Even before President Obama leaves office, ObamaCare has begun unraveling.
The law was passed over the objections of a majority of Americans, it is still opposed by a majority of Americans — and their opposition has been vindicated. Last week, UnitedHealth Group announced that, after estimated losses of more than $1 billion for 2015 and 2016 under ObamaCare, the company was pulling out of most of its ill-fated exchanges. In fact, commercial insurers across the country are hemorrhaging money on ObamaCare at alarming rates.
The president promised these insurers taxpayer bailouts if they lost money, but Congress in its wisdom passed legislation barring the use of taxpayer dollars to prop up the insurers. Without the bailouts, commercial insurers are being forced to eat their losses — while more than half of the ObamaCare nonprofit insurance cooperatives created under the law failed.
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The ACA significantly altered the rules governing the individual insurance market, and the general effect was to lower premiums for older and less healthy people and raise premiums for younger and healthier people. To induce younger and healthier people to enroll, the law contained the individual mandate and subsidies for both buyers and, for the first few years of the program, sellers of insurance in the form of premium stabilization programs.
This study analyzes data from HHS from 2014, the first year of the ACA’s implementation, and finds that insurers suffered significant losses despite eventually receiving much larger payments from the law’s reinsurance program (one of the premium stabilization programs) than they expected when setting their 2014 premiums. Given the same population and same utilization of services from that population, insurers would have had to price average premiums more than 25 percent higher to avoid losses in the absence of the reinsurance program.
While insurers’ performance varied significantly across carriers and states, the large overall losses in 2014 raise questions about the long-term stability of the changes made by the ACA, particularly after 2016 when the reinsurance and risk corridor programs end and premium revenue must be sufficient to cover expenses.
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Beginning next year, the annual out-of-pocket limits for all health plans sold in the (Obamacare) health insurance exchanges will be $7,150 for an individual and $14,300 for a family. To put those numbers in perspective, a $10-an-hour employee only earns about $20,000 a year.
One way to help families meet the burden of these medical expenses is with a Health Savings Account. But because the requirements for HSAs are so rigid, roughly four out of five plans sold in the exchanges are incompatible with them. One of the most nettlesome rules is the requirement that HSA plans cover only “preventive care” below the deductible. To compete for customers, especially young healthy enrollees, the insurers believe they need to make more services available with a minimum of out-of-pocket costs.
Things are about to get much worse. New rules and regulations, which become mandatory in 2018, will impose minimum and maximum deductibles and out-of-pocket limits that are inconsistent with the HSA rules.
A new note from JPMorgan economist Jesse Edgerton looks at what is happening with Americans who are working part-time for “economic reasons” — or Americans involuntarily working part time. As you can see in the above chart — the red line — the numbers remains elevated despite big declines in the U-3 and U-6 jobless rates. Edgerton:
There has been little recent relationship between the number of “extra” part-time workers and the level of U3 unemployment, questioning the idea that driving U3 down further will reduce involuntary part-time employment. . . In a note last year, we pointed out that the shift strikingly coincided with the passage of the ACA, which included an employer mandate to provide health insurance to employees working 30 or more hours per week. . . passage of the ACA preceded a large and unprecedented shift from workers working more than 30 hours per week to just under 30 hours. We continue to believe that the ACA can explain a significant number of the “extra” involuntary part-time workers.
One of the reasons that ACA Exchange plans are losing money is their inability to attract enough healthy enrollees. Healthy people are, disproportionately, young people. And large numbers of young adults don’t have to enroll in ACA Exchange plans – because the ACA mandates that their parents’ employer provide them with coverage, and that coverage is almost invariably priced lower.
Anyone up to age 26 with a parent who has employer-based health coverage that includes dependents can enroll in the parent’s plan. This is called the “dependent care mandate,” and is a requirement of the ACA. There are no other requirements for this coverage option: the “child” does not have to live with the parent or be financially dependent or a dependent for tax purposes on the parent. The “child” could be employed and eligible for employer-based coverage on his/her own, but elect to take the parent’s coverage if it’s preferable.
Exchanges are being undermined, in part, by the ACA’s dependent care mandate.
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The Republican Study Committee submitted their recommendations for health reform to the House Republican Health Care Reform Task Force on Friday, pointing to several provisions of an already-introduced bill to guide its proposals.
“The Republican Study Committee has led the way on a comprehensive repeal and replace strategy for ObamaCare,” the group says of its recommendations. “Currently, the American Health Care Reform Act, H.R. 2653, is the most cosponsored ObamaCare alternative in the House. This bill relies on conservative principles and increased state flexibility to transform our top-down health care system into one that creates competition, growth and increased access for all Americans.”
United Healthcare’s announcement that it is pulling out of most of the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act is one of many indications of the law’s continuing instability.
There are many other insurance plans in the same boat. Blue Cross Blue Shield plans have dominated the individual and small-group markets in most states for decades. If they were to abandon this market, they would have less ability than United does to grow their business elsewhere. But many of these plans are nonetheless contemplating such a move.
ObamaCare isn’t likely to enter an insurance death spiral; there’s too much federal money propping the whole thing up. But it isn’t on track to become a stable, self-sustaining insurance pool either, because very few middle-class families want to get their insurance through the exchanges. Which means the law is not only unstable financially, it is politically unstable as well.
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Presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and yet still “take care of everybody.” He has said repeatedly that he is different from other Republicans in this regard, implying that other GOP politicians don’t want Americans to get needed health services. Of course, Trump has never bothered to back up this slander with any evidence (and the media haven’t bothered to ask him for it).
Trump is apparently unaware of the plans to replace Obamacare sponsored by Rep. Tom Price and by Sen. Richard Burr, Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Rep. Fred Upton. These plans would insure as many Americans as are enrolled today under the ACA at a fraction of the cost.
UnitedHealth is withdrawing from most of the 34 ObamaCare Exchanges in which it currently sells, citing losses of $650 million in 2016. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation report indicates UnitedHealth’s departure will leave consumers on Oklahoma’s Exchange with only one choice of insurance carriers.
Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute explains five results of UnitedHealth’s withdrawal from the exchanges:
1. UnitedHealth’s departure shows ObamaCare is suffering from self-induced adverse selection.
2. UnitedHealth’s departure is bad news for other carriers.
3. UnitedHealth’s departure shows ObamaCare premiums will continue to rise.
4. There will be more exits.
5. UnitedHealth’s departure shows quality of coverage under ObamaCare will continue to fall.
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The CEA presentation is notable in reflecting the core components of ACA advocates’ case for the law. It is fourteen slides long, and I find that its points break down into five main themes (in my own words):
- The ACA represents a historic expansion of health insurance coverage.
- The ACA is achieving policy goals such as reducing patient harm and hospital readmissions.
- The ACA is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.
- The ACA has been good for job creation.
- The ACA is improving the federal fiscal outlook.