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HHS Secretary Alex Azar: Obamacare holding back change in healthcare

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that he wants to offer new affordable and flexible healthcare plans "consistent with the law." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar laid blame on the Affordable Care Act for placing burdens on insurers.

Azar pointed to recent moves by the Trump administration to offer cheaper but low-quality plans that bypass Obamacare’s insurance regulations.

“We are committed to using the flexibilities we have within the law to allow insurers to offer competitive products that work for consumers,” he said Thursday at a policy conference of insurance lobby America’s Health Insurance Plans. “We know the layers of regulation imposed by the Affordable Care Act have made this almost impossible.”

Azar said that he wants to offer new affordable and flexible options “consistent with the law.”

The remarks come as the Trump administration has issued new regulations to make it easier for small employers and individuals to band together to buy association health plans. The plans are cheaper than what is on Obamacare’s insurance exchanges because they do not have to meet quality requirements including not charging sick people more money.

The administration also recently released regulations to expand the duration of short-term plans from 90 days to nearly 12 months. The short-term plans also can bypass Obamacare regulations.

Critics and Democrats have said the moves could destabilize the law’s insurance exchanges on the individual market, which is used by people who don’t get insurance through their job or the government.

Azar said the Trump administration is making moves to disrupt the healthcare system to shift payments more towards the value of the service provided rather than just for a procedure.

“There are a number of regulations that may be getting in the way of value-based transformation, including certain Medicare and Medicaid price reporting rules, restrictions in some [Food and Drug Administration] communication policies, and current interpretations of various anti-fraud protections,” Azar said.