Time: D H M S

Freedom's just another word for..."better not get sick."

In Idaho, "Freedom" comes with limits
— Zachary Tracer (@ZTracer) February 14, 2018

— Katherine Hempstead (@khemp64) February 14, 2018

Two weeks ago, Idaho Governor "Butch" Otter issued an executive order allowing insurance carriers to basically just ignore federal law altogether and start offering non-ACA compliant healthcare policies. As Sarah Kliff of Vox.com noted at the time:

OK, let me get this out of the way up front: Yes, this is pretty self-serving of me, and kind of stupid, but it's something which has been bugging me for four years now, so I finally decided to do something about it.

As longtime readers know, ACA Signups didn't start out as a full website. Originally it consisted entirely of a Google Docs spreadsheet with a domain name pointing to it. The domain wasn't even ACASignups.net; I started out using ObamacareSignups.net, which still repoints to the site today. I changed it after the first month or so not because I have a problem with "Obamacare" but because ACASignups.net is simply faster to type out.

The ACA Signups project actually started out as a series of blog posts over at Daily Kos, one of the largest online progressive political sites in the country, where I had already been posting under the name Brainwrap on any number of issues for nearly a decade.

Healthcare reporter extraordinaire Margot Sanger-Katz has been picking through the horror show known as Donald Trump's proposed annual federal budget, and it's every bit as awful as you might expect:

The first one I already wrote about this morning...

The White House’s preferred Obamacare replacement now appears to be Graham-Cassidy.
https://t.co/stjZMYSeMO pic.twitter.com/wS62MkbgVp

— Margot Sanger-Katz (@sangerkatz) February 12, 2018

In a surprise to no one, Planned Parenthood would appear to be defunded...

This would be a big policy change. pic.twitter.com/1UoylIyHRJ


Hot Off the Presses, via Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner...

President Trump’s budget plan released Monday endorsed an Obamacare repeal and replace bill that gives funding to states and makes cuts to Medicaid.

...Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., are behind the legislation that takes Obamacare’s funding for the Medicaid expansion and tax subsidies for lower premiums and gives it to states through block grants. The senators introduced the bill in September along with Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Dean Heller, R-Nev.

The bill would end the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare but supporters say states can implement it individually if they want. However, the bill makes cuts to Medicaid overall by capping federal funding per beneficiary.

The bill failed to get enough support in Congress in September, as some senators from expansion states worried about Medicaid cuts and protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

(sigh) One More Time, folks...

According to this article from last May, the total budget for operating HealthCare.Gov, the federal ACA marketplace/exchange which covers 39 states,was around $2.1 billion in 2016. Donald Trump proposed slashing the budget down by about 20% to $1.7 billion in 2017.

Where does that money come from? Well, HealthCare.Gov, the federal ACA marketplace/exchange which covers 39 states, is not funded out of the general federal budget. Instead, it's funded by assessing a 3.5% premium surcharge on policies sold on it.

OK, that's not quite true; the 3.5% only applies to the 34 states which are fully operated by the federal exchange; there are 5 states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon) which have their own exchange operations but "piggyback" on HC.gov's technical platform; those states were charged just 1.5% of premiums in 2017 and 2.0% for 2018. However, those 5 states combined only make up around 5% of all HC.gov enrollments, so the lower fees only knock perhaps 2% off the total user fee revenue.

Hey, remember this?

So @SenatorCollins sold out for bills which won’t help much and aren’t gonna happen anyway.@jeffflake sold out for a promise to attend a meeting which won’t happen.@lisamurkowski sold out for destroying her own environment.@SenJohnMcCain sold out for...nothing at all. Huh.

— Charles GetCoveredBa (@charles_gaba) December 3, 2017


On October 1st, 2013, the first Open Enrollment Period (OE1) under the Affordable Care Act kicked off to much hoopla. As everyone knows, the largest of the ACA exchange websites, HealthCare.Gov, infamously melted down at launch due to a multitude of hardware and software problems ranging from insufficient server capacity to poor workflow design to buggy coding and much, much more. However, as Steven Brill detailed in the March 10, 2014 issue of Time magazine, by early December, the worst of the problems had been resolved, and by the time the second Open Enrollment Period came along a year later, HealthCare.Gov had been completely overhauled, with additional improvements and enhancements every year since.

The difference has been dramatic: On October 1, 2013, only six people (not six thousand or six hundred...six) were able to actually make it all the way through the HC.gov interface and enroll in a healthcare policy. On December 15, 2016, six hundred and seventy thousand enrolled.


May 11, 2015:

Wellmark spurns Obamacare exchange, but two competitors don't

Moderate-income Iowans who want to use Affordable Care Act subsidies to purchase health insurance still won't be able to choose policies from Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield next year. But they should be offered policies from at least two competitors.

April 25, 2016:

Iowa’s dominant health insurer has agreed to start selling policies a year from now that qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

One of the most popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act's Three-Legged Stool's "Blue Leg" is the prohibition of caps on annual or lifetime benefits. When you consider that a baby born prematurely or a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy can eat up several million dollars worth of care within a few months, this makes perfect sense. Even a moderately wealthy family can be brought down by high medical costs, and a middle class family can be financially wiped out. If you're lower income, don't even get me started.

Naturally, the Trump Administration's response to everything above is "Hmmmmm...screw all that:"

After approving Medicaid work requirements, Trump’s HHS aims for lifetime coverage limits

After allowing states to impose work requirements for Medicaid enrollees, the Trump administration is now pondering lifetime limits on adults’ access to coverage.

Thanks to David Anderson for the heads up on this. According to Caitlin Owens of Axios...

Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray, are pushing to increase the Affordable Care Act's subsidies as part of a stabilization bill being renegotiated with Sen. Lamar Alexander. This would mean increasing the amount of financial assistance people receive, as well as making it available to more people.

  • ...“We’re interested in both expanding access to subsidies and increasing their value. You’ve got two different sets of populations that will be impacted in different ways depending on how cost sharing” is structured, a Democratic aide told me.

Democrats also want to:

Welp. In the end, enough Democrats joined Republicans in both the U.S. Senate and House to pass a massive spending bill in the dead of night. Donald Trump signed it into law early this morning.

Needless to say, I'm not happy at all about a major missing piece of the bill: The DREAM act, which would protect around 690,000 young adults who were brought to the United States as children, was not part of the bill. The Dems in the Senate were able to lock in a formal immigration debate which will presumably be focused in large part on DACA and the Dreamers, but there was no such guaranteed baked in on the House side by Speaker Paul Ryan. Personally, I'm pretty disappointed with the 73 Dems who folded on the issue, but the fight isn't over yet.

Still, this site focuses primarily on healthcare policy, and on that front, at least, there's good news: Along with a whole mess of other stuff, here's some of what is included:

...assuming racist Governor Paul LePage actually stops being a jackass long enough to actually implement it.

According to the CMS/ASPE 2016 Final Enrollment Report, during the 2016 Open Enrollment Period, Louisiana enrolled 214,148 people in exchange-based Qualified Health Plans.

However, during the 2017 OEP, Louisiana only enrolled 143,577 people...exactly 33% fewer.

Most states dropped a bit year over year in 2017 in large part due to the Trump administration cutting off outreach/marketing during the critical final week, but Louisiana saw the worst year over year drop. Why? Well, the most obvious reason was pretty simple: The state expanded Medicaid halfway through the year.

Last year, in my "If I Ran the Zoo" piece, I stuck my neck out and noted that the single biggest problem with the Individual Mandate isn't that it exists, but that it's not strong enough (conservative healthcare writer Michael Bertaut, who I disagree with on most issues but respect on this topic, also argues that the mandate has never been enforced strongly enough either). Here's what I said at the time:

The reality is that as much as everyone complains about the $695 or 2.5% income individual mandate penalty for NOT having qualifying healthcare coverage, the penalty should really be increased. There, I said it. The problem is that if the penalty is significantly less than the amount that the premiums would be, some people will still decide to eat the tax instead of signing up.

UPDATE: (sigh) OK, it looks like the final number for the District of Columbia was slightly too low; I've received official notice from the DC exchange that it was actually 22,584, 115 enrollments higher than the NASHP report pegged it at. The Graph and spreadsheet below have both been updated...

OK, here it is...

This morning Covered California issued their final 2018 ACA Open Enrollment numbers. I was a bit disappointed to discover that instead of beating out last year slightly, they ended up coming about 2.3% short year over year...but there's a very good reason for that: Like Maryland, California not only utilized the full "Silver Switcharoo" strategy with individual market premiums, they actively encouraged current UNSUBSIDIZED on-exchange Silver enrollees to switch to off-exchange Silver plans instead.

Note: This is more of a placeholder for the moment; it'll be updated as soon as the numbers are available.

At around 10:30am this morning, Covered California will be announcing their final, official 2018 ACA Open Enrollment Period numbers, along with other various demographic info.

Keep in mind that California is second only to Florida in terms of ACA exchange enrollees, with around 13% of the national total each year, so this is a big deal.

The most recent updates from the largest state-based exchange pegged their numbers at 1,542,000 QHP selections as of January 21st, including:

  • "more than" 1.2 million renewing enrollees, and
  • "more than" 342,000 new enrollees signing up.

Last year Covered CA's 1/31 total hit 1,556,676 (or just under 15,000 enrollees higher). In 2016 they had their all-time high of 1,575,340, so they'd have to have tacked on about 34,000 more over the final 10 days of Open Enrollment this year in order to beat their record.