Healthcare

Health chief: ObamaCare sustainable even if Congress doesn’t act

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Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell said Thursday that the ObamaCare marketplaces, which have been troubled by exiting insurers, can be made sustainable even if Congress does not act to make fixes to the healthcare law.

“The answer is yes,” Burwell told reporters when asked about sustainability without action from lawmakers in the next couple of years.

She noted that the administration has been making changes on its own to improve the situation for insurers.

{mosads}The question of whether Congress would need to step in to fix ObamaCare has risen in prominence since announcements by Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and other large insurers saying they will pull out of ObamaCare exchanges next year because of financial losses.

But Congress remains deadlocked in political fighting over the law, raising the stakes for changes the administration is taking on its own.

“Stability exists even using the administrative tools that we have,” Burwell said.

She noted that despite all the talk of premium increases for next year, premiums came in 15 percent below Congressional Budget Office projections for the first year, 2014.

She said there would be less discussion of premium hikes if premiums had simply originally come in a bit higher. She said this year is a “transition year” during which the market can adjust premiums upward to a more sustainable level. 

Republicans have been pouncing on reports of the steeper increases.

Burwell acknowledged: “We understand premiums going up is a difficult issue, it’s an important issue.”

But she noted that the health law’s financial assistance increases for most people to shield them from the effects of premium hikes.

Regarding changes made with insurers in mind, Burwell pointed to actions her department has taken to tighten up the rules for extra sign-up periods that insurers said people used to game the system.

She also pointed to changes her department announced this week to a program called risk adjustment, which shifts money from insurers with healthier enrollees to those with sicker, costlier ones.  

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