Trump administration slashes Affordable Care Act sign-up assistance

Report: WH Suspends $10.4B in Obamacare Insurer Payments

The Trump administration announced on Saturday another potential blow to the Affordable Care Act - the freezing of risk-adjustment payments that help stabilize insurance pools in the marketplace.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will be offering $10 million in funding this year to groups that will help navigate 2019 enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, CMS said to a statement Tuesday. During his first year in office, the president pressed the Republican-led Congress to repeal much of the 2010 law that was one of President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievements.

About 20 million Americans have received health insurance coverage through the program.

Over the weekend, the administration said it would freeze risk adjustment payments to insurers that cover a large amount of unhealthy consumers - payments meant to stabilize the marketplace by offsetting higher costs associated with riskier patients. Unlike with other ObamaCare subsidy programs, risk adjustment payments shuffle money from insurers with relatively healthy populations to others. Citing conflicting federal court decisions on the program, the CMS said it can not collect or disburse funds under the risk-adjustment program.

In February, U.S. District Judge James Browning in Albuquerque, N.M., ruled that the formula used by CMS to calculate payments in the risk-adjustment program was flawed and had not been adequately justified by federal regulators. But another district court in MA upheld the formula.

Verma says CMS has asked the court to reconsider its ruling, and is hoping for a speedy resolution that allows CMS to "prevent more adverse impacts on Americans who receive their insurance in the individual and small group markets".

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"This is occurring right at the time of year that people (insurers) are making decisions about whether to participate in the exchanges and what premiums to charge if they do", said Eric Hillenbrand, a managing director at consultancy AlixPartners.

Risk adjustment is an important part of the ACA.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, a federation of 36 Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies nationwide, also expressed disapproval at the move, saying it could create "turmoil" in the market.

Obamacare surges on, with the public continuing to approve of it and health insurers coming back to the markets after sitting previous year out. California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said the "Trump administration has just taken another step to sabotage the nation's health insurance market".

The administration's latest effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act comes at a particularly sensitive time for insurers. In 2013, CMS finalized a risk adjustment methodology for states that uses the statewide average premium in order to maintain a budget-neutral program.

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