A group of Missourians who will have to find new insurance options next year were invited to the White House on Wednesday to vent their frustrations with the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
Jim Blundell of Lincoln, Candace Fowler of Windsor, Stephanie and Tommie McClain of Clinton, Nancy Nycum of Edwards and Kevin Walker of Sedalia all live in the 25 ‘bare’ counties in northwest Missouri potentially left without an insurer next year after Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City decided to stop selling subsidized plans on healthcare.gov.
As Republicans in the U.S. Senate prepare to unveil their version of an Obamacare replacement, the six Missourians were invited to speak to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and other members of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Fowler, a mother of five who’s married to a farmer, said afterward: “We weren’t given details (about the replacement bill). We weren’t given any promises but I did feel like we did have an opportunity to make our voices known and be listened to with sincerity.”
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Fowler was diagnosed this year with idiopathic intracranial hypertension, a chronic condition in which her body produces too much spinal fluid, causing pressure on her optic nerves and the risk of blindness.
She said she’s responding well to treatment, but she’s concerned about losing her Blue KC insurance at the end of the year.
A Blue KC spokeswoman said privacy policies prevent the non-profit from commenting on its members.
In addition to the 25 counties its exit left bare, Blue KC left Jackson County, Platte County, Ray County, Cass County and Clay County with only Cigna remaining on the exchange.
But that could change soon. Centene, a for-profit insurer based in the St. Louis area that mostly deals in Medicaid contracts, has announced it intends to start selling Obamacare plans in Missouri, Kansas and Nevada later this year.
But it’s not clear yet what counties the company wants to sell in.
Centene administers Missouri Medicaid under the name Home State Health Plan. Stephanie McClain, an insurance agent, said that, in her experience, Home State Health Plan had been able to provide quality Medicaid coverage in her area despite a shortage of some medical providers. But she doesn’t know yet whether Centene will be an option for her husband, Tommie, who has chronic migraines and is working part-time while he goes back to school for his bachelor’s degree.
“The possibility of, as of right now, no coverage for him, that’s huge for our family to take in in the 2018 year,” McClain said.
The White House visit also included one consumer from Iowa and one from Ohio. Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s counselor and spokeswoman, called them “victims of Obamacare” according to a media pool report.
The visit comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seeks to write an Obamacare replacement that could be voted on as soon as next week.
The U.S. House passed its version of a replacement last month.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the House version would take about $800 billion over 10 years out of Medicaid, which covers four of Fowler’s children and Blundell’s wife.
As the Obamacare replacement debate has heated up, blame for the insurer exits has become a political football that was kicked around a bit more Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said the exchanges were “being sabotaged” by the Trump Administration’s unwillingness to commit to paying subsidies promised to insurers who cover low-income consumers.
“They’re creating this level of uncertainty that’s leading to this disruption of these individual markets,” said McCaskill, who has introduced a bill that would allow consumers in counties without an Obamacare insurer to use their federal subsidies to buy into the Congressional health plan.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, said Obamacare is “clearly imploding” and has been for some time.
“You’re going to hear often this week that Obamacare is failing because Republicans in the White House and the Congress decided not to support it,” Blunt said. “Obamacare was failing long before that.”
Insurers have jumped on and off the Obamacare exchanges since they started in 2014, as companies have struggled to set premiums for new individual market consumers who sometimes had lots of pent-up medical care needs.
Blue KC had been on the Kansas and Missouri exchanges since the beginning, but cited $100 million in losses in announcing it was getting out. An open records request revealed that the company, like others around the country, wanted Obamacare regulations tightened to prevent people from jumping into the individual market only when they needed care or stopping their premium payments after they’d received care. But the company also wanted more assurances that Trump and the Republican-led Congress would follow through on the promised subsidies.
The Star’s Bryan Lowry contributed to this report.