A top Trump administration health official warned against controversial changes that could undermine ObamaCare in a private memo last year that was released by House Democrats on Friday.
One of the three changes was later finalized by the administration, despite the warning from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma in the memo. And the other two have not yet been proposed but remain under consideration.
The August 2018 private memo to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar shows Verma was concerned with keeping ObamaCare markets stable and preventing disruption, but on at least one front was overruled by others in the administration.
The first change was a proposal to alter an index that is used to calculate how much money ObamaCare enrollees get in subsidies to help afford coverage, resulting in cuts.
Verma warned in the memo that the change would cause “coverage losses, further premium increases, and market disruption.”
But the administration went ahead with the change in early 2019 anyway. Administration estimates project that the move will save the government about $1 billion per year in lower subsidy payments, but will result in 70,000 people dropping coverage.
The second change Verma warned against was a proposal to ban “silver-loading,” a workaround that helped prevent premium increases after President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package Trump calls Milley a 'f---ing idiot' over Afghanistan withdrawal First rally for far-right French candidate Zemmour prompts protests, violence MORE canceled key ObamaCare payments to insurers in 2017. Verma warned in the memo that ending the practice would cause “significant disruption” and “substantial premium increases.”
The administration has not moved to end the practice since then, but officials have said the idea is under consideration, causing alarm among Democrats about the potential damage to ObamaCare.
The third change Verma warned against was ending automatic reenrollment, whereby ObamaCare enrollees’ coverage is automatically renewed for the next year unless they actively choose to end it or switch plans.
Verma cited estimates showing the move would cause 200,000 people to lose coverage.
That change has also not happened yet, but remains under consideration.
Three House Democratic chairmen, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneLawmakers discussing potential compromise to revive drug pricing measure House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms House Democrats ramp up probe of FDA approval of Alzheimer's drug MORE (N.J.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealGOP fears boomerang as threat of government shutdown grows House passes giant social policy and climate measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay MORE (Mass.) and Education and Labor Chairman Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottIndustry, labor groups at odds over financial penalties in spending package Historically Black colleges and universities could see historic funding under Biden plan Republican Winsome Sears wins Virginia lieutenant governor's race MORE (Va.), wrote to Azar on Thursday demanding more documentation about HHS’s analysis of the possible changes, and calling on Azar not to go through with them.
“We call upon the Administration not to finalize these proposed policies, which the Administration itself admitted would cause chaos in the individual market," the chairmen wrote.
“I can confirm that we have received the letter,” an HHS spokesperson said Friday when asked for comment on the letter and Verma’s memo. “All congressional inquiries are taken seriously by the department and we will respond as appropriate in a timely fashion.”
A spokesperson for Verma referred questions on the memo to HHS.