Editor's note: This column was co-authored by Josh Archambault.
It is perhaps the most well-known blunder in American health care politics in the 21st century: “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.” Yet, just a few years after President Obama uttered those infamous words, millions of Americans found themselves forced off the very health plans they were assured that they could keep.
President Biden repeated the same claim on the campaign trail, promising voters, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” But already, it seems like he’s gearing up to repeat Obama’s mistake by breaking the very same promise.
In his second week in office, President Biden signed a wide-sweeping Executive Order relating to health care which included a directive for federal agencies to reconsider certain health care policies including those that, allegedly, “undermine the Health Insurance Marketplace or other markets for health insurance,” and “undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions.”
Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal picked up that Biden’s subtle hint is likely a preemptive indication of his desire to roll back Trump-era rules relating to short-term health insurance plans.
As premiums have skyrocketed since Obamacare was implemented, short-term plans represent an alternative and affordable option for millions of Americans in transition. On average, these plans are roughly 59 percent more affordable than traditional individual market plans and have greater availability. President Trump expanded short-term plans by increasing their duration to up to 12 months from 90 days, as well as allowing them to be renewed for up to three years. As a result, an estimated 3 million Americans were enrolled in affordable short-term plans at some point in 2019.
For many Americans, these short-term plans represent a crucial lifeline. They cover students who just left their parents’ insurance and are waiting for coverage to kick in at a new job, older Americans waiting to qualify for Medicare, individuals in-between jobs and searching for work, and many more.
Yet, some advocacy groups have already begun pressuring President Biden to roll back these affordable options, which would result in millions losing their health care coverage.
Unfortunately, these groups are repeating disproven, fallacious arguments regarding short-term plans. Despite what critics claim, short-term health plans often contain robust benefits with broad access to providers, something Obamacare plans have been criticized for not having.
In an important new study by Brian Blase from the Galen Institute, the data repudiates the claim that they disrupt individual insurance markets. Indeed, the report indicates that short-term plans actually expand consumer choice, reduce the number of uninsured Americans, and have no negative effects on the individual market.
The data is clear: States that allow full flexibility for short-term plans have seen less enrollment decline in their individual market, more insurers enter their markets, and premiums that are lower than states that ban or restrict short-term plans.
President Biden has a choice: Does he repeat the Obama-era mistake by breaking his promise to Americans and taking away insurance plans, or does he stick to his word and let them keep their health care plans?
The millions of Americans who have enrolled in a short-term plan may not realize what is at stake. But for many, if they get sick and Biden shortens or takes away their plans, they are far worse off as they lose their current coverage, and most will likely remain uninsured. The decision on short-term plans by Biden will set the tone on health care for his administration. Either he is trying to help Americans obtain the coverage that is best for them, or millions of Americans will yet again be at the whim of a politician who has broken his promise on health care.
Hayden Dublois is a Research Analyst at the Foundation for Government Accountability. Josh Archambault is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability.