Judge urges insurers to withdraw request to block administration's expansion of non-ObamaCare plans

Judge urges insurers to withdraw request to block administration's expansion of non-ObamaCare plans
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A federal judge appeared largely unsympathetic to arguments made by insurers Friday that the Trump administration’s expansion of non-ObamaCare plans would hurt their businesses and consumers.

Judge Richard Leon, of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, urged the insurers to withdraw their request for a preliminary injunction and gave indications that he agreed with the administration that the expansion of short-term health plans would provide alternatives to healthy, young consumers who have been priced out of ObamaCare’s insurance markets.

The plans typically cost less than the ones through ObamaCare, but they offer fewer benefits and can deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

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“These people, who are young and healthy, are not buying insurance. At least with this way, they’d have insurance,” Leon said Friday during oral arguments between the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP) and the Treasury Department.

ACAP, a trade association representing Medicaid-focused health plans, is asking for a preliminary injunction to block the sale of the plans before open enrollment for ObamaCare’s plans begins on Thursday.

Leon urged ACAP to withdraw its request and instead pursue a trial to rule on the merits of the case, arguing that time constraints prevent him from issuing a ruling before Nov. 1. 

“It’s not possible. No judge can do it,” Leon said. “I’m giving you fair notice. If you think I can turn out an opinion in a few weeks, you’re dreaming.”

Leon said several times that ACAP was not being “practical" with its request, saying it came in at the "eleventh-hour and 58th minute."

If ACAP withdraws its request for a preliminary injunction and seeks a trial, Leon said he could have an opinion by early 2019.

The Trump administration issued a rule this summer, which took effect Oct. 1, allowing short-term plans to last 12 months instead of three. The plans cost less than ObamaCare ones because they don’t have to comply with coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), like maternity care and prescription drugs.

The short-term plans can also deny coverage to sick people, something that ObamaCare insurers are prohibited from doing.

The administration is billing its plans as an option for young, healthy people who can’t afford ObamaCare’s more comprehensive insurance policies.

But ACAP and other insurers argue the expansion of those plans will cause them to lose customers.

“The purpose of this rule is to create an alternative insurance market to compete with the ACA,” said Charles Rothfeld, counsel for ACAP. “The more you draw out young and healthy people, the more it becomes economically impossible to cover people with pre-existing conditions.”

Serena Maya Schulz Orloff, who represented the government, argued that the short-term plans would not hurt ObamaCare insurers because people who would want short-term health plans have already been priced out of the ACA markets. 

“The purpose of this rule is to provide an option to people not served by the ACA,” she said.

Leon seemed to agree, saying, “This is a way to fill in a gap, as opposed to forcing them to choose between no insurance and the ACA.”

Leon also said ACAP could wait for the short-term plans to take effect and see if it really does negatively impact insurers.

"Why don't we see how it plays out? We don't have the data now," Leon said, calling any estimates a premature guess.