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Lawmakers say new Trump plan could provide access to cheaper employer insurance, others raise questions

Brandon Paykamian • Jun 22, 2018 at 12:16 AM

While Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has strongly disagreed with President Donald Trump’s administration on a number of issues in the past — most recently voicing his opposition to new tariffs against trade partners and the executive’s escalation of anti-immigration policies — the senator is with the administration when it comes to health care.

Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health and Labor Committee, said Tuesday that a new Trump administration initiative, the Association Health Plan rule, could allow a self-employed Tennessee worker or small business employee to buy cheaper health insurance that would provide the same coverage for pre-existing conditions, similar to employees of many large companies.

“To the plumber in Memphis, the songwriter in Nashville, or the bakery owner in Chattanooga, who have been paying through the nose since Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) took effect, who might be making $60,000 per year and paying $20,000 for health insurance and who is very likely not receiving any subsidy, the Trump Administration appears to have found a potential solution within existing law for affordable insurance,” the senator said in a Tuesday statement.

“Nearly 180 million Americans get their insurance on the job, and generally they are happy with it because favorable tax code treatment saves them several thousands of dollars a year, and their policies include patient protections such as coverage of pre-existing conditions.”

Alexander said the new plan will “help two groups of people hurt by ‘Obamacare’” — the self-employed and employees of small businesses.

“For example, this rule could allow that plumber making $60,000 and paying $20,000 in insurance in the individual market, to instead join with other plumbers to purchase health insurance at lower costs,” he continued. “The rule will allow small businesses in the same line of work or in the same geographic area to join together and offer insurance to their employees. For example, bakeries and small sporting goods stores in Chattanooga could come together and purchase a plan for their employees.”

Rep. Phil Roe joined Alexander in supporting the new measure, calling it “great news for small businesses and their employees,” but some Democrats and proponents of Medicaid expansion — an initiative many GOP lawmakers from red states have opposed for years now — have concerns about who is left out of the equation.

“I’m confused as to why Sen. Alexander and the rest of the GOP fought to remove so many of the protections they are reinstating under the AHP, such as coverage for dependents until 26 and coverage for pre-existing conditions without elevated cost or discrimination,” Washington County Democratic Party Chairperson Kate Craig said in response to Alexander’s statement. “This reads like a move to make themselves the heroes since they made sure those provisions were repealed only to reinstate them themselves.

“While it is hugely important to ensure that health care is affordable to everyone, including those who work and own small businesses, this continues to tie health insurance coverage to employment. Affordability should be something Sen. Alexander and the rest of Congress consider as they craft a healthcare bill that benefits all Americans.”

Craig went on to point out that Medicaid expansion is still needed in Tennessee.

“Expanding Medicaid is something the GOP has failed to do, especially here in Tennessee. And while it would require the state legislature to vote for this, Sen. Alexander and the rest of the GOP could have taken the platform that expanding Medicaid was good and would benefit Tennesseans — as it would,” she added.

“But instead, hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans continue to fall in the health insurance gap. Tennesseans are dying. And this bill wouldn’t do anything to help close the gap or give these Tennesseans access to health care.”

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