HHS secretary questioned over Biden administration's slow move to regulate junk plans

Senate lawmakers questioned HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra May 4 over when and how the Biden administration will take action against "junk plans," or short-term health plans that are not subject to certain rules under the Affordable Care Act.

At a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing to discuss HHS' upcoming fiscal year budget, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., pressed Mr. Becerra about a timeline for when the administration plans to take action against junk plans.

"The Biden administration has worked to expand access to comprehensive affordable coverage under the ACA, and I support these efforts," Ms. Baldwin said. "But unfortunately we continue to wait for the administration to address the issue of junk insurance plans."

The senator discussed her constituent "Philip" from Janesville, Wis. He wrote to Ms. Baldwin's office to warn others about the dangers of junk plans. Philip received a $34,000 medical bill for an emergency room visit and overnight stay. Instead of covering the bill, his junk plan rescinded his health coverage over an alleged preexisting condition. 

Ms. Baldwin pointed out she asked Mr. Becerra about the issue at last year's HHS budget hearing and still hasn't received an answer.

"We are in the midst of rulemaking," Mr. Becerra said. "As you know, rulemaking can take a little while, but we started that process because of what you've explained. It does happen. Junk plans are leaving Americans with these tremendously expensive bills."

Mr. Becerra pointed to the strengths of the No Surprises Act, which the administration hopes will work in tandem with the eventual results of the rulemaking process.

"We hope that what we find is between the No Surprises Act statute and our change to try to undo these junk insurance plans, that we will provide Americans with the protections they thought they had," Mr. Becerra said.

In April, 42 congressional Democrats called on the White House to scrap junk plans once and for all. 

The short-term plans don't have to cover preexisting conditions and are allowed to bypass the ACA's requirement to cover services such as maternity care and mental health treatments.

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