Since the failure of the GOP health care bill in the House nearly three weeks ago, President Donald Trump has suggested letting Obamacare explode to bring Democrats to the negotiating table.
Now, he’s threatening to push the detonator.
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In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, Trump suggested the federal government would hold back key subsidy payments made to health insurers offering insurance to low-income Americans.
“Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money,” Trump said. “I haven’t made my viewpoint clear yet. I don’t want people to get hurt.”
The payments are at the center of an ongoing legal battle between the previous administration and House Republicans, who argue the payments were made improperly without congressional approval.
The Obama administration filed an appeal to a federal judge’s ruling in favor of House Republicans, which Republicans extended after the inauguration. To stop the payments, which the government is still making, the Trump administration would simply have to drop the appeal.
“It wasn’t authorized by Congress,” Trump told the Journal. “I’m going to have to make a decision.”
Trump’s comments come two days after the Department of Health and Human Services told The New York Times the cost-sharing subsidy payments will continue.
A White House spokesman said Wednesday night that no decision has been made regarding the payments.
Health care experts say stopping the payments would severely undermine Obamacare and the insurance markets, and prompt some insurers to flee the system.
“Insurance companies would lose billions of dollars of cost-sharing subsidies,” Robert Laszekwski, a health policy consultant, said in a recent interview. “He could blow up the system right now.”
Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, have called for the payments to continue, at least until Republicans can pass their GOP health care proposal.
“I think it’s an important part for 2017, to keep the commitment and hopefully between now and when plans are active in 2018 you’ll have a different process in place,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Oregon, recently told reporters.
Walden wants Congress to appropriate more funding for the payments in a government funding resolution Congress has to pass by the end of the month, though the administration has the authority to continue the payments as the legal battle continues.
“I don’t think you want to destabilize the market until you have something to replace it with,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said in an interview.
Democrats have said they will work with the White House to improve the Affordable Care Act when Republicans abandon their plans to repeal former President Barack Obama’s law.
Republicans did not have the votes to pass their bill on the House floor last month, but GOP leaders and the White House are actively discussing changes to the Obamacare repeal and replacement proposal in order to build enough support to pass the bill when Congress returns in two weeks.
“Refusing to make the Cost Sharing Reduction payments has no purpose but to hurt millions of people, and manufacture a crisis,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, accused Trump of “threatening to hold hostage health care for millions of Americans.”
“This cynical strategy will fail,” he said in a statement.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that Obamacare individual insurance markets would remain stable under Obamacare or the GOP plan proposed last month.