What Are the Implications for Medicare of the American Health Care Act and the Better Care Reconciliation Act?



An important question in the debate over proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is what might happen to the law’s many provisions affecting the Medicare program. The American Health Care Act (AHCA), which was passed by the House of Representative on May 4, 2017, and the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), released by Senate Republicans on June 22, 2017, would leave most ACA changes to Medicare intact, including the benefit improvements (no-cost preventive services and closing the Part D coverage gap), reductions to payments to health care providers and Medicare Advantage plans, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

However, both bills would repeal the Medicare payroll surtax on high-income earners that was added by the ACA, effective January 2023. That provision, which took effect in 2013, provides additional revenue for the Part A trust fund, which pays for hospital, skilled nursing facility, home health and hospice benefits. The Part A trust fund is financed primarily through a 2.9 percent tax on earnings paid by employers and employees (1.45 percent each). The ACA increased the payroll tax for a minority of taxpayers with relatively high incomes—those earning more than $200,000/individual and $250,000/couple—by 0.9 percentage points.

In addition to repealing the ACA’s Medicare payroll surtax, both bills would repeal virtually all other tax and revenue provisions in the ACA, including the annual fee paid by branded prescription drug manufacturers, which would decrease revenue to the Part B trust fund. The bills would also reinstate the tax deduction for employers who receive Part D Retiree Drug Subsidy (RDS) payments, which would increase Medicare Part D spending.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the provision in the AHCA and the BCRA to repeal the Medicare payroll surtax would reduce revenue for Part A benefits by $58.6 billion between 2017 and 2026. Proposed changes to the ACA’s marketplace coverage provisions and to Medicaid financing in both bills would also increase the number of uninsured, putting additional strain on the nation’s hospitals to provide uncompensated care. As a result, Medicare’s “disproportionate share hospital” (DSH) payments would increase, leading to higher Part A spending between 2018 and 2026 of more than $40 billion, according to CBO.

Altogether, changes to Part A spending and financing in the AHCA and BCRA would weaken Medicare’s financial status by depleting the Part A trust fund two years earlier than under current law, moving up the projected insolvency date from 2028 to 2026, according to Medicare’s actuaries (Figure 1).

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