With Donald Trump’s presidential campaign faltering, Republican health policy experts are gaming out Plan B for working with a Hillary Clinton administration to achieve conservative healthcare goals.
Their focus is on a possible “grand bargain” that would give conservative states greater flexibility to design market-based approaches to make coverage more affordable and reduce spending in exchange for covering low-income workers in non-Medicaid expansion states. A key element, conservative experts say, would be for a Clinton administration to make it easier for states to obtain Section 1332 waivers under the Affordable Care Act. Those waivers allow states to replace the law’s insurance exchange structure with their own innovative models.
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Projected employer benefit costs are a stark contrast to the expected premium increases and out-of-pocket costs on the Obamacare exchanges next year. Employer-sponsored premium increases are expected to be about half of what has been proposed on individual exchanges for next year. Net deductibles are expected to be, on average, about one-third of those on exchange plans.
The difference could be explained in part by the relative age of the different marketplaces. While insurers are still adjusting to the relatively new Obamacare exchanges, the employer-based marketplace has many more years of experience to help keep costs stable. The employer market also likely has a better mix of sick and healthy people, helping keep costs down, on average.
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Weeks after announcing a new “relationship-based” health insurance plan that would provide patients unlimited access to health coaches and primary doctors with no co-pay, Harken Health Insurance withdrew its application to open in South Florida in 2017.
Harken’s withdrawal further narrows the number of health insurance choices for customers who qualify for federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act exchanges. Just seven companies or their affiliates have plans pending state approval, according to the federal site healthcare.gov. The nation’s largest health insurer, Harken parent company UnitedHealth, has pulled out of ACA exchanges in 31 states, including Florida.
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“If Hillary Clinton were able to institute a public option, I anticipate it would accelerate insurers’ exit from Obamacare exchanges, making it unlikely that exchanges would ever become profitable, as Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed-care are. While those programs have bipartisan political support, Republican politicians are fully committed to opposing Obamacare exchanges.
However, a public option administered by the same contractors (subsidiaries of health insurers) which process Medicare claims would be a good business opportunity for insurers. So they should be quite happy to allow Obamacare beneficiaries to shift from risk-bearing plans to a government plan.”
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Narrow networks have changed considerably under the Affordable Care Act, but the trajectory of regulation remains unclear.
Health insurance plans with limited networks of providers are common on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) health insurance Marketplaces. Recent studies have found that these “narrow network” plans constituted nearly half of all Marketplace offerings in the first two years of coverage, with one analysis concluding that about had the option of buying such a plan if they chose.
Plans with limited networks are not new and are not confined to the Marketplaces. Yet there is reason to believe that they have grown in prevalence partly because of the ACA.
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Aetna’s decision to abandon its ObamaCare expansion plans and rethink its participation altogether came as a surprise to many. It shouldn’t have. Everything that’s happened now was predicted by the law’s critics years ago.
Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said that this was supposed to be a break-even year for its ObamaCare business. Instead, the company has already lost $200 million, which it expect that to hit $320 million before the year it out. He said the company was abandoning plans to expand into five other states and is reviewing whether to stay in the 15 states where Aetna (AET) current sells ObamaCare plans.
Aetna’s announcement follows UnitedHealth Group’s (UNH) decision to leave most ObamaCare markets, Humana’s (HUM) decision to drop out of some, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s announcement that it was quitting the individual market in Minnesota, and the failure of most of the 23 government-created insurance co-ops.
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It’s hard to exaggerate the alchemy of distortions that are turning ObamaCare into such a pending disaster that big insurers like Aetna, Anthem, Humana and UnitedHealth Group,once supporters, can’t cut back their participation fast enough.
ObamaCare was always going to be a questionable deal for taxpayers if the only people who signed up were poorer people whose premiums were largely paid by taxpayers. That was fine as far as insurers were concerned. They can make a profit even if taxpayers are the only ones paying.
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Competition on the Obamacare marketplaces will decline next year. There will be significantly more places in the country where customers have no choice of health insurance because just one company signed up to sell coverage.
This is the conclusion that health policy experts have increasingly gravitated toward in recent months and weeks, as major insurance companies have announced hundreds of millions of dollars in financial losses on the Obamacare marketplaces.
“Under any likely scenario, there will be less insurer participation in the exchanges in 2017 than there was in 2016,” says Michael Adelberg, a senior director at FaegreBD Consulting who previously worked in the Obama administration helping to manage the marketplaces’ launch.
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House Speaker Paul Ryan’s health care blueprint, released late last month as part of his “A Better Way” reform agenda, would deliver affordable, accessible health coverage at less cost and with less disruption to the health care market than Obamacare. Ryan’s plan would slash premiums by, among other things, getting rid of Obamacare’s costly essential-health-benefit mandates. People would be free to purchase low-cost plans that don’t cover procedures they don’t want or need. The plan would also make health coverage more affordable for middle class families by replacing Obamacare’s complicated scheme of subsidies with more straightforward, age-based, refundable tax credits.
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CBO projects that the combined federal spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA subsidies will grow from 11 percent of GDP in 2016 to 16.3 percent of GDP in 2046. This run-up in spending will increase annual federal budget deficits and push cumulative federal debt to 141 percent of GDP in 2046 — well past the point that most economists would consider dangerous for the economy. (Spain’s debt is 99 percent of GDP in 2016).
CBO’s base case scenario is also probably too optimistic. CBO’s projection assumes federal revenue will grow from 18.2 percent of GDP in 2016 to 19.4 percent in 2046 (the 50-year average of federal revenue, from 1966 to 2015, was 17.7 percent of GDP). But the projected growth in federal revenue derives from tax provisions that are sure to change in coming years. For instance, under the ACA, a new 3.8 percent tax was imposed on non-wage income for persons with incomes over $200,000 annually and on couples with incomes over $250,000 per year. These thresholds are not indexed, which means more and more taxpayers, and, eventually, the middle class, will pay this tax as their incomes grow naturally with inflation.
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