Anthem says it supports parts of Trumpcare.

Trumpcare’s Only Fan Is a Massive Insurance Company That Really Needs a Favor Right Now

Trumpcare’s Only Fan Is a Massive Insurance Company That Really Needs a Favor Right Now

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
March 10 2017 6:41 PM

Trumpcare’s Only Fan Is a Massive Insurance Company That Really Needs a Favor Right Now

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They're into Trumpcare—it's just unclear how much.

Gues Ruelas/Reuters

By gawd, there's finally someone out there who says they like Trumpcare—or parts of it anyway. Anthem, the nation's second largest health insurer, expressed its support for the Republicans' Obamacare replacement in a letter to the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees, as Morning Consult reports Friday. In the note, CEO Joseph Swedish says that without major changes to the Affordable Care Act, his company will begin to “surgically extract” itself from the individual insurance market in 2018, and that the “time to act is now.”

Anthem has previously said that it might bail on the Obamacare markets in 2018, so this letter doesn't come as a great shock. It's also worth noting, as Politico does, that Anthem has been trying to win approval from Washington to buy up its rival, Cigna—which suggests it has some incentive to play nice with the administration.

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The question is whether Anthem really supports the whole Republican plan, or just really likes a few key parts. Swedish writes that, “The American Health Care Act addresses the challenges immediately facing the Individual market and will ensure more affordable health plan choices for consumers in the short term,” then name-checks a few “critically important” provisions. Namely:

  • "Establishment of the Patient and State Stability Fund" (This would compensate insurers that lose a ton of money on sick patients.)
  • "Repeal of the ACA’s health insurance tax" (Health insurers don't want to be taxed.)
  • "Continuation of the Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies" (This is complicated, but these federal payments to insurers are basically essential to making Obamacare work, and some have worried Trump would cut them off.)
  • "Allowing the use of tax credits for ‘off exchange’ health plans.” (That would make it easier for insurers to sell whatever the heck they want.)

In short, health insurer Anthem is very much in favor of the provisions that would be obviously beneficial to the health insurance industry. “These provisions are essential and must be finalized quickly,” Swedish writes.

Does this mean Swedish backs everything in the bill? It's hard to tell. The letter never says anything clear-cut like: “We would like to see the current incarnation of this legislation pass.” And the CEO is silent on one aspect of the bill that's worried other insurers and the industry's major lobbying group—the elimination of Obamacare's requirement that Americans buy insurance or pay a tax penalty, which Republicans would replace with a much weaker provision. Swedish also says Anthem is still “thoroughly reviewing and evaluating the legislation further to better understand the changes to both the Individual market and the Medicaid program.” But in the meantime, the company apparently likes Trumpcare enough to write a mostly supportive letter, and maybe win itself a little goodwill and influence in the process. Someone had to cheer for this thing, eventually.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.