Hefty Insurance Rate Increases May Be on the Horizon

Wall Street Journal: “Major insurers in some states are proposing hefty rate boosts for plans sold under the federal health law, setting the stage for an intense debate this summer over the law’s impact.”

“In New Mexico, market leader Health Care Service Corp. is asking for an average jump of 51.6% in premiums for 2016. The biggest insurer in Tennessee, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, has requested an average 36.3% increase. In Maryland, market leader CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield wants to raise rates 30.4% across its products. Moda Health, the largest insurer on the Oregon health exchange, seeks an average boost of around 25%.”

“All of them cite high medical costs incurred by people newly enrolled under the Affordable Care Act.”

“Insurance regulators in many states can force carriers to scale back requests they can’t justify. The Obama administration can ask insurers seeking increases of 10% or more to explain themselves, but cannot force them to cut rates. Rates will become final by the fall.”

“Health-cost growth has slowed to historic lows in recent years, a fact consumer groups are expected to bring up during rate-review debates. Insurers say they face significant pent-up demand for health care from the newly enrolled, including for expensive drugs.”

The SCOTUS Obamacare Case: Who Will Blink First?

Jeffrey Toobin: “Sometime next month, the Supreme Court will decide King v. Burwell, and the conventional wisdom about the stakes in the case appears to have shifted.”

“It has come to seem that Obamacare’s Republican opponents are most at risk if the decision goes their way. They have the most to lose by winning … So that’s the theory: millions will suddenly be uninsured, and will blame Republicans.”

“No, it’s not. If the Obama Administration loses in the Supreme Court, the political pain will fall almost exclusively on the President and his Party … President Obama will have broken health care, so he owns it. To the vast mass of Americans who follow politics casually or not at all, Obamacare and the American system of health care have become virtually synonymous. This may not be exactly right or fair, but it’s a reasonable perception on the part of most people. The scope of the Affordable Care Act is so vast, and its effects so pervasive, that there is scarcely a corner of health care, especially with regard to insurance, that is unaffected by it. So if millions lose insurance, they will hold it against Obamacare, and against Obama. Blaming the President in these circumstances may be unfair, but it’s the way American politics works.”

“Playing chicken with the Justices only works if it works. If the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies, the Administration will also have to answer for why it didn’t prepare for this possibility.”

GOP’s Obamacare Plan? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

New York Times: “At precisely 3:56 p.m. on Thursday, Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, introduced a popular Internet symbol for a careless shrug of the shoulders — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ — into the Congressional record, holding it up on a placard and describing it as ‘a pretty good summary of what the Republicans’ plan is,’ if the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act this summer.”

Jonathan Chait points out that a lack of a Republican plan has “induced a wave of panic … among Republicans. The chaos their lawsuit would unleash might blow back in a way few Republicans had considered until recently, and now, on the eve of a possible triumph, they find themselves scrambling to contain the damage. It is dawning on the Grand Old Party that snatching health insurance away from millions of helpless victims is not quite as rewarding as expected.”

King v. Burwell “works more on the level of an elaborate prank than as a serious reading of the law. And yet it stands at least some chance of success … That prospect has grown suddenly unnerving because, unlike previous Republican efforts to strangle the law, the current one comes as Obamacare is functioning extremely well.”

“The party remains doctrinally committed to the complete destruction of Obamacare … This doctrine will now put Republicans in the position of endangering the lives of sick Americans who will lose access to their medical treatment.”

States Contemplate Obamacare Exchange Mergers

The Hill: “A number of states are quietly considering merging their healthcare exchanges under ObamaCare amid big questions about their cost and viability.”

“Many of the 13 state-run ObamaCare exchanges are worried about how they’ll survive once federal dollars supporting them run dry next year.”

“Others are contemplating creating multi-state exchanges as a contingency plan for a looming Supreme Court ruling expected next month that could prevent people from getting subsidies to buy ObamaCare on the federal exchange.”

“The idea is still only in the infancy stage. It’s unclear whether a California-Oregon or New York-Connecticut health exchange is on the horizon.”

“But a shared marketplace — an option buried in a little-known clause of the Affordable Care Act — has become an increasingly attractive option for states desperate to slash costs. If state exchanges are not financially self-sufficient by 2016, they will be forced to join the federal system, HealthCare.gov.”

The Return of Go-Go Years for Wall Street

Neil Irwin: “Seven years after a crisis that shook Wall Street to its core, the financial sector’s economic imprint has largely recovered. The number of people working in the securities business nationally has returned to 2007 levels, as has the gap between the compensation of Wall Street workers and that of everyone else. The financial sector as a whole is reporting profits that are as large a share of the overall economy as in the early 2000s and more than double their average level over the 70 years ended in 1999.”

“This time, Wall Street has largely returned to a state more reminiscent of the go-go 2000s than of the middle decades of the 20th century. Average pay per full-time worker in the securities industry averaged 2.2 times that of the average American worker for the 70 years that ended in 1999 and peaked at 4.2 in 2007. It has rebounded to 3.6 times as high in 2013, and looks likely to have risen further since then.”Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 9.48.25 PM

 

While Poor and Minorities Shoulder Debt, College Presidents Rake in Top Salaries

Washington Post: “Amid state cuts in higher education funding and modest increases in federal grant aid eclipsed by rising tuition, African American, Latino and low-income students … must borrow to get a degree, according to a new report from liberal think tank Demos.”

“Eighty-four percent of college students with Pell grants graduate from four-year public schools with debt, compared with less than half of students without the need-based grants, the report said. While less than two-thirds of white graduates from public schools borrow, four out of five black graduates take out loans for college. And black students who do borrow come out with more debt than their peers.”

Mark Huelsman of Demos: “We see worrying signs around the impact of student debt on the ability to build wealth and assets, find a satisfying or civic-minded job or start a business.”

Meanwhile, Frank Bruni reports on the staggeringly lucrative salary deals for college presidents that “have become almost commonplace.”

“Their extravagance strikes an especially discordant note in light of the challenges confronting higher education today, and it undercuts their moral authority.”

“The lofty pay of college presidents is part of higher education’s increasingly corporate bent, of the blurred lines between the campus and the marketplace.”

Majority of Enrollees Are Satisfied With Their Obamacare Plans

Kaiser Family Foundation: “Following the Affordable Care Act’s second open enrollment period, most people enrolled in marketplace plans report being satisfied with a wide range of their plan’s coverage and features, finds a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey of people who buy their own health insurance.”

“A large majority (74%) of those in marketplace plans rate their coverage as excellent or good, the survey finds. Most (59%) also say their plan is an excellent or good value for what they pay for it, though the share rating the value as ‘excellent’ declined somewhat from 23 percent last year to 15 percent in the current survey.”

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“In spite of high overall satisfaction levels, a significant minority of enrollees report challenges and worries related to the affordability of coverage and care.”

“The survey finds most (57%) of those in ACA-compliant plans feel financially well-protected by their insurance, though nearly four in ten (38%) feel vulnerable to high medical bills.  A similar share (34%) of those with non-compliant plans reports feeling vulnerable to high medical bills, as do 28 percent of people with employer coverage interviewed as part of a separate survey.”

Climate Scientists Are Also Susceptible to Denialist Campaigns

The Hill: “President Obama in a speech on Wednesday cast climate change as a growing national security threat, accusing Republican skeptics of harming military readiness by denying its effects.”

A recent study shows that climate denial campaigns also take a toll on climate scientists and their findings.

Inside Climate News: “Scientists spend time and resources addressing denialists’ debunked claims in a way the scientific community has never done, said Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Bristol in England and lead author of the new study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change. Researchers also often downplay future climate risks to avoid being labeled an ‘alarmist’ by climate contrarians.”

“The study reviewed dozens of psychological and social science papers to understand why scientists are susceptible to denialist campaigns and provided a real-world example of this impact from the climate science literature. The authors concluded that scientists are as vulnerable as anyone to persuasive messaging and fear being stereotyped (in this case, as a global warming alarmist), and that when enough people criticize or question their work they, too, may begin questioning their findings.”

 

More Americans Benefit from Obamacare Than They Realize

Drew Altman: A less appreciated reason the Affordable Care Act gets mixed reviews is “simply that many more people benefit from the ACA than may realize it.”

“More than half of Americans say the health reform law has had no impact on them or their family, Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Polls have found. As the chart above shows, that’s true of Democrats (60%), independents (54%), and Republicans (55%).”

“But the ACA benefits more people than say it has affected them and far more than the approximately 23 million more people who have signed up for a marketplace plan or Medicaid as a result of the law.”

“ACA-related insurance reforms affect many Americans, and these provisions are popular with the public. But as the Kaiser poll findings show, Americans don’t always connect the benefits with the law. It’s likely that many people just don’t know that the law is responsible for their free flu shot, or contraceptive coverage, or their ability to get coverage if they have a pre-existing condition. These new benefits are provided by insurers or employers without a promotional label reading ‘brought to you by the ACA.’”

Obamacare Enrollment Numbers Threaten Repeal Efforts

Philip Bump: “For the first time, the number of people who have signed up for a health-care plan under the Affordable Care Act has reached 12 million, according to Charles Gaba of ACAsignups.net. The milestone is significant largely because it ends in six zeroes. But it’s significant for a political reason, too: It means that 3.7 percent of the country has selected a plan in the politically contentious system.”

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“OK. So if we combine the 10.1 million people with active coverage under an Obamacare exchange (federal or state) with the 12.4 million enrolled in Medicaid, that’s 22.5 million people with health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That’s about 7 percent of the population of the country. A lot may not know that they’re enrolled in an Obamacare program, but it still creates a lot of friction for any politician that wants to start pulling aspects of the program away. Which was always the Democrats’ political plan, of course.”

Can Republicans Avoid Romney’s Tax Proposal Problem?

“President Obama accused Mr. Romney of proposing to cut taxes on the rich at the expense of the middle class,” according to the New York Times. “There are a few ways the 2016 Republican candidates can avoid the Romney middle­class tax trap.”

”They can break with party tradition and abandon the position that there should be significant tax­rate cuts for top earners. They can forthrightly defend the idea that people with low and middle incomes should pay more. They can abandon the promise of revenue neutrality — so a tax cut for the rich does not need to be offset by tax increases elsewhere. They can be as vague as possible.”

“So far, we have seen contenders use all these options except the first… The question is whether G.O.P. primary voters, used to promises of deep tax cuts, yet desirous of higher military spending and wary of old­age entitlement cuts, will allow a candidate to dance around their unreasonable expectations — or whether they will push their nominee into promises that prove unpopular in a general election.”