With the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare replacement now officially dead, it appears Senate Republicans will be unable to pass a repeal-and-replace bill before the Sept. 30 deadline announced by the Senate Parliamentarian arrives – though it’s impossible to rule out another long-shot plan gaining momentum in the coming days.
After the deadline, Senate Republicans would need 60 votes for their repeal-and-replace bill, effectively killing the repeal-and-replace effort, at least for now.
As Republicans struggle to fulfill their campaign promises to the American people, the Wall Street Journal has published a report showing that rising premiums are forcing some small business owners to stop offering benefits, the latest sign that Democrats ignored Republican rhetoric about the bill’s job-killing potential at their own political peril.
As we’ve reported time and time again, the bill has increased cost pressures on businesses, forcing them lay off employees or pare back benefits to stay in business.
According to WSJ, the average cost of health coverage offered by employers pushed toward $19,000 for a family plan this year, while the share of firms providing insurance to workers continued to edge lower, according to a major survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Annual premiums rose 3% to $18,764 for an employer plan in 2017, from $18,142 last year, the same rate of increase as in 2016, according to an annual poll of employers conducted by Kaiser and the Health Research & Educational Trust, a nonprofit affiliated with the American Hospital Association.
Premiums for employers have been climbing for several years, though, as WSJ notes, their rise has been slowed somewhat by a shift toward larger out-of-pocket costs for employees in the form of higher deductibles. That move slowed this year, as deductibles were roughly flat, compared with 2016.
Kaiser foundation officials said it wasn’t clear why the growth in deductibles appeared to pause this year. The average general deductible for single coverage among all workers, including those with no deductible, this year was $1,221 – the same as last year, but up sharply from $802 in 2012. This year, 28% of covered workers were enrolled in high-deductible plans that can be paired with savings accounts that aren’t taxed, compared with 29% last year and 19% five years ago.
Drew Altman, chief executive of the Kaiser foundation, said it was too soon to tell if the growth in deductibles would quickly resume next year, or if employers are reluctant to keep pushing the tactic.
“We’ll have to watch it,” Mr. Altman said. “It’s possible it’s playing itself out or reaching some kind of natural limit.”
Still, the rise of premiums over time has resulted in family health plans that can annually cost more than a new car, though often most of the cost is borne by employers. Employees paid on average $5,714, or 31%, of the premiums, for a family plan in 2017, according to Kaiser.
In what should be interpreted as clear-cut evidence of the bill’s job-killing potential, Gary Claxton, a vice president at the foundation, said that the overall cost of insurance appears to be driving small firms, particularly those with low-wage workers, to stop offering health benefits. Indeed, among small employers that didn’t offer health insurance, 44% said the biggest reason for not providing the benefit was its cost. “It’s harder for them to maintain coverage when it’s so expensive,” Mr. Claxton said.
However, among small employers that didn’t provide health coverage, 16% did give workers some money they could use toward purchasing a plan themselves.
None of this should surprise readers, as we've been writing for years that the entire Obamacare system is on the "verge of collapse" as premiums soar, risk pools deteriorate and insurers were pull out of exchanges all around the country leaving many Americans with just a single 'option' for health insurance.
Meanwhile, for an individual worker, the average annual cost of employer coverage was $6,690 in the 2017 survey, up 4% from last year, with employees paying 18% of that.
In another troubling trend highlighted by WSJ, the number of employers offering health insurance as a benefit to employees has been declining even as the labor market has purportedly been tightening. This appears to jive with stagnant hourly earnings, which have shown little movement as most of the new jobs being created in the US are low-level, low-skill and low-pay.
The Kaiser survey was conducted between January and June of this year and included 2,137 randomly selected employers that responded to the full telephone survey.