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.

When the Supreme Court drops its big ObamaCare ruling this summer, Republican leaders say they will be fully ready to step in — even if it won’t be the party’s official replacement plan.

“We have to be prepared, by the time the ruling comes, to have something. Not months later,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters this week.

Ryan said he plans to have a bill ready — and priced by the Congressional Budget Office — by late June when a ruling for King v. Burwell is expected. The GOP-backed case, which threatens to erase people’s subsidies in about three-quarters of states, has tremendously high stakes.
“There are going to be 37 states immediately impacted, or presumably impacted, and that’s something that deserves an immediate response,” Ryan told reporters.

He declined to provide details about the plan that he and other GOP chairmen are drafting, but said it would offer “freedom” and “more choices” for any ObamaCare customers who loses their subsidies. Until the ruling, he said King v. Burwell will be one of his top three agenda items.

Breaking with normal tradition, we’re going to open this week’s update with national trends before moving into updates at the federal and state levels. This week there was an interesting report from the Kaiser Family Foundation that estimated that 50 percent of households receiving financial assistance to purchase private health insurance on the Marketplaces will have to return a portion of that subsidy when they file their tax returns as part of the tax credit reconciliation process. Repayments will, in most cases, be deducted from an enrollee’s refund check and the Kaiser report estimates that the average repayment will be $794. Roughly seven percent of enrollees could owe a repayment of between $2,000 and $5,000 and two percent could have to repay more than $5,000. A slightly smaller percentage of households, 45 percent, are estimated to receive additional money with their tax refund because they received underpayments in tax credits, with the average refund estimated to be $773. Kaiser’s report comes the same week as an unrelated but equally insightful analysis from Avalere found that for Open Enrollment 2 (OE2), ACA Marketplaces were primarily successful in enrolling lower-income persons eligible for subsidized coverage. The report found that as a person’s income went up, they were less likely to enroll in ACA coverage through a Marketplace, with only two percent of persons eligible for Marketplace coverage, but earning more than the amount to receive a subsidy, enrolled in a plan through a Marketplace.

With many Marketplaces and the Federally-facilitated Marketplace currently offering a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for those currently uninsured who did not have health coverage in 2014 and are subject to the “shared responsibility payment” when they file their 2014 taxes, there have been few updates on how many eligible persons are taking advantage of this opportunity to gain coverage. However, over the weekend Mark Ciaramitaro, a vice president of health-care enrollment services at H&R Block, told the Wall Street Journal “that a significant percentage of taxpayers whose household members were not covered for at least a portion of 2014 are opting” to pay the penalty for not having coverage and not demonstrating an interest in signing up for 2015 coverage.

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.

The Affordable Care Act, signed by President Obama five years ago this week, sparked a host of changes. For some workers, the law’s legacy amounts to fewer hours of paid work.

The law’s requirement that larger employers provide affordable insurance to workers putting in 30-plus hour weeks has led some companies to cap the number of hours employees can log. A new survey out Tuesday from the Society for Human Resource Management finds that 14% of employers have cut back on hours for part-time employees, and an additional 6% plan to do so. The survey, which included more than 740 human resources professionals, found that a small subset of companies were considering reducing hours for full-time employees too.

Firms are playing around with how they classify and schedule workers, but the strategy comes with risk. James Napoli, a partner with Seyfarth Shaw LLP who helps employers comply with the ACA, says he’s seen an uptick in audits focused on compliance with the health care law by the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service. The audits, which began about three years ago, are starting to become broader, more frequent and more serious, he said.

Anticipating the upcoming Supreme Court decision on King v. Burwell, which could halt health insurance subsidies available through the federal exchange, Republican Senators Richard Burr and Orrin Hatch joined with Representative Fred Upton to propose a comprehensive replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment Act, or Patient CARE Act, is modeled on a proposal of the same name offered last year by Senators Burr, Hatch, and Tom Coburn, who has retired from the Senate. The Burr-Hatch-Upton plan, like its predecessor, adopts consumer-based reforms of the insurance market, modernizes the Medicaid program, and makes other changes intended to lower cost and increase choices.

In an earlier post, we described in detail the provisions of the Burr-Coburn-Hatch bill. In this post, we discuss how the Burr-Hatch-Upton plan differs from the earlier proposal. We also discuss the impact of the new proposal on health insurance coverage, premiums, and the federal budget based on a new analysis from the Center for Health and Economy (H&E), a non-partisan think tank focused on producing informative analyses of trends in U.S. health care policy and reform ideas. We conclude by commenting on the direction Republicans are likely to take in reforming the health system in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision in the King v. Burwell case.

Six Democratic senators and one independent have asked the Department of Health and Human Services to a delay a new rule that would likely force small businesses to pay more for employee health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The senators warn that if the administration goes ahead with the change it would be “particularly harmful and disruptive” to small businesses.

Starting in 2016, the Obamacare change will require businesses that employ between 51-100 people to purchase insurance in what the government defines as the “small group market,” rather than the market for large group plans. The senators warn that the change will inflate health care costs for those businesses.

“[T]hey could experience higher premiums, less flexibility, and new barriers to coverage. We therefore encourage you to delay the effective date in the definition change for two years so the market can more smoothly transition to the new rules,” the senators wrote in the March 12 letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

During a 2014 Valentine’s Day meet-up with House Democrats, President Obama thanked them for their unstinting support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “I think,” he said, “10 years, five years from now, we’re going to look back and say this was a monumental achievement.”

Well, the president’s health care law marks its fifth anniversary this week. And most Americans are not, in fact, looking back and saying the law enacted in 2010 – with not one Republican vote in either the House or Senate – was a monumental achievement.

Indeed, in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this month, a 44-34 plurality of respondents thought Obamacare a “bad idea.” And a 62-22 percent majority said that what they had seen, read or heard in recent weeks about the Affordable Care Act had made them “less confident” about the law.

Some suggest the public’s misgivings about Obamacare are almost entirely attributable to GOP opposition to the law. In a statement Monday, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz noted that “Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal or undermine this critical law.”

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)