EDITORIAL: It’s up to Illinois lawmakers to protect Obamacare from Trump

SHARE EDITORIAL: It’s up to Illinois lawmakers to protect Obamacare from Trump

President Donald Trump extols the passage of the tax reform package in December at a Cabinet meeting. The bill included a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate. | Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

The Trump administration is trying to give millions of Americans yet another terrible deal on health care. Illinois lawmakers can — and should —pass legislation to prevent the president from bringing watered-down health care coverageto this state.

A plan proposed earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Labor would expand the ability of small businesses to band together as groups to buy health insurance. It would help strengthen their bargaining power for pricing and getting a wider selection of plans, the Department of Labor says. Up to 11 million people who work for small businesses or are self-employed could be better off — supposedly.

Those advantages sound great, until you realize a sure-fire way to get cheaper rates is to exclude coverage for prescriptions, hospitalizations and other important services. You know, the kinds of things you buy insurance for. They are benefits Trump wants to drop.


Currently, under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans have to provide coverage for things like medications and hospital stays. They are part of 10 mandatory essential health benefits that also include maternity and pediatric care. Trump’s plan would let companies exclude those critical benefits.

Illinois Rep. Greg Harris. | Seth Perlman/AP file

Illinois Rep. Greg Harris. | Seth Perlman/AP file

The public can weigh in on the Trump administration’s plan at regulations.gov until March 6. We want lawmakers in Illinois to pass legislation that would prevent health care plans in this state from eliminating those basic and vital health services. A bill proposed by state Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago could do that.

Under the ACA Protections bill, a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate would have to give an OK for officials to work with the federal government to undercut protections for pre-existing conditions and coverage for 10 essential health benefits. Those benefits are for outpatient care; emergency services; hospitalization; mental health; prescription drugs; rehabilitative services; laboratory services; maternity and newborn care; pediatric care; and preventive and wellness services.

Over the years, Illinois has enacted laws to mandate several health care benefits, including maternity care and cancer treatment. The Legislature now should go a step further by making Harris’ bill airtight against the Trump administration’s continued efforts to assail Obamacare.

This latest proposal by the Trump administration could weaken Obamacare by taking healthier people from individual marketplaces to these skimpy small business health plans, also known as association health plans. This could cause premiums to rise for those still covered by Obamacare.

The Department of Labor is emphasizingthat, under its proposal, people couldn’t be charged more because they’re sick and they couldn’t be refused because of pre-existing conditions. But premiums could be affected by gender and age. And sick people would be discouraged from applying if the plans don’t cover basic needs.

Scaled-back coverage might seem OK for a young, healthy person. But if a life-altering illness hits, the patient gets a rude awakening when he or she learns about the limitations of their health policy.

“This plan will indeed likely allow more people to access options for purchasing coverage, which should be a good thing … except that the coverage will almost certainly be substandard, narrow, and result in the ultimate shifting of greater health care costs on to individuals,” Dr. Philip A. Verhoef, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Chicago, told the medical news website Healio.

Just last month, Trump and other Republicans moved toward weakening the Affordable Care Act by no longer requiring people to carry health insurance or pay a fine.

This latest proposal is another step to undermine it.Illinois needs to tell Trump it isn’t welcome here.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com

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