President Obama says he’s looking for a “fix” to address cancelled insurance plans. That doesn’t mean he’ll find one.
Obama has directed his health care advisers to look for a way to deal with the wave of cancellation notices hitting some policyholders. But health policy experts have no idea what the White House could actually do to alleviate the sticker shock some consumers are facing.
“I can’t imagine what they’re thinking about,” said Tim Jost, a Washington & Lee University law professor and an expert on the Affordable Care Act.
Policy wonks on both sides of the health care debate held open the possibility that the administration will come up with something — there have been too many surprises already in the implementation process to rule anything out. But it’s hard to see what the White House could do, on its own and specifically without Congress, that would make much of a difference.
That’s partly because these plan cancellations are not a side effect of the Affordable Care Act. The administration knew they were coming, and they were an inevitable part of the reforms the law makes to the market for individual insurance policies.
Weakening the regulations that led to plan cancellations might not make any difference at all, or might undermine the basic structure of the law. And trying to simply offer more assistance to people losing their plans would require congressional approval — which, of course, Obama wouldn’t get.
An administration official confirmed that the White House is looking for administrative fixes, not legislative ones. That would appear to rule out higher subsidies to help people pay for coverage, an idea floated to The Huffington Post after Obama’s interview.
Obama himself acknowledged in last week’s NBC News interview that he doesn’t think the cancellations themselves are a problem. He apologized for the confusion and disruption the notices have caused, but maintained that most people would get a better deal by purchasing coverage through the health care law’s new marketplaces.
“We really believe that ultimately they’re going to be better off,” Obama said.
The people hurt most by plan cancellations are healthy consumers who were able to get cheap policies with decent coverage, and who are too wealthy to qualify for Obamacare’s insurance subsidies. They are “losers” now because they were “winners” under the old system, in which insurers set premiums for each individual plan based on the health of the individual buying it.
That system put people with preexisting conditions at a huge disadvantage — and that’s the imbalance the Affordable Care Act tries to correct by moving healthy people into the same risk pool as sick people.
So, leaving those healthy customers on their old plans just to solve a political headache might only help prop up the two-tiered system Obamacare was designed to end.
Even if the administration could find a middle ground, weakening or delaying certain regulations might not make much difference.
Insurance companies have already set their premiums for 2014, so the higher prices some consumers are experiencing aren’t going to change this year. And insurers’ business models already account for moving people into the health care law’s new insurance marketplaces.
“In short, I’m flummoxed,” University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley wrote at the Incidental Economist blog. “Maybe the administration has something creative up its sleeve, and it’s certainly prudent to reserve any kind of final judgment until we learn more. For now, though, color me skeptical.”
What We're Following See More »
"The House on Friday overwhelmingly passed sweeping bipartisan opioid legislation, concluding the chamber’s two-week voteathon on dozens of bills to address the drug abuse epidemic. The measure combines more than 50 bills approved individually by the House focusing on expanding access to treatment, encouraging the development of alternative pain treatments and curbing the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S. It was passed 396-14, with 13 Republicans and one Democrat voting against the package."
In a letter to Congress on Friday, President Trump wrote that he's continuing the national emergency status with respect to North Korea, citing the country's “provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions," which "continue to constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat” to the United States. In a series of tweets following his meeting with Kim Jong-un, Trump said Americans could sleep well at night because North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat.
"The U.S. Navy is preparing plans to construct sprawling detention centers for tens of thousands of immigrants on remote bases in California, Alabama and Arizona, escalating the military’s task in implementing President Donald Trump’s 'zero tolerance' policy for people caught crossing the Southern border." The document outlines plans for "temporary and austere" internment camps for 25,000 migrants "at abandoned airfields just outside the Florida panhandle," and in Alabama, for 47,000 people near San Francisco, and "as many as 47,000 people at Camp Pendleton" in California. The document estimates that operating a camp to detain 25,000 people for six months would cost approximately $233 million.
"The United States is preparing to shelter as many as 20,000 migrant children on four American military bases" in Texas and Arkansas, "as federal officials struggled to carry out President Trump’s order to keep immigrant families together after they are apprehended at the border."
"House Republican leaders are further delaying a vote on a compromise immigration bill, planning to make changes to the legislation for a vote next week. The news comes after a two-hour Republican Conference meeting Thursday, in which authors of the bill walked through its contents and members raised concerns about issues the bill doesn’t address, multiple GOP lawmakers said. Many members requested the addition of a provision to require employers to use the E-Verify database to cheek the legal status of their employees."