While Marco Rubio's presidential campaign claims his spending provision has killed Obamacare, some experts say this claim is overinflated.

Experts argue over effect of Rubio’s provision on the ACA

A health care provision spearheaded by Republican senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio may have dealt a significant blow to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. On the other hand, some media outlets and industry experts are cautioning such claims are merely overstated political fodder for campaign season. 

According to a Tweet published by Rubio's campaign, the senator was able to "kill Obamacare" through a health care provision he pushed into a 1,603-page spending bill in December 2014. The New York Times reported the provision has "tangled up the Obama administration, sent tremors through health insurance markets and rattled confidence in the durability of President Obama's signature health law." 

"Through his provision, Rubio was able to cut funding sources for the risk corridor."

At issue is Rubio's effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act's risk corridor provision, which is designed to provide federal compensation for health insurers and stabilize insurance premiums during the initial years of the ACA. As Obamacare requires insurers to sell policies without screening for pre-existing conditions, the risk corridor would help to offset losses if insurers set premiums too low and paid out too much in medical coverage due to a high volume of unhealthy policyholders.

As The New York Times reported, Rubio attacked risk corridors as "a taxpayer-funded bailout for insurance companies," and through his spending provision was able to cut funding sources for the measure. As a result, insurance companies will only receive 13 percent of the compensation they were expecting in this fiscal year.

Without risk corridors, insurers are likely to raise their premiums or withdraw from the public exchange markets, hurting consumers and undermining confidence in the ACA, the Times reported. Meanwhile, Rubio's campaign claimed reduced funding for the provision saved taxpayers $2.5 billion.

Things are complicated, but not dire
However, in a column for The Los Angeles Times, economic reporter Michael Hiltzik called both Rubio's and the Times' claims "a little overheated, wholly misleading and spectacularly cynical."

"The risk corridor created a system of checks and balances while discouraging racketeering."

For one, the risk corridor provision is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through charges on premiums that exceeded claimed costs, not taxpayer money. The system effectively created a system of checks and balances designed to compensate insurers while also discouraging racketeering – and protect consumers in the process, Hiltzik argued.

What Rubio's provision did do was prevent the HHS from funding the risk corridor through any other revenue streams – meaning if insurers needed to recover more than the profitable plans can cover, as was the case for the last fiscal year, the government may have a hard time coming up with the difference.

But while that prospect is more difficult, it's not impossible. As Nicholas Bagley, an assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, noted, the HHS has already announced its intent to cover the risk corridor in full. Furthermore, if the HHS is unable to come up with the funds, insurers could sue the government for failing to meet the promise of the risk provision and possibly force Congress to repeal Rubio's provision.  

"Marco Rubio hasn't killed Obamacare and he hasn't saved taxpayers any money," Bagley wrote. "All he's done is throw a wrench in the works."