The showdown between the Biden administration and the state of Texas over Medicaid expansion continued to escalate this week. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said he planned to place a hold on the confirmation of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to become Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), until his concerns over the agency’s move last week to rescind a waiver extension previously granted by the Trump administration were addressed.
The so-called “1115 waiver”—worth more than $11B annually—would have extended by a decade Texas’ ability to use Medicaid funds to cover hospital costs for uninsured residents, rather than expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In rescinding the waiver extension, the Biden administration cited the lack of a public notice process before the waiver was granted, and said that the state’s existing waiver would instead expire next year, as previously scheduled.
Sources inside the administration told the Washington Post last week thatthe move was intended to force Texas’ hand on Medicaid expansion; the state is one of 12 that have not expanded Medicaid, leaving it with the largest share of uninsured residents of any state, with eligibility currently limited to pregnant women, children, people with disabilities, and families with monthly incomes under $300 per month, or 13.6 percent of the federal poverty level.
Enticing the dozen remaining holdout states to expand Medicaid is an important policy priority for the new administration.A key component of the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act is a package of enhanced incentives for those states to expand eligibility, offering an extended 90 percent federal match, in addition to increased funding for existing Medicaid populations.
Although none of the non-expansion states have budged yet, there has been renewed focus among state lawmakers on Medicaid expansion, including in Texas, where the idea had garnered bipartisan support. However, on Thursday, the Texas legislature voted down a proposal aimed at pushing the state toward expanding coverage for the uninsured, by an 80-68 margin. Meanwhile, the rescission of Texas’ waiver has angered the state’s Republican leadership, along with the Texas Hospital Association, whose members have benefited from the waiver’s use of funds to reimburse them for delivering uncompensated care.
While Cornyn’s hold will not ultimately stop the confirmation of the new CMS leader, the escalation on both sides over the past several days surely makes finding a compromise solution less likely. The Biden health policy team is said to be developing a new proposal, as part of an upcoming legislative package, to use the ACA marketplace to offer coverage to people in non-expansion states who might otherwise be eligible for Medicaid—yet another attempt to address one of the longest-standing points of contention stemming from the 2010 health reform law.
The American Rescue Plan stimulus package just sweetened the deal for the twelve holdout states that haven’t yet expanded Medicaid.In exchange for expanding eligibility to the roughly four million adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, new expansion states will also be eligible for afive percent increase in the federal matching rate for their entire traditional Medicaid population for a two-year period.
The graphic above shows the cumulative fiscal impact for holdout states, should all Medicaid-eligible individuals enroll. Since the traditional Medicaid population is so much larger than the expansion population, the temporary increase more than offsets states’ cost to cover their share of the expansion, resulting in an estimated net fiscal benefit of almost $10B. While the net benefit would vary from state to state, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found the two most populous non-expansion states, Texas and Florida, could net up to $1.9B and $1.8B respectively across the two-year period.
Medicaid expansion has had a significant positive financial impact on hospitals, reducing uncompensated care and increasing overall operating margin by an average of 1.7 percent.
A recent analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities founduncompensated care costs as a share of hospital expenses fell an average of 45 percent in Medicaid expansion statesbetween 2013 and 2017. So far, only two states eligible for the enhanced expansion, Alabama and Wyoming, have signaled interest in taking advantage of the new deal. Convincing the remaining ten to follow suit will require intense and coordinated advocacy efforts from the healthcare and business communities. Making the financial case for expansion should prove straightforward, compared to overcoming long-entrenched political opposition.
Under the Biden Administration, the DOJ says the ACA can stand even though there is no longer a tax penalty for not having health insurance.
The Department of Justice, under the Biden Administration, has told the Supreme Court that it has changed its stance on the Affordable Care Act.
The DOJ previously filed a brief contending that the ACA was unconstitutional because the individual mandate was inseverable from the rest of the law.
Following the change in Administration, the DOJ has reconsidered the government’s position and now takes the position that the ACA can stand, even though there is no longer a mandate for consumers to have health insurance or face a tax penalty, according to a February 10 filing.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Hospitals and health systems support the change in position.
“Without the ACA, millions of Americans will lose protections for pre-existing conditions and the health insurance coverage they have gained through the exchange marketplaces and Medicaid. We should be working to achieve universal coverage and preserve the progress we have made, not take coverage and consumer protections away,” said American Hospital Association CEO and president Rick Pollack.
The Supreme Court is expected to return a decision before the end of the term in June.
THE LARGER TREND
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on November 10, 2020 regarding whether the elimination of the tax penalty made the remainder of the ACA invalid under the law.
The DOJ sided with the Trump Administration and Republican states that brought the legal challenge, while 20 Democratic attorneys general supported the ACA and asked the court for quick resolution.
Hospital uncompensated care costs were up from $41.3B in 2018 and $38.4B in 2017, revealing an upward trend, according to AHA data.
Hospital uncompensated care costs increased right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, according to new data from the American Hospital Association (AHA).
AHA data showed that hospitals incurred a new high of $41.61 billing in uncompensated care costs in 2019, the most recent year for which the group had complete data.
Uncompensated care costs in 2019 were up from $41.3 billion in 2018 and $38.4 billion in 2017 and were the second-highest per AHA records. Hospitals reported the most uncompensated care costs in 2013 when they incurred $46.8 billion.
Hospital uncompensated care costs decreased after the all-time high in 2013, but have recently started to tick back up after holding steady at $38.4 in 2016 and 2017.
In just the last 20 years, hospitals of all types have provided more than $660 billion in uncompensated care to patients, AHA reported. And that figure does not fully account for other ways in which provides provide financial assistance to patients of limited means, the group stated.
Each year, AHA aggregates data on uncompensated care, or care provided for which no reimbursement is received by hospitals from patients or payers. The data comes from the group’s Annual Survey of Hospitals, a comprehensive report of hospital financial data.
Uncompensated care is the sum of a hospital’s bad debt and financial assistance it provides, AHA explained.
Bad debt occurs when a hospital does not expect to obtain reimbursement for care provided, such as when patients are unable to pay their financial responsibility and do not qualify for financial assistance or are unwilling to pay their bills.
Hospitals also provide varying levels of financial assistance, AHA added. Financial assistance supports patients who cannot afford to pay and qualify for support from the hospital based on policies it has established based on the facility’s mission, financial condition, and geographic location, among other factors.
Combined, bad debt and financial assistance charges total a hospital’s uncompensated care charges, which is then multiplied by a hospital’s cost-to-charge ratio to determine total uncompensated care costs.
AHA noted that it expressed uncompensated care in costs versus charges because of significant variations in hospital payer mixes. Publishing the information as costs rather than charges enables better comparison across hospitals, the group said.
Nearly half of hospitals (48 percent) have seen bad debt and uncompensated care increase recently as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, an analysis from consulting firm Kaufman Hall revealed.
More than 40 percent of hospitals also reported increases in percentage of uninsured or self-pay patients (44 percent) and the percentage of Medicaid patients (41 percent), which both contribute to unfunded or underfunded care at hospitals.
“The challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have affected nearly every aspect of hospital financial and clinical operations,” Lance Robinson, a managing director at Kaufman Hall, said at the time. “Organizations have responded to the challenge by adjusting their operations and strengthening important community relationships.”
Hospital uncompensated care costs – and bad debt as a result – are likely to increase in 2020 as hospitals come to terms with the impact COVID-19 has had on their financial health.
Already, hospitals have lost an estimated $323 billion in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to earlier projections from AHA.
About half of US hospitals also started the year in the red, AHA and Kaufman Hall stated in a recent report. The organizations predicted that hospital margins would sink to -7 percent in the second half of 2020 without comprehensive financial support from the government, but could decrease to a low of -11 percent if COVID-19 continued to periodically surge as it has.
For instance, in 2020, UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest insurer, became a new entrant in five states, according to the report: Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Twenty states had new entrants to the market.
For 2021, 30 insurers are entering the individual market, and an additional 61 are expanding their service area within states.
There will be an average of five insurers per state in 2021, up from a low of 3.5 in 2018, but still below the peak of six in 2015. Only 10% of counties will have a single insurer offering in 2021, down from 52% of counties in 2018, the report said. Rural areas tend to have fewer insurers in the ACA market.
Often, when there is only one insurer participating on the exchange, that company is a Blue Cross Blue Shield or Anthem plan, the report said. Before the ACA, state individual markets were often dominated by a single Blue Cross Blue Shield plan.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Despite uncertainties surrounding the ongoing pandemic, the end of the individual mandate and the question of whether the Supreme Court will rule next year to invalidate the entire ACA, the numbers show that insurers appear bullish on participation.
Insurers remained profitable during the pandemic due to decreases in healthcare utilization and claims costs. They are on track yet again to owe substantial rebates to consumers based on low medical loss ratios in 2021.
Even with the lack of a mandate, individuals continue to enroll in ACA plans, with enrollment this year more than keeping pace with last year’s figures. Premiums for 2021 are 1-4% below the average.
THE LARGER TREND
The enrollment numbers continue a trend of rising insurer participation in the ACA going into the 2020 market, and lower premiums.
Insurer participation next year equals the average participation levels at the outset of the marketplaces in 2014, according to the KFF report.
Since 2014, the number of insurers participating on the exchanges has been in flux. Going into the 2018 plan year, many insurers left the market or reduced their footprint due to losses in the market.
Millions of Americans are in danger of losing their homes when federal and local limits on evictions expire at the end of the year, a growing body of research shows.
A report issued this month from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the University of Arizona estimates that 6.7 million households could be evicted in the coming months. That amounts to 19 million people potentially losing their homes, rivaling the dislocation that foreclosures caused after the subprime housing bust.
Apart from being a humanitarian disaster, the crisis threatens to exacerbate the coronavirus pandemic, according to a forthcoming study in the Journal of Urban Health.
“Our concern is we’re going to see a huge increase in evictions after the CDC moratorium is lifted,” said Andrew Aurand, vice president of research at the NLIHC and a co-author of the report.
The number of Americans struggling to pay rent has steadily risen since this summer, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. In the latest survey, from early November, 11.6 million people indicated they wouldn’t be able to pay the rent or mortgage next month.
Meanwhile, some renters who are still paying rent are relying on “unsustainable” income to make ends meet. Among those who report trouble making rent, “More than half are borrowing from family and friends to meet their spending needs, one-third are using credit cards, and one-third are spending down savings,” the NLIHC report found.
Approaching a “payment cliff”
In early September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention barred evictions through year-end, describing the move as a public health measure to reduce spread of the coronavirus. The CDC order protects renters earning less than $99,000 if they have lost income during the pandemic and are likely to become homeless if they’re evicted.
Many states and cities also imposed renter protections during the spring and summer, and others established rental assistance programs to help tenants make ends meet. However, both types of programs are quickly expiring.
Once the CDC moratorium expires,Aurand said, “We expect to see a jump in [eviction] filings, and we know that even now, filings are already occurring. Come January, sadly, for a number of tenants, the next step is the landlord will evict them.”
The situation could reach crisis levels in the new year. With Congress yet to pass another coronavirus relief package, about 12 million Americans are set to lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas, a sharp fall in income that would make it harder for many people to pay rent. An abrupt cutoff would slash income by about $19 billion per month, Nancy Vanden Houten, lead economist at Oxford Economics, said in a research note.
Although the Trump Administration has restricted evictions for most households through the end of the year, it did not relieve renters of the need to pay rent. That means many renters may face a “payment cliff” at year’s end, when they must pay several months’ worth of back rent or face eviction.
“If renters are required to quickly repay past due rent or face eviction, the hardship will fall predominantly on lower-income families who have already been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis,” Vanden Houten wrote.
Said Aurand, “If you were a low-income renter before the pandemic and you were hit financially, even if your income starts to recover, you’re going to have a very hard time paying back that rental debt.”
“What we really need is rental assistance,” he noted. “The underlying problem is renters struggling to pay their rent because we’re in an economic crisis, and the moratorium doesn’t address that.”
Academics have also pushed for direct aid to renters and homeowners, citing the extreme economic fallout from the coronavirus and related shutdowns. In Los Angeles, where 1 in 5 renters were late on rent at some point this summer, residents are facing “an income crisis layered atop of a housing crisis,” researchers at the University of California – Los Angeles have said.
“Delivering assistance to renters now can not just stave off looming evictions, but also prevent quieter and longer-term problems that are no less serious, such as renters struggling to pay back credit card or other debt, struggling to manage a repayment plan, or emerging from the pandemic with little savings left,” they wrote in August report. “Renter assistance can also help the smaller landlords who are disproportionately seeing tenants unable to pay.”
A groundswell of evictions would cause enormous financial hardship. Losing a home is one of the most traumatic events a family can experience, with research showing that people who have experienced eviction are more likely to lose their jobs, fall ill or suffer from mental-health consequences. Children whose families are evicted are more likely to drop out of school, while evictions also contribute to the spread of COVID-19, according to a forthcoming study from UCLA viewed by “60 Minutes.“
“We’ve got a country that’s about to witness evictions like they’ve never witnessed before,” Laura Tucker, a social worker for Florida’s Hillsborough County School District, told “60 Minutes.”
“An eviction can impact a family’s ability to re-house for more than 10 years,” she said.
For that reason, housing and public health experts have said that rental aid now
“Now is the time for action to provide emergency rental assistance. A failure to do so will result in millions of renters spiraling deeper into debt and housing poverty, while public costs and public health risks of eviction-related homelessness increase,” the NLIHC report says. “These outcomes are preventable.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case questioning the legality of the ACA on Nov. 10.
Five things to know:
1. At the center of the case is whether the health law should be struck down. In a brief filed June 25 in Texas v. United States, the Trump administration argues the entire ACA is invalid because in December 2017, Congress eliminated the ACA’s tax penalty for failing to purchase health insurance. The administration argues the individual mandate is inseverable from the rest of the law and became unconstitutional when the tax penalty was eliminated; therefore, the entire health law should be struck down.
2. The administration’s brief was filed in support of a group of Republican-led states seeking to undo the ACA. Meanwhile, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is leading a coalition of more Democratic states to defend the ACA before the Supreme Court.
3. The case goes before the Supreme Court days after media outlets projected Joe Biden as the next president of the U.S. President-elect Biden has said he seeks to expand government-subsidized insurance coverage and wants to the bring back the ACA’s tax penalty for failing to purchase health insurance, according to The Wall Street Journal. If a change regarding the tax penalty did occur, the publication notes that Republicans’ argument on severability would no longer apply.
4. The case also goes before the Supreme Court about two weeks after the Senate voted Oct. 26 to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Ms. Barrett previously criticized Chief Justice John Roberts’ 2012 opinion sustaining the law’s individual mandate, The New York Times reported, but she said during her confirmation hearings in October that “the issue in the case is this doctrine of severability, and that’s not something that I have ever talked about with respect to the Affordable Care Act.”
5. According to the Journal, the Supreme Court is not expected to make a decision in the case until the end of June.
In swing states from Georgia to Arizona, the Affordable Care Act — and concerns over protecting preexisting conditions — loom over key races for Congress and the presidency.
“I can’t even believe it’s in jeopardy,” says Noshin Rafieei, a 36-year-old from Phoenix. “The people that are trying to eliminate the protection for individuals such as myself with preexisting conditions, they must not understand what it’s like.”
In 2016, Rafieei was diagnosed with colon cancer. A year later, her doctor discovered it had spread to her liver.
“I was taking oral chemo, morning and night — just imagine that’s your breakfast, essentially, and your dinner,” Rafieei says.
In February, she underwent a liver transplant.
Rafieei does have health insurance now through her employer, but she fears whether her medical history could disqualify her from getting care in the future.
“I had to pray that my insurance would approve of my transplant just in the nick of time,” she says. “I had that Stage 4 label attached to my name and that has dollar signs. Who wants to invest in someone with Stage 4?”
“That is no way to feel,” she adds.
After doing her research, Rafieei says she intends to vote for Joe Biden, who helped get the ACA passed in this first place.
“Health care for me is just the driving factor,” she says.
Even 10 years after the Affordable Care Act locked in a health care protection that Americans now overwhelmingly support — guarantees that insurers cannot deny coverage or charge more based on preexisting medical conditions — voters once again face contradicting campaign promises over which candidate will preserve the law’s legacy.
A majority of Democrats, independents and Republicans say they want their new president to preserve the ACA’s provision that protects as many as 135 million people from potentially being unable to get health care because of their medical history.
President Trump has pledged to keep this in place, even as his administration heads to the U.S Supreme Court the week after Election Day to argue the entire law should be struck down.
“We’ll always protect people with preexisting,” Trump said in the most recent debate. “I’d like to terminate Obamacare, come up with a brand new, beautiful health care.”
And yet the Trump administration has not unveiled a health care plan or identified any specific components it might include. In 2017, the administration joined with congressional Republicans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, but none of the GOP-backed replacement plans could summon enough votes. The Republicans’ final attempt, a limited “skinny repeal” of parts of the ACA, failed in the Senate because of resistance within their own party.
In an attempt to reassure wary voters, Trump recently signed an executive order that asserts protections for preexisting conditions will stay in place, but legal experts say this has no teeth.
“It’s basically a pinky promise, but it doesn’t have teeth,” says Swapna Reddy, a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions. “What is the enforceability? The order really doesn’t have any effect because it can’t regulate the insurance industry.”
Since the 2017 repeal and replace efforts, the health care law has continued to gain popularity.
Public approval is now at an all-time high, but polling shows many Republicans still don’t view the ACA as synonymous with its most popular provision — protections for preexisting conditions.
Democrats hope to change that.
“If you have a preexisting condition — heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer — they are coming for you,” said Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, during her recent debate with Vice President Pence.
Voters support maintaining ACA’s legal protections
In key swing states, many voters say protecting preexisting conditions is their top health concern.
Rafieei, the Phoenix woman with colon cancer, still often has problems getting her treatments covered. Her insurance has denied medications that help quell the painful side effects of chemotherapy or complications related to her transplant.
“During those chemo days, I’d think, wow, I’m really sick, and I just got off the phone with my pharmacy and they’re denying me something that could possibly help me,” she says.
Because of her transplant, she will be on medication for the rest of her life, and sometimes she even has nightmares about being away and running out of it.
“I will have these panic attacks like, ‘Where’s my medicine? Oh my god, I have to get back to get my medicine?'”
Election season and talk of eliminating the ACA has not given Rafieei much reassurance, though.
“I cannot stomach politics. I am beyond terrified,” she says.
And yet she plans to head to the polls — in person — despite having a compromised immune system.
“It might be a long day. But you know what? I want to fix whatever I can,” she says.
A few days after she votes, she’ll get a coronavirus test and go in for another round of surgery.
A key health issue in political swing states
Rafieei’s home state of Arizona is emblematic of the political contradictions around the health care law.
The Republican-led state reaped the benefits of the ACA. Arizona’s uninsured rate dropped considerably since 2010, in part because it expanded Medicaid.
But the state’s governor also embraced the Republican effort to repeal and replace the law in 2017, and now Arizona’s attorney general is part of the lawsuit that will be heard by the Supreme Court on Nov. 10 that could topple the entire law.
Depending on how the Supreme Court rules, ASU’s Reddy says any meaningful replacement for preexisting conditions would involve Congress and the next president.
“At the moment, we have absolutely no national replacement plan,” she says.
Meanwhile, some states have passed their own laws to maintain protections for preexisting conditions, in the event the ACA is struck down. But Reddy says those vary considerably from state to state.
For example, Arizona’s law, passed just earlier this year, only prevents insurers from outright denying coverage — consumers with preexisting conditions can be charged more.
“We are in this season of chaos around the Affordable Care Act,” says Reddy. “From a consumer perspective, it’s really hard to decipher all these details.”
As in the congressional midterm election of 2018, Democrats are hammering away at Republican’s track record on preexisting conditions and the ACA.
In Arizona, Mark Kelly, the Democratic candidate running for Senate, has run ads and used every opportunity to remind voters of Republican Sen. Martha McSally’s votes to repeal the law.
In Georgia, Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff has taken a similar approach.
“Can you look down the camera and tell the people of this state why you voted four times to allow insurance companies to deny us health care coverage because we may suffer from diabetes or heart disease or have cancer in remission?” Ossoff said during a debate with his opponent, Republican Sen. David Purdue.
Republicans have often tried to skirt health care as a major issue this election cycle because there isn’t the same political advantage to pushing the repeal and replace argument, says Mark Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science and law at UCLA.
“It’s political suicide, there doesn’t seem to be any real political advantage anymore,” says Peterson.
But the timing of the Supreme Court case — exactly a week after election day — has somewhat obscured the issue for voters.
Republicans have chipped away at the health care law by reducing the individual mandate — the provision requiring consumers to purchase insurance — to zero dollars.
The premise of the Supreme Court case is that the ACA no longer qualifies as a tax because of this change in the penalty.
“It is an extraordinary stretch, even among many conservative legal scholars, to say that the entire law is predicated on the existence of an enforced individual mandate,” says Peterson.
The court could rule in a very limited way that does not disrupt the entire law or protections for preexisting conditions, he says.
Like many issues this election, Peterson says there is a big disconnect between what voters in the two parties believe is at stake with the ACA.
“Not everybody, particularly Republicans, associates the ACA with protecting preexisting conditions,” he says. “But it is pretty striking that overwhelmingly Democrats and Independents do — and a number of Republicans — that’s enough to give a significant national supermajority.”
Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law a little more than a decade ago, it has fundamentally reshaped the American healthcare system. As the graphic below highlights, the far-reaching law expanded insurance coverage, increased consumer protections, led to new payment models, established minimum coverage standards, reformed the Indian Health Service—and even gave us calorie counts on menus, among myriad other things.
The fate of the ACA is once again in the Supreme Court’s hands—and the nine Justices, now including Amy Coney Barrett, are scheduled to hear arguments starting November 10th. Eighteen states with Republican leadership are asking the court to determine whether the individual mandate is constitutional without a financial penalty, and whether the mandate is severable from the rest of the law.
The process of unwinding a law that touches nearly every facet of the US healthcare system would mean a confusing and financially detrimental road ahead for many.Although we believe it’s unlikely that the entire law will be ruled unconstitutional, if it is—and no replacement legislation is passed—the effects could be devastating.
An estimated 21 million people would be at serious risk of losing their health insurance. This risk is magnified for Hispanic and Black Americans, who are also hardest hit by COVID-19. As many as 133M people with pre-existing conditions could face insurance disqualification or significantly higher premiums.
The lost coverage would result in a significant revenue hit for doctors and hospitals. While the impact would vary by state depending on Medicaid expansion terms, an Urban Institute report projects that total uncompensated care would grow an average of 78 percent for hospitals and 68 percent for physician services if the ACA is struck down. Although the Court is not expected to rule on the fate of the law until mid-2021, the direction and pace of future health reform legislation will be set by the ruling, under either a Trump or Biden administration.
Less than three months from now, either Donald Trump will begin his second term as President, or Joe Biden will begin his first. What the U.S. healthcare system on that date and moving forward could be starkly different depending on who is sworn in.
The policy differences between the two men are essentially on opposite poles. If fully enacted, Trump’s policies could potentially cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their healthcare coverage.Biden’s policies would likely provide healthcare access to tens of millions more Americans compared to today.
In November, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case called California v. Texas. It stems from the 2017 tax bill that zeroed out the penalty individuals paid if they did not obtain health insurance. The argument put forth by the 20 Republican state attorney generals in that case is if the individual mandate no longer has taxing power, the entire law should be declared unconstitutional based upon a lack of severability of the entire law.
Many legal scholars have noted that this case is premised on a shaky argument. But with a 6-3 majority of conservative justices now on the high court, many bets are off as to the ACA’s survival. And President Trump just said in an interview with “60 Minutes” he fervently hoped the ACA is eliminated. He put forth no alternatives to the ACA in that interview.
Should the ACA be declared unconstitutional, health insurance for some 23 million people would be imperiled. That includes some 12 million Americans who are eligible for Medicaid under the ACA’s expanded income guidelines, and another 11 million who purchase insurance on the state and federal health insurance exchanges – roughly 85% of whom receive premium subsidies that make it more affordable. Moreover, another 14 million Americans who are estimated to have lost their employer-based health plans during the COVID-19 pandemic may not have another place to turn for coverage.
Before the ACA case, the Trump administration also promoted so-called “off-exchange” health plans, and health sharing ministries. The first is often a form of short-term health insurance, the second operates as a cooperative serving those of the same religious stripe. Both offer health coverage that is potentially cheaper that what is offered on the exchanges, but both also tend to cap it at low dollar levels. Many also bar applicants for a variety of claims, such as for maternity or cancer care, or if they have pre-existing medical conditions – practices prohibited for ACA plans.
Should Trump be re-elected and the ACA survives constitutional muster, expect to see many states apply for more waivers from that law. Georgia just received approval to modestly expand Medicaid eligibility, primarily for those poor already working 80 hours or more a month. The state is also on the cusp of being able to opt out of the healthcare.gov exchange entirely and have consumers work directly with insurance brokers to purchase coverage. However, there is nothing in the pending waiver to prevent those brokers from offering stripped-down coverage without the ACA protections that the Trump administration is already promoting. There could also be more block grants to states for their Medicaid budgets, which most experts have concluded would reduce the number of enrollees in that program.
If Biden is elected and both incoming houses of Congress are also Democratic, the entire Supreme Court case can be mooted simply by reattaching a financial penalty to the individual mandate. That hasn’t been mentioned at all during the campaign, presumably because Biden does not want to discuss what would essentially be a promise to raise taxes. But it is the most direct way to skirt the risk of an adverse Supreme Court decision.
Biden’s campaign has also put forth numerous proposals to enlarge the ACA and the Medicare program. They include expanded premium subsidies for individuals and families to purchase coverage, and a public health plan option – which would allow those who live in the states that have yet to expand Medicaid to obtain coverage. Biden has also proposed a buy-in to Medicare at age 60.
The estimates are that an expanded ACA and other Biden plans could net another 20 to 25 million Americans healthcare coverage. That would leave fewer than 10 million – 2% to 3% of the population – without access to coverage. It would probably be as close to universal healthcare as the United States could get given its current political realities.
The two different approaches will either lead to a country where virtually everyone has access to healthcare coverage and services, or one where 50 million or more people could potentially be uninsured. It’s a shift that could impact a minimum of 45 million people – and that’s not even counting those who lost their coverage during the current public health crisis.
Elections have consequences. Less than three months from now, this one will determine whether the U.S. healthcare system will take one consequential path over another.