Senate Republican Plan to Repeal Mandate Risks Higher Premiums

By Stephanie Armour Features Dow Jones Newswires

Republican plans to end the Affordable Care Act's rule that most people must have health insurance would allow consumers who don't want coverage to shed it, but it could drive premiums higher for those who keep it.

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Eliminating the so-called individual mandate would increase the number of people without insurance by four million, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, a number that it says would rise to 13 million by 2027.

But those who buy private insurance, rather than getting it at work or through a government program, would see their premiums rise by about 10% in most years of the coming decade, the CBO has forecast.

The individual mandate requires most people who can afford coverage to have it. Those who decline must pay a fine of 2.5% of household income or $695 a person, whichever is higher. About seven million people in 2016 reported paying a penalty for not having coverage the year before, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The mandate's goal is to ensure that young, healthy people obtain coverage to help offset the costs of older and sicker consumers. Knocking down the mandate would result in higher premiums because those healthier people would be less likely to purchase insurance if they don't face a penalty.

Democrats and industry groups castigated Senate Republicans on Tuesday for including the repeal in their tax package. An array of industry groups -- including the American Medical Association and America's Health Insurance Plans, a major insurers' organization -- wrote congressional leaders urging them to keep the mandate.

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"The tax bill is going to hit the American people with a health-care double whammy," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), warning that millions would lose their health insurance or pay higher premiums.

But some House Republicans applauded Senate Republicans' move after House GOP leaders opted not to include the repeal in their own tax overhaul, wary of political complications.

"It appears the Senate is keeping its promises," said the House Republican Study Committee, a conservative group that represents numerous GOP House members. "The House should do the same. Let's repeal the individual mandate and restart the process of repealing Obamacare."

The inclusion of the mandate will likely be accompanied by a move to advance bipartisan legislation aimed at shoring up the ACA's fragile individual insurance markets. That legislation would restore payments that insurers use for subsidies to low-income consumers. Mr. Trump recently cut off those payments, saying they hadn't been properly authorized by Congress.

Democrats have called for a vote on the bipartisan bill, but GOP leaders have been reluctant to bring it to the floor because Mr. Trump has suggested he wouldn't back it.

Republicans now say they hope to vote on the legislation as a way to diminish any disruption in the individual insurance market sparked by repealing the individual mandate.

Democrats are in agreement that the bipartisan bill would help ease rising prices on the individual insurance markets, but they have argued that the mandate should be preserved to further stabilize the markets.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 14, 2017 19:42 ET (00:42 GMT)