WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and a group of Democratic senators took over the Senate floor Wednesday to send a warning that huge increases in insurance premiums are underway across the country.
Murphy, a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, laid the blame for the insurance hikes squarely on the Trump administration, which he said “is systematically sabotaging the American healthcare system.”
Murphy said the growth rate of yearly insurance premiums should be “5-6-7 percent” when adjusted for medical inflation. Instead, he showed fellow senators placards of states that already have seen larger insurance rate increases for 2019.
He said in Maryland, one of the largest insurers came in with a 91 percent hike in premiums a month ago; in Virginia, a large insurer came in with a 64 percent hike; New York state, 39 percent; Washington state, 34 percent; Oregon, 14 percent.
Connecticut’s 2019 insurance rates won’t be proposed to insurance regulators until mid-July.
“January 2017, President Trump signs an executive order telling all his agencies to dismantle the ACA, despite the fact that Congress didn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act and never would repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Murphy said.
“In April of 2017, he cuts open enrollment in half for the Affordable Care Act, just to try to make sure that fewer people can sign up for health insurance. Republicans in May start voting to try to take insurance away from 23 million people — actually one of the proposals would have taken insurance away from 30 million people,” Murphy said.
“They finally settle on legislation in December of 2017 that takes insurance away from 13 million people and drives costs up by at least 10 percent,” Murphy added.
“The Trump administration in February of this year starts to allow insurance companies to expand the use of junk plans. These are plans that cover very little. They might not cover prescription drugs or mental health or addiction care, but they’re cheaper, so healthy people tend to move to these plans,” Murphy said.
“I don’t know any middle class family that can afford these rates,” Murphy said, adding that what that means is more and more healthy people will either totally drop insurance or buy what he termed “junk” plans — those that have very little coverage.
The result, Murphy said, is that only people badly in need of health insurance will keep it. And, he said, they’ll pay a lot for it.
The White House has argued the short-term plans will provide an affordable alternative for some customers who are priced out of Obamacare. But critics say they’ll encourage people to buy inadequate insurance and raise premiums for people who need comprehensive care.
Murphy said the “cherry on top” of Trump’s dismantling of the consumer safeguards in the insurance system was last week, when the administration announced it would not defend the law against a conservative-backed lawsuit to overturn the ACA’s guarantee of health coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions.
“The president of the United States is actively working to give corporations the power to tell moms, dads, and kids that they can’t get the health care they need to stay alive,” Murphy said. “And Republicans in Congress are letting him do it. No one in Connecticut — or anywhere — should have to fear that they or their loved ones will be kicked to the curb and refused care when they need it most.”
The Trump administration said last week that it will not defend the Affordable Care Act against the latest legal challenge to its constitutionality — a dramatic break from the executive branch’s tradition of arguing to uphold existing statutes and a land mine for health insurance changes the ACA brought about.
In a brief filed in a Texas federal court and an accompanying letter to the House and Senate leaders of both parties, the Justice Department agrees in large part with the 20 Republican-led states that brought the suit.
They contend that the ACA provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance soon will no longer be constitutional and that, as a result, consumer insurance protections under the law will not be valid, either.
Or, as the lawsuit itself puts it: “Once the heart of the ACA — the individual mandate — is declared unconstitutional, the remainder of the ACA must also fall.”
The three-page letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions begins by saying that Justice adopted its position “with the approval of the President of the United States.” The letter acknowledges that the decision not to defend an existing law deviates from history but contends that it is not unprecedented.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that “everybody” in the Senate wants to preserve consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
The provision is by far the most popular part of the Affordable Care Act.
Matt Corey, the endorsed Republican running against Murphy, says there should not be any discrimination for pre-existing conditions in the health insurance exchanges.
“Let the free market compete in these exchanges so the American people can get the best rates,” Corey says on his website. “We also need to create large pools so individuals can get the best rates available. This should include creating policies to cater to individual needs to get more people to sign up.”
Branford Republican Dominic Rapini is also running against Murphy.
“The Attorney General swore on oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act rendered ACA unconstitutional and the Justice Department has a duty to not defend it,” Rapini said Thursday. “The courts will have the ultimate say, but it’s clear that Obamacare has been a disaster and was always the wrong approach to making health care affordable. It’s time to end this socialist experiment and create a health care system that protects pre-existing conditions and puts doctors and patients back in charge.”