Category: Health Insurance

Brookings: The Unaffordable Care Act Lowered Individual Premiums

Significant premium hikes in the Obamacare exchanges have been in the news lately. A Dallas Morning News article recently proclaimed, ‘When your health insurance is bigger than the mortgage, something’s wrong’. Indeed, insurers are charging premiums that about the size of a car payment on a late model used car. For a family the premiums are sometimes as high as a mortgage payment. Yet, insurers are hemorrhaging money – suffering losses to the tune of billions since Obamacare went into effect.

But apparently my perception is dead wrong. A pair of Brookings scholars argue individual premiums are actually lower than they would have been absent the Affordable Care Act. What???

Health Insurers, Hospitals Cannot Figure Out How To Pay For Catastrophic Care

Physician and Nurse Pushing GurneyAn advocate of consumer-driven health care, who makes the case that individuals should control most of our health spending directly, will not get very far before hearing the rebuttal: “When you have a heart attack or get hit by a bus, you won’t be in any condition to negotiate which hospital you go to.”

Fair enough, which is why we advocate insurance for catastrophic events, just like for houses or automobiles. However, in the current system, insurers and hospitals are dropping the ball on even that:

Weakening Business Case For Health Insurance

BoeingBoeing, the giant aerospace concern which is celebrating its centennial this year, has been cutting out the middle-man for health benefits:

In another sign of growing frustration with rising health costs, aerospace giant Boeing Co. has agreed to contract directly for employee benefits with a major health system in Southern California, bypassing the conventional insurance model.

The move, announced Tuesday, marks the expansion of Boeing’s direct-contracting approach, which it has already implemented in recent years in Seattle, St. Louis and Charleston, S.C.

In other examples, Intel Corp. contracted directly with a major health system in New Mexico, where it has several thousand employees.

Retailers Wal-Mart and Lowe’s took a different approach, striking deals with select hospitals across the country for bundled prices on specific surgeries. The companies steer workers to those hospitals.

(Chad Terhune, “Boeing Contracts Directly With California Health System for Employee Benefits,” Kaiser Health News, June 21, 2016)

I recently discussed evidence that insurers inflate rather than decrease prices for medical goods and services.

Appeals Court Ruling Saves Fixed Indemnity Health Coverage

The indemnity insurance model is alive and well thanks to a federal appeals court for the District of Columbia. So-called “fixed indemnity” insurance pays a fixed amount for a given claim – such as $500 per day for hospitalization or $50 for a doctor visit.  Often, fixed indemnity plans only cover specific conditions, such as cancer.

In 2014 the Obama Administration ruled that only individuals who already had comprehensive coverage could purchase fixed indemnity. The reason the administration did not want fixed indemnity coverage available was because it was trying to prop up Obamacare. The administration thought a cheaper option would undermine the goal of “maximizing the number of individuals who have comprehensive, major medical coverage.”

Under the administration ruling, individuals buying fixed indemnity coverage had to attest on their application they already had comprehensive coverage with minimal essential coverage. The plaintiffs argued the 2014 regulatory ruling essentially destroyed the market for their products. The federal court and the appeals court agreed, ruling that the administration had overstepped its regulatory power. Fixed indemnity insurance has been exempt from federal insurance standards for 20 years. The appeals court explained the Affordable Care Act did not change that nor was there evidence Congress planned for the ACA to change that fact. Unfortunately, people who buy fixed indemnity coverage still must buy Obamacare coverage to avoid getting fined. But they can now at least make the choice.

Is this the Insurance Casualty Model; Or Just a Dirty Trick?

The health insurance “Casualty Model” is alive and well in Georgia — but only as a punishment for not signing an in-network agreement or accepting usual and customary reimbursement for emergency room treatments.  At issue is a Georgia hospital (and one in Los Angeles) that are not part of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia network. Because neither of the hospitals are part of the insurer’s network, when covered individuals go to the hospitals’ emergency rooms, the insurer sends reimbursement checks for emergency care directly to enrollees. The enrollees are then supposed to endorse the checks over to the hospital.  This is similar to the casualty model when an insurer provides funds for a covered claim and the covered individual shops around and receives a service at the provider of their choice. When someone slid into my car during an ice storm a few years ago, an adjuster came to my office and calculated an estimate. I received the check and was told I could get my car repaired almost anywhere for the estimated amount.

Obamacare Slightly Increased Short-Term Uninsured

NHISThe best measurement of people who lack health insurance, the National Health Interview Survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has released early estimates of health insurance for all fifty states and the District of Columbia in 2015. There are two things to note.

Texas’ Largest Insurer to Increase Premiums 60%

An article by Ricardo Alonso-Zildivar of the Associated Press claims Texas’ largest health insurer plans to raise premiums by as much as 60 percent next year. The article assures us few people will be harmed — most enrollees have their premiums capped as a percentage of household income. Thus, it’s actually taxpayers who will get gouged. The article does admit that some people — those who are too wealthy to qualify for premium subsidies — may suffer sticker shock next November when they price their coverage for 2017.

Workers Increasingly Prefer Pay to “Benefits”

Businessman Sitting at His DeskThe Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), a research organization with a mission “to contribute to, to encourage, and to enhance the development of sound employee benefit programs and sound public policy through objective research and education” includes members as diverse as AARP, Aetna, Boeing, Charles Schwab, and Wal-Mart. In the benefits world, it sits firmly inside the establishment.

That is why EBRI’s latest research on how employees view their benefits should give some encouragement to reformers who want to change the tax treatment of health insurance, and weaken the iron triangle of big business, big labor, and big government which enforces the discrimination against individually owned insurance. From EBRI’s latest Note:

The Interstate Health Insurance Compact: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

UptonIn a recent Health Alert, I noted the very positive news that House Speaker Paul Ryan has appointed six task forces, comprised of Congressional committee chairmen, to develop a governing agenda. One of those tax forces has a mandate to develop (finally) the Republican alternative to Obamacare.

Two of the members, Dr. Tom Price (Chairman of the Budget Committee) and Mr. Fred Upton (Chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee) have already sponsored health reform bills that would replace Obamacare, and contain tax credits for individual health insurance. I conclude Dr. Price’s version is superior, both in administrative simplicity and economic effect.

However, Mr. Upton’s bill (which is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Hatch and Senator Burr) includes a good idea absent from Dr. Price’s bill: An interstate compact for health insurance.

Clinton Attacks Sanders on Medicaid-for-All Despite Strong Democratic Support

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is attacking Senator Bernie Sanders because he backs Medicaid-for-All (i.e. a single-payer health care system), calling it a ‘risky deal.’ Clinton also dispatched daughter Chelsea to attack Sanders claiming he would take health care away from millions.

Clinton’s stance on a national health care is somewhat odd given that 81% of Democrats favor a single-payer health care system. Moreover, President Truman first proposed national health care in 1945 and it was a campaign issue of his in 1948.

What’s the reason for Hillary’s change of heart? That’s hard to say. But Clinton made nearly $3 million off speeches to the industry from 2013 to 2015. Maybe losing a steady source of campaign funds and speaking fees is risky.