- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The man in charge of implementing Obamacare rallied insurers to the cause Tuesday, saying there is a viable path forward for the law’s insurance markets so long as health plans stay affordable and meet consumers’ demands.

Andy Slavitt, acting director at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the Affordable Care Act’s Web-based exchanges have moved beyond their technological stumbles in fall 2013 and grown into a $40 billion industry.

“Bigger than the coffee industry,” he told a conference hosted by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry main lobbying group.

Nearly 13 million new and returning customers signed up for 2016 coverage on the Web-based exchanges, where people can shop for private plans with the help of government subsidies. Now, the Obama administration is using its final 10 months to bolster the consumer experience on the Web portals, part of a broader push to promote enrollment and mitigate insurers’ losses.

Mr. Slavitt said the administration is cracking down on “bad actors” by requiring consumers to submit proof of life events that qualify them for special enrollment periods outside the regular signup season, so they don’t just enter the marketplace once they become sick.

He said insurers, too, play a role in making sure their plans are attractive enough to retain enrollees.

“The exchange is still in its early stages. Consumers are still getting educated about what their coverage means. I think the health plans, to be fair, are still experimenting with how to offer the best products and services. And for our part, we’re watching closely, looking at the data and making sure that we operate an exchange that continues to work,” Mr. Slavitt said.

While it may be a long-term project, the law faces short-term expectations on Capitol Hill.

GOP critics eyeing repeal with a White House ally in 2017 have pointed to UnitedHealth Group and other insurers who have worried aloud about their financial prospects on the exchanges, saying they are losing money as sicker than expected customers sign up.

They say premiums are going up in many places — not down — while out-of-pocket costs tied to some offerings leave enrollees “functionally uninsured.”

Also, congressional budget scorekeepers had projected that 21 million people should be using the exchanges at this point, compared to the 13 million that actually signed up. GOP critics say that’s proof that enrollment is “stalling out,” though the administration says the initial projection was wrong.

Mr. Slavitt said the 2010 law is already working, extending coverage to 20 million Americans who didn’t have it.

Beyond the exchanges, officials in 31 states and D.C. have expanded their Medicaid programs, while young adults can remain on their parents’ plans until 26.

“It may be one of the most significant things that any of us have been through or go through in our careers in health care,” Mr. Slavitt said. “The question is, what happens next?”

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