by Virginia House Democratic Leader David Toscano
Trump Creates Health Insurance “Sticker Shock”
I recently wrote about the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance marketplace. Today, as many citizens begin the Open Enrollment Season to sign up for 2018 health insurance, we are discovering just how drastically Trump and his Republican allies in Congress are hurting Americans by actively trying to destabilize the health insurance market in order to kill the ACA.
Insurance Rates Roller Coaster
Insurance companies have to set their premiums, or “rates,” many months before the Healthcare.gov exchange opens, because state agencies (in Virginia, the Bureau of Insurance, which is a division of the State Corporation Commission) must review insurers’ plans and proposed rates in the summertime to meet federal deadlines. As you probably recall, during the first eight months of 2017 Congress tried several times to repeal the ACA. Trump used his Twitter account to agitate for repeal, even threatening Representatives and Senators who did not fall into line with his desire to get rid of “Obamacare.”
He also actively sabotaged a crucial ACA tool that has kept premiums lower by threatening to eliminate the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies that helped families afford coverage. Faced with so much uncertainty and increased risk, health insurers began to withdraw their participation in some markets, and requested approval of significantly higher premiums for many of their ACA-compliant policies.
The Pain Comes to Virginia
In Virginia, insurers had to file their proposed rates for 2018 in May 2017, when the future of the ACA was riddled with uncertainty. The result was just what we expected: rates went up, with averages that range between 35 percent and 82 percent for individual policies. But that’s just the averages; Virginia’s Bureau of Insurance accepted rate filings that included maximum rate increases for 2018 of between 64 percent and 266 percent from the companies that stayed in the market. In my district, which includes the City of Charlottesville and parts of Albemarle County, only one insurer— Optima— is now offering individual health insurance plans; Anthem BC/BS withdrew from our area, citing the uncertainty generated by Trump policies. Rate increases for my constituents will average a whopping 82 percent, with some increases as high as 266 percent. And because insurers always seek to spread the risk, rate increases will affect not just those on the exchanges, but others who have employer-sponsored plans. This is not good.
President’s Actions Hurt Americans
Each President takes an oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President,” which includes the Constitutional obligation to “take Care that the Laws be Faithfully Executed.” This president and his Republican allies are colossally failing to faithfully execute the Affordable Care Act. Instead, they seek to eviscerate it, with no apparent regard to the tremendous harm their cynical approach will impose on millions of Americans, on the states, and on the American economy. As each of us confronts the damage that has been wrought on our individual access to affordable health care insurance, know where the blame belongs — not with the ACA as it exists in the law, but with the partisan efforts being deployed to undermine the proper functioning of the law of our land.
Virginia Republican Complicity
My Republican colleagues in the House of Delegates have remained silent in the face of all of this, failing to act or even speak up on behalf of thousands of their constituents who face fewer options, higher rates for coverage, or possibly losing coverage altogether. The actions of Republicans in Washington have caused a spike in costs that individuals will have to bear, or risk going without health insurance at all if they simply cannot afford the increases. It’s no wonder 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of health care, and two-thirds of voters know that the blame belongs squarely with Trump and the GOP if our healthcare system gets worse.
Send a Message—Vote!
Is there anything we can do at can we do at the state level? Unfortunately, since the ACA is federal law, all that state legislators can do is try to persuade our colleagues in Congress to act in the best interests of Virginians. In January, the Democratic Delegates sent a letter to Virginia’s Congressional delegation asking them not to repeal the law unless there was a viable replacement for it. Although we invited our Republican colleagues to join us, not a single one would sign. So there is something that you can do: use your vote on Tuesday, November 7 to send a message by electing Democrats for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Delegate for your district. Let Republicans in Congress and the president know that Democrats in Virginia, and across the country in 2018, will hold them to account and send them home for failing to do their job.