Obamacare Exchanges in CA, WA, and OR Post Premiums Drastically Lower Than Many Projections

From Sarah Kliff in the Washington Post:

The Congressional Budget Office predicted back in November 2009 that a medium-cost plan on the health exchange – known as a “silver plan” – would have an annual premium of  $5,200. A separate report from actuarial firm Milliman projected that, in California, the average silver plan would have a $450 monthly premium.

Now we have California’s rates, and they appear to be significantly less expensive than what forecasters expected.

On average, the most affordable “silver plan” – which covers 70 percent of the average subscriber’s medical costs – comes with a $276 monthly premium. For the 2.6 million Californians who will receive federal subsidies, the price is a good deal less expensive, the amount noted in green below.

 

This is what is happening in the states whose governors and legislatures are not seeking to sabotage the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. California, Washington, and Oregon are showing similarly low rate offerings on the insurance exchanges, which at the beginning will apply mainly to individuals who were not previously insured.

In other words, the Affordable Care Act is providing affordable insurance to those previously unable to purchase it.

UN Panel Urges Global Move Toward Meat and Dairy-Free Diet

This is from the UN Environmental Programme. It’s a fair reading of the available data, which indicates that changes in two sectors, animal agriculture and the burning of fossil fuel, are the keys to avoiding catastrophic climate change. This report goes public in the week that the world also surpassed the 400 ppm level of CO2.

This is a major health policy issue, ultimately dwarfing those that absorb more of our attention at the moment.

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.

As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050,  western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

It says: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: “Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”

 

Obamacare Exchanges Already Forcing Private Insurers To Lower Their Premiums

From Oregon, which in many ways is fast becoming a model for how to do health reform right (their recently released low back pain guidelines are also excellent):

In a striking illustration of the promise that the health law holds for consumers, two Oregon private insurers vying to sell coverage on the state’s Obamacare insurance marketplace this October are reevaluating their opening bids for the plans’ monthly premiums. The reason? A side-by-side regional comparison of all proposed 2014 premiums for Oregon marketplace plans became public on Oregon’s marketplace website Thursday, and showed that the two insurers’ planned monthly premiums were far higher than other proposals. That raised fears among the companies’ officials that their plans wouldn’t be competitive on the market later this year, leading them to proactively request a rate reduction — and as more of Obamacare is implemented, state insurance commissioners expect that trend to continue:

“Posting rate comparisons company-by-company is a taste of what is to come,” says Cheryl Martinis of the Oregon Insurance Division.

Judging by the reaction, there’s already an impact.

Providence Health Plan on Wednesday asked to lower its requested rates by 15 percent. Gary Walker, a Providence spokesman, says the “primary driver” was a realization that the plan’s cost projections were incorrect. But he conceded a desire to be competitive was part of it.

A Family Care Health Plans official on Thursday said the insurer will ask the state for even greater decrease in requested rates. CEO Jeff Heatherington says the company realized its analysts were too pessimistic after seeing online that its proposed premiums were the highest.

“That was my question when I saw the rates was, ‘Can we go in and refile these?’” he said. “We’re going to try to get these to a competitive range.”

Although some insurers have been using Obamacare as an excuse to hike premiums despite record profits, such rate hikes have been rarer — and less extreme — since the law’s passage.

 

U.S. Compares Poorly to Europe on Agricultural Safety Policies

In Mother Jones, Tom Philpott flags seven food-related substances or procedures that are banned in Europe but allowed in the United States.

Here are the first three, and it doesn’t really look any brighter after that:

 1. Atrazine Why it’s a problem: A “potent endocrine disruptor,” Syngenta’s popular corn herbicide has been linked to a range of reproductive problems at extremely low doses in both amphibians and humans, and it commonly leaches out of farm fields and into people’s drinking water.

What Europe did: Banned it in 2003.

US status: EPA: “Atrazine will begin registration review, EPA’s periodic reevaluation program for existing pesticides, in mid-2013.”

2. Arsenic in chicken, turkey, and pig feed Why it’s a problem: Arsenic is beloved of industrial-scale livestock producers because it makes animals grow faster and turns their meat a rosy pink. It enters feed in organic form, which isn’t harmful to humans. Trouble is, in animals guts, it quickly goes inorganic, and thus becomes poisonous. Several studies, including one by the FDA, have found heightened levels of inorganic arsenic in supermarket chicken, and it also ends up in manure, where it can move into tap water. Fertilizing rice fields with arsenic-laced manure may be partially responsible for heightened arsenic levels in US rice.

What Europe did: According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, arsenic-based compounds “were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan, and many other countries.”

US status: The drug giant Pfizer “voluntarily” stopped marketing the arsenical feed additive Roxarsone back in 2011. But there are still several arsenicals on the market. On May 1, a coalition of enviro groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding that the FDA ban them from feed.

3. “Poultry litter” in cow feed

Why it’s a problem: You know how arsenic goes inorganic—and thus poisonous—in chickens’ guts? Consider that their arsenic-laced manure is then commonly used as a feed for cows. According to Consumers Union, the stuff “consists primarily of manure, feathers, spilled feed, and bedding material that accumulate on the floors of the buildings that house chickens and turkeys.” The “spilled feed” part is of special concern, because chickens are often fed “meat and bone meal from dead cattle,” CU reported, and that stuff can spill into the litter and be fed back to cows, raising mad cow disease concerns.

What Europe did: Banned all forms of animal protein, including chicken litter, in cow feed in 2001.

US status: The practice remains unrestricted. US cattle consume about 2 billion pounds of it annually, Consumers Union’s Michael Hansen told me last year.