Articles on the implementation of ObamaCare.

Coping with ever-increasing medical bills is frustrating — and getting more so..

A recent survey by private health insurance exchange EHealth highlights the pressure Americans are feeling. It found that more than 6 in 10 people say they’re more worried about the financial effect of expensive medical emergencies and paying for healthcare than about funding retirement or covering their kids’ education.

People who get health insurance through work and on their own have seen their costs rise dramatically over the last decade.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, a New York think tank, annual increases in work-based health plan premiums rose three times faster than wages from 2003 to 2013. Out-of-pocket costs have also been climbing.

“More people have deductibles than ever before,” says Sara Collins, a Commonwealth Fund vice president. From 2003 to 2013, the size of deductibles has grown nearly 150%.

Whether a person is coping with a severe illness or trying to deal with everyday medical costs, the challenges are many.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Five years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, the White House claims the law is working even better than imagined, but one of its leading critics says every major promise is now proven untrue and costs will keep going higher and higher unless we change course.

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, into law. It happened after a fierce debate on the House floor just a few days earlier and a controversial move by Senate Democratic leaders to pass changes by a simple majority since they did not have the votes to do it through regular order.

The law took full effect in 2014, following a disastrous roll-out of the federal health-care exchange website in October 2013. But for those who warned against the law before its passage, the contents of the law are far more troubling than the major technical problems that bogged down the exchange.

“People have learned on a very personal level how they were lied to in the passage of this law. They’ve lost their doctor. They’ve lost their health plan. Their costs are going up. Many people have lost jobs and certainly hours as a result of it. Small businesses have felt a huge impact, said Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner. “It’s been a tremendous drain on the economy, and very few if any of those original promises were met.”

Turner is a longtime veteran of Washington health-care policy debates. She was at the forefront of the effort to stop the Clinton administration’s attempt to overhaul the health-care system in 1993 and is still fighting to roll back Obamacare.

She was in the House chamber in March 2010 during the final, intense moments of the debate.