White House moving to allow short-term health plans with less coverage, report says

The Trump administration appears to be getting closer to ending Obamacare’s rules on short-term health plans.

Despite public statements to the contrary, advisers have recommended that HHS allow the extended plans to cover less benefit than Obamacare’s standard coverage.

Insurers and consumer advocates have warned that plans would fall short of what is required under Obamacare. The public comment period on that proposal ends on Feb. 8, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

An article in the Washington Post on Friday said the White House and its allies are “inching” toward taking that step.

The department does not expect to issue its final rule in time for the open enrollment period for Obamacare, which starts on Nov. 1. But the paper’s report noted that administration officials think about how soon they will be able to come out with a regulation that it can use for campaign messaging.

Within the administration, debate over what to do about short-term plans has been going on for months. Despite rumors last year that the White House might delay the deadline, the Post’s report said there is now a sense among many officials that the department may be on a fast track to approve the plans by the end of this week.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate health committee, and her colleague, Sen. Lamar Alexander, are working with the administration to find a replacement for short-term plans that Republicans didn’t allow to become law in 2016.

Mr. Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, has suggested a two-year sunset date of the plans.

Last year, while Republicans controlled the House and Senate, the Trump administration allowed the plans to take effect as soon as the Democratic Party took back control of the House. But HHS secretary Tom Price resigned in October and was replaced by Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive. In November, he also announced that the Trump administration would consider allowing less coverage and fewer benefits under the plans.

A draft health department rule on short-term plans has circulated among the House and Senate for more than a month, according to Politico.

In that draft rule, officials wrote that the short-term plans would not be eligible for Obamacare’s protections, so they would not be subject to fines or have to meet the coverage requirements.

The short-term plans, often marketed as “unlimited” plans, only last a year and usually offer less coverage than regular insurance. Republicans say they help younger and healthier people pay less for coverage.

Analysts say that plans that do not comply with Obamacare’s regulations and the protections for people with pre-existing conditions or those facing financial hardship are likely to appeal more to lower-income people and the self-employed, who don’t have access to Obamacare plans.

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