Donald Trump to sign executive order expanding health care options

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Frustrated by the Senate’s failure to repeal Obamacare, President Trump signed an executive order Thursday to clear the way for giving consumers more health care insurance alternatives.

In an event at the White House, Mr. Trump portrayed his action as “the first step to providing millions of Americans with Obamacare relief.”

“This will cost the United States government virtually nothing, and people will have great, great health care,” Mr. Trump said, surrounded by employers and administration officials. “This will create tremendous competition. It could have been done a long time ago.”

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican who attended the event, called it “the biggest free-market reform of health care in a generation.”

“This reform, if it works and goes as planned, will allow millions of people to get insurance across state lines at an inexpensive price,” Mr. Paul said.

Senior administration officials said the president’s order will encourage the expansion of association health plans, which are pooled plans with multiple employers to provide workers and companies with lower costs.

The president’s action also will direct the Treasury Department to expand short-term insurance options, which offer limited benefits for people between jobs or young adults who are no longer eligible for their parents’ health plans. Under the order, people could buy such coverage for up to one year, instead of the current three months.

Despite his actions, Mr. Trump said Congress still must complete the job of repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a system of block grants to states.

“With these actions, we are moving toward lower costs and more options in the health care market and taking crucial steps toward saving the American people from the nightmare of Obamacare,” the president said. “We will also pressure Congress very strongly to finish the repeal and replacement of Obamacare once and for all.”

Officials said the order doesn’t make changes immediately, and that they hope the administration can implement many of the proposals within six months.

Business groups hailed the action.

“In the wake of the Senate’s failure to repeal Obamacare, we are grateful to President Trump for addressing regulations that make it harder and costlier for small business owners to provide health care for themselves and their employees,” said Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business.

While Mr. Trump still wants Congress to repeal Obamacare, he believes “before that can be done, his administration must act to provide relief,” said Andrew Bremberg, White House director of domestic policy.

Mr. Bremberg said this year, nearly half of the counties in the U.S. will have only one health care plan available under Obamacare. About one-third of workers at small businesses now receive health insurance through their employers, compared with about half of such workers in 2010, he said.

The order directs the Labor Department to consider a broader interpretation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)

that the White House said “could potentially allow employers in the same line of business anywhere in the country to join together to offer health care coverage to their employees.”

The White House said the main groups to benefit from expanding short-term insurance coverage are people between jobs and people in counties with only a single insurer offering exchange plans.

The Senate has failed twice in recent months to approve measure that would repeal and replace Obamacare, one of Mr. Trump’s main campaign promises.

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