Obama-con: States approving huge spikes in health-insurance premiums

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BY ED MORRISSEY

When insurance companies began discussing the necessary premium hikes for the third year of ObamaCare coverage, the White House was quick to dismiss the requests. State auditors would surely force insurers to admit that these requests were overblown. Barack Obama himself told a Nashville audience last month that he couldn’t see why insurers needed to hike premiums by more than a third in Tennessee, the Wall Street Journal recalls:

At a July town hall in Nashville, Tenn., President Barack Obama played down fears of a spike in health insurance premiums in his signature health law’s third year.

“My expectation is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested,” he said, saying Tennesseans had to work to ensure the state’s insurance commissioner “does their job in not just passively reviewing the rates, but really asking, ‘OK, what is it that you are looking for here? Why would you need very high premiums?’”

The insurers must have come up with a pretty good explanation. Tennessee approved a 36% hike in premiums for 2016, and they’re hardly alone, as Louise Radnofsky and Stephanie Armour report:

That commissioner, Julie Mix McPeak, answered on Friday by greenlighting the full 36.3% increase sought by the biggest health plan in the state, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. She said the insurer demonstrated the hefty increase for 2016 was needed to cover higher-than-expected claims from sick people who signed up for individual policies in the first two years of the Affordable Care Act.

Several regulators around the country agree with her, and have approved all or most of the big premium increases sought by the largest health plans in their states for the new sign-up season that begins Nov. 1.

Here’s the chart showing proposed and approved rate increases for 2016 over 2015:

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It’s the third year in a row for huge rate hikes, all due to the uncertainties built into the mandate-driven system of ObamaCare. The White House explained the hikes after the first year as an artifact of sudden access to care, but by year three that explanation has worn thin. The cost curve isn’t bending downward in any phase of health care, and it’s not even bending upward any longer. It’s skyrocketing, and insurers are reflecting that in their premium hikes.

At the same time that premiums have escalated, of course, deductibles have expanded almost exponentially for some families. Consumers are paying outrageously high premiums for insurance they will almost certainly never access, thanks to the need to spend thousands more out of pocket on top of these premiums before insurers have to cover anything but wellness checks.

The above chart doesn’t take into account my own state of Minnesota. The state has not yet acted on rate increase requests from its insurers, which have the potential to outstrip anything on the WSJ’s radar. Blue Cross Blue Shield wants an average increase across its plans of fifty-four percent, while Health Partners requested average increases of 23%. In fact, UCare — which had been the low cost option heading into 2016 — has bumped its increase request by more than double this summer:

With the July filing, UCare upped its proposed average rate increase from 12 percent to 27 percent — a bump that’s more in line with increases being sought by other individual market carriers for 2016. …

At the time, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota commanded attention by seeking an average increase of about 54 percent for 179,000 Minnesotans in the market for individuals who buy outside of employer groups.

HealthPartners sought an average increase of 23 percent for 51,860 people. UCare’s proposal applies to about 10,000 current policyholders.

The UCare proposal is just that — regulators are scheduled to release final rates this fall, and proposed increases could be knocked down by the rate review process at the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

They can be “knocked down,” but these insurers can also pack up and leave the ObamaCare system, too. They can stick with employer-based insurance and Medicare Advantage portfolios and leave the individual markets. That’s exactly what BCBS announced today that they will do in New Mexico. If that happens, then Minnesota politicians will be under the gun to explain why their constituents can’t get health insurance any longer, the same as in Tennessee, Oregon, Kentucky, and so on. All Obama will do is ask rhetorical questions and pretend that he knows risk-pool management better than those who operate them … which is exactly how we got the disaster of ObamaCare in the first place.

Unions, insurers team up to fight coming Obamacare tax

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BY SEAN HIGGINS

A coalition of labor unions and health insurance companies is pushing Congress to repeal Obamacare’s “Cadillac tax,” arguing that it will hurt workers by causing their employers to cut back, or eliminate, insurance coverage.

But many economists and analysts argue that whatever the workers lose in coverage they will largely make up in additional wages or benefits.

“The economic evidence is strong that there is a tradeoff between health benefits and wages, so I would expect wages on average to rise as firms cut back on health benefits as a result of the Cadillac plan tax. The wage effect could vary by employee and employer, though, depending on labor market conditions. Workers whose skills are in greater demand will be more likely to get wage increases,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, includes a 40 percent tax onemployer-provided plans with supposedly lavish benefits, i.e., “Cadillac” plans. The White House’s intention was to use the tax revenue from the wealthier plans — estimated by the Congressional Budget Office at $87 billion over 10 years — to finance other parts of the law. However, many of the plans were negotiated by labor unions and are a key benefit for members. They fear the tax will cause employers to drop or scale back the plans rather than pay the tax.

It is a dilemma that more employers will have to deal with. On Monday, Kaiser released a study that found that 26 percent of employer-provided plans could be subject to the tax when it starts in 2018. The share would rise to 30 percent by 2023 and to 42 percent by 2028.

Organized labor, which fought hard to pass Obamacare, has been worried about the tax’s impact for years. At its 2013 convention, the AFL-CIO labor federation passed a resolution criticizing the law and demanding major changes.

Several top unions such as Unite Here, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, and the Laborers International Union of North America have joined a coalition group called “Alliance to Fight the 40” that also includes major health insurance companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Cigna and New York Life Insurance Co.

The group sent a letter to all House lawmakers Monday urging them to repeal the tax. The letter disputes the argument that the tax will bring in $87 billion and argues that many employers will drop coverage or restructure it to avoid paying the tax. Those who don’t drop coverage will require employees to contribute more to offset the higher cost.

Those workers won’t get much in return, the alliance argued. “[I]t is economic theory, not hard evidence, supporting the claim that employers will make up lowered health benefits with higher wages,” the letter stated.

One of the coalition members pointed the Washington Examiner to a 2014 study the American Health Policy Institute, a think tank whose board of governors consists of “60 chief human resources officers from America’s largest employers.” It cited a survey of employers that found that 30 percent would eliminate high-cost plans and 42 percent would require more worker cost-sharing.

“The more likely outcome is that workers do not get any compensating wage benefit,” said Tevi Troy, president of the institute and a former deputy secretary of the Health and Human Services Department under President Bush.

The coalition also pointed to a October study by Aon Hewitt, a company that consults on human resources issues, that found that a third of businesses would “reduce the richness” of their company-provided plans and another 10 percent said they would eliminate the high-cost options.

However, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said in a March report that business groups’ efforts to avoid the “Cadillac tax” would likely result in “a larger share of employees’ compensation over the coming decade … [being] paid in the form of taxable wages and salaries.” It even said the increase in taxable wages was the “largest factor” in why it reduced its projection for the federal budget deficit over the next decade by $431 billion.

It stands to reason that employees would get back most of the money in some form, said David Hogberg, author of Medicare’s Victims, a newly published study on the impact of federal health care policies. He noted that employers would not be reducing health coverage because their profits are down, but to avoid new taxes. In other words, companies would still have the same amount of money budgeted for their employees as before.

“Reducing health benefits to avoid a tax … should have no impact on an employer’s revenue stream. Thus, will the employer replace those benefits with wages or maybe some other benefit like 401(k) matching funds? My guess is yes, since if he doesn’t, he risks losing his more productive employees to an employer who is willing to do that,” said Hogberg, who is also a policy analyst for the National Center for Public Policy Research.

John Goodman, president of the President of the Texas-based Goodman Institute for Public Policy Research, agreed. “The CBO guess is not a bad one. This is an easy tax to avoid (spend marginal dollars on some other benefit or on wages) and at least 3/4ths of the employers will do just that,” he said, adding, “It’s not even controversial.”

Kaiser’s Levitt said that exactly how much would flow back to the workers wasn’t clear, though. “We don’t have any independent estimates of how much of the savings from any curtailment in health benefits would be passed back to employees in the form of higher wages,” he said.

Angry Taxpayers, Not Stupid People, Are Backing Trump

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BY D. C. MCALISTER

Like so many of my fellow Americans, I felt helpless as I sat in front of the television in the fall of 2008, watching Barack Obama become the 45th president of the United States. I had high hopes for John McCain and Sarah Palin, but my hopes were dashed as America elected Obama, despite not knowing much about him.

I wanted to do something, speak out, have a voice, but I was just a mom in Charlotte, N.C., struggling to get by. I felt alone, my voice heard only within the confines of my own home as I snapped back at television commentators or politicians spouting drivel on the radio. Then came the Tea Party.
After his inauguration in 2009, Obama announced a huge government bailout of the housing market. Those of us who were worried about out‐of‐control spending and a growing centralized government rose up. The Tea Party was born. I was one of the first members, if you could even call us official members at the time. As soon as I heard about other like‐minded people gathering in downtown Charlotte for a rally, I printed out my first homemade “Tea Party” bumper‐sticker and taped it to my faded red mini‐van. A neighbor called me crazy. I just smiled and put another sticker on the side window, so he could see it as I drove by.

In A Reaction Against Big Government, The Tea Party Was Born
As Tea Partiers gathered on the National Mall in 2009, I went to local rallies, my oldest daughter and I painting “Conservative Victory” T‐shirts with stars and stripes. The rallies were a mixture of people—old, young, teenagers, whites, Hispanics, blacks. Every rally felt like the Fourth of July in a small town, complete with iced tea and lemonade.

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But things soon changed. Anderson Cooper dubbed us Tea Baggers, and the Republican Establishment fixed its eye on us like Sauron from Mordor.
During one rally across from the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, a couple of black female professionals came up to me and asked me what was going on. They looked concerned. “What do you have against President Obama?” one of them asked me suspiciously. I explained that the issue wasn’t Obama but the size of government and how we’re all taxed too much. I told her that I had three children and three step‐ children to support, but a lot of our money went to taxes. “I just want to be free to take care of my kids and help in my community the way I choose,” I told her. She said she’d just had her third child and agreed that she could use more money. We parted with a greater understanding of one another—no animus, no anger, just a deep concern about our families.

Throughout the first term of Obama’s presidency, the Tea Party grew in strength. I was able to replace my tattered homemade bumper‐sticker with a glossy official one. But things soon changed. Anderson Cooper dubbed us Tea Baggers, and the Republican Establishment fixed its eye on us like Sauron from Mordor. Those of us in the Tea Party faced a two‐headed hydra in Washington—the Democrats and those from our own party who hated us because we embarrassed them and challenged their power.

Still, the Tea Party didn’t relent. Obamacare spurred us to action, and the 2010 midterms were a landslide. We wanted change in Washington. The newly elected congressmen we sent there promised change, but the two years that followed didn’t bring much, despite the efforts of brave men like Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Rand Paul. The real blow came when the Establishment’s candidate of choice, Mitt Romney, won the Republican nomination. During the primary, the GOP had repeatedly beat up on the Tea Partiers, calling them irrational, angry, and most of all stupid. They were characterized as ignorant outsiders with pitchforks. Hobbits. Crazies. When newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz fought to defund Obamacare in 2013, Peter King called his supporters “a dark strain in the American psyche.”

Fighting For Limited Government With Words
After the election of Obama in 2012, I felt helpless and depressed. I’d worked hard in the Tea Party, but we were failing. We were failing, not because of the Democrats, but because of the GOP and its refusal to give up its love of centralized power. They were no different than the leftists. Money. Power. Cocktail parties. Media incest. The Capitol in the Hunger Games really did portray for many of us what Washington had become—narcissistic, money‐grubbing, self‐indulgent, condescending, and egotistical. There was little evidence that anyone inside the beltway cared about everyday Americans.

I continued to work hard, writing, standing for principles of liberty and freedom.
I needed to do something. I had been a journalist before becoming a full‐time mom, so I used the only skills I had—my writing. Maybe it would give me a voice, albeit a small one. Attending rallies wasn’t enough. I was worried about the future. I saw other women being sucked in by the war‐on‐women lies, and I needed to say something, try to make a difference. My children were getting older, and I wanted better for them, financially, culturally, and morally.

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So, I got on the Internet, started a blog, and I began writing. I was passionate and not always politically correct. I challenged people on my side as well as Democrats. I made friends, and I made enemies because I didn’t care about playing politics. That’s because I was speaking out, not for a political party, but for my family, for myself. I had to live and write by my own conscience, not to please others or even to advance myself and a possible career in punditry.

I got up at dawn and wrote all day. I was unemployed at the time, so I could do it. I joined a wonderful website, Ricochet, where I continued to work hard, writing, standing for principles of liberty and freedom. I called people to be faithful to the Constitution, to think as individuals, to strengthen the civil society by loving one another and being personally responsible for themselves and their families, and to stand for what they believe no matter what. I studied, read more books than I can remember, and scoured the Internet. My family thought I had gone nuts, but I wouldn’t relent. I was just a little voice, just a Tea Party mom who wanted to make a difference, but I believed in what I was writing.

I was often demeaned and ridiculed. I didn’t have a fancy degree. I didn’t have a fancy fellowship. I didn’t know any politicians. I didn’t have any connections. I was just a journalist with some knowledge of philosophy and theology. I was just a mom and a wife, busy cooking dinner, cleaning house, not attending cocktail parties and rubbing elbows. I was a nobody. But I kept writing. In response to Peter King and his attack on Ted Cruz, I wrote in September of 2013 a post about how the GOP was mischaracterizing the Republican base. I was tired of being called angry and stupid. Even “vile.” The fact is I wasn’t angry. I was afraid.

The Tea Party’s Fears Still Matter
This is what I wrote two years ago, and given what my colleague Tom Nichols’ (whom I respect a great deal) has written about the Tea Party and Trump supporters, it bears repeating:

If you really want to understand what motivates the Republican base, you need to stop listening to the bully name‐calling that the establishment has adopted from the left or to people like Peter King who talk about a ‘dark strain in the American psyche’ and all the ‘vile’ phone calls he has received in support of Cruz. Instead, you need to listen and understand that conservatives are not—and never have been—motivated by anger. They are motivated by fear.
Some might not want to admit this fact. It sounds weak, maybe even naive. But fear in the proper context is anything but naive. It’s wisdom based on experience and knowledge. It’s realizing that something you love is threatened, something worth fighting for—even worth dying for.

They fear a government that is no longer acting within the boundaries of the Constitution. They fear tyranny.
‘Anger,’ as it has been leveled at the Republican base, is a mischaracterization, designed to dismiss them as irrational and even dangerous. The truth is they’re simply good people who love their country and are honestly afraid of losing their freedom, having their private property taken away through high taxes, being robbed of their rights through increasing regulations, having their privacy invaded by the IRS and the NSA, and having an expanding government rob them of quality healthcare, the right to defend themselves, and free choice in the education of their children.

Conservatives today look at the government and they see creeping tyranny (and in some instances, not so creeping). They see very few checks and balances among the branches, they see the Constitution violated and undermined by legislators—including those in the GOP, they see judges legislating, and they see an unaccountable executive ruling by fiat. Is it any wonder they’re afraid? The question is ‘Why isn’t the GOP establishment afraid?’

It’s been said, ‘When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.’ The Republican base doesn’t hate the government as Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal said in her rant against Cruz supporters. They fear a government that is no longer acting within the boundaries of the Constitution. They fear tyranny.

I wrote that two years ago. Today, we’re hearing the same thing from insiders (even if they are registered “Independents”). Nichols writes that Trump supporters “embrace being the underdog because it gives them a sense of importance and specialness that comes from believing they are in an ongoing struggle with The Man or The System or The Cartel. Thus they love it when The Donald says things like ‘everybody is stupid,’ because that’s how they feel all the time.”

Nichols uses the term “stupid” seven times to describe those who oppose political insiders and Washington elites. Of the Tea Party, he says they put people on the political stage “whose stock in trade was either pristine ignorance or pure rage.”

As a Tea Party member, I can say I’m neither ignorant nor filled with pure rage. Neither am I stupid. I have been thoughtful in my opposition to tyranny in Washington, and it’s one reason I’ve pushed to keep writing, despite having little support, struggling with personal issues, and often doing it while working three jobs to help pay the bills. As a Senior Contributor at The Federalist, I continue to write, standing for local governance, low taxes, a strong defense, the civil society, the Constitution, and life in the womb.

Trump Speaks For Small Government Advocates When The GOP Doesn’t
I don’t support Trump as a candidate, but I understand and respect the anger of my fellow Americans—and, yes, it is now true anger (mixed with some other legitimate points Nichols makes about our celebrity‐driven culture). But, as someone who has been a part of this conflict since the beginning—and an outsider—I can tell you, it is the GOP’s fault—it’s the fault of all politicians who are either protecting the status quo or pushing us into even more tyranny, a point Walter Russell Mead makes in his explanation of the populism of Trump.

People are more angry now than they have been because they have been pushed and pushed and pushed.
This isn’t just about Donald Trump and stupid Americans. If it were, Nichols might have a point, but there’s history here. It goes back to the Tea Party. The same things were being said years ago (and continue to be said) about Lee, Cruz, and others who dared to “make fools of themselves” in their fight against the status quo, in their fight against tyranny.

People are more angry now than they have been because they have been pushed and pushed and pushed. Let me explain a little something about human nature. When someone feels oppressed and controlled and you continue to belittle them and push them against the wall, they get angry. They’re not going to be particularly rational at that point. They’re in a corner and they lash out—that’s human nature. They fight. They get angry. They grab hold of whatever weapon they can find to defend themselves. That’s what you mostly see with Donald Trump. It’s anger, fueled by fear and stoked by insiders who continue to demean the base, who refuse to listen, and who want to maintain the status quo.

As I watch what’s happening with the Trump phenomenon, I see it not just from a political point of view, but from a human one. Nichols says supporters of Trump and Tea Partiers are just a bunch of petty “pedestrian” narcissists who like to play the victim—they’re just stupid, enraged idiots. He’s wrong.

As I watch what’s happening with the Trump phenomenon, I see it not just from a political point of view, but from a human one.
This reminds me of a toxic relationship between a man and a woman in which the man continues to control the woman, keeping her from speaking her mind, calling her stupid whenever she does. She tries to find ways to win her independence, to be heard, to be free, but he keeps pushing her back against the wall, telling her that she’s the problem. Over time, the anger swells within her. She’s afraid. She isn’t free, and she hates it. She’s powerless. Anytime she tries to stand up for herself, she is mocked and slapped down. Her fear resides. Her anger grows. Her hope recedes. One day, she just loses it. She lights a match and burns the whole house to the ground. Give me liberty or give me death takes on a whole new meaning in the context of oppression and abuse.

Hopelessness and helplessness lead to destruction. Always. Who’s at fault in this situation? Is it the irrational, angry woman who burns the house to the ground? Or is it the man who has pushed her, controlled her, ridiculed her, stolen her liberty, and caused her to live in fear for years? If you think it’s the woman’s fault, then you know nothing of human nature. The inside‐the‐beltway types might know a lot about policy, but they know little of human nature. It will be their downfall. Sadly, though, it will be the downfall of us all.

Dems and unions attack Obamacare ‘Cadillac’ tax

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BY ROBERT KING

Democrats and unions have been steadfast in their defense of Obamacare, except for one provision: the controversial “Cadillac” tax. But will the bipartisan desire to repeal the tax be enough to get approved by President Obama?

The “Cadillac” tax got its name because it goes after very expensive healthcare plans. The tax, intended to generate revenue for Obamacare, starts in 2018, and will tax 40 percent of the value of health plans that exceed $10,200 for an individual and $27,500 for a family.

There’s some bipartisan momentum to repeal the tax, as there are two bills in the House that would do so. But neither bill has gotten anywhere in the House.

A measure sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., and another bill sponsored by Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., were referred to the Ways and Means Committee. So far the committee hasn’t taken up either bill.

Committee spokesman Brendan Buck said any effort to repeal the tax would “likely be part of a larger effort to undo the law.” There haven’t been any bills introduced in the Senate yet that just repeal the tax, although it is mentioned in larger repeal efforts.

Even if a standalone bill could get past the House and the Senate, it appears likely President Obama would veto it.

But an intense lobbying effort has recently geared up and hopes to persuade the president to change his mind. The lobbying group Alliance to Fight the 40 was created last month to fight the tax, and is not focusing on other parts of the healthcare law.

“Our feeling is that this provision is not central to anything doing the operations of the law,” said James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, an advocate for employer-sponsored health plans. “There is no question that the president is not supportive of this change now but we think in the face of a big bipartisan push hopefully he would be persuaded.”

The council is helping coordinate the coalition, which includes the construction worker union Laborers’ International Union of North America, mega insurer Cigna and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Unions, a perennial Democratic ally, are also fighting the tax because they believe it could affect the middle class.

“There is no doubt that this health care excise tax threatens every American worker and it must be repealed,” Douglas J. McCarron, president of the carpentry union United Brotherhood of Carpenters, said in a statement. The union is part of the lobbying group.

Unions are worried the tax could hurt generous benefits packages negotiated from large companies.

The tax is expected to generate $87 billion in revenue from 2018 to 2025, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The office estimated that a majority of that money will come from higher income and payroll taxes since employers will switch to less expensive plans.

But Klein told the Washington Examiner, “No employer that I have spoken to over the last five years believes that is what is going to happen.”

A 2014 study of large U.S. employers found that about half of the employers in the U.S. with 5,000 or more workers would be hit by the tax. The study from the consulting firm Towers Watson estimated the number would increase to 82 percent by 2023.

There is a debate over how many workers will be affected. Last year, the average health plan cost an individual $6,025 and a family about $16,834, according to data from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

The foundation did find that premiums are rising, and that the average family premium increased by 3 percent compared to 2013. A single coverage plan rose by 2 percent compared to the year before.

Over the past 10 years, the average premium for family coverage has increased by 63 percent, the foundation said.

Kaiser does note that premiums are rising at a much slower pace over the last five years from 2009 to 2014 compared to the preceding five-year period of 2004 to 2009.