Obamacare Update: affordable premiums, more competition, stabilized costs

Reblogged from The Secular Jurist:

By Robert A. Vella

Here’s the latest news on the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a Obamacare):

From The Washington PostFederal insurance exchange subsidies cut premiums by average of 76%, HHS reports

The 28-page report, by the Department of Health and Human Services, is the government’s first effort to gauge the affordability and availability of health plans under the Affordable Care Act, now that the first insurance sign-up period has ended.

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The health officials said they have not yet analyzed the incomes of people who qualified for the subsidies. But overall, the report shows, the average monthly tax credit this year is $264. Without the federal help, the average premium chosen by people eligible for a tax credit would have been $346 per month, and the subsidy lowered the consumers’ premiums, on average, by 76 percent. The result is that four out of five people with subsidies are paying premiums of no more than $100 a month — although that does not include money they might need to spend for insurance deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.

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On average, the analysis found, people buying in the federal exchange had a choice of 47 health plans, offered by an average of five different insurance companies. The level of competition is slightly below what was found in late September, days before the federal insurance exchange opened, when HHS issued a report saying that the typical American would have a choice of 53 health plans from eight different insurance companies.

From Daily KosObamacare’s very good week

Chart showing surge of insurers joining exchanges in several states.

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More insurers means, as Kaiser Family Foundation President Larry Levitt says, potentially lower premiums and thus lower costs overall—less the government is paying in subsidies, more consumer choice, and “marketing muscle” from big insurers that will help boost enrollments. More insurers being willing to enter the market helps prove another point which was reinforced this week—these are paying customers. If there was a huge problem with people paying their premiums, insurers would be staying away.

From The Huffington PostMillions Get Obamacare For $100 Or Less

Premiums are likely to rise for most consumers next year, as they typically have for decades. Health insurance companies already are submitting widely varying proposals for next year’s rates to state regulators. Some have requested hikes of 10 percent or more, while others aim to lower prices. Premiums for people who don’t get health insurance from their jobs rose an average of 10 percent a year prior to the Affordable Care Act, according to an analysis published by the Commonwealth Fund this month.

People who receive tax credits largely should be shielded from premium increases, however. The Affordable Care Act caps their monthly costs based on income, and uses tax credits to fill the gap between that cutoff and the price of the health insurance plan.

Obamacare Update: The Numbers are Undeniable

Reblogged from The Secular Jurist:

By Robert A. Vella

Today is the last day of the Affordable Care Act’s initial open enrollment period.  People who log-in before April 1, 2014 will be granted an additional grace period to complete the process.  Despite the botched website roll-out on October 1st, a generally uninformed public, and systematic sabotage efforts by Republicans, Obamacare enrollment numbers are poised to meet or exceed the original projections.

The Los Angeles Times has reported the following:

  • Individual enrollments through the various private health insurance exchanges will at least come close to the 7 million figure forecast by the Congressional Budget Office.
  • The Rand Corporation has estimated that 4.5 million people have signed up for the Medicaid expansion, and an additional 3 million adults under the age of 27 have received coverage through their parents’ health plans (a provision of the ACA).

Those figures represent a minimum of 14 million Americans now enrolled in Obamacare.  Even considering that some of these enrollments were just switching to better plans, that still leaves roughly 10 million more people with health care coverage who didn’t have it before implementation of the ACA (myself included).  In 2009, the United States Census Bureau listed 48.6 million people in the U.S. (15.7% of the population) who were without health insurance.  Extrapolating that percentage of uninsured to 2014 (the U.S. population has increased by approximately 12 million since 2009 from 305 million to 317 million), there would have been an additional 1.2 million (49.8 million total) uninsured Americans today under the previous system.  Therefore, Obamacare has reduced the uninsured rate by about 3% to 12.7% overall (based on 9.5 million newly insured).

The Times article also responded to criticism from conservatives who insist these enrollment numbers don’t address:

  • The number of new enrollments which remain unpaid.
  • How many of the new enrollments already had health insurance.
  • How many of the new enrollments are “young invincibles” (aged 18-34).
  • How many individuals with existing plans were cancelled without recourse (a factual inaccuracy).
  • The White House arbitrarily manufactured the enrollment numbers for political gain (a factual absurdity).

My personal experience with Obamacare enrollment

As an uninsured individual, I’ve been following the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) pretty closely since its inception.  Even though I’m probably more knowledgeable of the law than most people, it became evident during the enrollment process that I still had much to learn.  Without doubt, the ACA is complicated and it will take time for the public to become familiar with it.  But when they do, I think most people will be as pleasantly surprised with it as I am now.

First off, I had assumed that I wouldn’t be eligible for the ACA’s Medicaid expansion provision due to my financial assets (I’m close to retirement age living off savings and investment earnings).  So, I was anticipating purchasing a low cost private insurance plan through the new health care exchanges.  However, that assumption proved incorrect.  The ACA removed the existing asset limitation, and Medicaid eligibility is now based on the following requirements:

  • Age must be 19-65.
  • Income must be below 138% of the federal poverty level ($1322/month or $15864/year).
  • Must not be entitled to Medicare.
  • Must not be incarcerated.
  • Must meet citizenship requirements.
  • Must be a resident of the state you’re applying in.

I had this experience with the online application process:

Day 1 – I couldn’t access the website because the shear volume of users had crashed their servers.

Day 2 – I filled out the reasonably-sized questionnaire in short order, but couldn’t submit the application due to a software glitch.

Day 3 – I submitted the application, and it was approved later that same day.

One of the many faces of Obamacare

One of the many faces of Obamacare

The Medicaid expansion plan I’m enrolled in is called Washington Apple Health – No Cost Adult Coverage.  There are no monthly premiums associated with this plan, although I’m not sure yet about co-pays and other potential costs.  Also, I won’t know the exact spectrum of benefits until I receive the official documentation in the mail.

In any event, this is a huge load off my shoulders.  No longer will I have to worry about an illness or injury wiping out my financial resources.  In 2009, I supported Congressman Alan Grayson’s (D-FL) Medicare Buy-In plan and the widely debated Public Option.  Both of those legislative options failed to pass Congress, but the now enacted ACA still appears to be a very beneficial law for millions of Americans.  And, I’m one of them.

The 7 Craziest Obamacare Conspiracy Theories And why they’re wrong. —By Erika Eichelberger | Tue Aug. 6, 2013 3:00 AM PDT

Reblogged from Mother Jones

Obamacare is going to implant you with a microchip. Obamacare is going to tax your golf club. Obamacare is going to create a massive unprecedented federal database to hold all of your “intimate…secrets.”

One of the largest components of the Affordable Care Act—the health exchanges from which Americans can buy discount health coverage—will go into effect on October 1. And that has right-wingers in conspiracy theory high gear. Here are seven conspiracy theories about the health care law, along with debunkings from the fact-check websites PolitiFact and Snopes:

1. Obamacare Will Tax Your Outboard Motor

The Claim: chain email making the rounds this summer claims that a “hidden” provision of Obamacare taxes sporting goods as medical devices, including “Sport fishing equipment; Fishing rods and fishing poles; Electric outboard motors; Fishing tackle boxes; Bows, quivers, broadheads and points; Arrow shafts; Coal; Taxable tires; Gas guzzler automobiles.” Yikes!

The Reality: Obamacare does impose a 2.3 percent tax on some medical devices to offset the added costs of expanding health coverage to the uninsured, which went into effect at the beginning of the year. But, as PolitiFact points out, none of the items listed in the chain email is labeled as a medical device by the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which defines the types of devices that can be taxed. No, Obamacare won’t be taxing your golf club after all.
2. Obamacare Will Kill Your Grandma

Paul Vasarhelyi/Shutterstock

The Claim: Another zombie chain email warns that Obamacare will deny old people cancer treatment: “Please for the sake of many good people, please… pass this on. We all need to be informed. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO LIKE THIS…  At age 76 when you most need it, you are not eligible for cancer treatment.”

The Reality: This particular email has been making the rounds for a good four years, according to Snopes, and is based on an old version of the law that didn’t pass. But even that version of the legislation did not ration cancer care; in fact, the American Nurses Association says the cancer treatment section of that law would implement “the opposite of rationing. The section allows Medicare to pay cancer hospitals more if they are incurring higher costs.” Similarly, there is no cut-off age for cancer treatment under the law that passed, known as Obamacare. “The claim is based on an inaccurate reading of a bill that went nowhere,” PolitiFactconcludes.
3. Obamacare Comes With Microchips

MADDRAT/Shutterstock

The Claim: Beware, Obamacare is going to implant a microchip in you, cautions yet another chain email batting around the internet: “This new Health Care (Obamacare) law requires and RFID [radio frequency identification] chip implanted in all of us. This chip will not only contain your personal information with tracking capability but it will also be linked to your bank account.”

The Reality: As Snopes points out, “[C]laims that health care reform legislation will require such implantations date to the Clinton administration” and are “often linked to the ‘mark of the beast’ referenced in Revelations.” The sections of legislation referenced in the email and others like it pertain to a passage in a previous version of the health care law that called for the creation of a registry that would allow the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect data about medical devices “used in or on a patient”—such as pacemakers or hip replacements—in order to track their effectiveness. Nothing in the Affordable Care Act calls for the government to stick a microchip in your wrist.
4. Illegal Immigrants Are Eligible for Obamacare

Stephanie Zeiber/Shutterstock

The Claim: Illegal immigrants will get health coverage under Obamacare, warns one widely circulated, oft-debunked, and still undead chain email.

The Reality: The health care law requires Americans (Americans) to purchase health insurance. Undocumented immigrants “don’t have to follow the mandate because they shouldn’t be here,” PolitiFact reiterates. “They [also] remain ineligible for regular Medicaid coverage, just as they are ineligible for food stamps.”
5. Thomas Jefferson Warned Us About Obamacare

The Claim: Thomas Jefferson warned of the dangers of government interference in health care. Here is the purported quote from our founding father, via a chain email: “If the people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in a sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”

The Reality: Jefferson did write something similar in a book published in 1785 called Notes on the State of Virginia: “Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet,” he wrote, “our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.” The latter quote was transformed into the former in the 1990s, Snopes explains, and has been trotted out repeatedly as a caution against government meddling in private medical practice. But that wasn’t Jefferson’s argument; he was suggesting that legislating morality was as useless as legislating what a person eats.
6. Almost Everyone Who Works for a Small Business Is Getting Fired

Eric Von Seggern/Shutterstock

The Claim: In late July, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), citing a study by the Chamber of Commerce, asserted that three-quarters of all small businesses have said they’re going to fire workers or cut hours. Rubio said this is due to the provision in the law that requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to offer affordable health coverage or face a penalty.

The Reality: The Chamber study involved 1,300 small business executives, but PolitiFact did some digging and found out that the Chamber did not actually survey the entire group on whether they’d fire employees because of the law. Only 17 percent of survey members said they would be impacted by the law’s so-called employer mandate. Out of that 17 percent of small businessmen and women, the study purportedly found that 75 percent of them said they would cut hours or replace workers, but Politico found that even that number was fudged by lumping survey questions together. Math shows that out of all small business execs in the study, only 5 to 9 percent actually said they would cut back hours or replace full-time workers in response to the health care law.
7. The Giant Obamacare Database

Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock

The Claim: In May, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) warned of a “huge national database” created by the health care law that will collect Americans’ “personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest-secrets.” The claim has been widely discredited, but fringy conservative email chains continue to perpetuate the falsehood.

The Reality: The government is not constructing a database that collects, centralizes, and stores data. The health care law does create something called a Federal Data Hub which will allow HHS to extract data—such as whether a person already has health insurance—fromalready existing databases at other state and federal agencies. The hub will be used to verify consumer information when they are purchasing health insurance on the exchanges. The hub also has the ability to access income data and Social Security numbers, but that information already exists in other federal databases, “so the hub wouldn’t represent an expansion of federal data collection,” according to PolitiFact. Brian Cook, a spokesman for HHS, told the fact-checking organization that the hub will have “strict privacy controls to safeguard personal information.”