Can government get people to buy a product that millions think isn’t worth the price?
That’s the question that health care analysts are asking as they pore over the results of the Obamacare open season that concluded on February 15.
On the surface, the data released earlier this month by the Department of Health and Human Services are encouraging. Nearly 11.7 million people selected a plan this year, compared with just more than 8 million during the 2014 open season.
There are some cautionary signs. Despite the influx of new subscribers, the age profile continues to skew older. Nearly half are 45 or older and 26 percent are over 55. Interest among the young remains largely unchanged over last year.
So is interest among middle income people who lack coverage. Enrollment has been dominated by those with the lowest incomes. HHS reports that 83 percent of people who have selected plans have incomes between 100 percent ($11,770) and 250 percent ($29,425) of the federal poverty level (FPL). Medicaid, meanwhile, has grown by nearly 20 percent since Obamacare was launched, swelling its ranks to 70 million. Roughly 22 percent of the U.S. population is now on Medicaid, despite the refusal of 22 states to expand their programs.
Two reports released in the past week demonstrate a potential bifurcation in state insurance exchanges: The insurance marketplaces appear to be attracting a disproportionate share of low-income individuals who qualify for generous federal subsidies, while middle- and higher-income filers have generally eschewed the exchanges.
On Wednesday, the consulting firm Avalere Health released an analysis of exchange enrollment. As of the end of the 2015 open-enrollment season, Avalere found the exchanges had enrolled 76% of eligible individuals with incomes between 100% and 150% of the federal poverty level—between $24,250 and $36,375 for a family of four. But for all income categories above 150% of poverty, exchanges have enrolled fewer than half of eligible individuals—and those percentages decline further as income rises. For instance, only 16% of individuals with incomes between three and four times poverty have enrolled in exchanges, and among those with incomes above four times poverty—who aren’t eligible for insurance subsidies—only 2% signed up.
The Avalere results closely mirror other data analyzed by the Government Accountability Office in a study released last Monday. GAO noted that three prior surveys covering 2014 enrollment—from Gallup, the Commonwealth Fund, and the Urban Institute—found statistically insignificant differences in the uninsured rate among those with incomes above four times poverty, a group that doesn’t qualify for the new insurance subsidies.
Kevin Pace is a jazz musician who teaches music appreciation in Northern Virginia. When the IRS announced it would impose the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate here in the Old Dominion, Pace’s employer cut hours for part-time professors in order to avoid steep penalties. Pace lost $8,000 in income. That would be bad enough if the penalties the IRS is now imposing on Virginia employers were legal. Yet two federal courts have held they are not.
In King v. Burwell, four Virginia taxpayers are challenging the IRS’s decision to impose Obamacare’s major taxing and spending provisions in states that refused to establish a health-insurance “exchange.” As provided in the Affordable Care Act, the federal government established fallback exchanges (HealthCare.gov) in those states.
But the act authorizes premium subsidies — and certain taxes that those subsidies trigger — only “through an Exchange established by the State.” In spite of that clear statutory requirement, the IRS is issuing premium subsidies and imposing those taxes in 34 states, including Virginia, that did not establish exchanges. The King challengers allege the IRS is subjecting them, Kevin Pace and 57 million other Americans to illegal taxes in the form of Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this month, and will likely rule by June.
Times-Dispatch columnist A. Barton Hinkle’s “The case against Obamacare is looking weaker,” March 23 — is skeptical of the challengers’ claim that Congress intended to authorize the disputed taxes and spending only in states that established exchanges. I used to share his skepticism. I no longer do.
More than a year after egregious security failures in the government’s healthcare website were exposed in congressional hearings, data remains compromised and the ill-fated site is still subject to cyberattacks and vulnerable to massive identity theft.
In fact, just this week Judicial Watch obtained documents from the government that show a possible mass breach of the privacy of innocent Americans involving the disastrous Obamacare website (Healthcare.gov). The records, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), also reveal that top officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) knew of massive security risks with the healthcare website but chose to roll it out without resolving the problems.
When the Obamacare internet drama blew up in the administration’s face the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was called to help clean up, according to the records recently made public by JW. Electronic mail exchanges between various DHS and CMS officials indicate that White House pressure to promote a “robust” digital Obamacare ad campaign allowed private information of Healthcare.gov users to be shared with advertisers. The email chain pushing this controversial use of citizen information includes a security expert’s assessment that security was an “afterthought” on the Obamacare website, that 70,000 Healthcare.gov records were easily viewed using Google and that the official in charge was fired for not signing off on the website’s security.
By Caitlin Owens
March 29, 2015 Taxes are unpopular. Obamacare is contentious. And the two in tandem promise to make for a political maelstrom, especially come April—when taxes are due and last-minute filers start to see their results.
This year’s deadline, however, is likely to be especially contentious. Last year, 2014—whose tax bills are now coming due—saw the implementation of the individual mandate, the part of the Affordable Care Act that (generally) requires people to have health insurance or pay a penalty.
With added unfamiliarity to an already complex process, filers whose returns are affected by Obamacare may be in for unexpected results, whether a surprise bill or a surprise refund.
As with any event associated with the health care law, rival spin machines will go into full effect, with Republicans highlighting horror stories while Democrats spotlight the law’s biggest beneficiaries. But the real-life impacts of the law are far more nuanced. Indeed, despite all talk of how much Obamacare would cost taxpayers, the reality is that a large percentage of the uninsured are exempt from penalties.
Looking closer, the 6.3 million-person enrollment drop in fully insured employee plans represents a sudden 10 percent decline in a market that previously had been eroding by about 1 percent to 3 percent a year. In contrast, the 1.4 million more individuals in self-insured plans equates to enrollment growth of about 1.5 percent in a market that, prior to Obamacare, was growing at about 1 to 3 percent a year—putting that uptick solidly within the pre-Affordable Care Act trend range.
Thus, the data indicates Obamacare likely was responsible for a significant additional decline in fully insured employer group coverage. But, with respect to another anticipated effect—the expectation that more employers will shift to self-insured plans to escape Obamacare’s costly benefit mandates—the data does not indicate that is yet occurring to any noticeable extent. The modest enrollment increase in self-insured employer plans could well be the result of other factors, the most likely being increased job creation as the economy continues to recover from the last recession.
Taken together, the administrative data tell us that the number of Americans with health insurance coverage increased by around 9.7 million individuals during 2014—not the 14.1 million estimated by Health and Human Services.
What Were the Top 5 Fails from 5 Years ofACA?
Here are some of the top actual practices of the ACA thatdiverge from what we were promised:
1. PolitiFact “Lie of the Year”: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”
The Obama Administration and many Democratic members of Congress repeatedly assured Americans that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” PolitiFact rated this the “Lie of the Year for 2013” after cancellation notices went out to 4 million people. (PolitiFact)
2. “If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.” Not.
In June 2009, President Obama said, “If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.” But nearly five years later, the president admitted that Americans might lose their doctors after all. (WebMD Exclusive Interview). This is a broken promise that many ObamaCare enrollees will face, given that 70 percent of ObamaCare plans are narrow or ultra-narrow network plans, compared to 23 percent of employer-sponsored plans. (Washington Post)
The Congressional Budget Office’s new report shows updated cost projections for the insurance coverage expansion in the Affordable Care Act. With the debate over the ACA remaining so intensely polarized, advocates moved aggressively to spin this routine update as reflecting favorably on the law. A front-page article in the Washington Post referred to the new findings as showing “savings,” quoting a supporter as saying, “I can’t see how people can continue to say . . . that Obamacare had no cost containment in it.” Such comments in the wake of CBO’s update are flawed interpretations of the new estimates and what they signify. The following explains what CBO has actually projected: basically that the ACA will do less to expand coverage than previously estimated.
For years now, Wall Street has cheered as Obamacare fuelled the stock prices of corporations in the healthcare industry. One of them was eHealth EHTH +0.96%, Inc. (NASDAQ: EHTH), an online health-insurance broker 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”:
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), like President Clinton’s health plan in the 1990s, made the mistake of trying to achieve coast-to-coast health care coverage with a system that essentially looks the same everywhere. That approach was always going to be a challenge. US health care is an enormous and complex economy in its own right. If the US health system were a separate national economy, for instance, it would be the fifth largest economy in the world – larger than the entire economy of France or of Britain. The idea that a single piece of legislation could successfully reorganize the world’s fifth largest economy was a fantasy, especially when the bill had to go through the congressional sausage-making machine.
It’s true that the ACA gave Americans a choice of plan on federal or state-run exchanges. But the ACA still sought a template for insurance rules, benefits and other structural features that would be the same from Vermont to Texas and Florida to Alaska. That was unwise. The continuous political warfare since the enactment of the legislation reflects the fact that different parts of the country have very different views of how health care should be organized.