UPDATE | Trump's blow to 'Obamacare' jolts health consumers, politics


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's abrupt move to cut off federal payments to insurers jolted America's health care and political worlds alike today, threatening to boost premiums for millions, disrupt insurance markets and shove Republicans into a renewed civil war over their efforts to shred "Obamacare."

Defiant Democrats, convinced they have important leverage, promised to press for a bipartisan deal to restore the money by year's end. That drive could split the GOP. On one side: pragmatists seeking to avoid political damage from hurting consumers. On the other: conservatives demanding a major weakening of the Affordable Care Act as the price for returning the money.

"The American people will know exactly where to place the blame," declared Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., all but daring Trump to aggravate what could be a major issue in the 2018 congressional elections.

The money goes to companies for lowering out-of-pocket costs like co-payments and deductibles for low- and middle-income customers. It will cost about $7 billion this year and help more than 6 million people.

Ending the payments would affect insurers because President Barack Obama's law requires them to reduce their poorer customers' costs. Carriers are likely to recoup the lost money by increasing 2018 premiums for people buying their own health insurance policies.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners estimates that Trump's move would produce a 12 percent to 15 percent upsurge in premiums, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has put the figure at 20 percent. That's on top of premium increases from growing medical costs.

Experts say the political instability over Trump's effort to undermine Obama's health care law could also prompt more insurers to leave markets. As Trump frequently points out, next year about half of U.S. counties will have only one insurer on "Obamacare's" online marketplaces, up from the one-third of counties with one carrier in 2017.

Trump relished his latest blow against the law that he pledged to repeal during his presidential campaign, only to see the effort crash in the GOP-run Senate this summer. He's long derided the subsidies as bailouts to insurers, even though the payments and the cost reductions for consumers are required by law.

The scrapping of subsidies would affect millions more consumers in states won by Trump last year, including Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, than in states won by Democrat Hillary Clinton. Nearly 70 percent of the 6 million who benefit from the cost-sharing subsidies are in states that voted for the Republican.

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