Trump eases ObamaCare rules with executive order

President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order aimed at taking action on ObamaCare on his own after Congress failed to repeal the law.

Trump said Thursday the order is "starting that process" to repeal ObamaCare. It will be the "first steps to providing millions of Americans with ObamaCare relief," Trump said.

Administration officials said the order is just the beginning of the administration’s actions related to the health-care law.

Experts warned that the order could undermine the stability of ObamaCare markets by opening up skimpier, cheaper plans that would divert healthy people away from ObamaCare plans.

Democrats warn that the order is part of Trump’s larger plan to “sabotage” the health-care law and accomplish on his own what Congress could not.

The full extent of the effects will not be immediately clear. The executive order largely does not make changes itself; rather it directs agencies to issue new regulations or guidance. Those new rules will go through a notice and comment period that could take months, officials said.

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Trump’s order seeks to expand the ability of small businesses and other groups to band together to buy health insurance through what are known as association health plans (AHPs). It also lifts limits on short-term health insurance plans.

Because both of these types of plans do not have to follow the same ObamaCare rules, such as minimum benefits standards, experts warn that healthier people could join these cheaper plans and leave only sicker people in ObamaCare plans. That could lead to a spike in premiums for ObamaCare plans or insurers simply dropping out of the market.

The move is a victory for Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Authorizing military force is necessary, but insufficient GOP feuds with outside group over analysis of tax framework MORE (R-Ky.), who has long pushed for expanding association health plans, saying they give people choices for lower-cost coverage. He joined Trump at the White House on Thursday, calling the move the “biggest free market reform of health care in a generation.”

“This executive order is good for healthy people (while they're healthy) and bad for sick people,” Larry Levitt, a health care policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote on Twitter. “Only question is the extent of the effect.”

Democrats have already been crying foul about administration cutbacks to outreach about the coming ObamaCare enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1, including a 90 percent cut to the advertising budget.

"Having failed to repeal the law in Congress, the president is sabotaging the system, using a wrecking ball to singlehandedly rip apart our health care system," Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (N.Y.) said in a statement.

"If the system deteriorates, make no mistake about it, the blame will fall squarely on the president's back," he added.

The American Hospital Association criticized the order, warning that it could "put patients at risk" and "destabilize" the market. The organization warned that the order opens up the ability for people to buy plans with fewer benefits and fewer protections. 

The order does not address whether individuals can join association health plans, a move which would have made it broader and deepen its effects on the ObamaCare market.

However, officials have only discussed the change in the context of small businesses, and a senior administration official said “some employer-employee relationship must be present” for someone to join an association health plan. Officials do say that small employers in the same “line of business” anywhere in the country could join together.

It does not address whether people in the short-term or association plans would still have to pay a penalty for lacking insurance. But an official said that “presumably,” at least for the association health plans, people would not have to pay the penalty.

The order will also allow people to use tax-advantaged accounts known as health reimbursement accounts to pay for their premiums.