President Trump yesterday made an audacious threat to yank government subsidies for private insurance markets and U.S. Congress unless lawmakers finally repeal and replace Obamacare.
“If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!” the president tweeted.
The president’s warning to ax health care contributions for lawmakers and their staff shows Trump is playing with live fire in pushing Congress back into action on health care.
The Affordable Care Act pushed lawmakers and their staffs off a federal health care plan and required them to get health care through one of the markets established by the law. Since 2014, the federal government has categorized congressional offices as “small businesses” and made an “employer contribution” of about 72 percent to the plans they purchase — a contribution Trump is now threatening to end.
In a letter to Trump earlier this month, a group of conservative groups argued that the congressional cushion lawmakers get from the actual premiums have blinded them to the pain that Americans are suffering under Obamacare.
“This ongoing fraud improperly allows Congress and its staff to avoid the pain the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act … is inflicting on millions of other Americans,” the groups said in the letter.
Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said cutting off Congress would make members and their staff more clearly understand Obamacare’s failures.
“Part of the reason Congress is tone deaf on how Obamacare is collapsing and what the effects are, is they are not feeling it themselves,” Mackowiak told the Herald. “There’s a real sense that if they were to end that exemption they would perhaps better understand how Obamacare works and the ramifications of not acting to repeal and replace it.”
He added: “Is it a silver bullet? Probably not, but I can’t imagine it would hurt to make sure members of Congress don’t have an exemption any longer.”
There’s a real chance, though, that the threat could blow up in Trump’s face.
“I can’t imagine this is going to move the needle at all,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. “The last thing members of Congress are going to want to hear at this time is the president making these kind of cheap threats, demagoguing their health care because he failed to notch a legislative win.”
Trump’s simultaneous threat to let Obamacare “implode” by refusing to make cost-sharing payments to insurers in order to lower premiums is one he has made repeatedly.
The “bailouts for insurance companies” are made by the government to tamp down premiums. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the payments to be $7 billion this year, $10 billion in 2018, and $11 billion in 2019.
Removing those payments could spark an exodus of insurers from health care markets and force those that remain to hike premiums by about 20 percent, experts said.
Mackowiak said the threats could be a warning to Democrats eager to attempt to pass a bipartisan Obamacare bill and take advantage of Republicans’ failure to repeal the 7-year-old act.
“What Trump’s trying to do is say, ‘Listen, if you think I’m going to accept whatever Democrats want, the answer is no,’ ” he said. “And if you guys don’t do anything soon, I’m going to end the exemption so you feel the pain of Obamacare personally.”
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