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Friday, February 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Congress must stabilize health insurance

The Trump administration seems to be doing all it can to ensure that misleading pronouncements about the health care law’s demise come true. President Trump says the law is “dead” and “gone.” He’s claimed, “There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore.”

All of which is news to the senators engaged in a bipartisan effort to stabilize insurance markets while Congress continues tilting at the repeal-and-replace windmill. Last week, Sens. Patty Murray, a Democrat, and Lamar Alexander, a Republican, announced a deal to fund an important insurance subsidy and noted that 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats were in support.

On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said all 48 Democrats would back the compromise, meaning there’s 60 votes in the Senate, enough to withstand a filibuster.

House Speaker Paul Ryan isn’t enthusiastic about the deal, but the House might be brought around if the president would support it. In the past week he has vacillated between support and opposition. However, the administration’s actions are causing unneeded turmoil as the new enrollment period rapidly approaches. The window to shop for a health care policy on Washington HealthPlanfinder opens on Nov. 1, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cut advertising for the exchanges by 90 percent and reduced the budget for navigators who assist people with their choices.

Moreover, an alternative bill floated on Tuesday by U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, would resume the federal payments to insurers but would rescind sanctions on individuals and businesses that aren’t in compliance. In addition, there are “pro-life protections” in the bill aimed at plans that cover abortions.

Insurers need stability now, so they can set rates. The mandate to purchase is a key to keeping premiums in check. Lifting the penalties would be a disincentive to purchase and would drive rates up. Injecting the abortion issue undermines compromise.

If Congress fails to act soon and the Trump administration follows through on its stated intention to end “cost-sharing reduction” payments, then premiums for some plans would shoot up, says Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

The Murray-Alexander deal would extend CSR payments for another two years while providing states more flexibility. It helps nobody to undermine the current market with no immediate replacement in sight. Scoring political points at the expense of health care coverage should be off the table.

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