Wicker says premiums to keep going up under Obamacare

Published 7:00 am Thursday, September 15, 2016

Despite President Obama’s promises of savings, his health-care law has been anything but affordable. Sticker shock has followed the exit of major insurers from health-care exchanges across the nation. As open enrollment nears on November 1, Americans are facing higher premiums and fewer options for coverage. Millions are still uninsured altogether.

Single insurers

Our state has not dodged Obamacare’s disastrous impact. Only two insurance carriers will offer plans in Mississippi’s health-care exchange next year. One of these carriers has been approved for a 43 percent increase in premiums.

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Not every Mississippian, however, will get the opportunity to make a choice between even two insurers. According to the independent Kaiser Family Foundation, our state is expected to have only a single insurer in 66 of its 82 counties, unless other insurers make the unlikely decision to expand. Mississippians who like their doctors may not be able to keep them – despite President Obama’s past assurances. The Administration has gone so far as to remove the section on “how to keep your doctor” from the Obamacare website healthcare.gov.

The lack of competition among insurers is denying patients the ability to choose the coverage that best suits their needs. One analysis shows nearly a third of U.S. counties could have only one insurer in the exchanges next year – more than quadrupling last year’s percentage.

Bills offered

In addition to strongly opposing the health-care law in 2010, I have joined Senate Republicans in trying to shield Americans from premium increases, supporting numerous pieces of legislation that would repeal all or parts of the law and promote market-driven solutions. In particular, I am co-sponsoring two bills that would offer financial relief to consumers, exempting them from the law’s individual mandate penalty if average premiums grow more than 10 percent annually or if they live in a county where there is only one individual insurance issuer or none at all. At the very least, the health-care law’s most harmful provisions should be eliminated as we work toward full repeal.

Changes blocked

Earlier this year, Congress was successful in getting a repeal of the law to the President’s desk. Unfortunately, it was vetoed, and Senate Democrats continue to block efforts to make changes before premiums rise for 2017.

Long-term health-care reform will no doubt remain a priority in the next Congress, when I hope we have an Administration that supports truly affordable insurance for all Americans. Until then, Congress has a number of issues to address before the new fiscal year begins on October 1 – namely to ensure that our troops have the resources they need and our veterans have the care they deserve.

Political agendas

I am disappointed that a political agenda continues to thwart Senate Democrats’ support of efforts to fight the Zika virus and provide military funding. Two appropriations bills have been repeatedly blocked, despite Zika’s local transmission within the contiguous United States and continued outbreaks of terrorism throughout the world. The legislation that Senate Democrats are now blocking had strong bipartisan support just a few months ago.

Supporting public health and the missions of our service members is hardly controversial. The Senate’s impressive record of passing bills over the past two years should not stall because of election-year politics.

During this Congress, Republicans have worked with Democrats to avoid harmful funding gaps and confront pressing national needs, such as improving highway infrastructure and strengthening airport security.

The same spirit of cooperation is needed now.

By U.S. Senator Roger Wicker