Obamacare sign-ups expected to lag at the end of enrollment this week

Obamacare’s open-enrollment season is headed for a disappointing ending this Friday despite its surprisingly robust start.

The reasons for the expected lag include the Trump administration’s decision to cut the sign-up period in half and slash outreach and marketing, skyrocketing premiums and general confusion about the status of the health law after repeated failed Republican attempts to dismantle it.

“There’s a clear relationship between increasing premiums and decreasing enrollment,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), co-sponsor of a GOP plan to replace the Obamacare in part with block grants to states. “We’re losing people who don’t get subsidies. That’s the reason we’ve got to do something about it.”

More than 80 percent of enrollees got subsidies in past years and the figure is expected to be significantly higher this year.

Democrats point the finger squarely at the Trump administration, which has slashed federal spending on marketing Obamacare coverage by Continue reading “Obamacare sign-ups expected to lag at the end of enrollment this week”

POLITICO survey: Insurers on pace to record Obamacare profits for first time

Insurers have finally figured out how to make money in the Obamacare markets: Charge more.

After taking a beating for three years, health plans jacked up their rates for 2017, with the average premium on the most popular products rising more than 20 percent. That created sticker shock for many Obamacare customers while putting many insurers on pace to record profits this year for the first time, according to a POLITICO analysis of 31 regional Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, many of which dominate Obamacare markets in their states.

But the turnaround comes just as Republican efforts to dismantle the health law are creating new threats to the viability of the marketplaces. That leaves the plans in a bewildering situation, trying to improve their margins while the GOP declares Obamacare a failure and mounts another push to dismantle the system, starting with rolling back the health law’s individual mandate.

“The Continue reading “POLITICO survey: Insurers on pace to record Obamacare profits for first time”

Aetna-CVS behemoth would nudge patients toward the drug store counter

The proposed $69 billion merger between pharmacy giant CVS and health insurer Aetna would create a new type of health care behemoth.

Unlike most recent blockbuster deals, it would combine two companies that are huge players in different sectors of the $3 trillion industry.

CVS has more than 10,000 stores and clinics across the country, and is one of the country’s largest pharmacy benefit managers. Aetna is the country’s third biggest insurer with more than 22 million members.

The companies say that together, they can provide better care with convenient clinics, incentives to buy their medications and visit CVS instead of the doctor. The combination would also result in a massive data combination that would enable Aetna to, say, know when a customer was pregnant, or buying harmful dietary supplements.

But experts are generally skeptical that they can complete the task: Customers don’t necessarily like receiving complex medical care from Continue reading “Aetna-CVS behemoth would nudge patients toward the drug store counter”

Obamacare mandate repeal may not deliver predicted blow

Repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate might not be the devastating blow to health insurance markets that supporters of the law fear.

Because the tax penalty for not having insurance is far less costly than what many Americans would have to pay for coverage, many have chosen to take the fine. Eliminating it, therefore, might not radically change behavior — or fulfill the dire predictions of spiking premiums and vast increases in uninsured people that economists, health providers and politicians once predicted.

Even the Congressional Budget Office says it’s rethinking its estimates of the consequences.

“We’ve always said the mandate is ineffective; it’s such a weak mandate,” said Deep Banerjee, an analyst at Standard & Poor’s who has closely tracked the Obamacare markets. “We don’t think many people would lose insurance if the mandate goes away.” The ratings service projects repeal would increase the number of uninsured by 3 million to Continue reading “Obamacare mandate repeal may not deliver predicted blow”

Defying gloomy predictions, Obamacare enrollment surges

Doomsday headlines about Obamacare enrollment may be having an unforeseen consequence: booming sign-ups in the troubled insurance marketplaces.

Obamacare’s fifth open enrollment season, the first under President Donald Trump, is off to a surprisingly robust start despite the brutal developments of the past year — skyrocketing premiums, dwindling competition, unremitting Republican efforts to eradicate it.

Sign-ups surged as soon as enrollment opened Nov. 1, easily surpassing the number of Americans getting coverage during the opening days of the final two sign-up periods under the Obama administration. CMS on Wednesday reported nearly 1.5 million people had selected plans through Nov. 11.

In other words, there might be no such thing as bad news for Obamacare.

“As P.T. Barnum would say, as long as my name is in the papers and it’s spelled correctly, it’s all good,” said Michael Marchand, chief marketing officer for Washington state’s Obamacare marketplace, which saw Continue reading “Defying gloomy predictions, Obamacare enrollment surges”

Trump may use executive power to weaken Obamacare’s individual mandate

President Donald Trump remains intent on undoing the Obamacare individual mandate one way or another.

Encouraged by Trump, a group of congressional conservatives want to add repeal of the mandate to the GOP’s overhaul of the tax code. But other Republicans fear the toxic politics of Obamacare could jeopardize the tax fight, and so far have kept repeal language out of both Senate and House versions of the tax package.

That means it could be left to Trump to act unilaterally to neutralize what polls consistently show to be the most unpopular part of the Affordable Care Act.

Most legal observers believe the administration has the necessary authority to interpret the law and substantially weaken enforcement of the tax penalty levied on most Americans who fail to obtain coverage. The downside is that unraveling the mandate might ultimately make it harder for Republicans to follow through on their long-standing promise Continue reading “Trump may use executive power to weaken Obamacare’s individual mandate”

Obamacare sign-ups surge despite Trump cuts

Obamacare’s open-enrollment season is off to a booming start despite widespread fears the Trump administration is seeking to sabotage the sign-up period.

The number of individuals signing up for coverage through HealthCare.gov during the first week of open enrollment is “roughly double” the pace of the previous year, according to an HHS source familiar with the enrollment data.

It’s way too early to determine whether more Americans will ultimately sign up for coverage this season. One big reason to treat the initial surge with caution: The enrollment period is just six weeks long, half the length of last year’s sign-up period.

But the early outpouring suggests that fears that the Trump administration’s actions — particularly gutting federal spending on outreach and marketing — would lead to a lackluster sign-up period may be overblown. Analysts at Standard & Poor’s projected that up to 1.6 million fewer Americans could sign Continue reading “Obamacare sign-ups surge despite Trump cuts”