Obamacare stabilization bill can't fix damage of mandate repeal

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Passing a bipartisan Obamacare stabilization bill wouldn’t do much to cushion the blow from repealing the health law’s requirement that all individuals buy health insurance, the Congressional Budget Office said.

The CBO has estimated that scrapping the mandate would result in 4 million people losing health coverage in 2019 and that premiums in the individual market to increase by 10 percent. On Wednesday, the nonpartisan Congressional agency said a stabilization proposal backed by some Republican Senators would have no impact on its calculations.

The CBO’s conclusion could have an impact on the fate of the Senate tax overhaul bill that is expected to get a vote this week. Senate Republicans included the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in their tax proposal. And several Senators concerned about their states’ health insurance markets, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, had pushed forward the stabilization bill as a way to mitigate the blow.

President Donald Trump endorsed the proposal, known as the Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act, on Tuesday.

“The effects on premiums and the number of people with health insurance coverage would be similar to those referenced above,” the CBO said Wednesday.

The CBO projection comes with caveats. It compares the effect of the stabilization bill to a baseline in which Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction subsidies are paid. The Trump administration has halted the payments, which lower deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for low-income people, and the funds are the subject of a legal dispute.

“I find it baffling,” Collins said Wednesday. She and Murkowski voted against earlier Republican efforts to repeal the ACA, blocking them.

The CBO report also doesn’t evaluate the effect of giving insurers additional funding, an approach that’s also under discussion. Collins introduced a bill with Senator Bill Nelson of Florida to give states seed money for high-risk pools “which would ensure that people with pre-existing conditions are protected and also to lower premiums,” she said on Tuesday. Alexander specified that Collins’s bill would provide $3 billion to $5 billion to states to set up the high-risk pools. Collins said on Tuesday that Trump also supports her proposal.

Bloomberg News