Clarence Fanto: Trump's stealth order added to an already chaotic week

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LENOX — Pure sabotage, a cruel blow to 20 million Americans — including tens of thousands in the Berkshires — who are self-employed, who work for employers who don't offer heath insurance, or who are retired but not yet eligible for Medicare.

President Trump's late-night stealth order Thursday seeks to wipe out subsidies to insurers — $9 billion for next year — that help cover costs for low-income people.

This followed by a few hours his directive to allow the sale of cheaper, skinny policies with reduced benefits. These stripped-down, bare-bones policies might attract healthy younger buyers while disrupting Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) exchanges, sending them into a deadly disruption.

Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies! Unable to get Congress to do his bidding by dismantling the ACA, Trump is issuing executive orders that might come under legal challenge — on Friday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined her counterparts in New York, Connecticut, Kentucky and California who plan to file lawsuits to stop these destructive actions aimed at the most vulnerable Americans, many of them Trump voters.

Trump has taken a dozen steps in recent months to kill Obamacare, which needed bipartisan repairs but not dismantling.

Among them: weakening enforcement of the individual mandate, sending out news releases, YouTube videos and Twitter graphics to undermine the health insurance law, reducing tax credits that help less-prosperous Americans pay their premiums, and acting to obstruct the upcoming, abbreviated open enrollment period.

The impact on Massachusetts is negative, though the extent of the damage remains to be seen.

On Thursday, the state's Health Connector approved two sets of premium increases for next year, affecting 80,000 members — 10.5 percent, on average, for the most popular midlevel silver tier plans and 26 percent if Trump moved to end the subsidies, which he did just a few hours later.

House Republicans had voted in 2014 to sue the Obama administration in federal court to stop the payments, and a D.C. judge in a U.S. District Court had agreed — that ruling had been under appeal. Trump's Justice Department declared Thursday that, since Congress had not approved the payments, they were illegal, "yet another example of how the previous administration abused taxpayer dollars and skirted the law to prop up a broken system."

Our state stands to lose $146 million in the current fiscal year once the cost-sharing payments from Washington are shut down. Massachusetts insurers had subsidized individuals and families with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level — just over $60,000 for a family of four — through lower deductibles and co-pays.

Trump's strategy is to dismantle Obamacare on his own. When he told reporters 10 days ago that they were seeing the "calm before the storm," it seems he wasn't talking about North Korea.

Lawmakers from both parties are outraged: Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida tweeted that Trump "promised more access, affordable coverage. This does the opposite."

In a joint statement, the top Democrats in Congress, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said Trump had "apparently decided to punish the American people for his inability to improve our health care system. It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America."

Even before these massive setbacks sure to cripple the health insurance law, it had been a chaotic week in Washington, with signs the president was becoming more irrational — Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics cited "a whole bunch of enemies that he's made on purpose."

Conservative pundit Charlie Sykes recently said he does not believe Trump is "stable," echoing remarks by a leading Republican Senator, Bob Corker of Tennessee.

As Tony Schwartz, co-author of the 1987 "Trump: The Art of the Deal," tweeted: "Trump's grip on reality is spiraling down into paranoia and delusion. The core question now is whether Trump will blow up his presidency before he blows us up."

Contact Clarence Fanto at cfanto@twitter.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily re flect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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