Americans will soon have one more alternative to Obamacare, thanks to the Trump administration.
Officials Tuesday proposed regulations that will make it easier to obtain coverage through short-term health insurance plans by allowing insurers to sell policies that last just under a year. The new rules stem from an executive order President Donald Trump signed in October aimed at boosting competition, giving consumers more choices and lowering premiums.
"Americans need more choices in health insurance so they can find coverage that meets their needs," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. "The status quo is failing too many Americans who face skyrocketing costs and fewer and fewer choices. The Trump Administration is taking action so individuals and families have access to quality, affordable healthcare that works for them."
The proposal would reverse an Obama administration decision to limit the duration of short-term health plans to no more than 90 days in order to make them less attractive.
Such plans could roil the Obamacare market, drawing healthier consumers away from the exchanges and pushing up the premiums for those who remain.
Short-term health plans, which have been available for years and were originally designed to fill a temporary gap in coverage, are likely to be cheaper than Obamacare policies. But that's because they don't have to adhere to Obamacare's consumer protections, allowing them to do such things as exclude those with pre-existing conditions and base rates on applicants' medical history.
Also, they don't have to offer comprehensive coverage. Typically, short-term policies don't provide free preventative care or maternity, prescription drugs and mental health benefits. They can also impose annual or lifetime limits, meaning they may only pay out a set amount -- often $1 million or less -- leaving the policyholder on the hook for the rest. And, unlike Obamacare policies , they don't have to cap consumers' cost-sharing burden at $7,350 for 2018.
Young and healthy folks may like these plans because they come with lower monthly premiums. But those who actually need care could find themselves having to pay more out of pocket for treatment and medications. In fact, some consumers with these plans have complained that they've been hit with unexpected expenses.
Also, insurers aren't required to renew the policies so those who become sick could find themselves unable to sign up again for the same plan.
"People who buy short-term policies today in order to reduce their monthly premiums take a risk that, if they do need medical care, they could be left with uncovered bills and/or find themselves uninsurable under such plans in the future," wrote Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, in a recent policy brief.
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Consumers today can find short-term plans that cost as little as 20% of the least expensive Obamacare plan, according to Pollitz.
In its announcement about the proposed rules, the Trump administration said short-term policies are designed to fill a temporary gap in coverage. It will require insurers to notify consumers that the plans are not required to comply with all of Obamacare's mandates.
The administration will accept comments on the proposed rule for the next 60 days.
Those with short-term policies are not considered insured under the Affordable Care Act and are subject to the penalty for not having coverage. But this will not be an issue after this year since Congress effectively eliminated the individual mandate -- which requires nearly all Americans to be insured or pay a penalty -- starting in 2019 as part of its tax overhaul bill.
The proposed regulations are the latest step in the Trump administration's quest to weaken Obamacare. Last month, officials unveiled a proposed rule that would make it easier for small businesses -- and some self-employed folks -- to band together and buy health insurance. That proposal also stemmed from Trump's executive order and is designed to broaden access to what are known as association health plans.