Is There Still a Future for Obamacare?

Julie Shenkman
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As of April 2017, the future of Obamacare, formally titled the Affordable Care Act, is still uncertain. Although the Republican-sponsored replacement bill, the American Health Care Act, was withdrawn due to lack of support, many provisions of Obamacare are still up to debate, and insurers and health care providers are left struggling to make decisions without adequate information. Here are a few possible repercussions of that uncertainty.

Insurance Companies Leave the Marketplace

Although the federal deadline for insurance companies submitting plans for the insurance marketplace isn't until June 2017, many states have earlier deadlines. With the future of Obamacare uncertain, insurance companies do not have the information they need to develop profitable plans for 2018. Therefore, insurance companies might decide to withdraw from the marketplace altogether. Some areas currently only have one insurance plan available through the marketplace. If that insurer chooses not to participate, Obamacare would effectively cease to exist for the people in those areas.

Higher Costs for Consumers

Competition helps keep prices down. If fewer companies offer plans through the insurance marketplace, costs to consumers are likely to increase. Look for higher premiums, copays and deductibles in the future. Even if Obamacare continues in its current form, prices are likely to go up because insurance companies need to draft new plans now, and they don't know if future health care reform will cause them to lose subsidies or not. These higher-cost plans help protect insurance companies from losses if the future of Obamacare includes a revamp that would otherwise increase their costs.

Fewer People Served

Obamacare includes a tax penalty for those who do not sign up for a health insurance program. If the future of Obamacare includes the repeal of this provision, fewer low-risk people will sign up for plans. This is likely to leave more people uninsured in general and further increase insurance costs as insurance companies have higher proportion of high-risk policy holders who need more health care services. Also, if Obamacare is repealed altogether, many low-income people would lose health insurance coverage currently provided through the extended Medicaid portion of the law.

Fewer Choices for Consumers

The uncertainty over the future of Obamacare could lead to insurance companies looking for other ways to lower costs. One possibility is to reduce reimbursement rates for health care providers. When reimbursement rates drop, fewer doctors and hospitals participate in plans. This gives health care consumers fewer options when selecting providers. In some cases, it may be necessary for health care facilities to reduce their staffing, changing the outlook for some health care jobs.

The healthcare debate is far from over. Both conservatives and liberals want to see costs lowered and more people covered, but different factions have very different ideas about how to make that happen. Moving into the middle of 2017, the future of Obamacare and health care reform is still very uncertain, making it difficult for insurance companies and the health care industry to make long-term decision.

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