Tag: "ObamaCare"

Double-Digit Premium Hike Debunks California’s “Active Purchaser” Claim

Covered California(A version of this Health Alert was published by Orange County Register.)

With some embarrassment, Covered California (the state’s Obamacare exchange where people can purchase health coverage) has announced the average premium hike next year will be 13.2 percent. For many subscribers, the hike will be much greater because of the way federal tax credits discount premiums.

This year, a 40-year-old single person making between $17,820 and $23,760, can buy a Blue Shield Silver level plan with a monthly premium of $318. However, the subscriber only pays $122 while the federal government chips in $196. Next year, the premium will go up 20 percent to $381, of which the subscriber will pay $170, while the government will chip in $211. The total premium will increase by 20 percent ($63), while the subscriber’s net premium will increase 39 percent ($48).

Next year’s premium hikes debunk Covered California’s claim that its power to act as an “active purchaser” gives it an advantage in holding down rate increases. California is one of only four states in which the Obamacare exchange has the statutory authority to act as an “active purchaser,” substituting its own judgement about benefits consumers value for their own. Covered California dictates, for example, a primary-care visit has a $45 co-pay for those with Silver plans; or that a family deductible is $4,500.

Obamacare’s Perverse Job Creation Program

doctor-with-familyThe latest jobs report gave the stock market a boost and injected some optimism into public sentiment about our economic prospects. Unfortunately there’s a problem with the current employment situation that few understand: Obamacare has likely led to too many jobs in health care, drawing labor from more productive functions.

Dan Diamond of Politico reports jobs in health care have grown 23 percent since 2005, while jobs overall have grown only 6 percent. Much of this was driven by the collapse of non-health jobs in 2008-2010, while health jobs remained undisturbed. As the economy recovered, Obamacare kept layering jobs onto health care that did not actually improve health care:

A Bipartisan “Yes” On A Health Care Tax Credit

health-insurance(A version of this Health Alert was published by RealClearHealth.)

Ready for some good news on health reform? Both the presumptive Democratic candidate for President and the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives agree people should be able to spend more money directly on medical care without insurance companies meddling.

Both sides would be shocked to have their respective health reforms described as sharing any common ground. However, identifying this common ground might be necessary if either side wants to fix the worst aspects of Obamacare.

If Republican politicians in Congress want to give people any relief from the burden of Obamacare, they need to be prepared for the possibility they will have to deal with Hillary Clinton’s White House next year.

Speaker Ryan’s recently released Better Way health reform plan would offer a refundable tax credit for health care, to anyone who does not have employer-based health benefits. This tax credit would increase with age, but be available regardless of income. It would be a fixed-dollar amount for each age bracket. This is superior to Obamacare for at least two reasons.

Should Drug Investors Worry About Medicare Revenues?

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

The pharmaceutical sector has held up quite well in this aging bull market. Now, a new political risk is on the horizon: The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which was instituted in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Starting in 2015, the IPAB was empowered to cut Medicare spending if costs increased faster than a certain rate. It quickly faded into the background as the growth in Medicare spending moderated after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.

Those days are gone. The latest annual Medicare Trustees’ report, published on June 22, indicates Medicare spending will cross the threshold for IPAB to swing into action in 2017. The 2017 threshold is determined by a target rate of growth which is the average of the change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the medical-care component of the CPI. Estimates of both actual Medicare spending per capita and the target rate are calculated as five-year averages.

Table I, extracted from a recent presentation by Medicare’s Chief Actuary, illustrates why investors are becoming concerned. Table I highlights this year’s Medicare spending per capita will increase 2.21 percent (averaged over the five years, 2014 through 2018). The target rate is 2.33 percent, higher than the estimated actual rate, so the threshold is not crossed. IPAB remains asleep.

20160708 Forbes IPAB TI

The Regulatory State Reaches The Wellness Industry

Women joggingThe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has finalized rules on how employers can use wellness programs. By current federal standards, the rules are concise: 19 pages pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act and 17 pages pertaining to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Both laws are extremely popular. The ADA (1990) passed by 91-6 in the U.S. Senate and 377-28 in the U.S. House of Representatives. The GINA (2008) passed by 95-0 in the Senate and 414-1 in the House.

These laws are meant to prevent discrimination. However this bumps against the real world where health insurers cannot charge different premiums to individuals who are sick. The Accordable Care Act (2010) allows employers to offer incentives to workers who participate in wellness programs, and can offer financial incentives up to 30 percent of premium (or up to 50 percent for anti-smoking programs). However, participation in a wellness program also necessitates surrendering personal health information to an employer who would otherwise be barred from having it (under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, 1996).

Because employers cannot use underwriting for medical risk to charge different premiums to different employees, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that wellness programs are less designed to make or keep employees well, as to ensure healthy people are attracted to the employer and sick people are not. Evidence suggests this is the real consequence of workplace wellness programs.

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.

Obamacare 2016 Average Rate Hike 8 Percent

HealthcaredotgovWe are already anticipating double-digit premium hikes for Obamacare plans in 2017, based on insurance filings in a sufficient number of states to show the trend.

Obamacare’s defenders point out two limits to these leading indicators. First, they are requested, not approved rate hikes. Second, Obamacare beneficiaries can trade down. A person whose plan hikes premiums double digits can switch to a plan with a lesser increase. Both criticisms are fair.

Nevertheless, now that the dust has settled on 2016, and all the data on this year’s enrollment analyzed, we can confirm from two pro-Obamacare sources that premiums in Obamacare’s exchange plans increased by an average of eight percent from 2015 to 2016. General measures of price changes, such as Consumer Price Inflation, were effectively flat over the period. That is, the eight percent Obamacare premium hike was a real, not nominal, price hike.

Obamacare Exchange Average Premium Hike 16 Percent Next Year

CAM00109Caroline F. Pearson of the Avalere consulting firm has surveyed states which have already published 2017 Obamacare exchange premiums. Among eight states and the District of Columbia, the average requested rate hike is 16 percent for popular Silver plans:

Specifically, average proposed rate increases across all silver plans in the nine states examined range from 44 percent in Vermont to 5 percent in Washington. In 2016, 68 percent of exchange enrollees selected silver plans.

According to the data, in most states, proposed premiums for lower cost silver plans increased less dramatically or even went down for 2017, compared to higher-cost plans on the same tier. Lower-cost silver plans tend to be most popular with consumers, making this portion of the market more competitive as plans seek to attract enrollees.

The devil is in the details: The lowest premium Silver plan is going up seven percent, and the second lowest 8 percent, which means most Silver plans are going up more than 16 percent.

Do We Have to Work for Nuns To Dodge Obamacare’s Mandates?

r-NUNS-BIRTH-CONTROL-large570Obamacare’s opponents are cheering the Little Sisters of the Poor’s apparent victory over Obamacare’s mandate to cover artificial contraception, about which I wrote when the controversy first erupted.

The Little Sisters defied the mandate, which is contrary to their Catholic faith. The mandate is (obviously) not relevant to the nuns themselves, but to their lay employees who work in the Little Sisters’ nursing home and are covered by their plan.

The Supreme Court decision is not complete victory: SCOTUS vacated judgments and fines approved by lower courts and sent the case back to lower courts to give the Administration time to find another way to get contraceptive coverage to the Little Sisters’ lay employees.

Bravo to the nuns for standing up to Uncle Sam. However, I am increasingly concerned that advocates of small government have surrendered a lot of ground in the fight for individual liberty. Unless a person or persons have a sincerely held religious objection to a federal mandate, they have to obey. This principle is problematic.

Pittsburgh Insurer Highmark Swings for the Fences on Obamacare Bailout

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

Health insurers have not had much to cheer about lately, when it comes to Obamacare. They have been losing money on exchanges, and there is little hope that will change. So, a large health plan in Pittsburgh has asked judges to give it Obamacare money the Administration promised, but Congress declined to appropriate.

As reported by Wes Venteicher and Brian Bowling of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Highmark lost $260 million on Obamacare exchanges in 2014, and claims it is owed $223 million by taxpayers. Unfortunately, it received only about $27 million. And things are getting worse. To date, Highmark has lost $773 million on Obamacare exchanges.

It is not that Highmark has been singled out by anybody. On the contrary, the Administration announced last year it was only going to pay about 13 cents on the dollar for all insurers’ exchange losses, via Obamacare’s “risk corridors.” This was not the Administration’s preferred course of action. The Administration wanted to pay insurers one hundred cents on the dollar, which it had promised them.