ACA seems to be working

If your cell phone or some other electronic gadget is on its last leg, instead of taking it somewhere to get it repaired or being very careful with it to squeeze as much life out of it as you can, if you’re like most people you’re actually a little less careful with it – in fact, you might even “accidentally” drop it or spill your drink on it to speed up its inevitable demise. That way, you can hurry up and replace it with something better, a brand new gadget with lots of bells and whistles.

That’s the way a lot of opponents feel about the health reform legislation. Sure, some people are politically motivated – they want the other side to fail no matter what they try. But others have been critical of the healthcare law because they think it’s harmful to the country – they’d like it to work, but they’ve given up on it and now they’d like to see it fail so we can replace it with something better. And, just like with an old cell phone, some of those folks have even done their best to speed up what they thought was the inevitable demise of the Affordable Care Act.

For these opponents of the legislation who would like to see it go away completely, they understand that it has to get worse before it gets better. Convinced that it can’t be fixed, they believe it needs to break completely so we can replace it with something that will actually work. That’s why some of the recent news, which is actually good if the law is going to stick around, is bad news for those who are hoping that it doesn’t.

The first big piece of news, as we all know, was that the administration actually hit its goal of 7 million enrollees in federal and state exchange plans. This includes people who enrolled directly through the government websites, those who signed up through the carrier’s site with the assistance of an agent, and those who purchased plans through a private exchange site. In fact, we ended up with about seven-and-a-half million enrollees in marketplace plans plus a couple million more in Medicaid and CHIP. Not too shabby given the very rocky start to the initial enrollment period.

A second piece of good news is that this thing is less expensive than we originally thought – to the tune of $100 billion over the next ten years. That’s the amount that the Congressional Budget Office just shaved off its ten-year cost estimate, primarily because insurance premiums are lower than expected. As the New York Times reports, the reduction “is attributable mostly to the budget office’s cutting its projections of federal spending for subsidies for insurance premiums, with estimates falling by $3 billion for spending in 2014 and $164 billion over 10 years.” And the lower-than-expected subsidies are a result of a slowing of healthcare costs and insurance premiums that are lower than originally anticipated.

Third, the uninsured rate is actually going down. That would be expected since millions of Americans have signed up for coverage in the past six months, but there’s been some question about whether these people were previously uninsured or were simply replacing other coverage, and others warned that more people would lose coverage than gain coverage as a result of the law. That doesn’t appear to be the case.

Finally, it looks like next year could be even better for the administration and other supporters of the law. In an article titled “Insurers see brighter Obamacare skies,” Politico is reporting that insurance companies “got their first taste of Obamacare this year. And they want seconds.” The article goes on to explain that “a strong March enrollment surge, along with indications that younger and healthier people had begun signing up,” has changed the minds of insurers who were originally skeptical of the law, and now insurance companies across the country “are considering expanding their stake in the Obamacare exchanges next year, bringing their business to more states and counties. Some health plans that skipped the new marketplaces altogether this year are ready to dive in next year.”

For brokers with an individual market solution, this is good news, despite how they might feel politically. Here’s the point: There are a lot of flaws in this law – we all know that. And because of these flaws, opponents have battled for the last four years to get rid of it, but that hasn’t happened, and the further along we get, the less likely it is to happen. So if it’s here to stay, we should do our best to make it work, to make it the best law it can be. And for that reason, all of these things – strong enrollment numbers, lower costs, fewer uninsured, and more competition – are actually good news. We can only take advantage of all of the opportunities created by the legislation if it continues to work.

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