ObamaCare deductibles maxed out at $6,350 per person this year, causing no small shock among modest earners, but next year they'll go as high as $6,600.
Businesses may be less than thrilled to learn that ObamaCare's yet-to-be-enforced employer penalties will rise from $3,000 per subsidized full-time worker to $3,120.
Although the fines initially set to hit in 2014 were put on ice for a year, that hasn't stopped the fines from growing. In 2015, employers with at least 100 full-time-equivalent workers will owe $2,080 for each of those workers after an exemption for the first 30.
By 2016, when the ObamaCare employer mandate is supposed to apply to firms with 50 full-time-equivalent workers, the fines will be higher still.
Annual increases in employer penalties and cost-sharing limits are determined by what the law defines as the premium adjustment percentage — how much average premiums rise for private, non-elderly coverage each year.
At least, that's what the Congressional Budget Office thought. So, initially, did the Department of Health and Human Services.
But the law provides wide latitude to the HHS secretary to estimate average premium growth, and the department chose to use it to soften the impact in 2015.
HHS Ignores Individual Spike
The surprise was that HHS decided to exclude the jump in premiums in the individual market, largely due to ObamaCare. Instead, this key cost-indexing factor will be tied only to the rise in employer-sponsored insurance premiums — estimated by Medicare actuaries to be 4.2%.
In mostly ignored regulations issued in March, HHS said that including all private insurance — as it originally intended — would have yielded a 6% average hike. With that yardstick measure, deductibles would peak at $6,700 per adult next year. Employer penalties would rise to $3,180.
HHS noted that it may include individual coverage in the future, once insurers are able to set rates based on experience rather than on guesswork about who will sign up.
Deductibles and employer penalties aren't the only ObamaCare parameters pegged to premium growth. The indexing also helps determine how much premiums will grow for subsidized exchange shoppers. The lower indexing factor chosen by HHS for 2015 means that premiums — net of subsidies — won't grow as much as they would have.
Premiums Heading Higher
The early indication from two states is that ObamaCare premiums may rise 8%-9%, which will hit unsubsidized enrollees paying full freight.
For those with income of 400% of poverty or lower, the increase will be smaller. As an example, an individual earning 250% of the poverty level, $28,725, has to pay 8.05% of income for a silver plan before subsidies kick in.
In 2015, that 8.05% figure will rise by the percentage by which premium growth exceeds average income growth.
At this point, though, HHS is still trying to figure out how to measure income growth and is mulling using per capita GDP growth. Once again, the CBO has a different interpretation.
The CBO has compared ObamaCare employer penalties to a minimum-wage hike, but it may work more like an increase in the full-time minimum wage, since employers can dodge it by cutting work hours.
Because the $3,120 fine for a full-time subsidized worker is nondeductible, it equates to $5,132 in deductible wages for a retailer facing a combined 39.2% federal and state tax rate. Spread out over a full year working 40 hours per week, it amounts to a $2.47-per-hour wage hike.