Usually not a good sign when your signature legislation gets its THIRD exemption from implementation:
First, there was the delay of Obamacare’s Medicare cuts until after the election. Then there was the delay of the law’s employer mandate. Then there was the announcement, buried in the Federal Register, that the administration would delay enforcement of a number of key eligibility requirements for the law’s health insurance subsidies, relying on the “honor system” instead. Now comes word that another costly provision of the health law—its caps on out-of-pocket insurance costs—will be delayed for one more year.
According to the Congressional Research Service, as of November 2011, the Obama administration had missed as many as one-third of the deadlines, specified by law, under the Affordable Care Act. Here are the details on the latest one.
Obamacare contains a blizzard of mandates and regulations that will make health insurance more costly. One of the most significant is its caps on out-of-pocket insurance costs, such as co-pays and deductibles. Section 2707(b) of the Public Health Service Act, as added by Obamacare, requires that “a group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage may not establish lifetime limits on the dollar value of benefits for the any participant or beneficiary.” Annual limits on cost-sharing are specified by Section 1302(c) of the Affordable Care Act; in addition, starting in 2014, deductibles are limited to $2,000 per year for individual plans, and $4,000 per year for family plans.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. If you ban lifetime limits, and mandate lower deductibles, and cap out-of-pocket costs, premiums have to go up to reflect these changes. And unlike a lot of the “rate shock” problems we’ve been discussing, these limits apply not only to individually-purchased health insurance, but also to employer-sponsored coverage. (Self-insured employers are exempted.)
These mandates have already had drastic effects on a number of colleges and universities, which offer inexpensive, defined-cap plans to their healthy, youthful students. Premiums at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C., for example, rose from $245 per student in 2011-2012 to between $2,507 in 2012-2013. The University of Puget Sound paid $165 per student in 2011-2012; their rates rose to between $1,500 and $2,000 for 2012-2013. Other schools have been forced to drop coverage because they could no longer afford it.
According to the law, the limits on out-of-pocket costs for 2014 were $6,350 for individual policies and $12,700 for family ones. But in February, the Department of Labor published a little-noticed rule delaying the cap until 2015. The delay was described yesterday by Robert Pear in the New York Times.
Notes Pear, “Under the [one-year delay], many group health plans will be able to maintain separate out-of-pocket limits for benefits in 2014. As a result, a consumer may be required to pay $6,350 for doctors’ services and hospital care, and an additional $6,350 for prescription drugs under a plan administered by a pharmacy benefit manager.”
The bottom line is, the legislation that was rammed through Congress is full of landmines, causing delays (which are likely illegal to grant in the first place). Should we really be surprised by this latest revelation?