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House health panel eyes putting consumer warnings on short-term plans


Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday signaled they could band together to slap clear consumer warnings on short-term limited-duration health plans.

The bill by Health Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) aims to temper the Trump administration’s move to let people keep short-term plans for up to three years. These plans offer limited benefits and the insurers can deny claims they deem as a symptom of a pre-existing condition.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Grace-Marie Turner, president of the conservative Galen Institute who defended the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term plans as a needed low-cost alternative to ACA coverage, agreed the limited coverage of short-term plans warranted advisories.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), the ranking Republican on the health subcommittee, said he would look at the proposal but declined to weigh in. The bill was a late-breaking addition to the hearing proceedings.

“The federal rules can’t be prescriptive to interfere with — states do need to have some sovereignty on this as well,” he told Modern Healthcare.

The overall tenor of agreement on the issue marked a shift from the partisan wrangling that characterizes congressional discussions about the Affordable Care Act. It also underscored increasing bipartisan support to force the healthcare industry to be more transparent.

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman warned the panel in her testimony Wednesday that policymakers should combat aggressive marketing by short-term plans. She cited a study that found ACA-related web searches served up advertising for short-term plans, and she decried deceptive marketing practices that steer people into this coverage.

She also flagged the practice of post-claims underwriting in short-term plans. In one instance, a Pennsylvanian was denied coverage for heart failure treatment because the insurer said he could have been diagnosed with a heart condition prior to purchasing coverage.

“They’ve shown the inclination to deny coverage rather than to provide it,” Altman told the panel.

There were three other bills brought up as part of the House Democrats’ partial steps to return the Obamacare markets to their pre-2017 status.

A bill by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) would invalidate the expansion of the short-term insurance plans altogether. A separate measure by Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) would rescind the Trump administration’s October guidance on ACA 1332 state innovation waivers that let states potentially funnel subsidies to non-ACA compliant plans.

The final proposal from Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) would replenish the federal budget for marketing and the navigator program to Obama-era levels of $100 million. Since 2017, the CMS has cut this budget by 90% and for the 2018 open-enrollment period tied navigator grants to individual navigator performance the previous year.

The administration has defended the move as having a relatively minor impact on enrollment numbers, which ACA supporters refute.

This year, saw an overall drop in enrollment, and a recent Gallup survey showed a slight uptick in the uninsured rate at the end of 2018.