Former HHS Secretary Dr. Tom Price, who long pushed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, said Tuesday that Republican lawmakers made a mistake by zeroing out the penalty for not complying with the individual mandate.
"There are many—I am one of them—that actually believe that will harm the (risk) pool in the exchange market," Price said in a speech at the World Health Care Congress. "Younger and healthier people may now not participate in that market and consequently that drives up the costs for other folks."
President Donald Trump in December signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which zeroed out the penalty for not having insurance starting Jan 1, 2019.
Price's comment appears to be an about-face from his stance while leading HHS. During an interview on ABC's "This Week" last summer, he slammed the ACA and particularly the individual mandate.
"The individual mandate is one of those things that is actually driving up the cost for the American people in terms of coverage," Price said.
Obamacare advocates said that Price's comments undermine Republicans' claims that the Congressional Budget Office was biased when it estimated that the penalty cancellation would raise premiums by 10%, or more than $1,000 per year, for some enrollees.
"I'm glad to see former Secretary Price admit the truth, which is that families' premiums are going up because President Trump and Republicans in Congress have spiked prices with their relentless, partisan healthcare sabotage," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement.
"Now, one of the Trump Administration's lead saboteurs has admitted the truth. Americans now have it straight from Tom Price: Republicans are responsible for upcoming rate hikes," Brad Woodhouse, campaign director for advocacy organization Protect Our Care, said in a comment.
Price also conceded that with the latest enrollment numbers, the individual market "looks like it has stabilized."
Nearly 11.8 million people signed up or were automatically enrolled in coverage through the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges for 2018, down just 3.3% from the 12.2 million who enrolled in an exchange plan for 2017.
While in office, Price would often criticize the marketplace's stability. He once called it a "failure" that was leaving millions of Americans without choices for health insurance.