Past health chiefs: Insurance market stability is the goal


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Don’t make things worse.

That’s the advice of former U.S. health secretaries of both parties to President Donald Trump and the GOP-led Congress, now that “Obamacare” seems here for the foreseeable future. The 2018 sign-up season for subsidized private health plans starts Nov. 1, with about 10 million people currently served through HealthCare.gov and its state counterparts.

Stability should be the immediate goal, said former Health and Human Services secretaries Kathleen Sebelius, Mike Leavitt and Tommy Thompson. At minimum: Dispel the political and legal uncertainty – fueled by presidential tweets – around billions in subsidies for consumers’ insurance copays and deductibles. The three former officials shared their views with The Associated Press.

Beyond the urgent need to calm markets by providing clarity on subsidies, Democrat Sebelius and Republicans Leavitt and Thompson differ on the direction Trump and Congress should take. They agree that Republicans still have an opportunity to put their stamp on the Affordable Care Act, even if the drive to “repeal and replace” former President Barack Obama’s legacy program appears to have hit a dead end.

“They can make changes that signal a new ideological direction without generating a logistical and political mess,” said Leavitt, who led HHS during former President George W. Bush’s second term. “They won the right to make changes. However, they should do it in a skillful way.” Leavitt shepherded the Medicare prescription drug benefit through its rocky rollout in 2006.

“Stabilizing the current situation can only – I think – be to their benefit,” Sebelius said of the Trump administration. “In an environment in which (insurance) companies are enrolling customers, they’ve got a lot of time to actually go back to the drawing board and figure this out. The worst of all worlds for them would be to have the current situation unravel because of decisions by this administration.”

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