Durbin, Duckworth Call On Trump Administration To Protect Americans' Health Care, Halt Expansion Of 'Junk' Health Insurance Plans

LA Times analysis that found comments submitted from health care experts about the rule were overwhelmingly critical

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) joined 45 other Senators in a letter urging the Trump administration to halt the implementation of a health care proposal that could threaten access to quality, affordable care for Americans and raise health care costs, especially for older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions.  The proposal would mean the expansion of previously limited short-term health insurance plans to year-long “junk plans” that can exclude basic health benefits including hospitalization, prescription drugs, maternity care, and substance abuse treatment.

During the open comment period on the proposed rule, health care experts overwhelmingly condemned the administration’s plan, asserting the expanded sale and marketing of short-term “junk plans” will negatively affect coverage for millions of Americans.

“On the proposal to expand the sale and marketing of short-term, ‘junk plans,’ as we previously expressed, this rule could harm people with pre-existing conditions, raise costs on older Americans, and promote plans that exclude basic benefits including hospitalization, prescription drugs, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and maternity care,” the Senators wrote in a letter to the Secretaries of the Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Labor.  “…This rule should not be finalized and implemented because it threatens access to quality, affordable care for millions of Americans.  Instead, we ask you again to work with us to improve our health care system and lower health care costs for American families.”

The Senators expressed serious concerns with the administration’s plan to allow the sale and marketing of short-term “junk” health insurance plans, citing the Los Angeles Times analysis that found the comments submitted to the Center for Medicare and Medicare Services about the rule were overwhelmingly critical, and that “[n]ot a single group representing patients, physicians, nurses or hospitals voiced support in the public comments for the two Trump administration proposals.” 

The Senators previously raised their concerns to the administration in April, saying the new rule would hurt Americans’ health coverage.

The Times’ analysis found that 233 patient and consumer advocates, 17 physician groups, 30 nursing associations, 11 hospital groups, and 41 groups representing other medical providers, such as physical therapists, social workers, physician assistants, and multiple sclerosis clinics filed critical comments.  More than 98 percent of the health care groups that commented on the proposal expressed criticism, in many cases warning that the rule could gravely hurt sick patients.

The administration’s rule would expand the three month limited-duration insurance plans intended to fill temporary gaps in coverage to 12 month plans or beyond, creating a permanent market for these bare-bones plans.  These short-term plans allow insurance companies to skirt the requirement that they cover pre-existing conditions, letting them force families to fill out medical questionnaires when applying, which are often used to deny coverage or charge more based on a preexisting condition.

The Trump Administration’s proposed “junk plan” rule is one of many actions taken by this Administration to undermine health protections for people with pre-existing conditions.  For instance, late last week, President Trump’s Department of Justice filed a court brief arguing that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) protections for people with pre-existing conditions should be ruled unconstitutional.  The brief was filed in a case brought by several conservative states, led by Texas, which argues that because Congressional Republicans repealed the ACA’s individual mandate as part of their ill-advised tax bill, the rest of the law is now unconstitutional.  If the Trump Administration’s argument prevails, insurers would once again be able to deny Americans insurance based on their health status.  Nationwide, 52 million Americans under the age of 65 have a pre-existing condition, including more than five million in Illinois.

Full text of the letter is available here.