WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday took unilateral action on health care amid the GOP-led Congress’ struggle to repeal and replace Obamacare, signing an executive order that he said will expand choice and competition.
Millions would benefit, he said of the order that in part seeks to allow small businesses to band together for the “same purchasing powers” as large ones and potentially buy across state lines.
“You’ll get such great prices for such great care,” the president said. “It should have been done a long time ago.”
The order also extends the term of short-term health plans from three months to a year — policies that are not required to offer all the benefits that the current law mandates for its individual markets. And it allows greater contributions by employers of tax-free dollars into employee health accounts to reimburse them for health expenses.
It will take some time to go into effect, since it must go through the regulatory rule-making process.
Critics said it could undermine coverage for those benefiting from Obamacare and raise premiums for older and sicker people on the Obamacare individuals markets as the association plans siphon younger, healthier people.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Trump is “using a wrecking ball to single-handedly rip apart our health care system.”
“It will send costs soaring for older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions, and add further chaos to the markets,” Schumer said in a statement.
Trump’s Roosevelt Room ceremony was attended by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and business leaders such as IHOP and Money Mailer owner Thomas R. Baber and Taco Bell/KFC owner David Barr.
Trump in his remarks criticized former President Barack Obama’s signature health care overhaul as “failing” and a “nightmare.”
Though he has made no secret of his disappointment in congressional Republicans, Trump did not directly condemn them Thursday for failing to fulfill the party’s seven-year promise to uproot Obamacare.
He only indicated that he is using the power of the pen, rather than waiting, and said he believes he has the votes to take further action through Congress.
“I just keep hearing repeal and replace, repeal and replace,” Trump said.
According to the White House, the executive order directs the Department of Labor, among other agencies, to consider expanding several measures:
- Association health plans, potentially paving the way for employers to form groups across state lines
- Low-cost, short-term limited duration insurance, which primarily applies to those between jobs or with limited coverage
- Health reimbursement arrangements, or HRAs, giving workers greater flexibility in financing their health needs
- Paul lauded the executive order as the “biggest free-market reform of health care in a generation.”
- America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, issued a cautious response and said it would engage in shaping the order through the rulemaking process.
- “We will follow these principles — competition, choice, patient protections and market stability — as we evaluate the potential impact of this executive order and the rules that will follow,” said AHIP spokeswoman Kristine Grow in a statement.