Trump aims at insurers in $8B battle over ObamaCare subsidies

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday took aim at the nation's health insurers in an escalating threat to cut the healthcare subsidy payments that make Obamacare plans affordable, one day after urging Republican senators to continue working to undo his Democratic predecessor's healthcare law.

"If ObamaCare is hurting people, & it is, why shouldn't it hurt the insurance companies & why should Congress not be paying what public pays?" Trump, a Republican, wrote on Twitter.

Trump, frustrated that he and Republicans have not been able to follow through on their campaign promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, has repeatedly threatened to let it implode. So far, the administration has continued to make the monthly subsidy payments, and withholding them is just one way they could make good on Trump's threat that could weaken the law.

The president's latest comments echoed his weekend tweets targeting the federal government's cost-sharing reduction subsidies to insurers that lower the price of health coverage for the poor under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to Trump, told "Fox News Sunday" Trump would decide this week whether to end the cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments.

Insurers have asked the government to commit to making the $8 billion in payments for 2018. Trump could cut off the monthly payments for this year's plans as soon as September.

"Beyond that is a sea of uncertainty," analysts for Capital Alpha Partners wrote in a research note on Monday.

If the subsidies end, insurers have said they will raise premium rates by another 20 percent in 2018 to make up for losing them. They face an Aug. 16 deadline to submit 2018 rates for Obamacare plans.

Kristine Grow, spokeswoman for health insurer lobby America’s Health Insurance Plans, declined to comment on Trump's latest tweet but said subsidies are a federally mandated part of the individual insurance market and that health plans do not profit from them.

Insurers that sell individual plans incorporating subsidies include Anthem Inc, Molina Healthcare Inc and Centene Corp. Anthem shares fell 0.5 percent to $186.80, Molina fell 2.2 percent to $68.45 and Centene fell 3.4 percent to $79.86 in morning trading.

The subsidy question looms after Republicans last week failed to push through their latest healthcare plan through the Senate, despite having a majority in the chamber.

A bipartisan group of 43 House lawmakers in a letter on Monday called for Congress to quickly stabilize the individual insurance market by appropriating money for the payments and creating a stability fund for states.