Lower costs, fewer benefits in new health insurance option

Trump administration finalizes rule to allow for skimpier health plans

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta discusses how the department's new health insurance rule will help small businesses band together to bargain for cheaper health plans.

President Donald Trump has long asserted that promoting the sale of health insurance across state lines can bring down premiums without sacrificing quality. However, these plans would not be required to provide certain "essential health benefits" like mental health care, emergency services, maternity and newborn care and prescription drugs.

Democrats decried it as "junk insurance", and some patient groups warned it could undermine coverage for people in poor health.

"As the cost of insurance for small businesses has been increasing, the percentage of small business offering health coverage has been dropping substantially", Mr. Acosta said.

After Republicans hit a dead end trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration has pushed regulatory actions to loosen ACA requirements and try to lower premiums for individuals and small businesses, which now reflect the cost of comprehensive coverage.

The rule will be phased in starting September 1, though its effectiveness will depend on buy-in from insurers, who are used to operating according to the networks, costs and rules of the road in individual states instead of selling their products across state lines. No major consequences are expected for people covered by large employers.

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"They are providing insurance options that have fewer benefits and fewer requirements than ACA-compliant plans", Claxton said.

Republicans repealed the ACA's so-called individual mandate, the requirement that most Americans purchase health insurance or else pay a fine, in an overhaul of the USA tax code past year.

In addition to complaints about additional costs for those who need comprehensive insurance, critics also point out to The New York Times that similar health plans have a history of fraud and abuse that have left both employers and workers with hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid medical bills. A key concern about Tuesday's announcement is to what degree state regulators will retain oversight over the Trump administration's new plans.

Smaller firms that engage in the same line of business - say, florists or auto mechanics - may join forces and buy the plans across state lines.

The Job Creators Network, a business advocacy group, hailed the move, saying it will "create more options, more competition, and lower costs for Main Street small businesses".

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