OVERNIGHT HEALTH: No delay for the individual mandate

The Obama administration will not delay ObamaCare's individual mandate or the March 31 deadline for enrolling in the new healthcare law, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday.

Sebelius ruled out the changes during testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, where Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) noted the administration has made dozens of other changes or delays to the law.

Republicans have denounced the administration's refusal to make changes to the individual mandate and enrollment deadline even as it made changes to the law to benefit other groups.

Most notably, the administration has repeatedly delayed the mandate that employers offer their employees insurance. House Republicans have decried that as a "double standard," and will vote this week on legislation that would delay the individual mandate for five years. Jonathan Easley at The Hill reports.

Delay: The Obama administration is allowing some people with canceled health plans to avoid penalties under the individual mandate for an additional two years. The little noticed change, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, came as part of the administration's decision last week to extend its "keep your plan" fix through 2016.

That move will allow insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare's minimum coverage standards, avoiding more plan cancellations before the midterm elections.

Elise Viebeck at The Hill reports.

Premiums: Premiums will rise in 2015 under ObamaCare, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Wednesday. Average healthcare premiums for most consumers have been rising steadily for more than a decade, though the trend has slowed in recent years. Experts say it's too early to tell whether changes to the insurance market under ObamaCare are helping to bring down costs.

Jonathan Easley at The Hill reports.

Target: A new analysis is predicting that 5.4 million people will sign up for ObamaCare coverage by the end of March, falling short of government projections.

Consulting firm Avalere Health based its conclusion on the first open enrollment period in Medicare Part D, when 22 percent of voluntary sign-ups took place in the last month. Obama administration officials announced this week that 4.2 million people had signed up for private plans as of Feb. 28. Avalere predicted that 1.2 million will sign up this month, bringing the total to 5.4 million enrollees for 2014. Elise Viebeck at The Hill reports.

Advantage: More lawmakers are joining the effort to stop the Obama administration's proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage. In a letter sent Wednesday, nearly 200 members of the House urged administration officials to keep Medicare Advantage rates flat to avoid harming seniors' care. Fifty Democrats signed on to Wednesday's letter, including Blue Dog Democrat Rep. John Barrow (Ga.), highlighting the issue's political potency. Elise Viebeck at The Hill reports.


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