Trump health order gets mixed Texas review; business group studying it

A top business group in Texas greeted President Donald Trump’s executive order aimed at reshaping U.S. health care policy with a lukewarm statement on Thursday, while local health care advocates raised concerns that the attacks on the Affordable Care Act would dissuade people from signing up for medical insurance for 2018.

Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business, said his group was still studying the president’s order. But Wallace noted in written comments that association health plans — which are loosely regulated and would be expanded by Trump’s action — have prompted “a history of concern” because of their potential negative impact on the broad health insurance market, “especially in terms of access and affordability.”

Still, he said, “something needs to be done to ensure costs for employers to provide quality health care coverage for their employees is stabilized.”

Trump’s executive order isn’t expected to trigger any immediate changes in U.S. health care policy — or affect coverage in 2018 — because the measures that it calls for could take months or longer to implement.

But Elizabeth Colvin, director of the Insure Central Texas program at Foundation Communities, said the president’s actions and rhetoric regarding the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, are contributing to a negative drumbeat that will undermine the upcoming enrollment period for 2018 coverage, which starts in less than three weeks.

“The noise, (and) the negativity, is going to impact enrollment,” Colvin said. “That’s what we on the local level need to counteract. We are desperately trying to get the word out that the law still exists and there are great choices for comprehensive health insurance for Central Texans” in 2018.

Enrollment for 2018 insurance under the Affordable Care Act is set to begin Nov. 1 and will last six weeks through Dec. 15. Four companies are expected to offer marketplace plans in the Austin area for 2018, Colvin said, compared to three for 2017.

Prior to Thursday’s executive order, the Trump administration had cut this year’s enrollment period to six weeks, from three months in previous years, and also cut the federal advertising budget used to promote it.

Slightly more than 1.2 million Texans accessed health insurance for 2017 through the federal marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

About 68,000 people in Travis County and about 24,000 people in Williamson County got health insurance through the marketplace for 2017.

Meanwhile, opinions of Trump’s executive order among the area’s congressional delegation appeared to be divided along partisan lines.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the president’s order is “a win-win for Texans struggling from Obamacare’s skyrocketing premiums and lack of access to quality health care.”

Cruz said the expansion of association health plans will allow people in individual or small-group markets to join together to negotiate lower rates.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, criticized the executive order, calling it an attempt by Trump to sabotage the Affordable Care Act because Republicans haven’t been able to devise a plan to replace it.

Trump’s action “means bare-bones, junk insurance will undermine health care, removing protections against high out-of-pocket costs and abandoning those with preexisting conditions,” Doggett said.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, applauded Trump “for taking action to improve access, increase choices and lower costs for Americans’ health care.”

Smith said he has “long been a proponent of the flexibility for individuals to purchase insurance across state lines and freedom for small businesses to band together and increase their purchasing power.”

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