Articles on the implementation of ObamaCare.

A federal judge on Thursday ruled the Obama administration has been improperly funding an Obamacare subsidy program, a huge win for the House of Representatives’ lawsuit against the White House.

The judge said that the program can continue, pending appeal. The ruling, if it stands, could be a significant financial setback for the millions of low-income Americans who benefit from the cost-sharing subsidies, which help people pay for out-of-pocket costs like co-pays at the doctor’s office.

Congress authorized the program but never actually provided the money for it, wrote U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, a George W. Bush appointee.
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Rising healthcare costs are Americans’ primary financial concern. In fact, a recent survey found that 76% of Americans are concerned about increasing health insurance costs with nearly two-thirds more concerned this year than they were last year. As is now clear, the Affordable Care Act is making the problem worse. A recent S&P Global Institute report (not publicly available) showed that healthcare spending per individual market enrollee increased by nearly 70% in the first two years after the key provisions of the ACA took effect.

A recent Mercatus working paper, authored by Brian Blase, along with Doug Badger of the Galen Institute and Ed Haislmaier of the Heritage Foundation, found that insurers made risk corridor claims of $273 per enrollee on individual market qualified health plans—plans that comply with the ACA and are certified to be sold on exchanges—in 2014. Risk corridors were designed to transfer money from insurers that made profits selling QHPs to insurers that incurred losses on QHPs. Assuming that a fully-funded risk corridor program would have subsidized about two-thirds of insurer losses, insurers likely lost around $400 per enrollee in 2014. Since insurers enrolled about 8 million people in 2014, they likely lost about $3.2 billion overall selling individual QHPs.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans can’t find most of the $200 million that the Obama administration claims it recouped from state-based health care exchanges as part of a federal grant program to help them set up shop, according to a new report obtained by Morning Consult.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt told the committee in December that “over $200 million” had been returned to federal coffers from the state exchanges since the grant program went into effect.

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The Obama administration could give states more power to manage the Affordable Care Act’s risk adjustment program, in a concession to critics who complained that the program unfairly penalized certain companies and threatened to destabilize the exchange system.

The new policy, which was issued late on May 6, encourages state insurance commissioners to seek “local approaches” to easing the impact of the risk adjustment process on small and high-growth health plans. That language appears to open the door to allowing states to artificially limit the amounts that companies might have to pay into the program each year.

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The Obama administration on Friday announced changes to ObamaCare sign-up rules that are intended to cut down on people gaming the system and address a complaint from insurance companies that they say is causing them to lose money.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that it is tightening the rules for enrolling in one of ObamaCare’s extra sign-up periods.

The extra periods allow people to sign up for insurance outside of the regular enrollment period if they move. The change announced Friday requires that people have coverage at some point in the preceding 60 days, which is intended to prevent people from moving for the sole purpose of becoming eligible to sign up for health insurance.

The CMS unveiled an interim final rule late Friday that could help the Affordable Care Act’s struggling co-op plans. The rule also responds to insurers’ complaints that people are abusing special enrollments in the exchanges.

The CMS tightened the use of special enrollments, specifically making the rules around moving to a new home more restrictive to avoid any gaming of the system. Co-ops also can seek outside funding from investors to build up their capital, something that was outlawed previously.

Insurers — who might not be allowed the huge rate increases they need to stay solvent — are looking to save money by eliminating so-called Bronze-level plans.

Fierce Health Player reports on an Inside Health Policy (subscription only) warning from earlier this week:

One problem, according to the article, is risk adjustment–as CMS data indicate bronze is the only metal level for which insurers of all sizes in the individual and group markets had to pay into the program. Federal officials are considering some changes to the risk adjustment program, which some say unfairly penalizes smaller insurers.Already, filings show a CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield subsidiary in Virginia will transform its bronze plans into silver-level plans for 2017, according to Inside Health Policy, and experts tell the publication this could set a troubling precedent for the industry.

Iowa’s insurance commissioner filed a lawsuit against the federal government on Tuesday, saying it is withholding $20 million in connection with the liquidation of not-for-profit insurer CoOportunity Health — which failed in December 2014.

“Through the wind down of CoOportunity, we’ve worked collaboratively with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the federal government on many issues,” said Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart in a news release. “In this instance, we tried diligently to settle our differences with the federal government in extensive discussions over several months, but were informed by the Department of Justice that further negotiations would be futile.”

Gerhart said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CMS have “tried to jump to the head of the creditor line,” and are not following Iowa or federal law.

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Humana’s announcement Wednesday that it is considering raising premiums and changing or eliminating plans makes it only the latest insurer to say it might scale back involvement on the Affordable Care Act exchanges next year. Here’s the $9 billion question those insurers that remain on the ACA marketplaces ought to consider: What happens if Donald Trump is elected–and cuts off their access to ObamaCare cost-sharing subsidies?

Subsidies related to the 2010 health-care law aim to help reduce co-payments and deductibles for low-income individuals who meet certain criteria. House Republicans challenged the subsidies in court in late 2014, arguing that because the text of the Affordable Care Act does not include a specific appropriation for the subsidies, the executive branch cannot spend money Congress never disbursed.

Humana became the latest health insurer to serve notice that it might leave some Affordable Care Act exchanges next year, creating more uncertainty for customers ahead of this fall’s enrollment window and presidential campaign, during which the law is sure to remain a hot debate topic.

The insurer, which is being acquired by rival Aetna, said Wednesday that it expects to make a number of changes to its business for 2017, and that may include leaving some markets both on and off the exchanges or changing prices. Humana Inc. sold coverage in 15 states this year.

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