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Insurance Healthcare Reform News Update for November 2017

Insurance Healthcare Reform News Update for November, 2017. Obamacare Enrollments Decrease in Week 4. The rate of people who have signed up for health insurance on the federal exchange slowed last week to 504,181, down from 798,829 in the previous week. However, overall numbers are up from last year’s Open Enrollment Period. Nearly 2.8 million people have enrolled on the federal exchange since November 1, which outpaces last year’s 2.1 million during the first four weeks. New enrollments during the week of November 20 fell to 152,243 compared to 220,323 in the third week.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November, 2017

Obamacare Enrollments Decrease in Week 4

Stabilization Bill Ineffective if ACA Individual Mandate is Repealed

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bipartisan Alexander-Murray stabilization bill would have little impact on reducing an increase in the number of uninsured Americans if the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is repealed.

Previously, the CBO estimated that if the individual mandate were repealed, it would cause 4 million people not have insurance and raise premiums 10 percent.

The stabilization bill seeks to restore cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers that President Donald Trump recently cut. Several Republican senators have cited the legislation as a necessary measure should the individual mandate be repealed in their tax overhaul bill.

Senate Leader Agrees to Include Stabilization Bill in Upcoming Legislation

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) that he will include the Alexander-Murray bipartisan stabilization measure in legislation this year.

Collins has said that her vote for the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate in the tax overhaul bill hinged on passing the stabilization effort, which extends cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers for two years and provides states with more flexibility in defining their health plans.

Republican Disapproval of Individual Mandate Grows

Republican voters’ opposition to the ACA’s individual mandate has increased 14 percent since September, according to a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll. Sixty-five percent of GOP respondents said they opposed the regulation compared to 51 percent previously.

Other findings from the poll:

  • Disapproval of the mandate from all voters increased from 49 percent to 54 percent, mostly driven by Republican opinions.
  • Democrats disapproval remained stable at 41 percent.
  • Independents’ opposition increased one point to 57 percent.
  • Support for the Affordable Care Act is at 80 percent for Democrats and 23 percent for Republicans. Overall support is at 51 percent.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 29, 2017

Trump Supports Marketplace Stabilization Bills

President Donald Trump told Senate Republicans that he would support two bipartisan measures to help stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace if they pass the tax overhaul bill that includes the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate.

The first bill, from Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), would extend cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers for two years and give states more flexibility to define their plans. The second bill, from Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bill Nelson (R-FL), would provide states with $4.5 billion over two years for reinsurance programs.

“[President Trump] said that he understood the need to have something to offset the premium increases and appeared very open” to enacting the two bills, Murray said.

Senate Democrats are against repealing the individual mandate that requires all Americans to have health insurance coverage or pay a fine. They have also disapproved of the GOPs efforts to tie the tax bill to ACA stabilization.

Healthcare.gov Posts Draft Proposals for 2019 Health Plans

The Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO), which runs the Obamacare federal exchange, posted on Monday an informational letter draft to plan issuers of 2019 marketplace health plans. The draft included filing deadlines and a proposed filing deadline summary sheet.

According to the draft, plan rates will be due July 25, 2018, and will be available to the public on the federal exchange website August 1. The Open Enrollment Period will begin November 1.

Proposed marketplace changes include:

  • Elimination of the requirement that new marketplace plans be meaningfully different from existing plans.
  • Changing the threshold on when a health plan needs to explain premium increases from 10 percent to 15 percent.
  • Allowing web brokers to choose which outside entity will decide whether they are qualified to use the direct enrollment process.

NYT Provides Snapshot of People Who Pay Insurance Penalty

The upcoming tax bill currently includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which levies a penalty for most Americans who don’t have health insurance coverage. The New York Times published a study on Tuesday that provided an overview of the people who paid the penalty in 2015.

Some of the findings include:

  • The penalty was paid by 4.5 of taxpayers, which was about 6.7 million filers.
  • People earning between $25,000 and $50,000 were the most likely to pay the penalty.
  • The average penalty was $462 (for 2017, the average was $708).
  • In general, states with the highest rates of uninsured residents have the highest share of people who pay the penalty.

Patient Groups Ask Senate to Drop Repeal of Individual Mandate

A letter from a coalition of 19 patient groups to Republican lawmakers urged them to remove the repeal of the individual mandate from the senate tax bill.

The letter to senators says that the repeal would cause “coverage losses and higher premiums,” and would cause many people with chronic or major health conditions to lose coverage. It’s signed by groups including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and the American Diabetes Association.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 28, 2017

Republican Senators Push Reinsurance Funding

Several Senate Republicans appear open to adding funds for a reinsurance program as a way to offset the impact of repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate in their tax overhaul bill.

Susan Collins (R-ME), a key swing vote, implied she would vote for a tax bill that repeals the mandate only if Congress also passes a separate measure to establish a new reinsurance fund. She wants to add the funding measure to the stabilization bill proposed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) that extends cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments.

Collins’ amendment would provide states with $4.5 billion over two years for reinsurance programs. The funds help compensate insurance companies for their most expensive policyholders and could help lower premiums for consumers.

Senators including Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Mike Rounds (R-ND) applaud the idea of reinsurance funding but are skeptical of the proposal passing.

President Donald Trump is against the measure. His administration has been receptive to state-run reinsurance programs but not to federal funding.

California Marketplace Outspending Federal Exchange Advertising

The state-run Covered California health exchange has dedicated $45 million in marketing efforts to its Open Enrollment Period (OEP), which runs through January 31. That is significantly above the federal Obamacare exchange, which slashed its advertising budget from last year’s $100 million to $10 million this year.

“California’s budget reflects a different approach to the ACA, which is that it is an important source of insurance,” said Gerald Kominski, director at the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research.

The OEP marketing efforts in California include television, radio, digital, social media, and billboard advertisements.

Approximately 1.4 million people are currently insured through Covered California. As of November 14, 48,000 new consumers had enrolled, which is up from 39,000 during the same period last year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 27, 2017

States Prepare for Possible Children’s Health Insurance Shutdown

Almost 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women who depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are at risk of losing their insurance. A September deadline for Congress to extend funding for the program was missed, leaving nearly a dozen states scrambling for alternatives.

A November 9 notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) directed state health officials to determine whether the affected lower-income families are eligible for Medicaid or if they need to enroll in Obamacare plans. As soon as next week, enrollees will receive state notices letting them know that their insurance may be eliminated.

Lawmakers have not come to an agreement on how to continue CHIP funding. Earlier this month, the House passed a bill that extends payments for five years while raising Medicare premiums and eliminating an Obamacare prevention fund. The Senate is still working on a bipartisan solution.

New Obamacare Enrollees Increase in Week Three of OEP

The third week of Obamacare’s open enrollment period saw a surge of first-time consumers with 220,323 signing up compared to 208,397 the previous week.

About 800,000 people signed up the week of November 13, which is about 75,000 fewer than the week of November 6. So far, overall signups on the federal exchange total 2.28 million.

The states with the highest enrollment numbers in week three were Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

High Premiums Attract Individual ‘Skinny’ Plan Offerings

The rising costs of health insurance has generated new “skinny” plans that tout low costs, come with limited benefits, and are being sold without approval from state regulators.

Dozens of brokers are offering the individual plans that assert to be low-cost alternatives to the marketplace’s bronze, gold, and silver offerings. Previously, the plans were only available to groups.

Premiums start at $93 for individuals and $516 for families. They cover preventative care, limited doctor visits per year, lab tests, and some prescription drugs. They provide little-to-no coverage for hospitals, emergency rooms, and high-cost prescription drugs.

The plans concern insurance experts and regulators who fear these limited plans take advantage of buyer confusion and may cause policyholders to think they are exempt from the Obamacare individual mandate penalty. A regulator in California has requested an investigation.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 22, 2017

Massachusetts Governor Signs State Contraception Bill

Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed a new law that requires health insurance plans in Massachusetts to cover most types of birth control pills without copays.

The legislation overrides President Donald Trump’s recent executive order that allows most employers to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate on religious or moral grounds.

The law includes most types of oral contraception and over-the-counter emergency contraception. It exempts plans purchased by church or church-owned entities and self-insured businesses. It also allows copays for brand-name contraceptives if generics are available.

“This is exactly the sort of opportunity where Massachusetts has a chance to send a message to the rest of the country about how we think and how we feel about this issue, and I’m proud to be part of the team,” Baker said.

Murkowski Backs Repealing Obamacare Individual Mandate

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a key swing vote, says she supports Republican efforts to include the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate in the tax overhaul bill.

“While I support repealing the individual mandate, I strongly support enacting the bipartisan compromise Alexander/Murray legislation into law as fast as possible to stabilize our markets, provide more control to states and more choices to individuals,” she wrote in an op-ed for the Daily News-Miner.

A spokesman for the senator said the comments should not be construed as support for the overall tax bill.

Actuaries: Repeal of Mandate Could Increase Health Insurance Premiums

The American Academy of Actuaries cautioned Senate leaders that repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in the tax overhaul bill could lead to higher health insurance premiums and prompt some insurers to leave the market.

In a letter sent to Congress, the organization’s vice president, Shari Westerfield, said without the regulation that all Americans have health insurance, “insurers would likely reconsider their future participation in the market. This could lead to severe market disruption and loss of coverage among individual market enrollees.” The letter also requested that Congress consider “the adverse consequences of eliminating the individual mandate.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 21, 2017

Obamacare Funds for Community Health Centers May Lapse

Community health centers that provide care for 26 million medically undeserved patients may have their funding cut off.

Funding for the health centers was established by the Affordable Care Act, which makes up 70 percent of their budgets. The funds were renewed in 2015 for $7.2 billion over two years and expired on September 30.

Community health centers are anxious about the fate of the funds, as 25 percent of them have new grant periods that start January 1. Another 17 percent have grant periods that begin February 1. The Health Resources and Services Administration says it may provide short-term grants to the centers but not at the current funding levels.

If the funding is not renewed, 41 percent of community health centers would have to lay off employees, 47 percent would reduce hours, and more than 50 percent would cancel or delay facility expansions.

The House has passed a bill to extend funding for two years. The Senate has not yet passed any legislation, but a bill has been proposed to provide five years of funding.

Hurricane Victims Struggling with Healthcare Decisions

Some Puerto Rico residents who were displaced to the mainland by recent hurricanes have had difficulty navigating their healthcare coverage.

The federal government has extended the Obamacare enrollment period for hurricane victims to December 31, but people who sign up after the standard December 15 cutoff won’t receive coverage until February 1. The deadline extension has caused enough confusion that congressional leaders from Florida have asked for clarification from CMS.

In addition, Puerto Ricans who receive Medicaid or Medicare aren’t sure if their coverage will continue due to differences in eligibility standards.

CMS released a memo in September that says that hurricane victims may be eligible for a special enrollment period and directs them to call the federal exchange hotline with any questions.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 20, 2017

White House Could OK Removal of ACA’s Individual Mandate Repeal

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said that the Trump administration would be willing to accept the removal of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in the Senate tax overhaul bill.

“If it becomes an impediment to getting the best tax bill we can, then we are OK with taking it out,” Mulvaney said.

The House version of the tax bill approved last week did not include a repeal of the mandate that requires all Americans to have health coverage or pay a fine. The Senate version is expected to go to a vote next week.

Many on Medicare Will See Higher Part B Premiums in 2018

Due to increases in Social Security, many enrolls will see higher 2018 premiums for Medicare Part B. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Friday announced the out-of-pocket costs for 2018 Medicare Part A and Part B.

2018 Part A premium and deductible:

  • For Americans who pay Part A premiums, the cost will rise from $413 to $422 per month.
  • For Americans who have used up transitional Medicare benefits, Part A will rise from $232 to $227 per month.
  • The deductible for Part A will rise from $1,316 to $1,340.

2018 Part B premium and deductible:

  • The standard Part B premium will remain the same as 2017. (The premium will be either $134 or $428.60 per month, depending on income.)
  • For people with low to moderate incomes who currently pay $109 per month, premiums will rise an average of $25 per month due to an increase in Social Security cost-of-living adjustments. This change will affect 70 percent of enrollees.
  • The deductible for Part B remains the same as 2017 at $183.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 17, 2017

Kaiser Survey: One-Third Unaware of Open Enrollment Period

Nearly a third of Americans are not aware of the Obamacare Open Enrollment Period (OEP), according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study.

The poll of 1,201 adults showed that:

  • 31 percent of those surveyed have not heard about OEP.
  • 30 percent have heard a little about OEP.
  • 21 percent have heard some about OEP.
  • 18 percent have heard a lot about OEP.

Forty-five percent said they have heard less about OEP compared to previous years, and 38 percent said they have heard about the same amount.

Even though the Trump administration cut funding for Obamacare enrollment advertising, the survey showed that awareness of ads selling health plans increased from 34 percent last month to 41 percent this month. People who saw ads that provided information on how to get insurance on one of the Obamacare exchanges increased from 20 percent to 32 percent.

Insurance Enrollments Rise in California and Colorado

Two states that run their own insurance exchanges have seen a jump in enrollments compared to last year.

The Covered California exchange saw an increase of 23 percent over last year for the first two weeks of open enrollment. About 48,000 new customers signed up, compared to 39,000 in 2016.

In Colorado, enrollment rose 33 percent with 22,000 people signing onto its state exchange.

ACA Premiums Most Expensive in Charlottesville, VA

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation has pinpointed Chancellorsville, Virginia, and its surrounding county as having the highest health premiums on the federal Obamacare exchange.

Prices for some plans in the city have gone up as much as three times the price of 2017 plans. The average price of a benchmark silver plan in the Chancellorsville area is $1,011 for a 40-year-old individual.

After insurance companies Aetna and Anthem pulled out of the area, a single insurer, Optima, took over. Consumers now have only five health plans to choose from, compared to 19 previously.

Virginia has more than 350,000 people who purchase health insurance through the federal exchange. Almost 80 percent qualify for tax credits that lower premium prices.

Pope Asks for Healthcare Laws to Protect Underprivileged

Pope Francis addressed a medical association at the Vatican on Thursday and said that politicians need to ensure that healthcare law “promotes the common good” to protect the most vulnerable.

“Increasingly, sophisticated and costly treatment are available to ever more limited and privileged segments of the population, and this raises questions about the sustainability of healthcare delivery and about what might be called a systemic tendency toward growing inequality in health care,” he said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 16, 2017

IRS to Enforce Obamacare Employer Mandate

For the first time, the Internal Revenue Service is enforcing the Affordable Care Act regulation that requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide qualifying health insurance to their full-time employees.

Since last month, the IRS has been sending compliance notices to companies that disregarded the law in 2015 when the mandate took effect.

President Donald Trump’s first executive order requested that the department waive, defer, or delay the regulation. However, the IRS stated that it is required to enforce the mandate. Previously, fines were not collected due to a lack of funds and time needed to update the department’s compliance systems.

In general, the law states that companies will incur fines of around $2,000 per employee (excluding the first 30) for noncompliance. The penalty goes into effect if at least one employee purchases health insurance on the federal exchange and receives a tax credit.

A company with 100 workers that ignored the law this year would owe a penalty of more than $158,000, according to The New York Times.

Bipartisan Stabilization Bill May Be in Year-End Spending Package

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said Wednesday that bipartisan legislation proposed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) to extend cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies for insurers could be included in an end-of-year funding bill.

Earlier this week, Republican senators introduced a provision to their tax overhaul bill that would repeal the Obamacare individual mandate. Approving the repeal, which would extend CSR payments by two years, “probably makes more sense,” Cornyn said.

In response, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, if proposed, the Democrats would not vote for the measure. “The Republicans cannot expect to pass their own separate ideological healthcare provision and then turn around and ask Democrats to vote to pass Alexander-Murray,” he said.

Kaiser Study Shows Marketplace Premium Changes for 2018

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis outlining health insurance premium increases on the federal exchange for 2018 found that the lowest-cost bronze plans rose 18 percent. The lowest-cost silver plans rose 32 percent, and the lowest-cost gold plans rose 18 percent, according to the study.

The large increase in silver plans boosted the tax credit amounts, which have made bronze and gold plans more affordable. For example, a 40-year-old with an income of $25,000 will have a tax credit high enough to purchase the lowest-cost bronze plan at a $0 premium in 1,679 counties across the country.

Obamacare Enrollments Continue to Outpace 2016

The first 12 days of the Open Enrollment Period is running 47 percent ahead of last year’s numbers. The first 11 days saw almost 1.5 million people apply for health coverage, compared to 1 million in 2016. New customers have accounted for 23 percent of the enrollees, which is almost comparable to last year’s 24 percent.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 15, 2017

Senate Adds ACA Individual Mandate Repeal to Tax Bill

Senate Republicans released a new version of their tax reform legislation that includes a provision to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that every individual have health insurance or pay a penalty. The move comes one day after President Donald Trump’s latest push for the inclusion.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said the measure would “help provide additional relief to low- and middle-income families.” Repealing the mandate would save an estimated $338 billion over 10 years, but it would also create an additional 4 million more uninsured people by 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

It’s unclear if the Senate has enough votes to pass this latest version of the tax bill. But leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Thune (R-SD), are confident.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (NY) was not pleased with the provision. “Rather than learning the lessons from their failure to repeal healthcare, Republicans are doubling down on the same partisan strategy that would throw our healthcare system into chaos,” Schumer said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 14, 2017

Alex Azar Nominated for Health and Human Services Secretary

President Donald Trump has chosen former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In a tweet Monday, Trump said Azar would be “a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!”

Prior to working as president of Eli Lilly and Company, Azar served as deputy secretary of HHS under President George W. Bush. Azar is replacing Tom Price, who left the role in September

Former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said that Azar would work to alter the Affordable Care Act to be more in line with Republican beliefs and will “change the ideology under which the existing law is implemented.”

Trump Again Appeals for Repeal of ACA Individual Mandate

In a tweet sent Monday, President Donald Trump urged lawmakers to include a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate in their tax overhaul bill.

Trump’s tweet, which came hours prior to a Senate Finance Committee meeting, asked “Now, how about ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further?”

The individual mandate requires all Americans to have health coverage or face a penalty. Neither the House nor Senate versions of the tax bill currently include a measure to repeal the regulation.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 13, 2017

Fewer Insurance Options Available for Marketplace Shoppers

The number of insurance companies on the federal marketplace has declined, but no counties are without carriers offering coverage, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The study determined that 75 percent of enrollees have a choice of two or more insurers, and 48 percent have three or more. However, the number of people with only one insurance company in their county has increased by 24 percent since 2016.

In comparisons over the last three years, the analysis showed:

2016 2017 2018
Number of insurers per state 5.6 4.3 3.5
Percentage of enrollees with one insurer 2 21 26

 

States Sue Trump Administration Over Contraception Mandate

The attorneys general of California, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia filed a motion Thursday night to stall implementation of President Donald Trump’s order that exempts most employers from Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage mandate if they state a religious or moral objection.

The filing is part of a lawsuit the states filed in October that argues the order is unconstitutional.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 10, 2017

Senate Tax Bill Retains ACA Individual Mandate, Medical Deductions

Republican leaders in the Senate released their version of a tax overhaul bill Thursday. Like the House version, the bill does not include a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. But the senators did not rule out adding the provision at a later date.

Earlier this week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that repealing the regulation requiring all Americans have health coverage would cause 13 million people to become uninsured over 10 years.

The Senate tax bill does differ from the House version over medical expense deductions. The Senate version continues to allow people with qualified medical expenses to deduct them from their federal taxes. The House bill repeals the deduction.

ACA Enrollments Continue to Outpace Last Year

More than 600,000 people signed up last week for health insurance under the federal healthcare exchange, which continues to outperform 2016 enrollments.

Overall, total daily signups were up 79 percent compared to 2016 for the first few days of the Open Enrollment Period, which began November 1.

The first four days of enrollment saw a daily average of 150,00 enrollees, compared to 84,000 in the first 12 days of 2016. Of these signups, more than 34,000 people a day were new to the marketplace compared to 26,000 last year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 9, 2017

Healthcare a Top Issue at the Polls

Tuesday’s election results showed that voters put healthcare as a leading issue in their decisions with especially strong support for the Affordable Care Act in Maine and Virginia.

In Maine, voters approved a referendum that would expand Medicaid under the ACA to insure an estimated 70,000 to 90,000 individuals who earn $16,600 or less per year. Republican Governor Paul LePage campaigned against the measure and said he would not implement it until funding details could be worked out by the legislature.

In Virginia, 40 percent of those polled said that healthcare was the most important issue for them. Democrat Ralph Northam won the state’s governor’s race and received support from 77 percent of the voters who put healthcare as their top concern, making the issue his biggest strength.

The voting results confirm a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which showed that Obamacare has a small favorability lead with 52 percent of respondents who approve of the ACA and 39 percent who disapprove.

CBO: Repealing Obamacare Mandate Would Leave Millions Uninsured

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a new analysis on the effects of repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate, as some Republicans push to include the provision in their tax reform bill.

According to the CBO, removing the requirement that all Americans be insured or pay a fine would reduce the federal budget deficit by $338 billion. However, this would also mean that 13 million people would be uninsured by 2027. The analysis also predicted that a repeal would cause health insurance premiums to increase about 10 percent most years over the next decade.

President Donald Trump and many Republican leaders have shown support for including a repeal of the mandate in the tax overhaul. However, House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has been against the idea.

Senators Propose Changes to Obamacare State Waiver Program

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Michael Crapo (R-ID) have introduced a bill that would change how Obamacare state waivers are executed.

The legislation would:

  • Allow governors to implement waivers under the Affordable Care Act without approval from their state legislators.
  • Give governors the power to end the waiver program.
  • Require that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary make a decision on waivers within 100 days.
  • Prevent insurance companies from limiting access for people with pre-existing conditions.

The waiver program enables states to alter portions of the Affordable Care Act as long as it doesn’t lower the quality of care or make care more expensive.

Hatch said: “While fully repealing and replacing Obamacare remains a priority, this approach would remove some of the current hurdles facing states across the country and provide concrete options to assist states in caring for their low-income populations in creative and fiscally responsible ways.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 7, 2017

Obamacare Enrollment Off to Strong Start

The first day of the Obamacare Open Enrollment Period saw twice the number of enrolls as last year. More than 200,000 people signed up for healthcare on the federal exchange on November 1 compared to 100,000 in 2016.

Traffic on the healthcare.gov website was up on the first day of OEP, receiving 1 million visitors compared to 750,000 in 2016.

A government spokesperson said the first few days of enrollment have gone well. “The website performed optimally and consumers easily accessed enrollment tools to compare plans and prices.”

Executive Order Would Weaken Individual Mandate

The Trump administration has prepared an executive order that would weaken the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all Americans have healthcare coverage. This executive order could be released if congressional Republicans do not address it in a new tax reform bill.

If President Donald Trump issues the executive order, it would expand the “hardship exemption” so that more people could avoid paying a fine for a lack of insurance. Currently, an exemption is granted in the instance of the death of a family member, bankruptcy, a natural disaster, or poverty.

Congressional Republicans have been split on whether to include a repeal of the individual mandate within the tax bill.

If the regulation is eliminated, it would cause 15 million people to be uninsured by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Health Care Voter Coalition Set to Mobilize Constituents

A group of 30 Democratic progressive organizations has joined to rally a million voters against Republican candidates who are against Obamacare.

The Health Care Voter campaign is focusing on the 2018 midterm elections to highlight healthcare reform issues. The effort kicked off this week with a video that features prominent Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, and DNC Chairman Tom Perez.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 3, 2017

Tax Bill Drops Medical Deductions, Keeps Individual Mandate

House Republicans released tax reform legislation Thursday that would eliminate a deduction for qualified medical expenses.

The medical deduction covers out-of-pocket expenses that exceed 10 percent of a person’s adjusted gross income. In 2015, it was used by 8.8 million people who claimed an estimated $87 billion in healthcare expenses. The majority of people who claimed the deduction were 50 or older with incomes under $75,000.

The bill does not include the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, which President Donald Trump and some Republican leaders wanted eliminated. The issue is not addressed in the proposal.

Study: Zero-Premium Bronze Plans Available for Low-Income Citizens

Older, lower-income Americans can purchase a bronze plan with no monthly premium in 98 percent of counties on the federal exchange, according to a study released Thursday by Avalere Heath.

The analysis was based on 50-year-olds who had a single income of $18,090 or were the head of a four-person household with an income of $36,900.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 2, 2017

Millions Cut From OEP Email Notices

The Trump administration sent initial healthcare enrollment notices to millions fewer Americans as compared to previous years.

Emails that went out prior to the start of the Open Enrollment Period (OEP) on Wednesday were only sent to people who currently are enrolled in a plan from the federal exchange. Recipients did not include the 20 million Americans who previously had an Obamacare plan.

In a change from emails sent in previous years, the notices did not include encouragement to sign up, the benefits of shopping for a new plan, or potential cost savings.

Emails to people who previously had a plan will be sent, although the communications will not mention the availability of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments that lower healthcare costs for low-income consumers, a spokesman told The Washington Post.

CMS says it will send out three to five emails to consumers throughout OEP. “The emails encourage potential consumers to shop around for the plan that best meets their needs,” said an agency spokesperson.

Trump Wants Obamacare Mandate in Tax Bill

President Donald Trump called on Congressional leaders to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in tweets posted Wednesday morning. “Wouldn’t it be great to Repeal the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate in Obama Care and use those savings for further Tax Cuts for the Middle Class,” Trump tweeted.

The idea to eliminate the ACA’s requirement that everyone have health coverage as part of the year-end tax reform package was suggested by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR). Many Congressional GOP leaders are opposed to the idea. “I think tax reform is complicated enough without adding another layer of complexity,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX).

The president’s tweets seemed to contradict statements made Tuesday to reporters from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders when she told reporters that she didn’t think that eliminating the mandate needed to be included in the tax bill.

Bipartisan Stabilization Bill Backed by 200 Groups

The bipartisan healthcare stabilization bill proposed by the Senate Health Committee has been endorsed by more than 200 health and business organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association.

The bill would extend cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidy payments to insurers for two years and give states more flexibility to change some Affordable Care Act rules.

The bill may have the votes needed to pass, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will not call for a vote without presidential approval.

Obama Touts Obamacare in Promotional Video

Former President Barack Obama took to social media Wednesday in a short video to boost the first day of the Open Enrollment Period for Obamacare.

Obama encouraged his Twitter and Facebook followers to sign up for coverage on the healthcare exchange as part of the promotional efforts of nonprofit Get America Covered.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 1, 2017

Federal Officials Propose Changes to ACA State Rules

The Department of Health and Human Services has released proposals to revise Affordable Care Act rules that allow states to change health plan benefit requirements and limit navigator programs. The changes would become effective in 2019.

Proposed changes include:

  • The ability for states to change their benefit standards or use the standards enacted by other states.
  • Reducing the number of navigator organizations per geographic area from two to one.
  • Removing the requirement that the navigator groups must be physically in the area they represent.
  • Allow states to decide if plans provide patients with a sufficient number of providers in its network to guarantee “reasonable access.”
  • Removing restrictions that require insurance companies to allocate 80 percent of premium funds to customer care.

House Leader Opposes Adding ACA Mandate Repeal in Tax Bill

Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX), chairman of the House’s Committee on Ways and Means, said he is against a proposal from Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) that would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in tax reform legislation.

“Look, I want to see that individual mandate repealed. I just haven’t seen, no one has seen 50 votes in the Senate to do it,” Brady said.

Groups File Lawsuit Against New Birth Control Rule

The National Women’s Law Center and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a federal lawsuitTuesday against a recent rule change from the Trump administration that allows more employers to be exempt from covering birth control for moral or religious reasons.

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