Health care turmoil triggers more consumer use at Freedom Benefits

The past week was a crazy period for U.S. health insurance. Consumers are understandably confused. The turmoil resulted in a higher level of user activity for Freedom Benefits, a web-based service that directs online consumers to various health insurance exchanges.

Within a period of just one week – Monday April 25 to Monday April 1 – we saw the executive branch of the federal government make a surprise announcement that it will not support the popular features of the Affordable Care Act in federal court, then the Trump administration’s new alternate small business health plan was defeated in federal court, then the President denounced Obamacare and promoted his party’s health plan that does not exist, then the White House announced that it will not make any more health care push until after the 2020 election. Whew!

The commotion triggered a higher than usual amount of consumer web traffic, calls and emails to the OnlineNavigator service supported by Freedom Benefits. Our focus is to direct consumers and small businesses on the options as they exist under the law now, and deliberately staying away from the confusing news headlines that cause speculation about what options may or may not exist in the future.

Freedom Benefits’ simple strategy of focusing on facts, not opinion, is apparently paying off in this tumultuous and otherwise divisive environment. The number of enrollments in currently available health plan options effective April 1 appears to be at the highest level since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act that began in 2010.

Freedom Benefits was founded by Philadelphia accountant Tony Novak to provide health insurance support to regional construction workers. It grew to a national service by 1999 when Novak joined the Board of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Novak believed that by being insurance-licensed and up-to-date on health insurance legal and market issues in all 50 states and DC, consumers would use an online adviser that eventually became the trademarked OnlineNavigator service. Novak was then asked to testify before Congress on Republican Party ideas to modernize healthcare for small businesses under the Bush administration. Most of Freedom Benefits’ business assets were sold to a public company prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After enactment of the ACA, Yahoo Finance and the Better Business Bureau were critical of our fee-based business model  and so Freedom Benefits has been mostly dormant since then. Freedom Benefits is not an insurance company, producer, exchange or agency. It has no direct revenue and web site operating expenses are paid by another related business. It is still not clear that a business model that does not collect leads or make sales can be successful. Freedom Benefits’ sole function has been to make referrals – both paid and unpaid – based on specific consumer circumstances. Occasionally that advice is combined with basic related personal or business financial planning.

The recent surge in consumer activity triggered discussions about reviving the Freedom Benefits brand and updating the services offered. Last week a Philadelphia area employee benefits and health insurance business wrote that they now perceive Freedom Benefits as a competitor. That strategic business planning is ongoing and no decisions are finalized.

 

Change of tune: Trump administration seeks to reaffirm Obamacare

In a surprise move Friday, December 21, lawyers for the Trump administration filed a brief asking U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, federal judge in Texas who declared Obamacare unconstitutional, to downplay the impact of the case. The Trump administration wants to reassure the public his decision was not effective immediately and he did not intend “substantial disruption to the healthcare markets” after the presidents’s misleading public comment made about the December 14 court ruling. The president wrote “As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster!”. Late the White House Communications Office issued a corrective statement “the law remains in place” and was not, in reality, “struck down”.

U.S. Justice Department originally backed the court case to declare Obamacare unconstitutional but now realizes that they have no other plan to fund healthcare. The Trump officials want to assure the public that Obamacare is still the ‘law of the land’ despite the president’s statements that “Obamacare Is dead” that are meant for political purposes and are not meant to confuse people or to lie to the public about the availability of legally available health coverage under Obamacare. At least one public official believes that Trump can be held legally liable for his lies that could cost people to forfeit government-provided health insurance.

The issue is expected to be resolved in the when the Democrat-led Congress regains power and resumes a “healthcare for all” agenda. Neither the Judge’s ruling nor the U.S. Justice Department have any effect on the private commercial health plans listed at Freedom Benefits that are exempt from most Obamacare laws.

20 states fight unconstitutional Obamacare provisions

President Trump signing

Twenty states sued the federal government in February 2018 arguing that the current law requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions is unconstitutional. The US Justice Department now sides with these 20 states in trying to use the courts to bring an end to Obamacare. Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, the lawsuit said that without the individual mandate, which was eliminated as part of the Republican tax law signed by President Donald Trump in December, Obamacare was unlawful. Ironically, observers say that these 20 states stand to lose more health care funding than many other states if the lawsuit is successful. A copy of the initial filing is available here.

Paxton said “The U.S. Supreme Court already admitted that an individual mandate without a tax penalty is unconstitutional. With no remaining legitimate basis for the law, it is time that Americans are finally free from the stranglehold of Obamacare, once and for all”.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, representing one of the other twenty states in the lawsuit argues a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring insurers to cover pre-existing conditions is unconstitutional. The lawsuit would affect almost one million people in Alabama alone according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit with insurance industry connections. They say that about 1 in 3 people in the state of Alabama have a pre-existing medical condition that would not be covered if the state’s lawsuit is successful.

To address this situation, President Donald Trump issued an executive order early in his presidency directing the adoption of regulations that would deem some low-cost health insurance that does not cover pre-existing conditions as being ACA-compliant.

The 20 states that want to end Obamacare are: TEXASWISCONSINALABAMAARKANSAS, ARIZONA, FLORIDAGEORGIA, INDIANAKANSASLOUISIANA, MAINEMISSISSIPPIMISSOURINEBRASKANORTH DAKOTASOUTH CAROLINASOUTH DAKOTATENNESSEEUTAH, and WEST VIRGINIA.

Freedom Benefits stepped up its services to offer advice on choosing between the old and new types of health care plans and can help introduce consumers to the best health plan for their situation and budget. Freedom Benefits reminds residents of these 20 states that a medical condition that makes a person uninsurable can happen to anyone at any time. It is important to have a backup plan and an asset protection plan to protect family assets from the high cost of unexpected and uninsured medical costs.