Tag: "Health Reform"

Health Insurers Just Fine Under Obamacare

New research from the Commonwealth Fund, a pro-Obamacare think tank, shows that health insurers are doing just fine under Obamacare.

Well, the stock market has been telling us that for years. The report’s purpose is to cheer the rebates that insurers which made too much money paid to consumers. Obamacare regulates the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR). If an insurer does not spend enough premium on medical claims, it has to pay a rebate to its beneficiaries.

Rebates have collapsed from over $1 billion in 2011 to $325 million in 2013. The report concludes that Obamacare caused insurers to reduce their overhead expenses and profits. Actually, there is less to this story than meets the eye. Exhibit 5 shows that there has been very little change in insurers’ income statements over the three years.

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(Source: Michael J. McCue & Michael A. Hall, The Federal Medical Loss Ratio Rule: Implications for Consumers in Year 3, New York, NY: Commonwealth Fund, March 2015, page 6.)

Obamacare Beneficiaries 2.5 Times More Likely to Have HIV/AIDS Than Commercially Insured

One of our themes is that Obamacare causes health plans to attract the healthy and shun the sick. However, they do not succeed, according to a report by Prime Therapeutics, a pharmacy-benefit manager:

During tVariety of Medicine in Pill Bottleshe first year public health exchanges existed, Prime Therapeutics’ (Prime) members who enrolled in plans on these exchanges filled an average of 11.7 prescriptions, exceeding fills by commercial members by 13.6 percent. Public exchange members were also 2.5 times more likely to have hepatitis C or HIV, driving an almost 200 percent higher spend on related medicines.

More specifically, nearly $1 out of every $5 spent on drugs for public exchange members was spent to treat                                               hepatitis C or HIV.

The report also states that exchange beneficiaries are significantly older than commercially insured persons: 42.6 years versus 34.7 years old, on average. 28 percent of Obamacare beneficiaries were between 55 and 64 years old, versus only 16 percent of commercially insured persons.

Why does this matter? While Obamacare beneficiaries are older and sicker than people with employer-based benefits, they have less access to health services. Obamacare is not the right way to take care of these peoples’ needs.

Government and the Private Sector: The Case of eHealth, Inc.

Businessman Sitting at His DeskFor years now, Wall Street has cheered as Obamacare fuelled the stock prices of corporations in the healthcare industry. One of them was eHealth, Inc., a private health-insurance exchange that was founded in 1997.

Obamacare – in case you need reminding – mandates the purchase of private health insurance for working-age Americans above a low income. Last April, The Motley Fool’s Keith Speights speculated that eHealth might have been “Obamacare’s biggest winner”.

Well, that’s not how things turned out.

eHealth, has announced that it will lay off 15 percent of its workforce and take a restructuring charge of up to $4.7 million. This announcement followed horrific fourth quarter earnings.

The Kline-Ryan-Upton Republican Off-Ramp from Obamacare

Tomorrow is the day the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in King vs. Burwell, and all the talk is about what Congress will do if the Supreme Court directs the Administration to obey the law by not paying subsidies in the majority of states, which have declined to establish their own Obamacare exchanges and defaulted to the federal one.

The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed (available by subscription) by John Kline, Paul Ryan, and Fred Upton, who chair committees of jurisdiction in the House of Representatives that will be tasked with proposing a Congressional response to this decision. Here’s what they write:

Let people buy insurance across state lines. Stop frivolous lawsuits by enacting medical-liability reform. Let small businesses band together so they get a fair deal from insurance companies.

Obamacare Subsidies Made Up One Fifth of Government Transfer Payments in January

January’s Personal Income and Outlays report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows how significant Obamacare’s subsidies are in the scheme of government transfer payments to households, accounting for 21 percent of the increase in government transfer payments in January:

Personal current transfer receipts increased $24.8 billion in January, compared with an increase of $13.8 billion in December. The January estimates of current transfer receipts reflected several special factors…… Other government social benefits to persons was boosted $5.3 billion, primarily reflecting health insurance premium subsidies paid in the form of tax credits to enrollees of the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Crowd-out Effect of CHIP Expansion 44 to 70 Percent

In 2009, Congress reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), providing states added resources and options to insure children. About 15 states expanded CHIP eligibility to families with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (an income of $94,000 for a family of four) with a median upper limit for coverage at 250 percent of poverty, the highest since CHIP’s inception in 1997. Federal CHIP funding is up for reauthorization in 2015 and some argue that CHIP is unnecessary because of Obamacare’s subsidies, which kicked in this year.

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Source: “The Impact of Recent CHIP Eligibility Expansions on Children’s Insurance Coverage” from Health Affairs.

Where are the “Open Payments” from Government?

doctor-xray-2Well, now we know how much pharmaceutical companies and medical-device makers pay doctors for consulting and similar services. Paul Keckley aptly summarizes last week’s data dump from the Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS):

  • In the last five months of 2013, drug manufacturers made 4.4 million payments totaling $3.5B to 546,000 physicians and 1,360 teaching hospitals to encourage acceptance and use of their drugs/devices: $1.49B for research, $1.02B for ownership interests, $380M for speaking/consulting fees, $302M for royalties/licensing, $93M for meals, $74M for travel, and $128M for “other.”

Healthcare Prices Jumped 50 Percent Year on Year from 12-Month Moving Average

The Altarum Institute is the go-to source for understanding healthcare prices and employment. According to its latest report:

Health care prices in May 2014 were 1.8% higher than in May 2013, well above the 12-month moving average of 1.3%. Hospital prices grew 2.1% while prescription drug prices rose 3.6%.  Physician and clinical services prices, which exhibited near-zero growth in the first quarter of 2014, grew by 0.6%. Health care gained 21,000 jobs in June 2014. Over the first half of 2014, the health sector grew by over 20,000 jobs per month, about 20 percent higher than in the first half of 2013.

Prices of prescription drugs jumped higher than prices of other healthcare goods and services. Further, healthcare prices continue to grow significantly faster than the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Exhibit 7 illustrates how ineffective Obamacare is at restraining costs: Per capita healthcare utilization increased at about 5.5 percent (year on year) in the first half of 2002, well before the December 2007 onset of recession, and dropped until the end of 2010. The growth of consumer-driven health care, including Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) remains the most plausible explanation for this effect.

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How Much Did ObamaCare Increase Your Premiums? A New County-By-County Calculator

The Manhattan Institute has published an interactive map that shows ObamaCare’s effect on premiums for individual health insurance in almost every U.S. county. On average, premiums have increased by 49 percent. However, there is huge variance:

Among men, the county with the greatest increase in insurance prices from 2013 to 2014 was Buchanan County, Missouri, about 45 miles north of Kansas City: 271 percent. Among women, the “winner” was Goodhue County, Minnesota, about an hour southwest of Minneapolis: 200 percent. Overall, the counties of Nevada, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Arkansas haven experienced the largest rate hikes under the law. (Avik Roy, Forbes)

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Reflections on Risk Adjustment, Reinsurance, and Risk Corridors in ObamaCare

fgdfgOn Wednesday, June 18, 2014, I had the pleasure of testifying at the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs. The subcommittee held a hearing it called “Poised to Profit: How ObamaCare Helps Insurance Companies Even If It Fails Patients.”

Much of my testimony was drawn from content in this blog. What struck me was the minority’s emphasis that these provisions, which protect insurers from losing money in ObamaCare, are designed to motivate insurers to offer coverage to sick people.

It is a well-worn talking point of ObamaCare’s supporters that insurers can no longer charge higher premiums or deny coverage to applicants who are expected to have higher health costs, or exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions. Obviously, no insurer will seek to cover these people just because the government wants it to. The market has to be structured to achieve that objective.