Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and the rest of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price asking the administration to maintain the Obamacare subsidies through 2018.

The subsidies are called cost-sharing reduction payments or CSRs. The payments go to insurance companies to lower deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance for low-income individuals. The CSR, which is paid on a monthly basis to insurers, was made Monday, but Republican President Donald Trump and his administration have refused to say whether he would continue them through the end of the year.

Without any certainty about these payments, which the U.S. House of Representatives challenged in court, the Congressional Budget Office has said premiums would have to increase by 20 percent in 2018. If they expire before the end of 2017, insurance companies will have no way to make up for the loss because they can’t raise premiums mid-year and they can’t add them to the 2018 rates.

“The result is to sabotage the health insurance market,” Blumenthal said.

He said they are calling on the administration to guarantee these payments will be made. If they’re not made, “Connecticut consumers will suffer skyrocketing prices.”

Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, said even with the help of the subsidies she gets calls everyday from people struggling to pay $6,000 deductibles on modest incomes.

“This was part of making it affordable. This was part of the deal,” Andrews said.

Already the uncertainty over the Affordable Care Act in general has led insurance companies to propose double-digit rate increases for 2018.

The two insurance companies that agreed to participate in Connecticut’s exchange in 2018 have said they would need to revise their proposed rates if those payments expire. Connecticut’s exchange, Access Health CT, has said they would like to have the rates set for 2018 by Sept. 1. However, they legally could wait until Sept. 30.

Connecticut’s Healthcare Advocate, Ted Doolittle, said there are 48,000 individuals on Connecticut’s exchange receiving these subsidies. That’s almost half of the roughly 100,000 Connecticut residents buying their health insurance through the exchange.

There’s $40 million in help coming to Connecticut’s insurance companies through the CSR payments.

Vicki Veltri, the former Healthcare Advocate who is in charge of healthcare policy in Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman’s office, said the markets were beginning to stabilize before all the “instability was introduced.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but the Senate’s Health, Education, Pension, and Labor Committee will be holding hearings on Sept. 6 and 7 to determine how best to move forward with reforming the system.

“Making decisions on a month-to-month basis or elimination of the CSRs really does destabilize the marketplace,” Veltri said. “… And clearly threatens the coverage of tens of thousands of Americans.”

Blumenthal said it’s is essential that the Trump administration stop playing political games with the affordability and stability of our health insurance market.

“We urge you to immediately and permanently fund cost-sharing reductions at least through the end of 2018 so insurers in Connecticut and around the country have the certainty they need to operate effectively on ACA exchanges,” the delegation wrote.

They requested a response by Sept. 1.

Since July, Trump has been making 11th-hour announcements about the continuation of the CSRs.

No one was willing to speculate when the next announcement may be made.

“We have no indication at this point what will happen,” Blumenthal said.