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The Sunshine Economy

The Sunshine Economy: The Uncertainty Of Obamacare

Tom Hudson
Sunshine Life & Health Advisors kiosk at Mall of the Americas in Miami awaits Affordable Care Act sign-ups on Jan. 28, 2015.

Next year is almost here for American insurance companies wanting to sell plans on Healthcare.gov in 2018, assuming it survives the Obamacare repeal-and-replace effort.

President Donald Trump and Republican governors met Monday and the top topic was the Affordable Care Act. The president and congressional Republican leaders have pledged to repeal and replace the federal health insurance law known as Obamacare.

Any changes in Obamacare will have significant economic consequences for Florida - the largest state for sign-ups - and especially for South Florida, the region with the most participants in the state. As Floridians and the health industry await details on the repeal-and-replace effort, insurance companies are cautious, health providers are curious and the economic ripple effects of the decisions in the next few months could be huge.

Uncertain Future

For this week's radio program we spoke with four people operating at the highest levels of the healthcare industry. If there is one thing they agree on it is the unprecedented uncertainty over the future of Obamacare and an increasingly significant portion of the U.S. economy. They are:

• Former Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

• America's Health Insurance Plans CEO Marilyn Tavenner

• American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollock

• Steve Ullman, chair of the Department of Health Sector Management and Policy at the University of Miami School of Business

The federal law that requires almost all Americans to have health insurance or face a fine has faced uncertainty before -- through Supreme Court challenges and congressional funding fights. But President Trump and congressional Republican leaders have vowed to repeal and replace the law. The lack of specifics around that effort is where the uncertainty lies for the health industry, businesses and patients. After all, the law has changed the health business a lot in the almost seven years since President Obama signed it into law. And how it will be changed in the next few months will ripple through the economy.

"It impacts no only the business of health care but ultimately it impacts every other aspect of the business sector," said  Ullman, professor at the University of Miami School of Business. "The uncertainty is definitely more pronounced in the state of Florida and in South Florida."

ACA continues growing in Florida

ACA 2016 sign-ups by congressional district

Deadlines looming

Next year is almost here when it comes to insurance companies and the Affordable Care Act.
 Under the ACA, open enrollment periods traditionally begin on Nov. 1. State regulators in states using Healthcare.gov (such as Florida) first have to approve any plans and premiums offered. That means springtime due dates for insurance companies hoping to sell individual Obamacare plans.
In Florida, health insurance companies wanting to sell health coverage via Healthcare.gov face a May 3 deadline to turn in their plans to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. That office then has until Aug. 21 to approve or deny plans and premiums. 

On Feb. 3, the federal government sent state insurance regulators notice that health insurers had until May 3 to submit proposed Obamacare insurance plans and premiums for 2018. That date, however, is subject to change as Congress debates the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

"March 31 is really too late. Earlier in March is better, but we need to know something in March," said Marilyn Tavenner, CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, a health insurance industry trade group. "Plans are holding up on pricing or decisions to stay in the market until they understand what the funding is going to look like," she said.

Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.