Top priority for insurers: Keep Obamacare’s coverage mandate and subsidies - Axios
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Top priority for insurers: Keep Obamacare’s coverage mandate and subsidies

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The Trump administration's highly anticipated Obamacare "market stabilization" regulation, which could come as soon as this week, may help insurers by tightening the enrollment rules. But that's not what's at the top of health insurers' wish list. They care a lot more about keeping the subsidies and individual mandate tax — and they want the taxes on them repealed permanently.

That was the message Blue Cross Blue Shield Association lobbyists presented at a meeting with White House and Department of Health and Human Services officials on Feb. 6. Documents housed at the White House's Office of Management and Budget reveal that the industry wants the feds to temporarily keep the individual mandate until high-risk pools are funded and there are new rules for covering people with pre-existing conditions.

They also want to repeal the Obamacare taxes and "do no harm by maintaining cost-sharing reductions." And they're reminding federal officials that the insurance industry needs to know what to expect by this spring.

The problem: Republicans have been hostile to the mandate and subsidies. They view the mandate as anathema to individual choice, and they prefer the subsidies to be tied to age instead of income. Republicans also are not fans of the cost-sharing subsidies for low-income people. Yet, insurers and actuaries know those components are needed and overshadow the other administrative fixes.

  • "Without the penalty, the underlying actuarial soundness of the exchanges would be in trouble," said John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan, a Medicaid-based plan that has about 25,000 exchange members.
  • "The cost-sharing reduction subsidies are a big deal, and if those weren't paid, that effect would swamp some of this other stuff," said Cori Uccello, senior health fellow at the American Academy of Actuaries.

So what is that other stuff that could change how insurers price their plans in 2018?

Age band rating: Obamacare says insurers can charge older people only three times as much as younger people. The proposal to increase that ratio to 3.49-to-1 is viewed as inconsequential to many insurers, not to mention legally questionable, and the industry favors a statutory change to 5-to-1. But that could have its own negative ripple effect. "You don't want to increase premiums so much so that the healthy older folks drop coverage or don't enroll," Uccello said.

Special enrollment periods: The government has already tinkered with limiting how and when people can enroll for coverage outside of open enrollment, but the biggest insurers want a complete clamp-down on those exceptions. However, any changes to special enrollment periods "may give some who qualify pause to apply…which may further unbalance the risk pools," said Margaret Murray, CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans.

Nonpayment of premiums: Obamacare enrollees have 90 days to pay overdue premiums before insurers can end their coverage. Baackes said he would want a compromise of that grace period to be 60 days.

And more: The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association also said it wants states, not the federal government, to handle reviews of health insurance rates and benefits; the continuation of so-called "grandmothered" and "grandfathered" plans; and the elimination of the federal small business exchanges, among other items.

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Trump trade adviser circulated docs linking manufacturing declines to abortion, spousal abuse

Peter Navarro. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

Peter Navarro, President Trump's top adviser on trade policy, circulated two diagrams internally claiming without evidence that decreased manufacturing is causing divorce, spousal abuse, increased abortion rates, increased drug use and more, according to the Washington Post, which obtained the documents.

Why it matters: President Trump and Navarro are aligned on trade, both contending that broad agreements like NAFTA are killing U.S. manufacturing. Two White House officials told the Post of concerns that "such unverified information could end up steering White House policy."

Go deeper: The art of the deal-breaker.

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White House weighs in on Niger deaths, travel ban ruling

Trump at a Rose Garden press conference Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Trump called the families of the four U.S. service members killed in action in Niger to offer condolences, Press Secretary Sanders said Tuesday evening. Trump was questioned about his public silence on the deaths yesterday, and falsely claimed his predecessors had declined to call families of those killed.

The White House also released a statement calling a Hawaii federal judge's block on Trump's revised travel ban a "dangerously flawed" decision. The Justice Department will "vigorously defend" the ban, the White House said.

Meanwhile, Trump sent out two afternoon Twitter attacks — one aimed at the media and the other aimed at Democrats in Congress.

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McCain says he'll support bipartisan health care plan

McCain speaks after he received the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Photo: Matt Rourke / AP

Sen. John McCain, whose opposition sunk an earlier Republican health care proposal, said Tuesday night that he looks "forward to supporting" the bipartisan plan put forward by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. McCain added that he hopes the plan is "a sign of increased bipartisanship moving forward."

President Trump has called it a "good short term solution" and Chuck Schumer has said most Democrats are supportive. House conservatives, meanwhile, are more skeptical.

Go deeper: The details of the plan.

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Mueller's team interviewed Sean Spicer Monday

Spicer resigned as Press Secretary over the summer. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was interviewed Monday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, Politico reports. Spicer fielded questions on the firing of James Comey and Trump's meetings with Russians, including his Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, per Politico, in a meeting that lasted "much of the day."

The big picture: Mueller's investigation has reached people who were in the room when Trump made key decisions and statements that are now under scrutiny.

Go deeper: Spicer kept notebooks detailing goings-on at the White House; Mueller wants to speak with six Trump aides

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Close Putin ally linked to Russia's fake news factory

Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev / AP

The Russian "troll factory" that spread misinformation during the 2016 U.S. election, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), was funded by a close ally of Vladimir Putin's, according to a CNN report. The oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is nicknamed "Putin's Chef." His business, Concord Management and Consulting, had a contact drawn up with IRA in 2013 for 20 million rubles ($650,000).

Why it matters: This is further evidence that election meddling efforts reached into Putin's inner circle.

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EPA loosens radiation safety standards

Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The Environmental Protection Agency has labeled levels of radiation 10x greater than those considered acceptable under the Obama administration as not harmful to people's health, according to a Bloomberg report. The EPA sets such regulations in case of nuclear meltdowns or other events that expose the public to radiation.

  • EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said: "EPA has not changed its standards regarding radiation exposure, and no protective guidelines were changed during this administration...The guidance was released on January 11, 2017 -- before the President was inaugurated." Bloomberg said an FAQ on the decision was released last month.
  • Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Bloomberg: "This appears to be another case of the Pruitt EPA proclaiming conclusions exactly opposite...of scientific research."
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Facebook's head of experimental hardware is leaving

Regina Dugan is leaving Facebook. Photo: Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

The head of Facebook's skunkworks division Building 8 will leave the company. Regina Dugan said in a statement given to Recode that there's "is a tidal shift going on in Silicon Valley, and those of us in this industry have greater responsibilities than ever before" and that the "time feels right" to be "thoughtful about new ways to contribute in times of disruption." She said in a different post that she will be in charge of a "new endeavour."

Why it matters: Dugan arrived at Facebook last year to lead a division tasked with projects like building a way to type with your mind. Her departure comes as the company faces enormous pressure over its role in an increasingly unequal and divided society.

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Magic Leap confirms $502 million fundraise

Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz
Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for Wired

Magic Leap, the secretive "mixed reality" startup, announced on Tuesday that it has raised $502 million in new venture capital funding led by Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek. This is the same round that Axios discussed last week, based on a Delaware regulatory filing (which authorized up to $1 billion in new shares at an increased valuation). The post-money valuation appears to be around $5 billion.

Bottom line: Investors clearly keep seeing something they like in Magic Leap, but consumers are still waiting for the Florida-based company's first product to debut.

Cap table: In addition to Temasek, other new Magic Leap investors include EDBI (Singapore), Grupo Globo (Brazil) and Janus Henderson Investors. Return backers include Alibaba Group, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Google, J.P. Morgan Investment Management, and T. Rowe Price.

Related: A pair of former Magic Leap engineers today announced that their new startup, which helps streamline the design process of 3D concepts for VR/AR apps, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding.

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Federal judge blocks Trump's latest travel ban

An Iraqi family landed in the United States as a federal court blocked a travel ban in March. Photo: Felipe Dana / AP

A federal judge in Hawaii has blocked President Trump's third attempt at implementing a travel ban, which was set to go into effect Wednesday.

What's next: The administration is almost certain to appeal, meaning the revised ban could again reach the U.S. Supreme Court. But for now, the block means the administration cannot deny travelers from six of the eight countries officials said were either unable or unwilling to provide the information the U.S. requested for entry.

  • His quote: Judge Derrick K. Watson in Hawaii, who issued a temporary restraining order against the administration, said the latest version of the ban, "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor."
  • What's in question: As with the previous versions, the underlying decision relies on whether the ban is based on animosity toward Muslims.
  • What makes this ban different from the previous versions: The latest order was only passed after the U.S. underwent extensive negotiations with other countries for more information that would vet their citizens. The list of countries affected by the ban also now includes North Korea and Venezuela, two countries that are not Muslim-majority. The other countries include Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, and Somalia.
  • What critics are saying: Challengers argue the additions are largely "symbolic," per the Washington Post's Matt Zapotosky, who writes that the new order would only impact" certain government officials from Venezuela, and very few people actually travel to the U.S. from North Korea each year."
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Trump's short list for Fed chair

Yellen at a hearing in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

President Trump is expected to name his pick to be chairman of the Federal Reserve before leaving on an Asia trip Nov. 3, Bloomberg reports. Here are the candidates:

  1. Current chair Janet Yellen
  2. Fed board member Jerome Powell
  3. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn
  4. Former Fed member Kevin Warsh
  5. Stanford University economist John Taylor
Why it matters: "At issue for the next Fed chair, if Yellen isn't renominated, is ensuring the long expansion doesn't give way to a recession," Bloomberg writes.