Republicans in Lansing using the post-election lame duck session to aggressively circumvent Democratic policies and weaken newly elected Democratic elected officials have found a new target: Obamacare.
A bill quietly introduced in the GOP-controlled state Senate last week could significantly expand the purchase options in Michigan for short-term healthcare plans that are described by critics as “junk insurance.” These plans are widely viewed as a means for people who don’t have employer-provided coverage to dodge the insurance policies sold on the Obamacare marketplace.
The downside to these cheap plans is that they offer very limited coverage and can involve large out-of-pocket expenses.
The key features of the pending bill are an increase in the duration of these plans from six months to one year, the ability to renew them when the year is up, and the bypassing of certain coverage that is mandated by Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
In general, these skimpy plans do not cover pre-existing conditions and they may impose annual and lifetime limits on coverage – two restrictions that are banned for companies selling ACA-approved insurance.
According to Charles Gaba, a Michigan-based blogger with a nationally recognized website that tracks Obamacare-related issues in all 50 states, the Senate bill offers one more big change.
Gaba warned his readers that the short-term plans may not cover five of the ACA’s so-called “10 essential health benefits” – prescription drugs, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse issues, physical therapy and other rehabilitative services, and ambulance services.
The five that would be mandated are emergency room care, hospital services, lab work, physician services and X-rays.
In August, the Trump administration approved changes that grant states the option to expand these short-term plans and make them more attractive to consumers who are willing to settle for low-budget coverage. Some states do not allow these plans to be sold at all. Other states have gravitated toward the Trump version of this type of coverage.
Experts warn that substantial growth in short-term policies could disrupt the Obamacare marketplace, siphoning away healthy consumers who keep down the cost of ACA premiums. According to The Washington Post, in the past short-term plans were mostly intended as a temporary stop-gap for those workers who are between jobs.
In April, the Kaiser Family Foundation, an advocacy group for healthcare consumers, analyzed the policies sold by two online companies that are prominent in the short-term insurance market, eHealth and Agile Health.
Kaiser found that these companies offer coverage at one-fifth the premiums charged by the cheapest ACA health plans. But none of the short-term plans offered included maternity care coverage, slightly more than one-quarter had prescription drug coverage, and about half provided mental health benefits, although on a limited basis.
The Michigan bill that was introduced by Republicans on Nov. 28 is sponsored by Sen. Peter MacGregor of Kent County and Sen. Mike Shirkey of Jackson County, who will become the new Senate Majority Leader in January. The legislation was sent for consideration to the Senate Competitiveness Committee, which deals with economic issues, rather than to the Health Policy Committee.