Morning Action: Potential Short-Term Farm Bill Extension

FARM BILL.  Lawmakers are eyeing a short-term farm bill extension for the remaining three months of the calendar year through January, which would be better than the passage of a flawed farm bill coming out of the farm bill conference:

To buy more time for farm bill talks, the House is expected to take up this week a short-term extension of current law through January.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has already signaled he is open to this option and a vote could come as early as Wednesday on the suspension calendar.

This is the second such extension Congress has been forced to take up since the 2008 farm bill expired almost 15 months ago. But the circumstances now are very different.

Last year at this time, the House had yet to even act on a farm bill and a long-term extension was needed through this past September. The legislative process is much farther along now—albeit still tortured. And there is a genuine hope that a House-Senate conference can report a farm bill back for final action in January.

Veteran lawmakers, like Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and its chairman when the 2008 law passed, would argue that no extension is truly needed under these conditions.

MANUFACTURERS.  Rising healthcare costs are posing a challenge for manufacturers, seriously limiting investment and job creation:

More than three-quarters of manufacturers say that rising healthcare costs are their most important challenge, according to a new trade group study released on Monday.

The survey from the National Association of Manufacturers found that more than 77 percent of companies cited increasing healthcare prices as their No. 1 issue. More than 90 percent of companies reported that their premiums had increased, and 58 percent said they needed to increase employee copays to reduce costs.

The trade organization is blaming ObamaCare for the increases and claiming that uncertainty surrounding the law has caused many manufacturers to lower their expectations for growth in 2014.

LIMITING ACCESS.  Reports of Obamacare limiting access to hospitals and doctors continue to surface:

If you like your hospital, you might not be able to keep it. 

In the latest surprise to emerge during the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, people seeking insurance on the ObamaCare exchanges are finding the plans limit access to some of the best-ranked hospitals and cancer centers in the country. 

The access problem is a byproduct of the effort to drive down costs of subsidized coverage, prompting insurance companies to shy away from more expensive facilities. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean someone buying insurance through ObamaCare is locked out of those hospitals. In some cases, patients could go “out of network” in order to use the medical center of their choosing — but would have to pay more in the process. 

HOSPITALS. Hospitals are passing their Obamacare penalties onto patients:

Let’s say you were to fall off the ladder while putting up your trademark, Clark Griswold-style Christmas lights. You’re rushed to the emergency room, evaluated, and stabilized. Then the hospital has several options: They can send you home or admit you as an inpatient for further treatment. But increasingly, hospitals are shuffling older patients to a third alternative, a category called “observation status” under which patients are monitored (and often treated) by doctors, but never formally “admitted” in the eyes of either the hospital or the insurer.

As it turns out, this classification is great for hospitals, but it can be far more expensive for patients.

Perhaps most importantly for hospitals, though, the Affordable Care Act required Medicare to start penalizing hospitals that frequently readmit the same patients, and in 2012 some 70 percent of hospitals took a financial hit for their high readmission rates. Observation status doesn’t count as admission, so using it helps hospitals avoid the penalty.

HEALTHCARE.GOV ISSUES. is still frustrating users, and the Obamacare enrollment deadline is only two weeks away:

We are two weeks away from the next Obamacare enrollment deadline and one local insurance agent is concerned his clients won’t have insurance by the new year.

Kelly Kristoe has tried both online and paper forms to sign up clients, but has been frustrated with both.

He says he hasn’t been able to get much support from the helpline so most of his clients have not been able to enroll.

Fristoe says if you just want to sign up for a plan, you should have no problem. But if you need to be cleared for a subsidy, then you may be waiting awhile. 

SMALL BUSINESS NIGHTMARE.  Obamacare’s aggregation rules are a nightmare for small business:

Often overshadowed by rules concerning the number of hours that constitute full-time employment or the number of workers that define a small business, the aggregation rules pose an addition compliance headache for a large number of small business owners. In fact, roughly four out of 10 small firms with at least 20 employees are run by employers who own at least 10 percent of at least one other company, according to research by the National Federation of Independent Business.

Due to the complicated nature of the rules, many of those firms will be forced to hire tax attorney’s to determine their size status under the law, according to Debbie Walker, a Washington accountant who testified at the hearing.

Winstanley estimates that could cost him upwards of $10,000 — and that’s just for the legal counseling.

POLL.  Most Americans are still pessimistic about the economy:

While the nation’s unemployment rate is now at a five-year low, most Americans (61 percent) continue to say the economy is in bad shape. Thirty-seven percent now think the economy is good, a slight uptick from last month and at the same level it was in the summer.

The public’s economic outlook isn’t especially positive. Twenty-seven percent think the economy is getting better, while 30 percent say it is getting worse. Forty-two percent think it is staying the same.

Please Share Your Thoughts