AP FACT CHECK: Trumped-up charge on “Obamacare” premiums

In this June 1, 2016, photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wears his hat during a rally at the Sacramento International Jet Center in Sacramento, Calif. Trump is suggesting that the Obama administration, for political reasons, plans to keep consumers in the dark about premium increases for 2017 under the president’s health care law. But the administration says next year’s sign-up season is going ahead on schedule; insurers say they’'ve seen no indication of a delay. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump says the Obama administration plans to keep consumers in the dark about premium increases for 2017 under the president’s health care law — for political reasons. But the administration says next year’s sign-up season is going forward on schedule, and insurers say they’ve seen no indication of a delay.

“The numbers are coming out, right now, the numbers are scheduled to come out on November 1. The increases are going to be so large that everybody is going to vote for Donald Trump. It’s a catastrophe,” the presumptive Republican nominee for president said Wednesday at a rally in Sacramento.

He added: “Now Obama is trying to move it into December because if people see the kind of increases that you’re talking about — could be 40 percent, by the way — nobody’s going to vote for anybody having to do with the Obama administration.”

Trump appears to have mixed up the calendar. Nov. 1 is actually the long-designated start of the 2017 sign-up season under President Barack Obama’s health care law, not the date for the unveiling of premium levels. Consumers have until Jan. 31 to enroll for new coverage or make changes to their current choices.

Premiums are being posted on an ongoing basis by the administration and many states. All premiums should be publicly available by Aug. 1.

Administration spokesman Ben Wakana said Thursday in a statement that open enrollment will begin as scheduled on Nov. 1, and the date will not be moved.

Pushing the date as Trump suggested to December, after the Nov. 8 election, is not as simple as the White House firing off a press release.

The open-enrollment period was formally set by a federal regulation, and changing a regulation is a legal process that involves public notice and comment. It can take months.

Clare Krusing, spokeswoman for the main industry trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, said there’s no indication the administration plans to change the date.

Even if Obama wanted to call a timeout, it likely would create more havoc than it’s worth. Millions of current customers have coverage that expires Dec. 31 and must be renewed ahead of time to roll over into the new year.

“Pushing back open enrollment would be a significant challenge for consumers and health plans,” explained Krusing. “Consumers would have a very limited window to make their coverage decisions.” Insurers might not be able to process everything on time.

About 12.7 million people renewed or signed up for coverage this year in the health care law’s insurance markets, which offer subsidized private plans to those who don’t have access on the job. That number is expected to keep growing as consumers become more familiar with a still-new system, and as fines escalate for people who remain uninsured when they could afford coverage.

But 2017 is shaping up to be a challenge for the Affordable Care Act. Citing financial losses from the program, many insurers are requesting bigger premium increases. They blame lower-than-hoped enrollment, sicker-than-expected customers and problems with the government’s financial backstop for insurance markets.

The largest plan in Texas, for example, wants to raise rates on individual policies by an average of nearly 60 percent.

The administration has posted premium data for about 20 states on HealthCare.gov.

Increases appear to be sharper, but there are also huge differences between states and among insurers. It will take weeks for a full picture to emerge.

The Obama administration says concerns about 2017 premiums are premature and overblown. Regulators will push back on insurer increases, and consumers will have lower-premium options available when sign-up season begins Nov. 1. For most customers, government subsidies will cushion the impact of price hikes.

Returning customers are supposed to get advance notice from their insurance company about their premiums for the upcoming year. Insurers are required to send that out ahead of sign-up season.

Comments are closed.