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Wyden, Merkley target administration promoting junk health care plans

U.S. Capitol
KTVZ file

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., on Thursday called out the Trump administration’s promotion of junk health care plans on 

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Oregon senators joined with 21 colleagues to request that the agencies answer for the Trump administration’s efforts to promote junk plans to the American public during the Open Enrollment period for health insurance coverage.

The letter follows reports showing that the Trump administration-operated website is directing consumers during the ongoing Open Enrollment period to junk plans through third-party brokers, with little to no information about the lack of coverage provided by these so-called “short-term” plans.  

The senators wrote, “We are extremely concerned that the increased availability of junk plans and lack of oversight by CMS will cause consumers who believe they are purchasing ACA-compliant health plans to inadvertently sign-up for junk plan coverage that is less comprehensive and could expose them to higher out-of-pocket costs. Americans who purchase these junk plans risk being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and left vulnerable to unexpected gaps in coverage and massive medical bills in the case of health care emergencies.”

The senators point to the provision in the ACA that prohibits the health care exchange from making plans available that don’t meet the ACA’s coverage standards and write, “It is also unclear what statutory authority CMS relies upon to authorize the re-direction of customers toward third-party broker entities that sell ACA-compliant coverage and junk plan coverage on the same platforms.”

The senators emphasized that junk plans were never intended to be an alternative to comprehensive health coverage and pose dangerous risks for consumers. The administration’s persistent efforts to expand junk plans, which includes extending the duration from 90 days to 364 days and encouraging states to apply for waivers from the ACA that would allow ACA premium tax credits to be used to subsidize junk plan coverage, risk confusing Americans into thinking these plans offer the same coverage as those that meet the ACA’s standards.

Wyden and Merkley have joined efforts in Congress to block the administration’s expansion of junk plans, which would increase costs for millions of Americans. They have cosponsored the No Junk Plans Act and the Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act, legislation that would overturn Trump’s expansion of junk plans that do not have to protect health care coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions. Wyden spoke on the floor earlier this week on Republican attacks on ACA, especially the threat to quality health care that junk plans pose.

Joining Wyden and Merkley in sending the letter are U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Bob Casey, D-Penn., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Angus King, I-Maine, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

A copy of the letter is available here.

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