Silicon Valley health-insurance startup Oscar has eye-catching ads and is gushing red ink. Like a lot of insurance plans that rely on Obamacare, it also has an uncertain future under president Donald Trump. But unlike most of them, Oscar may be able to do something about it.
The company’s co-founder is venture capitalist Josh Kushner, brother of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and the president-elect’s close advisor. So while Trump promised on the stump to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the program may actually have a champion in the family, according to healthcare news site Stat.
In a letter posted to the Oscar website on Nov. 17, Josh Kushner and fellow co-founder Mario Schlosser defended the goals of Obamacare, noting that 15 million Americans are now covered because of the program, but were also also critical of its implementation. The duo wrote that Obamacare could be improved to increase competition and flexibility, and touted a Republican plan that would allow consumers to buy insurance with pre-tax dollars.
Notably, they don’t suggest repealing the ACA, and their vision of its future includes aspects that are popular with consumers—no lifetime limits or coverage denials based on pre-existing conditions—as well as some that aren’t, like the individual mandate. That mandate, which forces people to buy insurance in the interest of expanding the pool of healthy people (and which is anathema to conservatives) isn’t working, they say, not because it impinges on freedom but due to “weak enforcement.”
While Kushner and Schlosser don’t discuss government subsidies for low-income consumers, eliminating them—as some Republicans want to—would harm Oscar’s bottom line. The startup lost $128 million in New York, California, and Texas in the first nine months of 2016, according to regulators, and the company is looking for other markets, like selling insurance to businesses, Bloomberg reported. But it has no plans to abandon selling to individuals through the ACA. “We’re in this for the long haul,” the letter says.
An email seeking comment from Josh Kushner wasn’t immediately returned.
Trump hasn’t made any definitive statements about the future of Obamacare, but has suggested that he’s open to keeping elements of it. In their meeting, president Obama urged Trump to continue the ban on denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and to allow young people to stay on their parents’ plans. Trump says he’ll consider it.
It’s not clear how much influence, if any, Josh Kushner will have with Trump. He’s reportedly a lifelong Democrat who might not be a natural supporter. But if his connection through his brother falters, he may have another avenue: One of Oscar’s financial backers is Peter Thiel, a prominent Trump donor.