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Lisa Blunt Rochester

02/26/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/27/2020 08:29

Blunt Rochester Presses HHS Secretary On Access To Affordable Coverage

WASHINGTON - Today, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) pressed Secretary Alex Azar of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), on the Department's efforts to cut auto-enrollment into the Affordable Care Act (ACA) along with the continued cuts in advertising and outreach in the ACA.

Audio and video of the exchange can be found here.

A transcript of the Congresswoman's questioning can be found below:

Rep. Blunt Rochester:

Thank you Madam Chairwoman, and also, welcome Mr. Secretary. I have to express my deep concern and disappointment in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which is the law of the land. It appears the Department of Health and Human Services has made it harder for Americans to access and afford the vital health insurance coverage they rely on.

Your Department recently proposed a rule that would discontinue the ACA subsidies for low-income families who do not actively reapply during the ACA's Open Enrollment period. These are low-income Americans who are currently enrolled in zero-dollar premium plans.

Secretary Azar, your Department's analysis acknowledges that there are 270,000 Americans who are re-enrolled in these zero-dollar premium plans and who could lose coverage. And yet you proposed ending auto-enrollment for these individuals, thereby endangering their coverage.

Q: First, a yes or no question, in deciding to propose this policy, did you consider the fact that it would result in American families losing coverage?

Sec. Azar:

I want to get back to you for the record if I could - I don't know that we actually proposed it as opposed to ask for comment on whether one should allow auto re-enrollment for people that are 100% subsidized in the ACA exchange markets. I think we asked just for comment on that as opposed to proposing that as the approach.

Rep. Blunt Rochester:

Q: So I'm assuming if you're asking for comment, it's something that you're considering?

Sec. Azar:

It's under consideration if we should require someone to apply who's getting 100% of their subsidy paid for - their premiums paid for - should they affirmatively demonstrate that they continue to qualify on an income and wealth basis for that, as opposed to just rolling over and then pay and chase later if we find months later they don't qualify.

Rep. Blunt Rochester:

Q: So can you guarantee that no individuals would lose coverage as a result of this policy?

Sec. Azar:

Well if they don't qualify, then they wouldn't retain coverage at 100% subsidy.

Rep. Blunt Rochester:

Meaning if you change the policy, then they wouldn't qualify and they could lose. I am particularly alarmed that your Department would propose such a policy given that Congress statutorily directed you to establish automatic re-enrollment for all individuals enrolled in the Marketplace. That provision was signed into law by the President at the end of the year. This proposed policy goes against Congressional intent.

Q: Mr. Secretary, will you commit to the American people that you will not take any action that would cause American families to lose their health insurance?

Sec. Azar:

I believe that rider was with respect to 2020 monies and the request for information was regarding the 2021 plan year, which is not subject to that rider, is my understanding.

Rep. Blunt Rochester:
The deep concern is that the Department now has a record of refusing to properly invest in robust advertising and outreach. The Department has drastically reduced funding for outreach and education activities, gutted the Navigator program, limited the time for enrollment, and is giving consumers less opportunity to make informed choices.

Now, the Department threatens to discontinue American families' subsidies who have become accustomed to being re-enrolled every year.

Q: Mr. Secretary, would you commit to working with me to ensure that Americans wishing to enroll in coverage, will be well informed about the opportunities to enroll?

Sec. Azar:

Well, I'm always happy to work with you Congresswoman, on any issue.

Rep. Blunt Rochester:

Well, we've talked about working together before, so I just want to put it on the record on this particular issue.

Sec. Azar:

Just in terms of open enrollment, we've put out a billion reminder emails…

Rep. Blunt Rochester:

It's just a yes or no answer because my time has expired.

Sec. Azar:

Happy to work with you.

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