Health Insurance Exchanges Face Early Problems
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, was formally launched this week, with the health insurance exchanges being rolled out at both the federal and state levels. Benjamin Domenech, managing editor of Health Care News, reported earlier this week, “After years of work and millions of taxpayer dollars spent in the effort, the open enrollment period brought an uneven launch, rife with glitches and technological hang-ups for those seeking to sign up for insurance coverage via the newly created exchanges, with some states announcing last-minute delays to their marketplaces.”
Throughout the launch day more and more reports came out highlighting the struggles of these exchanges to get up and running. Domenech reported, “States that built their own exchanges, such as Oregon, struggled to meet the deadlines necessary to process eligibility for subsidies. Although Oregon was initially hailed as being ahead of the curve in meeting the technological challenges of exchange creation, Cover Oregon executive director Rocky King announced at the day-of press conference that the exchange would not be able to offer insurance purchasing yet, because of glitches in the calculation of determining eligibility.”
While traffic on these exchange Web sites was reported to be heavy, the number of actual applications for insurance has not been released by the Obama administration yet. Anecdotally the Washington Post reported, “‘Very, very few people that we’re aware of have enrolled in the federal exchange,’ said one insurance industry official, who like many in the industry spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for possibly offending the Obama administration. ‘We are talking single digits.’”
While it is likely many of the technological problems behind the exchanges will be fixed over time, the public support for delaying or repealing parts of Obamacare may continue to grow louder. Domenech concludes, “The longterm endurance of Obama’s health care overhaul could ultimately depend on its political popularity. The final CNN poll taken in the wake of a defunding effort pushed by Sen. Cruz found Americans opposed Obama’s law by 19 points, with 38 percent supporting Obamacare and 57 percent opposing it, including a 40 point margin of opposition among political independents (27 percent support, 67 percent opposition).”
This week’s edition of The Leaflet features research and commentary addressing employers’ response to Obamacare, e-cigarette age limits, regulating payday loans, net neutrality, data mining and Common Core, and repealing renewable fuel mandates.
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Employers Offering 'Skinny' Health Plans to Avoid Obamacare Penalties
In the latest example of an unanticipated consequence of President Barack Obama’s health care law, companies are responding to the implementation of regulations under the law by dramatically scaling back insurance plans they offer to employees.
Under the regulations created by the Obama administration, employers above a certain size are required to offer coverage for full-time employees. But they may be able to avoid certain penalties under the law by offering their employees very limited plans, which can even lack key benefits such as hospital coverage. These are known as “skinny health plans.”
Contrary to the commonly held expectations that the new health care reform law would incease benefits, skinny health plans are now being pitched around the country by benefits advisors and insurance brokers. They cover minimal requirements such as preventive services, and often little else. Some of the plans don’t cover surgery, X-rays, or prenatal care, and others will be paired with limited packages to cover additional services, such as paying out $100 a day for a hospital visit.
This type of plan allows companies with low-wage workers to avoid the $2,000-per-worker penalty for failing to offer insurance coverage.
Devon Herrick, a health economist and senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), says the complexity of Obama’s health care law leaves room for creative interpretation, allowing corporations to take advantage of loopholes identified by lawyers and accountants.
“Now that the Affordable Care Act provides generous subsidies for coverage obtained outside of work, more employers will downsize their health plans or abandon them altogether,” says Herrick.
Research & Commentary: Age Restrictions for Electronic Cigarettes
Thousands of American smokers trying to quit have tried electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” sales of which have doubled in recent years. These devices, designed as nicotine replacement products, have become key components in tobacco harm reduction strategies. As electronic cigarettes grow in popularity, state and local governments across the nation are initiating efforts to regulate and tax the products.
Enforcing an age limit for those seeking to purchase e-cigarettes is common sense and fits with current laws regulating other products such as tobacco and alcohol. More than 25 states currently ban e-cigarette sales to minors. This number is likely to grow; according to The Wall Street Journal in the past year six additional states have proposed legislation that would prohibit sales to minors. These laws fine retailers who violate the age laws.
Like many other legal nicotine products, e-cigarettes are not intended for use by minors. In this Research & Commentary, Matthew Glans argues expanding existing age restrictions to e-cigarettes is a logical step in protecting against abuse. However, Glans warns legislators must avoid overregulating and overtaxing e-cigarettes, because that would disrupt an increasingly popular and successful method of helping Americans reduce smoking or quit altogether.
Research & Commentary: Regulating Payday Loans
Budget & Tax
Over the past several years, states have begun considering new laws that would place severe limits (interest rate caps) or even bans on certain types of short-term loans, often called “payday loans.” The practice of payday lending, often including a high interest rate or substantial collateral, can be quite risky for the lender.
In this Research & Commentary, Matthew Glans examines payday loans and the various proposals to limit or ban them altogether. Glans notes protecting consumers from fraud is a just and necessary function of government, but it is also important to protect the rights of individual consumers and lenders. “The market for these loans developed and thrived because the lenders provide a service people need. Banning payday loans in order to address a problem affecting a small group of irresponsible lenders and uninformed borrowers harms the people who need these loans.”
5 BIG Implications from Court Signals on Net Neutrality
In this article posted on Somewhat Reasonable, Scott Cleland examines Verizon v. FCC, a court case currently being considered whose decision would have a strong impact on net neutrality laws. Cleland discusses the potential decision and the effects it could have on the Internet and technology industry.
Using the questions asked by the Justices to the FCC’s lawyer as a guide, Cleland predicts the Court may decide it is illegal for the FCC to impose common-carrier-like regulation on broadband providers — regardless of what else they decide. Under such a decision, Cleland says, “Economic rationality, competition, and broadband pricing freedom are the big winners.”
He continues, “This single point of relative clarity is a big deal with many implications, if the Court indeed decides it is illegal for the FCC to impose common carrier-like regulation on broadband providers via its Open Internet order.”
Expert Explores Link Between Federal Data Mining and Common Core
Heartland Institute Education Research Fellow Joy Pullmann was interviewed by New American magazine’s Dr. Duke Pesta about the crucial link between Common Core standards, data-mining, and the federally funded tests that go with the standards.
Pullmann says, “When governors signed a bunch of documents saying ‘yeah, we want to do this nationalization of education project,’ one of the things that they signed on to was the Common Core initiative, and they defined it as standards plus assessments. So those assessments, those tests, are the enforcement mechanism to make sure that Common Core gets into the minds and into the hands of teachers and children in the classrooms.”
Frontiers of Freedom Backs Coalition Supporting Swift Repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard
The Heartland Institute has signed a coalition letter led by the Frontiers of Freedom urging Congress to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard when it considers reforming the law this Fall. The letter cites numerous studies finding the RFS leads to increased gas prices and damaged engines from the ethanol-blended gasoline.
According to research by the University of Michigan, the RFS also does nothing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The researchers found ripping plants out of the ground to use for fuel doesn’t reduce any more CO2 than if we let them stay in the ground and absorb CO2 through photosynthesis. They conclude, “subsidies, mandates and other programs to prop up biofuels is unwarranted.”
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Environment & Climate News
The September issue of Environment & Climate News reports the Oregon Senate has rejected a bill that would have extended the state’s Clean Fuels Program beyond its scheduled 2015 expiration date. Oregon environmental activist groups made extending the transportation fuel restrictions their top priority during the 2013 legislative session, but the Democrat-controlled state Senate determined the Clean Fuels Program did not warrant an extension.
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