Route 2: Association Health Plans (AHPs). The Administration also has allowed the sale of AHPs, marketed to small employers and self-employed individuals. These plans also do not have to comply with ACA consumer protections. They often do not cover maternity care or other essential benefits, and can charge women higher premiums for the same insurance. This regulation, too, resulted in litigation and a federal judge enjoined the rule, but the case is now on appeal.
Route 3: ACA Section 1332 waivers. These waivers were created in the ACA to encourage state innovation to increase access to health coverage, under certain guardrails: states must ensure coverage is at least as comprehensive as the Essential Health Benefits; cost sharing protections must be at least as affordable as under the ACA; the plan must cover at least a comparable number of its residents; and the plan must not increase the federal deficit.
The Adminstration has come under fire for approving 1332 waiver plans that do not meet these guardrails, and allow insurers to exclude coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions, as well as skirt other important ACA patient protections. In response, Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, promised as recently as April 23, that the Administration will not allow any weakening of the ACA preexisting coverage guarantee.8 So far, however, we do not know what action this means, and not surprisingly, House Democrats, now in the majority, are waiting to see those assurances come true. Consistent polling shows that a large majority of Americans, across political parties, think preexisting coverage protections are very important.9
Already, the House passed HR986, to repeal the Administration’s changes to the 1332 waiver rules. The bill won only 4 Republican votes in the House and now waits a Senate vote.
The House is ready to vote on HR1010, which returns the STLD rules to the original ACA version. The Congressional Budget Office has determined that this bill will reduce the federal deficit by $8.9 billion over 10 years, in part by reestablishing a large risk pool. Lower ACA premiums would mean lower federal subsidies and small federal outlays.
Since 2012, the ACA has required non-grandfathered individual and group health plans to cover, with no copays or deductibles, women’s preventive services, as determined by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). HRSA asked the National Academy of Medicine (the Institute of Medicine [IOM] at the time) to develop these coverage guidelines based on clinical and scientific relevance. The IOM relied heavily on ACOG’s testimony and women’s health guidelines. The guidelines are updated every 5 years, based on extensive review by the Women’s Preventive Services Initiative, led by ACOG. By law and regulation, covered services include:
- well-woman visits
- contraceptive methods and counseling, including all methods approved for women by the FDA
- breast and cervical cancer screening
- counseling for sexually transmitted infections
- counseling and screening for HIV
- screening for gestational diabetes
- breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling
- screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence.
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