Fri. 9:02 a.m.: White House report moves away from battle over ‘Obamacare’

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new report from the White House shifts the Trump administration’s rhetoric on health care, suggesting changes to the Affordable Care Act under President Donald Trump do not fundamentally undermine the health law.

Due out today, the report from the Council of Economic Advisers says Obama-era subsidies that help low- and middle-income customers pay their premiums will help keep HealthCare.gov afloat even if some healthy people drop out or seek other coverage because of Trump’s changes. Nearly 90 percent or customers get taxpayer-provided assistance.

The report reflects the outcome of 2018 midterm elections in which Democrats successfully campaigned on keeping the ACA and effectively ended Trump’s drive to repeal it. Democratic 2020 White House hopefuls are seizing on health care as an issue, with some pushing for a government-run system that would cover all Americans and replace the ACA, better known as “Obamacare.”

The council is a White House agency that advises the president. A copy of the report was provided to The Associated Press.

Larry Levitt, of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, reviewed the report for the AP and said it suggests to him the administration is trying to move on from the battle over the ACA, which Trump and Republicans in Congress failed to repeal.

“The president seemed to take pride in undermining the ACA, but now his administration is resisting the argument that they have undermined the health law,” Levitt said. “They can point to benefits of deregulation but will also have to live with the costs, which include higher premiums for middle-class people with pre-existing conditions.”

The ACA has risen in popularity with the public.

The report looks at three big changes under Trump that affect former President Barack Obama’s health care law. They are congressional repeal of the law’s unpopular fines on people who go uninsured, “association health plans” for small businesses and low-cost short-term health insurance that doesn’t have to cover basic benefits like prescription drugs.

“These reforms do not ‘sabotage’ the ACA but rather provide a more efficient focus of tax-funded care to those in need,” the report says.

The report comes as House Democrats under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are moving to shore up the ACA, including trying to undo some of Trump’s insurance changes. Although such a rollback seems unlikely to succeed under divided government, there has been bipartisan support for measures that would help reduce premiums and guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions. Restoring the ad budget for HealthCare.gov slashed by Trump is also a possibility.

About 10 million people continue to get private insurance through the ACA’s subsidized markets, or exchanges, and another 12 million are covered by its Medicaid expansion. The GOP’s drive to repeal the ACA in 2017 fell flat, and Democrats effectively blocked another try by gaining control of the House.

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