GOP senators call on Trump administration to relax ban on short-term health insurance plans

Affordable Care Act highlighted
Republican senators are pushing for more flexible short-term health insurance plans. Getty/Ellenmck

As the Senate continues to grapple with repealing the Affordable Care Act, 14 Republican senators are pushing the Trump administration to relax a ban on short-term health insurance plans in the interim.

The senators, led by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., wrote in a letter (PDF) to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price that HHS should reverse an Obama administration rule that limited these plans to three-month terms that cannot be renewed.

The Obama administration made adjustments to its regulations for short-term insurance plans as more people enrolled in them as an alternative to ACA exchange plans. Demand for such insurance plans would likely increase significantly if the ACA’s rules are relaxed.

RELATED: Demand for short-term health insurance plans could surge if ACA’s rules are relaxed

Short-term plans offer “greater flexibility in the choice of health benefits than on-exchange plans,” the senators wrote. The Obama-era changes to short-term plans were potentially harmful to people who lost their jobs, for instance, and may have needed more than 90 days to find a new one, they said.

“Acknowledging Americans’ freedom to avail themselves of these insurance plans is a step the administration can take quickly to restore additional personal freedom and individual choice in healthcare markets,” they wrote.

RELATED: Anthem exit from Ohio's ACA exchange adds urgency to GOP efforts to repeal and replace healthcare reform law

Reversing the rule could be especially key as there will be regions across the country with no payers in the individual marketplaces for 2018, limiting the options available for consumers, the senators write.

Meanwhile, the tone of conversation in the Senate on health reform is creating more questions than answers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been almost downtrodden in talking about the report effort, reports The Wall Street Journal, and that could indicate the conversations are labored. But it could also be an effort to quiet opposition from the ACA’s most ardent supporters, who may lower their voices if it seems like the Senate is struggling on healthcare.

“There is always a wilier strategy where Mitch is concerned,” Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., told the newspaper.

The repeal outlook in the divided Senate is improving, but still “problematic,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told the WSJ.

The Senate is pushing to vote on its version of the American Health Care Act by the end of the month, and experts suggest that McConnell may push for a vote even if the bill would likely fail to pass.