Wednesday, December 16, 2015

HIS CRONIES LOOT! OBAMA AND BIG PHARMA - Obamacare enrollment deadline: Fines mount for failure to buy costly, barebones insurance

Obamacare enrollment deadline: Fines mount for failure to buy costly, barebones insurance


Thus, communities hit by high unemployment and poverty are being deliberately targeted in an effort to boost Obamacare enrollment.

 More than five years after Obama signed the legislation into law, and on the eve of its third year of operation, American working families turning to the Affordable Care Act for health care coverage—either out of desperation to find health coverage or under threat of financial penalties—are coming face to face with a health care abomination.

Obamacare enrollment deadline: Fines mount for failure to buy costly, barebones insurance

By Kate Randall
16 December 2015
Tuesday was the last day to choose a health plan under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for coverage beginning January 1. Penalties for those who fail to obtain insurance coverage for 2016 will rise dramatically—more than sevenfold—compared to the first two years of the ACA.

The “individual mandate” of Obamacare, as the ACA is popularly known, requires people who are not insured through their employer or a government program to purchase coverage from private insurance companies on the health care exchanges set up under the legislation. Low-income individuals and families who qualify are eligible for modest subsidies to offset rising insurance premiums. Anyone who does not have coverage in at least nine months of 2016, and who does not qualify for an exemption, will face tax penalties.

The Obama administration is seeking to use the spiking penalties to browbeat those uninsured who did not buy coverage in the first two years of the ACA into purchasing plans in 2016. This coercion for the benefit of the insurance giants is yet another exposure of Obamacare, which aims to force people to buy coverage from for-profit insurers under financial threat. Meanwhile, people on the insurance exchanges are finding that the least expensive ACA plans come with massive deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs.

Those exempt from the “individual mandate” penalty include undocumented immigrants (who do not qualify for ACA subsidies), those with incomes so low they do not file taxes, and some 5 million additional people with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty line who, under the ACA, are supposed to be covered by Medicaid, the federal program for the poor, but live in states that have refused to expand Medicaid eligibility. These millions are exempt from the penalty but remain uninsured.

For 2016, those who are uninsured and not exempt from the individual mandate will pay the greater of two amounts, as calculated by the Kaiser Family Foundation in a new analysis:

* A flat dollar amount equal to $685 per adult, plus $347.50 per child, up to a maximum of $2,085 for a family.

* Two-and-a-half percent of family income in excess of the 2015 income tax filing thresholds ($10,300 for a single person and $20,600 for a family).

The penalty cannot exceed the national average premium for “bronze” plans, the lowest level of coverage under the ACA. In 2015, this average annual premium was $2,484 for single coverage and $12,420 for a family with three or more children.

The maximum household penalty has risen more than sevenfold in three years: from $285 in 2014, to $975 in 2015, to $2,085 in 2016. Kaiser estimates that the average household penalty for those uninsured and eligible to enroll in an ACA plan will rise to $965 in 2016, up from $661 in 2015, a 47 percent hike.

Referring to the penalties, Kevin Counihan, CEO of the federal insurance exchange, told, “It got people’s attention. And there seems to be more of a discussion in their head about whether it made sense to pay the penalty and not get something for it.”

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services allowed people who owed money because they didn’t have insurance in 2014 to sign up for 2015 insurance during a special enrollment period. Counihan said the agency was offering no such reprieve for 2016. “We’re not offering that this year,” he said. “The deadline for enrollment is January 1. That’s a solid deadline.”

In early November, President Obama personally challenged 20 communities around the country to compete with one another to sign up the uninsured for the ACA. The metropolitan areas chosen have large pools of uninsured people. They include some of the most economically ravaged—Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee. Thus, communities hit by high unemployment and poverty are being deliberately targeted in an effort to boost Obamacare enrollment.

As of June 30, about 9.9 million people had obtained coverage through the federal and state marketplaces set up under the ACA. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported Monday that more people are simultaneously shopping on than at any time this year or last year.

They are finding increased premiums and coverage that is declining in quality, both from the standpoint of services offered and out-of-pocket costs. According to the government’s own projections, ACA enrollees face on average a 7.5 percent premium rate increase in 2016. Other sources predict rate hikes in excess of 20 percent.

The average deductible for a bronze level plan in 2015 was $5,200. The Fiscal Times reported last month that bronze deductibles for 2016 will average over $5,700, a nearly 10 percent rise. The deductible must be paid in full before any health coverage kicks in, except for those services deemed “essential” by the ACA.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the share of mid-tier, Silver level preferred health organizations, or PPOs, on the ACA marketplace with no maximum for out-of-pocket costs increased from 14 percent this year to 30 percent for 2016. These deductibles will force patients to forgo vital medical services for themselves and their families, resulting in needless suffering and even death due to undiagnosed and untreated conditions.

While premiums and deductibles continue to rise, the plans offered are steadily deteriorating in quality. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported last month that PPOs, which provide health insurance that pays for both in-network and out-of-network health providers, are dwindling as an option on the Obamacare exchanges.

People shopping for insurance in the ACA “marketplace” are increasingly finding the offerings limited to health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and exclusive-provider organizations, both of which provide extremely limited coverage when patients want to visit an out-of-network health care provider.
The availability of PPOs on the exchange is expected to fall by 41 percent between 2015 and 2016. As of this year in New York City, no PPOs were offered either through Obamacare or on a private insurance exchange, but were available only through employer-provided coverage.
For a patient suffering from a debilitating disease, restriction to an HMO likely means he will no longer be able to visit a specialist, such as an oncologist or rheumatologist, with whom he has established a relationship over months or years. The impact is potentially life-threatening.

More than five years after Obama signed the legislation into law, and on the eve of its third year of operation, American working families turning to the Affordable Care Act for health care coverage—either out of desperation to find health coverage or under threat of financial penalties—are coming face to face with a health care abomination.

It is becoming increasingly clear to millions that all of Obama’s claims—that the ACA would provide near-universal coverage, that “if you want to keep your plan, you can keep your plan” and “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”—were lies. The aim of Obamacare is to restructure an already class-based delivery of health care even more in line with the interests of the corporations, particularly the private insurance companies and giant pharmaceuticals, while cutting costs for employers and the government.

At the same time, Obamacare prepares the way for the privatization of Social Security and Medicare and their transformation into voucher programs, and provides the impetus for an assault on employer-provided health insurance, the means by which about half of all Americans currently receive coverage.

The hourglass society: Middle-income households no longer the majority in the US

By Andre Damon
11 December 2015
For the first time in more than four decades, “middle-income households” no longer constitute the majority of American society, according to a study published Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. Instead, the majority of households are either low or higher-income.

The study concluded, “Once in the clear majority, adults in middle-income households in 2015 were matched in number by those in lower- and upper-income households combined.” Pew called its findings “a demographic shift that could signal a tipping point” in American society.

The study also found a sharp fall in household incomes and wealth, particularly for low-income households, noting that only “upper-income families realized notable gains in wealth from 1983 to 2013.”

Together with the decline in the relative numbers of middle-income earners, the incomes of households in this group has fallen substantially in recent decades. The median income of middle-income households fell by four percent between 2000 and 2014, while their median wealth fell by 28 percent over approximately the same period.

The study notes that since 1983, the total share of income accruing to high-income households has grown significantly. The study found that “fully 49% of US aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29% in 1970.” Meanwhile the share “accruing to middle-income households was 43% in 2014, down substantially from 62% in 1970.”

These findings reflect the persistent declines in wages for US workers following decades of de-industrialization, which has been accompanied by significant increases in the yields of financial assets, helping to increase the wealth and earnings of the financial elite, along with a section of upper middle-class households.

While the study’s metrics are too broad to capture the enormous concentration of society’s wealth in the hands of the top 1 and 0.1 percent, they reflect the reality that a “middle class” lifestyle is increasingly out of reach for the broad majority of the US population.

The Pew study, an analysis of data from the Census Bureau’s current population survey, defines “middle-income” households as those earning between two-thirds and twice the US median household income, or between $42,000 to $126,000 for a household of three. Those classified as low-income made less than two-thirds the typical income, while those classified as high-income made twice the median income.

The study added that the fastest growing sections of the population were those at the extremes of the income distribution: the very rich and the very poor. “The movement out of the middle has not simply been at the margins—the growth has been at the extreme ends of the income ladder,” with “the fastest-growing numbers… in the very lowest and very highest income tiers.”

The study found that, after dividing US households into fifths based on household income, “In 2015, 20% of American adults were in the lowest income tier, up from 16% in 1971. On the opposite side, 9% are in the highest income tier, more than double the 4% share in 1971.” Meanwhile the share of adults in the lower middle or upper middle income brackets have remained unchanged.

The report added, “The growth at the top is similarly skewed,” as “the share of adults in highest-income households [has] more than doubled, from 4% in 1971 to 9% in 2015. But the increase in the share in upper-middle income households was modest, rising from 10% to 12%.”

The study further noted the impact of the 2008 crisis on the wealth of middle-income households. It stated, “Before the onset of the Great Recession, the median wealth of middle-income families increased from $95,879 in 1983 to $161,050 in 2007, a gain of 68%. But the economic downturn eliminated that gain almost entirely. By 2010, the median wealth of middle-income families had fallen to about $98,000, where it still stood in 2013.”

The wealth of higher income households has largely been protected from the 2008 financial crash. “Upper income families more than doubled their wealth from 1983 to 2007 as it climbed from $323,402 to $729,980. Despite losses during the recession, these families recovered somewhat since 2010 and had a median wealth of $650,074 in 2013, about double their wealth in 1983.”

The Pew figures also show the impact of the persistent economic slump on a broad range of households, noting, “Americans are less well-to-do now than at the start of the 21st century. For all income tiers, median incomes in 2014 were lower than in 2000. These reversals are the result of two recessions—the downturn in 2001 and the Great Recession of 2007-09—and economic recoveries that have been too anemic to fully repair the damage.”

The conclusion that the incomes and wealth of all sections of society have declined since the start of the 2008 crisis is attributable to the fact that the study’s methodology is too broad to encompass the most dramatic change in American society: the enormous concentration of wealth and income in the hands of the financial oligarchy. The handful of multi-millionaires and billionaires in this social group are wealthier than ever.

Figures published last year by professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman showed that the wealthiest 0.5 percent of American society saw their share of the country’s wealth double, from about 17 percent in 1978 to just under 35 percent in 2012. The top 0.1 percent (one one-thousandth of the population) now controls more than 20 percent of all wealth, up from about 8 percent in the late 1970s.

The vast growth of social inequality is not the result of an impartial and merely objective process, but is rather the result of policies pursued by the government for decades aimed at slashing the wages and benefits of American workers while enriching the financial oligarchy that dominates wealth and political power in the US. This process has been dramatically accelerated under the Obama administration.

The persistent growth of social inequality is the most conspicuous and defining characteristic of contemporary American society. It is this process, facilitated by the financialization of the economy and the continuous diversion of resources away from productive investment, that underlies the erosion of democratic forms of government and the endless promotion of war and militarism.

This process expresses, moreover, a deep social crisis to which the financial elite, obsessed with the expansion of its own wealth and social privilege, can offer no solutions.

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