IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Unemployment Rate Fell to 4.9% But New Jobs Disappointed
2. Obamacare’s Exploding Health Insurance Premiums
3. 2015 Rise in Healthcare Costs Dwarfs All Other Sectors
Today I want to address the soaring costs of healthcare, which are rising far more than the Obama administration and the Department of Health and Human Services will admit. While I personally don’t consider healthcare costs to be a political issue, many argue that it is indeed a political issue with regard to “Obamacare.”
When talking to friends and colleagues, the most frequent comment I get is something like: Obamacare health insurance premiums are much higher than the government says they are – what gives?Today, I will answer that question with some new facts from an independent non-profit on healthcare premiums around the country. Prepare to be surprised.
The Obama administration’s Health and Human Services Department (HHS) announced on January 21 that healthcare premiums on the Affordable Care Act exchanges rose an average of only 9% from 2015 to 2016. That was highly misleading since the HHS data covered less than half of all consumers buying healthcare on the federal exchanges in the last year.
The real premium increases, almost across-the-board, are substantially higher in most states this year. A new, independent report from the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce includes the weighted-average premiums for all plans available on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges.
The findings will shock you, or maybe not, if you have recently renewed your healthcare coverage. In that case, you may already know, especially depending on where you live. In any event, that’s what we’ll talk about today.
We will also talk about how healthcare costs are by far the fastest growing subset of the US economy. And that’s putting it lightly. The increase in healthcare cost almost doubled the next fastest growing sector’s cost growth last year. Can you say, out-of-control?
But before we get to that discussion, let’s take a look at last Friday’s unemployment report for January. The headline unemployment rate dropped to 4.9%, the lowest level since early 2008, but some of the internal numbers were mixed or disappointing.
Unemployment Rate Fell to 4.9% But New Jobs Disappointed
Last Friday’s jobs report for January was a bag of mixed signals. New job creation slowed more than expected, but rising wages and an unemployment rate at an eight-year low suggested the labor market recovery remains firm.
Non-farm payrolls increased by only 151,000 jobs last month, well below the pre-report consensus of 190,000 and sharply lower than the 231,000 monthly average in the 4Q of last year. The good news was that the headline unemployment rate fell to 4.9%, the lowest since February 2008.
On the other hand, the broader “under-employment” measure, which includes a larger swath of jobless workers plus part-time workers who need full-time jobs, remained stuck at 9.9%, indicating substantial slack remains in the job market.
Other positive internals included the 0.5% increase in average hourly pay, the largest monthly gain in a year to $25.39 an hour. The average hourly workweek saw a nice increase, and the Labor Force Participation Rate increased slightly from 62.6% in December to 62.7% last month. Despite that, the Participation Rate remains the lowest in almost 38 years.
If I had to sum-up the January jobs report, I would rate it a disappointment, especially with new jobs reaching only 151,000 versus the consensus estimate of 190,000. Yes, the fact that the unemployment rate fell to the lowest level in eight years at 4.9% is a positive development. The bottom line: We’ll have to wait for the February jobs report in early March to see if a new trend is emerging, one way or the other.
Likewise, the mixed readings in the January jobs report tell us very little about whether the Fed intends to go ahead with more rate hikes this year.
Now let’s move on to our main topic this week – runaway healthcare costs.
Obamacare’s Exploding Health Insurance Premiums
On January 21, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that health insurance premiums on the Affordable Care Act exchanges rose an average of only 9% from 2015 to 2016. Yet the HHS data account for less than half of individual consumers buying coverage in the 38 states using the federal exchange.
The overall premium increases were significantly higher.
Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit organization, has analyzed all publicly available information for health insurance premiums from healthcare.gov and state insurance departments.
It then calculated the weighted-averages for all health insurance plans available on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. The weighted-average gives a more accurate view of overall premium increases, because it takes into account each insurance plan’s market share.
The findings: Nationally, premiums for individual health plans increased on average between 2015 and 2016 by 14.9%.
Consumers in every state except Mississippi faced increased premiums, and in no fewer than 29 states the average increases were in the double digits. For a third of states, the average premiums rose 20% or more.
Health-insurance premiums rose by more than 30% in Alaska and Hawaii; Oregon’s average rate increase was 23.2%. Consumers in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois faced increases exceeding 20% on average.
The East Coast north of Maryland was the least hard hit (New York’s average premium increase was 6%), although Pennsylvania and New Jersey consumers faced premium increases of 14.6% and 13.1% respectively.
In 11 of the 16 states defined as southern by the US Census Bureau, premiums rose by more than 10%. Premiums rose on average by 13.9%, and by more than 20% in West Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina and Oklahoma. In Texas, where data was only available for 98.5% of individual-market healthcare plans, premiums rose by 14.1%.
Average premiums in Tennessee rose 35.2% – mostly because of the state’s largest individual market insurer, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which sold 82% of all exchange plans in 2015. After losing $141 million on these plans last year, the company had little choice but to request average premium increases of 36.3%. The state insurance commission largely approved this request, lest the company leave the exchange altogether and leave 231,000 Tennesseans in the lurch.
Minnesota holds the dubious honor of having the highest year-over-year premium increases, 47.7%. Why? Because that state’s BlueCross BlueShield, the largest insurer, with over 90% of the market, lost tens of millions of dollars during the Affordable Care Act’s first two years. The company requested an average 49% rate increase, which was largely approved by state regulators.
Remember: These premium increases are only one piece of the health-care cost puzzle. Deductibles are also rising under the Affordable Care Act. Silver plans – the most popular on the exchanges – have average deductibles of nearly $3,000 in 2016, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This represents an 8% increase over last year.
Millions of Americans are coming to believe that the Affordable Care Act’s costs far outweigh its benefits. In 2014, the latest year for which data is available, roughly 7.5 million Americans paid the IRS penalty rather than purchase the law’s insurance.
This penalty is rising to an average $969 per household in 2016 in an attempt to force people onto the exchanges. Yet even a $1,000 fine is cheap compared to thousands of dollars more for an Affordable Care Act-compliant plan with a large deductible.
I could go on and on but I’ll leave this section here for today. Let’s move on to another frightening graphic on the rise in healthcare costs versus other sectors of the economy.
2015 Rise in Healthcare Costs Dwarfs All Other Sectors
This one chart released in late January by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis tells it all. It shows the rise in healthcare costs versus most other subsets of the economy in 2015. The chart speaks for itself.
As you can see, the rise in healthcare costs almost doubled the next fastest growing sector, Recreational Goods & Vehicles. The rise in healthcare costs more than doubled all other sectors in 2015.
So, unless you live in Mississippi where the government claims there was no increase in healthcare premiums last year, the rise in your healthcare cost (including the insurance premium) last year was almost double – and more than double in most cases – as compared to the price increases in most any other sector.
If you have been to a specialist or if you required hospital care recently, you know that those costs are soaring as well.
And I will leave you with one final thought on the subject of increased healthcare spending. We are all spending more on our healthcare, much more. This increase is included in the measures which gauge overall consumer spending.
So, the next time you see a report claiming that personal consumption expenditures rose last month or last quarter, keep in mind that such figures include what we spend on healthcare – which is not necessarily a good thing. Put differently, rapidly rising healthcare costs are artificially inflating consumer spending.
I’m sure you know this, so I’ll leave it there for today.
Wishing you profits in the New Year,
Gary D. Halbert
Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by ProFutures, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of ProFutures, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, ProFutures, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.