Green: Breathe easier on health insurance costs

Now that the calendar has rolled over, we’re about to start seeing several things come back around or renew in 2018. One of those things is something many business owners await in the mail with a sense of dread — health insurance premiums.

Health insurers, and by extension many others, nabbed a victory with the suspension of the health insurance tax (HIT) in the $1 trillion spending bill unveiled on Dec. 12.

The HIT was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2018 and would have impacted millions of seniors, families and small businesses across the country, including many right here in northwest Louisiana, by increasing health insurance premiums by hundreds of dollars.

According to the Washington Post, in 2018 alone, the health insurance tax would have seen premium increases ranging from $158 per person in the individual market and $540 per family in the large group market to $245 for Medicare Advantage members and $181 for Medicaid managed care enrollees. Rather than set as a percentage, the HIT is a fixed amount the insurance industry must pay every year, based on insurers’ proportional market share as measured by their total premiums.

The health insurance industry had been campaigning hard against the tax after it failed to be repealed entirely in a health-care bill earlier this year. Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealth, Aetna and America’s Health Insurance Plans have all lobbied against the HIT this year. A coalition of industry groups and small-business associations calling themselves “Stop the HIT” was even formed to fight it.

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner James Donelon wrote to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in mid-November to complain about his state’s double-digit premium hikes in the individual market, saying, “This tax is passed on to consumers, dollar-for-dollar, in the form of higher premiums.”

I know many will side with me in saying that our premiums have already increased enough. We cannot afford to see our healthcare costs continue to skyrocket.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m smart enough to have a solution to the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). However, as any infomercial talking head will tell you: There has got to be a better way…Especially here in Louisiana. As the cost of doing business on the state side has continued to increase, seeing another squeeze from the federal side would only see more costs passed on to consumers/vendors/clients. I applaud our delegation and other members of Congress for taking a breather to figure out how to solve this very prickly issue.

Speaking of, the one-year freeze will also come as good news to many GOP politicians in the wake of their failure to replace Obamacare. Many political insiders said Republicans wanted to delay the Affordable Care Act’s most prominent taxes — including the HIT — because many of them don’t want to see the taxes go into effect under the GOP’s watch. Opponents of the HIT tax point to late-2017 polls showing that a majority of the American public holds Republicans responsible for whatever happens with the ACA — and that includes its taxes going into effect.

The freeze made the most sense as repealing the HIT as well as a 2.3 percent tax on the various devices that medical manufacturers sell 2018 and 2019 would cost $29.6 billion, per the Congressional Budget Office.

So what’s the solution? Not to pass the buck, but that’s why we elected our senators and representatives. They will be the ones to get us out of this mess.

All I know is that we can kick off the new year, not having to dread opening another envelope.

Sean Green is publisher and editor of BIZ. Magazine