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"This Is Absolutely Crazy": Obamacare Signups Start As Americans Increasingly Balk At Surging Premiums

After years of surging premiums and deductibles, will 2018 finally be the year that America's middle class throws in the towel and brings the whole scheme crashing down? 

While we won't know the answer to that question for at least a couple of months, one thing is certain...if it happens it will most definitely be the result of the Trump administration's efforts to undermine the legislation and not the culmination of years of soaring costs that has rendered healthcare unaffordable for most American families.  Well, at least that's the The Wall Street Journal's assessment of the situation:

Consumers will begin signing up Wednesday to take part in the Affordable Care Act next year, kicking off a crucial six-week stretch that could test the law’s durability amid Republican leaders’ continuing desire to see it repealed.

 

This year’s annual open-enrollment period, the fifth in the ACA’s history, faces more uncertainty than previous years, since the Trump administration has opted to cut the sign-up period by half and pull back $116 million that had been designated for advertising and outreach.

 

Health analysts widely expect the number of people who purchase insurance through the law’s exchanges to dwindle as a result, fueling a partisan debate over whether the Obama-era law is sinking of its own accord or being undercut by the administration’s actions.

 

About 12 million people selected or were re-enrolled in the exchanges last year, with about 10.3 million of those actually paying premiums and obtaining coverage in 2017. Analysts expect the number of sign-ups to fall by at least one million during this open-enrollment period, which extends from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.

Of course, as Bloomberg crisply demonstrated by highlighting the health insurance experience of Richard Taylor, Obamacare's surging premiums had already rendered the product completely unobtainable for a broad swath of the American middle class long before Trump moved into the White House.  As Bloomberg notes, Taylor is one of the unfortunate Americans who makes too much money to qualify for subsidies but is self-employed and thus forced to purchase insurance on the private exchange.

For some lower-income people in Obamacare, the rising premiums President Donald Trump has talked so much about will barely be felt at all. Others, particularly those with higher incomes, will feel the sharp increases when insurance sign-ups begin Wednesday.

 

Richard Taylor is one of the people on the wrong end. The 61-year-old, self-employed Oklahoman has meticulously tracked his medical costs since 1994. In 2013, he signed up for an Affordable Care Act plan for the law’s first year offering coverage to millions of Americans.

 

Four years ago, annual premiums for a mid-level “silver” plan to cover his family totaled $10,072.44. For 2017, they were $21,392.40—up 112 percent.

 

“This is crazy. This is absolutely crazy,” Taylor said. “All I’m waiting on is to get on Medicare.”

Alas, fixing a broken system is hardly the concern of Washington D.C. politicians who will inevitably continue to ignore the consequences of a failed piece of legislation and focus instead on clever media attack ads and tweets designed to make sure the blame falls on the opposite party.

Democrats complain that President Donald Trump’s actions are prompting the very problems Republicans cite as evidence of the law’s failure. “In the end, if Republicans can tank open enrollment, they can get more momentum to try repeal again,” said Brad Woodhouse, executive director of protect Our Care, a Democratic advocacy group.

 

The Trump administration has pared funds for publicizing the open-enrollment dates and for paying on-the-ground assisters who help people shop for coverage. The Department of Health and Human Services also plans to take down the law’s main website, healthcare.gov, from midnight to noon on nearly every Sunday of the sign-up period.

 

Advocates also say the ACA’s online window-shopping tool, which allows customers to compare plans ahead of open enrollment, has been malfunctioning, sowing further confusion. Federal health officials have acknowledged the issues.

For those who missed it, before you rush out to buy your Obamacare plan today you should probably take a peak at the preview below of how much your premiums are going to increase in 2018...

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A new study conducted by Avalere and released earlier today found that Obamacare rates will surge an average of 34% across the country in 2018.  Of course, this is in addition to the 113% average premium increase from 2013 and 2017, which brings the total 5-year increase to a staggering 185%.

Meanwhile, and to our complete shock no less, Avalere would like for you to know that the rate increases are almost entirely due to the Trump administration's "failure to pay for cost-sharing reductions"...which is a completely reasonable guess if you're willing to ignore the fact that 2018 premium increases are roughly in-line with the 29% constantly annualized growth rates experienced over the past 4 years before Trump ever moved into the White House...but that's just math so who cares?

New analysis from Avalere finds that the 2018 exchange market will see silver premiums rise by an average of 34%. According to Avalere’s analysis of filings from Healthcare.gov states, exchange premiums for the most popular type of exchange plan (silver) will be 34% higher, on average, compared to last year.

 

“Plans are raising premiums in 2018 to account for market uncertainty and the federal government’s failure to pay for cost-sharing reductions,” said Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at Avalere. “These premium increases may allow insurers to remain in the market and enrollees in all regions to have access to coverage.”

 

Avalere experts attribute premium increases to a number of factors, including elimination of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, lower than anticipated enrollment in the marketplace, limited insurer participation, insufficient action by the government to reimburse plans that cover higher cost enrollees (e.g., via risk corridors), and general volatility around the policies governing the exchanges. The vast majority of exchange enrollees are subsidized and can avoid premium increases, if they select the lowest or second lowest cost silver plan in their region. However, some unsubsidized consumers who pay the full premium cost may choose not to enroll for 2018 due to premium increases.

Of course, not all residents are treated equally when it comes to premium hikes.  So far, Iowa is winning the award for greatest percentage increase at 69%, with Wyoming, Utah and Virginia close behind. 

On an absolute basis, Wyoming wins with the average 50 year old expected to drop nearly $1,200 per month (or roughly the cost of a mortgage) on health insurance premiums. 

So what say you?  Have we finally reached the tipping point where enough full-paying Obamacare customers will simply forego insurance that they can no longer afford and cause the whole system to come crashing down?