Obama Administration Healthcare Law Wins Plaudits From Critics

Some of the business community’s toughest critics welcome efforts to ease requirements as the law is implemented. But advocates for patients and consumers voice frustration.

As President Obama gears up his reelection campaign, his administration is laboring to soften the impact of last year's sweeping healthcare law in a bid to prevent further political backlash. Photo: Official Navy Page/Flickr

The campaign to minimize disruptions — by easing requirements for insurers, employers, doctors and others — is winning cautious praise from some of the toughest critics of the law in the business community.

“Our members have generally been surprised and pleased by the lengths to which the administration has gone to answer our concerns,” said Neil Trautwein, vice president of the National Retail Federation, who was a leading opponent of the law.

The Obama administration says the number of young adults going without medical coverage has shrunk by 2.5 million since the new health care law took effect.

But the administration’s careful strategy — which has marked its approach to other hot-button issues such as smog regulation and emergency contraceptives for teenage girls — is stoking frustration among Obama’s allies.

Many consumer and patient advocates who championed the law had hoped the administration would use its new powers more aggressively to remake the nation’s healthcare system.

“We are very concerned,” said Stephen Finan, senior policy director at the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network. “If this isn’t done well, it will be a generation or more before we have another opportunity.”

A new analysis to be released Wednesday finds the drop is two-and-a-half times the figure indicated by government and private estimates from earlier this year. The health care overhaul allows young adults to stay on a parent’s plan until they turn 26.

Administration analysts found that nearly 36 percent of Americans age 19-25 were uninsured in the third calendar quarter of 2010, before the law’s provision took effect. That’s over 10.5 million people.

“It shows what a big difference this is already making in Americans’ lives,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said

The percentage of adults ages 19 to 25 with health insurance rose from 66.7% in September 2010, when the provision took effect, to 71.9% in June, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

There was no increase in Medicaid coverage for adults ages 19 to 25, which means the increase in overall coverage was driven by private insurance, Glied said.

The statistics, which go back to 1997, also show that more 19-to-25-year-olds are insured now than ever before, with almost 72% having either private or public insurance in the first half of 2011. The percentage of young adults with insurance dropped steadily from 2007 to 2010.

Pollack said the coverage of young adults may have a secondary benefit for everybody else: decreasing premium costs for everybody else.

“It helps to bring the average costs down because these young people are less likely than older adults to have a major health problem,” he said.

The White House is currently facing several crucial decisions about the law that threaten to erupt into a battle royal on the eve of the 2012 campaign. One of the most potentially explosive involves which medical benefits insurers will have to offer individuals and small businesses beginning in 2014, a key protection cherished by consumer groups.

At the same time, administration officials have been sensitive to anything that could destabilize the healthcare system by pushing up costs or prompting businesses or insurance companies to stop offering benefits.

Patient advocates have been alarmed by aggressive efforts by employers and insurance companies to persuade the administration to keep the list of required benefits short, to make insurance more affordable.

“We have consistently worked to hold down premiums and protect existing coverage while implementing important consumer protections that end the worst insurance company abuses,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, explaining the administration’s approach.

Since the law was signed in March 2010, administration officials have exempted close to 1,500 employers and health plans from rules designed to eliminate so-called mini-med plans that cap coverage at as little as a few thousand dollars a year.

Twice since May, the administration has eased new requirements that medical providers step up their use of electronic health records, a key goal of the overhaul.

“We are making it easier for healthcare providers to use new technology,” Sebelius said recently, explaining a decision to allow physicians and hospitals to get federal aid now without having to meet new technical requirements until 2014.

The healthcare law remains unpopular with many businesses that object to the “high hassle factor” of new regulations, said Edward C. Fensholt, senior vice president of the Lockton Companies, a leading benefits consulting firm. [via Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times and USA Today]

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