Sunday Short Cuts

Hat Tip To: 
Sarah Kliff

All of these stories deserve full write-ups, but I just don't have time right now...

Employer coverage stays steady in 2014

One persistent Obamacare fear, for years now, has been that the new law would decimate the employer-sponsored insurance system. Why would companies waste money on buying coverage for their workers, the argument goes, when they could hand these people off to Obamacare's new exchanges?

And some high profile companies like Walmart went through and did this, leading to much speculation about whether Obamacare would kill employer-sponsored coverage.

New research from the Urban Institute suggests that, at least in year one, companies like Walmart were the exception rather than the norm: employer-sponsored coverage held steady through the Affordable Care Act's launch.

Department of Health and Human Services’ Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced today that HHS is collaborating with the nation’s largest pharmacies to encourage enrollment through the Health Insurance Marketplace at thousands of locations across the country. Ahold USA Companies, Bi-Lo Holdings, CVS Health, H-E-B, Kroger, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart are playing an important role in providing information about the Health Insurance Marketplace to people across the country.

If you’re uninsured and want individual health coverage starting on Jan. 1, you’re mostly out of time, if you want to buy on the government marketplaces. Some individual plans are still available outside the marketplaces, however, with late-December enrollment deadlines, provided you don’t want financial help with your premiums.

More than three dozen states have at least one insurer offering individual plans outside the government exchanges, according to the online insurance brokerage eHealth.com. Insurers in some states are offering enrollment deadlines as late as Dec. 31, for coverage starting Jan. 1. (They include Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, eHealth says.)

The catch is that because the plans aren’t offered through the marketplaces, they aren’t eligible for financial help, like tax credits to reduce your premium. So, if you make less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level — $46,680 for a single person in 2015 — you’ll probably find a better deal on Healthcare.gov or one of the state-based exchanges. (With a few exceptions, since some states that have extended their marketplace deadlines, the earliest marketplace coverage can begin now is Feb. 1).

In a move that took some by surprise Thursday, the board of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange voted to take the state’s online insurance exchange out of the business of managing customer payments and invoices.

The action came on a motion by Phil Dyer, a member of the board, which oversees the Washington Healthplanfinder exchange. After heated comments at a board meeting Thursday morning, members voted 4-3 to stop this key part of the exchange’s operations in the fall of 2015 and turn it over to the insurance carriers. Problems with the payment system have been the subject of numerous consumer complaints.

Obamacare critics who took the administration all the way to the Supreme Court over the law’s subsidies have sued once again — this time, because it says federal officials are “stonewalling” its request for public records  about how it developed the overhaul’s health exchanges.

The Competitive Enterprise  Institute, which is funding the high-profile subsidies case titled King v. Burwell, said its freedom-of-information requests for documents related to tax-credit calculators on HealthCare.gov, the federal portal that now serves 37 states, have gone unheeded.

The CMS has awarded $187 million to five states in the agency's final round of grants for development of state-based exchanges. 

The bulk of that money, nearly $100 million, is going to Arkansas, the only state that is actively working to establish its own marketplace. Arkansas plans to have a small-business exchange operational in 2016 and plans to implement an individual exchange the following year. 

Huh. Now that's interesting. I knew that Arkansas had been considering their own exchange the way that Illinois was (but then ended up failing to follow through with at the end of the 2014 legislative session). I figured that AR's exchange plans were dead, however, given that they just elected an anti-ACA GOP Governor.

Now it sounds like that's not the case at all, although it'll be another 2 years before their own individual exchange is ready to go live.