Healthcare groups oppose rule extending short-term insurance plans

Healthcare advocacy groups expressed concern with the Trump administration’s final rule on short-term insurance plans, saying the decision to extend those limited plans for up to three years could destabilize other insurance markets and leave patients covered by such plans exposed to catastrophic costs.

Under the current system, short-term plans cover a period of less than three months with no renewal options. They were originally designed as temporary coverage for people transferring insurance and don’t cover prescription drugs, maternity care or people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“Plans that are not required to cover essential health benefits, not required to cover people with pre-existing health conditions, and that may place annual or lifetime limits on coverage are not providing the same access to care that comprehensive health insurance does,” Ana Maria Lopez, MD, MPH, the president of the American College of Physicians (ACP), said in a statement.

“ACP, other physician and health care organizations, and patient advocacy groups have all raised concerns that allowing these limited plans to be used for up to years at a time will have implications beyond the one individual who chooses this option. This regulation will erode essential patient protections and drive up premiums for those buying coverage through the health insurance exchanges.”

HHS Secretary Alex Azar defended the rule, saying it would help people who couldn’t afford coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges. The average monthly premium for an individual with a short-term, limited-duration policy at the end of 2016 was about $124, compared to $393 for an unsubsidized individual market plan, according to HHS. The agency has touted the short-term plans as an option for middle-class families that aren’t eligible for subsidized insurance.

“President Trump is bringing more affordable insurance options back to the market, including through allowing the renewal of short-term plans,” Azar said in a statement. “These plans aren’t for everyone, but they can provide a much more affordable option for millions of the forgotten men and women left out by the current system.”

But more than 25 consumer and patient groups representing approximately 100 million Americans echoed the ACP in a joint statement, claiming the short-term plans will lure away healthy individuals and force those with pre-existing conditions to pay even higher premiums. They also said the plans might fail to cover necessary care for those healthier people if they become ill or get injured.

“We are dismayed that the administration has chosen a course of action to further dismantle rather than stabilize the health insurance marketplace, potentially costing the millions of Americans our organizations represent their coverage or even their health,” the organizations said in comments distributed by the American Heart Association. “We now call upon states to stand up for the patients left behind by this rule and take action to protect patients, stabilize the marketplaces, and bring down costs for consumers.”