Thursday Short Cuts

With the deadline approaching for individuals to renew healthcare plans purchased on HealthCare.gov, Aetna has begun to see a surge in customers for 2015, the insurer's new president said on Thursday during a meeting with analysts and investors.

HealthCare.gov has a Dec. 15 deadline for individuals to renew their 2014 plans or select new ones before it will automatically re-enroll them for next year. Enrollment for individual plans is open until Feb. 15, which were created under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.

Karen Rohan, whose appointment was announced earlier this month, said that the company expects a surge in enrollment over the next few days and that it was "starting to see" that already. Aetna sells these plans in 17 states.

The health insurance industry is firing back at Republicans' decision to cut government payments that could help plans struggling under the healthcare law. 

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) blasted legislation changing ObamaCare's "risk corridors" program and predicted that it would raise healthcare costs for families.

...Firms that do better than expected in 2014, 2015 and 2016 pay the government, and firms that do worse than excepted can receive those funds. 

Critics of the healthcare law have worked for a year to stop the government from spending additional money to enlarge those payments. 

The Department of Health and Human Services at one point assured the industry that more money would be available, but the "cromnibus" spending bill released Tuesday would prevent that. 

Spending on health care in the United States grew in 2013 at the lowest rate since the federal government began tracking it in 1960, the Obama administration said Wednesday.

It was the fifth straight year of exceptionally small increases in the closely watched indicator. The data defied critics who had said such slow growth would not continue for long once the recession ended in mid-2009.

Health spending totaled $2.9 trillion last year, up 3.6 percent from 2012, the administration said. The share of the economy devoted to health care, which appeared to be growing inexorably for decades, has been the same since 2009.

So how should we account for the apparently widespread perception of higher costs under Obamacare? There are at least two answers.

The first, Claxton said, is that although average premiums aren't rising any faster, the premiums differ less from company to company. Before the law was passed, those premiums were based in part on the health and age of the employees using the plan, which meant that employers with younger or healthier workers could pay significantly less.

By barring that practice, known as medical underwriting, for small employers, and by tightening age-based rate-setting, Obamacare increased costs for those companies, Claxton said. If you work at a company that employs 10 healthy workers in their 20s, it's possible that the premiums you pay have risen considerably.  

But remember: The fact that the average increase has remained mostly unchanged suggests premium increases for some were offset by premium decreases for others. That's more likely to be your experience if you work at a company that has older workers, or a few with expensive medical conditions.

Despite changes brought by the Affordable Care Act, advocates for a universal single-payer system say the current healthcare model is deeply flawed because it leaves consumers' access to care at the mercy of for-profit insurance companies.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, is sponsoring legislation that would create a universal single-payer healthcare system in New York state. At a public hearing in Rochester Monday to discuss hisNew York Health act, Gottfried said the plan would provide comprehensive health coverage for all New Yorkers and would be publicly funded.

The board of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange is trying to go where other exchange boards have gone before -- with fewer glitches.

The exchange board is hiring a project manager to set up an individual exchange enrollment from the state's Be Well PPACA exchange system.

The state has been supporting its exchange and running Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) enrollment, but it has been using HealthCare.gov, the enrollment system for the exchanges managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to handle individual enrollment.

CMS Deputy Administrator Andy Slavitt said during a call Thursday (Dec. 4) that the department strongly prefers to stick with its Dec. 15 deadline for consumers to sign up for Jan. 1 coverage to stay in place, but left a small opening for the agency to extend the deadline if necessary.

Some supporters of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are worried they’re paying a political price for health care reform. The political fallout should come as no surprise.

The history of comprehensive health reform shows unequivocally that it’s a short-term political disaster. That’s why so many political leaders have either avoided the issue, or regretted engaging it. Franklin D. Roosevelt, arguably one of our most politically adept presidents, turned his back on national health insurance in 1934 when advisors argued for including it in the Social Security program. He continued to dodge it for most of his long presidency. Both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton paid heavy political prices for their proposed national health care programs.

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott encouraged his fellow Republicans on Thursday to work on a technical fix to the Affordable Care Act to ensure that those purchasing coverage on federally run exchanges would continue receiving subsidies.

...When he was asked point blank if he would encourage Republicans to work on a technical fix to Obamacare, he responded without hesitation: “Sure, yeah, I would.