WASHINGTON, DC – A critical effort to protect consumers from “junk insurance” plans that deny benefits and don’t have to provide health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions fell short today by a vote of 50-50 in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) joined with Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in introducing the Congressional Review Act (CRA) legislation to rescind the Trump Administration’s rule expanding so-called junk plans, which don’t provide adequate coverage, weaken critical patient protections, and drive up health care costs for everyone.

The Trump Administration has moved to allow insurance companies to skirt existing consumer protections under the Affordable Care Act by offering plans that don’t cover essential health benefits, such as maternity care, mental and behavioral health treatment, and pre-existing conditions, and places caps and lifetime limits on policies.  The Trump Administration issued a rule defining ‘short-term’ as anything less than 365 days, meaning insurers could sell 364-day junk plans, up from the previous definition of 90 days. 

“The Trump Administration’s misguided effort to sabotage Obamacare is raising premiums and reducing coverage and health care protections that Americans depend on.  As a result, comprehensive, affordable health insurance will become further out of reach for more consumers, particularly those with preexisting conditions,” said Senator Reed.  “Junk insurance plans could save some people money in the short-term, but it could cost them dearly if they actually get sick and need coverage.  I will continue working to stop the Obamacare sabotage and ensure that all Americans have choices of affordable, meaningful health care coverage.”

According to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times: “more than 98% -- or 335 of 340 -- of the health care groups that commented on the proposal to loosen restrictions on short-term health plans criticized it, in many cases warning that the rule could gravely hurt sick patients.”  This included patient and consumer advocates, physician groups, nursing associations, hospital groups, medical providers, insurance companies, and more.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN) said the Trump rule “poses a serious threat to cancer patients’ ability to access quality, affordable health coverage.” ACSCAN also said the Trump administration’s rule “will likely leave older and sicker Americans in the individual insurance marketplace with few, if any, affordable health coverage choices” and that “patients living with serious conditions will be left paying more for the coverage they need if they can afford coverage at all.”

Approximately 31,600 Rhode Island residents get their health insurance on the state’s exchange.

Although today’s vote was a setback, the Trump Administration’s junk plan rule is also the subject of a lawsuit brought by seven patient advocacy groups.  Oral arguments for the case, Association for Community Affiliated Plans v. United States, are scheduled in the D.C. District Court for October 26.

ACSCAN, along with the American Heart Association (AHA), Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF), March of Dimes, and other advocacy groups have filed an amicus brief in the case and issued a statement noting: “The rule threatens to split and weaken the individual insurance market, which has provided millions of previously uninsured people with access to quality coverage since the health care law went into effect.”