Those Tricky Insurance Companies!
A wise reader writes in, cutting through some of today's PR and muck by bringing the topic back to the insurers.
In speaking with Empire Blue Cross of New York's marketing department, I know the following:
Private insurance companies are dropping pre-2010 (grandfather insurance plans), because they are not profitable, not because they don't meet ACA standards (those plans don't have to because of the grandfather clause). However, the insurance companies are required by the ACA to provide low cost products to the exchanges, and they need to make up for this loss in premiums by, in part, canceling the private low premium insurance policies. That is simply a private business decision.
Now, several legislators are proposing bills (and the President by executive order) that would require continuation of these canceled policies, which sounds interesting on it's face, but for one glaring problem. Insurance companies will simply raise the premiums of said policies, as high as necessary, to make up for the above losses or simply to drive the policy holders into canceling the policy because of inability to pay the high premiums.
I spoke with Senator Landrieu's representative today and broached this subject with him and he admitted that the effect of the Landrieu bill would be negated, by the above scenario.
Isn't this problem at the center of "Keep Your Plan" mania? Not to be a broken record about this, but, while not every week will be as panic-filled as this one, there's nothing at all preventing Republicans from blaming every future rate or premium hike on Obamacare. Democrats are now seeking a way to put the onus for sticker shock back onto the insurers. That, at least, was a major theme of their answers to reporters in the Capitol today.
We've Cleared Up the Whole "Bill Clinton Vs. Obama" Issue
In a month or so, I'll have to write my annual audit of blown predictions. Please indulge me as I remember one, from 50-odd hours ago, that was not wrong. At that time, Washington was chattering about Bill Clinton being AT ODDS with the president, demanding he "keep his promise" and allow people to keep their old individual insurance.
I think Bill Clinton is teeing up for the WH/HHS to issue some new rule; they clearly want to issue one before the Upton bill comes up.— daveweigel (@daveweigel) November 12, 2013
Hey, that doesn't look so bad, does it? Perhaps the former president was not declaring war on the current one, to build up his wife's 2016 campaign.
John Boehner "Highly Skeptical" That Obama Can Fix the "Keep Your Plan" Crisis by Himself
For a couple of days, Republican aides have been laying the groundwork to explain away a possible administrative change to the Obamacare rules "grandfathering" in old individual plans. At his weekly press conference, John Boehner took the subtext and made it text. "I'm highly skeptical that they can do this administratively," he said. The House would still need to pass Fred Upton's bill.
On the surface, this doesn't make much sense. The House can pass whatever it wants; Senate Democrats will not vote on Fred Upton's bill, as they don't want the old plans available to future buyers. Whatever rule the president proposes, they assume that will solve much of the "broken promise" problem. What are the Republicans going to do, sue?
But I don't think that's the point. Whatever Obama does, it won't restore all the canceled plans. Republicans (and anyone who's talked to any insurer, ever) know this is not the case. After this week, Republicans will be able to react to any new stories about canceled plans by pointing out that, hey, they wanted to fix this, but the president arrogantly refused them and went with his own plan.
Democrats Just Need to Admit That Obamacare Is a Wealth Transfer
The early morning of the Washington Ideas Forum closed with a fairly predictable chat between Fox News' Chris Wallace and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Wallace gave Cruz far too many opportunities to launch into talking points. (Do you know that he thinks the real divide in politics isn't between Republicans, but between the grass roots and the Washington establishment? He does!) But toward the end, Wallace pressed Cruz on what Republicans could offer the uninsured. They had not, he pointed out, done anything that would cover the teeming masses of those without health insurance.
"It would have been simpler to send them a check, rather than messing up the health care of millions of Americans," said Cruz.
There was no follow-up, but the answer sort of crystallized how the health care debate has changed—and maybe how Democrats have failed to change with it. Imagine this exchange four, six years ago. Could a Republican get away with saying that the fix to health care was distributing money to allow people to buy whatever plans they could? No: At that time, you could blame the deficiencies of the health care system on the private sector, HMOs, greedy corporations.
With the government "in control" of health care, everything's changed. Now, a private insurer's cancellation is blamed by everyone on the government. Accurately! All a Republican needs to promise (you know, assuming no follow-up questions) is that he wouldn't have messed with the private sector and increased costs or screwed with the plan.
This can be said and done basically in perpetuity, because Democrats lack confidence in their only answer. Yes, some plans will cost more, because the ACA redistributes wealth to allow more people to get health insurance, at the expense of some people paying more.
Today's Obama "fix" to the independent market cancellations will do what it does. It doesn't advance the argument that there's a new, more redistributive health care system now.
Pelosi: The White House Will Fix Obamacare Today, Maybe
The Washington Ideas Forum, the annual Atlantic/Aspen Institute pot luck of wealthy-enough, powerful-enough people, kicked off Thursday morning with Nancy Pelosi describing the current crisis of Obamacare. James Bennet, the editor of the Atlantic, goaded Pelosi with a long description of everything going wrong, asking whether it proved that government couldn't do big things.
"You got caught in traffic?" joked Pelosi. "Is that what put you in this mood?"
It took a while, and some verbiage about how the healthcare.gov disaster ("more than a glitch"), but Pelosi eventually suggested that the administration could fix the dropped-plans issue. "I think what you'll see in the next 24, 36 hours, is something to the effect of how do we accommodate those people," she said. "I would rather it be an administrative fix," because such a change could be done without "accompanying agendas." And it was her "understanding" that this could come today.
Pelosi was staring down a legislative deadline—at some point on Friday, the House would probably vote on, and pass, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton's legislation to allow private insurance plans to be offered as they were before. A number of vulnerable Democrats don't want to vote against this. (Their Senate colleagues won't have to; Harry Reid can bottle up the bill.)
Before she finished, Pelosi suggested that "by the time we get out of here, we might have a presidential announcement." The event was scheduled to wrap up by 12:30 or 1 p.m. Obama's chief of staff was, at that time, scheduled to meet with Senate Democrats.
Here's Why Chris Christie Is Probably Ready to Leave New Jersey
Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, whose 1985 re-election landslide swept his Republicans into power across the state, talks to Charles Stile about Chris Christie's victory last week. Did I just write "talks"? I could have written "unloads." Kean's annoyed with Christie for winning the election, failing to win the state Senate, then backing a challenge to Kean's son, who was set to remain the GOP leader in that upper chamber.
The full failure of Christie's "coattails" campaign is only now being known. Christie had wanted to win the state Senate, cutting ads and campaigning for key candidates. None of his challengers unseated any Democrats. The total Republican gain in the Assembly appears to be ... one. That's better than 2011, when Democrats gained a seat, but even if you factor in the gerrymander that protects Democrats, Kean and other Republicans are amazed that Christie could win by 21 points and carry almost nobody along with him.
So, while the national media goggles at Christie's amazing appeal, he's looking at a 2013 of compromises with Democrats, some of whom have cut deals with him and some who will want to undermine him. You can see why he might just want to call it in 18 months, and start running for president.
Which States Are Obamacare's Biggest Losers?
After the initial dust of "106,185!" settled, I was left with a question about the Department of Health and Human Services' report on last month's Obamacare enrollment numbers: Which states did the best job of signing up their citizens for the new health care exchanges, and which states were the most miserable failures?
Hence, the chart you see above. I should note that this chart lumps in the states that use their own state-based exchange websites—like Covered California or Kynect in Kentucky—with the states that use the much-maligned healthcare.gov. The chart compares the total number of completed applications in each state with the number of individuals in each state who were actually able to select a health insurance plan in the marketplace.
Some states, like New York, unfortunately don't have data available yet. But clearly, Vermont is winning the Obamacare signup race so far, with more than 40 percent of its applicants successfully choosing a plan. Connecticut and California also top out the list. What do these three states have in common? They all run their own exchange websites. Meanwhile, at the lower reaches of the chart, states like Iowa, New Jersey, and Arizona—all of which have sites that are either "supported or fully run by HHS"—were barely able to break the 5 percent mark.
Serious Congressmen Compare Obamacare Enrollment to Football Game Attendance
As the Obamacare enrollment numbers spooled out today, half a dozen members of Congress had the same idea: How did these figures compare to the sizes of various stadiums? So we got analyses from Texas:
Congrats to Pres Obama for spending $634 million on a site that’s enrolled enough people to fill Neyland Stadium on a Saturday #TN04— Scott DesJarlais (@DesJarlaisTN04) November 13, 2013
From South Carolina:
From the particular, magical part of Texas that gave us Steve Stockman:
Only 106,185 have signed up for Obamacare so far. The XFL drew a total of 936,392 fans. Can Obamacare outperform the XFL?— Rep. Steve Stockman (@SteveWorks4You) November 13, 2013
And my favorite:
More people have attended the Gathering of the Juggalos (107,500+) than have signed up for Obamacare (106,185)— Rep. Steve Stockman (@SteveWorks4You) November 13, 2013
Liz Cheney Tanking in Senate Race, for the Worst Reason
James Hohmann gets a look at internal polling for Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi in his primary fight with Liz Cheney. The Wicker Group's data is all sunny for Enzi—a 40-point lead in August is a 52-point lead in November, a +18 favorable rating for Cheney has withered to a -8 rating. If we take this as it is, what's the cause?
The American Principles Fund, a conservative super PAC run by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, spent $140,000 over three weeks on TV ads attacking Cheney as wobbly on gay marriage. No other outside group, and neither campaign, ran ads in the period.
The ad in question:
Not only is she soft on gay rights—she appears on MSNBC! That's not just a low blow, that's like the sucker punch that paralyzed Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby.
Worthwhile Canadian Gaffe
Before we pull on our waders again, and sink back into the muck of Obamacare fallout, let us turn our attention to Ottawa.
Here I wait for half the audience to fall asleep.
Still with us? OK: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is not the only charismatic Canadian politician struggling with scandal right now. Justin Trudeau, the young dynastic leader of the Liberal Party, appeared at a frothy town hall event and mused about how much better the Chinese dictatorship is at managing government, without fuss, than democracies are.
There's a level of admiration I actually have for China because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime. I mean there is a flexibility that I know Stephen Harper must dream about, of having a dictatorship that he can do everything he wanted, that I find quite interesting.
Elements of the Canadian press, which are always on the lookout for evidence that Trudeau (a theater teacher before he got into politics) is a bantamweight, have covered this like a gaffe that reveals how unready the leader is. But I hear the echo of a popular line of technocratic thinking, most often expressed by Tom Friedman. China, which can literally bulldoze anything in the way of five-year economic plans, is obviously more efficient than a democracy that has to abide by laws and local regulations. I also hear the echo of Trudeau's father, who visited China when Mao ruled it, and was given a grand tour of the place. (It was, on the surface, an effective dictatorship. We know better now.)
Is this the sort of gaffe that can undo Trudeau? He's presided over a surge of new support for the Liberals after three election wins for Harper's Conservatives. If Bill de Blasio can endure a "reds" scandal, surely he can. And, well, whatever. Rob Ford still wins the scandal prize.
Allegation Mayor Ford drank half a 40oz bottle of liquor and drove. Again, from court documents, according our media lawyer.— Katie Simpson (@KatieSimpson24) November 13, 2013