Jul 14, 2014 - 4:45pm

Despite Obamacare Promise, 4-in-10 Americans Pay More for Health Care

Senior Editor, Digital Content


Doctor with patient
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg.

Many Americans are still waiting to see the health care law’s promised reductions in costs.

A Gallup poll finds that over four-in-ten Americans are spending more on health care in 2014 than they did in 2013. Nearly the same percentage of Americans are spending less on travel and dining out.

“All of this suggests that the increasing cost of essential items is further constraining family budgets already hit hard by the Great Recession and still reeling from a stagnant economy,” Gallup writes.

It’s no surprise that so few think Obamacare has helped them.

One set of Obamacare tools intended to control health care costs are the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchanges--websites run by the federal and state governments where small businesses can purchase health plans for their employees.

It’d be nice to see how effective the exchanges have been, but the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is being mum with enrollment numbers, as the Washington Post’s J.D. Harrison reports:

One House Republican has twice asked federal health officials to provide data on how many owners and employees have enrolled in and paid for plans through the law’s new insurance marketplaces for small businesses. Since the launch last fall, the employer portals, known as SHOP exchanges, have suffered even more technical problems and delays than the exchange for individuals and families.

“The SHOPs opened, although without online enrollment and many promised features, on October 1, 2013,” Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.), chair of the House Small Business Committee, wrote in his latest letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the exchanges. “Over seven months later, we still do not have any federal and some state SHOP enrollment data.”

In response to a similar letter earlier this year, officials informed Graves that the “metrics you requested are not currently available.”

Now we know why.

Responding to an inquiry concerning the latest request from Graves, CMS officials explained that, unlike on the individual exchange, employers are not required to first verify their eligibility with federal regulators before enrolling in a plan on one of the state-based or federal small business exchanges.

Moreover, because employers using the small business exchange may enroll at any point during the year — unlike shoppers on the individual exchange, who have a limited enrollment window — they say the numbers on the small-business sites are harder to track.

Despite those challenges, then Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Graves in the agency’s first response back in March that her team was “working to collect enrollment data from insurance companies” and would provide “SHOP enrollment data at a later date.”

However, the response to Graves’s second request for that data, courtesy of HHS Assistant Secretary for Legislation Jim Esquea, made no mention of any attempts to collect small-business enrollment data from insurers or whether that information, if gathered, would be made available.

As Harrison mentions, both the federally-run and state-run SHOP exchanges have had difficult rollouts.

It’s been over four years since the health care law was signed. When will it deliver on its promise of lower health care costs?

Follow Sean Hackbarth on Twitter at @seanhackbarth and the U.S. Chamber at @uschamber.

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About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.