“Small and stand-alone nonprofit hospitals are facing mounting pressure from weak operating margins and lower patient volumes, with more signals of stress on the way, according a report released Wednesday from Standard & Poor’s Rating Services.
The rating agency warned the healthcare sector was at “a tipping point where negative forces have started to outweigh many providers’ ability to implement sufficient countermeasures.” Beginning in 2013 and continuing into this year, credit downgrades outpaced upgrades at an accelerating rate.
In particular, stand-alone providers are under greater pressure from physician departures, rising bad debt, and higher employee benefit costs.”
“What happens in November will play a major role in shaping President Obama’s final two years in office.
No, it’s not just the 2014 midterm elections that have the White House on edge, but also the return of open enrollment in Obamacare.
After the disastrous rollout of the president’s signature domestic initiative in 2013, the administration needs to avoid the problems that diminished public confidence in the most significant overhaul to the health care system since the creation of Medicare.
The White House believes the technical problems that crashed healthcare.gov will become a distant memory. However, team Obama must worry about much more than just a website.
Here are the top five potential Obamacare headaches looming in November:”
“The Obama administration’s effort to end one political crisis during the 2014 Obamacare rollout may have sown the seeds of another controversy: potential double-digit rate hikes in 2015.
If insurers have their way, some residents in politically key states like Florida, North Carolina and Iowa would face hikes of 11 percent to nearly 18 percent — far beyond the average 7.5 percent increase in proposed rates for much of the country.
Major carriers there in part blame such increases on the administration’s response to the furor that erupted when millions of Americans received notice last fall that their health policies would be canceled because they fell short of Obamacare requirements.
Facing a barrage of criticism from Republicans and some Democrats, who accused him of breaking his promise that people could keep plans they liked, President Barack Obama relented. He told insurers they could continue offering those plans if states agreed. About two-thirds of the states took him up on the offer.
But the president’s decision is now having an impact on upcoming rates, insurers say. Many younger, healthier Americans — the category companies had counted on enrolling when they set their initial prices — stuck with their existing coverage. In states with the biggest numbers of these “transitional” policyholders, their absence from the Obamacare market is pushing premiums higher.”
“The latest somersaults and contortions over Obamacare last month spread from courtrooms to the blogosphere, with another round of regulatory “adjustments” not far away. The common principle followed by the health law’s most energetic advocates appears to be the whatever-it-takes motto of the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, “Just win, baby!”
A pair of federal appellate court decisions on July 21 (Halbig v. Burwell and King v Burwell) sent Obamacare backers cycling through at least the first three stages of grief (anger, denial, and bargaining) over the potential loss of tax credit subsidies for states with federal-run health exchanges, along with the likelihood of further unraveling of the health law’s interrelated scheme of coverage mandates and tighter insurance regulation. A 2-1 majority ruling in Halbig delivered the latest blow to the Affordable Care Act, by deciding to vacate a 2012 Internal Revenue Service rule that attempted to authorize such subsidies.
The loudest voices among the flock of pro-ACA court watchers had previously declared such a judicial decision all but “inconceivable.” For example, Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution termed these legal challenges to Obamacare as absurd, crazy, and wacky in an April 1, 2014 New England Journal of Medicine article. Jonathan Gruber of MIT and a key architect of both Massachusetts-based Romneycare and its cloned twin Obamacare called the tax credit theory behind the cases “screwy,” “nutty,” “stupid,” “unprecedented,” and “desperate” (but that depends on which version of Gruber one chooses to sample).
Tim Jost of the Washington and Lee University School of Law and a frequent blogger on this issue at Health Affairs, continues to be often wrong, but never in doubt—at least until later events require some modest repositioning. In July 2012, he flatly asserted that “these claims are simply false” regarding contentions that final IRS rules to enable premium tax credits through federal exchanges are unauthorized by law. Jost further opined that the only viable challengers with legal standing to contest the IRS rule would be employers failing to offer their employees insurance (or at least affordable or adequate coverage), but that any such challenges would be barred by the Tax Anti-Injunction Act until probably sometime in 2015.”
“More Americans are enrolled in individual health insurance plans. In part, though, that’s because under Obamacare fewer are enrolled in group plans. And one health care analyst says this may be the beginning of a trend.
WellPoint Inc., the Indianapolis-based health insurance giant, reported in its latest quarterly earnings that its small-group business fell more than expected.
WellPoint said it ended 218,000 (or 12 percent) of those plans because employers dropped their group health coverage, and cited Obamacare’s tax credits as a reason for the shift, J.K. Wall wrote in the Indianapolis Business Journal.
Edmund Haislmaier, senior research fellow in health policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal that the drop in WellPoint’s employer group coverage “is in line with what we were seeing in the first quarter” for the insurance industry — a decrease in group plans but an increase in individual plans.
Haislmaier said many smaller businesses have dropped group coverage plans in instances where they have a higher number of low-income workers who would qualify for subsidies to buy insurance on Obamacare’s federal and state-run exchanges.”
“A year ago, investors worried that WellPoint Inc. would lose more of its small business customers than it could offset by signing up individuals in the Obamacare exchanges.
The first half of those concerns were justified—and then some. Indianapolis-based WellPoint is seeing its small business customers dump their group health plans and move their workers to the Obamacare exchanges at a faster clip this year than it expected.
Already in 2014, WellPoint has watched 218,000 members of its health plans disappear because their employers have ended their group health plans. That’s a 12-percent drop in WellPoint’s overall small group membership.
As I have reported before, the Obamacare tax credits for individuals have proven quite attractive for many employers with fewer than 30 workers. That’s not to say all are taking this route. Most other health insurers have reported that small employers are ending their health plans more slowly than expected.
But WellPoint expects the trend of its small business customers ending their group health plans to play out in just two years, with roughly $400 million in annual profit disappearing.
“We think [that] will be in a more accelerated timeframe over a shorter window of time, meaning this year and next, than over a longer period of time,” said WellPoint Chief Financial Officer Wayne DeVeydt during a July 30 conference call with investors.”
“Newly hired employees who don’t sign up for health insurance on the job could have it done for them under a health law provision that may take effect as early as next year.
But the controversial provision is raising questions: Does automatic enrollment help employees help themselves, or does it force them into coverage they don’t want and may not need? A group of employers, many of them retail and hospitality businesses, want the provisions repealed, but some experts say the practice has advantages and is consistent with the aims of the health law.
By enrolling people unless they opt out, “you’re changing the default option,” says Caroline Pearson, vice president at Avalere Health, a research and consulting firm. The health law does the same thing by requiring people to have insurance or face penalties, she says.
“You’re not eliminating people’s choice or forcing people into things they don’t want,” Pearson adds.
Under the health law, companies with more than 200 full-time workers have to enroll new, full-time employees in one of the company health plans unless the employee chooses not to join. The Department of Labor said that employers aren’t required to comply until the agency issues regulations spelling out how to do so. The department delayed its initial plan to issue regulations by 2014, and at this time there’s no additional information available about when regulations will be issued, according to a DOL spokesperson. Industry experts are split on when to expect those regulations, with some believing regulations could take effect in 2015, while others say that is unlikely.”
“The weighted average increase for plans being sold on the Obamacare California public exchange in 2015 will be 4%. So, that means Obamacare is working really well, right?
Well, wait a minute.
Let’s consider a few things:
1.This week the California insurance commissioner reported that the average unsubsidized 2014 rate increase carriers charged going into Obamacare was between 22% and 82%. That was a pretty healthy bump to get everyone into Obamacare in the first place.
2.California voters will go to the polls this fall to vote on Proposition 45. That ballot initiative would regulate health insurance rates in California for the first time. Big rate increases on part of the carriers would do a lot to get that proposition passed and very low increases would do a lot toward defeating it.
3.The health plans competing in the Obamacare exchanges are limited to tiny losses this year because of the Obamacare reinsurance program that runs through 2016. In effect, anymore underpricing they put into their rates for 2015 is subsidized by the federal government. In fact, the Obama administration recently took the statutory caps off of how much they can pay the carriers to keep their bottom line whole.”
“The recent decision of a three-judge panel in the Halbig case, if it prevails, would have a direct effect on the availability of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). People buying coverage on their own in insurance exchanges run by the federal government would be ineligible for income-based subsidies. Depending on how you count, that would take premium subsidies away from 4.6 million people in 34 states, or 4.7 million people in 36 states if you count New Mexico and Idaho (which have signaled their intention to operate their own exchanges but are still using the federal marketplace).
Many more people are eligible for subsidies but haven’t yet signed up. We estimate (using the approach described here that a total of 9.5 million uninsured people are eligible for subsidies in federal marketplace states (or, 9.7 million people if you include New Mexico and Idaho).
Since many low and moderate income people would have difficulty affording insurance without the subsidies, this would no doubt alter the extent to which the ACA is reducing the number of Americans who are uninsured, which recent surveys peg at about 8 to 10 million.
But, there would also be two important side effects of the Halbig case.”
“A lot of attention is being paid to the dueling decisions in two U.S. appeals courts about whether the U.S. government can provide tax credits to people in federal- as well as state-run insurance exchanges. In human terms, the stakes are high: Millions of moderate-income people will not be able to afford health coverage without a subsidy, and a court ruling could gut coverage expansion in the 36 states with federally run insurance exchanges, unless states decide to set up their own exchanges. One of the cases, Halbig v. Burwell, also adds uncertainty to the enrollment process set to begin this fall, when millions more people are expecting to get tax credits–and wondering if they may be taken away.
Amid the reaction, little attention has been paid to whether Americans will perceive Halbig as a legitimate legal question or as more inside-Washington politics. The plaintiffs paint this as a case about statutory language and intent. The health-care law said that tax credits would be provided only in state-run exchanges, they argue, and it is executive overreach to provide credits in federal exchanges. Proponents of the Affordable Care Act see this as a thinly veiled game of gotcha being played over imperfect legislative language despite clear legislative intent. They believe that providing tax credits in the exchanges was always a central element of the Affordable Care Act’s strategy to expand coverage whether in state or federal exchanges–and that everybody knows it.”