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health care
December 15, 2018

A federal judge in Texas ruled Friday night that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as ObamaCare, must be "invalidated in whole" because its individual mandate provision is unconstitutional.

District Judge Reed O'Connor argued the mandate is "essential to and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA," and that it cannot "be fairly read as an exercise of Congress's tax power," contrary a 2012 Supreme Court ruling upholding the ACA as a tax, "and is still impermissible under the Interstate Commerce Clause."

President Trump celebrated the decision on Twitter:

Despite Trump's enthusiasm, the ruling's immediate impact is limited. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told Fox News that ACA enrollment, which is open through Saturday, Dec. 15, will continue as usual because the case will be litigated further. "There is no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan," the agency said. Bonnie Kristian

July 8, 2018

The Trump administration on Saturday halted $10.4 billion in risk adjustment payments to insurance companies, citing two court rulings from this winter which found the allocations were calculated incorrectly.

Implemented as part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, the payments were managed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and were intended to offset costs for insurers with unusually ill and costly enrollees.

The suspension is temporary, but CMS has not issued a new allocation policy or indicated when payments will resume. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the change, notes "some insurers might seek to 'reprice for the coming year' if it is clear they wouldn't be getting the expected money based on prior years' business." Bonnie Kristian

May 31, 2018

The GOP tax reform bill ended ObamaCare's individual mandate to purchase health insurance, and on Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a state-level mandate into law.

Beginning next year, New Jersey residents who don't obtain health-care coverage will be fined 2.5 percent of household income, up to the cost of a bronze-level plan in the state insurance exchange, or up to $2,085 per person, whichever is higher. The state treasurer will determine a "hardship exemption" before the law takes effect.

New Jersey expects to collect about $90 million in fines annually, a figure based on the $93 million state residents paid in fines to escape the federal mandate in 2015. The money collected will go to a new fund created by a second bill Murphy signed Wednesday, which will offset the cost of catastrophic health insurance claims to hold down premiums.

One other state, Massachusetts, also has an individual mandate, but it dates to 2006, before the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act. Bonnie Kristian

May 12, 2018

President Trump on Friday revealed his long-promised plan to lower prescription drug prices. "The drug lobby is making an absolute fortune at the expense of American consumers," he said. "We are putting American patients first."

The proposal does not allow Medicare to negotiate for better deals, as Trump suggested on the campaign trail, but it does give the program more flexibility to respond as prices change. The Department of Health and Human Services says Trump's plan will operate in four areas: "increasing competition," "better negotiation," "creating incentives to lower list prices," and "reducing patient out-of-pocket spending."

The plan, which remains vague but has already drawn criticism from Democrats and the pharmaceutical industry, is implemented via executive order, meaning the next administration can easily undo it. Bonnie Kristian

January 30, 2018

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced Tuesday that they are teaming up to improve health-care options for their U.S. workers. The three companies plan to use their scale and joint expertise to help reduce costs and improve employee satisfaction in health plans, using an independent company. The companies said they hope to use a fresh approach to solve longstanding problems. "The ballooning costs of health care act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy," said Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett, according to MarketWatch. "Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable." Harold Maass

January 13, 2018

Kentucky on Friday became the first state to make use of Thursday's guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services permitting states to test work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Kentucky applied for permission to do this in 2016, and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) said the "community engagement and employment initiative" will be gradually phased in later this year.

The rules require able-bodied adult Medicaid recipients ages 19-64 to engage in at least 80 hours of "employment activities" each month, a category including jobs, community service, education, and training. Some exemptions tied to health, family commitments, and personal history will apply; for example, pregnant women and people who are the primary caregiver of a dependent will be exempt.

"Kentucky will now lead on this issue," Bevin said Friday, arguing that Medicaid recipients "want the dignity associated with being able to earn and have engagement in the very things they're receiving." Bonnie Kristian

October 22, 2017

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on CNN Sunday he is prepared to call a vote on the bipartisan health-care proposal negotiated by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) if President Trump is prepared to sign it.

The proposal has the support of all 48 Senate Democrats plus 12 Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on NBC Sunday. "This is a good compromise," Schumer argued. "It took months to work out. It has a majority."

The Murray-Alexander bill would appropriate funds for two years of the insurance subsidies Trump recently ended while loosening some ObamaCare rules, including allowing "insurance companies to sell less comprehensive plans to all customers, not just those under age 29 as is the case under current law."

Trump has sent mixed signals about the plan, calling it both "a good start" and "a short-term fix." Bonnie Kristian

October 14, 2017

President Trump tweeted Friday night and Saturday morning to defend his decision to end ObamaCare subsidy payments to insurance companies:

Trump is correct that stocks for several insurers and hospital operating companies dropped Friday after the subsidy announcement. He is also right that insurance companies have been in what The New York Times labeled a "profit spiral" since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect. Insurers in the ObamaCare marketplaces had their most profitable first quarter ever in 2017 and posted a 29 percent increase in second-quarter profits as compared to last year.

The decision to nix the payments, which subsidized low-cost policies mandated by the ACA, has already come under legal challenge from 18 states. Bonnie Kristian

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