Health writer Dan Mangan returns to the pages of CNBC (online, 6/22). There are ominous signs for those with Obamacare as their health insurance in the Beaver State:
“The state of Oregon reportedly has ordered a number of insurers to raise proposed Obamacare premiums for 2016 after some of those companies asked for rates that were only moderately higher, if not lower than this year.”
Mangan’s CNBC report tells of some Oregonians potentially staring literal “double-digit percent rate increases.” The reason for Oregon’s move toward higher ACA healthcare coverage rates? Mangain’s CNBC article explains, “The state’s move to force rates higher than those proposed is in response to concerns that Oregon’s Obamacare prices were too low for what insurers were paying out” . . .
Whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this past week keeping intact Obamacare subsidies serves to salvage faltering state-level ACA exchanges (or marketplaces, as they are also known) remains a mystery. Subsidies or not, Obamacare-problems remain in several U.S. States. A recent report in The Daily Caller (online, 6/23) by Brian McNicoll highlights a few:
Stan Collendar cites a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in an article for Forbes (online, 6/22). The latest CBO accounting may more than displease some members of the GOP. It concludes eliminating Obamacare increases (not decreases) the U.S. budget deficit. Ironically, the CBO report was initiated at the request of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. According to Collendar’s Forbes story, the CBO findings are, “directly contrary to what Republicans have been saying since the law was enacted and should be a body blow to their insistence the law was a mistake and should be repealed.”
Collendar also discusses both the federal debt and deficit as being “phony issues” – - at least when debated politically, in ACA terms. The reason(s)? “The non-reaction to CBO’s projected increase in the deficit (and therefore, national debt) shows all the supposed concern about the burden we’re leaving to our children and grandchildren is nothing more than a scare tactic used when it’s convenient.”
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s vote and ruling keeps intact Affordable Care Act subsidies, some legal observers and experts say don’t expect less Obamacare-based litigation; watch out for more. A fresh story in USA Today, by Brad Heath (online 6/25) says, “Plenty of challenges remain, though few are broad enough to cripple the health law even if they succeed. Republican lawmakers have sued over delays requiring employers to provide insurance. Some Indiana schools say it’s unconstitutional to force them to provide coverage.”
Heath’s USA Today story also quotes Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, “You can’t enact a statute of this size, scope and complexity without a lot of litigation.”
For some needing dental work (at least under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act) it likely means a trip to a free clinic. When it comes to teeth, even those types of healthcare facilities can fall far short of patients’ requirements, including their pocketbook limitations.
David Wenner writes (online, 6/23) at PennLive/Patriot News about a certain irony here, “The Affordable Care Act – - Obamacare – - requires dental coverage for children, but not for adults. States have the option of requiring medical plans to include dental care, but there’s little uptake in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.”
Antoinette Kraus of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network is cited in Wenner’s story, as saying individuals most critical healthcare need is dental; many are saddened to discover that healthcare plans marketed on the state-level exchanges don’t feature dental coverage.
Congressman Pete King, R-N.Y., not especially known for being soft-spoken nor shy, has a new axe to grind. He’s possibly gearing up for a 2016 presidential run, yet he also wants to settle at least one more score. It’s with Obamacare “architect” and MIT professor Jonathan Gruber.
Some may recall a few months ago, when professor Gruber, one-time Obama administration health adviser, came under fire for not so delicately questioning the collective wisdom of the that segment of the U.S. population supportive of the ACA.
Now it seems e-mails have surfaced; communications getting King’s attention. As Matt Stout recently wrote in The Boston Herald (online, 6/22) “New York Congressman Peter King said the Justice Department should launch a probe into MIT professor Jonathan Gruber after e-mails emerged showing he was more deeply involved in the construction of Obamacare than the public was lead to believe.”
Gruber is seen in a 2013 video claiming the healthcare law passed due to non-transparency and “the stupidity of the American voter.”
More news of the costly sort at the state level about Obamacare. Now it’s Massachusetts.
According to a new report in WBUR’s Common Health Reform and Reality “The cost of setting up the Massachusetts health insurance website under the rules of Obamacare is rising again, this time by $47.2 million.”
On top of that there is the failed “Connector site.’ With its added repairs the Massachusetts costs now rise to $281 million. According to the WBUR report by Martha Bebinger – - “this isn’t the final bill.” Contemplated improvements could raise the costs to $300 million.
In the midst of all the bad news, there are some signs of hope. The Massachusetts Connector is now seeing a reduction in call center wait times, most consumer refunds have been dispersed, and the pile-up of consumer data changes is lessening.
It could be argued that Congress is taking advantage of all chances “for heated debate over not just the legality of subsidies, but the value of the law itself,” according to a recent report in Government Executive (online, 6/16, by Caitlin Owens).
To be certain, competing views are rushing to the healthcare debate forefront, sparking the controversy over just what about Obamacare is beneficial for the average consumer – - or not. – This is before the U.S. Supreme Court rules in King v. Burwell.
For example, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s, R-Calif., office issued a memo in May of this year, saying: ”With the economic downturn and rising healthcare costs, seniors, like so many other Americans, have seen their finances spread thin. Obamacare makes it even worse.”
On another ACA front, many see the repeal of the Medical Device Tax as a tangible benefit, others aren’t so sure. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently said such a repeal, “would increase the deficit to finance a permanent and costly tax break for industry without improving the health system of helping middle-class Americans.”
Caitlin’s Government Executive Report also says, “Each side hopes to have the last word in the ear of the public prior to the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision, and by bringing bills to the floor this week, the GOP messaging rings out loud and clear: Regardless of the Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, the Affordable Care Act is a bad law.”
More than one will bill will soon appear on the congressional floor calling for the restructuring of Medicare Advantage – according to Government Executive.
Those invested in publicly traded health insurers may want to double check to see whether their company or companies they own stock in are (or are not) involved in merger discussions.
In the U.S., health insurers contemplating combining forces through M&A are keeping a watchful eye on the U.S. Supreme Court, to see just what its King v. Burwell ruling is.
A recent Market Watch article by Russ Britt (online, 6/17) says, ”The caveat may be why insurers have yet to forge formal agreements, as they and others in the healthcare world wait to see whether the insurance market remains intact or drastically changed by a Court ruling that could essentially make the Affordable Care Act unaffordable for an estimated 6.4 million people.”
Elizabeth Carpenter, with Avalere Health, says her company’s findings “say average out-of-pocket costs will jump by $3,300 a year for each policyholder now receiving Obamacare subsidies.” This at least is the anticipated scenario should the Court rule against federal healthcare subsidies’ legitimacy.
Carpenter additionally summarizes, “[I]nsurers could be anticipating a ruling that would keep subsidies intact and are planning for a future that includes Obamacare.”
Meanwhile John Holohan, with the Urban Institute, sees insurance companies being able to return to business practices of yore: “In a King [ruling] insurers can go back to cherry picking [clients].”
All of this means, “Much of the recent merger talk is no doubt due to what effects Obamacare will have on the bottom line” – so says Britt’s Market Watch story, citing observations by Sheryl Skolnick, a securities analyst with Mizuho Securities USA Inc.
Health insurers supposedly in merger negotiations include: Anthem, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group, and Aetna.
On May 8 of this year, USA Today ran a story describing how Obamacare has actually hurt, not helped Kentucky hospitals, forcing some to close. Now comes a new account in The Washington Times describing that an adverse ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in King v. Burwell could automatically mean that “healthier consumers would likely drop coverage first, sending insurance markets into a tailspin in affected states.”
The Washington Times article by Tom Howell, Jr. (online, 6/16) cites a recent response by Families USA, a group which advocates for high quality and affordable healthcare in the U.S. “[A] ruling could be hard on southern states, and particularly Florida, which is home to about a fifth of the 6.4 million Americans who rely on subsidies to afford plans bought on the federal HealthCare.gov website under Obamacare.”
Howell’s Washington Times story also cites Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Florida. He claims some 91,000 of his constituency could see their tax credits disappear. Concurrently, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is looking at 84,000 individuals receiving healthcare which is subsidized – - via Obamacare – - who could be adversely impacted.
The recent Families USA report also claims 459,000 individuals in North Carolina and some 412,000 in Georgia could also see their subsidies evaporate, according to Howell’s Washington Times report.