Wolf blames Trump, Congress for spiking health coverage cost

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration on Monday blamed President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress for a sharp increase in the cost of health insurance that will take effect next year for some of the 500,000-plus people who buy individual plans in Pennsylvania.

Wolf's administration released the approved 2018 rates Monday, saying the average weighted premium increase for an individual plan sold through the Healthcare.gov marketplace or a broker will be just over 30 percent.

The increase would have been less than 8 percent if Trump had not halted cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers — a move announced last week — or created uncertainty around the fate of the individual mandate, the administration said. Insurance Department officials said many people who buy individual coverage should be able to avoid a significant increase, either by virtue of the tax credits that are available through Healthcare.gov for people with incomes that qualify or by buying a plan that was not eligible for the cost-sharing reduction payments.

On a conference call with reporters, Wolf's acting insurance commissioner, Jessica Altman, accused the Republican president of using families as "pawns" in the tug-of-war over the 2010 federal health care law, signed by President Barack Obama.

In a statement, Wolf accused Congress of being complicit in the rate increases because it didn't appropriate the cost-sharing reduction payments that Trump is ending.

"We warned you and your colleagues of what would happen if cost-sharing reduction payments were not made," Wolf wrote in a Monday letter to Pennsylvania's congressional delegation. "This is something you could have prevented, but now it is the reality Pennsylvania consumers must face."

Open enrollment for 2018 starts Nov. 1, and people must sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1.

Increases in small group plan rates will average 7.6 percent in 2018.

Late Thursday night, the Trump administration said it would stop making the cost-sharing reduction payments that lower the cost of deductibles and copayments for policyholders with income low enough to qualify, up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

Even without the federal reimbursement, insurers are required to offer the lower deductibles and copayments, but they sought higher premiums to account for the loss of the federal reimbursement.

"Silver" plans that are eligible for the cost-sharing reimbursements will likely see the steepest premium increases, but people who qualify for a tax credit would see a bigger tax credit that would help cover the cost of the increase, the Wolf administration said.

Platinum, gold and bronze-level plans are not eligible for the cost-sharing reimbursements and would likely see smaller premium increases, as would off-marketplace plans sold through a broker, the administration said.