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Human Services Head Predicts Higher Premiums, Fewer Choices If Congress Fails To Act On Health Care

Then-insurance commissioner Teresa Miller speaks at a health care rally at the state Capitol in Harrisburg on June 23, 2017.

Since the latest Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed to garner enough support, uncertainty is growing for consumers and insurers as a new enrollment period is set to begin Nov. 1.

“Right now, states are finalizing rates for plans for 2018,” said Teresa Miller, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. “Without a bill to stabilize the market,  I think it's possible you could see companies exit the market entirely because they're just fed up with all of the uncertainty and still don't know what the rules for 2018 are.”

Miller said that with the failure of the Graham-Cassidy bill to replace Obamacare, she is hoping the Senate will focus on efforts in the Senate Health Committee to stabilize insurance markets.

“When we talk about the ACA not working well, we're really talking about that individual market," she said. "And it's really not working well for the handful of people in that market who don't have access to financial assistance.”

Miller, who testified Sept. 25 before the Senate Finance Committee and earlier in the month before the Health Committee, said one way to stabilize the insurance markets is to guarantee payments and provide funding for cost-sharing reduction payments for the next two years.

“I think the problem right now is the Trump administration has not been willing to give assurances to companies in this market that these payments are going to continue beyond a month-to-month basis, and they still have to price their products and figure out if they want to be in this market.”

Under the cost-sharing reduction payments, the federal government provides funding to offset a discount that eligible consumers pay for deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance.

Miller said continuing these payments will help stabilize the markets and expand access to affordable care.

“If we want this to impact 2018, it really needs to happen yesterday,” Miller said.

She added that if the markets are not stabilized, “I think what we'll see is certainly much higher rates here in Pennsylvania and around the country than we would otherwise see.”

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
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