White House defends delay in out-of-pocket caps

The White House last week likened Republican criticism of a policy delay that could temporarily double individuals' out-of-pocket medical expenses under the Affordable Care Act to "Alex Rodriguez complaining that the drug-testing program that Major League Baseball has in place isn't sufficiently strict."

The exchange came during a press briefing in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where the president was vacationing. A reporter asked Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest about GOP criticism of a recently announced delay in capping out-of-pocket medical expenses for both drugs and medical treatment at $6,300.

A delay in the policy means insurers could impose two separate caps of $6,300 each--one for medical treatment and one for prescription drugs--for policies sold through the new online health insurance marketplaces.

That, along with a recently announced delay in when certain small employers must provide insurance for full-time employees, has given Republicans ammunition to charge the administration has overpromised on Obamacare, the reporter told Earnest.

"These are ... the same Republicans who voted against the Affordable Care Act. The same Republicans who are threatening to shut down the government if Obamacare is not defunded," Earnest responded, according to a transcript highlighted in a report from LifeHealthPro.

"The point is it's a little hard to take their criticism seriously considering their opposition to the law in the first place," Earnest said before making his Alex Rodriguez analogy.

He acknowledged the policy change means people could face out-of-pocket healthcare expenses totaling $12,600 next year, but argued that before the Affordable Care Act, policies didn't have to include a limit on annual out-of-pocket expenses.

"That means that never again will a family go bankrupt because somebody in their family got sick," he said. "That is a historic consumer protection that is in place on time and on schedule because of the Affordable Care Act."

By the following year policies will have a unified cap of $6,300, Earnest said.

The exchange came a few days after Kaiser Health News reported that the growing popularity of employer-sponsored high-deductible insurance plans is increasing hospital bad debts. About 19 percent of workers have high-deductible plans, nearly double the number in 2009.

"We have definitely been hearing from members that they are seeing an increase in bad debt and even in charity care for people with high-deductible health plans," Caroline Steinberg, vice president for trends analysis at the American Hospital Association, told KHN.

For more information:
- here's the transcript
- read the LifeHealthPro article

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