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Loss of subsidies fuels Wisconsin health insurance hike

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — More than 90 percent of people who buy health insurance through a federally run exchange in Wisconsin receive subsidies that President Donald Trump is taking away, fueling calls from Democrats and other advocates to take action to soften a predicted 36 percent increase in costs.

Wisconsin announced the 36 percent premium increase for the average plan on Thursday. The number was pushed higher than it would have otherwise been by the expected loss in subsidies that help cover deductibles and copayments for low-income consumers.

Only hours before the premium increase was announced, Trump said he was ending the federal assistance.

“I woke up, really, in horror,” said Alice Thompson, 62, an environmental consultant from the Milwaukee area who purchases insurance on Wisconsin’s exchange. Thompson said she expects to pay 30 percent to 50 percent more a year, for a total of about $1,200 a month, which is more than her mortgage payment.

Thompson, who said she has a pre-existing condition, never had full coverage before the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s making me outraged that I have to fight for something that is so basic to our livelihood and our ability to work and have small businesses,” she said on a call organized by the liberal health-care advocacy group Citizen Action.

Democratic lawmakers called on Trump and state Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker, to find a bipartisan means of keeping insurance affordable, especially for the low-income people who are most at risk of dropping their coverage once the subsidies end.

Walker has been an outspoken opponent of the federal health-care law and has refused to set up a state-run exchange. He said that Wisconsin will look for ways to cut costs.

“Obamacare has failed to deliver on its promise of affordable health care year after year,” said a spokesman for Walker on Friday. “A federal court ruled the president does not have the authority to issue these payments, and the power to issue them belongs to Congress.”

Democratic state Rep. Jimmy Anderson, of Fitchburg, said it was up to state officials”to staunch the bleeding caused by the president. Unfortunately, Governor Walker has done nothing but cheer on Trump’s reckless actions.”

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin blasted Trump’s decision to cut the subsidies, fueling the cost increase in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin families cannot afford the higher premiums that this chaos has created,” Baldwin said. “We need bipartisan action in Congress now to lower health care costs by funding these cost-sharing reduction payments.”

Baldwin is running for re-election in 2018. One of her Republican opponents, the Delafield businessman Kevin Nicholson, dodged the question of whether he supported Trump’s decision and instead said the policy shift showed that “it’s time for Congress to finally deliver conservative health care reforms like improving price transparency, allowing more consumer choices and increasing portability of health care dollars.”

Another Republican for Baldwin’s seat, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This year has seen 216,000 Wisconsin residents buy health insurance through the exchange. Of those resisdents, 91 percent received a subsidy.

If the subsidies become available later, policy holders may be able to claim a refund or have lower premium costs in 2019, said J.P. Wieske, deputy state insurance commissioner.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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