- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2014

Disenchanted by high prices and technology woes, more than half of the households that used an Obamacare exchange last year said they would not use the portal again in the upcoming sign-up period, according to a survey released Monday.

Bankrate.com, which sponsored the survey, said 51 percent don’t want to use HealthCare.gov or their state-run insurance marketplaces again — a less-than-ecstatic review for the overhaul, which finds itself steeped in another high-profile legal battle less than two weeks before open enrollment starts again.

About two in five people cited “much higher prices for health plans” on the exchanges this year, making it the No. 1 concern along those surveyed.

About a quarter said too many people remained uninsured after the health care law went into effect, and 21 percent cited technological problems that hamstrung the federal Obamacare website and some state-run exchanges in the first go-around.

Despite that dour assessment, more than half said they personally had a positive experience during the previous enrollment, while 43 percent said they had a bad experience.

The Obama administration is hoping that the second round of enrollment from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15 will continue to chip away at the nation’s uninsured rate. To meet congressional scorekeepers’ target of 13 million enrollees in 2015, they will need roughly 7 million existing enrollees to re-up in their plans and nearly 6 million more first-time enrollees.

Americans who can afford coverage but fail to get it are subject to a tax penalty unless they qualify for an exemption. If these people avoid the exchanges, it may be because they do not qualify for income-based subsidies and will shop in the off-exchange market.

“That’s a reasonable alternative because the law regulates those so-called ‘mirror’ policies to where there aren’t significant differences. But I don’t think there are any huge bargains there,” Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, told Bankrate.com.

Eighteen states on Monday sought to protect Obamacare subsidies for those who do qualify, filing a legal brief to oppose high-profile lawsuits that claim the subsidies should only flow to states that set up their own exchanges.

“There is no plausible reason to believe that Congress intended such a draconian result,” they wrote in a brief to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which will hold oral arguments on the case in December.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act say the law reserved income-based credits for customers who use an exchange “established by the state.”

They took that to mean the 16 exchanges set up by the states, and them alone. But the Obama administration says the law’s framers intended the federal government to stand in the shoes of the states that did not want to run their own insurance portals.

The full D.C. Circuit is considering the case after a three-judge panel ruled against the administration earlier this year. On the same day, the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of the administration, producing a split in the federal appeals courts.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide in the coming days whether it will take up the Fourth Circuit case or if it will wait to see if the D.C. Circuit sides with the administration, eliminating the circuit split and tempering the need for high-court review.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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