Sunday, December 29, 2013 Enrolls 1.1 Million by Year-End––Cause For Celebration or Worry?

After the disastrous launch of Obamacare the enrollment of 1.1 million people in the 36 state exchanges run by the feds is a major accomplishment. It is likely that the enrollment in the 14 state-run exchanges will take total Obamacare's private insurance enrollment to near 2 million for the year.

Does this mean that Obamacare is finally on track and moving toward success?

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Obamacare Slippery Slope––What's Your "Hardship?"

As of this morning, here are the new rules.

If you had a health insurance policy that was cancelled, you are now exempt from the individual mandate and its tax penalty should you not decide to buy a replacement policy. In addition, you can now sign up for the very high deductible Catastrophic Plan that was originally reserved only for those under the age of 30.

If you did not have a health insurance policy that was cancelled, you are still subject to the individual mandate and you are not entitled any special treatment toward signing up for the Catastrophic Plan. You must pay the full price for an exchange plan and accept whatever out-of-pocket costs and network limits it might have for the money.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Obamacare Week 10––A Dearth of Enrollment In the States and Continuing Backroom Problems

A few observations after 10 weeks of Obamacare implementation.

The Obama administration released the first two months enrollment figures this week. With still struggling in November, the enrollment of 137,000 people in the 36 states was expected. The main event for the federal exchanges will play out in December now that most people can navigate it.

What I found notable in the report was the lack of robust enrollment in the states. In states where the exchange has been running at least adequately for many weeks now, the enrollment numbers are far from what I would have expected.

California enrolled 107,000 people in private plans in the first two months. But California has cancelled 800,000 current individual health plans effective January 1––all of whom have to buy a new plan by January 1 or become uninsured. The only place those who are subsidy eligible can get a subsidized plan is in the California exchange. In addition, California has about 2.5 million people uninsured and exchange eligible. A Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) report estimated that California has 1.4 million of those people eligible for subsidies in the exchange. Given the $250 million in outreach and marketing money the federal government has earmarked for California's exchange, the dearth of sign-ups so far is concerning.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Is Obamacare Responsible For the Recent Slowdown in Health Care Costs?

That is what we have been told the Obama administration will claim on Friday as they begin the job of reselling Obamacare.

Is Obamacare even partly responsible for the slowdown in health care costs?

That is silly.

First, Obamacare is not a health care reform law; it is a health insurance reform law. No one on either side of the debate has ever argued anything different.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The December 1 Obamacare Relaunch––Nobody Can Spin the Main Event

From 27,000 enrollments in October to a reported 100,000 enrollments in November, the Affordable Care Act's website is apparently working better and getting more people signed up.

But is it fixed well enough to handle the expected wave of at least many hundreds of thousands of people eager to get guarantee issue health insurance for the first time or replace a canceled policy by January 1?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Trying to Make Sense of the Covered California Numbers

I've read a number of reports in recent days gushing over the progress Covered California is making leading the nation in signing up people for Obamacare.

But, I am having trouble understanding how the numbers should make anyone gush with enthusiasm.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"If You Like Your Doctor You Will Be Able to Keep Your Doctor. Period"

I think you can guess who said that.

Actually, here is what the President said at the American Medical Association Meeting in July, 2009––and likely lots more times:
"No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you will keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, your will keep your health plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what. My view is that health care reform should be guided by a simple principle: fix what's broken and build on what works."
We have all heard this repeated many times before in recent weeks. But with the front-page story in the Washington Post this morning, "Health Insurers Limit Choices to Keep Costs Down," it's as if somebody rang a new bell this time focused on the "you will keep your doctor" part.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Small Group Health Insurance "Cancellations"––The Next Shoe to Drop But a More Complicated One

Obamacare is impacting the small group insurance market in many of the same ways as the individual health insurance market. While employers with less than 50 workers don't have to provide coverage, if they do they are required to comply with the same essential benefit mandates, age rating changes, and pre-existing condition reforms the individual market faces.

That means essentially all small group policies cannot continue as they are––they have to be discontinued.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Obamacare Rollout Week Seven: Better and Nowhere Near Good Enough

I can provide you with an Obamacare federal exchange rollout update from two decidedly different perspectives:
  1. The website is working much better with enrollment increasing at least three-fold over just a few weeks ago with backroom error rates considerably improved; or
  2. The enrollment, to give you a general sense of what's happening, for a health plan that might have to sign-up 100,000 people in order to get their share of the 7 million Obama administration's national enrollment objective, has grown from perhaps 10-15 enrollments a day a few weeks ago to 40-50 a day now. If this new higher trend continues, such a plan would sign up only another 12,000 people toward the 100,000 objective by March 31. Backroom error rates being committed by, when enrollment data are transmitted to the health plans, are still far too high to transition to high volume processing without serious customer service issues.
So, pick your perspective.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

California's Health Insurance Exchange Enrollment Says a Lot About What Could Have Been and What Still Has To Happen

Covered California, the state-run Obamacare health insurance exchange, announced yesterday that 59,000 people have so far signed up for health insurance.

Given that California amounts to about 10% of the nation's population, this would suggest a smooth running federal exchange might well have enabled the Obama administration to have met its national first month goal of 500,000 sign-ups.

But the California enrollment also points to the real challenge Obamacare faces.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


You know they are in big trouble when they come in at half of my estimates!

The audacity of this administration to continue telling people to keep going back to the website and the call center when they knew full well that only 25 people per day per state were making it thorough the gauntlet that is is startling.

This program is in grave danger of collapsing if the administration cannot dramatically grow the size of the risk pool and attract healthy people to it.

The Obama administration doesn't have a hill to climb, it has Mt. McKinley to climb.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Obamacare Rollout: The Administration Needs a Plan B––Now!

It is now becoming clear that the Obama administration will not have fixed by December 1 so hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of people will be able to smoothly enroll by January 1.

Why do I say that? Look at this from the administration spokesperson's daily progress report on Friday:
Essentially what is happening is people [those working on the fixes] are going through the entire process. As we have fixed certain pieces of functionality, like the account creation process, we're seeing volume go further down the application. We're identifying new issues that we need to be in a position to troubleshoot.
Does that sound like the kind of report you would expect if they were on track to fix this in less than three weeks? Their biggest problem is that they admittedly don't know what they don't know.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Obamacare Rollout––Week Five

Enrollments continue to trickle in. Health plans, with the kind of market share that would have to sign-up 100,000 to 200,000 people for the administration to hit its goal of 7 million people, are generally reporting they have enrolled only about 100 - 200 people over the first 35 days via

Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Substandard Plans" Offered by "Bad Apple Insurers"––Does the Obama Administration Understand How the Health Insurance Market Works?

Yesterday, the President said in Boston that the millions of people who are getting cancellation letters ending their coverage in the individual health insurance market are being saved from "substandard plans" that were sold to them by "bad apple insurers."

I guess these would be the same insurers his staff invited to the White House last week. In their statement following that meeting, the White House said they were "committed to working in partnership with the insurers" toward implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

So, this is how he treats his "partners."

Are health insurance plans in the individual market substandard?

Not the overwhelming bulk of them.

How do I know that?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mr. President: I like My Health Insurance and I Would Really Like to Keep It––Can You Help Me Out Here?

How many times have I talked on this Blog about rate shock, the millions of people who would be getting cancellation letters from their current health plan, and the problem of people having to put up with more narrow networks?

And, how many times have those predictions been met by push back and spin: Today's policies are just junk and people will be better off finding lower cost health insurance under Obamacare.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Commitment to Fix Obamacare's Computer Systems By December 1––Because It Can Be Done By Then or Because It Has To Be Done By Then?

The good news is that it appears the adults are finally in charge of

This week, the administration put a seasoned and trusted manager in charge of getting the Obamacare computer system working––Jeff Zients.

He quickly announced a methodical approach to the problem and that he had appointed one contractor to coordinate the daily work. Zients also appeared to be pretty open and honest about what's really going on.

All things that should have happened in the first place.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Just What Is an 834 Transaction? Why Is It Holding Up Obamacare? How Long Will This Take to Fix?

You have probably already heard that Obamacare has as many backroom problems as problems with the front end consumer web enrollment portal.

Insurance companies participating in the new health insurance exchanges are receiving detailed enrollment information for each of the very few people who have successfully enrolled through the 36 federally run health insurance exchanges.

But the problem is that this enrollment is coming from the government with a very high rate of errors––way beyond anything they can handle manually once the real enrollment volume comes in.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Obamacare Federal Health Insurance Exchanges––Week Three Status Report

I will be happy to have the Obama Administration do these status reports anytime they would like to takeover from me.

If I were in the White House spinning, I could report to you that enrollment in states run by the federal exchanges jumped 50% in the last few days.

Health plans that might have told me last week that they had enrolled 400 people since October 1 are now telling me they had a "surge" in enrollment in recent days and are up to 600 people. I guess that takes us up to a trickle and a half.

Still, small health plans are generally reporting they have received dozens of enrollments and large health plans are no higher than in the hundreds.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Should the Administration Shut the Obamacare Computer System Down? That Depends Upon What's Going On Behind the Curtain

My sense is that the biggest reason Obamacare is now in trouble is because of the top-secret way in which the administration has handled the rollout. If they had developed the computer system in a transparent way, the marketplace would have told them long ago this would not work.

No one outside the inner circle at the Department of Health and Human Services has any idea what's really going on behind the Wizard's curtain. Hasn't for months. Doesn't now.

For Those of You Who Yesterday Didn't Believe My Federal Exchange Enrollment Estimates and Reports of Backroom Problems...

You need to see today's Wall Street Journal front-page story, "Health Website Woes Widen as Insurers Get Wrong Data."

Here's an excerpt:
After realizing that some applications listed up to three spouses in a single family, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Nebraska, which has about 50 health-law enrollees, had to "stop those enrollments from going through the automated process," said Matt Leonard, the insurer's sales manager. "It takes an automated process and turns it into a manual process," he said.
The biggest health plan in Nebraska has 50 enrollees so far? A state with about 300,000 uninsured.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Week Two of the Obamacare Federal Health Insurance Exchange Rollout––No Improvement

There was no progress for the new federal health insurance exchange's information technology and enrollment challenges in its second week.

At the end of week two of the Obamacare launch, health plans were generally seeing no more enrollments per day then they saw in the first week.

As troubling, the backroom issues plaguing the connection between health insurers and the federal government had not been resolved and there is no indication from the feds when they will have these things cleared up.

My sense is that the feds, based upon the number of enrollments they have sent to the insurance companies, enrolled about 10,000 people in the first week (about 5,000 single and family contracts) and another 10,000 people in the second week in the 36 states using the federal exchange.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Obamacare is a bit like the astronaut on top of the rocket"

Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein and I spoke about the Obamacare rollout yesterday afternoon.

Here is his column from today's Washington Post:

‘Obamacare is a bit like the astronaut on top of the rocket’

By Ezra Klein, Published: October 15 at 12:38 pm

Ezra Klein: You wrote about how the problems on the back-end of the insurance portals, in the way they communicate with the systems of actual insurers, might be as bad or worse than the front-end traffic problems. What are you worried about, exactly?

Bob Laszewski: What I’m worried about is that when people go to their doctor in January they may walk in, and the doctor and hospital won’t find them in the insurer’s computer system or their bank account won’t be appropriately debited or they’ll be signed up for the wrong plan. I’m worried about all these things. Now, we have a few weeks to get this straightened out. But only a few weeks.

EK: Tell me what you’re hearing from the insurance industry that has you concerned.
Read the Rest at the Washington Post

Friday, October 11, 2013

How Many People Have Signed Up For Health Insurance on the Federal Health Insurance Exchanges?

Based upon my survey of a large number of health plans accounting for substantial market share in the 36 states the federal insurance exchange is operating in, not more than about 5,000 individuals and families (about 10,000 people in total) signed-up for health insurance in the 36 states run by the Obama administration through Monday.

It is not uncommon for a major health insurer with a large market share to report less than 100 enrollments in the first week.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What Health Insurance Company Information Technology Executives Were Saying About the Obamacare Exchanges Last February

Were there signs the Obama administration was headed for trouble getting the insurance exchanges ready for October 1, 2014?

Last March, I did a post reviewing a survey of health insurance industry information technology executives' opinions on how well the Obama administration was doing toward launching the exchanges.

The federal health insurance exchange problems that have so far been obvious have been all front-end issues--being able to get the Obamacare's consumer portal to work.

What is concerning about this March survey is that it also identified big concerns the insurance industry had, and still has, over the critically important backroom transactions yet to come.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Why the Federal Health Insurance Exchange and So Many State Exchanges Are Not Working

We may be getting a better idea why the federal exchange and so many state exchanges aren't working.

An article in Saturday's Baltimore Sun, regarding Maryland's problems, provides insight I have not seen elsewhere:

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Affordable Health Care Act's Launch On October 1st––So How Did it Go?

Unavoidably, that will be the big question come Tuesday.

But there will be much more to it than that.

A 180-Day Open Enrollment––Not a One-Day Open Enrollment
What happens on the first day, for good or bad, will constitute only a tiny percentage of the open enrollment period. Consumers will likely visit the new websites many times before they make any decisions, and that is exactly as it should be.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Benefit Shock? Consumers Will Be Surrpised By What They Find on the New "Obamacare" Health Insurance Exchanges

Will we have rate shock?

It looks to me like consumers will have a choice when they get to look at the health plans available on the new "Obamacare" health insurance exchanges––rate shock or benefit shock.

While there has been lots of focus on the issue of rate shock, I will suggest that just as big an issue may well be benefit shock—that consumers will look at what they will be getting for their premium payments and that they will be surprised at what their out-of-pocket costs will be and before they get anything.

The following chart was prepared by Covered California, the state-run California exchange. This chart does not include specific California plan premiums. What it does show is the net of subsidy cost a single person would pay at the various income points for the second lowest cost Silver plan, as well as the deductibles and co-pays they can expect to see from the standard Silver plan.

Monday, September 16, 2013

So If the Maryland Health Insurance Rates Are So Cheap Why Did I Get This Postcard From Maryland Blue Cross?

That's what I wondered when I got this postcard; presumably sent to lots of people who live in Maryland:

In it, (click on card to enlarge) Maryland Blue Cross is telling me that; "I am invited to obtain a [health] plan right now with rates that may be significantly lower than reform-compliant plans [their emphasis]."

Are they suggesting there is rate shock coming?

I was surprised to get this card because the Maryland Health Insurance Exchange recently issued a report that said they would have among the lowest health insurance rates in the country once "Obamacare" goes live on October 1:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Oregon Delays Key Element of Insurance Exchange––Good for Them!

Five years from now no one will remember if their "Obamacare" health insurance exchange launched on October 1.

The state-run Oregon health insurance exchange, Cover Oregon, recently announced it will be delaying web access to the its new "Obamacare" health insurance offerings two to four weeks later than the scheduled October 1 launch date.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

"ObamaCare" Small Ball––The Republicans Are Winning the Battle Over the Big Idea

Last week the President waded directly into the national debate over "ObamaCare" by calling a big media event in the East Room of the White House to talk about the $100 rebates a small percentage of potentially eligible people are getting under the new health law.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell countered, "If you’re a family in Covington facing a $2,100 premium increase under ObamaCare, then, really, what would you rather have: a check for $100 or so, or a way to avoid the $2,100 premium increase in the first place?”

NPR's Julie Rovner had a story on Friday––"White House Muddles Obamacare Messaging Again"––that caught my eye.

She drew a distinction between how the administration has been going about unsuccessfully selling the new health law and the way the Republicans have been more successfully attacking it:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

People Who Haven't Filed a Tax Return to Get Unverified Health Insurance Exchange Subsidies

The head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Marilyn Tavenner, is out with a "Myths vs. Fact" clarification memo regarding the waiver of the employer mandate and whether the new health insurance exchanges will verify people's incomes when calculating subsidies.

I noted a couple of things in her memo.

Her memo indicates that the exchanges will request additional income information from a "random sampling" of people when, among other things, "an individual does not have a tax return on file and attests to an income significantly below current wage data."

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Health Insurance Exchange Subsidies Will Be Granted on the Honor System!––Is There Something Wrong With "ObamaCare's" Federal Data Hub?

Come October millions of people will be applying for tens of billions of dollars in federal health insurance premium subsidies on the honor system.

On the Friday after the Fourth of July––when the administration apparently hoped no one would be paying attention––the Obama administration dropped 606 pages of regulations. Buried inside was the news that that insurance exchanges can ignore any personal income information they get from the Federal Data Hub during 2014 if it conflicts with "attestations" made by individuals.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Administration Delays the Employer Mandate––But What About Small Employers?

The administration suddenly announced tonight that the requirement that all employers with 50 or more workers offer health insurance has been delayed until 2015.

If an employer with 50 or more workers did not provide health insurance to their full time workers in 2014, they would have been subject to a fine of $2,000 per worker. The employer would have also been subject to a $3,000 fine for each worker that went to the insurance exchanges if the employer package was not affordable.

Why did the administration delay the large employer mandate?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Will the Affordable Care Act's ("ObamaCare") Federal Health Insurance Exchanges Be Ready On Time? Finally the Facts!

After months of speculation on just where the Obama administration is toward the development of the new health insurance exchanges, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a 48-page report complete with timelines and a detailed report on just where the Obama administration is––or at least was last month.

The key summary:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Flawed Analysis––Medical Loss Ratio Rules Led to $1.9 billion in Lower Premiums

The Kaiser Family Foundation is out with a study contending that the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) requirements of the Affordable Care Act ("ObamaCare") saved consumers $1.9 billion in premiums in 2012:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rate Shock in California!––The New Health Insurance Exchange Plans––Comparing Apples to Oranges to Grapefruit

I have to say I was surprised with the press reports last week that there wasn't "rate shock" in California when the California exchange offered preliminary information about their new plans and rates.

At least one prominent health actuarial group had predicted a 30% baseline increase in costs for California's new health insurance exchange plans under the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare").

As the director of the California exchange put it, "These rates are way below the worst-case gloom-and-doom scenarios we have heard."

But a few days later there is lots more information coming out and it would appear we have a case of apples to oranges to grapefruit. And, we have a pretty good case of rate shock.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Health Insurance Exchange That Won't Be a "Train Wreck"

Every week, I get an email from the Maryland Health Connection––the state run health insurance exchange.

Maryland is one of a minority of states that are building their own Affordable Care Act ("ObamaCare") exchange.

You can go to their site and sign up for these weekly updates.

Let me suggest that Maryland is an example of what an on-track and well organized effort looks like for any exchange hoping to be ready to enroll people on October 1––and ensure that they will be covered should they walk into a doctor's office on January 1, 2014.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Implementation of the Affordable Care Act––More Evidence That Rate Shock is Coming

The Society of Actuaries is out with another estimate of health insurance rate increases as a result of implementation of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare").

While there is a great deal of difference between states, they are estimating an average increase of 31.5% on account of the new underwriting reform and benefit expansion requirements of the health law:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Six Months to Go –– Will the Health Insurance Exchanges Be Ready on Time? Survey: Health Plan Execs Don't Think So

As the Obama administration continues its top secret effort to build federal insurance exchanges in about 34 states while 16 states are doing it on their own, that continues to be the big question.

HHS is using IT consulting firm CGI for much of the work on the exchanges and the federal data hub. CGI has their plate full since they are not only working on the federal exchange but also doing work for the state exchanges in at least Colorado, Vermont, and Hawaii.

Earlier this month, the Senate Finance Committee held an oversight hearing. The Obama guy in charge of exchange development testified before them. I thought it was notable that it was the Democrats who expressed the greatest concern, and frustration, over senators not getting a clear idea for just where the administration is toward the goal of launching the new health insurance exchanges on October 1.

I thought the following Reuters quote was telling;
I am absolutely confident that every state will have an exchange that will be functioning and ready, said Gary Cohen [HHS executive in charge of the effort], who declined to elaborate on the number and identity of states that could be in for difficulties."
He wouldn't elaborate on just where there might be problems? Why? Why does the administration have to be so secretive?

This lack of transparency has the health insurance industry––the people the feds are going to have to connect with––very worried.

In early February, information technology consultant Edifecs, which provides health care software services to health plans, hospitals, and other organizations, held a "Compliance Summit" for 125 executives from hospitals, clearing houses, state health insurance exchanges, and health plans. The audience included executives from 34 different health plans. I gave the conference's opening keynote speech.

These are the industry executives that the state and federal exchanges are working with day-to-day. So, if you want to get the perspective from those in the trenches with the state and federal health insurance exchanges (HIXs) on whether they'll be ready, this is a pretty good group to ask.

Edifecs did just that using interactive software in the room to get the audience's response to a number of questions.

The input from the marketplace doesn't inspire confidence:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Cost to Launch the California Health Insurance Exchange is $910 million––Does That Sound Like a Lot to You?

So far California has received $910 million in federal grants to launch its new health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare").

The California exchange, "Covered California," has so far awarded a $183 million contract to Accenture to build the website, enrollment, and eligibility system and another $174 million to operate the exchange for four years.

The state will also spend $250 million on a two-year marketing campaign. By comparison California Senator Barbara Boxer spent $28 million on her 2010 statewide reelection campaign while her challenger spent another $22 million.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Christie Removes Another Republican Excuse for Passing on the Medicaid Expansion

The New Jersey Governor became the eighth Republican to take the Medicaid expansion deal.

What I found notable is that he essentially mimicked Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott in reserving the right to back out in future years if the feds don't keep their funding promises. While the feds are paying 100% of the cost of expansion in the first three years, that support ultimately drops to 90% in later years.

Said Christie, “If that [the fed's funding promise] ever changes because of adverse actions by the Obama administration or broken promises, I will end it as quickly as it started."

Monday, February 25, 2013

C. Everett Koop, MD

Anyone who has ever read this blog and noticed its upper right hand corner has known that Dr. Koop and I were friends––for more than 20 years.

One of my more amazing experiences with Dr. Koop centers on a walk we took from the White House to my office up Connecticut Avenue. In the length of about a mile, I don't know how many people stopped him and thanked him for his service. Just regular people on the street––many tourists.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Florida's Republican Governor Scott Does a Deal With Sebelius on Medicaid

A million Floridians will now be eligible for Medicaid––the Obama administration is happy about that.

Republican Rick Scott gets to do it his way––in an almost entirely private market.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

By Refusing to Implement the Medicaid Expansion Republican Governors May Be Making the Republican Block Grant Proposals Impractical

Paul Ryan's Medicaid block grant proposals have always made sense to me. Give the states their Medicaid allotment and real flexibility over how they spend what will inevitably be less federal money.

But as I have thought about the impact of implementing the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), Medicaid block granting is looking more and more problematic.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

One Fiscal Cliff Down and Three To Go––But No Real Solution On the Horizon

Last week's deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" settled very little.

For those in the health care market, I will suggest the big takeaway is that we should expect very little will be settled in the coming months and we will continue to face a great deal of uncertainty for years to come.


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