For health insurance brokers in New Jersey, this is traditionally our busiest time of the year, as we enroll individuals and business owners for coverage in 2017. The process requires plenty of meetings, emails and phone calls, with many detailed questions about coverage and premiums.
Following the election, with Donald Trump vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, you can just imagine the conversation. Our clients strive for predictability and a drive toward affordability. At this moment in time, we can’t promise either.
The next step is squarely in the hands of the new President, whose campaign website proudly proclaimed: “On day one of the Trump Administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.” Now, as President-elect, he is saying he will consider keeping portions of the law, showing an unpredictability that leaves our clients wondering and worrying.
The New Jersey Association of Health Underwriters, which is closely tracking this Presidential transition, offers a reality check: We all know that it took decades to implement the Affordable Care Act. And we believe it may take years to repeal it.
What Trump vowed was to dismantle this massive healthcare law that serves 20 million Americans, while ensuring – at the very same time – that these policyholders won’t lose a day of coverage. Meanwhile, those seeking to replace the Affordable Care Act must be able to accomplish the feat without destabilizing the insurance market. And, of course, this new, unknown solution needs to somehow offer cheaper premiums and better coverage.
To make that campaign promise somewhat realistic, there is talk that Republicans will introduce a budget reconciliation bill next month, requiring only a simple majority of the Senate, to begin dismantling the Affordable Care Act.
It won’t be the full removal of the law. But it will begin to address some financial issues, such as introducing new ways to reduce the federal deficit and cut taxes.
But once you start chipping away at a law, what do you replace it with? From what we are seeing, it appears the Republicans aren’t in consensus. Instead of “repeal and replace,” we are talking about “repeal and delay.”
Through all these unknowns, Republicans are proclaiming “all is well,” assuring strong Republican leadership will come up a better system for all. Meanwhile, the insurance system continues to follow the full Affordable Care Act. Insurers must soon put together their initial rate filing for 2018, based on current rules.
Regardless, moving forward, the government must eliminate cumbersome reporting and constant revisions to regulations that cause insurance carriers to spend millions of dollars reworking their systems without producing value to our clients.
Proposed solutions abound, such as providing federal block grants to states to help cover insurance costs or allowing carriers to sell across state lines. The ultimate solution will rely on a vibrant private marketplace with less government intervention. NJAHU – through its umbrella organization in Washington - stands as a reliable resource for the Trump Administration, advocating for lower cost in a streamlined system.
Insurance carriers do not easily embrace new models. Continually altering their business operations to follow the political winds of Washington is not good for business. It increases costs and impacts service to providers and policy holders.
While there are many questions, and very little answers, about the future of health care in America, brokers remain on the forefront of the issue. It is our business to discern what is happening, when it is happening, and to explain the relevance to our clients.
But, for the moment, we are urging our clients to take a deep breath. We believe no big changes can take place anytime soon as Trump prepares for his Presidency on January 20.
But, one thing we have learned this election cycle: anything can happen.
Brad Greenbaum, a resident of West Caldwell, is a past president of the New Jersey Association of Health Underwriters and the president of Altigro Benefit Services Inc. in Fairfield, NJ.