Here’s which Trump-era health policies Biden could roll back — without help from Congress

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/heres-what-trump-era-health-policies-biden-could-roll-back-without-help/592912/

How To Roll-Back Data in a Temporal Table

The nearest-term 2021 actions will likely center on bolstering the ACA and Medicaid, after the Trump administration took aim at both.

Even with Democrats’ surprise flipping of the Senate, enacting big healthcare policies in Congress will be a heavy lift given the razor-thin margin in that body and division within the party on strategy.

A clearer path for incoming president Joe Biden is to focus on reversing policies enacted by President Donald Trump at the executive level. Trump’s tenure has been defined in large part by a chipping away at key tenets of the Affordable Care Act, curtailing the Medicaid program and sweeping deregulations critics allege harm consumer protections.

The nearest-term actions the incoming administration is likely to take will center on bolstering the landmark health law and Medicaid, both of which has drawn more bipartisan backing in recent years. Below are what the Biden health administration is likely to roll back quickly after inauguration Wednesday.

Boosting Affordable Care Act marketplace

One of Biden’s first moves may be to open a special enrollment period to sign up for coverage during COVID-19, combined with more outreach and enrollment assistance, Cynthia Cox, director of the ACA program at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said.

Beyond COVID-19, it’s likely the Biden administration will restore federal spending on navigation, marketing and outreach for exchange plans. For example, the Trump administration reduced the minimum number of navigator programs in each state using the federal marketplace to one. Biden could return it to two, and might also bring back the requirement that navigators have a physical presence in their service area.

Biden is also likely to unilaterally shore up standards for brokers, and take steps to bolster the exchange website healthcare.gov.

The Trump administration in December proposed a rule encouraging states to privatize their health insurance marketplaces instead of using healthcare.gov, which will make it more difficult for consumers to shop between plans and could divert people to subpar coverage, Tara Straw, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote in a December blog post.

The rule doubles down on the administration’s approval of a Georgia waiver to privatize its marketplace in November, but would allow states to follow suit and rely entirely on third-party brokers without a waiver.

That rule is not yet final, so Biden’s HHS will likely remove it from the Federal Register to avoid fragmenting marketplace functions.

Biden could also beef up consumer protections and standards for web brokers, which also sell skimpy short-term health insurance and other non-ACA-compliant coverage.

Biden is also likely to re-expand the annual enrollment period. In 2017, the Trump administration shortened the annual enrollment period to 45 days. Biden’s HHS could use rulemaking to return that period to three full months.

The incoming administration could also reverse previous CMS guidance on Section 1332 waivers that let states subvert or sidestep ACA protections on coverage and cost. The Trump administration proposed a rule in November to codify the waiver standards in regulation but — despite a recent wave of proposed and final regulations as the Trump administration hustles to preserve its health agenda — the rule has not yet been finalized, so HHS could remove it from the Federal Register as well.

By nixing the rule, Biden could also help reverse Trump administration cuts from 2018 that slashed user fees on healthcare.gov plans. The November proposed rule would further decimate the fees, which finance a large swath of marketplace operating expenses, to 2.25% in 2022, versus 3% in 2021 and 3.5% last year.

One key tenet of Biden’s health agenda is to expand ACA subsidies to more low-income Americans, something he can’t do without Congress. However, Biden could use administrative processes to reverse a Trump-era method for indexing marketplace subsidies that kicked in for the 2020 plan year, which led to a small reduction in the financial aid.

Dialing back short-term and association health plans

Biden’s HHS could also roll back the controversial expansion of short-term health plans, bare-bones coverage that isn’t required to cover the 10 essential health benefits under the ACA.

Short-term plans were created as inexpensive stop-gap insurance that could last for up to three months, giving consumers peace of mind while they shopped more comprehensive coverage. However, in 2018, the Trump administration expanded the duration of the plans to 12 months, with a three-year renewal period, and also allowed all consumers — not just those who couldn’t afford other options — to purchase them.

HHS touted the expansion as giving consumers more options, while noting they weren’t meant for everyone. yearlong investigation by House Democrats found the plans widely discriminate against women and people with pre-existing conditions, and had major coverage limitations leaving unwitting consumers susceptible to surprise medical bills.

The Biden administration could enact stricter limits against the sale of the plans. Through additional rulemaking, HHS could limit future enrollment or make it harder to renew short-term coverage, enact stronger consumer protections or beef up standards to limit their sale.

Though actions around limiting new people coming into the plans are likely, Biden may wait to see if Congress takes up the issue, experts say.

A growing number of Americans in the individual healthcare market have subscribed the inexpensive coverage amid skyrocketing medical costs. Roughly 3 million consumers bought the plans in 2019, a 27% growth from 2018, the investigation found. The explosive growth in use makes it a bit less likely Biden’s HHS would pursue immediate, unilateral movement in the space, for fear of kicking Americans off their coverage.

Biden could also reverse Trump’s regulatory changes that have been friendly to association health plans, which allow small businesses or groups to band together to offer coverage. Though the ACA enhanced oversight of the coverage, the Trump administration in June 2018 issued a rule exempting them from rules regulating individual and small-group employer coverage.

As a result, association health plans were allowed to exclude or charge more on the basis of gender, age or other factors.

A federal court invalidated the rule later that year, and some states took legislative or regulatory actions to discourage the use of association health plans. However, the plans —which cover an estimated 3 million Americans — are still not required to cover all essential health benefits, making them a likely target for the Biden administration.

“It is something that we’re going to see some action on pretty soon, but it’s challenging. You don’t want to take those plans away from people, especially during a pandemic,” Cox said.

Expanding Medicaid coverage, eligibility

The Trump administration has given red states new avenues to constrict their Medicaid programs, which provide safety-net health insurance to some 75 million Americans.

Biden will likely first revise state demonstration waiver policies to expand coverage. Among other measures, Biden could get rid of past CMS guidance allowing states to play with Medicaid eligibility through work requirements, controversial programs tying coverage eligibility to work or volunteering hours, and to cap program funding.

Tennessee this month became the first state to receive a federal green light to convert its Medicaid funding to a block grant, following controversial CMS guidance issued early last year. Republicans tout block grants as a way to lower costs, while Democrats oppose the models as capped funding could lead to restricted benefits down the line, especially during times of emergency like a pandemic or natural disaster.

It’s more difficult to roll back a waiver if it’s already been approved, but Biden could put restrictions on it or reverse the decision before it goes into effect, experts say, though Tennessee would have an opportunity to object.

There are also actions Biden could take to reinstate certain beneficiary protections, which would require regulatory changes, KFF researchers say. Those include revising or stopping pending proposals that would change how Medicaid eligibility is determined in a way that would probably result in previously eligible people losing coverage by enacting more documentation requirements; change the government’s methodology for recouping improper payments; and reduce enhanced federal funding for eligibility workers.

Biden’s administration could also tweak regulations that have already been finalized, including the final Medicaid managed care rule for 2020 that relaxed network adequacy, beneficiary protections and quality oversight.

Biden to reopen ACA insurance marketplaces as pandemic has cost millions of Americans their coverage

President Biden is scheduled to take executive actions as early as Thursday to reopen federal marketplaces selling Affordable Care Act health plans and to lower recent barriers to joining Medicaid.

The orders will be Biden’s first steps since taking office to help Americans gain health insurance, a prominent campaign goal that has assumed escalating significance as the pandemic has dramatized the need for affordable health care — and deprived millions of Americans coverage as they have lost jobs in the economic fallout.

Under one order, HealthCare.gov, the online insurance marketplace for Americans who cannot get affordable coverage through their jobs, will swiftly reopen for at least a few months, according to several individuals inside and outside the administration familiar with the plans. Ordinarily, signing up for such coverage is tightly restricted outside a six-week period late each year.

Another part of Biden’s scheduled actions, the individuals said, is intended to reverse Trump-era changes to Medicaid that critics say damaged Americans’ access to the safety-net insurance. It is unclear whether Biden’s order will undo a Trump-era rule allowing states to impose work requirements, or simply direct federal health officials to review rules to make sure they expand coverage to the program that insures about 70 million low-income people in the United States.

The actions are part of a series of rapid executive orders the president is issuing in his initial days in office to demonstrate he intends to steer the machinery of government in a direction far different from that of his predecessor.

Biden has been saying for many months that helping people get insurance is a crucial federal responsibility. Yet until the actions planned for this week, he has not yet focused on this broader objective, shining a spotlight instead on trying to expand vaccinations and other federal responses to the pandemic.

The most ambitious parts of Biden’s campaign health-care platform would require Congress to provide consent and money. Those include creating a government insurance option alongside the ACA health plans sold by private insurers, and helping poor residents afford ACA coverage if they live in about a dozen states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs under the decade-old health law.

A White House spokesman declined to discuss the plans. Two HHS officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity about an event the White House has not announced, said Monday they were anticipating that the event would be held on Thursday.

According to a document obtained by The Washington Post, the president also intends to sign an order rescinding the so-called Mexico City rule, which compels nonprofits in other countries that receive federal family planning aid to promise not to perform or encourage abortions. Biden advisers last week previewed an end to this rule, which for decades has reappeared when Republicans occupied the White House and vanished under Democratic presidents.

The document also says Biden will disavow a multinational antiabortion declaration that the Trump administration signed three months ago.

The actions to expand insurance through the ACA and Medicaid come as the Supreme Court is considering two cases that could shape the outcome. One case is an effort to overturn rulings by lower federal courts, which have held that state rules, requiring some residents to work or prepare for jobs to qualify for Medicaid, are illegal. The other case involves an attempt to overturn the entire ACA.

According to the individuals inside and outside the administration, the order to reopen the federal insurance marketplaces will be framed in the context of the pandemic, essentially saying that anyone eligible for ACA coverage who has been harmed by the coronavirus will be allowed to sign up.

“This is absolutely in the covid age and the recession caused by covid,” said a health-care policy leader who has been in discussions with the administration. “There is financial displacement we need to address,” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe plans the White House has not announced.

The reopening of HealthCare.gov will be accompanied by an infusion of federal support to draw attention to the opportunity through advertising and other outreach efforts. This, too, reverses the Trump administration’s stance that supporting such outreach was wasteful. During its first two years, it slashed money for advertising and for community groups known as navigators that helped people enroll.

It is not clear whether restoring outreach will be part of Biden’s order or will be done more quietly within federal health-care agencies.

Federal rules already allow people to qualify for a special enrollment period to buy ACA health plans if their circumstances change in important ways, including losing a job. But such exceptions require people to seek permission individually, and many are unaware they can do so. Trump health officials also tightened the rules for qualifying for special enrollment.

In contrast, Biden is expected to open enrollment without anyone needing to seek permission, said Eliot Fishman, senior director of health policy for Families USA, a consumer health-advocacy group.

In the early days of the pandemic, the health insurance industry and congressional Democrats urged the Trump administration to reopen HealthCare.gov, the online federal ACA enrollment system on which three dozen states rely, to give more people the opportunity to sign up. At the end of March, Trump health officials decided against that.

During the most recent enrollment period, ending the middle of last month, nearly 8.3 million people signed up for health plans in the states using HealthCare.gov. The figure is about the same as the previous year, even though it includes two fewer states, which began operating their own marketplaces.

Leaders of groups helping with enrollment around the country said they were approached for help this last time by many people who had lost jobs or income because of the pandemic.

The order involving Medicaid is designed to alter course on experiments — known as “waivers” — that allow states to get federal permission to run their Medicaid programs in nontraditional ways. The work requirements, blocked so far by federal courts, are one of those experiments. Another was an announcement a year ago by Seema Verma, the Trump administration’s administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, that states could apply for a fundamental change to the program, favored by conservatives, that would cap its funding, rather than operating as an entitlement program with federal money rising and falling with the number of people covered.

“You could think about it as announcing a war against the war on Medicaid,” said Katherine Hempstead, a senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Dan Mendelson, founder of Avalere Health, a consulting firm, said Biden’s initial steps to broaden insurance match his campaign position that the United States does not need to switch to a system of single-payer insurance favored by more liberal Democrats.

The orders the president will sign “are going to do it through the existing programs,” Mendelson said.

The new administration unveils a national COVID strategy

https://mailchi.mp/128c649c0cb4/the-weekly-gist-january-22-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Biden unveils national COVID-19 strategy | NHK WORLD-JAPAN News

As one of his first official actions upon taking office Wednesday, President Biden signed an executive order implementing a federal mask mandate, requiring masks to be worn by all federal employees and on all federal properties, as well as on all forms of interstate transportation. Yesterday Biden followed that action by officially naming his COVID response team, and issuing a detailed national plan for dealing with the pandemic. Describing the plan as a “full-scale wartime effort”, Biden highlighted the key components of the plan in an appearance with Dr. Anthony Fauci and COVID response coordinator Jeffrey Zients.

The plan instructs federal agencies to invoke the Defense Production Act to ensure adequate supplies of critical equipment, including masks, testing equipment, and vaccine-related supplies; calls for new national guidelines to help employers make workplaces safe for workers to return to their jobs, and to make schools safe for students to return; and promises to fully fund the states’ mobilization of the National Guard to assist in the vaccine rollout.

Also included in the plan is a new Pandemic Testing Board, charged with ramping up multiple forms of COVID testing; more investment in data gathering and reporting on the impact of the pandemic; and the establishment of a health equity task force, to ensure that vulnerable populations are an area of priority in pandemic response.
 
But Biden can only do so much by executive order. Funding for much of his ambitious COVID plan will require quick legislative action by Congress, meaning that the administration will either need to garner bipartisan support for its proposed American Rescue Plan legislation, or use the Senate’s budget reconciliation process to pass the bill with a simple majority (with Vice President Harris casting the tie-breaking vote). Even that may prove challenging, given skepticism among Republican (and some moderate Democratic) senators about the $1.9T price tag for the legislation. 

We’d anticipate intense bargaining over the relief package—with broad agreement over the approximately $415B in spending on direct COVID response, but more haggling over the size of the economic stimulus component, including the promised $1,400 per person in direct financial assistance, expanded unemployment insurance, and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Some of the broader economic measures, along with the rest of Biden’s healthcare agenda and his larger proposals to invest in rebuilding critical infrastructure, may have to wait for future legislation, as the administration prioritizes COVID relief as its first—and most important—order of business.

Lawsuit Challenges GA’s 1332 Waiver, ACA in the Biden Pandemic Plan

Lawsuit Challenges GA's 1332 Waiver, ACA in the Biden Pandemic Plan |  Health Affairs

On January 14, 2021, Planned Parenthood Southeast and the Feminist Women’s Health Center filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s approval of Georgia’s waiver under Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in DC. This post summarizes that legal challenge as well as parts of President Biden’s recent proposed pandemic relief package that relate to the ACA and coverage. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan includes several coverage-related proposals and would follow the pandemic relief passed by Congress in December 2020.

Advocates Challenge The Approval of Georgia’s 1332 Waiver

Regular readers know that the Trump administration—through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Treasury Department—approved a broad waiver request from Georgia under Section 1332 of the ACA. The approved waiver authorizes the state to establish a reinsurance program for plan year 2022 and eliminate the use of HealthCare.gov beginning with plan year 2023. CMS and Treasury approved the waiver application on November 1, 2020. The history of Georgia’s waiver application and approval is summarized in prior posts as well as in the complaint filed in the lawsuit.

The reinsurance portion of the waiver is straightforward; of the 16 states with an approved Section 1332 waiver, all but one state has established a state-based reinsurance program. But the second part of the waiver application, known as the Georgia Access Model, is far more controversial. This is the broadest waiver yet to be approved under Section 1332 and relies on interpretations of Section 1332 made in much-criticized Trump-era guidance from 2018.

Critics have long argued that Georgia’s proposal fails to satisfy Section 1332’s procedural and substantive guardrails, meaning it could not be lawfully approved by the Trump administration. Given this controversy, legal challenges to the waiver approval were expected.

The Lawsuit

Planned Parenthood Southeast and the Feminist Women’s Health Center—represented by Democracy Forward—filed a lawsuit in federal district court in DC on January 14, 2021. The lawsuit alleges that the Trump administration’s 2018 guidance and approval of Georgia’s waiver are unlawful because these actions violate Section 1332 of the ACA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The lawsuit also cites many of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to undermine the ACA as evidence that the 2018 guidance and waiver approval are part of a pattern of ACA sabotage.

In particular, the plaintiffs argue that the 2018 guidance and waiver approval are contrary to Section 1332, exceed the scope of the agencies’ authority (by allowing states to waive non-waivable provisions of the ACA), and are arbitrary and capricious. They also argue that the waiver approval failed to satisfy procedural requirements under the ACA and APA because Georgia and the Trump administration rushed through the process without adequate time for public comment and without adequate clarification of how the state intends to approach key issues.” Here, the lawsuit points to the fact that Georgia went through four iterations of its waiver application, that its application was incomplete, and that only eight comments (less than one half of one percent) of the 1,826 total comments submitted during the most recent federal public comment period were in support of the Georgia Access Model.

As such, the plaintiffs ask the court to vacate both the approved waiver and the 2018 guidance and declare that they are unlawful. They also ask that the federal government be enjoined from taking further action on Georgia’s waiver or considering other waivers under the 2018 guidance. The plaintiffs acknowledge that the reinsurance portion of the waiver is uncontroversial and that the focus of the lawsuit is on the Georgia Access Model; however, the plaintiffs challenge approval of the waiver as a whole and ask the court to set aside the waiver in whole or in part. The plaintiffs have not sued Georgia, although it is possible that Georgia may ask to intervene in the litigation to defend its interests.

Much of the lawsuit turns on how the Trump administration interpreted the statutory guardrails under Section 1332 and long-standing concerns about direct enrollment and enhanced direct enrollment. Federal officials can grant a Section 1332 waiver only if a state demonstrates that their proposal meets certain statutory “guardrails.” These guardrails ensure that a waiver proposal will 1) provide coverage that is at least as comprehensive as ACA coverage ( “comprehensiveness” guardrail); 2) provide coverage and cost-sharing protections that are at least as affordable as ACA requirements (“affordability” guardrail); 3) provide coverage to at least a comparable number of residents as under the ACA ( “coverage” guardrail); and 4) not increase the federal deficit. The Obama administration issued guidance in 2015 on its interpretation of these guardrails.

In 2018, the Trump administration replaced that guidance and adopted its own interpretation, which many argued was inconsistent with Section 1332. The 2018 guidance tried to pave the way for the Trump administration to approve waivers where only some coverage under the waiver (instead of all coverage) satisfied the comprehensiveness and affordability guardrails. Under this view, waivers could be approved even if only some coverage under the waiver was as comprehensive, as affordable, and as available as coverage provided under the ACA. The 2018 guidance would also allow waivers to expand access to plans that do not have to meet the ACA’s requirements. (Separately, the Trump administration issued a final rule to codify the 2018 guidance’s interpretations into regulations.)

The lawsuit argues that the Georgia Access Model violates all four statutory guardrails because it will “drastically underperform the ACA.” The waiver proposal could lead to net enrollment losses in Georgia, which violates the coverage guardrail. The waiver could lead some consumers to enroll in non-ACA plans (such as short-term plans) with benefit gaps, which violates the comprehensiveness guardrail. And consumers will have to pay higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs through higher broker commissions, reduced competition, and adverse selection against the ACA markets, which violates the affordability guardrail and potentially the deficit neutrality guardrail (since higher ACA premiums mean higher federal outlays in the form of premium tax credits).

As health care providers in Georgia, Planned Parenthood Southeast and the Feminist Women’s Health Center allege they will be harmed for several reasons. They argue that the Georgia Access Model will make it more difficult and expensive for their patients to obtain health insurance. Fewer patients with health insurance will result in higher levels of uncompensated care. More uncompensated care will strain the plaintiffs’ resources and limit other services, such as community outreach. The loss of coverage resulting from the waiver will leave their patients in worse health and develop more complex treatment needs, making it more expensive for plaintiffs to treat those patients as a result. And approval of the waiver will make it more complicated for the plaintiffs to assist their patients with enrollment.

What Happens Next

The lawsuit was assigned to Judge James E. Boasberg of the federal district court for DC. Health policy watchers know Judge Boasberg as the judge who repeatedly invalidated the Trump administration’s approval of state Section 1115 waivers with work and community engagement requirements. He is thus no stranger to assessing the legality of waiver approvals under the APA and other federal statutes.

The lawsuit will proceed, and the Biden administration will be responsible for filing a response in court. One potential option could be for the Biden administration to ask the court for a stay while it revisits the approved waiver and perhaps holds another round of public comment on the most recent version of the waiver (which, as the lawsuit points out, was never submitted for public comment). The Biden administration could consider any new comments in reevaluating approval of the Georgia Access Model.

If the federal government newly concludes that the proposal fails to satisfy the substantive guardrails, it could have grounds to amend, suspend, or terminate Georgia’s waiver, so long as certain procedures are followed. This is because the terms and conditions of the waiver agreement between the federal government and Georgia (as well as implementing regulations) always give the federal government “the right to suspend or terminate a waiver, in whole or in part, any time before the date of expiration, if the Secretaries determine that the state materially failed to comply with the terms” of the waiver.

Georgia’s waiver agreement includes some unique terms and conditions relative to waivers in other states. Those terms seem designed to limit the federal government’s ability to suspend or terminate Georgia’s waiver. But the federal government can do so as long as it complies with relevant procedures. This includes notifying Georgia of its determination, providing an effective date, and citing reasons for the amendment or termination (i.e., why the Georgia Access Model fails to satisfy Section 1332’s substantive guardrails). Georgia would have 90 days to respond, with the possibility of providing a corrective action plan to come into compliance with the waiver conditions. Georgia must also be given an opportunity to be heard and challenge the suspension or termination.

Alternatively, the Biden administration could regularly assess and monitor the state’s compliance with the terms and conditions and its progress, or lack thereof, in implementing the Georgia Access Model. Federal officials do this with all waivers. Under the waiver approval, Georgia must, for instance, satisfy requirements related to funding, reporting and evaluation, development of an outreach and communications plan, and operational standards for eligibility determinations. If Georgia fails to comply with these terms and conditions, that too would be grounds to initiate the process to amend or terminate parts or all of Georgia’s waiver.

Coverage Provisions In Biden’s American Rescue Plan

On January 14, a few days before taking office, President Biden issued a 19-page fact sheet outlining his proposed American Rescue Plan to contain the COVID-19 virus and stabilize the economy. The announcement praised the bipartisan package adopted in December 2020 as “a step in the right direction” but notes that Congress did not go far enough to fully address the pandemic and economic fallout. Following Inauguration Day, Biden is expected to lay out an additional economic recovery plan. 

Among many other initiatives, the comprehensive $1.9 trillion plan would provide funding for a national vaccination program, create a new public health jobs program, provide funding for schools to reopen safely, extend and expand emergency paid leave, extend and expand unemployment benefits, raise the minimum wage, and deliver $1,400 in support for people across the country. The Biden plan also calls for preserving and expanding health insurance, noting that 30 million people were uninsured even before the pandemic and that millions may have lost job-based coverage in 2020.

First, the American Rescue Plan calls for Congress to provide COBRA subsidies through the end of September. Presumably, these subsidies would be available from the beginning of 2021, rather than subsidizing premiums from 2020. COBRA subsidies during an economic emergency are not new. Congress subsidized COBRA premiums during the 2008 recession, with mixed results. Full COBRA subsidies were included in the original Heroes Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May 2020, although not in the revised Heroes Act that was passed by the House in October 2020. But neither bill was ever taken up by the U.S. Senate. It is not clear from the fact sheet whether the Biden administration is aiming for full COBRA subsidies where the government would pay 100 percent of the premiums for COBRA coverage for laid-off workers and furloughed employees—or some other amount (e.g., 80 percent of premiums).

Second, the American Rescue Plan would accomplish one of candidate Biden’s key campaign promises by expanding and increasing the value of premium tax credits under the ACA. Democrats in Congress have repeatedly passed legislation that would accomplish what the American Rescue Plan fact sheet seems to call for. For instance, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act—passed by the House in July 2020—would have expanded the availability of premium tax credits to those whose income is above 400 percent of the federal poverty level and made those credits more generous by reducing the level of income that an individual must contribute towards their health insurance premiums to 8.5 percent for those with the highest incomes. This subsidy expansion and enhancement would improve the affordability of coverage for millions of Americans who purchase coverage in the individual market.

Beyond COBRA and ACA subsidies, the American Rescue Plan calls for additional funding for veterans’ health care needs and for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Health Resources and Services Administration to expand access to behavioral health services. The proposal would also increase the federal Medicaid assistance percentage (FMAP) to 100 percent for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines to help ensure that all Medicaid enrollees will be vaccinated. The proposal does not appear to otherwise mention Medicaid, which is serving as a key safety net as incomes have dropped for millions of Americans, despite bipartisan support for an enhanced FMAP during the pandemic.

About 523,000 people select healthcare plans in the fourth week of open enrollment

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/about-523000-people-select-healthcare-plans-fourth-week-open-enrollment

More than 818,000 people select healthcare plans in first week of open  enrollment | Healthcare Finance News

That brings the total number of enrollees to 2.9 million, a slight jump over last year but with more days to sign up over 2019.

During the fourth week of the 2020 open enrollment period, from November 22-28, 523,020 people selected plans using the HealthCare.gov platform.

That brings the total number of enrollees to 2,903,547 after the first four weeks of open enrollment. That’s an increase of 523,020 people from last year, which saw 2,380,527 consumers sign up for plans after the first four weeks.

It’s important to note, however, that in 2020 there were more days in this four-week period than last year, since the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services measures enrollment Sunday through Saturday. Nov. 1 was on a Sunday this year and on a Friday in 2019, so the first week of 2019 had only three days, while the first week this year measured a full seven.

The numbers are a dip from the third week of open enrollment, during which 758,421 signed up for coverage. 

The HealthCare.gov platform is used by the federally facilitated exchange and some state-based exchanges. Notably, New Jersey and Pennsylvania transitioned to their own platforms for 2021, and due to this they’re absent from HealthCare.gov for 2021 coverage. Those two states accounted for 578,251 plan selections last year, 7% of all plan selections. These enrollees’ selections will not appear in CMS’ figures until it announces the state-based marketplace plan selections.

Open enrollment lasts six weeks and ends on December 14. Those who sign up within that time frame will see their coverage begin January 1, 2021.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

This is the fourth snapshot of open enrollment figures by CMS during this sign-up period.

Of those selecting plans, 138,183 were new consumers, while 384,837 were renewing coverage. This brings the total number of new consumers to 659,455 since the beginning of open enrollment, while the tally for those renewing coverage now stands at 2,244,092. More than 4,386,530 consumers have been on the applications submitted to date.

A consumer is considered to be a new consumer if they did not have 2020 exchange coverage through Dec. 31 of this year and had a 2021 plan selection. They’re considered a renewing consumer if they have 2020 exchange coverage through Dec. 31 and actively select either the same plan or a new plan for 2021.

The numbers represent those who have submitted an application and selected a plan, net of any cancellations from a consumer, or cancellations from an insurer. The weekly metric represents the net change in the number of uncanceled plan sections over a given period.

Plan selections will not include those consumers who are automatically re-enrolled into a plan. To have their coverage effectuated, consumers generally need to pay their first month’s health plan premium. CMS did not report the number of effectuated enrollments.

In all, there were 1,749,555 HealthCare.gov users recorded during the fourth week, and 57,502 of the Spanish-speaking equivalent, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, bringing the four-week totals to 9,582,790 and 317,487, respectively.

To date, Florida tops in the number of plan selections over the first four weeks with 871,361 sign-ups, followed by Texas (471,849) and Georgia (198,090).

THE LARGER TREND

President-elect Joe Biden has said he is favorable to strengthening and expanding the Affordable Care Act, and favors a government-run public option to run parallel with private offerings.

But prior to Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, CMS may release a final rule based on a proposed rule it released late on Thanksgiving Eve to allow states to implement Section 1332 waivers to waive certain ACA requirements. This allows states to decentralize enrollment through insurers and web brokers. Opponents have said this will expose consumers to junk plans. 

Georgia has already been approved for such a waiver.

According to a recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, insurer participation in the ACA marketplace in 2021 is seeing a third straight year of growth as several insurers are entering the market or expanding their service area.

For 2021, 30 insurers are entering the individual market, and an additional 61 are expanding their service area within states.

ACA Section 1332 State Innovation Waivers Update

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200729.217545/full/

Tracking Section 1332 State Innovation Waivers | KFF

On July 24, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Treasury Department approved Pennsylvania’s waiver application to operate a state-based reinsurance program under Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This makes Pennsylvania the thirteenth state to be approved for a state-based reinsurance program. This post also summarizes the newest waiver proposal in Georgia.

Pennsylvania’s Waiver And More On Section 1332 Waivers

In late June, Pennsylvania received federal approval for a five-year reinsurance program beginning with the 2021 plan year. The state’s $139.3 million reinsurance program is expected to reduce premiums by about 4.6 percent (relative to what premiums would have been in the absence of the waiver) and increase enrollment in the individual market by about 0.5 percent in 2021. The federal government will contribute $95.1 million while state funds would account for about $44.2 million.

Implementation of the reinsurance program will coincide with a transition away from the federal marketplace to the new state-based marketplace, the Pennsylvania Health Insurance Exchange (Exchange). Both the reinsurance program and the Exchange were created in the same piece of 2019 legislation, which requires the Exchange to assess and collect fees—up to 3.5 percent of total monthly premiums—to support the reinsurance program. Pennsylvania expects to set the initial user fee at 3 percent of total monthly premiums. Each year, the Exchange will collect the user fee from insurers, deduct its operating expenses, and transfer the remaining funds to a reinsurance fund. In making reinsurance payments to insurers, Pennsylvania intends to first exhaust federal pass-through funding and then user fee revenue.

Based on CMS data, Pennsylvania insurers paid HealthCare.gov user fees of about $98.1 million for 2018 and about $83.1 million for 2019. (CMS has released 2018 and 2019 user fee data for each state that uses HealthCare.gov.) User fees in 2018 and 2019 were set at 3.5 percent of premiums, although the federal user fee was reduced to 3 percent for 2020.

Like nearly all states with reinsurance programs, Pennsylvania will use an overall attachment point model with parameters set annually by the insurance department. For 2021, the program is expected to reimburse insurers for 60 percent of claims between $60,000 and $100,000. To ensure program flexibility, the insurance department can make payments on a pro rata basis if funding is insufficient. Pennsylvania also intends to leverage the EDGE server maintained by CMS to determine how much each insurer is due. (This issue—whether and how states could leverage EDGE server infrastructure for reinsurance—has come up in at least one other state as well.)

Pennsylvania’s waiver application was submitted on February 11 and deemed complete on March 12. Federal regulators received and considered two supportive comments on the state’s application. In an approval letter to Commissioner Jessica Altman on July 24, the Departments laid out specific terms and conditions that the state must accept within 30 days for the waiver to go into effect. Once the waiver is accepted, the Departments will notify Pennsylvania of its amount of pass-through funding for 2021.

With Pennsylvania, 14 states have approved Section 1332 waivers. All but one approved waiver has been for a state-based reinsurance program, and CMS released a report on the effect of the 12 already-established state-based reinsurance programs. The report identifies the funding source for each state, program parameters, the impact on premiums by state and year, insurer participation, and enrollment. The average premium reduction for 2020 across all states was 17.7 percent. New Hampshire may be soon added to this list for 2021: the state’s waiver application was submitted in late April.

Latest On Georgia’s Waiver Application

Georgia submitted a waiver application in late December 2019. As discussed more here, Georgia’s application had two phases: phase one is for a reinsurance program and phase two involves much broader changes to the state’s individual market known as the “Georgia Access” model. Phase one was deemed complete on February 6, and review of phase two was “paused” to Georgia leaders could submit additional information.

Under the original Georgia Access Model, Georgia would have eliminated the use of HealthCare.gov, transitioned consumers to decentralized enrollment through private web-brokers and insurers, established its own subsidy structure, enabled the subsidization of plans that do not comply with all the ACA’s requirements, and capped enrollment if subsidy costs exceed federal and state funds. The proposal was criticized for jeopardizing access to comprehensive coverage and failing to satisfy Section 1332’s statutory guardrails.

About five months after review was “paused,” Georgia modified its waiver application, requesting that its reinsurance program be approved for 2022 (rather than 2021) and abandoning some initial components of phase two. The new waiver application was posted in early July and exposed for public comment until July 23.

The main change for phase two is that Georgia would no longer develop its own state-specific subsidy structure. Georgia would validate a consumer’s eligibility for premium tax credits and then send this information to the federal government. The federal government would then issue the subsidies to insurers and reconcile subsidies during tax season. Subsidies would only be available for qualified health plans under the ACA, as they are now. But Georgia wants to conduct its own eligibility determinations because it believes doing so will be more accurate: the state can leverage existing infrastructure, use more recent employment data, and integrate Medicaid eligibility determinations.

The waiver would, however, still eliminate the use of HealthCare.gov, which would make Georgia the only state to do so. Marketplace consumers would be forced to transition to a highly decentralized enrollment system that uses web-brokers and insurers. As a summary of the revised application puts it, Georgia will “transition responsibility for front-end functions of consumer outreach, customer service, plan shopping, selection, and enrollment from the [federal marketplace] to the commercial market.”

While federal subsidies could not be used towards non-ACA plans, Georgia continues to note that a benefit of moving away from HealthCare.gov to web-brokers and insurers is that residents could “view the full range of health plans” offered in the state. Georgia would leverage enhanced direct enrollment (EDE) standards which, as discussed more below, can lead to significant consumer confusion.

From here, Georgia will presumably respond to the latest round of public comment on its new proposal and then submit its revised application.