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I won’t get into the politics of Obamacare, but I do want you to consider a pocketbook issue.
Unitedhealthcare and Aetna in recent weeks have announced they were scaling back the number of markets in which they will compete in the coming year under the Affordable Care Act. Aetna says in a release it has sustained more than $430 million in pretax losses nationally since January 2014 on the exchange. That sounds scary, and it probably is to shareholders, but what does that actually mean when it comes to your healthcare and how much it’s going to cost your family here in Virginia? Before we take a look, full disclosure: I've purchased my health insurance through the exchange.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation has done an extensive, though preliminary, study on rates and offerings under the ACA. They estimate that rates on the second-lowest silver plans will increase 9 percent nationally (up from 2 percent in 2016), and that the number of plans offered in most states will decline to about the number offered in 2014.
Virginia is in better shape than many exchanges.
There are eight insurers set for Virginia for 2017, including Aetna, which removed itself from 70 percent of the counties across the nation where it offered policies the previous year. There were seven companies in the Virginia exchange last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Aetna may still be here because the Virginia market may still be lucrative. According to an analysis by Virginia Commonwealth University, the company made a profit on its Virginia exchange business in 2014, says Michael McCue, a professor in the VCU School of Allied Health Professions Department of Health Administration.
There were about 422,000 customers enrolled in the Virginia exchange for 2016, and about 379,000 are estimated to have paid premiums and continued with their plans, according to a report for healthinsurance.org.
So, there will be plans available to Virginians when enrollment opens in November, but will they be affordable?
The Kaiser Foundation estimates that premiums on the lowest-cost silver-grade plans will rise 12 percent in Virginia.
Why are rate hikes needed? The insurers cite that the client pool in the insurance exchange is older and sicker than the general population, which pushes up its costs. The feds are trying to increase participation in the pool by younger, healthier people by increasing the penalty this year for not having insurance. That penalty will be 2.5 percent of household income or $695 per adult, whichever is greater.
According to a report released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, consumers would still be able to afford policies through the exchange even if prices rose as much as 25 percent. The report asserts that 74 percent of consumers in Virginia could purchase policies at a cost of $75 a month.
The report also contends that advance premium tax credits and the ability for consumers to shop around on the marketplace help contain costs. It's noted that, with the ability to shop around for plans, the average increase on the marketplace from 2015 to 2016 was 8 percent. The federal report contends that 2016 rates increased by an average of $4 a month for policies purchased through HealthCare.gov by consumers with tax credits.
Premium prices for 2017 have not been set as yet. The deadline for final rates will be announced in October.
There were 11 million Americans who purchased insurance through the program in 2016, including about 422,000 in Virginia. Many would not otherwise have insurance. Most people, about 154 million of them, get their insurance through their employer, and another significant portion of the population, about 100 million, are covered through Medicare and Medicaid.
A roundup of health and medicine news of the week
- Back-to-school immunizations and school physicals will be offered from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday by the Richmond City Health Department. Immunizations needed for school and daycare will be offered, as will physicals for elementary school and Head Start students and sports physicals for middle and high schoolers. The event will be held at 400 E. Cary St., or you can use the clinic entrance at 401 E. Main St.
- Rusnak Family Dentistry in the West End is now River Run Dental. Dr. Brent Rusnak has rebranded and expanded the practice, according to a release. Dr. Emily Sinclair has joined as an associate dentist, and two hygienists have also been added. River Run is offering a take-home teeth whitening, valued at $350, for $99 to mark the rebranding. The practice is also planning an event in the fall called Dentistry from the Heart that will offer free dental care on a first-come, first-served basis.
- The National Kidney Registry’s Advanced Donor Program has a Richmond-area partner, the Virginia Transplant Center at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital. The facility is one of a dozen in the nation to participate, according to the kidney registry. The Advanced Donation Program, as the name suggests, allows donors to provide an organ before their target beneficiary receives the kidney. “We often times see family members wanting to donate on their loved one's behalf, but they may not be a compatible match,” says Melissa VanSyckle, living donor coordinator at the transplant center, in a release. “In the case of the ADP program, we can better meet the timing needs of donors and recipients, giving the donor an opportunity to give to another individual suffering from kidney failure, while at the same time guaranteeing a kidney match through the NKR paired exchange program for their loved one in the future. With this program, more people can save lives for the greater good.”
- A cluster of hepatitis A cases earlier this month in Virginia may be linked to consumption of strawberry smoothies from a restaurant chain. Frozen strawberries from Egypt may be the culprit, according to the Virginia Department of Health, which notified the restaurant chain, Tropical Smoothie Café, on Aug. 5. The berries were immediately removed and replaced with berries from another supply, according to a video statement from Mike Rotondo, chief executive officer for Tropical Smoothie. The health department warns that anyone who had a smoothie with frozen strawberries in the last 50 days may be at risk. Symptoms, which may include jaundice, nausea, abdominal pain, fever, dark urine, light-colored stools, loss of appetite and fatigue, may occur 115 to 50 days following infection.
- The amount of good you'll do far offsets the calories you'll consume when you indulge in some gourmet cookies at the Cookies for Kids’ Cancer bake sale on Sept. 10. Jacqueline’s Gourmet Cookies of Salem, Massachusetts, is providing 20,000 cookies for the fundraiser, now in its seventh year. Cookies for Kids’ Cancer says it has raised $10 million, which has benefited 80 research grants. Sales will be held across the city.