Health groups warn Trump's executive order could hurt patients

Nearly 20 health organizations warn that an executive order signed by President Trump on Thursday could weaken patient protections and destabilize the individual market. 

“This order has the potential to price millions of people with pre-existing conditions and serious illnesses out of the individual insurance market and put millions more at risk through the sale of insurance plans that won’t cover all the services patients want to stay healthy or the critical care they need when they get sick," reads a statement signed by 18 health groups, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and United Way Worldwide.

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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. 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 to insurers simply dropping out of the market.

“Together, these actions would likely split the market between those who need the comprehensive benefits provided under current law and those who are currently healthy and can gamble with substandard coverage," the groups wrote. 

"Siphoning off healthy people into risky, low-value plans, could leave millions of Americans with chronic or serious illnesses in an unsustainable insurance pool with rising premiums and fewer choices. It could also leave those who are healthy seriously underinsured when they face an unexpected health crisis," they wrote.

Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Hospital Association said they also have concerns about the order. 

"Today’s Executive Order will allow health insurance plans that cover fewer benefits and offer fewer consumer protections," said Tom Nickels, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association, in a statement. "No one can predict future health care needs with complete certainty and such plans could put patients at risk when care is needed most."

AMA President David O. Barbe said his group has concerns the order would "weaken important patient protections and lead to instability in the individual health insurance market." 

The executive order doesn't make changes, 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.