KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: The Affordable Care Act Turns 10

KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: The Affordable Care Act Turns 10

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The past decade for the health law has been filled with controversy and several near-death experiences. But the law also brought health coverage to millions of Americans and laid the groundwork for a shift to a health system that pays for quality rather than quantity.

Yet the future of the law remains in doubt. Many progressive Democrats would like to scrap it in favor of a “Medicare for All” system that would be fully financed by the federal government. Republicans would still like to repeal or substantially alter it. And the Supreme Court recently accepted another case that could invalidate the law in its entirety.

In this special episode of KHN’s “What the Health?” host Julie Rovner interviews Kathleen Sebelius, who was secretary of Health and Human Services during the development, passage and implementation of the health law.

Then Rovner, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News, who have all covered the law from the start, discuss the ACA’s past, present and future.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Although the creation of the ACA is often attributed to the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress at the time, work on a health care plan actually began well before then with small-group meetings among stakeholders, congressional hearings across the country and efforts by Sen. Ted Kennedy to galvanize interest. Much of those interactions were bipartisan and included industry leaders too.
  • Despite the vehement Republican opposition to the ACA and its many critical junctures (the death of Kennedy and his replacement by Republican Scott Brown; two tight Supreme Court decisions; and the calamitous debut of the marketplace website, among other issues), the law has proved popular. When Republicans gained control of the White House and Congress, their efforts to repeal the law helped focus consumers’ interest on the law and safeguard it.
  • How will the November election affect the law? If President Donald Trump is reelected, he is unlikely to renew the effort to repeal the law, but that doesn’t mean the assault on the law is over. Efforts to change the ACA could continue through the courts and through administrative rulemaking.
  • If a Democrat is elected, modifications to the law are generally expected to be incremental and perhaps deal with changes such as expanding the number of people getting subsidies and fix some glitches in the law.

 

 

 

Ten Years After: The ACA’s Success in Five Charts

Ten Years After: The ACA’s Success in Five Charts

 

 

 

Taking a look at the Biden healthcare plan

https://mailchi.mp/325cd862d7a7/the-weekly-gist-march-13-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

 

Now that the Democratic primary campaign has produced a clear front runner, it’s worth examining Joe Biden’s healthcare plan, which aims to expand the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by increasing access and affordability. As the graphic above highlights, former Vice President Biden has a broad—if at this point, still fairly high-level—proposal that includes a Medicare-like public option along with a variety of other ACA tweaks that aim to offer consumers more options and lower their healthcare costs.

These include allowing individuals in states without Medicaid expansion to join the pubic option premium-free, providing unlimited subsidy eligibility, and limiting drug price increases to the level of consumer inflation.

An independent analysis projects Biden’s plan would cost $2.25T and add an additional $800B to the deficit over 10 years. While large at first blush, these costs pale in comparison to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan, which would add a projected $12.95T to the deficit over the same period.

Of course, there are still many unanswered questions in Biden’s proposal, including how much consumers would pay under the public option, how much the public option plan would reimburse providers as a percentage of Medicare, and how the public option would impact competition among private insurers.

A public option offered at a significant discount has the potential to drive private plans out of business, which some project could eventually result in Medicare for All as an ultimate consequence. The devil will, as always, be in the details.

 

US Supreme Court Agrees to Review Affordable Care Act — for the Third Time

US Supreme Court Agrees to Review Affordable Care Act — for the Third Time

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The fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is once again in the hands of the US Supreme Court. On March 2, the court announced that it would hear a case challenging the health law, a wide-ranging measure that “touches the lives of most Americans, from nursing mothers to people eating at chain restaurants,” wrote Reed Abelson, Abby Goodnough, and Robert Pear in the New York Times. This will be the third time the court will rule on the ACA since President Barack Obama signed it on March 23, 2010.Essential Coverage

“The justices will review a federal appeals court decision that found part of the law . . . unconstitutional and raised questions about whether the law in its entirety must fall,” reported Robert Barnes in the Washington Post. He noted that it is one of the first cases accepted for the Supreme Court term beginning October 5, which means a decision is not likely until spring or summer of 2021.

Should the court overturn the ACA, many Americans would lose the benefits afforded under the law. As Dylan Scott wrote in Vox, “everything would go: protections for preexisting conditions, subsidies that help people purchase insurance, the Medicaid expansion.”

Let’s break down each of those categories.

Protections for Preexisting Conditions

Before the ACA, people with preexisting conditions, which included common medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, and cancer, were denied health insurance or charged higher insurance premiums. Important benefits like maternity care and mental health services frequently were carved out of the benefit packages in health plans sold in the individual market — that is, outside of employer-sponsored coverage. An issue brief (PDF) by the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that up to 133 million nonelderly Americans have a preexisting condition.

As Andy Slavitt, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President Obama, wrote on Twitter, examples of being charged more included “$4,270 more for asthma, $17,060 for pregnancy, and $160,510 for metastatic cancer.”

Under the ACA, insurers are no longer allowed to deny coverage or charge higher prices to people with preexisting conditions. But if the Supreme Court rules against the ACA, these protections would vanish.

Medicaid Expansion

A key provision of the ACA is expanded eligibility for enrollment in Medicaid, a federally funded state option adopted so far by 36 states and the District of Columbia. More than 12 million adults with low incomes have gained Medicaid coverage through this provision, and research comparing expansion and nonexpansion states has linked expanded Medicaid access to better health outcomes.

According to the Urban Institute, if the ACA is repealed, “the uninsurance rate across all expansion states would increase from 9% of the nonelderly under current law to 17% under repeal. In nonexpansion states, the uninsurance rate would increase from 15% of the nonelderly to 21%.” Many of the newly uninsured would be the result of losing the Medicaid coverage the ACA provided.

“The uninsured rate for Black Americans would increase from 11% to 20% without Obamacare,” Scott reported. “There would also be a dramatic spike in uninsurance among Hispanics.”

Subsidies to Help People Purchase Insurance

To expand access to affordable health insurance for those who can’t get it through their jobs, the ACA offers federal subsidies to people with low and moderate incomes who buy insurance through the ACA insurance exchanges. The subsidies take the form of premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies.

Approximately 9.2 million Americans receive federal subsidies, reported Abelson, Goodnough, and Pear. “On average, the subsidies covered $525 of a $612 monthly premium for customers in the 39 states that use the federal marketplace,” they wrote.

If the ACA is overturned and the subsidies are eliminated, the cost of health insurance would become unaffordable for many of those 9.2 million people, and the uninsured population would soar.

Polls Show Public Support for the ACA

According to the February 2020 KFF Health Tracking Poll, 55% of Americans say they now favor the ACA, a new high compared to approval ratings below 40% as recently as 2016. Today 85% of Democrats express favorable views of the law, compared to 53% of independents and 18% of Republicans.

Though overall support for the health law remains partisan, many of its provisions have broad bipartisan support, KFF staff wrote in Health Affairs. For instance, large majorities of Democrats (94%), independents (88%), and Republicans (77%) have a favorable view of the ACA’s health insurance exchanges, and most Democrats (80%), independents (71%), and Republicans (54%) view the Medicaid expansion favorably.

Rising Health Costs Worsen California’s Coronavirus Threat

The global spread of the novel coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 puts threats to the ACA into perspective. Despite the coverage gains made under the ACA, nearly 28 million Americans remain uninsured, and that number would rise if the law were overturned. As Chris Sloan, associate principal at the consulting firm Avalere Health, told Caitlin Owens in Axios, we “could see uninsured or underinsured patients . . . skipping necessary treatment because they believe they can’t afford it.”

“Some lawmakers are concerned that the tens of millions who are underinsured — Americans with high deductibles or limited insurance — may also be at risk of unexpected expenses as more and more people are exposed to the virus,” Reed Abelson and Sarah Kliff reported in the New York Times.

Kristof Stremikis, director of CHCF’s market analysis and insight team, wrote in a recent blog post, “In an era when the average deductible facing a working family in California now exceeds $2,700, it’s not hard to imagine how many people missed detection and treatment opportunities because they could not afford to pay for them.”

To address some of these concerns, the California Department of Insurance (PDF) and the Department of Managed Health Care (PDF) directed all commercial health plans and Medi-Cal plans to “immediately reduce cost-sharing (including, but not limited to, co-pays, deductibles, or co-insurance) to zero for all medically necessary screening and testing for COVID-19, including hospital, emergency department, urgent care, and provider office visits where the purpose of the visit is to be screened and/or tested for COVID-19.”

Similar policies have been announced by state regulators in Washington and New York, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

 

 

 

President Trump releases his budget and suffers a loss in court

https://mailchi.mp/0ee433170414/the-weekly-gist-february-14-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

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This week, the Trump administration unveiled its $4.8T federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year, including major cuts to spending on healthcare programs.

Rather than proposing specific spending cuts, however, the President’s budget calls for Congress to put forward plans to “advance the President’s health reform vision”—which presumably includes the administration’s recent proposal to allow states to partially convert Medicaid to a block-grant structure—with promised savings of $844B over the coming decade.

Coupled with additional proposals targeting specific changes to Medicaid reimbursement (including further implementation of work requirements for Medicaid enrollees) and reductions in subsidies for Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace consumers, the budget envisions a total of $1T in healthcare cuts over the next 10 years.

Complicating the administration’s vision for Medicaid transformation, however, a federal appeals court on Friday unanimously ruled that the version of Medicaid work requirements proposed by Arkansas is unlawful, because it does not further the statutory purpose of the Medicaid program.

Although the ruling does not impact work requirements programs elsewhere, it does cast a shadow over the administration’s larger attempt to encourage states to implement such policies.

Like the broader fate of the ACA, the future of Medicaid work requirements will ultimately lie in the hands of the US Supreme Court.

The President’s budget, however, will face immediate opposition in Congress, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called it “a complete reversal of the promises [President Trump] made in the campaign and a contradiction of the statements he made in the State of the Union.”

As the general election approaches, voters will eventually have to choose between the conservative vision for healthcare underpinning the President’s budget, and progressive proposals being advanced by Democratic candidates. With healthcare being the number one issue on the mind of the electorate, that choice could not be more stark.

 

 

 

Appeals court strikes down Trump approval of Medicaid work requirements

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/483105-appeals-court-strikes-down-trump-approval-of-medicaid-work-requirements?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=27666

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A federal appeals court on Friday struck down the Trump administration’s approval of Medicaid work requirements in Arkansas, the latest legal blow to one of President Trump‘s signature health initiatives. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that the approval of the work requirements was “arbitrary and capricious.

More than 18,000 people lost coverage in Arkansas due to the work requirements before they were halted by a lower court.

The court found that the Trump administration disregarded the statutory purpose of Medicaid — to provide health coverage — and did not adequately account for the coverage losses that would result from the work requirements. 

“Failure to consider whether the project will result in coverage loss is arbitrary and capricious,” Judge David Sentelle, an appointee of President Reagan, wrote in the opinion.

Requiring Medicaid recipients to work or else lose coverage is a top priority of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. She argues that the policy helps lift people out of poverty by getting them jobs and out of Medicaid into employer-based insurance.

But Democrats and health care advocates have denounced the move, saying it imposes burdensome paperwork requirements on low-income people that cause them to lose coverage even if they are working.

The policy has also faced a string of legal losses, with courts ruling that Congress would need to act to authorize the work requirements. 

Arkansas was the only state where the requirements went into effect before being blocked by the courts. Several other states’ efforts were approved, but the initiatives have been halted as the issue works its way through the courts.

“The Court recognized the tragic harm that these work requirements have caused people in Arkansas doing their best to get ahead,” said Kevin De Liban, an attorney at Legal Aid of Arkansas, which helped challenge the requirements. “Now, more than two hundred thousand Arkansans on the program can rest easier knowing that they’ll have health care when they need it.”

Conservative changes to Medicaid have been a leading priority of the Trump administration, which also recently announced plans to let states block-grant their funding for the program. That move was also denounced by Democrats as inevitably leading to coverage losses and is also likely to be challenged in court.

Kentucky had originally also been part of the work requirement litigation, but a Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, was elected last year and ended the initiative.

 

 

 

President Trump’s budget cuts target Medicaid, Medicare

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/president-trumps-budget-cuts-target-medicaid-medicare?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWVRnM01UZzNaR0V6TTJFNSIsInQiOiJ6aXpsQnNCRjhHdCs4SnN0UytlZnJVUlZUeFdreEZyQ2V6RWE0YklvYmFMOGJnbWpXT3ZHeG0rOHMwNkJPcE9rMUlGb3NzVkpId3NrZHNkZmR2VlZISXZCVGgrbU94cFV3aVlNR1NYamlhazF1R1kzaXd3RXVISm9OSGJoYmVrVCJ9

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Blueprint includes cuts for care in hospital outpatient departments, teaching hospitals and post-acute care providers, AHA says.

President Trump’s proposed $4.8 trillion budget slashes billions of dollars from Medicaid, food stamps and other safety net programs in an attempt to shrink the federal deficit.

Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act see about $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade, according to The Hill. The budget eliminates the enhanced federal match for Medicaid expansion enrollees. An additional $150 billion is expected to be shaved off of Medicaid from the implementation of work requirements, which is expected to result in people losing their healthcare coverage.

The “President’s health reform vision” to ax the Affordable Care Act takes $844 billion over 10 years from the ACA, the report said.

The decrease in federal spending on Medicare would total about $750 billion over 10 years, but that includes shifting two programs out of the budget. After accounting for those changes, the reduction is just over $500 billion, according to CNN. Much of that cut comes from reducing payments to providers.

The budget needs Congressional approval and is not expected to get past a Democratic-controlled House without changes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted: “The budget is a statement of values. Once again, the #TrumpBudget makes it painfully clear how little the President values the good health, financial security and well-being of America’s hard-working families.”

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-MA, said, “When I saw the President’s proposed budget today, I felt an immense sense of relief – relief that there is absolutely no chance of his ruthless cuts to critical programs ever becoming law. Slashing billions from Medicare and Medicaid will only make it harder for Americans to access the healthcare they need.

Cutting nutrition assistance and Social Security benefits for the disabled won’t enable people to get back on their feet financially.”

Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn said, “Under the Constitution, it is Congress’ job to set spending priorities and pass appropriations bills, and as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, my priorities will continue to be making sure our national defense, national laboratories, the National Institutes of Health and national parks have the resources they need. I am encouraged to see the president is calling to end surprise medical billing.”

The budget adds money to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH will invest $50 million for new research on chronic diseases, using AI and related approaches, according to the White House briefing. It adds $7 billion over 10 years to fight opioid abuse and for mental health in the Medicaid program.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid mean uncompensated care to providers, or a reduction in the government payments.

The American Hospital Association said, “The budget request, which is not binding, proposes hundreds of billions of dollars in reductions to Medicare and Medicaid over 10 years.”

AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack said, “Every year, we adapt to a constantly changing environment, but every year, the Administration aims to gut our nation’s healthcare infrastructure. The proposals in this budget would result in hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts that sacrifice the health of seniors, the uninsured and low-income individuals. This includes the one in five Americans who depend on Medicaid, of which 43% of enrollees are children.

“In addition to the hundreds of billions in proposed reductions to Medicare, the blueprint includes cuts we strongly oppose for care in hospital outpatient departments, teaching hospitals and post-acute care providers. These cuts fail to recognize the crucial role hospitals serve for their communities, such as providing 24/7 emergency services. Post-acute cuts threaten care for patients with the most medically complex conditions.”