The Media’s One-Sided Coverage of Obamacare

Why does the media continue to insist on promoting the conservative meme that “Obamacare is a disaster”? Today Bloomberg ran a story headlined “Health-Care Law Support Hits New Low, Poll Shows

The piece begins: “Support for President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law has reached its nadir, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released today. The survey shows 62 percent of Americans opposing the law, the highest total since CNN began polling on the issue in March 2010. Just 35 percent favored it. The health-care law has been plagued by a faulty website, hindering efforts to log in and buy insurance, and by the revelation that millions of Americans could not keep their health insurance as Obama originally promised.”

It would be more accurate to say: “Support has been plagued by a faulty website—and a media determined to bury the good news while exaggerating the bad news.”

The very next sentence of the Bloomberg piece illustrates what I’m talking about: “Of those opposing the law, 15 percent said the legislation didn’t go far enough.” (If you actually look at the poll, you will find that pollsters were more explicit: 15% said the law was “not liberal enough.)  Bloomberg continues: ““Another 43 percent said the measure was too liberal based on Republican proposals such as the health-care measure championed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.”

Here is a more accurate, cleaerer  lead:  “50 percent of those polled either like the law (35% ) or think that it isn’t liberal enough (15%).”

It also is worth noting that the percent of people who think the ACA isn’t liberal enough is rising: in May 11% said the law wasn’t sufficiently progressive; last month 14% voiced that complaint. In other words, as more people learn about the details of Obamacare, more think that it’s too conservative.)

That’s quite different from the lead the reporter chose: “The survey shows 62 percent of Americans oppose the law.” Most readers would assume that means 62% are opposed to reform, when in fact 50% either support reform or would have liked a more progressive bill.

A balanced story would emphasize that the country remains deeply divided about the overhaul of our health care system. That should have been the headline: “Half of all Americans Support Legislation Sixteen percent thought they would be “better off” while 40% said they expected to be about the same.”Designed to Make U.S. Healthcare Better, More Equitable, and More Affordable.”

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Did You Know That 6 to 7 Million Americans Will Qualify for “Free” Health Insurance In the Exchanges? “Affordability May Not Be a Roadblock” to “Signing Up 7 Million” in 2014 –Credit Suisse

If you know someone who is uninsured, or buys her own insurance in the individual market– and lives in Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabamachances are greater than 1 in 3 that under Obamacare she will qualify for health insurance that will cost her nothing. That’s right—her government tax credit will cover the entire premium.

It gets better. After shopping the state Exchanges during the first two weeks of October, McKinsey & Co, a leading global management consulting firm, discovered that people who are currently uninsured (or who buy their own insurance) in Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Maine, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, Idaho, Montana or Alaska– stand a 1 in 4 chance of qualifying for a $0 policy.

How can that be? McKinsey explains that their income will makes them eligible for a government subsidy that will be larger than the policy’s premium.  Americans earning somewhere between $11,490 and 400% of the FPL ($48, 950 for an individual, $62,040 for a couple, $94,200 for a family) will receive subsidies. The lower your income, the larger it will be, and the more likely it is that your premium will be Zero .

This table from Credit Suisse reveals that in many states, uninsured Americans earning less than 175%  of the Federal Poverty Level (roughly $20,100 for an individual; $21,750 for a couple;  $34,170 for a family of three;  $41, 200 for a family of four) will be able to find zero-premium plans. Even if you earn somewhat more, it’s well worth the time it will take to check with your state marketplace.  You may discover that while coverage isn’t free, your subsidy will bring the cost down to as little as $20 a month.

Credit Suisse analyst Ralph Giacobbe agrees that roughly “6.5 million Americans … will be eligible for a $0 premium plan.” As a result, he believes that “affordability may not be a roadblock” to achieving the Congressional Budget Office projection that 7 million people will buy insurance in the exchanges in 2014

“Simply put, we don’t see any logical reason why anyone in this population wouldn’t take free healthcare coverage vs. remaining uninsured.”

The only question is this: How many people will hear about the free plans? Can we count on the media to inform the public? (Hat tip to the New York Times for publishing a front-page story about the McKinsey research.) Now, I would love to see the story on FOX – and in Forbes.

You can help spread the word. Do you know someone who is single, earns somewhere between $11, 490 and roughly $20,100 (175% of the FPL) and does not  have employer-sponsored insurance?  A graduate student?  Your cousin’s son?

Do you know   a family of three with income under $34,170 (175% of the FPL)  Perhaps the stay-at-home Mom down the street who just had a baby?

Good News for 20-Somethings and 30-Somethings

McKinsey reports that about half of those who will be able to purchase zero-premium insurance will be under 39 years old.

I originally published this story on  the Health Insurance Resource Center Blog. Click  there to  read the rest of the post—and find out more about the cap on the  co-pays and deductibles that someone with a $0 premium plan would pay.  

You can comment on the Health Insurance Resource Center Blog, or  you come back here to respond.

 

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Reverse “Sticker Shock” Part 2 –Subsidies Mean Enormous Saving for Older Americans

In the past I have written about how government tax credits will help young adults (18-34) who must buy their own coverage because they don’t have access to “affordable, comprehensive” employer-sponsored coverage.

But older Americans forced to purchase their own insurance will save even more. Precisely because a 50-year-old’s premiums may be three times higher than a 20-year-old’s, his subsidies will be larger.

Subsidies are designed to fill the gap between the percentage of your income that you are expected to contribute toward the cost of a premium (with the government assuming that if you earn more, you can spend more on health insurance) and the actual rates that insurers in your market charge for a benchmark Silver plan..

Families USA estimates that while the majority of 18-34 year olds shopping in the Exchanges will qualify for help from the government, fully  30% of the those who receive tax credits  will be 35 to 54, and 12.5% will be 55 or older.

Note that younger Americans will not be subsidizing these tax credits  for their elders. Under the Affordable Care Act subsidies are funded by device-makers, drug-makers, hospitals—plus taxpayers earning over $200,000—and couples earning over $250,000) Very few twenty-somethings are that fortunate. A New KFF Report Offers Eye-Opening Final Numbers on Premiums and Subsidies for 40 –Year Olds and 60-Year-Olds in 17 States

In  August the Kaiser Family Foundation  (KFF) published an “Early Look at Premiums” in California, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Indianapolis, Maryland, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, Vermont and the state of Washington.

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Reverse “Sticker Shock”—Why are Insurance Rates in the State Marketplaces Lower Than Expected? — Part I

 

Even Forbes’ columnist Avik Roy is recanting.  Earlier this month he acknowledged that under Obamacare, many Americans who buy their own coverage in 2014 will find that insurance is significantly more affordable than it was in the past:  “Three states will see meaningful declines in rates: Colorado (34 percent), Ohio (30 percent), and New York (27 percent).”

Colorado, Ohio and New York are not unique. As states announce the prices that carriers will be charging in the online marketplaces (or “Exchanges”) where Americans who don’t have health benefits rate at work will be purchasing their own coverage, jaws are dropping. Rates are coming down, not only for those individuals, but for some small business owners who will be buying insurance for their employees in separate SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program) Exchanges.

What may be most surprising is that premiums will be lower, not only in liberal Blue states but in some Red states that are opposed to Obamacare.

What is making health insurance more affordable?

First, the majority of individuals shopping in the Exchanges will be eligible for government subsidies that will go a long way toward covering premiums. In the past I have written about how these tax credits will help young adults (18-34).  But older Americans also will benefit. Fully 30% of those who receive tax credits will be 35-54, and 12.5% will be 55 or older.  This is important because in the Exchanges, insurers  in every state except New York and Vermont will be allowed to charge a 60-year-old three times as much as they would charge a 20-year-old for exactly the same policy.  Without subsidies many would find insurance totally unaffordable.

The second reason premiums are significantly lower than expected is that as I have explained on healthinsurance.org  in the state marketplaces insurers are forced to compete on price. All policies sold in the Exchanges must cover the same essential benefits, and follow other rules that will make the plans look very much alike. The only way for a carrier to distinguish himself from the crowd will be to charge less—or have a better network of providers. But the younger customers that carriers covet care far more about price than about the network.

Third, in many cases, state regulators have been clamping down. In Portland Oregon, for example, regulators forced insurers to cut their proposed rates by an average of nearly 10%. Three of the 12 insurance companies in that market had to lower their rates by more than 20% f

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Under Obamacare, Will You Receive a Subsidy to Help You Buy Your Own Insurance? We Now Have Real Numbers That Will Let You Calculate How Much You Will Receive

 

Note to Readers: A longer version of this post appeared yesterday on HealthInsurance.org.

Up until now, when Obamacare’s supporters and reform’s opponents squabbled over what insurance will cost in 2014, they had to rely on estimates and national averages. But now we have real numbers.

Eleven states have announced the rates that insurers will be charging in their Exchanges-marketplaces where individuals who don’t have employer-sponsored coverage can shop for their own insurance.

Subsidies Will Be Based On the Cost Of A Silver Plan Where You Live,

Middle-income as well as low-income people buying coverage in the Exchanges will be eligible for government subsidies that will come in the form of tax credits. Anyone earning between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) (now $11,490 to $45,960 for a single person, and up to $126, 360 for a family of six) will qualify.

Most people who are forced to buy their own insurance earn less than 400% of FPL. More affluent Americans usually work  for companies that offer comprehensive coverage.

The graph below shows average Silver plan rates in the eleven states that have disclosed premiums. (Note that these are only state averages. Premiums vary widely within a state: In some cities and counties silver plan rates will be much lower, even before you apply the subsidy.

Silver plan premiums

It’s worth noting that in these 11 states the least expensive Silver Plan costs 18% less than the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected last year. 
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If You Buy Your Own Insurance in the Exchanges, Will You Receive a Government Subsidy? How Much Will it Be for Couple, or a Family of Five?

ACA tax credits

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source:

No doubt you have read that if you are single, and earn less than 400% of the Federal Poverty threshhold (roughly $46,000 for an individual or $94,200 for a family of four) you will be eligible for a tax credit to help you cover the cost of insurance premiums.

But most of us don’t fit into one of those two categories. What if you are a couple, or a family of three? What happens if you have four kids?.

As the table above reveals, if a couple has  four children  and earns less  than $126,360 (400% of the FPL), they will be elibigle for the tax credits. Note: these credits are available only if you are self-employed, unemployed, or work for a company that does not offer affordable, comprehensive insurance. “Affordable” is defined as individual coverage that costs less than  9.5% of your income.

The credits are designed to make sure that no one who purchases their own insurance is forced to spend more than 9.5% of their income on health care. For instance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF’s) new subsidy calculator, coverage for a 35-year-old couple with three children might cost $13,101./(This is an estimate; actual premiums will vary depending on where you live. Healthcare is much more expensive in some states than in others. ) If the parents earned roughly $100,000 a year, they would be asked to pay $9,500 toward their insurance and would receive a tax credit of $3,626.

This assumes that they purchase a “silver plan” which pays for an average of 70% of covered benefits. The family would owe the other 30% in  the form co-pays and deductibles. But keep in mind that preventive care is free, there are no co-pays and the deductible does not apply.

Assuming they need care other than preventive care, total out-of-pocket spending would be capped at $12,750, even if the entire family wound up in a car accident, three of them were hospitalized, and two needed surgery.

If they preferred, the family could purchase a less expensive Bronze plan which would pay for 60% of covered benefits. Their co-pays and deductible would be higher, but once again, preventive care would be free, total cost sharing still would be capped at $12,700, and the premium for a Bronze plan would be lower: KFF estimates that a family of five earning $100,00 would still receive a subsidy of $3,626 and their share of the premium would be just $7,253.

Why is the Government Subsidizing Households That Earn more than $125,000?

 If people choose to have four children, that certainly is their business. But why should I help pay for their healthcare?

The answer is two-fold:

First, people don’t necessarily choose to have 4 children –or more. Some couples are surprised (not to mention overwhelmed) when they disccover that they are having twins or triplets. 

Secondly as a society, we care about children. We don’t want any child to go without needed care.

But there also is a pragmatic reason for supporting large families. If those children don’t receive preventive care such as dental checks as well as  timely treatments when they are sick, down the road, we as a society will pay the price. The health of the population will play a major role in determining how productive we, as a nation, are.  

 

 

 

 

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Ignore the Hype: Why Health Insurance Premiums Won’t Skyrocket in 2014

Health reform’s critics are sounding the alarm: in 2014, they say, health insurance premiums will climb, both for small businesses and for individuals who purchase their own coverage. “Hold onto your hat,” writes  Bob Laszewski, editor of Health Care Policy and Market Place Review. “There Will Be Sticker Shock!” 

Laszweski’s piece has been cross-posted on popular blogs, and his forecasts have been popping up in mainstream newspapers, including  USA Today Such wide circulation makes Laszewski’s warnings worthy of attention, and compels me to ask an important, if impertinent, question: Is what he says true?

Cherry-picking a CBO report

The Congressional Budget Office expects  that the ACA will have a “negligible” effect on the premiums that large employers pay for insurance, and most experts agree. But in the individual market, Laszewski claims that CBO projections show “10% to 13% premium increases.”

Here is what the CBO actually said:

About 57 percent of people buying [their own] insurance would receive subsidies  via the new insurance exchanges, and those subsidies, on average, would cover nearly two-thirds of the total premium.

“Thus, the amount that subsidized enrollees would pay would be roughly 56 percent to 59 percent lower, on average, than the premiums charged under current law.”

Wait a minute: “56 to 59 percent lower?” Where does Laszweski get “10 percent to 13 percent higher?

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Subsidies: Will You Receive a Tax Credit to Help You Buy Insurance in 2014? How Much?

Beginning in 2014, millions of Americans will discover that they qualify for subsidies designed to help them purchase their own health insurance. The aid will come in the form of tax credits, and many will be surprised by how generous they are.

Not only low-income, but moderate-income families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) – currently $44,680 for a single person and $92,200 for a family of four – will make the cut.

Yesterday, I posted about subsidies on healthinsurance.org. The post includes a calculator which tells you whether you would be eligible, and how much you would receive. Even if your employer offers health benefits, you might qualify for a tax credit  if the plan too expensive, or too skimpy. (I explain how the government defines those terms.) I also explain how the government calculates subsidies, and what happens if you live a place where healthcare is particularly expensive.

Click here for the full post   If you like, come back here to comment.

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“Fiscal Cliff” Talks: An Update

Today, for the first time since the election, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met alone, face-to-face, at the White House to discuss ongoing negotions over the budget.   (I can’t help but see the photo, which shows Obama with a hand on Boehnr’s shoulder, as a reference to the “Saturday Night Live” skit that appeared last night.  

I’m more and more hopeful about the budget negotiations. Recentlly, I wrote that Obama had “won round one,” explaining that I believed CNN’s report that  the Republicans and Democrats have reached a deal on taxes. “Both sides agree the wealthy will pay more, so now fiscal cliff talks come down to how much Republicans can wring out of the White House in return for giving in on taxes.”  Based on everything I know about the economics and the politics of the situation, this makes sense. /

Since then Boehner has said:  “No progress has been made.”

This does not change the story:  If, as CNN’s sources say, (and I believe) Republicans have conceded that taxes cuts for the top 2% must expire Janauary 1, while cuts for the remaining 98% will continue, that doesn’t mean they are ready to make the agreement public.

Understandably, Republicans are not willing to acknowledge that they lost round one of negotiations until they can also announce that they won something in round two.  Nor does  President Obama want to blind-side Boehner by letting it leak that a tax deal is in place. That would be counter-productive.

                          The Inside Story and the Outside Story

Recentlly, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein reported:  “Right now, the fiscal cliff negotiations are proceeding on two tracks.

“One track includes the press releases, public statements and legislative tactics the two parties are deploying to prove the purity of their faith and their commitment to beating the other side to a bloody pulp. Watch these closely and it’s easy to get depressed.  . . ‘There isn’t a progress report;’ Republican House Speaker John Boehner sighed Friday, ‘because there’s no progress to report.’

“The other track includes the offers, counteroffers and red lines proposed by Boehner and President Obama. If you look at these closely, a deal is taking shape.”

 I agree with Ezra about the “two tracks”. But I don’t agree regarding the “shape” of the deal that is emerging.

First, I agree that  the majority of Republicans in Congress have accepted the fact that the Bush-era tax breaks for folks earning over $200,000 (and couples earning over $250,000) will have to expire. I won’t try to guess when politicians will complete the two stages of bargaining and be ready to announce a deal. We may go right up to the January 1 deadline.

Moreover, it is  possible that when it comes to cutting government spending, too many Republicans will remain stubbornly, and foolishly, intransigent — insisting on concessions that would inflict pain on the middle-class.

If that happens, I predict that President Obama will let us sail over the so-called “fiscal cliff.”  He knows this wouldn’t do any permanent damage to the economy.  As Rutgers reported today, even Wall Street does not seem panicked by the prospect: “Investors have peered over the cliff and realized they are looking at a gentle slope . . . . some investors say lawmakers still have time in early 2013 to strike a deficit-reduction deal without imperiling the economy. A survey of 62 Wall Street money managers released on December 5 showed market losses would be manageable if the U.S. goes over the fiscal cliff, even though worries still run deep.

Many on Wall Street understand that, early in the spring, the administration could undo Draconian spending cuts, while lowering tax rates for the 98%. Public pressure will ensure that happens. (In the meantime, the Treasury Secretary could lower withholding rates so that middle-class Americans didn’t suddenly see their paychecks trimmed.)

But taking a ride down that slope would do lasting damage to the GOP.  Polls show that voters would blame Republicans. This is why I think that, in the end, Republican leadership in Congress will do whatever it must to make a deal before January.  As I indicate in the post below. Tea Party extremists in the Republican party are being side-lined.

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