Obama administration

Vulnerable Democrats get a gift from Obama administration

Planned cuts to the popular Medicare Advantage program have been canceled by the Obama administration, handing an election year gift to vulnerable House and Senate Democrats who were worried that the issue could complicate their reelection bids:

The Obama administration announced Monday that planned cuts to Medicare Advantage would not go through as anticipated amid election-year opposition from congressional Democrats.

The cuts would have reduced benefits that seniors receive from health plans in the program, which is intended as an alternative to Medicare.

Under cuts planned by the administration, insurers offering the plans were to see their federal payments reduced by 1.9 percent, which likely would have necessitated cuts for customers.

Instead, the administration said the federal payments to insurers will increase next year by .40 percent.

Medicare Advantage rates were set to rise to offset $200 billions in cuts to the program to help pay for Obamacare. Rate increases for seniors were expected to be in the ballpark of $420 and $900 in 2015, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Robert Gibbs predicts demise of Obamacare’s employer mandate

Robert Gibbs

In a speech at an insurance industry event in Colorado, Robert Gibbs, a former White House official, predicted that the Obama administration will permanently nix Obamacare’s employer mandate, a destructive provision of the law that has been delayed twice already:

“I don’t think the employer mandate will go into effect. It’s a small part of the law. I think it will be one of the first things to go,” he said to a notably surprised audience.

The employer mandate has been delayed twice, he noted. The vast majority of employers with 100 or more employees offer health insurance, and there aren’t many employers who fall into the mandate window, he said.

Killing the employer mandate would be one way to improve the law — and there are a handful of other “common sense” improvements needed as well, he said.

The employer mandate is a provision of Obamacare that requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees, defined as someone who works at least 30 hours a week, to offer health insurance benefits or face a punitive, $2,000 per worker tax.

Insurers continue to warn of premium increases

While President Barack Obama and his supporters were trumpeting the 7.1 million Obamacare “enrollment” mark, an almost meaningless given that up to 20% of purported enrollees haven’t paid, health insurance companies were, once again, warning of potentially shocking premium increases for 2015:

[I]nsurers have already said that the first group of new enrollees under Obamacare, as the law is widely known, represent a higher rate of older and costlier members than hoped. To keep their health plans from losing money in the coming years, many expect monthly premium rates to rise by double-digit percentages in some parts of the country.

That could set the stage for a public outcry ahead of congressional elections this year, giving ammunition to Republicans and creating new friction with the White House that could endure into the 2016 presidential election.
“I do think that it’s likely premium rate shocks are coming. I think they begin to make themselves at least partially known in 2015 and fully known in 2016,” said Chet Burrell, chief executive officer of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. “That will be different in different parts of the country. I don’t think it will be uniformly the same.”

The rate increases will be determined on a state-by-state basis, and the percentages of young and healthy people who selected plans in some states were better than others.

Yes, Jay Carney, Obamacare is a government program

Facing questions from reporters on Monday about Obamacare enrollments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the administration’s inability to come up with the number of paid premiums. But there was one particular part of his comments that stood out.

“We are talking about private insurance. This is not a government program,” Carney told reporters. “The contract that you sign if you get health insurance through Healthcare.gov or through a state marketplace is a private contract between you and an insurance company.”

PolitiFact named statements that Obamacare is “a government takeover of healthcare” as its “Lie of the Year” for 2010. The fact checker, however, only examined the statement through the most basic lens.

“‘Government takeover’ conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees,” Bill Adair and Angie Drobnic Holan wrote in December 2010. “But the law Congress passed, parts of which have already gone into effect, relies largely on the free market.”

It’s true that the Obamacare relies on private insurance companies participation in the state and federal exchanges. It’s also true that enrollees are entering into private contracts with insurers for coverage. But that doesn’t mean that Obamacare isn’t a government program.

Individual mandate: In a true free market, individuals decide for themselves if a product or service best suites their needs. Taking the politically convenient loopholes out of the equation, the individual mandate exists to coerce Americans into purchasing health plans.

A third of Obamacare enrollees were previously uninsured

One of the measures of “success” for Obamacare will be the number of uninsured Americans who signed up for health plans on the state and federal exchanges.

Taking into account the disruption to the health insurance market because of the law and other ways the administration could have approached reform, there’s not one way to look at this question. But it’s still an important gauge, given that access to health coverage for the uninsured was one of the driving themes behind Obamacare.

Robert Laszewski, an insurance industry consultant, says it’s one of the two major questions on which we should judge the success of the law.

“Obamacare was enacted, and the private health insurance market fundamentally changed, so that we could cover millions of people who previously couldn’t get coverage,” he noted. “To what extent have we reduced the ranks of the uninsured––how many of these people who enrolled were previously insured and how many of them were previously uninsured?”

The White House still doesn’t know how many people who were previously uninsured signed up for health plans. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday that the administration ” expect[s] there to be a good mix of people who were previously uninsured who now have insurance,” adding that this is a hard figure to measure.

Yes, the Obama administration is cooking the books to boost Obamacare

In a segment on Fox News Sunday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) dismissed the claim that 6 million people have enrolled into health plans and accused the Obama administration of “cooking the books” to boost Obamacare enrollment numbers.

This all goes back to the Obama administration being unable to produce the number of paid enrollments. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged this last month, pointing to “major insurers who have placed [the number of paid enrollments] at 80%, give or take.” This estimate was repeated on Sunday by insurance industry consultant Robert Laszewski.

“Of course, the more than 6 million enrollment the administration recently announced overstates Obamacare’s success because this includes enrollments that were never completed since the person never paid the premium,” wrote Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates. “There are lots of reasons why a consumer might not complete the enrollment,” citing enrollment errors or second thoughts.

HealthCare.gov down for maintenance on final Obamacare sign-up day

Healthcare.gov down for maintenance

It’s the final day of the first quarter of the year, which, if you’re a politics nerd, means that your inbox is filled with last-minute fundraising pleas from politicians and candidates looking hoping to post strong numbers on their next FEC disclosures.

It’s also the deadline to enroll in a health plan on the state and federal Obamacare exchanges, and the Obama administration is making its final push to get people enrolled. In a little more than a week, this author has received five emails from “The HealthCare.gov Team” with reminders that the March 31 deadline is approaching.

March 20 (click to enlarge):

March 26:

March 28:

March 29:

The last email, sent yesterday, March 30, says, “YOU ONLY HAVE 1 DAY LEFT!” to enroll in a health plan on the exchange. “Don’t put this off any longer,” they wrote. “We don’t want you to miss this opportunity for quality, affordable health coverage through the Marketplace.”

Bill Clinton questions Obama administration move ceding Internet oversight

Bill Clinton wonders whether the Obama administration’s move to cede the United States’ last remaining oversight of the Internet could hurt online freedom should countries with a history of censorship claim a stake in its future.

The former president, speaking last week on a panel at event hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative, said the Internet has “flourished in freedom” under U.S. control, though he favors the theory of a “multi-stakeholder process” that would have oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

“Whatever you believe about what the NSA has done, what the proposals the president’s made to change it, whatever, the Internet has flourished in freedom, and people have had access to it,” said Clinton. “And whether it was trying to keep access open in Iran after their disputed election with the Green Revolution, whether it’s trying to make sure you could use it and people could follow your struggles in driving. We’ve been there on that. Whatever you think is wrong.”

“And all I’m saying is, I understand in theory why we would like to have a multi-stakeholder process, I favor that, I just know that a lot of these so-called multi-stakeholders are really governments that want to gag people and restrict access to the Internet,” he added.

Enrollment extension could cause headaches for insurers

The Obama administration’s extension of the Obamacare open enrollment period past the original March 31 deadline could be a headache for insurance companies participating on the exchanges. Insurers are supposed to begin submitting their rates for 2015 in a couple of months, and the extended enrollment period is adding to the uncertainty created by the law:

Insurers fear that past-deadline enrollees could complicate efforts to calculate premiums for next year, which will be filed with regulators from this spring. Health plans want to know who has signed up this year and their medical needs, so they can gauge what to charge in 2015.

“The more information that’s coming in that we can’t use for our [rate] filing because of the time frame, the less accurate and predictive we will be,” said Patrick Getzen, chief actuary at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Insurers have also pushed for enrollment periods to be tightly restricted, to avoid the prospect of healthy people waiting until they have an accident or illness to obtain coverage now that health plans can no longer bar people based on their medical condition. “The special enrollment period needs to be limited to a clear period of time,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group.

Kathleen Sebelius may have lied about paid Obamacare enrollments

Not only is Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius under fire for yet another Obamacare delay — this time an extension of the open enrollment period — when she said there wouldn’t be anymore delays, she may have lied about her department’s ability to shine light on paid enrollees.

When she appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee last week, Sebelius told members that the administration could not produce the number of paid Obamacare enrollees. But Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) believe that she may have not been telling the truth:

Administration officials have repeatedly said they’re not able to break down enrollees by who has made a payment because they only have access to information about those selecting plans on the HealthCare.gov website, as consumers are expected to pay the insurers directly after enrolling.

Sebelius reiterated that claim in her March 12 testimony to the House panel.

But Camp (R-Mich.) and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) say they have uncovered “new evidence” that “strongly suggests that the administration knows who has enrolled and paid their first month’s premium.”

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