Loss of subsidies fuels Wisconsin health insurance hike

More than 90 percent of people who buy health insurance through the federally run exchange in Wisconsin receive subsidies that President Donald Trump is taking away, fueling calls from Democrats and other advocates to take action to soften a spike in costs.

Wisconsin announced the 36 percent premium increase for the average plan on Thursday, fueled by the loss in subsidies that help cover deductibles and copayments for low-income consumers, just hours before Trump said he was ending the federal assistance.

"I woke up, really, in horror," said Alice Thompson, 62, an environmental consultant from the Milwaukee area who purchases insurance on Wisconsin's exchange. Thompson said she expects to pay 30 percent to 50 percent more per year, for a total of about $1,200 a month, which is higher than her mortgage payment.

Thompson, who said she has a pre-existing condition, never had full coverage before the Affordable Care Act enacted under then-President Barack Obama.

"It's making me outraged that I have to fight for something that is so basic to our livelihood and our ability to work and have small businesses," she said on a call organized by the liberal health care advocacy group Citizen Action.

Democratic lawmakers called on Trump and state Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker, to find a bipartisan solution to keep insurance affordable, especially for low-income people most at risk of dropping their coverage once the subsidies end.

Walker has been an outspoken opponent of the federal health care law and refused to set up a state-run exchange. He said that Wisconsin will look for flexibility under the law to cut costs.

"Obamacare has failed to deliver on its promise of affordable health care year after year," Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said Friday. "A federal court ruled the president does not have the authority to issue these payments, and the power to issue them belongs to Congress."

Democratic state Rep. Jimmy Anderson, of Fitchburg, said it was up to state office holders "to staunch the bleeding caused by the president. Unfortunately, Governor Walker has done nothing but cheer on Trump's reckless actions."

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin blasted Trump's decision to cut the subsidies, fueling the cost increase in Wisconsin.

"Wisconsin families cannot afford the higher premiums that this chaos has created," Baldwin said. "We need bipartisan action in Congress now to lower health care costs by funding these cost-sharing reduction payments."

Baldwin is running for re-election in 2018. One of her Republican opponents, Delafield businessman Kevin Nicholson, dodged the question of whether he supported Trump's decision and instead said the move showed that "it's time for Congress to finally deliver conservative health care reforms like improving price transparency, allowing more consumer choices and increasing portability of health care dollars."

Another Republican running, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This year 216,000 Wisconsin residents bought health insurance through the exchange. Of those, 91 percent received a subsidy.

If the subsidies become available later, policy holders may be eligible for a refund or have lower premium costs in 2019, said deputy state insurance commissioner J.P. Wieske.

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