The GOP is getting closer to passing its tax bill. Here’s what it could mean for health insurers

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/gop-tax-reform-bill-health-insurers-individual-mandate?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTTJFMk1XWm1aalV4WVRsayIsInQiOiJ2STJJYW85ZmhWc0tKakYzU2VlV05Ydk5NbVNpd1orNWt0anFYUW9GcDZkTDBMSmJlTGs0XC9tNDBIT3RmMDhzdmtFazBaTWpDYm9hMVplUjhSTElrSVgreHBJd3FLXC9YaHhzMXpPR2Y4MHVNRVJqcDVvMDVzOGdGQUNIMCtobDZtIn0%3D&mrkid=959610

man counting money

The House and Senate have agreed upon a unified tax overhaul bill, putting Republicans on the fast track to pass legislation that has significant implications for the health insurance industry.

For one, the compromise tax bill will repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalty, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement on Wednesday. To McConnell, axing the mandate will offer “relief to low- and middle-income Americans who have struggled under an unpopular and unworkable law.”

Health insurers and the healthcare industry at large have opposed removing the key ACA provision without a viable alternative to encourage healthy consumers to buy coverage, arguing that doing so will destabilize the individual markets. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repealing the mandate would increase the number of uninsured people by 13 million over the next 10 years and hike individual market premiums by 10% during most years of that decade.

Yet while the individual mandate repeal is problematic for insurers that do business on the ACA exchanges, nearly all insurance companies stand to gain from the GOP tax bill overall, according to Leerink Partners analyst Ana Gupte, Ph.D. She estimates that insurers can capture about 10% to 15% of the potential 25% upside from the legislation, subject to regulatory constraints such as medical loss ratio rules and competitive pricing constraints.

Likely the biggest gain for insurers is the fact that, per the New York Times, the compromise bill sets the corporate tax rate at 21%—significantly lower than the current rate of 35%.

Though the House and Senate have ironed out the differences in their bills, the final version still must be approved by both chambers. GOP leaders have but two votes to spare in the Senate, and will likely have to include two bipartisan measures to shore up the ACA in Congress’ year-end spending bill to win the support of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Collins said on Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence assured her that those measures would make it into the spending bill, according to The Hill. Yet some House conservatives have expressed opposition to the bills, which would provide funding for cost-sharing reduction payments and state-based reinsurance programs, among other provisions.

Meanwhile, the results of the headline-grabbing Senate race in Alabama have put a major crimp in Republicans’ plans to retry repealing the ACA. Once Democrat Doug Jones officially takes his seat, the GOP will have an even slimmer majority in the Senate, where the defection of a handful of moderate Republicans was already enough to kill several repeal bills earlier this year.

 

Tax Bill Threatens Our Health and Our Democracy

http://www.chcf.org/articles/2017/12/tax-bill-threatens-our-democracy

Related image

 

Earlier this month, the Senate passed legislation that would overhaul the tax code, make dramatic changes to federal health care policy, and undermine the budgets of Medicaid and Medicare, two pillars of the American health care system. The House and Senate are now trying to reconcile their two tax bills. Each passed the legislation on a party-line vote, with one Republican voting against the bill in the Senate.

Congress is now one step away from passing a tax bill that will have a profound effect on the health and well-being of Americans for a generation. No one should forget that, to get this close, the Senate rushed to approve a deeply unpopular proposal with little transparency and due diligence — and no bipartisanship. Left unchecked, these actions will harm millions of Americans — and American democracy itself.

Even though the legislation has been framed as a tax bill, it is very much a health care bill. The Senate bill would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate, which would lead to the destabilization of the individual health insurance market. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that this change alone would increase individual premiums by 10% a year and cause as many as 13 million Americans to join the ranks of the uninsured by the end of the next decade. In California, the uninsured population would grow by 1.7 million people. Congress may still pass separate legislation to restore some stability to the individual market, but the leading proposals are too modest to prevent much damage.

Seismic Impact

On its own, the language in the tax bills would trigger a major earthquake in the health care system, and the aftershocks of this tax bill would be just as dangerous. By eliminating more than $1 trillion of federal revenue, the administration and congressional leaders are manufacturing a budget crisis that would likely lead to automatic cuts to Medicare under federal rules. The CBO, which examined the House bill, has estimated that those cuts could be around $25 billion a year. Republican leaders have also indicated they intend to use the revenue shortfall that they are engineering with this tax bill to seek deep cuts in safety-net programs, starting with Medicaid.

This isn’t merely about what the legislation will do to health care, because it also would exacerbate inequality and worsen health disparities in this country. Under both the House and Senate bills, low- and middle-income families would pay more in taxes and have a harder time paying not just for health care, but also for food, housing, child care, education, and other basic needs. When people struggle so much to make ends meet, they suffer more from illness and die younger. And if inequality keeps getting worse, it will undermine the economic, social, and political stability upon which our nation depends.

The burden on Californians would be particularly heavy. Our families would no longer be able to deduct what they pay in state and local taxes on their federal tax returns. This change alone would take more than $112 billion a year out of the pockets of hardworking Californians — more than any other state. The fact that Californians would be paying more in federal taxes would inevitably put new pressure on our state and municipal governments to reduce their taxes. Under that scenario, it is not hard to imagine a new wave of painful state and local budget cuts.

The irony is that California actually has the power to stop this runaway train. If the entire California congressional delegation worked together to protect their constituents, and if they were united and strong, they could prevent many — if not all — of the worst provisions in the tax bills from becoming law.

This moment is a test of leadership. Nothing less than the health of our people — and our democracy — are at stake.

AARP: Congress must prevent ‘sudden cut’ to Medicare in 2018

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/363825-aarp-congress-must-prevent-sudden-cut-to-medicare-in-2018

Image result for medicare cuts

The AARP is urging House and Senate leaders to waive congressional rules so the Republican tax bill doesn’t trigger deep cuts to Medicare.

If Republicans pass their tax bill, which would add an estimated $1 trillion to the federal deficit, congressional “pay-as-you-go” rules would require an immediate $150 billion in mandatory spending cuts to offset the impact.

“The sudden cut to Medicare provider funding in 2018 would have an immediate and lasting impact, including fewer providers participating in Medicare and reduced access to care for Medicare beneficiaries,” AARP said in a letter sent to congressional leaders Thursday.

Under the bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Medicare would be faced with a $25 billion cut in fiscal 2018.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have promised the cuts won’t happen.

In a joint statement sent just ahead of the Senate vote on the tax bill last week, Ryan and McConnell said there is “no reason to believe that Congress would not act again to prevent a sequester, and we will work to ensure these spending cuts are prevented.”

Lawmakers have voted numerous times in the past to waive the rule, and even House conservatives have said they’ll likely support a waiver once the tax bill passes.

“I can’t imagine any scenario where there’s not a waiver for PAYGO,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Wednesday. “It’s using a hammer when maybe a scalpel would do.”

But in the Senate at least, Republicans will need the support of Democrats to waive the rules. So far, they have been reluctant to offer it.

 

ObamaCare fight could threaten shutdown deal

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/364046-obamacare-fight-could-threaten-shutdown-deal

ObamaCare fight could threaten shutdown deal

A fight over ObamaCare is spilling into Congress’s December agenda, threatening lawmakers’ ability to keep the government open.

President Trump signed stopgap legislation Friday aimed at averting a shutdown and keeping the government funded through Dec. 22. The bill allows lawmakers to focus on the next — and seemingly more difficult — negotiating period.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have a host of priorities they want to include in the bill, but the question of funding ObamaCare’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments appears to have divided Republicans.

Senate Republicans want to include the cost-sharing payments in the spending package, but House conservatives have little interest in funding subsidies they see as bailing out a law they despise.

Senate Republican leaders view the payments as a necessary bargaining chip.

In order to pass their tax-reform bill and get a much-needed legislative victory, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a deal with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key swing vote.

In exchange for Collins’s vote for the tax bill, McConnell gave an “ironclad commitment” to pass a pair of bipartisan bills.

One bill, sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would temporarily fund the cost-sharing payments. Another would provide “reinsurance” — money to pay for the costs of sick enrollees and bring down premiums.

Together, the bills would shore up ObamaCare’s insurance markets, which experts predict could be gutted by a provision of the tax bill that repeals the mandate to buy health insurance.

But the commitment to Collins came from McConnell, who can’t force the House to take up legislation. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hasn’t given any indication that he would support passing the ObamaCare bills, though he also hasn’t ruled it out.

“I wasn’t part of those conversations,” Ryan told reporters Thursday when was asked about McConnell’s promise to Collins. “I’m not deeply familiar with those conversations.”

Earlier in the week, Ryan reiterated his commitment to repealing ObamaCare, but didn’t tip his hand on the spending bill.

“We think health care is deteriorating. We think premiums are going up through the roof, insurers are pulling out and that’s not a status quo we can live with,” Ryan said.

House conservatives have also said they have little energy for passing a government funding bill that contains any ObamaCare provisions.

“None of us voted in favor of ObamaCare, so supporting it, sustaining it’s not exactly a high objective,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a leadership ally.

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said that he had been assured by House leaders that ObamaCare payments would not be attached to the next funding bill.

“The three things that we’ve been told are not going to happen as part of our agreement: no CSRs, no DACA, no debt limit,” Walker said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offered protections for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children. Trump ended the program with a six-month delay in September.

When asked about any assurances made to Walker, Ryan’s office declined to comment on member discussions.

Separately, Walker said any effort to add ObamaCare provisions to the spending bill would cost Republicans more votes from the GOP than they would gain with Democratic lawmakers.

If the Senate includes ObamaCare payments in the funding package, it could force a showdown with House Republicans, who would be under pressure to pass the Senate’s bill or risk a shutdown.

For now, Democrats are trying to maximize their leverage and are content to let Republicans fight among themselves.

Republicans need at least eight Democrats to break a filibuster in the Senate for any spending bill, and often rely on Democrats to make up for GOP defections in the House.

Alexander, who has long pushed for his bill to be included in a year-end spending bill, dismissed the idea that Republican senators need to pressure their House colleagues.

“The president’s for it, Sen. McConnell’s for it, most Republicans in the House have voted for both two years of cost sharing” and reinsurance in the past, Alexander said. “I feel pretty good about it.”

 

 

Tax Bill Is Likely to Undo Health Insurance Mandate, Republicans Say

Image result for Tax Bill Is Likely to Undo Health Insurance Mandate, Republicans Say

House and Senate negotiators thrashing out differences over a major tax bill are likely to eliminate the insurance coverage mandate at the heart of the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers say.

But a deal struck by Senate Republican leaders and Senator Susan Collins of Maine to mitigate the effect of the repeal has been all but rejected by House Republicans, potentially jeopardizing Ms. Collins’s final yes vote.

“I don’t think the American people voted for bailing out big insurance,” said Representative Dave Brat, Republican of Virginia, who opposes a separate measure to lower insurance premiums that Ms. Collins thought she had secured.

The sweeping tax overhaul approved Saturday by the Senate would eliminate penalties for people who go without insurance, a change not in the tax bill passed last month by the House. But the House has voted many times to roll back the mandate, most recently in a bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and House members were enthusiastic about going along.

“Mandating people to buy a product was a bad idea to begin with,” said Representative Rob Woodall, Republican of Georgia. “We made people do something that was supposed to be good for them. But they are telling us by the millions how much they dislike the mandate.”

The individual mandate was originally considered indispensable to the Affordable Care Act, a way to induce healthy people to buy insurance and thus to hold down insurance premiums for sicker customers. The Obama administration successfully defended the mandate in the Supreme Court. But recent economic research suggests that the effect of the mandate on coverage is somewhat smaller than previously thought.

With little more than a week remaining until the annual open enrollment period ends, 3.6 million people have selected health plans for 2018 in the 39 states that use the federal marketplace, the Trump administration reported Wednesday. That is 22 percent higher than at this point last year, despite uncertainty about the mandate’s future and efforts by Republicans and the administration to undermine the law.

But because the sign-up period is only half as long, it appears likely that enrollment will end up lower than in the last period.

Without a mandate, some healthy people are likely to go without coverage, leaving sicker people in the market, and prices are likely to rise more than they otherwise would. The Congressional Budget Office said last month that repealing the individual mandate would increase average premiums on the individual market about 10 percent, and it estimated that the number of people without health insurance would rise by 13 million.

Regardless, the requirement has proved to be one of the most unpopular parts of the 2010 law, and House Republicans were happy to see it go. Representative Richard Hudson, Republican of North Carolina, called the Senate provision “a great move.”

The repeal also frees up money that Congress can use to reduce tax rates. The budget office said it would save the federal government more than $300 billion over 10 years — mainly because fewer people would have Medicaid or subsidized private insurance.

The mandate repeal’s effect on health insurance markets did concern Ms. Collins, and to win her vote for the Senate tax bill, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, offered her a deal, in writing: He would support two bipartisan bills to stabilize markets and hold down premiums, in the absence of the individual mandate.

One bill would provide money to continue paying subsidies to insurance companies in 2018 and 2019 to compensate them for reducing out-of-pocket costs for low-income people. President Trump cut off the “cost sharing” subsidies in October, more than a year after a federal judge ruled that the payments were unconstitutional because Congress had never explicitly provided money for them. The payments would resume under this measure, drafted by Senators Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, and Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington State.

The second bill would provide $5 billion a year for grants to states in 2018 and 2019. States could use the money to help pay the largest health claims, through a backstop known as reinsurance, or to establish high-risk pools to help cover sick people.

Ms. Collins has released a copy of her agreement with Mr. McConnell in which he pledged to support passage of the two measures before the end of the year. His signature was displayed prominently at the top of the first page. But the deal has landed with a thud in the House, where Republicans appear loath to support legislation that they view as propping up a health law that they have pledged to repeal.

“Our members wince at voting to sustain a system that none of them supported,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma.

The Senate could attach the Alexander-Murray legislation to a government funding measure, hoping that Republicans in the House would be willing to swallow it as part of a measure to avoid a government shutdown. But Mr. Cole said House Republicans would be “very offended” at such an approach.

“I don’t think we’re in the mood to be blackmailed by anybody,” he said.

Mr. Brat, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, assailed the deal with Ms. Collins as an example of horse trading that is characteristic of the Washington swamp that he said voters had repudiated.

Likewise, Representative Mark Walker of North Carolina, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said of the Alexander-Murray bill, “There’s no appetite for that over here.”

Ms. Collins said on Wednesday that she believed the House would “take a serious look” at the two bills intended to hold down insurance premiums and that Mr. Trump, in several recent meetings, had assured her that he also supported those bills.

“I don’t think this effort is over by any means,” Ms. Collins said.

For Democrats, eliminating the insurance mandate penalties provides yet another reason to oppose the tax bill.

“The individual mandate is at the heart of the Affordable Care Act,” said Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina. “Repealing it, as the G.O.P. tax scam does, is a deliberate attempt to undercut the law, create chaos in the health insurance marketplaces, increase premiums and decrease choice and coverage.”

Ms. Murray indicated that even if Ms. Collins secures her deal, Democrats would remain steadfast.

“Our bill, the Alexander-Murray bill, was designed to shore up the existing health care system,” not to “solve the new problems in this awful Republican tax bill,” she said.

Meanwhile, the damage to the Affordable Care Act may already have been done. Daniel Bouton, an enrollment counselor in Dallas, said he worried that the Trump administration’s decision to cut advertising for open enrollment had prevented millions of people from learning about the shortened sign-up period. He also said that the Senate’s recent vote to undo the individual mandate as part of its tax bill would discourage people from signing up.

“You’re going to have people who say, ‘Well, perfect, I don’t have to buy insurance anymore,’” Mr. Bouton said.

 

With House conservatives’ resistance, ACA stabilization bills’ prospects get dimmer

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/aca/house-gop-alexander-murray-collins-nelson-bills?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiT0RnMFkySXdPV0psWldSaCIsInQiOiJQSllQNlpcL2RhTzBDZFwvZXh5M1ZUSDJyUU5JTGw3dnh1QTVac01rZUFcL2pNUUhhMXBaQjBxK29ScHRrOHhsT3d6aE5pcFRJUWd4Sm0rYXA4S0RYVGE2N0czN2hhc2hsXC9EZk9mSGVLR0V1UFlwVDZpQmdkcll0eTBMNDUzTHlIZDIifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610&utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

Image result for free rider problem

Senate GOP leaders won a key swing vote for their tax bill by pledging to pass bipartisan legislation to shore up the Affordable Care Act. But now it looks like those measures’ chances of becoming law are getting dimmer.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wants two bills to pass that she hopes will mitigate the effects of a provision in the tax bill that repeals the individual mandate: the Alexander-Murray bill, which would fund cost-sharing reduction payments for two years, and a bill she co-authored with Democrat Bill Nelson, which provides funding for states to establish invisible high-risk pool or reinsurance programs.

Collins voted for the Senate’s version of the tax bill—a critical win for GOP leaders, as they could only lose two votes and it failed to gain her support for previous ACA repeal bills. But she only did so after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell assured her the two ACA stabilization measures would pass.

Yet while some lawmakers previously said those measures could be tacked on to the short-term spending bill Congress aims to pass this week, congressional aides now say it isn’t likely to be included, according to The Wall Street Journal. Further, while House conservatives have indicated strong support for repealing the individual mandate in the final version of the GOP tax bill, they are far from on board with the two ACA stabilization bills.

For example, Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson said he’s a “hard, hard, very hard no,” on the Alexander-Murray bill, per the WSJ article.

House Speaker Paul Ryan could also be a barrier to passing the two bills. His office told a meeting of congressional leadership offices on Monday that he wasn’t part of any deal between Collins and McConnell, The Hill reported. But his office didn’t say outright that it opposed the bills.

For her part, Collins said it will be “very problematic” if the ACA stabilization bills don’t pass, according to the WSJ. She also won’t commit to voting for the final version of the tax bill until she sees what comes out of a conference committee between the House and Senate.

Even if those measures do pass, there have been questions about whether they would do enough to soften the blow of repealing the individual mandate. The Congressional Budget Office has advised that the Alexander-Murray bill would do little to change its prediction that repealing the mandate would increase the uninsured rate and raise premiums.

A new analysis from Avalere found that Collins’ bill could help stabilize the individual market by increasing enrollment and reducing premiums in 2019, but the consulting firm’s experts cautioned that those effects could be overshadowed by repealing the individual mandate.

 

Senate GOP Tax Cut Bill Heads To Full Senate With Individual Mandate Repeal

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20171117.748105/full/

November 19 Update: Distributional Effects Of Individual Mandate Repeal

Late in the day of November 17, 2017, the Congressional Budget Office released a letter it had sent to Senator Ron Wyden, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, on the Distributional Effects of Changes in Spending Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as of November 15, 2017 as they are affected by repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Responsibility Provision. The letter updated the analysis the JCT had released on November 15 of the distributional effects of the Tax Act that had focused solely on the effects of the legislation on revenues and refundable tax credits. The update also addressed changes the repeal of the mandate would cause in other federal expenditures, including cuts in Medicaid, cost-sharing reductions (which CBO sees as mandatory spending and thus includes in its analysis), and Basic Health Program spending, as well as increases in Medicare disproportionate share hospital payments.

The analysis concludes that under the Tax Bill, federal spending allocated to people with incomes below $50,000 a year would be lower than it would otherwise have been over the next decade. For example, CBO projects federal spending for people with incomes under $10,000 will be $9.7 billion less in 2027 than it otherwise would have been, spending on people with incomes from $10,000 to $20,000 will be $9.8 billion less; spending on people with incomes from $20,000 to $30,000 will be $8.7 billion less, spending on people with incomes from $30,000 to $40,000 will $3 billion less; and spending on people with incomes from $40,000 to $50,000 will be $1.2 billion less. The CBO calculated these figures by calculating the number of people who are projected to drop Medicaid enrollment in each income category and their average Medicaid cost considering age, income, disability status, and whether they gained coverage under the ACA.

More controversially, the CBO determined that individuals with incomes above $50,000 would benefit from the repeal. People with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000 would receive $1.7 billion more and people with incomes over $1 million would receive $440 million more. These increases are due to the increased expenditures on Medicare that will result from the bill, half of which the CBO distributed evenly across the population and half of which it allocated in proportion to each tax filing unit’s share of total income. As the increased Medicare disproportionate share payments are in fact paid directly to providers to cover their costs for serving the uninsured, who will predominantly be low-income, this seems to be an odd way to allocate these expenditures, although it is apparently standard CBO cost allocation practice, and ensuring that hospitals are not overwhelmed by bad debt does benefit people from all income categories.

The CBO specifies that it only considered the cost of the spending or spending reduction to the government, not the value placed on that spending by the recipients of the coverage it would purchase. A person who fails to enroll in Medicaid because the mandate is dropped is unlikely to value it at its full cost. Moreover, and importantly, the CBO did not take into account the cost of the mandate repeal to those who will feel it most acutely—individuals who are purchasing coverage in the individual market without subsidies who will face much higher premiums if the mandate is repealed.

The CBO also failed to consider the medical costs that will be incurred by individuals who drop health insurance coverage or the costs to society generally of a dramatic increase in the number of the uninsured.

Original Post

On November 16, 2017, the Senate Finance Committee approved by a party-line 14-to-12 vote a tax cut bill that will now be sent to the full Senate. The bill includes a repeal of the penalty attached to the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s individual responsibility provision. This provision requires individuals who do not qualify for an exemption to obtain minimum essential coverage or pay the penalty.

A “Twofer” For Republicans: Additional Continuing Revenue And Elimination Of The ACA’s Least Popular Provision

The repeal of the individual mandate was included in the tax bill for two reasons. First, the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT­) scored the repeal as reducing the deficit by $318 billion over ten years. This repeal would provide enough savings, including continuing savings in years beyond 2027, to allow Republicans to permanently reduce the corporate tax rate without increasing the deficit by more than $1.5 trillion or otherwise violating budget reconciliation requirements. Second, it would allow Republicans to get rid of the least popular provision of the ACA, making up in part for their failing to repeal the ACA despite a summer of efforts.

The savings that will supposedly result from the repeal of the individual mandate come entirely from individuals losing health coverage which the federal government would otherwise help finance.  A cost estimate released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on November 8, 2017 projected that repeal of the mandate would cause 13 million individuals to lose coverage by 2017, including five million individual market enrollees, five million Medicaid recipients, and two to 3 million individuals with employer coverage.

The CBO estimated that this loss of coverage would result in reductions over ten years of $185 billion in premium tax credits and $179 billion in Medicaid expenditures and a change in other revenues and outlays of about $62 billion, primarily attributable to increased taxes imposed on people who would lose employer coverage. (The increases would be offset by $43 billion in lost individual mandate penalty payments and a $44 billion increase in Medicare disproportionate share hospital payments to hospitals that bore the burden of caring for more uninsured patients.)

The total reduction in the federal deficit, in the opinion of the CBO, would be $338 billion over ten years. (The difference between the $318 billion in savings in the JCT tax bill score and the $338 billion in the earlier CBO/JCT individual mandate repeal cost estimate is presumably due to the fact that the Finance bill would only repeal the mandate penalty, not the mandate itself, and some individuals would presumably continue to comply with the mandate even without the penalty because it is legally required.) The JCT also projects that the repeal of the mandate will effectively result in a tax increase for individuals with incomes below $30,000 a year because of the loss of tax credits that will accompany the loss of coverage, further tipping the benefits of the tax cut bill toward the wealthy.

Behind The Coverage Loss Estimate

At first glance, the estimate that 13 million would lose coverage from the repeal of the mandate, including five million who would give up essentially free Medicaid, seems improbable.  Moreover, supporters of the tax bill contend that no one would be forced to give up coverage—coverage losses would all be voluntary. And, the argument continues, most of the people who are now paying the mandate penalty earn less than $50,000 a year, so repeal of the mandate will in fact be beneficial to lower-income individuals.

In fact, the CBO’s estimates of coverage losses (and budget savings) may be too high. The November 8 CBO estimates were lower than earlier estimates, and the CBO admits that it is continuing to evaluate is methodology for estimating the effect of the individual mandate. There is substantial confusion regarding the mandate requirement. A fifth of the uninsured, according to a recent poll, believe that the individual market is no longer in effect while another fifth do not know whether it is or not. Compliance with the mandate may already be slipping—the Treasury Inspector General reported in April that filings including penalty payments were as of March 31 down by a third from 2015. Part of the potential effect of repeal is already being felt.

Although the mandate repeal would not go into effect until 2019, media coverage will surely cause even further confusion and even more people to drop coverage, likely dampening enrollment for 2018 in the open enrollment period currently underway.

S&P Global released a report on November 16 estimating that only three to five million individuals would lose coverage from the mandate repeal. Coverage losses of this magnitude, however, would only result in savings of $50 to $80 billion over the ten-year budget window, meaning the tax bill would add another $240 to $270 billion to the deficit and put it in violation of the budget reconciliation rules.

Whatever the level of loss of coverage under a mandate repeal, it is reasonable to believe that it would be extensive. The CBO estimated that repeal of the mandate would drive up premiums in the individual market by 10 percent. Without the mandate, healthy individuals would drop out, pushing up premiums for those remaining in the market. Unlike the increases caused by the termination of cost-sharing reduction payments, this increase would likely be loaded onto premiums for plans of all metal levels and onto premiums for enrollees across the individual market, including off-exchange enrollees. Moreover, repeal of the mandate would likely cause another round of insurer withdrawals from the individual market as insurers concluded that the market was just too risky. Insurers left as the lone participant in particular markets without competition to drive down premiums would likely raise their premiums well above 10 percent.

Who Would Have The Most To Lose From A Mandate Repeal?

The biggest losers from a mandate repeal would be individuals who earn more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level and thus bear the full cost of coverage themselves.  These are the farmers, ranchers, and self-employed small business people who have traditionally bought coverage in the individual market. They are also include gig-economy workers and entrepreneurs who have been liberated by the ACA from dead-end jobs with health benefits to pursue their dreams. Their increased premiums might well offset any tax cut they receive under the bill.

If members of these groups are healthy, they might be able to find cheap coverage through short-term policies which the Trump Administration has promised to allow to last longer than the current three month limit and to be renewable. But those policies will not cover individuals with preexisting conditions.  And if healthy individuals are allowed to purchase full-year “short-term” coverage without having to pay an individual mandate penalty, even more healthy people will leave the individual market, driving premiums up even higher as the individual market becomes a high risk pool for individuals not eligible for premium tax credits. As premiums increased, so would premium tax credits, driving up the cost for the federal government.

The CBO estimate that five million will lose Medicaid coverage seems questionable, as Medicaid coverage is essentially free for most beneficiaries. But, particularly in Medicaid expansion states, there is a thin line between individual market and Medicaid eligibility, and many people who apply for individual market coverage find out that they are in fact eligible for Medicaid. Without the mandate, fewer are likely to apply at all. Moreover, Medicaid does not have open enrolment periods—people can literally apply for Medicaid in the emergency room, and many do. Without the mandate many will likely forgo the hassle of applying (or more likely reapplying) for Medicaid and only get covered when they need expensive hospital care. But they will thereby forgo preventive and primary care that could have obviated an emergency room visit or hospitalization.

Finally, in many families, parents are insured in the individual market but children are on Medicaid or CHIP. Without the mandate, the parents may forgo coverage, causing the children to lose coverage as well—and with it access to preventive and primary care.

The Involuntary Impact From ‘Voluntary’ Coverage Losses

Even if these coverage losses are “voluntary,” they will affect many who continue to want coverage. As already noted, as healthy people leave insurance markets, costs will go up for those who remain behind. Some of these will be people who really want, indeed need, coverage but will no longer find it affordable, and who will thus involuntarily lose coverage. Indeed, this effect may extend beyond the individual market. As healthy individuals drop employer coverage, costs may go up for those employees left behind.

Moreover, the voluntarily uninsured will inevitably have auto accidents or heart attacks or find out that they have cancer. Many will end up receiving uncompensated care, undermining the financial stability of health care providers saddled with ever higher bad debt, and driving up the cost of care for the rest of us.

Republican repeal bills offered earlier this year included other approaches to encouraging continuous enrollment—imposing health status underwriting or late enrollment penalties on those who failed to maintain continuous coverage, for example. The tax bill includes no such alternatives, nor could it.  It may be possible that states could step into the gap. Massachusetts, for example, had an individual mandate penalty even before the ACA; it was the model for the ACA. The District of Columbia Exchange Board has recommended that D.C. impose its own individual mandate tax if the federal mandate ceases to be enforced. Perhaps other states will step into the gap. But I am not counting on many doing so.

The individual mandate is there for a reason. It is intended to drive healthy as well as unhealthy individuals into the individual market and thus make coverage of people with preexisting conditions possible. It has been a significant contributor to the record reductions in the number of the uninsured brought about by the ACA. Without the individual mandate, the number of the uninsured would once again rise. Maybe not by 13 million, but nonetheless significantly.