Read more of Rewire.News’ coverage of CPAC 2019 here.
Trump administration officials gathered Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to tout “junk” health insurance plans and criticize the “Medicare for All” bill introduced this week by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representative.
Speaking on a CPAC panel, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar took a swing at the progressive caucus’ “Medicare for All” bill. “The threat is an immediate and complete government takeover of health care,” he said. “When the same folks promised Obamacare, they promised you that you could keep your insurance if you liked it. This time they’re not even promising that .… That’s also going to violate the commitment that we have made to our seniors in the Medicare program because when you put all of these other Americans into the Medicare program, you’re going to have the best doctors and the best hospitals are going to jump out of that program because they’ll be paid below market rates.”
Azar’s CPAC comments provided a stark political contrast to progressive lawmakers who trumpet Medicare for All as a cost effective way to provide coverage for the 27 million people in the United States without health insurance. The Trump administration’s attempts to undercut the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, have led to a spike in the country’s uninsured rate and sent health insurance rates skyward. An administration rule change announced in January is expected to lead to further insurance rate hikes.
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“We have the most expensive health-care system in the world, but here’s the thing: We have some of the worst outcomes in the world,” U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said at a press conference introducing the Medicare for All Act.
Azar, who was joined on the CPAC stage by U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, touted Trump administration rules allowing the creation of short-term limited-duration plans and association health plans (AHPs), or “junk” plans derided by health-care analysts and progressive lawmakers.
Several states with Democratic-majority legislatures have banned or instituted strict regulations for so-called junk plans, and eleven states joined in a lawsuit to block the rule allowing their sale. Senate Republicans killed a resolution last October that would have overturned the junk plan rules.
“These are plans that may help you as you move off your parents’ plan before you get a plan through work,” said Azar on Thursday, explaining what a short-term limited-duration plan is. “They don’t necessarily have all of the coverage that Obamacare plans would have in them, but it’s an option. It puts you in the driver’s seat, [and] you make the choice.”
While proponents claim the Republican-backed junk plans could help lower insurance costs for small employers, health-care advocates warn that widespread use of the plans could result in higher premiums and less access to treatment for people with more extensive health-care needs.
AHPs are a way for a “group of small businesses [to] pool together to have more purchasing power and get access to cheaper premiums,” according to Vox’s Sarah Kliff. “Before the ACA, national associations could pick and choose which states’ insurance rules they wanted to follow, and use those nationwide,” Kliff explained in 2017. “The result was often health insurance that skirted state rules and advantaged businesses with young and healthy employees, who are likely to prefer skimpier health plans.”
Acosta has been embroiled in a scandal stemming from his time as a federal prosecutor in the mid-2000s. A November Miami Herald investigation revealed that Acosta had approved a non-prosecution agreement with billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in a sex abuse case. The deal allowed Epstein to avoid federal charges and a potential life sentence, and it halted investigations into Epstein’s co-conspirators. Last week a federal judge ruled that Acosta violated federal law by agreeing to the deal without notifying Epstein’s victims, and 19 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to President Trump demanding the cabinet member’s resignation.