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Editorial: Obamacare continues to crumble

The Detroit News

The Affordable Care Act hasn’t worked since it was implemented in 2013, and it’s becoming increasingly unaffordable. It has failed to deliver the improved health care system President Barack Obama promised when he signed the overhaul into law six years ago.

The Department of Health and Human Services formally reported this week that Obamacare premiums would jump an average of 25 percent nationwide in 2017 — more than triple the percentage increase of this year’s plans. And that’s not for gold-plated options; it’s an average of how much middle of the road plans will increase. Competition is also dwindling as insurers continue to pull out of the exchanges because they’re hemorrhaging money. It’s not a rosy picture.

In Michigan, consumers will pay nearly 17 percent more for individual insurance plans beginning in January, according to the Michigan Department of Financial and Insurance Services. Small group plans will increase by 2.5 percent. Even with those substantial increases, Michigan residents will fare better than those in other states where rate increases will be much higher. In Arizona premiums will rise 116 percent; in Oklahoma they’ll rise by 69 percent.

And competition in almost all states will suffer. Of the states relying on the federal exchange HealthCare.gov, the average number of plans available will decrease by more than one-third, to 30 from 47.

In Michigan the options will stay roughly the same. Customers in the lower peninsula will have at least three companies to choose from, and all but one county in the Upper Peninsula will have at least two choices. But nationwide, 21 percent of the customers shopping in the federal exchange will have only one company to choose from.

Enrollees on the exchanges continue to be sicker and older than the federal government originally projected. They tend to enter the pool only before incurring large medical expenses — the system even offers special enrollment periods to target these types of customers.

Meanwhile, the subsidies Obama touted after the law’s passage are only covering about half of Americans under the age of 65 without employer-sponsored health insurance. And attempts by the Obama administration to supplement the risk corridors program — a supposedly temporary fix in which high-profit plans would provide funds to offset deficits from insurers with large losses — with taxpayer money via the Justice Department are illegal.

It’s troubling that neither leading presidential candidate has a good answer for fixing health care. Republican nominee Donald Trump offers zero particulars on how his administration would rebuild the nation’s crumbling health care system. And Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton brags that before Obamacare there was “Hillarycare,” an even worse proposition that would have led to a single-payer, national health care system.

That leaves Americans with unaffordable insurance in a non-competitive market, and no leader in sight to fix the problem. A Republican-controlled Congress should have stepped in sooner to rework the law. It still has time, and if Congress remains in GOP hands in 2017, it certainly must. House Speaker Paul Ryan has put together a framework for revamping Obamacare. That’s a start.

In a normal election year, this epic policy failure would be center stage. Regardless, Obamacare needs a massive overhaul before more damage is done.