Hill Dems frustrated with Biden inaction on “junk” health insurance

Illustration of a donkey pulling a huge health boost.

Image: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration is catching flak from congressional Democrats upset that it doesn’t have “short-term” health insurance plans that can erode Affordable Care Act insurance markets.

Why it matters: The Trump administration promoted these cheaper plans, which offer fewer benefits, which Democrats derided for failing to meet ACA coverage requirements and denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

  • But nearly two years into the Biden administration and with the ACA enrollment season set to begin next month, the plans remain available and could drain healthier enrollments from ACA exchanges, potentially skewing risk pools.

What you say: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said in a statement to Axios that she was “frustrated” that the Biden administration did not “act faster” to roll back near-term plans, despite progress on other health policies.

  • “The Biden administration’s failure to respond quickly to junk insurance only puts more consumers at risk,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said in a statement to Axios.

Between the lines: The Trump administration expanded short-term health insurance plans from a three-month limit imposed under President Obama to a full year and allowed them to be extended by up to 36 months.

  • Critics point out that the plans don’t have to pay for prescription drugs or mental health and may exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions.
  • They also say people can be lured to the plans through misleading marketing and left on the hook for huge medical bills.

The other side: Brian Blase, a former Trump administration health official who is now president of the Paragon Health Institute, said the plans give people another option with “flexible, affordable” coverage. But he said he was “surprised” that the Biden administration hasn’t taken steps to curtail them.

go deeper: Patient advocacy groups, including the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, met with administration officials in August, including Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, who said implementing short-term plans was a priority, according to Katie Berge, who works for the federal government is responsible director.

  • “They always say ‘soon,’ but I don’t know if you can call it ‘soon’ if you say it for two years,” Berge said.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra publicly told Baldwin at a Senate hearing five months ago that “we are in the middle of legislation” on the issue as short-term plans “leave Americans with these hugely expensive bills.”
  • HHS has previously announced its intention to take regulatory action, but it’s not clear when that will happen.

  • “As part of our commitment to a resilient and competitive marketplace, and to ensure all Americans have access to the quality, affordable healthcare they deserve, we are working through the regulatory process as quickly as possible to address this critically important issue. ‘ an HHS spokesman told Axios on Tuesday.

Using the numbers: There is no exact data on how many people are enrolled in short-term plans. A 2020 House Democrats report found that enrollment had risen to about 3 million people by 2019. Blase said he thought that estimate was too high.

What’s next: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he wants to take action before the ACA filing deadline begins Nov. 1. “The Biden administration should act to put an end to this before the 2023 open filing period begins next month,” he said.

  • Democrats have touted other healthcare moves ahead of the midterm elections, such as cutting prescription drug prices. But some vulnerable lawmakers want to see action on short-term plans.
  • “It is critical that we eliminate these ‘junk’ schemes to ensure Americans are not being taken advantage of,” said Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.).