President Donald Trump threatened on Saturday to end government payments to health insurers if Congress does not pass a new healthcare bill and goaded them to not abandon their seven-year quest to replace the Obamacare law.
"After seven years of 'talking' Repeal & Replace, the people of our great country are still being forced to live with imploding ObamaCare!" Trump tweeted. "If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!"
The tweet came a day after Senate Republicans failed to muster enough votes to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature healthcare bill commonly known as Obamacare.
The first part of Trump's tweet appeared to be referring to the approximately $8 billion in cost-sharing reduction subsidies the federal government pays to insurers to lower the price of health coverage for low-income Americans.
The second part of the tweet appeared to be a threat to end the employer contribution for members of Congress and their staffs, who were moved from the normal federal employee healthcare benefits program onto the Obamacare insurance exchanges as part of the 2010 healthcare law.
Trump later urged Senate Republicans to try again on a healthcare vote. The Senate is in session for another week before it is scheduled to begin an August recess.
"Unless the Republican Senators are total quitters, Repeal & Replace is not dead! Demand another vote before voting on any other bill!" Trump said in a subsequent tweet.
Trump later posted this tweet:
Many insurers have been waiting for an answer from Trump or lawmakers on whether they will continue to fund the annual government subsidies. Without assurances, many insurers plan to raise rates an additional 20 percent by an Aug. 16 deadline for premium prices.
With Republican efforts to dismantle Obamacare in disarray, hundreds of U.S. counties are at risk of losing access to private health coverage in 2018 as insurers consider pulling out of those markets.
In response, Trump on Friday again suggested that his administration would let the Obamacare program “implode.” He has weakened enforcement of the law’s requirement for individuals to buy insurance, threatened to cut off funding and sought to change plan benefits through regulations.
Meanwhile, some congressional Republicans were still trying to find a way forward on healthcare.
Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement issued late on Friday that he and two other Republican senators, Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., had met with Trump after the defeat to discuss Graham's proposal to take tax money raised by Obamacare and send it back to the states in the form of healthcare block grants.
Graham said the move would end Democrats' drive for a national single-payer healthcare system by putting states in charge.
"President Trump was optimistic about the Graham-Cassidy-Heller proposal," Graham added. "I will continue to work with President Trump and his team to move the idea forward."
The latest attempt by senators collapsed when they failed to reach a threshold to pass a "skinny" repeal bill early Friday morning that would have ended the individual mandate requiring Americans to purchase insurance or pay a fine. It would also have suspended through 2026 the requirement that businesses provide insurance for their workers.
Earlier in the week another bill met with defeat in the Senate that would have repealed the healthcare law.
Republican lawmakers have been conflicted over how exactly to change the nation's healthcare system after many of them were elected to office on the platform of repealing and replacing Obamacare. Democratic lawmakers have been steadfast in opposition to changing any of the legislation enacted under former President Barack Obama.
Regardless of the stance of congressional lawmakers, the healthcare law has frayed edges as some Americans are forced to pay exorbitant rates in order to have health insurance, while the burden of funding has not diminished to subsidize those who qualify. Some are left without a choice or only one choice at all and CNBC predicts health insurers will likely pull out completely from 49 counties in the nation in 2018.
The New York Times on Saturday explained the effect the president is already exerting on Obamacare, and maintained his primary options for impacting the healthcare system fell into three main arenas. While opponents could cheer the fact that Trump is making cracks to break the healthcare law apart, supporters decry any chinks into the Obamacare armor.
Trump is undermining Obamacare with weakened enforcement of the individual mandate, the Times argued, saying, "the Internal Revenue Service has said it will continue accepting tax returns that do not say whether a filer has been uninsured."
This could pave the way for more exceptions by the White House in the future, as well as signaling "publicly that it does not care about the mandate, which may cause people to be less likely to sign up, even if they later get hit with a tax penalty."
A second effect the Trump administration could have would be to impose work requirement for Medicaid recipients. While the president cannot prevent states from expanding Medicaid, the article explained he could "allow states that apply to impose work requirements or charge premiums for more Medicaid beneficiaries, through a process that lets the government waive the normal Medicaid rules."
To do so could cause many poor Americans to not have access to the system due to its cost. GOP lawmakers have worked to rein in federal spending on Medicaid expansion — attempts which may have caused many states to end it entirely.
The Trump administration has backed off outreach promoting Obamacare unlike Obama's White House. Without promotion, citizens may not be aware of healthcare coverage options, The Times maintained.
Once Trump was inaugurated, the White House within days pulled ads and outreach that encouraged people's participation. If the result has been lower numbers signing up for Obamacare, prices for insurance will likely rise.
Trump met the latest GOP failure to pass a bill aimed at solving the growing issues and burdens of paying for Obamacare by chiding lawmakers and saying he would "let Obamacare implode" because of their failure to find a solution to the issue.
Reuters contributed to this story.
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