CBO: ObamaCare fix would not make up for mandate repeal

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A patient is shown signing up for ObamaCare insurance in this Nov. 22, 2017, file photo.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that a bipartisan ObamaCare fix would not do much to make up for the premium increases or coverage losses from repealing the health-care law’s individual mandate.

In a letter to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Wednesday, CBO Director Keith Hall wrote that the estimate of premiums rising 10 percent and 13 million fewer people with coverage over 10 years would remain roughly the same even if the bipartisan fix from Murray and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) were added in.

Even with the bipartisan legislation “the effects on premiums and the number of people with health insurance coverage would be similar to those referenced above,” Hall wrote, referring to the CBO’s previous estimates on mandate repeal.

The letter from the CBO gives fuel to Democrats’ argument that the Alexander–Murray bill is not enough to make up for the effects of repealing the individual mandate.

{mosads}Moderate Republican lawmakers like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) have argued that passing the legislation would help make up for repealing the mandate, and President Trump on Tuesday agreed to support that bill in an effort to win her vote for the tax legislation that includes mandate repeal.

The Alexander–Murray bill provides two years of funding for key ObamaCare insurer payments that President Trump canceled, with the aim of bringing stability to the market. However, that is largely a separate issue from repealing the mandate.

Many experts warn that without the mandate, fewer healthy people would enroll, leading to rising premiums and instability.

The CBO letter does not address the effects of a “reinsurance” program, where government funding helps pay for the cost of sick enrollees, bringing down premiums. A reinsurance bill is another measure that Collins has pushed to couple with mandate repeal.

The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, though, argues that reinsurance funding would have to be about $5 billion per year, twice as much as the amount in Collins’s bill, to counteract the premium increases from repealing the mandate.  

Murray touted the CBO letter’s findings. 

“Today’s announcement from nonpartisan budget analysts shows Republicans can’t hide behind our bipartisan legislation, which would help undo damage Republicans have already done to families’ health care—but won’t do a thing to protect them from the new damage done in Republicans’ tax bill,” she said in a statement. 

This post was updated at 12:32 p.m.

Tags Lamar Alexander Patty Murray Susan Collins
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