A headline this week in The Hill shocked me: “ObamaCare enrollment strong in third week of sign-ups.” The Hill is a serious, well-respected, non-partisan news source. But any reader taking this headline at face value would be seriously misled about what is really going on with Obamacare enrollments during this fifth open enrollment season.

The Hill’s reporter correctly notes that “the pace of sign-ups has exceeded last year: In the first 26 days of last year’s open enrollment period, 2.1 million people signed up compared to the 2.3 million people who signed up the first 18 days of this year’s period.”

Those figures imply that the daily rate of sign-ups this year is outpacing last year’s rate by 58% [originally reported as 28%: Update #2]. Surely that is evidence of strong enrollment, no?

The reason it is not is buried at the tail-end of the story where the reporter notes “the enrollment period ends Dec. 15, which is about half as much time as people had to sign up last year.”

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The Senate Finance Committee announced today that it would add to the Senate tax reform bill a zeroing out of Obamacare’s individual mandate surtax, in essence repealing the mandate. This is a big tax cut aimed squarely at America’s middle class.

The mandate is a tax which punishes those who can least afford it

Obamacare’s individual mandate is enforced by the collection of a surtax on income. Failure to purchase Obamacare insurance triggers the surtax.

In 2017, the surtax is equal to the greater of:

  • 2.5 percent of adjusted gross income, or
  • the dollar penalty

The dollar penalty is $695 for every adult in the household, plus $347.50 for every child in the household, with a household maximum of $2085.

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Repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate might not be the devastating blow to health insurance markets that supporters of the law fear.

Because the tax penalty for not having insurance is far less costly than what many Americans would have to pay for coverage, many have chosen to take the fine. Eliminating it, therefore, might not radically change behavior — or fulfill the dire predictions of spiking premiums and vast increases in uninsured people that economists, health providers and politicians once predicted.

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This month marks the start of the ACA’s fifth open enrollment period for individuals who purchase health plans on their own. The November Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds three in ten of the public saying they haven’t heard anything at all about the current open enrollment period. Three in ten Americans say they have heard “a little” while four in ten say they have heard either “some” (21 percent) or “a lot” (18 percent). About half of the public (45 percent) say they have heard less about open enrollment this year compared to previous years while four in ten (38 percent) say they have heard “about the same amount.

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Consumers here at first did not believe the health insurance premiums they saw when they went shopping for coverage this month on HealthCare.gov. Only five plans were available, and for a family of four with parents in their mid-30s, the cheapest plan went typically for more than $2,400 a month, nearly $30,000 a year.

With the deadline for a decision less than a month away, consumers are desperately weighing their options, dismayed at the choices they have under the Affordable Care Act and convinced that political forces in Washington are toying with their health and well-being.

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Republicans are right to want to repeal the mandate that fines Americans who don’t buy health insurance. Their dual motive is to repeal the most loathed part of the Affordable Care Act as well as to make tax reform comply with the Senate Byrd Rule that dictates no deficits outside a 10-year budget window. Some Americans no doubt would decide not to buy insurance if they aren’t hit with a tax, but that would be their choice. Republicans aren’t denying them anything. No other ObamaCare rule or mandate would be changed, and no benefit formula would be altered. Anyone who still wants an ObamaCare policy could still buy it.

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As Republicans and the Trump administration continue trying to chip away at the Affordable Care Act, the Internal Revenue Service has begun, for the first time, to enforce one of the law’s most polarizing provisions: the employer mandate.

Thousands of businesses — many of them small or midsize — will soon receive a letter saying that they owe the government money because they failed to offer their workers qualifying health insurance. The first round of notices, which the I.R.S. began sending late last month, are being mailed to companies that have at least 100 full-time employees and ran afoul of the law in 2015, the year that the mandate took effect.

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Senate Republicans have added the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate to the latest version of their tax bill, with several key swing votes saying they’re open to the idea.

Late on Tuesday, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Orrin Hatch of Utah, released a new bill that would eliminate the mandate’s fines beginning in 2019. The addition was discussed at a closed-door party lunch meeting earlier in the day, and several Republican senators said no one spoke out publicly against repealing the mandate.

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Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued a statement in June about a discussion draft of health reform legislation that was then before the Senate, the Better Care Reconciliation Act.  He praised its life protections: “The Bishops value language in the legislation recognizing that abortion is not health care by attempting to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or plans that cover it. While questions remain about the provisions and whether they will remain in the final bill, if retained and effective this would correct a flaw in the Affordable Care Act by fully applying the longstanding and widely-supported Hyde amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

The leadership in the Senate, the House, and the White House know that any future health reform legislation must contain these strong life protections.

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Last night, Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) announced that the Senate Republican tax reform bill would include a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate. Why is this a big deal? It all goes back to the profound impact of Congress’ official fiscal scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office.

The single most important reason that Republicans failed to replace Obamacare in 2017 is because of estimates by the Congressional Budget Office that 22 million fewer people would have health insurance in 2026 under the GOP bills.

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