Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price refused to say if the Trump administration would fund cost-sharing insurer subsidies next year, a factor in some insurers' proposed rate increases.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., grilled Price repeatedly during a budget hearing in the Senate Finance Committee Thursday about cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers, which reimburse the companies for lower co-pays and deductibles given to low-income Obamacare customers.
Price responded that the Trump administration is not trying to sabotage the individual market, which includes Obamacare's exchanges and are used by people who don't get insurance through their employer.
"Nobody is interested in sabotaging the system. Nobody is cheering the challenges that we have in this system," he said.
But Stabenow followed up asking why the Trump administration won't commit to the cost-sharing subsidies.
"You have insurers saying the reasons the rates are going up because of uncertainty and instability created by the administration," Stabenow said.
She pointed to proposed rate increases in Pennsylvania, where the state's insurers proposed average increases of nearly 9 percent next year. But if the cost-sharing reduction payments aren't made, the increase would rise to roughly 30 percent.
Price noted that the insurer markets were in trouble before President Trump was inaugurated.
"What we are trying to do is fix the challenges that we have," he said.
He repeatedly referred to an HHS report that detailed rising premiums in the individual markets under the Obama administration.
The insurance industry has been pleading with the Trump administration to continue the payments. While the administration has agreed to keep them going short-term, insurers say they need a decision for 2018 soon as deadlines approach to set rates for next year.