Vernuccio’s View: Is Obamacare Collapsing?

Is Obamacare Collapsing? 

by Frank V. Vernuccio, Jr., J.D. 

Those enrolled in Obamacare are facing serious challenges. Rising Premiums is the immediate issue, but more broadly, the survival of the entire program is in jeopardy.

 Bloomberg  reports that “Premiums for mid-level Obamacare health plans sold on the federal exchanges will see their biggest jump yet next year…Monthly premiums for benchmark silver-level plans are going up by an average of 25 percent in the 38 states using the federal website, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a report today. Last year, premiums for the second-lowest-cost silver plans went up by 7.5 percent on average across 37 states. Individuals signing up for plans this year are facing not only rising premiums, but also fewer options to choose from after several big insurers pulled out from some of the markets created under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.”

A Guardian review found that “ the ACA relies on competition between insurers to provide affordable coverage, and that is dwindling. Under the ACA, health insurance marketplaces, also called health exchanges, were set up to facilitate the purchase of health insurance in each state. Customers are free to choose from a set of standardized healthcare plans from participating insurers, and those policies are eligible for federal subsidies. But insurers have been fleeing the exchanges, arguing that they are loss makers and the types of people attracted to them make the risks too great for the insurers to provide affordable (and profitable) policies.”

A Breitbart analysis concludes that due to the high and rising costs, young, healthy people, whose payments and relatively light use of medical care were expected to prop up the system, are staying away in sufficient numbers to cause major problems.

Realclearpolitics fleshes out the details. “Economic reality is making it increasingly obvious that we are in the midst of Obamacare’s long anticipated death spiral. Most recently, Aetna  joined United Health care and Humana as the third of the ‘big five’ insurance firms to announce major cuts to its Obamacare exchange business. For insurers, it’s simple math: Premiums collected must exceed claims paid. If too few healthy, low risk individuals enroll to offset the costs of insuring unhealthy, high risk individuals, the math doesn’t work. This imbalance forces insurers to raise premiums on the low risk individuals who do enroll to cover the costs of insuring high risk individuals. The rising premiums cause even more healthy individuals to drop coverage – resulting in what has been called a death spiral…Aetna, for example, suffered a second-quarter pretax 2016 loss of $200 million and total pretax losses of more than $430 million since January 2014 when the exchanges opened for business. Aetna wasn’t alone…UnitedHealth lost $475 million in the exchanges in 2015 and expects to lose $650 million in 2016.”

The US. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce  recently concluded an investigation which found that lower-than-expected enrollment, higher-than-anticipated costs, and more complicated-than-anticipated technology challenges have caused state based exchanges (SBE) in Oregon, Hawaii, New Mexico and Nevada to fail, ( having wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars) and Kentucky will be added to that list next year. Only 12 will remain. Washington now appears to be encouraging state exchanges to close and join the federal exchange.

The Congressional investigation found that the state based exchanges will not be sustainable in the long term. As of September 2016, every SBE still relies upon federal establishment grant funds—20 months after SBEs were to be self-sustaining by law.

The looming financial collapse of Obamacare may finally clear the path for more viable options, such as:

  • Tort reform (which would significantly reduce the cost of practicing medicine,)
  •  Allowing nationwide competition between insurance companies (which would lower costs for purchasers of health insurance to be tried)
  • Tax credits to help make private policies affordable
  • Allowing the sale of more flexible policies with different types of coverage, a concept that will be far more attractive for healthier, younger people.


Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government

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