EDITORIAL: Stand up and shout for decent health care in Illinois

SHARE EDITORIAL: Stand up and shout for decent health care in Illinois
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President Donald Trump on Thursday shows an executive order the signed on health care. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

We need to hear from Illinois’ leaders.

Tens of thousands of Illinois residents are about to see their health insurance premiums shoot up, possibly to unaffordable levels, now that President Donald Trump has undermined our nation’s health insurance markets. Every elected and non-elected civic leader in Illinois, from Gov. Bruce Rauner on down, should be demanding that Congress fix this before anybody is kicked to the curb by insurance premiums that have moved out of reach.

OPINION

On Thursday, Trump signed an executive order eliminating “cost-sharing reductions,” which are federal payments to insurers to subsidize lower insurance premiums for low-income people. The president also signed an order allowing small businesses to band together in “association health plans” that would cost less but also provide less coverage.

Together, the two orders will send individual health insurance costs spiraling upward if nothing is done. Only Congress can stop the bleeding.

Without the cost-sharing reductions, insurance companies will be forced to raise rates. That will drive healthy people out of the individual insurance system.

The association health plans will do the same, as many healthy people will choose lower-cost insurance plans that provide fewer benefits, such as no hospitalization or prescription drug coverage.

But the idea of association health plans is a trap.

“Illinois has worked hard to get consumer protections into health care,” U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky told us Monday. “This would let companies set up in the least-regulated state and sell terrible policies in Illinois that bypass all of the protections.”

As healthy people leave the system, sicker people will be left behind. Unable to spread the costs over as many people, insurance companies will instead raise rates. Trump’s actions not only will hurt ordinary people and insurance companies, but also will further drive up the nation’s budget deficit as higher premiums force the government to pay more in tax credits for low-income people who qualify for them.

In all, nearly 250,000 Illinoisans signed up for health insurance in the current year through Illinois’ Obamacare exchange. Of those people, 175,000 get lower insurance costs because of the cost-sharing reductions. But now, thanks to Trump, the cost of their insurance will go up. So will the cost of insurance for people who make too much money to benefit directly from the subsidies.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, premiums for the most popular plans will rise an extra 20 percent next year above the usual annual increases.

In a tweet, Trump openly admitted his goal is to torpedo the health insurance markets to force Democrats to negotiate with him over a replacement system. What Trump doesn’t understand is he can’t get Democrats to negotiate when neither he nor congressional Republicans have been able to devise a replacement plan that works.

Instead of delivering a cure, he is delivering chaos.

In Washington, Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., are trying to cobble together a compromise that would restore the cost-sharing reduction payments, as well as make other fixes to Obamacare. And on Saturday, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and other health care groups called on Congress to restore the cost-sharing reductions, saying “… [M]illions will face higher premiums, fewer choices, and less access to the medical care they need.”

Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan last week joined 18 other state attorneys general in a lawsuit arguing Trump can’t unilaterally suspend the cost-share reduction payments. In a statement, Madigan said, “Ripping health care coverage away from millions of people who need it most is not just illegal but unjust.”

Trump’s two executive orders were just his latest rash and spiteful effort to undermine Obamacare. His administration previously stopped encouraging people to sign up for Obamacare health insurance, which is sure to lead to fewer healthy people — but not sick folks — from signing up.

People in the individual health care market already are paying higher premiums as insurance companies pump up their prices because of the uncertainty. Even before Trump acted, House Republicans had sued to eliminate cost-sharing reductions, in a case that now is on appeal.

Killing Obamacare is not what people want. Last Friday, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that 71 percent of Americans would rather the White House simply make Obamacare work better.

Gov. Rauner should be shouting that message from the top of the state Capitol dome. Republican members of Congress from Illinois should be doing the same.

This is not party politics. This about people’s health.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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