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WASHINGTON — Average premiums for individual insurance plans on the national exchange created by the Affordable Care Act will be down next year after major spikes in 2017 and 2018.

According to a new report by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the price for a benchmark “silver” plan through the federal HealthCare.gov site will be an average of 1.5 percent lower in 2019 after rising 37 percent in 2018.

There’s wide variation from state to state. In Tennessee, premiums are down 26 percent after a 56 percent increase the previous year. In North Dakota, they’re up 20 percent after an 8 percent increase in 2018. Open enrollment for plans begins Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15.

“President Trump’s administration took action to address the skyrocketing price of health insurance, and now we are starting to see the results,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said in a press release.

But much of the drop-off is due to companies raising premiums too much in 2018, experts say, amid a chaotic period when Republicans came close to repealing Obamacare and President Donald Trump announced plans to “let Obamacare implode” in order to pressure Democrats politically.

During this time, a number of insurers pulled out of markets entirely, briefly leaving some areas with no plans before state officials managed to attract replacements, in some cases by approving large premium hikes. This year, more insurers are expanding their presence instead. Thirty-nine percent of counties have only one insurer, versus 56 percent in 2018.

Democrats countered that the premiums would be even lower absent moves by the administration that experts say likely increased them.

“Here’s the simple truth: People buying health insurance in America today are paying more for it than they should because of the relentless sabotage campaign by the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress and the states,” Leslie Dach, chair of the progressive group Protect Our Care, said in a statement,

Trump has recently claimed credit for stabilizing markets, but independent analysts say a number of White House actions increased premiums, including ending the individual mandate to buy insurance, cutting off payments to insurers for lower deductibles and promoting alternative short-term plans that do not have to cover pre-existing conditions.

“Premiums are going down because insurers overshot with premium increases this year that were too high,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president for health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said on Twitter. “Premiums would be even lower if not for repeal of the individual mandate penalty and expansion of short-term plans.”

Other administration moves most likely contributed to the premium decrease, however, including approving state plans to stabilize their markets.



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Politics

Sturgeon told quit the ‘grandstanding!’ Hunt slaps down whingeing SNP chief over Indyref2

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JEREMY HUNT has told Nicola Sturgeon to quit the “grandstanding” over calls for a second Scottish independence referendum as a war of words between the Foreign Secretary and Scotland’s First Minister erupts.

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DNC names 20 candidates who will appear on stage for first Democratic debate

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The Democratic National Committee on Thursday named the 20 presidential candidates who qualified to appear on stage later this month in the first primary debate of the 2020 campaign.

They are:

  1. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado
  2. Former Vice President Joe Biden*
  3. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey*
  4. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg*
  5. Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro*
  6. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
  7. Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland
  8. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii*
  9. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York*
  10. Sen. Kamala Harris of California*
  11. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado
  12. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington*
  13. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota*
  14. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas*
  15. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio
  16. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont*
  17. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California
  18. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts*
  19. Author Marianne Williamson*
  20. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang*

The DNC, which is sanctioning the debate, set two ways for candidates to qualify — fundraising and polling. To make the stage, candidates needed to have either at least 1 percent support in three qualifying polls, or provide evidence of at least 65,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 200 different donors in at least 20 states.

The candidates marked with an asterisk qualified through both polling and grassroots fundraising thresholds, the DNC said. The others qualified through polling only.

Those who did not meet the threshold for the first debate include: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel; Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam; and Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts.

Bullock told NBC News’ Chuck Todd Thursday in an interview on “Meet the Press Daily” that he was “disappointed” with the DNC’s decision but declined to say if he would challenge it.

“I certainly knew getting in at the time I did would give me fewer opportunities to be on shows with youand others, but I had a job to do,” said Bullock, who announced his bid in mid-May. “And if it ultimately ever came down to choosing between getting Medicaid reauthorized, getting 100,000 Montanans health care versus getting in earlier just to try to bump up on yet another poll, I would make that same choice time and time again.”

He added that he is an “important voice” in the field, since Montana voted overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump in 2016, and noted that there will be more opportunities to introduce himself to voters before the first primary next year, including future debates.

“I am the only one in the field that won in a Trump state and we need to win back some of the places we’ve lost,” he said.

The two-night debate, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo, will take place on June 26 and 27 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami. The event will air live across all three networks from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m ET both nights.

Ten candidates at a time will appear on stage, but the lineup for each night has not been determined, nor has where the candidates will stand. Both nights will have the same format, NBC News previously announced. It is the first of 12 primary debates the DNC has planned.

Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Diaz-Balart will moderate the debate, NBC announced Tuesday.

The debate will also stream online free on NBC News’ digital platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps, in addition to Telemundo’s digital platforms.

Dartunorro Clark contributed.

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Tom Watson: Could Tom Watson challenge Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leadership?

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TOM WATSON is the deputy Labour leader and is calling for a fresh referendum, but could he challenge Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leadership?

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