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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Senator Murkowski: Repealing the Individual Mandate Will Make the Insurance Market Worse

Yesterday, Senator Lisa Murkowski—one of the three Republican Senators to stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act last July—endorsed a policy that would repeal the Affordable Care Act coverage for 13 million people.

In an op-ed in an Alaska newspaper, Murkowski noted the high cost of health insurance in Alaska:

“Alaskans pay the highest premiums in the country…People have been forced out of the market by the high cost of insurance.”

She specifically raises concern for middle-income people who do not qualify for tax subsidies under the health law.

Repealing the individual mandate in the tax bill will make health insurance premiums spike, not decrease

With this op-ed, Senator Murkowski joins other Senate Republicans who support repealing the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate. In addition to causing millions to lose coverage, this policy will make premiums go higher, not lower. Just this week, the American Academy of Actuaries submitted a letter to Senate leadership opposing repeal that stated in no uncertain terms:

“Eliminating the individual mandate would lead to premium increases. A balanced risk pool requires enrollment of healthy individuals to keep premiums affordable and stable. The ACA includes an individual mandate in order to make sure the young and healthy, as well as the old and sick, obtain coverage. Eliminating the mandate without implementing an alternative means to drive enrollment among healthy individuals would likely result in a deterioration of the risk pool due to lower coverage rates among lower-cost individuals. Premiums would increase as a result.” 

The CBO confirms that repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate in the tax bill would spike premiums for millions of people and kick 13 million people off of their health insurance. Repeal would hurt people by destabilizing insurance markets and damaging consumers’ ability to get care. For these and other reasons, major hospital, physician, and insurer associations came out in an extraordinary joint letter voicing strong, unambiguous opposition. Like the Actuaries, this joint letter said that repeal is going to make the problems Senator Murkowski is concerned with worse:

“Experts agree that in order to have a health insurance system in which anyone can obtain coverage regardless of their health status, there must be incentives for everyone to enroll in and maintain coverage throughout the year…Repealing the individual mandate without a workable alternative will reduce enrollment, further destabilizing an already fragile individual and small group health insurance market on which more than 10 million Americans rely… Eliminating the individual mandate by itself likely will result in a significant increase in premiums, which would in turn substantially increase the number of uninsured Americans.”

Senator Murkowski today should listen to her own words from July

But perhaps the most direct and compelling case against partial repeal with no replacement was made by Senator Murkowski herself in her formal statement after voting against the so-called “skinny repeal” bill last July.

“I hear from fishermen who can’t afford the coverage they have, small business owners who can’t afford insurance at all, and those who have gained coverage for the first time in their life. These Alaskans have shared their anxiety that their personal situation may be made worse under the legislation considered this week. As a Senate, as leaders, we have an obligation to do better for those we serve. I stand ready to begin work with my colleagues—all of them—to reform healthcare in a more open process.”

Individual mandate repeal is going to make coverage less affordable in Alaska—if actuaries, insurers, hospitals, physicians, and the CBO agree, there can be no doubt. We hope Senator Murkowski can re-consider her position in light of her own well-grounded concerns and act to protect health care for Alaskans and for all people in America.

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