KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ California Here We Come

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ California Here We Come

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Health care is a big political issue, but no place more than in California. In San Francisco last week, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure upholding a ban on flavored tobacco products — over the vehement objections of the tobacco industry.

And the state’s activist attorney general, Xavier Becerra, is leading a group of Democratic officials from more than a dozen states defending the Affordable Care Act in a case filed in Texas. That is important given that the Trump administration’s Justice Department decided not to defend the law in full from charges that changes made by Congress in last year’s tax law invalidates the health law.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are: Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Anna Maria Barry-Jester of FiveThirtyEight.com, Carrie Feibel of KQED San Francisco and Joanne Kenen of Politico.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Republicans and Democrats had been gearing up for a midterm election debate on who is responsible for higher health insurance costs. But that shifted last week to an argument over whether consumers with preexisting conditions should be guaranteed coverage following the Justice Department’s brief saying changes to the ACA invalidated those protections.
  • In California, there is widespread support among Democrats for a single-payer health system. But the term is somewhat amorphous. For some officials, it is a catch-all phrase that seems to suggest strong efforts with current programs to get the uninsured rate down to zero, while still keeping much of the current insurance system in place.
  • Becerra has filed a suit against Sutter Health, a giant in the hospital industry in Northern California, alleging that consolidation has resulted in anti-competitive pricing practices.
  • San Francisco’s adoption of a referendum to ban flavored tobacco products could lead other local governments to follow suit. The measure included not only products with flavors allegedly geared to young people, but also menthol cigarettes, which make up about 30 percent of the market.

 

The fight over preexisting conditions is back. Here’s why the Obamacare battle won’t end.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/6/11/17441858/obamacare-repeal-debate-lawsuit

 

There is a persistent divide in the US: Is insurance a privilege to be earned through hard work? Or is it a right?

President Trump and Republicans are so committed to killing Obamacare they’ve decided, just months before the midterm elections, to take aim at the most popular part of the law: coverage for preexisting conditions.

The Trump administration signed on to a long-shot lawsuit this week that would overturn the parts of the law that require insurers to cover preexisting conditions and not charge more for them.

The lawsuit, which you can read more about from Vox’s Dylan Scott, is, in some ways, a perplexing move mere months before midterm elections. Polling finds that both Democrats and Republicans think it’s a good idea to ensure that sick people have access to health insurance.

Politically, though, Republicans spent eight years campaigning on a promise to repeal Obamacare. They believe they have a responsibility to do something, even if the something doesn’t poll well.

But after eight years of covering the Affordable Care Act, I think there is a much deeper tension that keeps the fight over Obamacare alive. It is a persistent, unresolved split in how we think about who deserves health insurance in the United States: Is insurance a privilege to be earned through hard work? Or is it a right?

The United States hasn’t decided who deserves health insurance

Since World War II, the United States has had a unique health insurance system that tethers access to medical care to employment. Changes to the tax code created strong incentives for companies to provide health coverage as a benefit to workers. Now most Americans get their insurance through their employer, and, culturally, health insurance is thought of as a benefit that comes with a job.

Over time, the government did carve out exceptions for certain categories of people. Older Americans, after all, wouldn’t be expected to work forever, so they got Medicare coverage in 1965. Medicaid launched the same year, extending benefits to those who were low-income and had some other condition that might make it difficult to work, such as blindness, a disability, or parenting responsibilities.

Then the Affordable Care Act came along with a new approach. The law aimed to open up the insurance market to anybody who wanted coverage, regardless of whether he or she had a job.

It created a marketplace where middle-income individuals could shop on their own for private health coverage without the help of a large company. It expanded Medicaid to millions of low-income Americans. Suddenly, a job became a lot less necessary as a prerequisite for gaining health insurance.

This, I think, is the divide over health insurance in America. It’s about whether we see coverage as part of work. In my reporting and others’, I’ve seen significant swaths of the country where people push back against this. They see health as something you ought to work for, a benefit you get because of the contribution you make by getting up and going to a job each day.

This came out pretty clearly in an interview I did in late 2016 with a woman I met on a reporting trip to Kentucky whom I’ll call Susan Allen. (She asked me not to use her real name because she didn’t want people to know that she uses the Affordable Care Act for coverage.)

Allen used to do administrative work in an elementary school but now is a caregiver to her elderly mother. Her husband has mostly worked in manual labor jobs, including the coal industry.

Allen told me a story about when she worked in the school. At Christmas, there would be a drive to collect present for the poorest families, presents she sometimes couldn’t afford for her own kids. It made her upset.

”These kids that get on the list every year, I’d hear them saying, ‘My mom is going to buy me a TV for Christmas,’” Allen says. “And I can’t afford to buy my kid a TV, and he’s in the exact same grade with her.”

Allen saw her health insurance as the same story: She works really hard and ends up with a health insurance plan that has a $6,000 deductible. Then there are people on Medicaid who don’t work and seem to have easier access to the health care system than she does.

”The ones that have full Medicaid, they can go to the emergency room for a headache,” she says. “They’re going to the doctor for pills, and that’s what they’re on.”

Is health insurance a right or a privilege?

More recently, Atul Gawande wrote a piece for the New Yorker exploring whether Americans view health care as a right or a privilege.

He reported the story in his hometown in Appalachian Ohio, where he kept running into this same idea: that health insurance is something that belongs to those who work for it.

One woman he interviewed, a librarian named Monna, told him, “If you’re disabled, if you’re mentally ill, fine, I get it. But I know so many folks on Medicaid that just don’t work. They’re lazy.”

Another man, Joe, put it this way: “I see people on the same road I live on who have never worked a lick in their life. They’re living on disability incomes, and they’re healthier than I am.”

As Gawande noted in his piece, “A right makes no distinction between the deserving and undeserving.” But he often found this to be the key dividing line when he asked people whether everyone should have health coverage. Often, it came down to whether that person was the type who merited such help.

This isn’t a debate that happens in most other industrialized countries. If you asked a Canadian who deserves health care, you’d probably get a baffled look in return. Our northern neighbors decided decades ago that health insurance is something you get just by the merit of living in Canada. It’s not something you earn; it’s something you’re entitled to.

But in the United States, we’ve never resolved this debate. Our employer-sponsored health care system seems to have left us with some really deep divides over the fundamental questions that define any health care systems.

Those are the questions we’ll need to resolve before the debate over Obamacare ever ends.

 

 

KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ Health Care Politics, Midterm Edition

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ Health Care Politics, Midterm Edition

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The 2018 midterm elections were supposed to be a referendum on President Donald Trump, not about issues such as health care. Still, voters, Democrats and, to a lesser extent, Republicans seem to be keeping health care on the front burner.

The news from Medicare’s trustees that its hospital trust fund is on shakier financial footing than it was last year, hefty premium increases being proposed in several states and activity on Medicaid expansion all take on a political tinge as the critical elections draw closer.

Also this week, an interview with Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the health insurance industry trade group.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal, Alice Ollstein of Talking Points Memo and Rebecca Adams of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Outside Washington, concerns about health care accessibility and prices remain a big issue.
  • Democrats, looking toward the midterm elections in the fall, think that health care can be a potent issue for them. But many also believe that they can’t just run on complaints that the Republicans are sabotaging the Affordable Care Act. They are seeking to find a message that looks to the future.
  • Republicans see the plans by the White House to implement new regulations that allow expansion of association health plans and short-term health plans as a strong action that will thwart complaints that they haven’t fixed the ACA.
  • The states are beginning to release the initial requests from health insurers for premium increases. They vary substantially, but many appear to be partly attributed to the decision last year by Congress to repeal the penalty for people who don’t get insurance.
  • The report this week by the Medicare trustees that the hospital trust fund is closer to insolvency has ignited Democratic criticism of changes in health care law that were part of the GOP tax cut last year.
  • Arkansas has begun implementing its work requirements for healthy adults covered by the Medicaid expansion. It’s the first state to do that. But critics point out that those adults will have to register their work hours online only — and many do not have access to computers.

 

Health Care and the 2018 Midterms, Attitudes Towards Proposed Changes to Medicaid

https://www.kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-february-2018-health-care-2018-midterms-proposed-changes-to-medicaid/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top-stories

 

KEY FINDINGS:
  • Medicaid continues to be seen favorably by a majority of the public (74 percent) and about half (52 percent) believe the Medicaid program is working well for most low-income people covered by the program.
  • When asked about proposed changes to the Medicaid program, attitudes are largely driven by party identification. A large majority of Democrats (84 percent) and most independents (64 percent) oppose lifetime limits for Medicaid benefits, while Republicans are more divided in their views with half (51 percent) believing Medicaid should only be available for a limited amount of time.

    Poll: Public split on whether adding work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries aims at reducing spending (41%) or lifting people out of poverty (33%) 

  • Party identification also drives views on what individuals believe is the main reason behind some states imposing Medicaid work requirements. A larger share of Democrats and independents believe the main reason for these work requirements is to reduce government spending (42 percent and 45 percent, respectively) than believe it is to help lift people out of poverty (26 percent and 31 percent). On the other hand, a similar share of Republicans say it is to reduce government spending (40 percent) as say it is to help lift people out of poverty (42 percent). Individuals living in states pursuing Medicaid work requirements are also divided on the main reason for these limits, even when controlling for party identification.

    54% of the public now holds favorable views of the Affordable Care Act – the highest share in more than 80 tracking polls 

  • The February Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds a slight increase in the share of the public who say they have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), from 50 percent in January 2018 to 54 percent this month. This is the highest level of favorability of the ACA measured in more than 80 Kaiser Health Tracking Polls since 2010. This change is largely driven by independents, with more than half (55 percent) now saying they have a favorable opinion of the law compared to 48 percent last month. Large majorities (83 percent) of Democrats continue to view the law favorably (including six in ten who now say they hold a “very favorable” view, up from 48 percent last month) while nearly eight in ten Republicans (78 percent) view the law unfavorably (unchanged from last month).
  • The majority of the public are either unaware that the ACA’s individual mandate has been repealed (40 percent) or are aware that it has been repealed but incorrectly think the requirement is not in effect in 2018 (21 percent). Few (13 percent) are aware the requirement has been repealed but is still in effect for 2018.
  • More than twice as many voters mention health care costs (22 percent) as mention repealing/opposing the ACA (7 percent) as the top health care issue they most want to hear 2018 candidates discuss in their campaigns. Health care costs are the top issue mentioned by Democratic voters (16 percent) and independent voters (25 percent), as well as one of the top issues mentioned by Republican voters (22 percent), followed by repealing or opposing the ACA (17 percent).

2018 Midterm Elections

With still a few months until the midterm elections are in full swing, the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds health care costs as the top health care issue mentioned by voters when asked what they want to hear 2018 candidates discuss. When asked to say in their own words what health care issue they most want to hear the candidates talk about during their upcoming campaigns, one-fifth (22 percent) of registered voters mention health care costs. This is followed by a series of other health care issues, such as Medicare/senior concerns (8 percent), repealing or opposition to the Affordable Care Act (7 percent), improve how health care is delivered (7 percent), increasing access/decreasing the number of uninsured (6 percent), or a single-payer system (5 percent). Health care costs is the top issue mentioned by Democratic voters (16 percent) and independent voters (25 percent), as well as one of the top issues mentioned by Republican voters (22 percent), followed by repealing or opposing the ACA (17 percent).

Figure 1: Health Care Costs Are Top Health Care Issue Voters Want 2018 Candidates to Talk About During Their Campaigns

Battleground Voters

Health care costs are also the top issue mentioned by voters living where there are competitive House, Senate, or Governor races. One-fourth (23 percent) of voters in areas with competitive elections mention health care costs when asked what health care issue they most want to hear candidates talk about. Fewer mention other health care issues such as improve how health care is delivered (9 percent) or increasing access/decreasing the number of uninsured (6 percent).

2018 Midterm Election Analysis

As part of Kaiser Family Foundation’s effort to examine the role of health care in the 2018 midterm elections, throughout the year we will be tracking the views of voters – paying special attention to those living in states or congressional districts in which both parties have a viable path to win the election. This group, referred to in our analysis as “voters in battlegrounds” is defined by the 2018 Senate, House, and Governor ratings provided by The Cook Political Report. Congressional and Governor races categorized as “toss-up” were included in this group. A complete list of the states and congressional districts included in the comparison group is available in Appendix A.

The Affordable Care Act

This month’s Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds a slight increase in the share of the public who say they have a favorable view of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). The share of the public who say they hold a favorable view of the law has increased to 54 percent (from 50 percent in January 2018) while 42 percent currently say they hold an unfavorable view. This is the highest level of favorability of the ACA measured in more than 80 Kaiser Health Tracking Polls since 2010.  This change is largely driven by independents, with more than half (55 percent) now saying they have a favorable opinion of the law compared to 48 percent last month. Large majorities (83 percent) of Democrats continue to view the law favorably (including six in ten who now say they hold a “very favorable” view, up from 48 percent last month) while nearly eight in ten Republicans (78 percent) view the law unfavorably (unchanged from last month).

Figure 2: More of the Public Hold a Favorable View of the ACA

Public Awareness of the Repeal of the ACA’s Individual Mandate

The February Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds a slight uptick (from 36 percent in January 2018 to 41 percent this month) in the share of the public who are aware that the ACA’s requirement that nearly all individuals have health insurance or else pay a fine, known commonly as the individual mandate, has been repealed. Yet, misunderstandings persist. The majority of the public (61 percent) are either unaware that this requirement has been repealed (40 percent) or are aware that it has been repealed but incorrectly think the requirement is not in effect in 2018 (21 percent of total). Few (13 percent) are aware the requirement has been repealed but is still in effect for 2018.

Figure 3: Confusion Remains on the Status of the ACA’s Individual Mandate

Medicaid

In recent months, President Trump’s administration has supported state efforts to make changes to their Medicaid programs, the government health insurance and long-term care program for low-income adults and children. Seven in ten Americans say they have ever had a connection to the Medicaid program either directly through their own health insurance coverage (32 percent) or their child being covered by the program (9 percent), or indirectly through a friend or family member covered by the program (29 percent).

Figure 4: Seven in Ten Americans Say They Have Ever Had A Connection to Medicaid

Majority of the Public Holds Favorable Views of Medicaid and Thinks the Program is Working Well

Overall, the majority of the public (74 percent) holds favorable views of Medicaid, including four in ten who have a “very favorable” view. About one-fifth of the public (21 percent) hold unfavorable views of the program. Unlike attitudes towards the ACA, opinions towards Medicaid are not drastically different among partisans and majorities across parties report favorable views. However, a larger share of Republicans do hold unfavorable views (29 percent) compared to independents (21 percent) or Democrats (13 percent).

Figure 5: Large Shares Across Parties Say They Have a Favorable Opinion of Medicaid

In addition, more believe the program is working well than not working well for most low-income people covered by the program. This holds true across partisans with about half saying the Medicaid program is “working well” and about one-third saying it is “not working well.”

Figure 6: Larger Shares Say Medicaid Is Currently Working Well for Most Low-Income People Covered by the Program

Support for Medicaid Expansion in Non-Expansion States

One of the major changes brought on by the ACA was the option for states to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income people. As of February 2018, 18 states have not expanded their Medicaid programs.

Figure 7: Status of Medicaid Expansion Among States

Among individuals living in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs, most (56 percent) say they think their state should expand Medicaid to cover more low-income uninsured people while four in ten (37 percent) say their state should keep Medicaid as it is today. Slightly more than half of Republicans living in non-expansion states say their state should keep Medicaid as it is today (54 percent) while four in ten (39 percent) say their state should expand their Medicaid program. Majorities of Democrats (75 percent) and independents (57 percent) say their state should expand their Medicaid program.

Figure 8: Democrats and Independents Are More Likely to Want Their State to Expand Medicaid Than Republicans

Proposed Changes to Medicaid

SECTION 1115 WORK REQUIREMENT WAIVERS

In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provided new guidance for Section 1115 waivers, which would allow states to impose work requirements for individuals to be covered by Medicaid benefits. As of February 21, CMS has approved work requirement waivers in two states (KY and IN) and eight other states have pending requests.1 When asked what they think the reasoning is behind these proposed changes to Medicaid, a larger share of the public (41 percent) believe the main reason is to reduce government spending by limiting the number of people on the program than say the main reason is to help lift people out of poverty (33 percent). There are differences among demographic groups with a larger share of Democrats and independents believing the main reason is to reduce government spending, while Republicans are more divided with similar shares saying the main reason is to lift people out of poverty (42 percent) as reduce government spending (40 percent).

Figure 9: Republicans Are Divided on the Main Reason Behind the Trump Administration Permitting Work Requirements

There are also differences between individuals living in states that have either filed a Medicaid waiver for a work requirement or have had a waiver approved and those living in states that do not have Medicaid work requirement waivers pending or approved.2 Individuals living in states with pending or approved Medicaid work requirements are divided on whether the main reason for these limits is to lift people out of poverty (37 percent) or reduce government spending (36 percent). This holds true even when controlling for other demographic variables such as party identification and income that may influence beliefs.

Figure 10: Those in States with Medicaid Work Requirements Are Divided on the Main Reason Behind Them

SECTION 1115 LIFETIME LIMIT WAIVERS

In addition to work requirement waivers, five states are currently seeking waivers from the Trump administration to impose Medicaid coverage limits. These “lifetime limits” would cap Medicaid health care benefits for non-disabled adults. When asked how they think Medicaid should work, two-thirds of the public say Medicaid should be available to low-income people for as long as they qualify, without a time limit, while one-third say it should only be available to low-income people for a limited amount of time in order to provide temporary help. The vast majority of Democrats (84 percent) and most independents (64 percent) say Medicaid should be available without lifetime limits, while Republicans are divided with similar shares saying they favor time limits (51 percent) as saying they do not favor such limits (47 percent). Seven in ten (71 percent) of individuals who have ever had a connection to Medicaid say they do not support lifetime limits compared to three in ten (28 percent) who say it should only be available for a limited amount of time in order to provide temporary help.

Figure 11: Majorities of Democrats and Independents Say Medicaid Should Be Available Without a Time Limit; Republicans Are Divided