Lamar Alexander Wants to Bail Out Regulators Who Misjudged Billions

When a state’s insurance market stands on the verge of collapse, as Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak claimed in 2016, why would she and her colleagues fail to consider another potential change that could precipitate a full-on implosion? Congress should analyze this question as it examines Obamacare’s health insurance markets.

Unfortunately, however, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander seems more interested in stuffing the coffers of the insurance industry than in conducting robust oversight of McPeak’s regulatory debacle.

A recent public records request confirms that when health insurers filed their 2017 rates in the summer of 2016, Tennessee’s Department of Insurance failed to contemplate that the incoming presidential administration could cancel the cost-sharing payments. As a result, Tennessee insurers will incur their share of the $1.75 billion in losses insurers face nationally this year. The department’s lack of planning and preparation left Tennessee consumers—to say nothing of health insurers themselves—exposed.

Tennessee Should Have Seen This Coming

McPeak cannot say she was not warned about the vulnerability of insurers’ cost-sharing subsidies. In May 2016, federal court Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled the payments unconstitutional, because Obamacare did not include an explicit appropriation for them. While Collyer stayed her ruling as the Obama administration appealed, I noted that month that the incoming president could easily concede the lawsuit and halt the payments unilaterally—exactly what President Trump did in October.

As one insurance expert noted recently, the “hand grenade” of stopping the cost-sharing reduction payments, “if it was thrown in January or February of this year, would have forced a lot of carriers to do midyear exits and it would have destroyed the exchanges in some states.” Yet the recent public records request revealed that Tennessee regulators did not send so much as a single e-mail considering whether this “hand grenade” would explode—taking the state’s exchange down with it—before approving insurance rates for 2017 last fall.

Senators Seem to Prefer Bailouts to Accountability

Tennessee’s Alexander has played a leading role in ignoring insurance commissioners’ questionable behavior. In September, Alexander convened a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee he chairs to take testimony from insurance commissioners, including McPeak, about state insurance markets. At no point did Alexander or any other senator ask McPeak or her fellow commissioners why they failed to consider, let alone predict, the withdrawal of the cost-sharing payments last year.

Instead of examining the regulatory failures of commissioners like McPeak, Alexander has dedicated his energies toward solving the problem McPeak’s ignorance helped to create. His legislation would appropriate approximately $25 billion in taxpayer funds for the cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers.

Unfortunately, Alexander’s legislation would result in a major windfall for health insurers, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Because insurers have already raised their premiums for 2018 to compensate for the loss of the cost-sharing reduction payments, Alexander’s bill would effectively pay them twice. While the CBO believes insurers will rebate some—not all, but only some—of these “extra” payments back to the government, insurers could pocket between $4-6 billion in additional windfall profits thanks to Alexander’s legislation.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Who Will Regulate the Regulators?

My recent investigation into insurance commissioners failure’ to consider, let alone prepare for, a new presidential administration withdrawing unconstitutional cost-sharing reduction payments when examining rates for the 2017 plan year included one particular story worth highlighting.

In Montana, the insurance commissioner branded Blue Cross Blue Shield’s premium increase as “unreasonable,” in part because it wished to prepare for an eventuality—namely, withdrawal of the cost-sharing reduction payments—that the commissioner herself ignored.

Insurer’s Request for Contingencies

As noted last month, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana first requested that state regulators permit it to stop reducing cost-sharing to low-income beneficiaries if the federal government withdrew the payments reimbursing insurers for those discounts. However, federal regulators rightly noted that Obamacare requires insurers to lower cost-sharing for qualified individuals, regardless of whether the federal government provides reimbursement for this, making this proposal impossible to implement.

Because it could not stop lowering cost-sharing if the federal reimbursements ceased, Blue Cross Blue Shield requested a higher premium increase for 2017, to cushion against the risk of an unfunded mandate—the federal government requiring the company to lower cost-sharing without reimbursing it for that. However, Montana’s insurance commissioner, Monica Lindeen, dubbed the carrier’s proposed premium increase “unreasonable.”

In a letter of deficiency posted on the commission’s website, Lindeen found several portions of the premium increase proposed by Health Care Services Corporation (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana’s parent company) unreasonable, including the portion linked to uncertainty over the cost-sharing reduction payments:

HCSC has added 4.2% to its rates because it believes that the government will lose a lawsuit that concerns the validity of the appropriation for cost-sharing reductions and that CMS [the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] will not reimburse QHP [qualified health plan] issuers for cost sharing reductions in 2017. The lawsuit is currently pending appeal in the federal circuit court. Experts, including industry experts, agree that this case will not be resolved until at least 2018 and no one knows what the final outcome will be. HCSC appears to be the only health insurer in the country taking the position that its rates will be negatively impacted by this lawsuit in 2017….

In the years since CSI [the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance] has been reviewing health insurance rates, the CSI has always maintained the position that insurers may not base rating assumptions on speculation concerning the outcome of pending litigation. HCSC has stated that it will remove this rating assumption if the CSI allows HCSC to include illegal language in its policy. As the insurance regulator for this state, I cannot agree to that proposal. Raising 2017 rates on the basis of this assumption is unreasonable.

‘Unreasonable’ Regulators

The federal government withdrew the payments in October. Had the carrier not raised premiums pre-emptively to account for the possibility that the payments might disappear, it would have joined other insurers in incurring as much as $1.75 billion in losses over the final quarter of this calendar year.

Lindeen’s actions proved “unreasonable” in several respects. First, contra her claims that “experts agree” that the dispute over the payments “will not be resolved until at least 2018,” I specifically wrote in May 2016 that the incoming presidential administration could halt the payments “almost immediately.” The letter of deficiency does not even attempt to address this set of circumstances—the events that actually transpired—raising the obvious question of which “experts” Lindeen consulted, or whether indeed she consulted any “experts” at all.

Why It Matters

Liberals have worked to publicly embarrass insurance companies for years. The Obama administration stoked outrage over Anthem’s proposed 39 percent premium increase in California in early 2010 to marshal support for Obamacare’s passage, after Scott Brown’s special election Senate win made its prospects seem bleak.

The Left wants to make such “naming and shaming” de rigueur. California recently enacted a drug transparency law requiring pharmaceutical companies to justify price increases, a measure other states wish to emulate. But perhaps not surprisingly, liberals have yet to explain exactly what should happen when regulators get it wrong, as so clearly happened in Montana, where Lindeen arrived at a conclusion ultimately disproven by events.

At minimum, the Trump administration has a role to play in regulating the regulators, as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must certify each state has an “effective” rate review program. Federal authorities should ask Montana’s insurance commissioner why she considered Blue Cross’ assumptions regarding cost-sharing reduction payments “unreasonable” when Blue Cross and not she ended up being correct. Moreover, given the larger regulatory debacle over cost-sharing payments, HHS has reason to write to every state and ask why they all made the mistaken assumption that unconstitutional payments to insurers would continue.

While this conservative would much prefer states regulating insurance markets rather than the federal government, the incompetence on display over cost-sharing reductions demonstrates the need for increased accountability among state authorities. If liberals wish to persist in their efforts to “hold industry accountable” for raising prices, perhaps they should explain how they will hold regulators accountable when those regulators drop the proverbial ball. Better yet, they should stop trying to scapegoat insurance companies for higher health costs, and work instead towards reducing them.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

The House’s Unwise Proposed Settlement in the Obamacare Payments Court Case

After filing a lawsuit to defend its constitutional “power of the purse” more than three years ago, the House of Representatives late Friday proposed a settlement in the case over Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers. In their fight to preserve the House’s constitutional authority, and stop propping up Obamacare, the proposed settlement would give conservatives precious little.

The House originally filed suit to accomplish three objectives: 1) halt the cost-sharing reduction payments; 2) keep a future administration from restarting the payments; and 3) set the precedent that the legislative branch can file suit against the executive when the executive exceeds its constitutional authority.

The Issue and the Lawsuit

The dispute involves Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, designed to lower deductibles and co-payments through taxpayer subsidies for individuals purchasing exchange coverage. The law instructed insurers to lower cost-sharing for certain low-income individuals, and instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to reimburse insurers for providing these discounts, but included no explicit appropriation for the reimbursements.

Despite the lack of an express appropriation, the Obama administration started making CSR payments to insurers when the exchanges launched in 2014. The House of Representatives, viewing those actions as violating its constitutional authority, sued to stop the payments that fall.

In September 2015, Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that the House had standing to challenge the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s actions in court. In May 2016, Collyer also agreed with the House on the merits, ruling that Obamacare lacked an appropriation for CSRs, that the Obama administration overstepped its authority, and that the payments must cease unless and until Congress provided an explicit appropriation.

Over the summer, a group of Democratic state attorneys general asked for, and received, permission from the Court of Appeals to intervene in the House’s lawsuit. The attorneys general argued that the change in administration meant neither party to the case would properly represent their interests in ensuring Obamacare’s implementation.

The Proposed Settlement

In Friday’s filing, all three parties—the Trump administration, the House, and the Democratic attorneys general—asked the Court of Appeals to remand the case to Collyer, and for Collyer to accept their settlement arrangement. The settlement would have Collyer vacate her order preventing the executive from making CSR payments.

Regarding other elements of the dispute and the status of CSR payments going forward, the proposed settlement includes this paragraph:

The Parties recognize that the Executive Branch of the United States Government (‘Executive Branch’) continues to disagree with the district court’s non-merits holdings, including its conclusion that the House had standing and a cause of action to bring this suit. The Parties agree that because subsequent developments have obviated the need to resolve those issues in an appeal in this case, the district court’s holdings on those issues should not in any way control the resolution of the same or similar issues should they arise in other litigation between the House and the Executive Branch. The Parties also recognize that the States continue to disagree with the district court’s merits holding. Accordingly, if the court of appeals grants the Joint Motion, the Parties agree that the district court’s holding on the merits should not in any way control the resolution of the same or similar issues should they arise in other litigation, and hereby waive any right to argue that the judgment of the district court or any of the district court’s orders or opinions in this case have any preclusive effect in any other litigation.

On the merits—i.e., whether a CSR appropriation exists, and whether the Obama administration acted constitutionally in making said payments—Collyer’s opinion will not control, and none of the parties can cite it in future litigation.

What the Settlement Means

The House “wins” things it already has. The House already won the action it most desired when President Trump agreed to stop the CSR payments in October. Beyond that, the settlement gives the House the right to cite Collyer’s ruling in future cases between Congress and the executive—which it would have done regardless.

The House gives up what it won. By vacating Collyer’s injunction, the settlement allows President Trump, or any future president, unilaterally to reinstitute the CSR payments at any time. Moreover, because the settlement prohibits all parties from using Collyer’s ruling that an appropriation does not exist “in any other litigation,” it will inhibit the House’s ability to protect its institutional prerogatives should any administration attempt to restart the unconstitutional CSR payments in the future.

The Susan Collins Effect? Sen. Susan Collins has insisted that Congress enact legislation appropriating CSR funds before voting to pass a tax bill that repeals the individual mandate. Last week, she repeated assertions from Senate Republican leaders and Vice President Mike Pence that insurers will receive the payments, even as conservatives in the House have objected to passing an appropriation for CSRs. Some may question the timing of this settlement—which, by ending the House’s lawsuit, would give the Trump administration clear sailing to resume the payments unilaterally—and ask whether the administration will now attempt to do so.

Will Other Parties Object?

Given the implications listed above, other parties could object to the settlement. Attorneys general in Republican states, who believe the law clearly lacks an appropriation for CSR payments, could object to the settlement vacating Collyer’s prohibition on the executive making such payments.

Moreover, because the settlement would not resolve the underlying legal issues, those attorneys general would have grounds to intervene—namely, the uncertain regulatory environment that the lack of a definitive ruling on CSRs would create, and the higher costs to state insurance offices due to that uncertainty. Insurers and insurance commissioners would have similar reasons to object to the settlement, although insurers may not wish to “risk” a definitive court ruling stating that a CSR appropriation does not exist.

Regardless, the proposed settlement provides little in the way of tangible results to conservatives who objected to the unconstitutional CSR payments. Conservative members of Congress may therefore wish to state their objections to House leadership, to convince it to change course.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Bailing Out Health Insurers Now Would Only Reward Their Negligence

Upon the unveiling of another health insurance “stabilization” measure Tuesday, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) claimed he did not view it as a repudiation of his own “stability” measure, introduced last week.

“We’ve gone from a position where everyone was saying we can’t do cost sharing [reduction payments] to responsible voices like [Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin] Hatch and [House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin] Brady saying we should.”

In the words of Margaret Thatcher, “No. No. No!” Conservatives should reject the premise that Congress must immediately open up the federal piggy bank to replenish the unconstitutional cost-sharing reduction subsidies that the Trump administration cut off earlier this month. Instead, it should first hold insurers—and insurance regulators—accountable for the irresponsible actions that got them to this point.

Insurers Disregarded a Federal Lawsuit

My May article explained how insurers sought to hold Congress hostage over cost-sharing reduction payments. Unless Congress guaranteed the payments for all of calendar year 2018, insurers claimed they would have to raise premiums to reflect “uncertainty” over the payments.

But that “uncertainty” always existed. Insurers just ignored it. They ignored a federal district court judge’s May 2016 ruling striking down the cost-sharing reduction payments as unconstitutional, because the judge stayed her ruling pending an appeal. They ignored warnings that the next presidential administration could easily cut off the payments unilaterally. And they ignored the fact that a presidential election was scheduled for November 2016, and that “come January 2017, the policy landscape for insurers could look far different” than under the Obama administration.

Upon reading my May 2017 article, a former colleague who works for an insurer responded by claiming that no one took the litigation against the cost-sharing reduction payments seriously last year. In other words, it was a risk that he and his colleagues ignored until President Trump started making threats to cut off the payments, and finally did so earlier this month.

Regulators Asleep at the Switch?

Likewise, state insurance commissioners largely disregarded until this spring and summer the possibility that cost-sharing reduction payments would disappear. At a Capitol Hill briefing last month, I asked Brian Webb of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) whether his members had considered the prospect of cost-sharing reduction payments disappearing last fall, when regulators examined rates for the current (i.e., 2017) plan year. By last fall, a federal court had already declared the payments unconstitutional, and every state insurance commissioner knew a new administration would take office in January and could stop the payments directly.

Webb’s response? “Under the court decision, they [the cost-sharing reduction payments] are still being paid, pending appeal.… In the meantime, payments are being made.” That is, until three weeks after the briefing in question, when President Trump stopped the payments. Oops.

It does not appear that most regulators even bothered to consider this scenario last year, just like most insurers ignored the prospect of cost-sharing reductions going away. Instead, as with banks who assumed a decade ago that subprime mortgages could never fail, the health insurance industry blindly assumed—despite significant evidence to the contrary—that cost-sharing reduction payments would continue.

Prevent ‘Too Big to Fail’

Yes, the Congressional Budget Office has indicated that cutting off the cost-sharing reduction payments would cost the federal government more in the short-term. That and other facts may give Congress a reason to restore the payments, eventually.

But most importantly, Congress should take action—by exercising its oversight authority, and through legislation if necessary—to end the “too big to fail” mentality that led insurers and their regulators to make a series of bad decisions regarding cost-sharing reductions. To instead give insurers a blank check, paid for by federal taxpayers, could cost far more in the longer term.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

How Donald Trump Created the Worst of All Possible Health Care Worlds

Following last week’s developments in the ongoing saga over Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, two things seem clear. First, President Trump won’t stop making these payments to insurers, designed to reimburse them for providing reduced deductibles and copayments to low-income individuals. If Trump’s administration continued to pay CSRs to insurers mere weeks after the Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” effort collapsed on the Senate floor, it should be fairly obvious that this president won’t cut off the payments.

Second, notwithstanding the above, Trump won’t stop threatening to halt these payments any time soon. Seeing himself as a negotiator, Trump won’t cede any leverage by committing to make future payments, trying to keep insurance companies and Democrats in suspense and extract concessions from each. He has received no concessions from Democrats, and he likely has no intentions of ever stopping the payments, but will continue the yo-yo approach for as long as he thinks it effective—in other words, until the policy community fully sees it as the empty threat that it is.

President Trump Is Savaging the Constitution

From a constitutional perspective, Trump’s approach to CSRs undermines the rule of law. The president referred to the payments in a May interview with The Economist, stating that “If I ever stop wanting to pay the subsidies, which I will [sic].”

But as any conservative will explain (and this space previously outlined), the president cannot stop making any payments unilaterally. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Train v. City of New York that if a law makes a constitutional appropriation, the president cannot refuse to spend the money. He must make the appropriation. Conversely, if the law lacks an appropriation, the president cannot spend money—that prerogative lies with Congress, as per Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution.

Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled last May that Obamacare lacks an appropriation for the cost-sharing reduction payments. If the president agrees, he should stop the payments immediately. If the president disagrees, he should continue the Obama administration’s appeal of that ruling, and commit to making payments unless and until the Supreme Court orders him to stop. Instead, the president has treated the payments—and thus the Constitution—as his personal plaything, which he can obey or disregard on his whim.

This Policy ‘Uncertainty’ Has Consequences

Having under-estimated their risk before this year, many insurers have over-estimated their risk now. Carriers have threatened higher premium increases, or reduction in service areas, because they finally recognize the inherent uncertainty around CSR payments lacking an explicit appropriation in statute.

Insurers’ cries of “uncertainty” have joined chorus with liberals’ claims of “sabotage” against the Trump administration. The same liberal groups and advocates who failed to recognize the uncertainty last year—because higher premiums for 2017 would have hurt Hillary Clinton and Democrats during last fall’s elections—now almost gleefully embrace the concept, believing it can benefit them politically.

Therein lies the full scope of the political danger for Trump and Republicans. It seems obvious that Trump will continue to make the payments to insurers. But it seems equally obvious that Trump enjoys keeping insurers on the proverbial short leash, and won’t give them the “certainty” over the payments that they desire. The end result: An administration that receives political blame from the Right for making unconstitutional payments, and from the Left for “uncertainty”-related premium increases, because Trump has not confirmed those unconstitutional payments will continue.

Rule of Law, Not of Men

But in an ironic twist, the political benefit from creating this unilateral policy could accrue to Democrats, if Republicans receive fallout from higher premiums in 2018. Perhaps that outcome could persuade both parties to abandon the executive unilateralism that has become far too common in recent administrations. Restoring the rule of law seems like such a simple, yet novel, concept that some enterprising politicians in Washington might want to try it.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Don’t Blame Trump When Obamacare Rates Jump

Insurers must submit applications by next Wednesday to sell plans through HealthCare.gov, and these will give us some of the first indicators of how high Obamacare costs will skyrocket in 2018. Obamacare supporters can’t wait to blame the coming premium increases on the “uncertainty” caused by President Trump. But insurers faced the same uncertainty last year under President Obama.

Consider a recent press release from California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. He announced that “in light of the market instability created by President Trump’s continued undermining of the Affordable Care Act,” he would authorize insurers to file two sets of proposed rates for 2018—“Trump rates” and “ACA rates.” Among other sources of uncertainty, Mr. Jones’s office cited the possibility that the Trump administration will end cost-sharing reduction payments.

Thus the uncertainty: The House filed a lawsuit in November 2014, alleging that the unauthorized payments were unconstitutional. Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled in the House’s favor and ordered a stop to the payments. As the Obama administration appealed the ruling, the cost-sharing reduction payments continued.

The House lawsuit and the potential for a new administration that could cut off the payments unilaterally should have been red flags for regulators when insurers were preparing their rate filings for 2017. I noted this in a blog post for the Journal last May.

To maintain a stable marketplace regardless of the uncertainty, regulators should have demanded that insurers price in a contingency margin for their 2017 rates. It appears that Mr. Jones’s office did not even consider doing so. I recently submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to his office requesting documents related to the 2017 rate-filing process, and “whether uncertainty surrounding the cost-sharing reduction payments was considered by the Commissioner’s office in determining rates for the current plan year.” Mr. Jones’s office replied that no such documents exist.

What does that mean? At best, not one of the California Insurance Commission’s nearly 1,400 employees thought to ask whether a federal court ruling stopping an estimated $7 billion to $10 billion in annual payments to insurers throughout the country would affect the state’s health-insurance market. At worst, Mr. Jones—a Democrat running for attorney general next year—deliberately ignored the issue to avoid exacerbating already-high premium increases that could have damaged Hillary Clinton’s fall campaign and consumers further down the road.

The California Insurance Commission is not alone in its “recent discovery” of uncertainty as a driver of premium increases. In April the left-liberal Center for American Progress published a paper claiming to quantify the “Trump uncertainty rate hike.” The center noted that the “mere possibility” of an end to cost-sharing payments would require insurers to raise premiums by hundreds of dollars a year.

Following insurers’ June 21 deadline, expect a raging blame game over next year’s premium increases. Conservatives shouldn’t hesitate to ask regulators and liberal advocates now pointing the finger at uncertainty where they were this time last year when the future of those payments was equally uncertain.

This post was originally published at The Wall Street Journal.

Even Supporters Fear Obamacare’s Impact on States

An eye-opening article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times shows the dilemma states are facing as they begin to make crucial policy and budgetary choices surrounding Obamacare.  The article notes that the law “takes states into uncharted territory” as they attempt to estimate the fiscal impact of Obamacare’s massive Medicaid expansion:

California, which plans to expand coverage to hundreds of thousands of people when the law takes effect in 2014, faces myriad unknowns.  The Brown administration will try to estimate the cost of vastly more health coverage in the budget plan it unveils next month, but experts warn that its numbers could be way off.  Officials don’t know exactly how many Californians will sign up for Medi-Cal, the public health insurance program for the poor.  Computing the cost of care for each of them is also guesswork.  And California is waiting for key rulings from federal regulators that could have a major effect on the final price tag, perhaps in the hundreds of millions of dollars….

Unanticipated costs associated with the healthcare changes could undermine California’s efforts to improve its standing on Wall Street and keep the economy moving.  They could force fresh cuts in services if they consume much more of the state budget than Brown is able to approximate….

Gov. Jerry Brown expressed a new concern in an interview last week.  He said recent signs from Washington suggest the federal government may not pay as much of the costs associated with the new law as originally promised, sticking states with a larger share of the bill.  “As the guardian of the public purse here, I have to watch very closely what may come out of Washington,” the governor said.  “So we’re going to move carefully.  We want to make sure the federal government is on board.”

These statements of caution and concern come from a major supporter of the law.  And little wonder: Over the past two fiscal years, states had to close a combined $146.3 billion in budget gaps – yet Obamacare is about to impose new unfunded mandates on states of at least $118 billion.  Both the numbers, and the diffident attitude from the governor of the largest state in the union, should serve as a cautionary tale for states contemplating the massive fiscal hit Obamacare will impose on their budgets.

Updated JEC Member Viewpoint: Sen. Jim DeMint on the $840 Billion Price Tag of Obama’s Broken Promise on Premiums

This Member Viewpoint by Sen. Jim DeMint was originally published by the Joint Economic Committee.

A $12,791 Difference for the Average Family, $4,318 for the Average Individual

When campaigning for the presidency, then-candidate Barack Obama repeatedly promised that under his health care reform proposal, health insurance premiums would go down by $2,500 by the end of his first term.1 The end of President Obama’s first term is now approaching, and the change in average family premiums is surprisingly close to candidate Obama’s promise: the problem is, that change is in the wrong direction. Instead of falling $2,500, the average employer-sponsored family premium has increased $3,065.2

The difference, then, between candidate Obama’s promise and President Obama’s record is $5,565.3 But that is just the difference for 2012. If the promised $2,500 decline is allocated proportionally over four years and across different plan types, the cumulative gap between actual and promised premiums for private employer based health insurance equals $12,832 for the average family and $4,331 for the average individual (excluding any rebates).4

Of course, to be fair, the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) provision of Obamacare will result in some health insurance enrollees receiving rebate checks from their insurance providers. This provision is Obamacare’s attempt at driving down insurance costs by dictating how insurance companies can spend money freely given to them by employers and individuals who wish to purchase their services. For the 2011 plan year, an estimated $1.3 billion in rebate checks will be sent to about 16 million enrollees, for an average rebate amount of $85.5 Assuming a similar level of rebates go out in 2013 for the 2012 plan year, the MLR rebates reduce the gap between promised premiums and actual premiums by only three-tenths of one percent, to a cumulative difference of $12,791 for the average family and $4,318 for the average individual. That is $12,791 less money that was spent (on something other than health insurance), saved, or invested by the average family and $4,318 less by the average individual.

When you add up all the extra money – beyond the level promised by candidate Obama – Americans have spent on health insurance over the past four years, the economy-wide impact is an astounding $840 billion.6 That’s as much as the President’s failed stimulus package, and not so far off from the initially reported $940 billion ten-year cost of Obamacare (the updated ten-year cost is $1.76 trillion, not including the costs of implementation).7 What’s worse though is that this figure will only rise over time as Obamacare’s many taxes and regulations continue to drive up the cost of health insurance.
In terms of full-time jobs, the $840 billion difference is equivalent to the cost of private-sector employers supporting an average of 3.2 million jobs each year between 2009 and 2012, and a total of 5.2 million jobs in 2012 alone.8

With more than $840 billion less in Americans’ pockets than Obama promised, it’s no wonder our economy continues to struggle. It is the government-knows-best view of the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress that has contributed to the American economy stalling out. His promise to reduce premiums by $2,500 and his administration’s estimate that the stimulus would cut the unemployment rate to 5.6% (by August 2012) show President Obama’s conviction that government is the solution to driving down costs and creating jobs.9 Unfortunately, that conviction has proven unfounded. Excessive government spending and intervention have not driven down health insurance premiums by $2,500, but rather contributed to a $3,065 increase. And unprecedented deficit-financed stimulus spending has not brought the unemployment rate down to 5.6%, but rather kept it up above 8% with employers and investors holding back as Obamacare and other regulations have increased their costs and as unsustainable deficit spending has given rise to fear over coming tax hikes.

 

Analytical Appendix

Population and Insurance Coverage

The Census Bureau publishes data on the number of people in the United States with health insurance coverage. These data are broken down into private insurance coverage and government insurance coverage. Within private coverage, the data are segmented into individuals with employment based health insurance and direct purchase health insurance. The data from the Census Bureau are available through 2011. Data for 2012 are estimated based on the average annual percentage increase in each category of insurance from 1995-2011.
For allocation of insured individuals between individual or self-only plans and family plans, data were taken from the 2011 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). These data show that individual or self-only plans made up 50.2% of all private sector employer health plans while family plans comprised the remaining 49.8%. This breakdown was also applied to the direct purchase market and across all years. The resulting allocation of individuals across private plan types is shown below.

For each family plan, there are assumed to be 3.05 members. This statistic is based on a breakdown of direct purchase family policies by size from ehealthinsurance.com, and it assumes an average of eight members per plan within the category of 6+ members.

Premium Costs

Data on average annual premium costs for employment based health insurance come from the Kaiser Family Foundation Annual Employer Health Benefits Survey. Data on premium costs for direct purchase health insurance come from the ehealthinsurance.com Annual Cost and Benefit Reports. As of this updated publication, the data on direct purchase plans from ehealthinsurance.com were only available through 2011. The analysis conservatively assumes no rise in direct purchase premiums from 2011 to 2012.

Promised Reductions

The promise of a $2,500 reduction in the average family premium by the end of President Obama’s first term is applied as a $625 per year reduction in costs for the average family premium (-$625 in 2009, -$1,250 in 2010, -$1,875 in 2011, and $-2,500 in 2012). The applicable promised reduction for the average individual or self only premium is $927 for employer based health insurance and $1,077 for direct purchase health insurance. These individual premium promised reduction amounts are based on the ratio of individual to family premium costs in 2008, when the promise was made. At that time, the average employment based individual premium was equal to 37.1% of the average family premium (.371*-$2,500 = -$927) while the average direct purchase individual premium was 43.1% of the average direct purchase family premium (.431*-$2,500 = -$1,077).

Aggregate Estimates of the Broken Promise

For aggregate estimates of amounts paid for health insurance vs. those promised, the number of people in each insured group (individual employment based, individual direct purchase, family employment based, and family direct purchase) was multiplied by the difference between the promised premium cost and the actual premium cost in each year from 2009 to 2012. The sum of additional premium costs across these privately-insured individuals and families from 2009 to 2012 amounts to $843 billion ($843,135,995,165). The new Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) component of the Affordable Care Act is estimated to result in roughly $1.3 billion ($1,343,496,719) in rebates to be paid by insurers to enrollees (beginning in August 2012) for the 2011 plan year. In keeping with the conservative estimate that direct purchase premiums did not rise from 2011 to 2012, MLR rebates in 2013 (for the 2012 plan year) are also assumed to hold steady at $1.3 billion. Excluding the $2.6 billion of cost-reducing MLR rebates, the total gap between promised and actual premium costs equals $840 billion ($840,449,001,727).

Jobs Equivalent Cost Estimates

Estimates translating the annual cost differences between promised and actual premiums into the cost of private-sector job creation were obtained by dividing the total economy-wide cost difference for each year by the average employee compensation for full-time, private-sector employees in that year. Compensation data come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employer Costs for Employee Compensation Survey (data were available through the second quarter of 2012). The table below shows the annual jobs equivalent costs estimates.

 

Endnotes

1 Freedom Eden, “Obama: 20 Promises for $2,500,” March 22, 2010, http://freedomeden.blogspot.com/2010/03/obama-20-promises-for-2500.html.
2 Kaiser Family Foundation, Annual Employer Health Benefits Surveys 2008-2011, http://www.kff.org/insurance/index.cfm.
3 Data on 2012 premiums costs for direct purchase premiums were not yet available. This analysis relies on a conservative estimate that direct purchase premiums will not rise in 2012, but will remain constant at their 2011 level.
4 Data on private, direct purchase health insurance premiums for 2008-2011 come from ehealthinsurance.com. See Analytical Appendix for a detailed analysis of estimates.
5 Kaiser Family Foundation, “Insurer Rebates under the Medical Loss Ratio: 2012 Estimates,” April 2012, http://www.kff.org/healthreform/upload/8305.pdf
6 See Analytical Appendix.
7 Congressional Budget Office, “Estimate of direct spending and revenue effects for the amendment in the nature of a substitute released on March 18, 2010,” http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/hr4872_0.pdf, and “Updated Estimates for the Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act,” March 13, 2012, http://cbo.gov/publication/43076.
8 Estimates based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employer Costs for Employee Compensation Survey (quarterly data through the 2nd quarter of 2012) and private-sector, full-time employee compensation. In the first two quarters of 2012, the average cost of employee compensation was $67,020.
9 Unemployment estimate comes from: Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein, “The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan,” January 9, 2009, http://www.politico.com/pdf/PPM116_obamadoc.pdf.

More Bad News for American Patients

Earlier this week consultants at Towers Watson, in conjunction with the National Business Group on Health, released their annual survey of large employers offering health insurance.  And the results are not encouraging for businesses or employees:

Higher Costs:  “Employers anticipate total health care costs will reach $11,664 per active employee in 2012, up from $10,982 in 2011 — a 6.2% increase in total costs over the period.”

Higher Premiums:  “Employees, on average, paid 23.0% of total premium costs in 2011 and are expected to pay 23.7% in 2012, as companies take steps to control their costs.  In paycheck deductions, this translated into an average employee contribution of $2,529 to premiums in 2011, which is expected to rise to $2,764 in 2012 — a 9.3% increase in one year.”

Higher Out-of-Pocket Charges:  “The share of total health care expenses paid by employees, including premium and out-of-pocket costs, is expected to be 34.4% in 2012, up from 33.2% in 2011.”

Employers Dropping Retiree Coverage:  “If [Obamacare] works as intended, the health insurance market in 2014 and beyond will become an attractive alternative and further push companies to exit sponsorship of their pre-65 programs.”

Employers Dropping Workers’ Coverage:  “Nearly one in five companies is likely to offer health care coverage to a subset of its workforce and direct the remainder of its employees to the insurance Exchanges.”

Employers Less Confident about Offering Coverage:  “Against the backdrop of [Obamacare], companies have never been more uncertain about the future of their health care programs over the long term….With the health care marketplace changing rapidly and parts of [Obamacare] already starting to take effect, employer confidence is at its lowest point (23%) since we began tracking this data.”

Businesses Bogged Down by Paperwork:  Nearly one in six firms (15%) cited the cost of Obamacare compliance as one of the “biggest challenges to maintaining affordable benefit coverage.”

Firms Reducing Employee Hours:  “Nearly 40% of companies that traditionally use a high number of part-time workers expect to limit them to less than 30 hours per week by 2014 to escape having to pay benefits.”

The report once again illustrates Obamacare’s broken promises – instead of premiums going down by $2,500, they continue to skyrocket, even as individuals are unable to maintain their prior coverage.  It’s yet another example of the way in which Obamacare has failed to deliver for the American people.

Job Creators Give Obamacare a Big Thumbs-Down

An article in the Wall Street Journal this morning speaks to the ill effects Obamacare is having on businesses around the country.  Among some of the reactions to the law’s employer mandate, and its impact on small business franchisees:

  • “McDonald’s Corp. Chief Financial Officer Peter Bensen told analysts last week that the law will add between $10,000 and $30,000 in added annual costs to each of the 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S., 89% of which are franchisee-owned.”
  • “Many of our franchisees will struggle with how to reconcile the financial implications…and will likely take other measures to reduce costs,” according to Steven Wiborg, head of Burger King’s North American operations
  • Randall Tabor, who owns two Quizno’s shops in Virginia, told the Journal that when it comes to Obamacare, “I don’t have the profit margin to pay for it.”  And because the law imposes penalties on firms with more than 50 full-time workers, “Mr. Tabor, who employs 36 people at his two Quiznos shops and another restaurant, wants to stay small so he doesn’t trigger the requirement.”

These are the effects of just one of Obamacare’s more than trillion-dollars in new taxes.  With job creators openly admitting that the law’s perverse incentives are discouraging them from hiring, it’s obvious that the economy will not fully recover from its current downturn unless and until Obamacare is fully repealed.