Tag: "ObamaCare"

Bill Clinton Is Right: Obamacare is Crazy for Workers

Five college students.(A version of this Health Alert was published by The Hill.)

Bill Clinton’s pre-election criticism of Obamacare reflected a good understanding of labor economics. In October, he explained:

So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world.”

Clinton was referring to high marginal income tax rates that Obamacare imposes on workers through the design of its tax credits, which get clawed back in a very unfair way. The Administration recently confessed premiums for the benchmark Obamacare plans are going up 25 percent, on average. Trying to appease angry enrollees, the Administration feebly claims tax credits reduce net premiums people pay.

Nobody is satisfied by this excuse. However, even if Obamacare premiums were reasonable, they would still punish the people for whom Bill Clinton claims to speak. The more you work, the more you earn; and the more you earn, the higher net premium you pay. This is not a characteristic of the employer-based group market in which most of us participate.

Obamacare Coverage 10 Percent Less Expensive Than Job-Based Benefits

nnScholars at the Urban Institute, staunch defenders of Obamacare, have previously struggled to find ways to report Obamacare’s good news by pointing out “there is no meaningful national average” of premium hikes. More recently, they have concluded that Obamacare coverage is 10 percent less expensive than employer-based coverage.

Comparing average employer-based premiums to the second-lowest cost Silver benchmark Obamacare plans, the Urban Institute scholars found lower Obamacare premiums in 38 states plus Washington, DC. These are the unsubsidized Obamacare premiums, adjusted for age, actuarial value, and utilization associated with actuarial value.

What to make of this finding?

Divided on Obamacare, Trump and Clinton Both Threaten Medical Innovation

(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)

Confident Doctors

The recently announced 25 percent rise in Obamacare health insurance premiums has brought renewed attention to health policy. As this is my last column before Election Day, it is time to review how the presidential candidates would address the continuing challenge of skyrocketing health costs.

We should not kid ourselves that Obamacare’s failure is enough to cause the next President or Congress to act energetically to fix the problems Obamacare exacerbated. The interest groups which brought us Obamacare have cut bait and moved on. The health care sector – interests for which the $3.35 trillion spent on health care counts as revenue rather than cost – has bigger fish to fry.

Although insurers are losing money in Obamacare’s exchanges, they are far more concerned with employer-based group benefits, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid managed care than Obamacare exchanges. Obamacare exchanges cover fewer than 13 million people at any time during the year; and only about four million stick with Obamacare coverage throughout the year. Those poor souls comprise a powerless political constituency, unlike employers or seniors on Medicare.

Obamacare 2017 Premium Hikes 25 Percent. What Next?

p_kleyman_medicut_500x279The Administration has confessed the average 2017 Obamacare premium hike for the benchmark (second-lowest cost) Silver plan will be 25 percent. (Back in June, it looked like the hike would be 16 percent.)

Don’t worry, says the Administration, tax credits will ensure beneficiaries only pay a fraction of their premiums. It is true, very few people would buy Obamacare plans without the tax credits the Administration cheers. However, that is not a sign the plans are “affordable,” but only that taxpayers are bearing more of the burden.

Nor do the tax credits actually prevent people from sticker shock. In fact, the design of the tax credits usually makes the net premium hike higher than the gross premium hike. For example, the average premium hike next year in California will be 13.2 percent, but a 56-year old woman in Los Angeles just learned her premium will jump 57 percent next year.

Hillary’s Campaign to Lower Drug Costs is a Real Downer

captureSpending on prescription drugs has grown tremendously over the past few decades. This is mainly due to the increase in the number of diseases and conditions treated using drug therapy. The truth is: most drugs are dirt cheap! However, a small portion — maybe 1 or 2 percent — are rather costly. As a result of that small percentage, drug prices have become a campaign issue accompanied by plethora of bad ideas.

Early in his campaign, Donald Trump even came out with some doozies, such as having the government negotiate drug prices for Medicare and importing drugs from abroad (that is: importing other countries’ price controls). He has since ceded these populist talking points to Hillary in favor of free-market ideas. He now advocates getting government out of the way, allowing competition to flourish. He understands that bureaucratic red tape at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration often prevents competition from holding drug prices in check.

Hillary Clinton is another story.

Premiums For Employer-Based Family Health Insurance Up One Fifth Since Obamacare

The Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research Educational Trust has released its 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey. The survey covers almost 1,900 private and public (non-federal) employers. The results show Obamacare has not reduced premiums, which have increased by one fifth for family plans since 2011.

The good news is the proportion of beneficiaries with “High-Deductible Health Plans with a Savings Option” (HDHP/SOs) has increased from 20 percent to 29 percent in two years. Only four percent of covered worker were in such plans in 2006, and 17 percent in 2011. (In 2015, a HDHP had to have a minimum deductible of $1,300 for single coverage and $2,600 for family. The “Savings Option” would be a Health Savings Account or Health Reimbursement Arrangement.)

These plans were first available in 2005, and correspond with an immediate slowdown in the rate of growth of employer-based benefits. In real terms (adjusted for changes in the Consumer Price Index), dropped from double digits in the early 2000s to single digits after 2005 and bottoming out at an increase in premium of just two percent in 2009. There was an immediate jump of 11 percent in 2011, Obamacare’s first year. Since then, both High Deductible Health Plans and the burden of Obamacare have continued to grow. This struggle has resulted in mid-single digit premium growth.

See Figure I below the fold:

More Than One In Five Americans “Churn” Through Health Coverage Within A Year

Census2The U.S. Census Bureau has just released the Current Population Report’s Health Insurance Coverage in The United States, 2015. This report sits alongside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey as a critical source of understanding changes in health insurance in recent years.

The report discusses coverage during the three years from 2013 through 2015, so it does not reveal the large increase in employer-based coverage since the great recession. During this shorter period, there was an insignificant gain in employer-based coverage, and a large increase in persons dependent on Medicaid, the joint state-federal welfare program that provides health benefits to low-income residents. The number of people dependent on Medicaid for at least part of the year increased from 55 million in 2013 to 62 million in 2015. (Almost the entire increase took place in 2014, Obamacare’s first year of implementation.)

Obamacare Koan: What Is A Health Insurance Market Where No Insurance Is Offered?

Obamacare-protest-AP(A version of this Health Alert was published by Investors Business Daily.)

Obamacare appears to be in a death spiral, with a shrinking pool of insurers offering coverage, far fewer individuals purchasing insurance than advocates had anticipated, and double-digit price increases making policies unaffordable — not only to many individuals and families, but to taxpayers, who are required to underwrite the hefty subsidies Washington promised.

The law is not working and its condition is getting worse. The centerpiece of the program, the health insurance exchanges (misleadingly labeled “Marketplaces” by the administration), will pretty much cease to exist within a few more years.

Recent Rise In Health Coverage Due To Return of Jobs With Benefits

NHIS(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)

The 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 the first quarter of 2016. There are three things to note.

First: 70.2 percent of residents, age 18 to through 64, had “private health insurance” (at the time of the interview) in the first quarter of this year, which is which is the same rate as persisted until 2006. Obamacare has not achieved a breakthrough in coverage. It has just restored us to where we were a decade ago. Further, the contribution of Obamacare’s exchanges to this is almost trivial, covering only four million people.

What has really happened is a restoration of employer-based benefits as we have slowly clawed our way out of recession: 61.2 million people had non-exchange private insurance in Q1 2010. This included both employer-based benefits and the pre-Obamacare market for individual health insurance. By Q1 2016, this had increased to 66 million. Because most in the pre-Obamacare individual market have shifted into Obamacare exchange coverage, the increase in employer-based coverage will have been close to eight or nine million.

A Dull EDGE: The Administration Believes Obamacare’s Costs Went Down!

HealthcaredotgovThe Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has just made the remarkable claim that medical costs paid by health insurers operating in Obamacare’s exchanges declined in 2015 from 2014:

Per-enrollee costs in the ACA individual market were essentially unchanged between 2014 and 2015. Specifically, after making comparability adjustments described below, per-member-per month (PMPM) paid claims in the ACA individual market fell by 0.1 percent from 2014 to 2015. For comparison, per-enrollee costs in the broader health insurance market grew by at least 3 percent.

The report compares apples to oranges. When discussing the change in costs in the exchange, it estimates medical claims. When discussing changes in employer-sponsored health insurance, it estimates premiums (which increased 3 percent). The average Obamacare premium increased 5.2 percent in 2015, more than employer-sponsored coverage. (See note below.)