President Donald Trump has signed an executive action ordering federal agencies to relax several health care rules under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), making it easier for insurance companies to sell cheaper plans that contain minimal benefits.
The Trump administration has touted the directive as a step toward providing patients with more flexibility, while critics warned that it could penalize people with pre-existing conditions and sabotage the ACA markets.
On Oct. 12, Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of Labor to review current ACA regulations. The directive called for lifting limits for Americans to purchase short-term insurance plans with low costs and low coverage. It would also enable small businesses to link together to purchase insurance plans as a group.
Trump pitched the executive order as a first step toward repealing the ACA.
"The cost of the Obamacare has been so outrageous, it is absolutely destroying everything in its wake," the president said during the signing ceremony.
GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who had advocated for the executive order's two key proposals, participated in the signing ceremony. The Kentucky senator praised the measure as a step toward offering Americans more flexibility in their health plans.
"Why don't we let the little individual -- the plumber, the baker, the accountant, the small doctor or attorney -- let them join together in associations and so they can have the same buying power that the big corporations have," Paul told CNN.
Meanwhile, several health care experts warned that the directive's loosening of ACA reforms would spike premiums for Americans with pre-existing conditions and destabilize the health care markets.
Health staff fellow Dave Dillon of the Society of Actuaries asserted in a statement that allowing Americans to purchase cheap plans that offered skimpy coverage would be to the detriment of sickly patients.
"Healthier consumers will likely be able to enroll in plans with lower insurance rates, while more medically complex consumers may be subject to significant rate increases," Dillon said, according to NBC News.
Senior fellow Edwin Park of the progressive-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities asserted that allowing small businesses to band together to purchase insurance would have a similar effect.
"They would tend to cherry pick the healthy younger workforce, which in turn destabilizes the rest of the market," Park said.
"Insurers hate uncertainty and they hate rules that will enable healthy people to opt out of the insurance markets," said law professor Nicholas Bagley of the University of Michigan. "So the (order) could destabilize the market, even if the (order) itself doesn't do anything."
The insurance options mandated by Trump's directive are expected to go into effect by 2019. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California has already warned that he will sue the Trump administration if the president's directive undermines the ACA markets, Reuters reports.