November 21, 2019

Cardin and Democratic Colleagues Call Out Trump Admin Efforts to Promote Junk Plan Coverage Under Questionable Legal Authority

The Senators’ letter comes in response to links on the HealthCare.gov website that re-direct customers to third-party online brokers that sell junk plans on their websites.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) joined Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and 22 Senators in sending a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), requesting that the agencies answer for the Trump administration’s efforts to promote junk plans to the American public during the Open Enrollment period for health insurance coverage. The Senators draw attention to the fact that the Trump administration-operated HealthCare.gov website is now directing consumers during the ongoing Open Enrollment period to junk plans through third-party brokers, with little to no information about the lack of coverage provided by these so-called “short-term” plans. The Senators question whether these actions by the Trump administration violate legal requirements established under the Affordable Care Act.

One of the Trump administration’s most fervent efforts to undermine and unravel the Affordable Care Act is through the expansion of these junk health insurance plans that lack protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Senator Cardin has joined efforts to block the administration’s expansion of junk plans, which would increase costs for millions of Americans, including the July Congressional Review Act Resolution to end the 1332 Waiver Rule. 

In addition to Senators Cardin, Shaheen and Stabenow, Senators Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tester (D-Mont.), Smith (D-Minn.), Merkley (D-Ore.), Murphy (D-Conn.), Casey (D-Pa.), Udall (D-N.M.), Feinstein (D-Calif.), Hassan (D-N.H.), Murray (D-Wash.), Schatz (D-Hawaii), Hirono (D-Hawaii), Warren (D-Mass.), Whitehouse (D-R.I.), King (I-Maine), Wyden (D-Ore.), Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Harris (D-Calif.)  also signed the letter.

The Senators write, in part, “We are extremely concerned that the increased availability of junk plans and lack of oversight by CMS will cause consumers who believe they are purchasing ACA-compliant health plans to inadvertently sign-up for junk plan coverage that is less comprehensive and could expose them to higher out-of-pocket costs. Americans who purchase these junk plans risk being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and left vulnerable to unexpected gaps in coverage and massive medical bills in the case of health care emergencies.”

The letter continues, “Insurance brokers are now aggressively marketing junk plans to consumers—including consumers who come to the HealthCare.gov portal seeking comprehensive coverage and then click on links that re-direct them to web brokers and phone-based broker services.”

The Senators point to the provision in the ACA that prohibits the health care exchange from making plans available that don’t meet the ACA’s coverage standards and wrote, “It is also unclear what statutory authority CMS relies upon to authorize the re-direction of HealthCare.gov customers toward third-party broker entities that sell ACA-compliant coverage and junk plan coverage on the same platforms.”

The Senators underscore that junk plans were never intended to be an alternative to comprehensive health coverage and pose dangerous risks for consumers. The administration’s persistent efforts to expand junk plans, which includes extending the duration from 90 days to 364 days and encouraging states to apply for waivers from the ACA that would allow ACA premium tax credits to be used to subsidize junk plan coverage, risk confusing Americans into thinking these plans offer the same coverage as those that meet the ACA’s standards.

In closing, the Senators wrote, “We are calling on HHS and CMS to take action to limit the availability of junk plans and take steps to ensure that consumers using HealthCare.gov are being offered comprehensive health insurance, receiving premium tax credits, and being enrolled in Medicaid, if eligible. Furthermore, CMS should take action to hold insurance brokers accountable when they mislead HealthCare.gov customers and misrepresent junk plans as safe alternatives to ACA-complaint health insurance coverage. During this year’s Open Enrollment period, it is essential that you act fast in order to protect consumers.”

A PDF of the letter is available here. Marylanders should visit MarylandHealthConnection.gov to learn more about the full range of options available during the 2020 open enrollment period.

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