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President Barack Obama

Reform Update: Obama touts ACA benefits amid GOP efforts to dismantle provisions

By Jonathan Block
Posted: July 18, 2013 - 3:45 pm ET

President Barack Obama today touted two positive developments to have come out of his healthcare reform law. Consumers will receive millions of dollars back from insurers that took too much in profit and administrative costs. And a new HHS study found that 2014 premiums on the state insurance exchanges will be 18% cheaper than rates for comparable plans this year.

At a news conference earlier today from the White House's East Room, Obama bragged about how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has benefited the American people. He only touched on a House vote Wednesday to delay by one year the requirement on individuals to obtain health coverage, calling it another effort by Republicans to scuttle his landmark healthcare law.

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“We're gonna blow on through (Republican obstacles) and keep on doing what we're doing,” Obama said.

During the speech, Obama emphasized the $100 average rebates per family that 8.5 million privately insured Americans, or their employers, will receive from their insurers this summer under the reform law's provision that insurers can't pocket more than 15% to 20% of premiums for profit and administrative costs. The administration has credited the policy with reducing premiums and putting money back into the consumers' pockets.

Also this morning, HHS released a report finding that proposed 2014 premiums for individual-market and small-group plans offered on state insurance exchanges in 11 states came in 18% lower on average than HHS had projected.

“In the 11 states for which data are available, the lowest cost silver plan in the individual market in 2014 is, on average, 18% less expensive than (HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation's) estimate of 2014 individual market premiums derived from CBO publications,” according to the report.

The average 2014 individual-market premium in the 11 states is $321 for the lowest-cost silver-tier plan, compared with the current $450 a month for comparable plans.

The HHS report suggested that the state exchanges have fostered greater competition and transparency that have produced lower premiums.

Dan Mendelson, CEO of the Washington-based consultancy Avalere Health, said it was important for Obama to emphasize the benefits of the reform law to gain control of the political narrative as House Republicans passed bills to undermine the law.

“It's not a battle (Democrats) are going to lose as long as they have the Senate,” he said. Still, he said, the Obama administration must “focus on the positives and what's happening in the market. It's a good news story.”

Meanwhile, a battle is brewing over legislation in the House and Senate over appropriations bills that could affect implementation of the ACA. On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal 2014 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, with major cuts in funding for IRS enforcement activities related to the healthcare law and mandates.

It's likely the Senate appropriations bill, which has not yet been approved, will sustain Treasury and IRS funding for enforcement of ACA at or near the president's request. But once House and Senate appropriators go into conference to hammer out a final bill, anything can happen, including potentially defunding of programs critical to the healthcare law's success.

Mendelson said the final appropriations bill could have serious ramifications. But this isn't the time for the president to talk about that. “What does help them is to take credit for a well-functioning (insurance) market,” he said.

UnitedHealth has strong second quarter

Despite concerns that the healthcare reform law might negatively impact insurers' bottom lines, that hasn't happened to UnitedHealth Group, which today announced second-quarter profits that beat analysts' expectations. The insurer earned $1.44 billion in the second quarter, or $1.40 per share, up from $1.34 billion, or $1.27 per share, for the second quarter last year. That beat analysts' estimates by 15 cents per share. UnitedHealth also projected full-year earnings of $5.35 to $5.50 per share, up from an earlier projection of between $5.25 and $5.50. The carrier was helped by an overall medical-loss ratio that came in below analysts' expectations, meaning the insurer spent less of its premium revenue on medical care than projected. But UnitedHealth executives cautioned that results may not be as favorable in 2014. They said that cuts to the Medicare Advantage program would put pressure on the company next year and beyond.

Follow Jonathan Block on Twitter: @MHjblock

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