OPINION: Chicago Tribune Editorial "The Messy Rollout of Obamacare"

June 24, 2013

The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board yesterday opined that continued delays and secrecy regarding implementation of the president’s health care law could lead to confusion among insurers and insurance premium “rate shock” for consumers. Open enrollment for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is set to commence in just 99 days, yet the Department of Health and Human Services has issued little guidance for the millions of Americans and businesses who will be affected by its enactment. Two recent GAO reports also confirm the Obama administration is ill-equipped for the pending implementation of the federally facilitated health insurance and the Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) exchanges created under the health care law. Additionally, an Energy and Commerce Committee report recently found that many consumers are set to face premium increases resulting from Obamacare, some totaling over 400 percent.

On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on the "Challenges Facing America’s Businesses Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." For more information on the hearing click here

June 23, 2013

EDITORIAL: The messy rollout of Obamacare

And why the secrecy on rates?

The rollout of Obamacare later this year is likely to bring a rate shock for many Americans who will buy health insurance from state marketplaces known as exchanges.

How much will premiums jump? Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services won't say. Yes, HHS has received rate filings from insurers. But the agency won't release rates until September, when the final contracts are signed. That's only a month before these new exchanges are supposed to open for business nationwide.

HHS officials say they're still negotiating with insurers and want to drive down prices. They say divulging all this information could confuse consumers or spook insurers.

It could be that HHS is keeping a lid on rates because it wants to avoid a California-like debacle.

Last month, California officials crowed that health insurance premiums would fall in their Obamacare exchange. "This is a home run for consumers in every region of California," said the exchange's executive director.

But California officials were off base, according to economists who scrutinized the figures.

Some insurers reportedly controlled costs by cutting out the most expensive hospitals and doctors from their networks and by boosting patients' out-of-pocket payments. "The premiums for the policies that will be offered ... are much higher than analogous plans being sold today," Daniel Kessler, a professor of business and law at Stanford University, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Bottom line: The cost of health insurance in California and the rest of the country will spike for many people, especially the young. At the same time, millions of Americans will be pushed into fledgling, sure-to-be-glitchy exchanges to buy that insurance.

With roughly 100 days before the Oct. 1 opening of exchanges nationwide, federal and state officials have blown deadlines and remain tangled in regulatory confusion, according to twin reports last week from the Government Accountability Office.

Many states running their own small-business exchanges, for example, hadn't finished nearly half the tasks that were supposed to have been done by the end of March, the GAO said. Some states have scaled back offerings to meet the deadline. Others have abandoned the idea of running their own markets and ceded control to the feds.

"Whether (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services') contingency planning will assure the timely and smooth implementation of the exchanges by October 2013 cannot yet be determined," the GAO noted in a rousing vote of no confidence.

The states are scrambling to install a complex system that relies on computers to share data with the Internal Revenue Service, state tax offices, Medicaid, Medicare and other agencies in order to verify customer information. A consultant for Utah's exchange told The Wall Street Journal: "Something will be up and running on Oct. 1. It will be full of issues, bugs and technological challenges." Ack.

The states also need to train tens of thousands of customer service agents to help customers navigate the exchanges. A massive public outreach campaign looms.

No wonder one top Democrat fretted that the Obamacare rollout would be a "train wreck."

Amazing fact: A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that about 4 in 10 Americans didn't know if Obamacare was still the law of the land. About 1 in 10 thought Congress had repealed it. More ominous: One in 4 people age 18 to 30 do not believe that insurance "is worth the money it costs."

Obamacare counts on healthy younger people buying insurance in droves, lest only sick people sign up and premiums explode for everyone. They may opt to pay a penalty instead if insurance is too pricey or the online sign-up is as balky as a 10-year-old computer.

This is not going to be a smooth ride.

To read the editorial online, click here.

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