OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Administration touts ObamaCare savings

President Obama's healthcare law has saved consumers roughly $5 billion on their insurance premiums, the administration said Thursday. The Health and Human Services Department and congressional Democrats eagerly highlighted the savings, making the case that the Affordable Care Act is already making coverage more affordable even with its biggest provisions still months away.

The savings to consumers came from a part of the health law that caps how much insurers can spend on profits and administrative costs. Insurance companies must spend 80 or 85 percent of their premiums on medical care or, if they miss that benchmark, pay a rebate to policyholders. Consumers saved $3.4 billion last year as insurers lowered their premiums to comply with the requirement, HHS said, and received another $500 million in rebates. Added to last year's rebates, that's $5 billion in savings over two years.

The insurance industry has never supported the restrictions on how its companies spend their money. Lawmakers would be better off focusing on the high cost of healthcare services than on insurers' overhead, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) said.

"The MLR does nothing to address the main drivers of health care costs, and puts an arbitrary cap on what health plans spend on a variety of programs and services that improve the quality and safety of patient care," AHIP said in a statement Thursday.

Healthwatch has more on the administration's report.

Talking point for Dems: Congressional Democrats seized on the new report, which provided a welcome pro-ObamaCare talking point amid Democratic efforts to boost public opinion of the healthcare law.

"Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, consumers finally have the upper hand and insurance companies have to provide real value," Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said in a statement. "These savings are yet another sign that the Affordable Care Act is already providing real benefits and that many more good things are to come.” 

Democrats, including the White House, have often emphasized new data on politically popular elements of the healthcare law, including rebates and access to low-cost preventive services. But those efforts are all the more urgent now, just months away from a major push to get people to sign up for the law's new coverage options.

Medicare trustees say ACA is helping: Medicare's trustees reiterated Thursday that the Affordable Care Act is helping to lengthen the life of the Medicare trust fund. Testifying before the Ways and Means Committee's Health panel, the trustees defended their assertion that Medicare's finances have improved because of the healthcare law. But Congress still needs to make structural reforms to keep the program solvent, they said.

Trustee Robert Reischauer also said the law's biggest change to private insurance — new exchanges where individuals can shop for coverage — could help keep overall healthcare spending in check. If large numbers of people choose inexpensive plans with fewer benefits, he said, the exchanges have the potential to help control private healthcare spending while Medicare's costs continue to grow slowly.

SCOTUS cuts strings from AIDS funding: The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a law that required healthcare organizations to condemn prostitution as a condition of receiving federal funding to combat AIDS in other countries. The court said forcing private entities to deliver a certain message violated the First Amendment.

Healthcare advocates praised the decision, saying the anti-prostitution mandate had forced them to publicly judge the people they most needed to reach.

Healthwatch has more on the ruling and the reaction.

Priests blast Pelosi: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is under fire again for supporting abortion rights as an avowed Catholic. The national organization Priests for Life blasted the House's top Democrat in an open letter, calling her views a "mockery" of Catholicism and demanding that she renounce her faith. The attack was prompted by Pelosi's recent refusal to answer questions about abortion during a press conference on Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksFreedom Caucus bruised but unbowed in GOP primary fights Eric Schneiderman and #MeToo pose challenges for both parties The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE's (R-Ariz.) late-term ban.

Read more about the letter and the history of criticism against Catholic Dems who support abortion rights at Healthwatch.

State by state

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Lobbying registration

Jeffrey J. Kimbell and Associates / Ikaria

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