“The key findings from the survey, conducted from January through May 2014, include a modest increase in the average premiums for family coverage (3%). Single coverage premiums are 2% higher than in 2013, but the difference is not statistically significant. Covered workers generally face similar premium contributions and cost-sharing requirements in 2014 as they did in 2013. The percentage of firms (55%) which offer health benefits to at least some of their employees and the percentage of workers covered at those firms (62%) are statistically unchanged from 2013. The percentage of covered workers enrolled in grandfathered health plans – those plans exempt from many provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – declined to 26% of covered workers from 36% in 2013. Perhaps in response to new provisions of the ACA, the average length of the waiting period decreased for those with a waiting period and the percentage with an out-of-pocket limit increased. Although employers continue to offer coverage to spouses, dependents and domestic partners, some employers are instituting incentives to influence workers’ enrollment decisions, including nine percent of employers who attach restrictions for spouses’ eligibility if they are offered coverage at another source, or nine percent of firms who provide additional compensation if employees do not enroll in health benefits.”

“The ACA imposes several burdensome regulations that could potentially harm job and wage growth, including the employer mandate and requirements on the generosity of coverage. Under the ACA, employers with 50 or more full-time employees are required to provide health insurance for their workers or pay a fine. In addition, the ACA enforces rules that govern the type of insurance plans they can provide and restricts their options in choosing low-cost coverage. When employers are required to provide health insurance and their low-cost options are limited, costs will naturally rise and companies will be more responsive to changes in insurance premiums. As a result, employees are less insulated from insurance premium growth, and if premiums rise considerably under the ACA, then employers could be more likely to offset those costs by cutting jobs or wages.
Today, the central difficulty in analyzing the labor market implications of ACA regulations is that most significant rules have only been recently implemented. For instance, the employer mandate was scheduled for January 1, 2014, but the White House delayed the mandate to January 1, 2015, and then delayed it again to January 1, 2016 for businesses with 50 to 99 employees.”

“Obamacare is taking a toll on small businesses, according to a new analysis of the effects of the health-care reform law, which found billions of dollars in reduced pay and hundreds of thousands fewer jobs.
Take-home pay at small businesses was trimmed by some $22.6 billion annually because of the Affordable Care Act and related insurance premium hikes, researchers at the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank headed by former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, found in a report released Tuesday.
Individual year-round employees at businesses with 50 to 99 workers lost $935 annually, while those at firms with 20 to 49 workers are out an average of $827.50 per person in take-home pay, the report found.”

“Obamacare’s defenders are busy declaring victory again. Ezra Klein is touting a new survey of Obamacare benchmark premiums in some regions of the country as evidence that the law is defying the predictions of critics and working to cut costs rather than increase them.
But, as Bob Laszewski notes, the truth about Obamacare implementation is far less rosy than the latest round of cheerleading would indicate.
For starters, the federal and state websites remain largely a dysfunctional mess, although the media isn’t really covering the story anymore. The supposed “fix” that allowed millions of consumers to sign up with plans on the exchanges from December through April really wasn’t much of a fix after all. It was a workaround, allowing consumers to access large federal subsidies with minimal verification.”

“New Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell tried to hit the reset button on perceptions of the health-care rollout in her first public speech since taking the job at the embattled department overseeing it.
“What I’ve told my team at HHS is that we’re not here to fight last year’s battles, we’re here to fight for affordability, access and quality,” said Ms. Burwell to an audience of George Washington University students and faculty on Monday. “Let’s move beyond the back and forth, let’s move forward together.”
Ms. Burwell is stepping into the spotlight after around 100 days on the job and as the agency tries to reorient itself in time for the new enrollment season when millions more Americans are supposed to come to HealthCare.gov to buy coverage in just a few weeks.
She has brought on board several new faces since taking over as secretary from Kathleen Sebelius. They include the head of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange Kevin Counihan to serve as CEO for the site, former clean-up contractor Andy Slavitt as an operations administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and her former Walmart colleague Leslie Dach as her senior counselor.”

“Heading into the 2014 mid-term congressional elections, health care is not shaping up as a make-or-break issue, according to a new poll.
Health care trails jobs and the economy as a top issue on voters’ minds this fall, 21 percent to 13 percent. Only 3 percent of voters in the monthly tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation mentioned the health law by any name (Affordable Care Act/Obamacare) when asked about issues most likely to determine their vote. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation).
Health care is even less important to independent voters, those who frequently decide close races. While Democrats and Republicans both chose health care as their second ranked issues with 15 and 16 percent respectively, independents rank of health care tied for fifth with 9 percent.
The issue is, however, nonetheless playing a role in the current campaigns, particularly in key swing states where control of the U.S. Senate is at stake. Republicans need to capture a net gain of six seats to gain a majority in that chamber.”

“Large businesses expect to pay between 4 and 5 percent more for health-care benefits for their employees in 2015 after making adjustments to their plans, according to employer surveys conducted this summer.
Few employers plan to stop providing benefits with the advent of federal health insurance mandates, as some once feared, but a third say they are considering cutting or reducing subsidies for employee family members, and the data suggest that employees are paying more each year in out-of-pocket health care expenses.
The figures come from separate electronic surveys given to thousands of mid- to large-size firms across the country by Towers Watson, the National Business Group on Health and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, consulting groups that engage with businesses on health insurance issues.
Bracing themselves for an excise tax on high-cost plans coming in 2018 under the Affordable Care Act, 81 percent of employers surveyed by Towers Watson said they plan to moderately or significantly alter health-care benefits to reduce their costs.”

“When Congress returns this week, action in both chambers will mostly be a show for the voters back home ahead of the midterm election. In the House, that will include a vote on a bill to allow insurance companies to continue offering any plan that was sold in the group market in 2013.
Noticeably absent from congressional politicking in the next few weeks is the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridor program, which was, as recently as a few months ago, a major Republican criticism of the law. But that doesn’t mean the “insurer bailout” fight is dead. Republicans in both chambers are quietly working to challenge the legality and projected cost of the program. And that could tee up the issue to become a bargaining chip in the budget fights to come at the end of this year, regardless of who wins the Senate.
The Affordable Care Act’s risk corridor program runs from 2014 through 2016, and was established to encourage insurers to take a chance on covering an unknown population — the Americans who would be purchasing insurance on state and federal exchanges. The program collects funds from qualified health plans that bring in more money than they paid for medical claims, and then pays that money to plans with claims that cost more than they brought it from consumers.
But what happens if there isn’t enough money from well-performing insurers to pay all of the insurers that missed the mark? The federal government is on the hook, but where they find the money to pay those insurers is a question being debated throughout Washington. That’s because the law did not give the federal government a clear appropriation to spend money to make up for losses. And Republicans are, of course, very unlikely to give them one.”

“According to figures released today by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, 24,072 people have been dropped from coverage through the Healthplanfinder insurance exchange since those plans took effect in January 2014. Of that number, 8,310 were disenrolled because of non-payment of premiums, 7,735 voluntarily ended their coverage, and 8,027 were determined to no longer be eligible for a qualified health plan. Most of those determined to be no longer eligible were qualified instead for Medicaid.
The exchange also said 11,497 individuals have gained coverage through the exchange since the open enrollment period ended on March 31. These additions largely involved provisions allowing enrollment after a qualifying life event, such as a moving to a new state or changes in family size.”

“With the second open enrollment period of the health insurance marketplaces approaching, this analysis provides an initial look at premium changes for marketplace plans for individuals in 15 states and the District of Columbia that have publicly released comprehensive data on rates or rate filings for all insurers.
The analysis examines premium changes for the lowest-cost bronze plan and the two lowest-cost silver plans in 16 major cities. The second-lowest cost silver plan in each state is of particular interest as it acts as a benchmark that helps determine how much assistance eligible individuals can receive in the form of federal tax credits. The findings show that in general, individuals will pay slightly less to enroll in the second-lowest cost plan in 2015 than they did in 2014, prior to the application of tax credits.
Although premium changes vary substantially across and within states, premium changes for 2015 in general are modest when looking at the low-cost insurers in the marketplaces, where enrollment is concentrated. While the analysis provides an early look at how competitive dynamics may be influencing health insurance premiums, it is important to bear in mind that the overall picture may change as comprehensive data across all fifty states becomes available.”