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Editor/Founder: Bill Smith, Ph.D. [aka: OzarkGuru & 2010 AFP National Blogger of the Year]
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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Boehner On Bipartisan Budget Act | Projected Premium Increases Under Obamacare

Today in Washington, D.C. - Oct 27, 2015

The House reconvened at 10 AM.

Bill that may be considered today:
H.R. 1090 - to amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to provide protections for retail customers, and for other purposes."
H.R. 3819 — "To provide an extension of Federal-aid highway, highway safety, motor carrier safety, transit, and other programs funded out of the Highway Trust Fund, and for other purposes."
H.R. 597 - "To reauthorize the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and for other purposes."

Today, Speaker Boehner addressed the House Republican Conference on the goals and details of the Bipartisan Budget Act.Having listened to our members, and the American people, I’m pleased to say we’ve reached a bipartisan budget agreement.
  • This is an agreement that will help achieve the goals we’ve been talking about this year:
  • Secure significant long-term savings from structural entitlement reforms.
  • Protect our economy from a dangerous default.
  • Strengthen our national security and protect our troops.
  • Bring certainty to next year’s appropriations process.
  • Protect more Americans from ObamaCare.
  • Reject all of the tax increases proposed by the administration.
BUDGET AGREEMENT - This two-year budget agreement was filed last night. The House will vote on it tomorrow, so let me get into some of the details.

This agreement will adjust the spending caps for two years by $80 billion, $50 billion the first year, and $30 billion in the second equally divided between defense and non-defense spending.

All budget cap relief is fully offset with mandatory spending cuts and other savings.

This agreement will bring greater certainty to next year’s appropriations process.

What do those budget numbers mean exactly? Let’s take a look at numbers here in this CHART …

Under this agreement, the discretionary budget number is $1.067 trillion for FY 16 and $1.070 trillion for FY 17.

As Leader McCarthy said last night, those numbers are significantly below the discretionary budget numbers that most of you voted for as part of the 2011 Ryan budget.

The discretionary budget number for this agreement is $56 billion below the Ryan budget for FY 16 and $70 billion below the Ryan budget for FY 17.

Moreover, these budget numbers for FYs 16 and 17 are STILL BELOW the pre-sequester spending caps outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The spending caps and other reductions remain on track to save taxpayers more than $2 trillion as mandated by the original Budget Control Act.

STRUCTURAL ENTITLEMENT REFORMS - This agreement includes significant long-term savings from structural entitlement reforms to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.

Every worker in America pays a portion of their wages into Social Security, which is an essential part of the social safety net.

By law, Social Security contributions are held in two trust funds – the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund.

But next year – before the election – the Disability Insurance Trust Fund is expected to be unable to pay full benefits, resulting in a 20 percent across-the-board benefit cut unless Congress takes action.

First, this agreement ensures that the Disability Insurance Trust Fund is able to continue to pay full benefits, preventing the benefit cut.

Second, it includes structural entitlement reforms to strengthen the long-term solvency of both trust funds.

Some of those reforms include:
  • Closing loopholes that allowed individuals to exploit Social Security’s rules in order to obtain larger benefits than Congress intended.
  • Requiring a medical review before awarding benefits, which will crack down on fraud.
  • Ensuring a robust demonstration program so that we can prove that work incentives increase program integrity.
  • This is the first significant reform to Social Security since 1983, and would result in $168 billion long-term savings.
OTHER MANDATORY SAVINGS - The agreement includes significant savings from within the Medicare program.

It extends the mandatory sequester through 2025, ensuring additional savings through mandatory entitlement programs.

The bill also ensures taxpayers are not paying more for the same Medicare service provided in different locations.

The combined Medicare reforms in this bill will provide over $30 billion in Medicare entitlement savings in the budget window.

Taxpayers will also save billions of dollars outside of the budget window from permanent Medicare reforms that we secured.

There are some other small savings within the agreement.

The measure will provide a modest increase in fees that employers pay to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, similar to what we did in Ryan-Murray.

Lastly, it prevents a spike in Medicare B premiums for millions of seniors. This initiative is fully offset.

DEFENSE AGREEMENT - This measure would strengthen our national security, and would bring greater certainty to the Pentagon and our troops who are fighting in harm’s way.

A two-year budget deal gives the Department of Defense certainty, which is its number one priority.

This will allow, among other things, the department to plan and execute critical functions related to readiness of our military, including training, which is a key priority of mine, and I know for many of you.

The deal also prioritizes putting the increased funding in the department’s base budget.

This agreement also takes away the president’s ability to play political games with the defense number.

The base defense discretionary number for FY 2016 is $548.1 billion.

We will be $25 billion above the Budget Control Act number for FY 16 for base defense and $8 billion above the president’s defense OCO request.

And while it’s $5 billion below our and the president’s original request, this is a binding agreement with the president and the Senate.

So we’re stopping him from playing politics with troop funding – and giving the department certainty.

To the point of several members in the room about trusting the president – this is why we negotiated a legislative floor for defense OCO that is the same in both FY16 and FY17.

We were concerned the President might play games in the second year of the deal, and this provision was put in place to proactively head it off.

OBAMACARE - This year we’ve made major strides in our work to defund and dismantle ObamaCare.

We’ve won two important rulings in our lawsuit to stop the president’s unilateral actions to take away Congress’ “power of the purse.”

We’ve activated reconciliation to put a bill to fundamentally dismantle the law on the President’s desk.

And we’ve succeeded in forcing President Obama to sign our Hire More Heroes Act, and Brett Guthrie’s bill to protect millions of Americans from health care disruptions, and higher costs.

This agreement builds on that success.

By eliminating the law’s auto-enrollment mandate that forces workers to automatically enroll into employer-sponsored health care coverage that they may not want or need, we will repeal another major piece of ObamaCare.

DEBT LIMIT - Lastly, this agreement would prevent a dangerous default that would threaten our economy, and raise the debt ceiling through March 2017.

As you know, the administration kept moving up the date of default after claiming for months it wouldn’t hit until December. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my entire career.

CONCLUSION - This deal isn’t perfect by any means – but everyone should acknowledge what our alternative was.

If we didn’t reach a bipartisan budget agreement, we would have been forced to accept another “clean” debt ceiling increase.

Instead, we negotiated a plan that will also support our troops and deliver real entitlement reforms.

In my view, this is the best possible deal at this moment for our troops, for taxpayers, and for the American people.
The Senate reconvened at 10 AM today and resumed consideration of S.754, the Cyber Security Information Sharing Act.

At 11, the Senate rejected four amendments to the bill. Senators voted to reject amendments offered by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dean Heller (R-NV), Pat Leahy (D-VT), and Al Franken (D-MN). An amendment offered by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was approved by voice vote.

The Senate then recessed between 12:30 and 2:15 PM for weekly policy lunches.

At 4 PM, the Senate will vote on two more amendments to the bill, offered by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Tom Cotton (R-AR).

Following those votes, the Senate will vote on adoption of the Burr-Feinstein substitute amendment, as modified.

The Senate will then vote on cloture (to cut off debate) on S. 754. If cloture is invoked, the Senate will then vote on final passage of the Cyber Security Information Sharing Act.

Yesterday, the Senate voted 88-0 to confirm Lawrence Vilardo to be United States District Judge for the Western District of New York.

The Wall Street Journal reports today, “The Obama administration said many consumers will see noticeable premium increases when buying health coverage on insurance exchanges in 2016, acknowledging for the first time what many health-care experts had predicted.

“Federal officials said Monday that the price of the second-lowest-cost midrange ‘silver plan’ — a key metric for premiums around the country—will increase by 7.5% on average across the three-dozen states that rely on Washington to administer the health law for them.

“And 60% of enrollees—across 30 of the largest markets in the U.S.—will see the average rate for that benchmark plan rise by 6.3%, according to a Health and Human Services report on premium data that hasn’t yet been made fully public.”

The Hill> explains the importance of the premium hike on the benchmark plan: “The price of the benchmark ObamaCare plan will jump by 7.5 percent on average next year, according to data released Monday. The premium increase is far more than last year’s 2 percent jump among benchmark silver plans. Those plans, the second-lowest cost option among silver plans, are important because they determine healthcare subsidies for people living in that area, even if they pick a different tiered plan.”

The Journal adds, “In many parts of the country, the most popular plans have sought and won premium increases in the double-digits for the year ahead>, in a move that could force enrollees to try to look for a less familiar brand of coverage. Premiums are a major issue for consumers and politicians as they scrutinize the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act.

“Insurers sought increases for 2016 because many found business more costly than expected or have incurred losses. The law requires companies to sell policies to anyone regardless of their medical history, and with only limited variations on premiums. . . .

“State insurance regulators around the country have largely approved all or most of the hefty premium increases sought by the largest health plans for 2016. Some have jumped by double digits: On average, premiums will rise in 2016 for the second lowest-cost silver plan by 31.5% in Alaska and 22.9% in Oregon, according to the report. Oklahoma will see a 35.7% hike.”

And according to The Arizona Republic “Arizonans who buy health insurance from the Affordable Care Act marketplace next week will see that the key benchmark plan raises monthly rates 17.5 percent — more than twice the national average rate increase, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. . .

“Several health insurers that sell plans in Arizona will raise average rates in excess of 10 percent, and many insurers are converting to health plans that offer smaller networks of doctors and hospitals.> Experts say that 2016 rates likely will be more realistically priced than those of the first two years of the ACA marketplace because health insurers have a better idea of how often the newly insured consumers are using medical care. . . . The average benchmark plan in metro Phoenix will charge 19 percent more in 2016 compared to this year.”

Discussing the higher premiums, USA Today reminds readers, “The new report [on premiums] did not address the important issue of total out-of-pocket costs, which include deductibles, co-payments and other cost sharing. Many people who shop based on premium costs alone can be alarmed when they see how much they have to contribute to their health care on top of their monthly premiums

“In more than 300 counties across 11 states on the federal exchange for 2015, USA TODAY's analysis found there were fewer choices of low deductible plans. While the minimum deductible cost inched up only a few hundred dollars in some cases, they became much higher in other areas, especially across much of Kansas and parts of Texas.”

The WSJ points out, of course, that “President Barack Obama in July had tamped down fears of a large rise in premiums by saying he expected final rates to come in lower than insurers had requested.”

It’s worth remembering, as always, that the President and Democrats sold their unpopular health care law in part by claiming it would lower premiums and bring down the cost of health care.

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