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Democrats just previewed their secret weapon against Republicans in the 2018 midterms

Obamacare rate hikes are set to surge ahead of the 2018 elections. Democrats say Trump is to blame.

Senate Lawmakers Address The Media After Their Weekly Policy Luncheons Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The rates of health insurance premium costs on the Obamacare exchanges are starting to trickle in from a few states, and early signs don’t bode well for “affordable” insurance. Democrats want to ensure Trump gets the blame.

Insurers in Virginia and Maryland recently announced they are seeking steep rate hikes on some of their Obamacare exchange plans. One company called CareFirst, which covers 15,000 people in Maryland, is proposing to raise rates by 91 percent, with premiums as high as $1,334 a month for a 40-year-old.

Senate Democrats have seized on this, and on Tuesday, they made it clear they are going to hammer the point home from now until the fall.

“When those rates go up, coverage goes down,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “It’s important to remember, President Trump and congressional Republicans are fully responsible for the significantly higher premiums and millions fewer people insured.”

Other states are proposing increases that aren’t as substantial as CareFirst but will still pose a burden to people looking to get health insurance. In Virginia, rates could go up anywhere between 6.4 percent and 40 percent.

The premium increases are set to kick in October, exactly one month before the election. This could be really bad for Republicans; as the party in power, they now get blamed for everything. Plus, Trump and the GOP aren’t exactly hiding their attempts to destabilize the market. And many health insurers and policy experts agree: These rates likely wouldn’t have skyrocketed this year without the Trump administration’s meddling.

Obamacare premiums were stabilizing. Enter President Trump.

As Vox’s Dylan Scott has written about extensively, in spring 2017, rates on the Obamacare exchanges were starting to stabilize. Some insurance providers, such as UPMC Health Plan in Pennsylvania, said that while rates were going to increase, the increase would be in the single digits — about 8 percent.

Then Trump came in with the intent of making sure the system failed. He announced his administration would halt payments to health insurers, known as cost-sharing reduction subsidies, and drastically cut his administration’s budget for Obamacare outreach. The GOP repealed the individual mandate — the provision that requires every American to have insurance or pay a penalty — in its sweeping tax bill last year.

As a result, plans like UPMC are signaling their health insurance rates will likely be going up a lot more than 8 percent to compensate; rates are likely to increase upward of 40 percent. Georgia has said its premiums will be 57 percent higher than last year.

Democrats are using the words of Trump’s former top health and human services official against him; former HHS Secretary Tom Price recently said he believed axing the individual mandate would make people in the individual market sicker and drive up costs. Schumer pointed to Price’s words on Tuesday in the Senate Democrats’ press conference.

CQ-Roll Call, Inc.

The Trump administration has repeatedly said it’s not doing any damage to the exchanges. Earlier this year, officials announced they would expand short-term insurance plans that don’t meet the ACA’s requirements, including plans that discriminate against preexisting health conditions or offer fewer services. (The conventional wisdom from the administration is that more young and healthier people would want to choose these plans.)

But as Scott reported in February, an analysis from the Urban Institute painted a bleak coverage picture with these plans available:

According to the analysis, nearly 9 million more Americans will lack minimal essential health coverage — uninsured, as far as the CBO is concerned — in 2019 and insurance premiums will increase by an average 16.4 percent across the country.

About 4.2 million would be covered by the non-ACA short-term plans — which can have annual or lifetime limits, which might cover fewer services, and which can discriminate based on health status.

The Trump administration is, in other words, overseeing a significant rollback of the historic coverage gains made under President Barack Obama and the ACA.

Insurance companies have between May 1 and July 31 to submit their proposed rates for state regulators to look at, and insurers have to let the federal government know whether they’re participating in the exchanges by September. Final rates will come out around October, right before the November midterms.

Trump and the GOP have shown every indication they’re going to try to blame this on Obama and the Democrats for passing the Affordable Care Act in the first place, but as the party in power, they’re likely to get a big share of the blame for not attempting to shore up the exchanges and further exacerbating the problem.

The ACA is fairly popular, and proposed premium hikes will come at a critical time

This is all happening right before November 2018, which should have Republicans very afraid. Democrats believe they can win based on health care; there is a very clear picture of Republicans try to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, plus the Trump administration’s actions to destabilize the exchanges.

Now that they are out of power, Democrats are hammering home points about all the unpopular Republican policies and unveiling their own economic agenda before 2018. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias noted, it’s been hard for them to get airtime, as the country is consumed with endless Trump scandals.

Health care has already shown itself to be a powerful motivator in turning out Democrats in key special elections in Pennsylvania and Arizona. (Democrats won the former and closed margins in a Republican state in the latter.)

Per Scott:

At the macro level, Americans clearly trust Democrats more than Republicans on the issue. A Politico/Morning Consult poll from November found that 44 percent of voters trusted Democrats more, compared to 34 percent who trusted Republicans more. (USA Today and Suffolk found a similar breakdown: 43 percent trusted Democrats the most, 15 percent said they trusted Trump, and 10 percent trust Republicans in Congress — harsh numbers for the GOP any way you cut them.)

On top of that, the ACA — the Republican policy boogeyman for the past decade — has never been more popular than it is today, after withstanding a year of GOP attacks. So it should come as no surprise that Democrats are already landing substantial wins on health care in this cycle’s special elections thus far.