PHILADELPHIA — Congress is on vacation, but state insurance commissioners have no time off. They have spent the past three days debating what to do if President Donald Trump stops subsidies paid to insurance companies on behalf of millions of low-income people.
For administration officials and many in Congress, the subsidies are a political and legal issue in a fight over the future of the Affordable Care Act. But for state officials, gathered here at the summer meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the subsidies are a more immediate, practical concern.
The insurance commissioners are frustrated with the gridlock in Washington, which they say threatens coverage for consumers and the solvency of some insurers. Without the payments, they say, consumers will face higher premiums in 2018, and more insurers will pull back from the individual insurance market.
Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off the payments, which reimburse insurers for reducing the deductibles, copayments and other out-of-pocket costs for low-income people.
If the government continues providing funds for the subsidies, insurers will have “a small profit,” said Craig Wright, the chief actuary at the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. “If the subsidies are not funded, carriers would face the prospect of large financial losses, which could increase the risk to their solvency.”
“It could be very damaging,” Wright said. “Our market wouldn’t recover.”
With no guidance or clarity from the Trump administration, state officials are agonizing over what to do. Many expressed a sense of urgency, saying they needed to make decisions soon on rates to be charged in 2018.
Trump administration officials were invited to speak to state insurance regulators and were listed in the program for at least one public session, but they did not show up at that event to provide the promised update on federal policy.
Without the federal subsidies, insurers would need to get the money — estimated at $7 billion to $10 billion next year — from another source. And that means higher premiums, state officials said.
State officials said they would allow insurers to impose a surcharge on premiums if the federal government cuts off funds for the cost-sharing subsidies.