” Ashley Kirzinger, a KFF senior survey analyst said. “It’s the Pottery Barn question — you break it, you buy it.”

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