WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration took new steps Tuesday to loosen health insurance rules, moving to allow the sale of more short-term health plans that do not need to offer consumers a full range of health protections.
The proposed regulations – which represent the latest in a series of administrative attacks on the Affordable Care Act since President Donald Trump took office -- could make cheaper and skimpier plans available to more Americans.
But these short-term plans – which can last up to a year -- also threaten to further weaken insurance markets around the country and drive up costs for sicker Americans who need health plans that offer a full set of benefits, such as prescription drugs, maternity care or mental health and substance abuse services.
That would erode the health law's guarantee that access to health insurance would no longer depend on a person's health.
Trump administration officials billed the proposed new regulations as a step to make health insurance more affordable.
"Americans need more choices in health insurance so they can find coverage that meets their needs," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. "The status quo is failing too many Americans who face skyrocketing costs and fewer and fewer choices."
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Rising premiums have squeezed a growing number of consumers, particularly those who make too much to qualify for government assistance through the healthcare law, often called Obamacare.
But the Trump administration's new proposal is expected to generate widespread opposition from consumer advocates, patient groups and many physicians, who worry that looser insurance rules will leave patients without key protections and erode coverage for people who need it most.
The administration is already under fire for proposing last month to make it easier for self-employed Americans, small businesses and others to band together to get health insurance through what are called association health plans.
Association plans do not have to offer a comprehensive set of so-called essential health benefits, a key requirement of the 2010 health law.