Obamacare advocates Thursday accused President Donald Trump of trying to further "sabotage" the Affordable Care Act with a new executive order on Health care, while several major business groups praised that directive.
"President Trump's executive order is a disaster for America's health care which is exactly why he is doing it," said Brad Woodhouse, director of the Protect Our Care Campaign.
"Angry that Congress wouldn't repeal the health care Americans depend on, President Trump is purposely trying to sabotage the law by creating garbage insurance which will undermine the market, raise premiums, reduce coverage and expose millions of Americans again to discrimination based on pre-existing conditions," Woodhouse said.
He was echoed by Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
"This is a last-ditch effort by President Trump to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, despite desperate pleas from Americans for Republicans to join with Democrats to improve health care in this country," Crowley said.
"This executive order is not a solution, it's just another way for President Trump to sabotage Americans' health care," he said.
The scathing comments come on the heels of Trump signing an order that directs federal agencies to explore relaxing rules to make it easier for small businesses to jointly purchase health coverage for their workers, and to increase the length of time people can be enrolled in short-term health plans.
Obamacare advocates fret that those potential changes could lead to an exodus of younger, healthier customers from Obamacare individual plans, leaving behind an older, sicker pool of customers whose medical costs will leave insurers with spiraling financial losses.
In a paper published Thursday, the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said "Trump's executive order could destabilize health insurance markets where millions of individuals and small businesses get their coverage and undermine protections for people with pre-existing health conditions."
Advocates already were deeply worried that Trump's failure to guarantee continuation of billions of dollars of federal reimbursements to insurers, defunding of Obamacare outreach efforts and other actions will lead to higher insurance prices and lower enrollment on individual health plan markets next year.
The American Academy of Actuaries, whose members help set proposed rates for insurance plans, said Trump's executive order "could present significant risks and have unintended consequences for consumers and health insurance markets."
"Creating exemptions from the Affordable Care Act insurance market rules can have far-reaching and unintended effects," said Academy Senior Health Fellow Cori Uccello in a statement.
"These effects could include tilting the market in favor of entities with weaker benefits or solvency standards and weakening the protections for consumers with pre-existing health conditions," Uccello said.
But Ron Williams, former CEO of the giant health insurer Aetna, said on Eyes On Events's "Closing Bell," "I would probably back off and avoid a rush to judgment on what we're actually going to see."
Williams noted that any changes that could result from the order would have to first be reviewed by a number of federal agencies and be subject to a public comment period.
"I don't think we're going to see changes that would do away with fundamental access to health care," Williams said.
America's Health Insurance Plans, a lobbying group for the industry, issued a pointedly neutral statement on the order, saying "health plans remain committed" to making sure all Americans "have access to affordable coverage and care, including those with pre-existing conditions."
"We will follow these principles — competition, choice, patient protections and market stability — as we evaluate the potential impact of this executive order and the rules that will follow," said Kristine Grow, AHIP's spokeswoman.
But Ceci Connolly, CEO of another group representing health insurers, the Alliance of Community Health Plans, said the order "would not take the steps necessary to ensure much-needed certainty" in the insurance market.
"Instead, it would draw younger and healthier people away from the [Obamacare] exchanges and drive additional plans out of the market," Connolly said.
"In turn, premiums would continue to increase, threatening the security of affordable coverage for millions of working families."
However, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest federation of businesses, praised the order for seeking to provide relief to the small group insurance market, which "remains volatile" and has "few choices and increasing premiums."
"Businesses — especially small businesses — continue to struggle to provide health care coverage that their employees value and can afford," said Randy Johnson, a senior vice president at the Chamber of Commerce. "We appreciate the administration's efforts to expand access to more coverage options, lower premiums, and offer greater benefit flexibility."
The National Retail Federation, which was represented at the order signing by one of its members, said Trump's idea of relaxing rules for association health plans "can bring necessary competition to underserved insurance markets."
Dave Ratner, the NRF member who attended the signing, said the order "will help level the health insurance playing field for small businesses across the country."
"Large companies with thousands of employees have their own plans but a small business like mine can't possibly negotiate rates close to what they can get," said Ratner, owner of Dave's Soda and Pet City, a small, Massachusetts-based chain of beverage and pet supply stores.
"By letting associations negotiate for their members, small businesses will finally be able to take advantage of better rates their employees can afford and provide better coverage in the process."
And the industry group Associated Builders and Contractors called the order "a critical first step towards providing more affordable health care options and flexibility to small employers and their employees throughout the country."