Appeals court upholds Trump administration's expansion of short-term plans

A federal appeals court upheld the Trump administration's expansion of short-term health plans.

A panel of judges for the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that (PDF) while opponents of such plans may be correct that they're a poor option for consumers, the Department of Health and Human Services was within its statutory authority to expand them regardless.

"Boiled down, the dissent’s objection to the STLDI Rule is a prudential one—STLDI plans aren’t good for consumers, so they should be restricted as much as possible," the judges wrote in the opinion. "But so long as the Departments have acted within the bounds of their statutorily delegated authority, that policy judgment is theirs to make."

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When Congress delegates policymaking power to a federal agency, those agencies may make decisions legislators don't agree with, the judges said, but it's in their power to do so.

"If Congress disagrees with that decision, it can take back the reins," they wrote. "Or if a new Administration comes to power with a different vision of how the ACA’s competing policy goals should be balanced, it can revisit the Departments’ choice."

The Trump administration's 2018 rule that extended the length of short-term plans from 90 days to 12 months has been controversial since it was finalized. Proponents of the rule, including HHS Secretary Alex Azar, argue that these plans offer another alternative for people who are struggling to afford health insurance.

Critics, however, deride them as "junk" insurance and claim sales practices are deceptive. In a statement, Margaret Murray, CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that they "are disappointed in the court’s decision but remain firm in our belief that junk insurance plans violate both the Affordable Care Act and the Administrative Procedure Act."

“Now more than ever, people need access to high-quality, comprehensive insurance that gives them peace of mind and guaranteed benefits, not a junk plan that may leave with nothing more than hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills," Murray said.

A lower court also tossed a lawsuit challenging the rule.