Shaheen, Stabenow & Democratic Senators Call Out Trump Admin Efforts to Promote Junk Plan Coverage Under Questionable Legal Authority

November 21, 2019

The Senators’ letter comes in response to links on the HealthCare.gov website that re-direct customers to third-party online brokers that sell junk plans on their websites.

Shaheen at junk plans presser

Shaheen, Stabenow & Casey underscored the danger of these misleading, and potentially illegal, efforts during a press conference this afternoon.

(Washington, DC) — U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) led a group of 23 Senators in sending a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), requesting that the agencies answer for the Trump administration’s efforts to promote junk plans to the American public during the Open Enrollment period for health insurance coverage. The Senators draw attention to the fact that the Trump administration-operated HealthCare.gov website is now directing consumers during the ongoing Open Enrollment period to junk plans through third-party brokers, with little to no information about the lack of coverage provided by these so-called “short-term” plans. The Senators question whether these actions by the Trump administration violate legal requirements established under the Affordable Care Act. 

One of the Trump administration’s most fervent efforts to undermine and unravel the Affordable Care Act is through the expansion of these junk health insurance plans that lack protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Shaheen has led efforts in Congress to block the administration’s expansion of junk plans, which would increase costs for millions of Americans. Senators Baldwin (D-WI), Tester (D-MT), Smith (D-MN), Cardin (D-MD), Merkley (D-OR), Murphy (D-CT), Casey (D-PA), Udall (D-NM), Feinstein (D-CA), Hassan (D-NH), Murray (D-WA), Schatz (D-HI), Hirono (D-HI), Warren (D-MA), Whitehouse (D-RI), King (I-ME), Wyden (D-OR), Klobuchar (D-MN), Blumenthal (D-CT), Schumer (D-NY) and Harris (D-CA)  also signed the letter. 

The Senators write, in part, “We are extremely concerned that the increased availability of junk plans and lack of oversight by CMS will cause consumers who believe they are purchasing ACA-compliant health plans to inadvertently sign-up for junk plan coverage that is less comprehensive and could expose them to higher out-of-pocket costs. Americans who purchase these junk plans risk being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and left vulnerable to unexpected gaps in coverage and massive medical bills in the case of health care emergencies.” 

The letter continues, “Insurance brokers are now aggressively marketing junk plans to consumers—including consumers who come to the HealthCare.gov portal seeking comprehensive coverage and then click on links that re-direct them to web brokers and phone-based broker services.” 

The Senators point to the provision in the ACA that prohibits the health care exchange from making plans available that don’t meet the ACA’s coverage standards and wrote, “It is also unclear what statutory authority CMS relies upon to authorize the re-direction of HealthCare.gov customers toward third-party broker entities that sell ACA-compliant coverage and junk plan coverage on the same platforms.”

The Senators underscore that junk plans were never intended to be an alternative to comprehensive health coverage and pose dangerous risks for consumers. The administration’s persistent efforts to expand junk plans, which includes extending the duration from 90 days to 364 days and encouraging states to apply for waivers from the ACA that would allow ACA premium tax credits to be used to subsidize junk plan coverage, risk confusing Americans into thinking these plans offer the same coverage as those that meet the ACA’s standards. 

In closing, the Senators wrote, “We are calling on HHS and CMS to take action to limit the availability of junk plans and take steps to ensure that consumers using HealthCare.gov are being offered comprehensive health insurance, receiving premium tax credits, and being enrolled in Medicaid, if eligible. Furthermore, CMS should take action to hold insurance brokers accountable when they mislead HealthCare.gov customers and misrepresent junk plans as safe alternatives to ACA-complaint health insurance coverage. During this year’s Open Enrollment period, it is essential that you act fast in order to protect consumers.” 

A PDF of the letter is available here. 

Shaheen has led efforts in the Senate opposing the Trump administration’s push to expand junk plans. Just last month, Shaheen sent a letter to HHS and CMS, calling on the agencies to do more to prevent third-party web brokers from steering individuals towards junk health insurance plans. Shaheen has cosponsored and introduced the No Junk Plans Act and the Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act, legislation that would overturn President Trump’s expansion of junk plans that do not have to protect health care coverage for Granite Staters and Americans with pre-existing conditions. Last year, Shaheen voted to overturn the Trump administration’s expansion of junk plans and helped lead a group of 40 Senators in calling for the Trump administration to withdraw regulatory changes making it easier for states to promote junk plans and use taxpayer dollars to subsidize junk plans. In April, Shaheen also led all 47 Senate Democrats on a Senate resolution that would reverse the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent decision to side with U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling to strike down the ACA’s health care protections that are enjoyed by millions of Americans. Shaheen has also led efforts to restore funding for Health Insurance Marketplace Open Enrollment advertising and outreach activities that the Trump administration cut by 90 percent in 2017.