Plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose. The fruits of the Barack Obama promise that PolitiFact named its Lie of the Year for 2013 will keep coming in 2015, as a quarter-million Virginians will lose their existing health-care plans as more of ObamaCare’s mandates come into force. NBC’s affiliate WVIR reports that not only will 250,000 Virginians have to choose a new plan, they’ll also be paying much higher deductibles as well:
“Nearly a quarter million Virginians will have their current insurance plans cut this fall,” said the local anchor. “That is because many of them did not–are not following new Affordable Care Act rules, so a chunk of the companies that offer those individuals their policies will make the individuals choose new policies.”
Says the reporter, “This goes back to that now heavily-criticized line we heared before Obamacare was put in place: ‘If you like your plan, you can keep it.’ Ultimately, that turned out not to be true for thousands of Virginians and companies in the commonwealth. … Wednesday Virginia lawmakers on the health insurance reform commission met for the first time this year. Turns out, a staggering number of Virginians will need new plans this fall.”
The Washington Post’s Jason Millman also tells readers from around the country that their imaginations have not gotten the best of them — they really are paying more for health care, if your employer provides insurance coverage:
It’s not your imagination. If you have employer health insurance, you’re probably paying more and more out of your own pocket.
High-deductible plans have been under the microscope during the past year, given their prevalence among new individual coverage plans offered under the Affordable Care Act. But it’s also a trend that’s also playing out under employer-sponsored health plans covering about 150 million people, as illustrated by the annual survey on employee health benefits from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.
First, the headline findings from the new survey of about 2,000 firms. The average cost of an employer-sponsored family health plan reached $16,384 this year, up 3 percent from the previous year, with employees paying $4,823 toward that. The increase tracks pretty closely with the growth of wages and inflation over the past year, and it continues a few years of relatively modest premium increases. The number of firms offering coverage was down slightly, from 57 percent in 2013 to 55 percent this year, though a vast majority of companies with 50 or more employees offer coverage (92 percent).
While premiums in employer plans have grown 26 percent in the past five years, that’s been outpaced over the same time by the 47 percent rise in the average deductible — the amount of care a worker has to pay for before insurance kicks in.
Five years ago, right? What was going on five years ago? Oh, yes — Congress was debating ObamaCare and its coverage and employer mandates. Four years ago, they passed it over the objections of Republicans and in defiance of its widespread unpopularity. Employers have spent the last few years adjusting to the cost signals of ObamaCare, which has meant more cost-shifting to the employees. In 2008, the year before Congress took up the debate, 12% of employers covered their workers in plans that had a deductible of $2,000 or more for single coverage. In 2011, after passage of ObamaCare, that number hit 28%, and now it’s 34% — nearly triple what it was before Congress “reformed” the health-insurance industry.
Small wonder that the bill’s popularity continues to decline. The White House expected that its supposedly successful 2014 enrollment period would make people happier with the law, but a new Kaiser Health survey finds the opposite. ObamaCare’s favorability has declined since peaking at a weak 37% in July down to 35%. Independents take an even dimmer view of the law, at 30/49, with more of them considering it “very unfavorable” (33%) than the combined number of all favorable responses.
It’s not going to get any better, as the Virginia experience shows, before this year’s midterms. In the past week, the Obama administration has taken the Little Sisters of the Poor back to court to enforce the new “accommodation” in the contraception mandate, perhaps as an ironic way to turn the narrative on ObamaCare back to the so-called “war on women.” As I write at The Fiscal Times, it’s going to be a futile effort no matter what:
Industry analyst Bob Laszewski notes that the back-end accounting system that was supposed to be ready last fall to check eligibility for subsidies and ensure enrollment won’t be in place for this new season of open enrollment, either. Thanks to that, auto-renewals will place consumers at risk for huge tax bills or big jumps in premiums. Most people will therefore need to re-enroll to recalculate their subsidies, adding to the traffic for new consumers whose employers may have stopped offering coverage due to the costs of the employer mandates, which come into effect for businesses with 200 or more employees in 2015.
There may be 10 million or more people trying to enroll between November 15 and December 15, who will then have the same issues of confirming their coverage that the lack of the back-end system created in the 2014 open-enrollment period last year and this year.
“The last couple of months have been very quiet for Obamacare,” Laszewski writes. “That is about to end.” And when that happens, the public-relations damage from bullying nuns who provide hospice care to the dying will be the least of the Obama administration’s worries.
This wave won’t wait until after the midterms to crash either, even though HHS pushed back open enrollment to mid-November. Voters will have these experiences in fresh memory when they turn out to vote in the midterms.