Obamacare Premiums Will Be Way Higher Next Year. They Didn’t Have To Be.

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The messy health insurance exchange market was starting to settle down before Trump came along.

If you buy your own health insurance, gird yourself for another round of big premium increases next year.

Health insurance companies have begun submitting requests for rate hikes to state regulators in a handful of states, and it’s not looking pretty based on information that Maryland, VirginiaOregon and Vermont have already made public. Double-digit premium increases again appear to be on the horizon for many consumers.

And according to what these insurers are telling states, those rate hikes wouldn’t be nearly as big if not for actions President Donald Trump and the GOP-led Congress have taken.

The biggest change was the repeal of the financial penalty for people who don’t comply with the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Although the mandate may have been less effective than the health law’s authors expected, insurers are nervous that taking away that incentive to get covered will result in fewer healthy customers, meaning less revenue to cover the costs of the sicker people who will remain in the market. That alone will account for 10 percent premium increases overall, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In addition, the Trump administration is working to relax federal regulations to permit insurance companies to offer policies that don’t abide by the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions and offer skimpier benefits. Insurers are concerned that healthy people will flock to these cheaper products, weakening the precarious balance between healthy and sick people in the exchange markets.

In the absence of efforts to undermine the market, we would be seeing a period of relatively small premium increases.Cynthia Cox, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

The combined result of these actions will be much higher health insurance costs in 2019. On average, the new policies Trump and Congress have enacted will add $1,013 to unsubsidized annual premiums next year, an increase of 16.4 percent above what rates would have been, according to an analysis published Friday by the liberal Center for American Progress.

It didn’t have to been this way. After three years of overall poor financial performance among health insurers on the exchanges that drove big premium hikes, the marketplace had mostly stabilized in 2017, according to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation analysis published Thursday.

“In the absence of efforts to undermine the market, we would be seeing a period of relatively small premium increases, driven mostly by the underlying growth in health care costs,” said Cynthia Cox, the lead author of the Kaiser Family Foundation report. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re in for another year of double-digit premium increases. And if that does happen, it would be in large part due to policy changes that are happening.”

Premiums for policies available on the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges have been rising since they began in 2014. What’s changed is who’s running them and how they’re managing a system that provides health coverage to nearly 12 million people.

Rates have risen each year of the exchanges’ existence, and cumulatively are more than 50 percent higher this year than they were four years ago. That’s according to a separate Kaiser Family Foundation analysis that looks at the average premium for the “benchmark” plans used to establish the value of the tax credit subsidies available to exchange customers who earn between the federal poverty level and four times that amount, or $12,060 to $48,240 for a single person.

But the reasons for these increases have changed over time.

During the first two open enrollment periods for exchange customers for 2014 and 2015, many Americans who previously bought their insurance directly ― as opposed to getting it from a job or a government program like Medicaid ― were stunned to see prices that generally were higher than before.

That mostly was the result of the Affordable Care Act requiring insurers to accept customers with pre-existing conditions (who tend to be more expensive to treat) and establishing a basic set of benefits that includes coverage for things often left out in the past, such as maternity care and prescription drugs, Cox said.

In 2016 and 2017, insurers implemented big price increases after realizing they hadn’t charged enough the previous two years to cover their expenses, and to make up for the end of Affordable Care Act programs designed to protect insurance companies from unexpectedly high costs.

As the Kaiser Family Foundation determined, rate hikes would’ve been smaller this year and in future years ― even though prices would’ve remained high ― if the market had been left as it was, Cox said.

“The 2017 premium increase was a one-time market correction that was needed in order for insurers to regain profitability, and the 2018 and possibly 2019 premium increases are due to something else,” Cox said. “They would’ve regained that profitability by now and it’s the political or policy changes that are driving premium increases.”

"Medical loss ratio" is a measure of the financial performance for health insurance companies. The number is h

“Medical loss ratio” is a measure of the financial performance for health insurance companies. The number is higher when a larger percentage of premiums collected is spent on medical care. After rising over the 2014-2016 period, the average medical loss ratio for insurers on the health insurance exchanges nearly returned to its pre-Affordable Care Act level in 2017.

Something else happened instead. Premiums rose a lot for this year. The Trump administration significantly cut back on enrollment efforts. Sign-ups fell on the health insurance exchanges. And the uninsured rate began climbing last year after falling to a historic low.

Health insurance companies instituted big premium increases for 2018 in anticipation of Trump’s plan to cut off billions of dollars in repayments the federal government owed health insurers covering the lowest-income exchange customers. Insurers also reacted to Trump’s comments in 2017 that hinted his administration wouldn’t fully enforce the individual mandate.

As the evidence from the open enrollment period for 2018 indicates, the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies will protect most people in this market from the rate hikes. The way they’re structured, the subsidies rise along with the premiums and tax credit recipients’ share of the premiums is capped at a percentage of their income.

Eighty-three percent of the 11.8 million people who enrolled in an exchange plan qualified for subsidies. It’s the remaining 17 percent of unsubsidized exchange customers and the several million more people who bought their policies directly from an insurer would are exposed to the increasingly higher rates.

The Trump administration argues that these are the people who will benefit from the availability of new types of coverage that don’t meet Affordable Care Act standards. And that’s likely true for healthy people who don’t need the coverage as much but earn too much income to be eligible for tax credits. Plus, the end of the mandate penalties makes it so people can choose these other policies and not face fines.

While that means there will be winners from these policy changes, they will weaken the exchange markets, which is especially bad news for people with incomes too high for subsidies but who have pre-existing conditions.

“The combination of no individual mandate plus plans that may be attractive to healthy people and aren’t attractive to sick people can mean that the market can deteriorate progressively over time,” Cox said. Even so, the subsidies will keep enough healthy, low-income people in the pool to prevent the exchanges from collapsing, she said.

Voters tell pollsters that health care costs are a major issue for them going into this year’s congressional elections and Democrats are aggressively campaigning against Trump’s “sabotage” of the Affordable Care Act.

There’s likely little relief on the way from the federal government, but several states are attempting to stabilize their local markets. The New Jersey and Vermont legislatures have approved state-based individual mandates like the one in force in Massachusetts since 2007. And states including Alaska, Maryland, Minnesota and Wisconsin have passed laws designed to mitigate premium increases.




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After celebrating the success of back-to-back, global box office hits, Marvel’s “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman, returned to his alma mater, Howard University, to deliver the school’s 2018 commencement convocation address.

In March, Marvel’s “Black Panther” became the highest-grossing superhero movie of all-time in the United States (not adjusted for inflation), when it surpassed the $623 million mark set by “The Avengers” in 2012, according to Then, Boseman reprised his “Black Panther” role for “Avengers: Infinity War,” which is currently the fifth highest grossing movie of all-time.

Championing his own personal experiences during his time studying at the prestigious, historically Black university, Boseman urged proud degree recipients, to press forward, to hold up their heads and to never fear rejection.

“I can think of no better place to be right now, after the ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Avengers’ campaigns, then to return and participate in these graduation ceremonies with you,” Boseman told the graduates. “It is a great privilege, graduates, to address you on your day, a day that will be one of the most important accomplishments of your life to date.”

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick recalled “how Boseman and his classmates advocated and participated in a three-day protest against the university to dismiss an initiative to transition the College of Fine Arts into the Department of Fine Arts. The protest was unsuccessful in stopping the transition,” a press release about the president’s speech said.

With Boseman by his side, Dr. Frederick, “announced a campaign to re-establish the College of Fine Arts and launch an Endowed College of Fine Arts Award,” the press release said.

Dr. Frederick encouraged the graduates to “take risks” and “learn how to be wrong.”

“It is the best way to learn and grow,” Dr. Frederick said. “Build a culture of generous listening so that others may be emboldened to take risks, too.”

According to school officials, during the 2018 commencement convocation, Howard University awarded 2,217 degrees, including 343 master’s degrees, and 90 Ph.Ds.

Boseman called Howard University “a magical place” as he recalled the day that he met Muhammad Ali, as he walked across “The Yard.”

“I remember walking across this yard on what seemed to be a random day, my head down, lost in my own world of issues like many of you do, daily. And I raise my head…Muhammad Ali is walking towards me,” Boseman said. “Time seemed to slow down, as his eyes locked on mine. He then raised his fist into a quintessential guard and I was game to play along with him, to act as if I was a worthy opponent. What an honor to be challenged by ‘The Greatest of All-Time.’”

Boseman continued: “I walked away floating like a butterfly. I walked away, at that moment, amused at life, amused that no one would be able to believe that story, but me. That is the magic of this place [Howard University].

“Almost anything can happen here,” Boseman said before giving the crowd the official Howard salute (“H-U! U-Know!”).

Boseman also praised the students for their drive and perseverance in organizing the longest sit-in protest at Howard University’s administration building in the school’s history. Allegations of mismanagement in the school’s financial aid office sparked the protest, which lasted nearly two weeks in April.

“Everyday that you fought for, was not for yourself, but for those that come after you,” Boseman said.

Overcome with gratitude and excitement, Howard graduate Kyla Maupin, who received her degree in French, expressed her sentiments about Boseman’s speech.

“Hearing Chadwick speak was really inspiring,” Maupin said. “I really appreciated hearing about his struggles in the beginning of his career; that was really inspiring for me.

Maupin added that she was proud to see a fellow Bison deliver the commencement address.

Closing out the high-energy ceremony, Boseman offered one last nugget of wisdom, urging graduates to find their purpose.

“Purpose is the essential element of you,” Boseman said. “It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill.”

Boseman continued: “Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”



Rep. Maxine Waters Earns TIME’s 100 ‘Influential’ Honors

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TIME magazine recently honored Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

According to a press release about the honor, “The list, now in its fifteenth year, recognizes the activism, innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals.” 

Waters said that she was shocked and surprised by the recognition and that she “felt very, very blessed” to receive the honor.

In a commentary about the award, “Black-ish” actor Yara Shahidi wrote that, “Congresswoman Maxine Waters of the 43rd District of California, a.k.a. Auntie Maxine, has made my generation proud to be nieces and nephews.”

Shahidi continued: “She is adored and admired by people who care about social justice and is oh so eloquent in letting the world, particularly the White men of Congress who dare test her acumen, know that she is not here for any nonsense.”

Waters said that for many young people, she is one of the few lawmakers willing to step outside of the box of a traditional, non-confrontational lawmaker to speak truth to power.

And even though, she captured the attention of millions in a viral video exchange with United States Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Waters acknowledged that the use of the phrase “reclaiming my time” is a part of the regular order of business in Congress.

“It’s what we use when it is our time to speak and we’re being ignored by the people who are on the panel and you want to shut them down,” Waters said. “We use it when we’re being interfered with by another member of Congress in a debate.”

Waters continued: “It was something that I used at a time when it was important for me to let Mr. Mnuchin know that he couldn’t have his way that it was my time and I intended to use it and he could not usurp it.”

Waters said that the video inspired a lot of women and showed that, even on Capitol Hill, women lawmakers must have the courage to demand respect.

Waters said that young people welcome the openness and tenacity that she displayed during that exchange with Mnuchin and in her searing criticism of President Donald Trump’s performance.

“For many of them, this is the first time they’ve seen this kind of authenticity,” Waters said.

Waters is one of President Trump’s most vocal critics on Capitol Hill, even calling for his impeachment.

“[President Trump] has defined himself as someone who is not deserving and that should be our mantra, that should be the conversation, that should be what we talk about with our newspapers and our radio stations …we need to speak up,” Waters said. “We have to let everyone know we don’t accept this and we don’t feel helpless like victims in all of this. We are going to resist him and we are going to fight him.”

Waters said that Black newspapers should run stories about the Trump Administration, every week, monitor digital media, especially social media, and pay attention to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Waters said that the Black Press must cover President Trump in a way that allows the average person to stay up-to-date and to understand what’s going on in the White House.

“That conversation can help people get more involved, get people excited about registering to vote and to get out to vote … and see what we have to do to change this government.”

Black millennials need to know that they can make a significant difference in the upcoming midterm elections, Water said.



Fox News Said To Settle Group Of Discrimination Lawsuits For About $10 Million

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A New York Times report detailed the agreement the network reached with multiple plaintiffs, including anchor Kelly Wright.

Fox News settled lawsuits with several plaintiffs suing the network for racial and gender discrimination in a deal worth about $10 million, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

The settlement is far lower than the $60 million figure the network was approached with last summer, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Among the cases reportedly settled was the class action lawsuit joined by veteran anchor Kelly Wright, who was the only black man at the network to hold such a position. The Times reported Wright’s settlement included a contractual buyout.

Last year, an emotional Wright held a press conference in which he said he was demeaned and prevented from advancing in his career due to racial bias at the network. He accused former host Bill O’Reilly, whom the network severed ties with in August amid mounting sexual harassment allegations, of refusing to air stories Wright did on the African-American community because they were “too positive.”

A Fox News representative confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the network “resolved various cases involving Fox News employees.”

The Wall Street Journal reported the settlement was reached with 18 former Fox News employees. The onslaught of discrimination litigation grew out of multiple sexual harassment lawsuits filed against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who left the network amid scandal in July 2016 and died last May

In May 2016, 21st Century Fox, the news network’s parent company, disclosed in its quarterly report that the company had paid $45 million in costs “related to settlements of pending and potential litigations” regarding Ailes departure from the network.





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