Frustrated with the lack of action by the Republican-controlled Congress on healthcare reform, the White House said President Donald Trump was taking matters into his own hands with a new executive order that officials said Oct. 12 would increase choice and competition while lowering Americans' costs.
The order would make it easier for Americans to buy insurance through association health plans, or AHPs, as well as lift restrictions on short-term medical insurance and expand health reimbursement accounts, White House officials said.
But some analysts and experts have warned that Trump's order would allow insurers to sell skimpy plans that fail to meet consumer protections, particularly those barring discrimination against Americans with pre-existing conditions, under the Affordable Care Act.
The order directs Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to consider broadening the interpretation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, a 1974 federal law that set minimum standards and protections for most voluntarily established workplace pension and health plans.
Such an action could potentially allow employers in the same line of business anywhere in the U.S. to join together to form AHPs through existing organizations or create new ones for the express purpose of offering group insurance, White House officials said.
"By potentially making it easier for employers to band together, workers could have access to a broader range of insurance options at lower rates in the large group market," the White House said.
Under the order, employers participating in an AHP could not exclude any employee from joining the plan and could not develop premiums based on health conditions.
The order also directs the secretaries at Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services to consider expanding coverage through low-cost short-term limited duration insurance, which senior aides confirmed would not be subject to rules under the ACA.
Officials argued that those types of plans would allow broader provider networks and higher coverage limits.
They said the main groups who benefit from those types of short-term plans are Americans between jobs, people in counties with only a single insurer offering exchange plans, those with limited coverage networks and consumers who missed the open enrollment period but still want insurance.
Under the order, the departments of Treasury, Labor and HHS are also being asked to consider changes to health reimbursement arrangements, or HRAs, which officials said could potentially give American workers greater flexibility and control over how to finance their healthcare needs.
But officials told reporters not to expect regulations on the HRAs anytime soon and to anticipate rulemaking to take at least a year.
This is a developing story. Check back later for more details.