The CLASS Act
Short for the Community Living Assistance Services and Support Act, the CLASS Act was supposed to be a down payment on a national program to pay for long-term care, a big shortcoming in the US health system. It was a voluntary effort in which people could join a government plan and pre-fund their long-term care needs. When they needed care, they would get a daily cash benefit to pay for services. The program was none too popular with many politicians. In the end the government found it unsustainable. Because it was voluntary (meaning there was no mandate to buy here), lots of people had to sign up to make it viable. If they didn’t, premiums would rise, and very few people could afford them. There was no way, the government decided, to make the program actuarially sound over 75 years.
Co-op insurance companies.
These are gone, too. About $6 billion in federal start-up money for co-ops was supposed to spur their development as a lower-priced alternative to big insurance carriers; it was sort of a sop to the public option advocates. Twenty-four co-ops were funded even though the government had begun to reduce funding. Then came the New Year’s surprise. In final negotiations over the fiscal cliff deal, Congress killed the remaining funding for 40 more co-ops whose applications were in the pipeline. Insurers, it seems, were not keen on the new competition.
WHAT’S BEEN DELAYED?
The employer mandate.
This is in the big one in this bucket. In early July the Obama administration announced a one-year postponement until 2015 of the employer mandate, the requirement that businesses with more than 50 full-time employees had to provide health insurance or pay a penalty. The idea was to prod employers that did not provide coverage to do so. Again business complained about the record keeping and reporting requirements.
The law said they had to provide coverage to full-time employees working 30 hours a week. That was tough for firms whose workers’ hours fluctuated. Who was a full-time worker? Who was part-time? Many firms were threatening to cut worker hours to avoid the requirements. The delay means that workers in firms that don’t provide coverage might be offered so-called “skinny plans.” Such plans might cover some drugs and preventive services, but not hospital care or surgeries, for example. There’s little protection for catastrophic illness, but the premiums are cheap for employers and workers. The employee’s share may be as little as $40 or $50 a month.
Rules for smokers
These marketplaces for small businesses to buy insurance for employees, will offer only one plan in 2014 instead of an array of choices the law envisioned. The administration said there were “operational challenges,” and the choice option would be available in 2015. Most small businesses offer only one choice now, so the exchange won’t be of much value unless more carriers can sell their products.
Rules requiring smokers to pay more for their coverage. During debate there was little doubt that insurers would be able to charge smokers more money, because they present greater health risks and more potential costs for insurance companies. But now smoking penalties applied to policies sold through the exchanges are delayed a year because of what the administration described as a “system limitation.” The law says insurers cannot charge older people more than three times it charges a younger person, and it allows carriers to charge smokers 50 percent more. The problem, discovered a few months ago: the system cannot process a premium for a 65-year-old smoker that is more than three times the premium for a 21-year old smoker.