Consumer Power Report #480
It’s the most not-so-wonderful time of the year: The open-enrollment period for the national Obamacare exchange began on November 1, and millions of Americans were greeted with the good tidings of increased health insurance premiums and higher deductibles.
According to a new study by HealthPocket.com, average premiums for middle-tier Obamacare exchange “silver plans” are increasing by roughly 10 percent in 2016, and the average deductible is set to increase by 6 percent, to $3,117.
Even the prices of the allegedly affordable “bronze plans” are set to rise by 11 percent for nonsubsidized customers compared to 2015 prices; deductibles for those plans now average a stunning $5,731.
Whatever happened to President Barack Obama’s promise, which he made at least 19 separate times, to lower annual insurance premiums by $2,500?
The only thing worse than having to pay the ever-increasing cost of an Obamacare health insurance plan is having to enroll in an exchange plan for 2016 when you thought you already had a health insurance plan. That’s exactly what happened for more than 59,000 customers of Arizona-based health insurance provider Meritus, which, according to its website, “has been placed under the supervision of the Arizona State Department of Insurance … with the intention of winding down operations at the end of 2015.”
Meritus is a health insurance cooperative that is part of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Consumer Oriented and Operated Plan. These cooperatives are non-profit health insurers directed by their consumers and designed to offer individuals and small businesses affordable health insurance products. They received significant support under ACA, which provided large low-interest loans to help these organizations get off and running. More than $3.8 billion of taxpayer money was appropriated to support the loans.
Cooperatives such as Meritus have been failing across the country, largely due to high spending. Many of these new providers are struggling to compete with significantly larger private health insurance companies, and costs have routinely surpassed revenues.
Meritus customers were recently informed that because the cooperative was closing its doors in 2016, they would be forced to enter the Obamacare health insurance exchange like millions of other Americans who must now choose between paying for inferior health insurance or paying a growing “penalty” for not having a qualified health insurance plan. Penalties for 2016 are applied in many situations based on income; experts believe the penalty could exceed $2,000 for some families.
This depressing news hasn’t fazed Obamacare supporters. For instance, in a report for Arizona-based media outlet Fox 10, reporter Marcy Jones writes in reference to the 59,000 customers of Meritus now forced to enter the Obamacare exchange, “Health care specialist Allen Gjersvig says finding the right health insurance shouldn’t be a scary thing – in fact, he says it should be exciting.”
Yes, there’s nothing quite as “exciting” as shopping for a high-cost health insurance plan.
There is some good news to report: It appears Healthcare.gov – the Obamacare website with a history so horrific it makes the exploding Ford Pinto of the 1970s look like a brand-new Ferrari – has received a much-needed makeover. The more than $1 billion spent to build and fix the glitch-laden endeavor may have paid off: It’s now easier than ever to spend thousands of your hard-earned cash on inferior care!
— Justin Haskins
IN THIS ISSUE:
“Cheap” could cost you more for Obamacare next year.
People who buy the cheapest health plans on the biggest Obamacare exchange without getting financial assistance are facing the largest increases for premiums and out-of-pocket costs in 2016, new analyses show.
Average prices of the so-called bronze plans on the HealthCare.gov marketplace are rising 11 percent for nonsubsidized customers over 2015 prices. Average deductibles for individuals are increasing by the same percentage, to $5,731, according to a study by HealthPocket.com, an insurance comparison site.
Average premiums for the most popular types of plans, known as “silver plans,” are going up nearly as much – 10 percent – for HealthCare.gov customers who are unsubsidized, HealthPocket found.
Silver plan deductibles, however, are rising more modestly next year, by 6 percent for an individual, to $3,117.
The Avalere Health consultancy, in its own analysis, found that the average price of the lowest-cost bronze plan in HealthCare.gov states was rising by an average of 16 percent. Avalere said the average price of the lowest-cost silver plan was rising by 13 percent, compared to the 3.2 percent rise that was seen for 2015 plans.
SOURCE: By Dan Mangan, CNBC
Gov. Asa Hutchinson is dropping two of his proposals to limit benefits in Arkansas’ hybrid Medicaid expansion and must notify the federal government by year’s end of the changes the state is seeking, the Republican told lawmakers in a letter released Thursday.
Hutchinson told a legislative task force that he wants to rename the state’s hybrid expansion to “Arkansas Works” if the federal government approves the changes he wants. The program, currently called the “private option,” uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor and was crafted as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.
“With your support, I will fight for the strongest waiver application possible, one that will promote work while protecting vulnerable populations,” Hutchinson wrote in the letter, dated Tuesday.
Hutchinson in August told lawmakers he supports keeping the hybrid expansion if the government allows the state to impose new limits on benefits and eligibility.
In the letter sent this week, he said he was dropping the proposal to move some beneficiaries off the subsidized coverage and on to traditional Medicaid. “While this proposal was designed to encourage and reward work, I am convinced that it would be difficult to administer and the impact on premium payments is uncertain,” Hutchinson wrote.
He also will drop a proposal to eliminate coverage of non-emergency transportation.
The letter was a response to recommendations to keep the private option but make several changes from The Stephen Group, which the Legislature hired to look at the private option and Medicaid. Hutchinson said lawmakers should consider the recommendation to hire a private company to manage some Medicaid programs, but only for high-cost populations.
Two Senate committees are deepening their probes into a controversial ObamaCare program that gave $2.4 billion to startup insurers, half of which have failed.
Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) wrote to the head of the agency overseeing ObamaCare on Monday demanding to know how federal officials are dealing with the string of co-op failures – and how they will recoup the money.
The letter comes one day ahead of a House Ways and Means hearing on ObamaCare co-ops, on Tuesday.
“The CO-OPs are not living up to their expectations,” the senators wrote in a letter to Centers for Medicare & [Medicaid Services] (CMS) Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt.
Eleven of the 23 co-ops have shuttered, including those in the senators’ home states of Tennessee and Utah. A half dozen have failed in the last two weeks leading up to the open enrollment period that began Nov. 1.
The senators also raised new concerns of “creative accounting” tactics that they said make the co-ops “appear more profitable than they actually are and [wonder] if false positives will then result in even more failures.”
Stay tuned for the State of the State address, which is three months away.
That was part of Gov. Robert Bentley’s answer to an audience member who asked the governor about Medicaid expansion when the governor spoke to the Montgomery Lions Club last week.
Bentley has opposed expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. But lately he has indicated that the state’s ongoing Medicaid reform efforts could eventually be applied toward the same objective – making health care coverage available to more people.
“There are some programs that I will be announcing by my State of the State that are going to be exciting for rural Alabama and that all of y’all are going to really like,” Bentley told the Lions Club.
Later, when asked if those rural programs concerned health care, Bentley said, “It will include health care but it will include many, many other things, too, that are very exciting and it will include some plans we are putting together right now.”
When asked if the plans involved making more people eligible for Medicaid, the governor said, “We will look at the health care issues and we have a task force right now that’s looking at that and they’re going to bring recommendations to me and we’ll be putting all that together.” …
“It’s not about a person, it’s about a philosophy,” Bentley said. “And I was opposed to the government telling me how to practice medicine when I was a doctor. I’m opposed to Blue Cross telling me how to practice medicine. Or anybody else. I’m opposed to anybody getting between me and the patient.”
SOURCE: By Mike Cason, AL.com
The Missouri Health Care Association (MHCA) and the Missouri Assisted Living Association (MALA) made a presentation Monday at the Missouri Health Facilities Review Committee’s Certificate of Need Meeting to outline the need for an update to the CON process.
Nikki Strong, the executive vice president of membership and government affairs for MHCA, was one of the presenters. She and those from MALA believe that too many certificates of need are currently being approved by the committee on projects, especially in areas that do not need more assisted living or skilled nursing facilities.
She cited one example of such a project approved in July in Sikeston where there was a surplus of 500-plus beds in the area of the proposed facility and more than half a dozen providers testified against it and used supporting documentation of low occupancy in their facilities to demonstrate that there was no need for this project. However, the MHFRC still voted to approve it.
Strong says approval of these kinds of projects harms existing facilities because it leads to competition over personnel and an inability to pay for a facility’s fixed costs – such as rent, utilities and certain administrative expenditures.