By the narrowest of margins, the U.S. Senate rejected legislation Wednesday that would have subjected patients with expensive illnesses to soaring premiums, canceled coverage and medical bankruptcy. You might expect such legislation to have been introduced by Republicans and defeated by Democrats, but you’d be wrong. Democrats sought to deny care to the sick. Republicans stopped them.
The legislation would have rescinded new Trump administration rules that expand consumer protections in short-term health-insurance plans. Exempt from ObamaCare’s hidden taxes, mandates and regulations, these plans often cost 70% less and offer a broader choice of health-care providers. The new rules, which took effect Oct. 2, will expand coverage to an estimated two million Americans who would otherwise go uninsured.
These regulations displace a 2016 Obama rule prohibiting short-term plans longer than three months. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners complained that, since people can’t enroll in ObamaCare for nine months each year, the Obama rule exposed the sick to higher premiums and denied care.
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Suppose you purchased short-term coverage in January and were diagnosed with cancer in February. Under the Obama rule, you’d lose your coverage at the end of March. When you reapplied for a short-term plan, insurers would either quote a sky-high premium or (more likely) refuse to cover you. With ObamaCare’s next enrollment window nine months away, you could face nine months of expensive treatment with no insurance—if you got treated at all.
The Trump rule allows short-term plans to last up to 12 months (the norm from 1997 to 2016) and permits renewals for up to 36 months. This provides enrollees who fall ill continuous coverage until the next ObamaCare enrollment period.
Or beyond. The rule permits insurers to offer stand-alone “renewal guarantees” that allow enrollees who become sick to keep paying low, healthy-person premiums for as long as they stick with short-term plans. By keeping expensive patients out of ObamaCare’s risk pools, this would lower ObamaCare premiums, too.
All 49 Senate Democrats plus Maine Republican Susan Collins voted to rescind these consumer protections and subject sick patients to canceled coverage and denied care by reverting to the Obama rule. The Democrats’ claim that short-term plans hurt patients with pre-existing conditions “doesn’t exactly make sense,” the Washington Post reports, because ObamaCare remains an option for those who want it.
The Democrats’ real motivation was fear that ObamaCare would prove unpopular in a head-to-head contest with free-market health insurance. So they tried to sabotage the competition. If protecting their big-government scheme meant stripping coverage from two million Americans and denying care to sick patients, Democrats said so be it.
Mr. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute.