• ANALYSIS

    Fate of Obamacare hangs in balance

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    BY PAUL B. JOHNSON

    HIGH POINT: Mark Thacker’s insurance agency office just north of downtown has become a relatively calm eye in the Obamacare storm.

    The fate of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, is in serious jeopardy after Republican President-elect Donald Trump captured the White House and the GOP retained control of Congress in the Nov. 8 general election. Come January, the Republican Party will have control of the executive and legislative branches and can follow through on the pledge to repeal Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature program implemented three years ago.

    But at Thacker’s Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina office at 517 N. Hamilton St., there’s been no sense of panic among his clients. Customers have steadily come in to re-enroll — or sign up for coverage for the first time — since the latest Obamacare open enrollment period launched Nov. 1, a week before Election Day.

    Thacker, an authorized agent for Blue Cross Blue Shield, said he’s fielded some questions from people about what might become of the program after Trump takes office in mid-January. But there hasn’t been a rush of people either cancelling or enrolling, Thacker told The High Point Enterprise.

    “I don’t think the election has changed the interest level at all,” he said. “It’s been pretty steady the last couple of weeks or so.”

    The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that more than 1 million Americans selected plans using the Healthcare.gov webiste since Nov. 1, including about 250,000 new consumers and more than 750,000 clients renewing coverage.

    One quirk in the fate of the Affordable Care Act is the overlay on the calendar between the current enrollment period and Trump taking office. The last day to sign up for health care coverage under the act is Jan. 31, about a week and a half after Trump takes the oath of office during the inauguration. Congress will have come back into session during the first week of January.

    Republicans say that the spike this year in premiums under the Affordable Care Act — and the withdrawal of several major health insurance providers from the program — shows that Obamacare isn’t financially viable over the long term. Also, critics of the act object to compelling Americans to either sign up for coverage or face paying a penalty when they file their annual federal income tax return.

    The Obama administration continues to contend that, with subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, the actual price paid by clients remains reasonable despite overall premium increases.

    In North Carolina, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services reports that 82 percent of consumers will be able to find a plan with an actual premium cost of less than $75 per month, and 85 percent will find plans at less than $100 a month through subsidies.

    While Trump and Republican congressional leaders have pledged to take up the repeal of the Affordable Care Act immediately, analysts say they probably will institute an incremental phase-out of the program providing health coverage to an estimated 20 million Americans. Some analysts say unwinding the program could take at least two years.

    Also, Trump has said since his election that he’d like to keep some aspects of the Affordable Care Act, such as the prohibition on denying coverage to patients with pre-existing medical conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents’ coverage up until age 26.

    In speaking with customers at his High Point Blue Cross Blue Shield office since Nov. 8, Thacker said he avoids speculation about how the election might change the trajectory of the Affordable Care Act.

    “All I’ve been telling people is this is the law right now and we are following the law as is,” he told The Enterprise. “If the law changes, we’ll have to go by whatever the new laws are in the future.”

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