Oklahoma said it is pulling a request to set up a program to lower Obamacare premiums next year by more than 30 percent because the Trump administration waffled over approving it.
The state had sent a request for a waiver to set up its own reinsurance program in an attempt to lower double-digit premium increases, but officials said the program won't be ready in time for the 2018 coverage year. The state's insurance regulator wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services and the Treasury Department Friday that they should pull its waiver request because of the lack of timely approval.
The decision comes as HHS has pressed for greater authority and flexibility to grant waivers for states. The Senate is also working on a bipartisan deal that could include greater flexibility for HHS to approve waivers that let states waive key Obamacare regulations.
Oklahoma "invested significant resources" in setting up a state-run reinsurance program on its Obamacare exchange, the letter said. Reinsurance subsidizes the sickest claims, allowing insurers to lower premiums overall.
On Sept. 22, the state and federal government reached an agreement that the waiver would be approved Sept. 25. However, no waiver approval came that day.
"When your departments communicated on Monday that waiver approval would not be provided, with no reason for the delay or timeframe for approval, the Oklahoma reinsurance program was effectively inoperative for the 2018 plan year," the letter from Terry Cline, commissioner of Oklahoma's health department.
Cline estimates the reinsurance program would have "provided greater than a 30 percent premium reduction and allowed nearly 30,000 individuals to buy insurance in a market many of whom were forced to leave because premiums are unaffordable."
HHS did not return a request for comment.
HHS this year approved waivers from Alaska and Minnesota to set up a reinsurance program.
Oklahoma said it was open to applying for a waiver again, but only if the government gave it a clear timeline on when approval would come.
Healthcare advocacy groups and Democrats have accused HHS of sabotaging 2018 open enrollment, which runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. Critics point to the decision to slash the open enrollment period by half compared to 2017 and slashing ad and outreach funding.