Uninsured drop as ACA faces threats
The number of Americans who were uninsured for at least part of last year dropped to a low not seen in decades.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 11.9% of respondents surveyed during the first nine months of 2014 said they were uninsured. The uninsured rate had hovered in the high teens and low 20s since at least the mid-1990s.
The preliminary data release from the National Health Interview Survey comes just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected rule on the legality of premium subsidies in up to 37 states. A ruling striking down the subsidies likely would cause millions of Americans to lose their coverage.
Meanwhile, a top executive at UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest health insurer, told investors last week that his company believes some remedial action would be taken if the justices strike down the subsidies. “There will be a response, and we’ll be positioned to aid in that response” so individuals can keep their coverage, said David Wichmann, UnitedHealth’s president and chief financial officer.
But a report from the American Academy of Actuaries last week found that many of the fixes proposed by congressional Republicans if the subsidies are struck down would not help the individual insurance market. Temporarily extending premium subsidies, eliminating the individual mandate, and allowing insurers to sell plans across state lines all have drawbacks that could threaten the insurance market, the group said.
And, last week, a new legal threat to the ACA emerged. A judge’s comments in a preliminary hearing Thursday suggested that it’s very possible the Obama administration will have to fight a new court battle to save the cost-sharing subsidies that make healthcare affordable to low-income exchange-plan enrollees.
House Republicans are challenging the administration’s decision to use Treasury funds that were not appropriated by Congress to pay for $175 billion in subsidies for lowincome exchange plan members to help them with out-of-pocket costs. During the hearing, Rosemary Collyer, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia who was nominated by President George W. Bush, fired skeptical questions at the administration’s lawyer who was urging her to dismiss the case.
According to news accounts, Collyer hammered him on the substantive issues of the case even though the hearing was held only to determine the legal standing of the plaintiffs to bring the case. “So it is your position that if the House of Representatives affirmatively voted not to fund something … then that vote can be ignored by the administration, because, after all, no one can sue them?” she asked.