ObamaCare fallout: As premiums rise, so does cost to taxpayers
The Obama administration is trying to calm the panic over soaring ObamaCare premiums by pointing to subsidies many will receive to offset the cost — but analysts and GOP lawmakers counter that those subsidies nevertheless will stick taxpayers with a rising bill.
With enrollment set to begin Nov. 1, the administration announced Monday that premiums are set rise an average of 25 percent across the 39 states served by the federally run online market. Some states, such as Arizona, will see premiums jump by as much as 116 percent.
Department of Health and Human Services officials are stressing that subsidies provided under the law, which are designed to rise alongside premiums, will insulate most customers from sticker shock.
But the rising cost of subsidies, which already totals tens of billions a year, would be passed on to the taxpayer.
“Taxpayers are already in for a lot,” Tom Miller, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told FoxNews.com. “The cost doesn’t go away, it just goes into someone else’s pocket.”
In a March report, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that subsidies given to enrollees in 2016 would amount to $43 billion in 2016, and predicted the cost would rise to $106 billion by 2026. It also said that over 10 years, ObamaCare provisions would reduce the deficit thanks to tax provisions and cuts to Medicare.
That was before the latest announcement by the administration. It’s unclear how exactly the looming premium hikes will affect that picture, though Republicans are now seeking new estimates.
Analysts say it’s safe to assume taxpayer costs will rise. Miller noted that HHS reported an average subsidy of $291 per month in 2016. A 25 percent increase in premiums would theoretically translate into an extra $73 per month, or about $870 a year per person.
“If you assume conservatively that there’s 10 million people getting subsidies, that’s an extra $8.5 billion in extra costs taxpayers are getting hit by going into next year,” he said.
Other experts warned this is likely to continue as long as premiums keep rising.
“Its real simple, premiums are going up and up, and subsidies are going to go up with them,” Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and a former CBO director, told FoxNews.com.
The Department for Health and Human Services, when asked for comment by FoxNews.com, noted that the law’s coverage provisions are set to cost 28 percent less in 2019 than the CBO originally projected, amounting to about $49 billion less than originally predicted when the law was signed in 2010.
A spokesman also said the same office predicted that repealing the law would increase the deficit by approximately $350 billion over 10 years.
Holtz-Eakin urged caution on the administration’s analysis.
“It’s been a mixed pattern, because the enrollments haven’t been what they expected so it hasn’t been as big of an impact financially,” he said. “The bad news is that spending per person is much higher than anticipated due to subsidy increases because of premium hikes.”
One of the biggest ObamaCare costs to taxpayers has been absorbed into the Medicaid budget, paid for by both state and federal governments.
As a sweetener to get states to go along with the plan, the federal government offered to pick up the cost of expanding Medicaid eligibility up to 133 percent of the poverty line. That siphoned low income — and expensive – customers away from ObamaCare exchanges, seemingly contributing to its current solvency. But that cost – in the hundreds of billions — also is borne by taxpayers.
The CBO projected in 2013 that, in part due to ObamaCare, federal Medicaid spending would more than double over the next 10 years, topping $554 billion by 2023. State governments pay another $160 billion toward Medicaid.
“Volume has been greater in Medicaid, and per person costs have been much higher than expected,” Edmund Haislmaier, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told FoxNews.com.
Sensing a spike in taxpayer costs, the Republican-led House Committee on Energy and Commerce has written to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services demanding how much taxpayer money will be spent subsidizing the cost of rising premiums.
“While the Administration continues to focus on premium ‘affordability,’ it ignores the undeniable fact that federal taxpayers are subsidizing these premium increases through tax credits,” the letter from Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., says. “The Committee is concerned that the federal taxpayer continues to bear the burden of subsidizing the growing cost of health care insurance.”
The committee is demanding estimates of the amount of money spent covering rising premiums by Nov. 7.
October 24, 2016, 8:12 PM
Official: Tour bus driver didn’t brake in deadly Palm Springs crash
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Ana Car didn’t remember the sudden impact, only that she woke up among dead and injured passengers in a dark bus filled with screams of terror and agony.
The retired factory worker had spent an evening gambling at a desert casino and was sound asleep when the bus heading to Los Angeles smashed into the rear of a slow-moving tractor-trailer. The.
“I can’t believe how many died,” she said, sobbing Monday as she recovered from bumps, bruises and a sore back. “It was so horrible. These images are going to stay in my head for life.”
The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the collision, which is one of the deadliest wrecks in California history.
The truck was creeping along at 5 mph because of utility work that had gone on throughout the night along Interstate 10 near Palm Springs. That’s when the bus, moving as fast as 65 mph, slammed into it, authorities said.
“There’s no indication whatsoever that the driver applied the brakes,” said California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Jim Abele, citing the power of the impact and the fact that no skid marks were found.
The truck driver involved in the crash described his ordeal to a cab driver on his way to the hospital on Sunday.
“I’m blessed to be alive and I pray for the families that didn’t make it,” the driver of the big rig named “Bruce” told David Hirschfield, who gave a video of their conversation to media outlets.
Hirschfield picked up the trucker after he was released on the same day as the accident from Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage,CBS Los Angeles reported. Bruce did not provide his last name at the time.
“The impact just, you know, hit me from behind and I just blacked out for a minute and when I gained my consciousness, I undid my seatbelt and looked around. Thought I got ran over by something. That’s when I got out of my truck,” Bruce said.
In the video Bruce has bandages on one hand. He also suffered cuts to his right leg. Despite his wounds, he got out of his truck and helped pull out bus passengers.
“You got to think about others. I’m going to be alright. I want to get them safe. I don’t know if the bus is going to blow up,” Bruce said.
Hirschfield said he recorded the conversation before he dropped Bruce off at a Palm Springs Hotel.
“He’s quite a wonderful gentlemen I was privileged to pick him up,” Hirschfield said. “I didn’t charge him. I said you’ve been through enough today.”
Initial reports said four people were dead, but many bodies were later found in the front portion of the bus that ended up inside the trailer.
“They just kept pulling bodies stuck in between the seats,” he said. “It’s just due to this bus going so fast into the back of the truck. Why he did that, that’s what we’re trying to find out.”
Car, 61, was sitting toward the back of the bus when it rammed the truck around 5:15 a.m. Sunday. She awoke to find herself standing amid bodies flung everywhere. Those who could move were pushing and shoving in the pre-dawn darkness to climb out from under each other.
She clambered to a broken window to yell for help, panicked she would be trapped if the bus caught fire. Motorists who stopped to help pulled her out the broken window.
“I couldn’t stand when they got me out,” Car said. “I sat on the side of the road, watching them pull so many people out. I saw so much blood and two dead bodies. I was so scared.”
The NTSB planned to look into the history of the bus, its owner-driver and other circumstances, such as what the driver was doing during the four to five hours the bus was at the Red Earth Casino in the desert town of Thermal before making the 135-mile trip back to LA.
Teodulo Elias Vides owned the bus company, USA Holiday, and was the only driver, according to federal and state records. The 59-year-old had a valid commercial license and a clean record in recent years. And the bus had passed annual inspections.
USA Holiday was licensed to travel between states, which subjected Vides to federal limits on driver work hours. Under the scenario officials described — leaving Los Angeles at 8 p.m. and returning less than 12 hours later — Vides would have been within those limits, which cap driving time to 10 hours within a 15-hour span and do not prescribe specific rest requirements.
A call to the company was not returned.
Vides was named in lawsuits stemming from three freeway collisions, though he was not the driver in any of the cases, according to court records.
In 2007, a USA Holiday bus collided with a Honda Civic in Riverside, killing the car’s driver and two passengers. Family members filed a personal injury and negligence lawsuit against the driver of the bus and Vides, whose attorneys argued that the Honda driver lost control. That case was dismissed.
The 1996 bus did not have seat belts and was old enough that it probably did not have a data recorder that would reveal how fast it was traveling and whether the driver braked before impact.
At the street corner where the bus was supposed to arrive, candles and flowers surrounded a tree.
“It’s painful,” said Cartier Houpe, who occasionally rides the bus to the casinos but skipped the latest trip. “I’m still trying to find out the names of people. Once we find out, it’ll be more painful.”
The Riverside County sheriff-coroner’s office identified 12 of the 13 people killed. The dead included 10 women between 52 and 72, plus the driver and a 62-year-old man. One man remained unidentified. Most were from Los Angeles.
Four passengers remained hospitalized in critical condition, officials said.
One of the fatalities was Zoila Aguilera, 72, a retired cook who liked to head out every other weekend to play the slots for fun, said her grandson, Bryan Ramirez.
Ramirez said he was having breakfast and watching a soccer game Sunday morning when his family heard the news of the crash. He said he immediately started calling his grandmother’s phone, hoping she would pick up.
Aguilera insisted on sitting near the front of the bus, rebuffing her son, Ramirez’s father, who tried to get her to sit toward the rear.
“She loved to sit in the front. There was no changing her mind,” Ramirez said. “She just felt safer there.”
Car said she ended up toward the back of the bus because she bought a $20 last-minute ticket after running into her friend, Rosa Ruiz, who persuaded her to take the journey to a different casino that night.
They knew each other from previous gambling jaunts, and she enjoyed Ruiz’s sense of humor.
When she got back on the bus after playing quarter slots, she chatted briefly with Ruiz and then sunk into her seat and quickly fell asleep. She was devastated to learn Ruiz, 53, was killed.
“She was such a happy person,” Car said. “I feel so bad.”
Oct 24 2016, 7:29 pm ET
Pentagon Demanding Soldiers Return Reenlistment Bonuses
Roughly a decade ago the military put an offer on the table for thousands of California National Guard soldiers: reenlist for six years and go fight in Iraq and Afghanistan in exchange for bonuses of $15,000 or more.
The soldiers who signed on the dotted line back in 2006 and 2007 upheld their end of the bargain, but now the Pentagon says the bonuses were improperly paid out and is demanding the money back.
“Totally betrayed, that’s how I feel,” Susan Haley, who served 26 years in the Army and now owes the feds $20,500, told NBC News on Monday. “I didn’t knowingly accept money I wasn’t supposed to have. They wanted me to reenlist, and I was assured everything was fine.”
Haley, 47, has plenty of company. About 9,700 other California National Guard soldiers are also being asked by the military to return the bonuses.
Haley, a former Army master sergeant from Los Angeles, said she got the first collection letter from the government in 2012 while she was at a Texas military hospital visiting her son, an Army medic whose leg had been blown off in Afghanistan.
Haley, who also served in Afghanistan and now lives in Kempner, Texas, said she slit open the envelope, read the letter and nearly fell out of her chair.
“It said I had improperly been given a signing bonus to reenlist and that I had to pay all the money back with interest or I would be in violation of federal law,” Haley said. “I freaked out.”
Now, Haley said, she sends the Pentagon $650 a month. She said this is about a quarter of her family’s income, and she’s afraid they will lose their home.
“I haven’t paid yet this month,” she said. “I don’t have the money.”
Similar tales of woe from other hard-pressed California vets who got reenlistment bonuses have emerged since the Los Angeles Times broke the story over the weekend.
The seeds of the scandal were planted back during President George W. Bush’s administration when the Pentagon began offering big bonuses to get soldiers — many of whom had already served multiple combat tours — to reenlist.
Nationwide, recruiters under pressure to find soldiers to fight two increasingly unpopular wars began doling out the biggest signing bonuses ever — and paying the money up front.
Then, in 2010, federal investigators discovered that thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were approved for California Guard soldiers who either did not qualify for them or whose paperwork wasn’t completed.
Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, the California National Guard’s bonus and incentive manager, pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing $15.2 million in false claims and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
But instead of moving to forgive the botched bonuses, the California National Guard sent its auditors to collect from the soldiers.
The military’s move prompted House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to call on the Defense Department to “waive these repayments.”
“It is disgraceful that the men and women who answered their country’s call to duty following September 11 are now facing repayments of bonuses offered to them,” McCarthy said in a statement. “Our military heroes should not shoulder the burden of military recruiters’ faults from over a decade ago. They should not owe for what was promised during a difficult time in our country.”
McCarthy vowed that the “House will investigate these reports to ensure our soldiers are fully honored for their service.”
Both of the state’s senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, said in a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that the Guard members accepted the payments in good faith and had “paid a heavy price for their service — including severe injuries sustained after reenlisting.”
“This is unfair and appalling and we request that you halt the collection of these bonuses immediately,” they wrote.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said she, too, was “appalled,” declaring in a statement: “We simply cannot allow this type of mistreatment of veterans, for any reason.”
Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard, said the agency would be happy to “absolve these people of their debts.”
“We just can’t do it,” Beevers told the Los Angeles Times. “We’d be breaking the law.”
The California National Guard has helped about 1,200 Guard members file appeals to the Pentagon asking for forgiveness for some or all of their reenlistment bonuses, officials said.
But there are thousands more who haven’t filed any appeals — mostly likely because they’re not aware they can — and are struggling to get out from under a mountain of military debt.
Haley said that when she sought relief, she was told no.
“They said I should have been keeping track of the money they were sending me,” she said. “I was like, ‘Really?'”
A Pentagon spokesman said “the senior leadership of the department is looking very closely at this matter.”
“There is a formal review process in place through which affected service members can be relieved of responsibility to replay improperly awarded bonuses,” Army Maj. Jamie Davis said in a statement. “In the meantime, the Department will work with the Army, the National Guard Bureau, the California Army National Guard and other relevant authorities to resolve these issues.”
In the meantime, Haley said she’ll try and find a way to pay the feds back.
“But I’ll never get the six extra years I gave the Army back,” she said.
Before taxpayer-provided subsidies, premiums for a midlevel benchmark plan will increase an average of 25 percent across the 39 states served by the federally run online market, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services. Some states will see much bigger jumps, others less.
Moreover, about 1 in 5 consumers will only have plans from a single insurer to pick from, after major national carriers such as UnitedHealth Group, Humana and Aetna scaled back their roles.
“Consumers will be faced this year with not only big premium increases but also with a declining number of insurers participating, and that will lead to a tumultuous open enrollment period,” said Larry Levitt, who tracks the health care law for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
Republicans will pounce on the numbers as confirmation that insurance markets created by the 2010 health overhaul are on the verge of collapsing in a “death spiral.” Sign-up season starts Nov. 1, about a week before national elections in which the GOP remains committed to a full repeal. Window shopping for plans and premiums is already available through HealthCare.gov.
The sobering numbers confirmed state-by-state reports that have been coming in for months. Administration officials are stressing that subsidies provided under the law, which are designed to rise alongside premiums, will insulate most customers from sticker shock. They add that consumers who are willing to switch to cheaper plans will still be able to find bargains.
“Headline rates are generally rising faster than in previous years,” acknowledged HHS spokesman Kevin Griffis. But he added that for most consumers, “headline rates are not what they pay.”
The vast majority of the more than 10 million customers who purchase through HealthCare.gov and its state-run counterparts do receive generous financial assistance. “Enrollment is concentrated among very low-income individuals who receive significant government subsidies to reduce premiums and cost-sharing,” said Caroline Pearson of the consulting firm Avalere Health
But an estimated 5 million to 7 million people are either not eligible for the income-based assistance, or they buy individual policies outside of the health law’s markets, where the subsidies are not available. The administration is urging the latter group to check out HealthCare.gov. The spike in premiums generally does not affect the employer-provided plans that most workers and their families rely on.
In some states, the premium increases are striking. In Arizona, unsubsidized premiums for a 27-year-old buying a benchmark “second-lowest cost silver plan” will jump by 116 percent, from $196 to $422, according to the administration report. Oklahoma has the next biggest increase for a similarly situated customer, 69 percent.
Dwindling choice is another problem factor.
The total number of HealthCare.gov insurers will drop from 232 this year to 167 in 2017, a loss of 28 percent. (Insurers are counted multiple times if they offer coverage in more than one state. So Aetna, for example, would count once in each state that it participated in.)
Switching insurers may not be simple for patients with chronic conditions.
While many carriers are offering a choice of plan designs, most use a single prescription formulary and physician network across all their products, explained Pearson. “So, enrollees may need to change doctors or drugs when they switch insurers,” he said.
Ceremony honoring police before HS game sends ‘frightening message,’ ACLU says
MIDDLETOWN — A ceremony honoring law enforcement, military and first responders before a high school football game Friday night drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey because of an underlying “frightening message.”
The ceremony was held before a highly-anticipated Shore Conference clash between two topped ranked teams in the state, Middletown South and Toms River North.
The ceremony, organized by Middletown police Deputy Chief Stephen Dollinger, featured State Police Pipes and Drums of the Blue and Gold, state and local mounted units, military personnel from all branches of service and officers from surrounding police departments and sheriff’s units.
It also honored the Linden police officer who was wounded in a shootout with Ahmad Khan Rahimi, who is accused of bombings in Seaside Park, Elizabeth and New York City.
Dollinger told the Asbury Park Press before the event that the ceremony was also meant to respond to pro athletes who have taken a knee during pre-game performances of the national anthem, most notably by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“It’s OK to stand up for social justice, inequality and reform,” Dollinger told the newspaper. “It’s another thing to not stand up for the national anthem.”
Those comments caught the attention of the ACLU of New Jersey, who condemned the ceremony in a letter written to Middletown High School South officials.
“As initially described, the event appeared to honor police officers, veterans, service members, and first responders,” the ACLU wrote to the district. “According to press reports, however, the event is being used to intimidate and ostracize
people who express their views about systemic racism and social just.”
“Law enforcement officers are sworn to protect the constitution, and it is a disservice to the students and players that an event that should focus on them, their families, and their communities is being used to send a message that people who express concerns about disparities in the criminal justice system are unwelcome, disloyal or unpatriotic,” the letter states.
The letter was also signed by the Central Jersey Chapter of National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the Greater Long Branch NAACP.
Jasmine Crenshaw, an organizer with the ACLU-NJ, said the event sends a “frightening message” that law enforcement will not tolerate people expressing their views on the nation’s “history of unequal treatment and systematic oppression.”
“Entrance to one of the biggest sporting events in the area should not require that someone accept an atmosphere that suppresses political protest,” Crenshaw said in a statement. “The magnitude of this event chills the belief that police should be held accountable when they abuse their power or discriminate against people of color, and pressures student athletes to act as props of the police.”
At the ceremony, Dollinger told the Asbury Park Press that his comments made before the event were “twisted.”
“I said we respect the rights of everybody to stand up for social justice and equality and reform, but we also respect our country and want to celebrate the first responders, the national anthem,” the deputy chief said.
“This is just about honoring our country and the men and women of law enforcement and first responders,” he continued. “That’s all this is about.”
The ACLU said on Sunday that free speech was the primary concern.
“We’re happy to hear Deputy Chief Dollinger agrees that students can exercise their free speech at sporting events, including expressing their vies on social justice or choosing not to stand for the national anthem,” ACLU policy counsel Dianna Houenou said in a statement.