Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy told reporters Tuesday that one of the solutions that has been proposed to stabilize the Obamacare exchanges is to give insurer payments directly to customers in the form of a health savings account.
The payments to insurers, called cost-sharing reduction subsidies, are facing uncertainty as Republicans work to repeal Obamacare and as President Trump says he is still deciding whether to pay out the money, expected to total $7 billion in 2017. Insurers expect to raise their premium costs to compensate if they do not receive the funding or pull out of the exchanges as soon as they are able.
"One thing that intrigues me, which was actually suggested to me by folks in the insurance industry, instead of doing CSRs why don't we set up health savings accounts for people?" the Louisiana Republican said in a meeting with reporters. "In this case, the payment is not to the insurance company, not a bailout of the insurance company per se, but is actually a helping hand to low-income Americans. This would be a way to bridge the difference between where Republicans and Democrats are. I, personally, would prefer that."
Republicans initially challenged the payments under the Obama administration but under Trump have been seeking a way ahead on the funding so that millions of people do not suddenly lose coverage. Because lawmakers did not include the payments in a spending bill Trump signed earlier this month, and they dispute whether the Trump administration is legally bound to pay them, some are seeking alternative measures.
Through the Obamacare exchanges, people who do not get coverage through the government or through an employer can receive tax-subsidized premiums. The insurer payments, called cost-sharing reduction subsidies, also help insurers offer lower out-of-pocket medical costs.