The number of people who signed up for health insurance for 2016 on the state and federal exchanges was up to 40% lower than earlier government and private estimates, which some say is evidence that the plans are too expensive and that people would rather pay a penalty than buy them.

In 2010, the non-partisan Rand Corporation estimated 27 million people would have exchange policies this year and the Congressional Budget Office at that time was estimating 21 million for 2016. CBO even said last June that 20 million people would have plans purchased on the exchanges this year. Just 12.7 million signed up for plans, however, by the end of open enrollment Jan. 31 and about 1 million people are expected to drop their plans—or be dropped when they don’t pay their premiums.

A reason that might explain why fast-food employees aren’t getting more hours: ObamaCare.

Starting Jan. 1, businesses with 50 or more full-time employees must offer health insurance to all full-time staff or pay a hefty fine. Employers with 100 or more workers had to start offering coverage last year. But smaller businesses that operate on lower margins, especially restaurants, complained loudly about the cost.

And some fast-food franchise owners figured out a way to avoid paying for coverage: Just make as many workers as possible part time. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey found nearly 60% of small franchise businesses said they would make personnel changes like this.

“The ones that did it successfully did it three or four years ago,” says Kaya Bromley, an attorney who helps employers comply with the Affordable Care Act. But, Bromley said, some of the restaurant owners who cut hours to sidestep the health law now regret it.

“A lot of the fast-food franchisees that did this,” she said, “are now coming back and saying, ‘It was a great idea for reducing the number of people that I have to offer benefits, but now I can’t run my restaurants.’”

Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce has analyzed all publicly available information for health-insurance premiums from healthcare.gov and state insurance departments. It then calculated the weighted averages for all health-insurance plans available on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. The weighted average gives a more accurate view of overall premium increases, because it takes into account each insurance plan’s market share.

Findings reveal that nationally, premiums for individual health plans increased on average between 2015 and 2016 by 14.9%. Consumers in every state except Mississippi faced increased premiums, and in no fewer than 29 states the average increases were in the double digits. For a third of states, the average premiums rose 20% or more.

 

One of the many factors that can cause a health insurance system to fail is “adverse selection,” a phenomenon in which those who know they will make higher-than-average claims are disproportionately likely to enroll and pay premiums. The inevitable results is a rapid increase in premiums, which encourages even more marginal consumers to forgo insurance, leaving average claims, and therefore premiums, to increase even further.

One approach to limit this problem is to limit the time frame during which enrollment is permitted. Why have limited open enrollment periods? The idea is that without them – that is, if anyone could enroll in health plans whenever they want – people could “game the system,” enrolling when they need health care, and disenrolling when they don’t.

The House GOP emerged from its retreat earlier this month united in its goal to come up with an alternative to Obamacare. But the deeper into health policy the members dig, the more difficult finding consensus will become.

Republicans have determined that they will select pieces of different GOP proposals rather than simply put forth one of the party’s old plans as its main health proposal. The older conservative health plans are unworkable in a post-ACA world.

The Obama administration’s top health insurance official told Congress Thursday he wants to “loosen up capital rules” to allow private investors to become part owners of the dozen surviving ObamaCare co-ops.

Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services which oversees the ObamaCare co-ops, told the Senate Finance Committee that his agency would also look approvingly on co-op mergers with existing insurance companies.

The new private investment policy represents a major reversal for the Obama administration, which has previously hailed the non-profit co-op health insurance model as a tool for providing competition to private, for-profit insurers.

Last week’s seven-candidate debate hosted by the Fox Business Network once again found much to discuss in terms of national security issues, immigration law enforcement, even a little economic policy, and, of course, the latest round of character attacks and counter-attacks. Still missing in action: at least the first subcutaneous probe of where the respective candidates stand on health policy issues.

Based on recent performance, it’s questionable whether health policy has attracted sufficient interest among the media and Republican primary voters to command more than a few seconds on the debate stage. But it’s not for lack of potential lines of inquiry.

Here are some questions to the candidates from Tom Miller of the American Enterprise Institute that still await new rounds of oversimplified, evasive, or (one might hope) thoughtful answers.

In November, UnitedHealth abruptly reversed its previously sunny take on ObamaCare and said that the company would have to pull out of the government-run exchanges if market conditions didn’t improve.

UnitedHealth’s bombshell raised the specter, once thought safely in the grave, of the “adverse selection death spiral,” the phenomenon where sick people are more likely to buy insurance, which raises the average expenditure, which means higher premiums, which makes insurance a worse deal for the healthiest members of your insurance pool, which means they drop out, which means your pool is even sicker and average expenditure goes up even more … and there goes the insurance market.

While Democrats are quite eager to point out that ObamaCare has reduced the number of uninsured by 17.6 million, they have conveniently failed to point out that in 2014, American taxpayers effectively paid about $6,000 for each person who became newly covered due to ObamaCare.

Is it really worth reducing worker wages by $1,200 apiece just to cover 2.3 million young adults? And leaving aside all the chaos created by millions of cancelled policies, premium increases paid by tens of millions who received no taxpayer subsidies whatsoever to soften the blow and similar market dislocations, are ObamaCare defenders really prepared to claim that it is worth paying $6,000 apiece to reduce the ranks of the uninsured?

The percentage of people without health insurance held steady in 2015, according to the Gallup polling organization, which last week announced that the un-insurance rate remained “essentially unchanged” throughout 2015. That wasn’t good news for the administration, which had hoped the pollster would confirm that ObamaCare had significantly reduced the un-insurance rate in 2015. Doug Badger, Senior Fellow at the Galen Institute, digs deeper by comparing the Gallup poll with government surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and the Census Bureau.