Thursday, July 31, 2014

Average California Obamacare Rate Increase Only 4%––Success!!!

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 88%. That was a pretty healthy bump (I'll call it a bump because "Rate Shock" didn't happen) to get everyone into Obamacare in the first place. And remember, many of these consumers are now in narrow networks in California to boot.
  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––something the carriers are dead set against. 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. The state's largest carriers have so far made $25 million in political contributions to defeat Prop 45.
  3. The health plans competing in the Obamacare exchanges are limited to very small losses this year because of the Obamacare reinsurance program that runs through 2016. In effect, anymore underpricing the insurers 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.
So, let's summarize.

The California insurance commissioner has said that consumers saw individual health insurance rate increases of 22% to 88% to get into Obamacare in the first place.

There is a highly contentious November ballot initiative facing the health plans they absolutely do not want to see passed, that would put the government in charge of their rate setting in future years, giving the carriers every incentive to low-ball the 2015 rates so voters don't have any more incentive to vote for it.

And, to the extent the carriers low-ball the rates, taxpayers will pay for every dime of it given that their losses are capped by the federal government.

Does the average 4% rate increase mean Obamacare is a big success in California?

For 2015 it does.

Let's see how this all goes when the training wheels come off after the federal Obamacare reinsurance program goes away at the end of 2016 and this November's Prop 45 is behind us.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Halbig Decision Puts Obamacare Back on the Front Burner and Will Give Republicans a Huge Political Headache

Today's 2-1 decision by the DC Court of Appeals striking down federal premium subsidies, in at least the 27 states that opted for the feds to run their Obamacare insurance exchanges, has the potential to strike a devastating blow to the new health law.

The law says that individuals can get subsidies to buy health insurance in the states that set up insurance exchanges. That appears to exclude the states that do not set up exchanges––at least the 27 states that completely opted out of Obamacare. Another nine states set up partnership exchanges with the feds and the impact on those states is not clear.

The response by supporters of the law, and the IRS regulation that has enabled subsidies to be paid in the states not setting up exchanges, hinges on the argument that the language is at worst ambiguous and the Congress never intended to withhold the subsidies in the federal exchange states.

But in the DC Court ruling one of the majority judges said, "The fact is that the legislative record provides little indication one way or the other of the Congressional intent, but the statutory text does. Section 36B plainly makes subsidies only available only on Exchanges established by states."

My own observation, having closely watched the original Obamacare Congressional debate, is that this issue never came up because about everybody believed about all of the states would establish their own exchange. I think it is fair to say about everyone also believed a few states would not establish their own exchanges. Smaller states, for example, might opt out because they just didn't have the scale needed to make the program work. I don't recall a single member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who believed that if this happened those states would lose their subsidies.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Biggest Insurer Drops Caution, Embraces Obamacare"

Kaiser Health News is out with that headline today reporting that UnitedHealthcare is expanding its Obamacare exchange presence planning to sell polices "in nearly half the exchanges next year." The story goes on to report that United's leadership is saying the new public marketplaces look sustainable.

There may be more to it than that.

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