After HHS Secretary Alex Azar dodged questions posed by the House Ways and Means Committee about an Idaho insurance company that intends to sell plans that violate Affordable Care Act minimum quality standards and protections for people with pre-existing conditions, saying “I’m not aware that our opinions or views have been solicited,” Protect Our Care Campaign Director Brad Woodhouse released the following statement:
“Dodging the question won’t cut it: Secretary Azar needs to stand up and protect health care for the people of Idaho by stopping the state’s illegal plan to allow pre-Affordable Care Act coverage. This morning we learned that Blue Cross Idaho is trying to take Idahoans back to the days of coverage caps, when people with insurance still lived one illness or injury away from bankruptcy. Even worse, the company is planning to charge people higher premiums based on their medical history, bringing Idaho back to the days when insurers could discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions like asthma or cancer. Medical bankruptcy and coverage denials are exactly the kind of insurance company abuses the Affordable Care Act was designed to stop, and it has done so with popular provisions that most Republicans claim to support. Now, it’s time for Secretary Azar to stand up for the people of Idaho and enforce the law that’s designed to protect their care.”
Bloomberg // Zachary Tracer // February 14, 2018
After Idaho’s Republican governor promised to find creative ways to get around Obamacare, one health plan in the state plans to offer skimpy coverage that may violate many of the law’s protections for patients.
Blue Cross of Idaho said Wednesday that it will offer insurance plans that don’t comply with some Affordable Care Act requirements. The plans, branded as “Freedom Blue” coverage, have limits on annual medical spending and will charge sicker people higher premiums or deny them coverage in some cases — policies specifically forbidden by the 2010 law.
The move sets up a potential conflict with the federal government. While President Donald Trump has said he opposes the law and has taken steps to undermine it, the administration will have to decide whether to enforce legal requirements that remain on the books.
“Both in terms of federal penalties and in terms of potential private lawsuits, they are taking on tremendous liabilities here,” said Tim Jost, an emeritus professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law who has been critical of efforts to unwind the law. “What they’re doing is completely illegal. It’s kind of jaw-dropping.”
Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, said during a Senate hearing last year that he’d uphold the ACA as long as it remains law. Azar is testifying before Congress Wednesday. The department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ways Around Law
In early January, Idaho Governor Butch Otter directed the state’s insurance regulator to find “creative ways” for health insurers in the state to offer more affordable coverage. Otter said the state planned to use flexibility offered by the Trump administration in an executive order, and that it had authority to do so. The insurance regulator issued guidelines for the plans later that month.
“The door is open for states to pursue our own reasonable solutions,” Otter said. “We believe Idaho will lead the way in states taking back control of their insurance markets.”
“Our Freedom Blue plans bring more choices and lower prices to consumers,” Blue Cross Idaho Chief Executive Officer Charlene Maher said in a statement.
The plans have a $1 million annual per-person limit to how much care the insurer will pay for. Some also don’t have to cover services like maternity care, and can charge more to people who are sicker after asking them extensive questions about their health.
While such policies were banned by the Affordable Care Act, Idaho plans to use the law as a backstop. If individuals end up with medical expenses that exceed the $1 million limit in the non-Obamacare plans, Idaho will require insurers to help them move into ACA plans, which don’t have limits on medical spending.