What the 2018 Midterm Elections Means for Health Care

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/%2010.1377/hblog20181107.185087/full/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=What+the+Midterms+Mean+For+Health+Care%3B+%22Stairway+To+Hell%22+Of+Health+Care+Costs%3B+Patient+Safety+In+Inpatient+Psychiatry&utm_campaign=HAT%3A+11-07-18

Whatever you want to call the 2018 midterm elections – blue wave, rainbow wave, or purple puddle – one thing is clear: Democrats will control the House.

That fundamental shift in the balance of power in Washington will have substantial implications for health care policymaking over the next two years. Based on a variety of signals they have been sending heading into Tuesday, we can make some safe assumptions about where congressional Democrats will focus in the 116th Congress. As importantly, there were a slew of health care-related decisions made at the state level, perhaps most notably four referenda on Medicaid expansion.

In this post, I’ll take a look at which health care issues will come to the fore of the Federal agenda due to the outcome Tuesday, as well as state expansion decisions. And it should of course be noted that, in addition to positive changes Democrats are likely to pursue over the next two years, House control will allow them to block legislation they oppose, notably further GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Drug Pricing

Democrats have long signaled they consider pharmaceutical pricing to be one of their highest priorities, even after then-candidate Trump adopted the issue as part of his campaign platform and maintained his focus there through his tenure as President.

While aiming to use the issue to drive a wedge between President Trump and congressional Republicans, who have historically opposed government action to set or influence prices, Democrats will also strive to distinguish themselves by going further on issues like direct government negotiation of Medicare Part D drug reimbursement.

Relevant House committee chairs, perhaps especially likely Oversight and Investigations chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD), will also take a more aggressive tack in investigating manufacturers and other sector stakeholders for pricing increases and other practices. Democratic leaders believe it will be easier to achieve consensus on this issue than on more contentious issues like single payer (more detail below) among their diverse caucus, which will include dozens more members from “purple” districts as well as members on the left flank of the party

Preexisting Condition Protections

If you live in a contested state or district, you have probably seen political ads relating to protecting patients with preexisting conditions. As long as a Republican-supported lawsuit seeking to repeal the ACA continues, Democrats believe they can leverage this issue to demonstrate the importance of the ACA and their broader health care platform.

A three-legged stool serves under current law to protect patients with chronic conditions: (1) the ban on preexisting condition exclusions; (2) guaranteed issue; and (3) community rating. Democrats will likely seek to bolster these protections with measures to shore up the ACA exchange markets. In the same vein, they will likely strive to rescind Trump Administration proposals to expand association-based and short-term health plans, which put patients with higher medical costs at risk by disaggregating the market.

Opioids

Congressional Democrats believe that there were some stones left unturned in this year’s opioid-related legislation, especially regarding funding for many of the programs it authorized. This is a priority for likely Ways & Means Committee Chair Richie Neal (D-MA) and could potentially be a source of bipartisan compromise.

Medicare for All

While this issue could become a bugaboo for old guard party leaders, the Democratic base will likely escalate its calls for action on Medicare for All now that the party has taken the House. Because the details of what various camps intend by this term are still vague (some believe it is tantamount to single payer, others view it as a gap-fill for existing uninsured, etc.), we will likely see a variety of competing proposals arise in the coming two years. Expect less bona fide committee action and more of a public debate aired via the presidential primary season that will kick off about, oh, right now.

Surprise Bills

The drug industry is not the only health care sector that can expect heightened scrutiny of their pricing practices now that Democrats control the people’s chamber. Most notably, the phenomenon of surprise bills (unexpected charges often stemming from a hospital visit) has risen as a salient issue for the public and thus a political winner for the party. Republicans have shown interest in this issue as well, so it could be another source of bipartisanship next year.

Regulatory Oversight

Democrats believe they are scoring well with the public, and certainly their base, every time they take on President Trump. The wide range of aggressive regulation (and deregulation) the Administration has pursued will be thoroughly investigated and challenged by Democratic committee leaders, especially administration efforts to dismantle the ACA and to test the legal bounds of the hospital site neutrality policy enacted in the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2015.

Extenders

While it instituted permanent policies for Medicare physician payments and some other oft-renewed ‘extenders’, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015 left a variety of policies in the perennial legislative limbo of needing to be repeatedly extended. While the policies in the Medicare space have dwindled to subterranean, though not necessarily cheap, affairs like the floor on geographic adjustments to physician payments, a slew of Medicaid-related and other policies are up for renewal in 2019.

For example, Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments face a (previously delayed) cliff next year. That and the most expensive extender, ACA-initiated funding for community health centers, alone spring the cost of this package into the high single digit billions at least, driving a need for offsetting payment cuts and creating a vehicle for additional policy priorities.

A likely addition to this discussion will be the fact that Medicare physician payments, per MACRA, are scheduled to flatline for 2020-2025 before beginning to increase again, albeit in divergent ways for doctors participating in the Merit-Based Incentive Payment Program (MIPs – 0.25 percent/year) and Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs – 0.75 percent/year). The AMA assuredly noticed this little wrinkle in the celebrated legislation but hundreds of thousands of doctors probably did not.

Medicaid Expansion

Of the variety of state-level health policy decisions voters made on Tuesday, perhaps the most significant related to Medicaid expansion. In there states where Republican leaders have blocked expansion under the ACA – Nebraska, Idaho, and Utah – voters endorsed it via public referenda. Increasing the Medicaid eligibility level in those three states to the ACA standard will bring coverage to approximately 300,000 people.

Notably, voters in Montana rejected a proposal to continue funding the Medicaid expansion the state enacted temporarily in 2015 by an increase to the state’s tobacco tax. Their expansion is now scheduled to lapse in July 2019 if the legislature doesn’t act to maintain it. If they do not act, about 129,000 Montanans will lose Medicaid coverage.

Finally, Democratic gubernatorial wins in Maine, Kansas, and Wisconsin will make Medicaid expansion more likely in those states.

As they say, elections have consequences. While the Republican-controlled Senate and White House can block any Democratic priorities they oppose, the 2018 midterm elections assure a busy two years for health care stakeholders.

 

 

Pre-existing conditions: Does any GOP proposal match the ACA?

https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2018/oct/17/pre-existing-conditions-does-any-gop-proposal-matc/?fbclid=IwAR2QXSwiwRryxaHWJVgO3evTUtJPk6QcV1HkxkaI2qq3iPWqsrXqGA0qPeY

From a routine visit to a critical exam, the stethoscope remains one of the most common physician tools. (Alex Proimos, via Flickr Creative Commons)

In race after race, Democrats have been pummeling Republicans on the most popular piece of Obamacare, protections for pre-existing conditions. No matter how sick someone might be, today’s law says insurance companies must cover them.

Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have all aimed to retain the guarantee that past health would be no bar to new coverage.

Democrats aren’t buying it.

In campaign ads in NevadaIndianaFloridaNorth Dakota, and more, Democrats charged their opponents with either nixing guaranteed coverage outright or putting those with pre-existing conditions at risk. The claims might exaggerate, but they all have had a dose of truth.

Republican proposals are not as air tight as Obamacare.

We’ll walk you through why.

The current guarantee

In the old days, insurance companies had ways to avoid selling policies to people who were likely to cost more than insurers wanted to spend. They might deny them coverage outright, or exclude coverage for a known condition, or charge so much that insurance became unaffordable.

The Affordable Care Act boxes out the old insurance practices with a package of legal moves. First, it says point-blank that carriers “may not impose any preexisting condition exclusion.” It backs that up with another section that says they “may not establish rules for eligibility” based on health status, medical condition, claims experience or medical history.

Those two provisions apply to all plans. The third –– community rating –– targets insurance sold to individuals and small groups (about 7 percent of the total) and limits the factors that go into setting prices. In particular, while insurers can charge older people more, they can’t charge them more than three times what they charge a 21-year-old policy holder.

Wrapped around all that is a fourth measure that lists the essential health benefits that every plan, except grandfathered ones, must offer. A trip to the emergency room, surgery, maternity care and more all fall under this provision. This prevents insurers from discouraging people who might need expensive services by crafting plans that don’t offer them.

At rally after rally for Republicans, President Donald Trump has been telling voters “pre-existing conditions will always be taken care of by us.” At an event in Mississippi, he faulted Democrats, saying, they have no plan,” which ignores that Democrats already voted for the Obamacare guarantees.

At different times last year, Trump voiced support for Republican bills to replace Obamacare. The White House said the House’s American Health Care Act “protects the most vulnerable Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions.” A fact sheet cited $120 billion for states to keep plans affordable, along with other facets in the bill.

But the protections in the GOP plans are not as strong as Obamacare. One independent analysis found that the bill left over 6 million people exposed to much higher premiums for at least one year. We’ll get to the congressional action next, but as things stand, the latest official move by the administration has been to agree that the guarantees in the Affordable Care Act should go. It said that in a Texas lawsuit tied to the individual mandate.

The individual mandate is the evil twin of guaranteed coverage. If companies were forced to cover everyone, the government would force everyone (with some exceptions) to have insurance, in order to balance out the sick with the healthy. In the 2017 tax cut law, Congress zeroed out the penalty for not having coverage. A few months later, a group of 20 states looked at that change and sued to overturn the entire law.

In particular, they argued that with a toothless mandate, the judge should terminate protections for pre-existing conditions.

The U.S. Justice Department agreed, writing in its filing “the individual mandate is not severable from the ACA’s guaranteed-issue and community-rating requirements.”

So, if the mandate goes, so does guaranteed-issue.

The judge has yet to rule.

Latest Republican plan has holes

In August, a group of 10 Republican senators introduced a bill with a title designed to neutralize criticism that Republicans don’t care about this issue. It’s called Ensuring Coverage for Patients with Pre-Existing Conditions. (A House Republican later introduced a similar bill.)

The legislation borrows words directly from the Affordable Care Act, saying insurers “may not establish rules for eligibility” based on health status, medical condition, claims experience or medical history.

But there’s an out.

The bill adds an option for companies to deny certain coverage if “it will not have the capacity to deliver services adequately.”

To Allison Hoffman, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, that’s a big loophole.

“Insurers could exclude someone’s preexisting conditions from coverage, even if they offered her a policy,” Hoffman said. “That fact alone sinks any claims that this law offers pre-existing condition protection.”

The limit here is that insurers must apply such a rule across the board to every employer and individual plan. They couldn’t cherry pick.

But the bill also gives companies broad leeway in setting premiums. While they can’t set rates based on health status, there’s no limit on how much premiums could vary based on other factors.

The Affordable Care Act had an outside limit of 3 to 1 based on age. That’s not in this bill. And Hoffman told us the flexibility doesn’t stop there.

“They could charge people in less healthy communities or occupations way more than others,” Hoffman said. “Just guaranteeing that everyone can get a policy has no meaning if the premiums are unaffordable for people more likely to need medical care.”

Rodney Whitlock, a health policy expert who worked for Republicans in Congress, told us those criticisms are valid.

“Insurers will use the rules available to them to take in more in premiums than they pay out in claims,” Whitlock said. “If you see a loophole and think insurers will use it, that’s probably true.”

Past Republican plans also had holes

Whitlock said more broadly that Republicans have struggled at every point to say they are providing the same level of protection as in the Affordable Care Act.

“And they are not,” Whitlock said. “It is 100 percent true that Republicans are not meeting the Affordable Care Act standard. And they are not trying to.”

The House American Health Care Act and the Senate Better Care Reconciliation Act allowed premiums to vary five fold, compared to the three fold limit in the Affordable Care Act. Both bills, and then later the Graham-Cassidy bill, included waivers or block grants that offered states wide latitude over rates.

Graham-Cassidy also gave states leeway to redefine the core benefits that every plan had to provide. Health law professor Wendy Netter Epstein at DePaul University said that could play out badly.

“It means that insurers could sell very bare-bones plans with low premiums that will be attractive to healthy people, and then the plans that provide the coverage that sicker people need will become very expensive,” Epstein said.

Insurance is always about sharing risk. Whether through premiums or taxes, healthy people cover the costs of taking care of sick people. Right now, Whitlock said, the political process is doing a poor job of resolving how that applies to the people most likely to need care.

“The Affordable Care Act set up a system where people without pre-existing conditions pay more to protect people who have them,” Whitlock said. “Somewhere between the Affordable Care Act standard and no protections at all is a legitimate debate about the right tradeoff. We are not engaged in that debate.”

 

 

Senators Consider Dueling Bills Over Texas Individual Mandate Litigation

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20180828.283008/full/?utm_term=Read%20More%20%2526gt%3B%2526gt%3B&utm_campaign=Health%20Affairs%20Sunday%20Update&utm_content=email&utm_source=Act-On_2018-08-05&utm_medium=Email&cm_mmc=Act-On%20Software-_-email-_-Individual%20Mandate%20Litigation%3B%20Housing%20And%20Equitable%20Health%20Outcomes%3B%20Simplifying%20The%20Medicare%20Plan%20Finder%20Tool-_-Read%20More%20%2526gt%3B%2526gt%3B

Litigation in Texas over the constitutionality of the individual mandate and, with it, the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) is receiving more and more attention in Congress. On August 23, 2018, Republican Senators released new legislation that they believe would help blunt the impact of a ruling for the plaintiffs in Texas v. United States. The stated aim of the bill is to “guarantee” equal access to health care coverage regardless of health status or preexisting conditions. However, in the event that the court agrees with the plaintiffs—or even just the Trump administration—the legislation leaves significant gaps.

At the same time, Democratic Senators had their efforts to potentially intervene in the litigation rebuffed during the debate over a recent appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and Defense. With a hearing on Texas scheduled for September 5, 2018—the same time as hearings are set to begin in Congress over the confirmation of D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—attention on the case is only likely to increase.

Brief Background On Texas

In Texas, 20 Republican state attorneys general and two individual plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which was zeroed out by Congress beginning in 2019. Without the penalty, the plaintiffs argue that the mandate is unconstitutional. Because the mandate cannot be severed from the rest of the law, they believe the entire ACA should also be struck down.

In June, the Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to defend the constitutionality of the individual mandate alongside the ACA’s provisions on guaranteed issue (42 U.S.C. §§ 300gg-1, 300gg-4(a)), community rating (42 U.S.C. §§ 300gg(a)(1), 300gg-4(b)), and the ban on preexisting condition exclusions and discrimination based on health status (42 U.S.C. § 300gg-3). These provisions collectively ensure that individuals with preexisting conditions cannot be charged more for their coverage or denied coverage or benefits based on health status or other factors.

The plaintiffs have asked Judge Reed O’Connor of the federal district court in the Northern District of Texas to enjoin HHS and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from enforcing the ACA and its implementing regulations—or, at a minimum, to strike down the law’s guaranteed issue and community rating provisions alongside the mandate. Judge O’Connor is considering ruling on the merits of the case (instead of issuing a preliminary injunction) and has scheduled a hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction for September 5.

As noted above, the hearing will coincide with confirmation hearings for Judge Kavanaugh. Texas will likely be a focal point in the Kavanaugh proceedings because of the possibility that the case will reach the Supreme Court and because previous decisions suggest that Judge Kavanaugh believes that a President can decline to enforce laws that he or she believes to be unconstitutional.

The New Republican Legislation

Recognizing the potential impact of the Texas lawsuit, 10 Republican Senators released new legislation on August 23. The bill is sponsored by Senators Thom Tillis (NC), Lamar Alexander (TN), Chuck Grassley (IA), Dean Heller (NV), Bill Cassidy (LA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Joni Ernst (IA), Lindsey Graham (SC), John Barrasso (WY), and Roger Wicker (MS). It is tied directly to the Texas litigation: Press releases acknowledge the September 5 hearing and state that “protections for patients with pre-existing conditions could be eliminated” if Judge O’Connor rules in favor of the plaintiffs.

The legislation would amend the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Although HIPAA offered significant new protections at the time it was passed, these protections were limited in terms of ensuring that people with preexisting conditions could access affordable, comprehensive coverage, particularly in the individual market. HIPAA established a minimum set of federal protections for certain consumers—for example, those who lost their group coverage—facing certain situations, such as job lock because of a new preexisting condition exclusion period. HIPAA also required guaranteed issue in the small group market and guaranteed renewability in the individual and group markets.

As mentioned, the DOJ has declined to defend the ACA’s provisions on guaranteed issue (42 U.S.C. §§ 300gg-1, 300gg-4(a)) and community rating (42 U.S.C. §§ 300gg(a)(1), 300gg-4(b)), and the ban on preexisting condition exclusions and discrimination based on health status (42 U.S.C. § 300gg-3). Thus, their position in the lawsuit implicates parts of four provisions of federal law: 42 U.S.C. §§ 300gg, 300gg-1, 300gg-3, and 300gg-4.

The legislation introduced by Republican Senators would restore only two of the four provisions that stand to be invalidated in Texas: 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-1 (guaranteed issue) and most of § 300gg-4 (guaranteed issue and rating based on health status). So the bill would prohibit the denial of coverage and rating based on health status, but it would not prohibit preexisting condition exclusions or rating based on other factors, such as age, gender, tobacco use, or occupation. This means that many individuals, including those with preexisting conditions, could still face higher premiums, higher out-of-pocket costs, and the denial of benefits because of a preexisting condition even after paying premiums for many months.

Implications 

The protections offered by the restoration of the two provisions included in the Senate GOP bill, § 300gg-1 and most of § 300gg-4, are largely illusory without the other parts of the ACA—community rating and the ban on preexisting condition exclusions—that are at risk in the lawsuit. Assuming the at-risk provisions are struck down and the new legislation is adopted, consumers would still face significant gaps. For instance, a woman with a history of cancer could purchase a policy under the new bill, but she could be charged more based on her gender and age, potentially pricing her out of the market. In addition, her policy could have a preexisting condition exclusion, meaning that any recurrence of cancer—or any other health condition—might not be covered at all; this could lead to much higher out-of-pocket costs and far less financial protection.

If Congress were to enact this bill today, it would largely be duplicative of existing law (and would do nothing to disturb the ACA). If Congress were to enact this bill in response to the Texas litigation, its effect would depend on how (if at all) a court would invalidate the ACA provisions in Texas. Would a court strike the entire provisions, including what was adopted under HIPAA and other federal laws? Or would a court simply strike the amendments that were made by the ACA?

If the latter, the new legislation might do even less than its authors think, because much of the bill is, in fact, devoted to readopting existing federal law that may not be at issue in Texas. These provisions were adopted before the ACA and touch on, for instance, genetic information nondiscrimination and long-standing exceptions to guaranteed issue.

No Vote On Manchin Resolution To Potentially Intervene In Texas

In July, Democratic Senators led by Joe Manchin (WV) introduced a resolution with the goal of intervening in Texas to defend the ACA’s protections for people with preexisting conditions. The resolution would authorize the Senate Legal Counsel to move to intervene in the case on behalf of the Senate and defend the ACA. During last week’s debate over an HHS appropriations bill, Senate leadership blocked a vote on the amendment.

 

 

Medigap Enrollment and Consumer Protections Vary Across States

https://www.kff.org/medicare/issue-brief/medigap-enrollment-and-consumer-protections-vary-across-states/?utm_campaign=KFF-2018-The-Latest&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=64383883&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8Lvu3idYYDZYkRgZLdDGGE3a14HmJPA5h_F_VqkRyc73EmaDkyZp_5ftwQsDAZP1CKulMnYJsha8MFxhBhRDn8WHKr6A&_hsmi=64383883

One in four people in traditional Medicare (25 percent) had private, supplemental health insurance in 2015—also known as Medigap—to help cover their Medicare deductibles and cost-sharing requirements, as well as protect themselves against catastrophic expenses for Medicare-covered services. This issue brief provides an overview of Medigap enrollment and analyzes consumer protections under federal law and state regulations that can affect beneficiaries’ access to Medigap. In particular, this brief examines implications for older adults with pre-existing medical conditions who may be unable to purchase a Medigap policy or change their supplemental coverage after their initial open enrollment period.

Key Findings

  • The share of beneficiaries with Medigap varies widely by state—from 3 percent in Hawaii to 51 percent in Kansas.
  • Federal law provides limited consumer protections for adults ages 65 and older who want to purchase a supplemental Medigap policy—including, a one-time, 6-month open enrollment period that begins when they first enroll in Medicare Part B.
  • States have the flexibility to institute consumer protections for Medigap that go beyond the minimum federal standards. For example, 28 states require Medigap insurers to issue policies to eligible Medicare beneficiaries whose employer has changed their retiree health coverage benefits.
  • Only four states (CT, MA, ME, NY) require either continuous or annual guaranteed issue protections for Medigap for all beneficiaries in traditional Medicare ages 65 and older, regardless of medical history (Figure 1). Guaranteed issue protections prohibit insurers from denying a Medigap policy to eligible applicants, including people with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.
  • In all other states and D.C., people who switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to traditional Medicare may be denied a Medigap policy due to a pre-existing condition, with few exceptions, such as if they move to a new area or are in a Medicare Advantage trial period.

Medigap is a key source of supplemental coverage for people in traditional Medicare

Medicare beneficiaries can choose to get their Medicare benefits (Parts A and B) through the traditional Medicare program or a Medicare Advantage plan, such as a Medicare HMO or PPO. Roughly two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries are in traditional Medicare, and most have some form of supplemental health insurance coverage because Medicare’s benefit design includes substantial cost-sharing requirements, with no limit on out-of-pocket spending. Medicare requires a Part A deductible for hospitalizations ($1,340 in 2018), a separate deductible for most Part B services ($183), 20 percent coinsurance for many Part B (physician and outpatient) services, daily copayments for hospital stays that are longer than 60 days, and daily copays for extended stays in skilled nursing facilities.

To help with these expenses and limit their exposure to catastrophic out-of-pocket costs for Medicare-covered services, a quarter of beneficiaries in traditional Medicare (25 percent) had a private, supplemental insurance policy, known as Medigap in 2015 (Figure 2). Medigap serves as a key source of supplemental coverage for people in traditional Medicare who do not have supplemental employer- or union-sponsored retiree coverage or Medicaid, because their incomes and assets are too high to qualify. Medicare beneficiaries also purchase Medigap policies to make health care costs more predictable by spreading costs over the course of the year through monthly premium payments, and to reduce the paperwork burden associated with medical bills.1

Medigap policy benefits were standardized through the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, which also included additional consumer protections discussed later in this issue brief.2 Of the 10 standard Medigap policies available to beneficiaries, Plan F is the most popular, accounting for over half of all policyholders in 2016, because it covers the Part A and B deductibles (as does Plan C), and all cost-sharing for Part A and B covered services.3

The share of all Medicare beneficiaries with Medigap coverage varies widely by state—from 3 percent in Hawaii to 51 percent in Kansas in 2016 (Figure 3, Appendix Table). In 20 states, at least one-quarter of all Medicare beneficiaries have a Medigap policy. States with higher Medigap enrollment tend to be in the Midwest and plains states, where relatively fewer beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.4

Medigap coverage is substantially more common for Medicare beneficiaries ages 65 and older than it is for younger Medicare beneficiaries, many of whom qualify for Medicare because of a long-term disability. Only 5 percent of traditional Medicare beneficiaries under age 65 had Medigap in 2015—considerably lower than the shares in older age brackets (Figure 4). The low enrollment in Medigap by beneficiaries under age 65 is likely due to the absence of federal guarantee issue requirements for younger Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities (discussed later in this brief) and higher rates of Medicaid coverage for people on Medicare with disabilities who tend to have relatively low incomes.

Federal law provides limited consumer protections for Medigap policies

In general, Medigap insurance is state regulated, but also subject to certain federal minimum requirements and consumer protections. For example, federal law requires Medigap plans to be standardized to make it easier for consumers to compare benefits and premiums across plans. Federal law also requires Medigap insurers to offer “guaranteed issue” policies to Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older during the first six months of their enrollment in Medicare Part B and during other qualifying events (listed later in this brief). During these defined periods, Medigap insurers cannot deny a Medigap policy to any applicant based on factors such as age, gender, or health status. Further, during these periods, Medigap insurers cannot vary premiums based on an applicant’s pre-existing medical conditions (i.e., medical underwriting). However, under federal law, Medigap insurers may impose a waiting period of up to six months to cover services related to pre-existing conditions, only if the applicant did not have at least six months of prior continuous creditable coverage.5 As described later in this brief, states have the flexibility to institute Medigap consumer protections that go further than the minimum federal standards.

Federal law also imposes other consumer protections for Medigap policies. These include “guaranteed renewability” (with few exceptions), minimum medical loss ratios, limits on agent commissions to discourage “churning” of policies, and rules prohibiting Medigap policies to be sold to applicants with duplicate health coverage.6 (For further details on these requirements and a history of federal involvement in the Medigap market, see Medigap: Spotlight on Enrollment, Premiums, and Recent Trends, April 2013.)

When does federal law require guaranteed issue protections for Medigap?

Federal law provides guaranteed issue protections for Medigap policies during a one-time, six-month Medigap open enrollment period for beneficiaries ages 65 and older when enrolling in Medicare Part B, and for certain qualifying events. These limited circumstances include instances when Medicare beneficiaries involuntarily lose supplemental coverage, such as when their Medicare Advantage plan discontinues coverage in their area, or when their employers cancel their retiree coverage. Beneficiaries who are in a Medicare Advantage plan also have federal guaranteed issue rights when they move to a new area and can no longer access coverage from their Medicare Advantage plan. In these qualifying events, people ages 65 and older in Medicare generally have 63 days to apply for a supplemental Medigap policy under these federal guaranteed issue protections.

Federal law also requires that Medigap polices be sold with guaranteed issue rights during specified “trial” periods for Medicare Advantage plans. One of these trial periods is during the first year older adults enroll in Medicare. During that time, older adults can try a Medicare Advantage plan, but if they disenroll within the first year, they have guaranteed issue rights to purchase a Medigap policy under federal law. Another trial period applies to Medicare beneficiaries who cancel their Medigap policy to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. These beneficiaries have time-limited guaranteed issue rights to purchase their same Medigap policy if, within a year of signing up for a Medicare Advantage plan, they decide to disenroll to obtain coverage under traditional Medicare.

States have the flexibility to institute Medigap consumer protections that go further than the minimum federal standards, such as extending guaranteed issue requirements beyond the open enrollment period or adding other qualifying events that would require insurers to issue policies, as discussed later in this brief.

When does federal law not provide guaranteed issue protections for Medigap?

Broadly speaking, after 6 months of enrolling in Medicare Part B, older adults do not have federal guaranteed issue protections when applying for Medigap, except for specified qualifying events described earlier (Table 2). Therefore, older adults in traditional Medicare who miss the open enrollment period may, in most states, be subject to medical underwriting, and potentially denied a Medigap policy due to pre-existing conditions, or charged higher premiums due to their health status.

Medical Underwriting. Insurance companies that sell Medigap policies may refuse to sell a policy to an applicant with medical conditions, except under circumstances described above. The Text Box on this page provides examples of health conditions that may lead to the denial of Medigap policies, derived from underwriting manuals/guides from multiple insurance companies selling Medigap policies. Examples of conditions listed by insurers as reasons for policy denials include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and being advised by a physician to have surgery, medical tests, treatments, or therapies.

Barriers for Beneficiaries Under Age 65 with Disabilities. Under federal law, Medigap insurers are not required to sell Medigap policies to the over 9 million Medicare beneficiaries who are under age of 65, many of whom qualify for Medicare based on a long-term disability. (However, when these beneficiaries turn age 65, federal law requires that they be eligible for the same six-month open enrollment period for Medigap that is available to new beneficiaries age 65 and older.)

Beneficiaries Choosing to Switch from Medicare Advantage to Traditional Medicare. There are no federal guarantee issue protections for individuals who choose to switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to traditional Medicare and apply for a Medigap policy, except under limited circumstances described in Table 2. In most states, therefore, beneficiaries who want to switch from their Medicare Advantage plan to traditional Medicare may be subject to medical underwriting and denied coverage when they apply for a Medigap policy because they do not have guaranteed issue rights, with some exceptions (e.g., if they have moved or if they are in a limited trial period). In states that allow medical underwriting for Medigap, Medicare Advantage enrollees with pre-existing conditions may find it too financially risky to switch to traditional Medicare if they are unable to purchase a Medigap policy. Without Medigap, they could be exposed to high cost-sharing requirements, mainly because traditional Medicare does not have a limit on out-of-pocket spending (in contrast to Medicare Advantage plans).7

Some states require guaranteed issue and other consumer protections for Medigap beyond the federal minimum requirements

States have the flexibility to institute Medigap consumer protections that go further than the minimum federal standards. While many states have used this flexibility to expand guarantee issue rights for Medigap under certain circumstances, 15 states and the District of Columbia have not, relying only the minimum guarantee issue requirements under federal law (Table 3).

Only four states require Medigap insurers to offer policies to Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older (Figure 5). Three of these states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York) have continuous open enrollment, with guaranteed issue rights throughout the year, and one state (Maine) requires insurers to issue Medigap Plan A (the least generous Medigap plan shown earlier in Table 1) during an annual one-month open enrollment period. Consistent with federal law, Medigap insurers in New York, Connecticut, and Maine may impose up to a six-month “waiting period” to cover services related to pre-existing conditions if the applicant did not have six months of continuous creditable coverage prior to purchasing a policy during the initial Medigap open enrollment period.8 Massachusetts prohibits pre-existing condition waiting periods for its Medicare supplement policies.

Many other states have expanded on the federal minimum standards in more narrow ways by requiring Medigap insurers to offer policies to eligible applicants during additional qualifying events (Table 3). For example, 28 states require Medigap insurers to issue policies when an applicant has an involuntary change in their employer (retiree) coverage. (This qualifying event is more expansive than federal law, which applies only when retiree coverage is completely eliminated.) Nine states provide guaranteed issue rights for applicants who lose their Medicaid eligibility.9

As noted above, federal law does not require Medigap insurers to issue policies to Medicare beneficiaries under the age of 65, most of whom qualify for Medicare because of a long-term disability. However, 31 states require insurers to provide at least one kind of Medigap policy to beneficiaries younger than age 65 (typically through an initial open enrollment period).10

Some states provide stronger consumer protections for Medigap premiums than others

States also have the flexibility to establish rules on whether or not Medigap premiums may be affected by factors such as a policyholder’s age, smoking status, gender, and residential area. Federal law allows states to alter premiums based on these factors, even during guaranteed issue open enrollment periods.

There are three different rating systems that can affect how Medigap insurers determine premiums: community rating, issue-age rating, or attained-age rating (defined in the Text box below). States can impose regulations on which of these rating systems are permitted or required for Medigap policies sold in their state. Of the three, community rating provides the strongest consumer protection for Medigap policies because it does not allow premiums to be based on the applicant or policyholder’s age or health status. However, insurers in states that require community rating may charge different premiums based on other factors, such as smoking status and residential area. In states that allow attained age rating, older applicants and policyholders have considerably less protection from higher premiums because premiums may increase at unpredictable rates as policyholders age.

Premium rating systems

Community rating: Insurers must charge all policyholders within a given plan type the same premium without regard to age (among people age 65 and older) or health status. Insurers can raise premiums only if they do so for all policyholders of the given plan type. Insurers may still adjust premiums based on other factors, including smoking status, gender, and residential area.

Issue-age rating: Insurers may vary premiums based on the age of the policyholder at the time of purchase, but cannot increase the policyholder’s premium automatically in later years based on his/her age. Additionally, insurers may charge different premiums based on other factors, including health status, smoking status, and residential area.

Attained-age rating: Insurers may vary premiums based on the age of the policyholder at the time of purchase and increase premiums for policyholders as they age. Additionally, insurers may charge different premiums based on other factors, including health status, smoking status, and residential area.

Currently, eight states (AR, CT, MA, ME, MN, NY, VT, and WA) require premiums to be community rated among policyholders ages 65 and older. This means that Medigap insurers cannot charge higher premiums to people because they are older or sicker, and therefore, must charge an 80-year old policyholder the same as a 70-year old policyholder regardless of health status (Table 4). Insurers may still adjust premiums based on other factors, including smoking status, gender, and residential area. A state’s community rating requirement does not, in itself, guarantee that applicants will be issued a policy in the state. However, as described earlier, four of the states that have community rating (CT, MA, ME, NY), have guarantee issue protections and require insurers to issue Medigap policies to eligible applicants either continuously during the year, or during an annual enrollment period.

The remaining 38 states and the District of Columbia do not require premiums to be community rated; therefore, Medigap premiums in these states may be subject to issue-age and attained-age rating systems, depending on state regulation. Medigap insurers are permitted to offer community rated policies in these states, but most do not.11 Additionally, Medigap insurers may increase premiums due to inflation, regardless of the premium rating system.12

Discussion

Medigap plays a major role in providing supplemental coverage for people in traditional Medicare, particularly among those who do not have an employer-sponsored retiree plan or do not qualify for cost-sharing assistance under Medicaid. Medigap helps beneficiaries budget for out-of-pocket expenses under traditional Medicare. Medigap also limits the financial exposure that beneficiaries would otherwise face due to the absence of an out-of-pocket limit under traditional Medicare.

Nonetheless, Medigap is not subject to the same federal guaranteed issue protections that apply to Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, with an annual open enrollment period. As a result, in most states, medical underwriting is permitted which means that beneficiaries with pre-existing conditions may be denied a Medigap policy due to their health status, except under limited circumstances.

Federal law requires Medigap guaranteed issue protections for people age 65 and older during the first six months of their Medicare Part B enrollment and during a “trial” Medicare Advantage enrollment period. Medicare beneficiaries who miss these windows of opportunity may unwittingly forgo the chance to purchase a Medigap policy later in life if their needs or priorities change.13 This constraint potentially affects the nearly 9 million beneficiaries in traditional Medicare with no supplemental coverage; it may also affect millions of Medicare Advantage plan enrollees who may incorrectly assume they will be able to purchase supplemental coverage if they choose to switch to traditional Medicare at some point during their many years on Medicare.

Only four states (CT, MA, NY, ME) require Medigap policies to be issued, either continuously or for one month per year for all Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older. Policymakers could consider a number of other policy options to broaden access to Medigap. One approach could be to require annual Medigap open enrollment periods, as is the case with Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, making Medigap available to all applicants without regard to medical history during this period. Another option would be to make voluntary disenrollment from a Medicare Advantage plan a qualifying event with guaranteed issue rights for Medigap, recognizing the presence of beneficiaries’ previous “creditable” coverage. For Medicare beneficiaries younger than age 65, policymakers could consider adopting federal guaranteed issue protections, building on rules already established by the majority of states.

On the one hand, these expanded guaranteed issue protections would increase beneficiaries’ access to Medigap, especially for people with pre-existing medical conditions. They would also treat Medigap similarly to Medicare Advantage in this regard, and make it easier for older adults to switch between Medicare Advantage and traditional Medicare if their Medicare Advantage plan is not serving their needs in later life. On the other hand, broader guaranteed issue policies could result in some beneficiaries waiting until they have a serious health problem before purchasing Medigap coverage, which would likely increase premiums for all Medigap policyholders. A different approach altogether would be to minimize the need for supplemental coverage in Medicare by adding an out-of-pocket limit to traditional Medicare.14

Ongoing policy discussions affecting Medicare and its benefit design could provide an opportunity to consider various ways to enhance federal consumer protections for supplemental coverage or manage beneficiary exposure to high out-of-pocket costs. As older adults age on to Medicare, they would be well-advised to understand the Medigap rules where they live, and the trade-offs involved when making coverage decisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Ready for Health Reform 2020: What Past Presidential Campaigns Can Teach Us

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2018/jun/getting-ready-health-reform-2020-presidential?omnicid=EALERT%%jobid%%&mid=%%emailaddr%%

Getting Ready for Health Reform 2020

Abstract

  • Issue: The candidates for the 2020 presidential election are likely to emerge within a year, along with their campaign plans. Such plans will include, if not feature, health policy proposals, given this issue’s general significance as well as the ongoing debate over the Affordable Care Act.
  • Goal: To explain why campaign plans matter, review the health policy components of past presidential campaign platforms, and discuss the likely 2020 campaign health reform plans.
  • Methods: Review of relevant reports, data, party platforms, and policy documents.
  • Findings and Conclusions: Proposals related to health care have grown in scope in both parties’ presidential platforms over the past century and affect both agendas and assessments of a president’s success. Continued controversy over the Affordable Care Act, potential reversals in gains in coverage and affordability, and voters’ concern suggest a central role for health policy in the 2020 election. Republicans will most likely continue to advance devolution, deregulation, and capped federal financing, while Democrats will likely overlay their support of the Affordable Care Act with some type of Medicare-based public plan option. The plans’ contours and specifics will be developed in the months ahead.

This report is the first in a series on health reform in the 2020 election campaign. Future papers will delve into key reform design questions that candidates will face, focusing on such topics as: ways to maximize health care affordability and value; how to structure health plan choices for individuals in ways that improve system outcomes; and how the experience of other nations’ health systems can inform state block-grant and public-plan proposals.

Introduction

During the 2020 presidential campaign, which begins in earnest at the end of 2018, we are sure to hear competing visions for the U.S. health system. Since 1988, health care has been among the most important issues in presidential elections.1 This is due, in part, to the size of the health system. In 2018, federal health spending comprises a larger share of the economy (5.3%) than Social Security payments (4.9%) or the defense budget (3.1%).2 Moreover, for the past decade, partisan disagreement over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has dominated the health policy debate. If health care plays a significant role in the 2018 midterm elections, as some early polls suggest it will,3 the topic is more likely to play a central role in the 2020 election.

This report on health reform plans focuses on policies related to health insurance coverage, private insurance regulation, Medicare and Medicaid, supply, and tax policy. It explains why campaign plans are relevant, their history since 1940, the landscape for the 2020 election, and probable Republican and Democratic reform plans. The Republican campaign platform is likely to feature policies like those in the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson amendment: a state block grant with few insurance rules, replacing the ACA’s coverage expansion. The Democratic platform will probably defend, improve, and supplement the ACA with some type of public (Medicare-like) health plan. The exact contours and details of these plans have yet to be set.

Importance of Campaign Plans

Campaign promises, contrary to conventional wisdom, matter.4 During elections, they tell voters each party’s direction on major topics (e.g., health coverage as a choice or a right in 1992). In some cases, candidates or party platforms include detailed policies (reinsurance in Republicans’ 1956 platform, prospective payment in Democrats’ 1976 platform). Campaign plans tend to be used to solidify party unity, especially in the wake of divisive primaries (2016, e.g.).5 Election outcomes are affected by such factors as the state of the economy, incumbency, and political competition rather than specific issues.6 That said, some exit polls suggest that candidates’ views on health policy can affect election outcomes.7

Campaign plans also help set the agenda for a president, especially in the year after an election. Lyndon B. Johnson told his health advisers, “Every day while I’m in office, I’m gonna lose votes. . . . We need . . . [Medicare] fast.”8 Legislation supported by his administration was introduced before his inauguration and signed into law 191 days after it (Exhibit 1). Bill Clinton, having learned from his failure to advance health reform in his first term, signed the bill that created the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) 197 days after his second inauguration. Barack Obama sought to sign health reform into law in the first year of his first term, but the effort spilled into his second year; he signed the ACA into law on his 427th day in office. These presidents, along with Harry Truman, initiated their attempts at health reform shortly after taking office.

In addition, campaign plans are used by supporters and the press to hold presidents accountable. For instance, candidate Obama’s promises were the yardstick against which his first 100 days,9 first year,10 reelection prospects,11 and presidency were measured.12 Though only 4 percent of likely voters believe that most politicians keep their promises, analyses suggest that roughly two-thirds of campaign promises were kept by presidents from 1968 through the Obama years.13

Health as a Campaign Issue (1912–2016)

The United States has had public health policies since the country’s founding, with its policy on health coverage, quality, and affordability emerging in the twentieth century. Teddy Roosevelt supported national health insurance as part of his 1912 Bull Moose Party presidential bid.14 Franklin Delano Roosevelt included “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health” in his 1944 State of the Union address, although it was not mentioned in the 1944 Democratic platform.15 Harry Truman is generally credited with being the first president to embrace comprehensive reform. He proposed national health insurance in 1945, seven months after F.D.R.’s death, and campaigned on it in 1948 as part of a program that would become known as the Fair Deal, even though it was not a plank in the Democratic platform. Legislation was blocked, however, primarily by the American Medical Association (AMA), which claimed that government sponsoring or supporting expanded health coverage would create “socialized medicine.”16 Health policy became a regular part of presidential candidates’ party platforms beginning about this time (Exhibit 2).

After Truman’s failure, the next set of presidential candidates supported expanding capacity (e.g., workforce training, construction of hospitals and clinics) and making targeted coverage improvements. In 1960, John F. Kennedy campaigned on a version of Medicare legislation: extending Social Security to include hospital coverage for seniors. It was opposed by the AMA as well, whose spokesman, the actor Ronald Reagan, claimed socialized medicine would eventually limit freedom and democracy.17 It took the death of Kennedy, the landslide Democratic victory in 1964, and persistence by Lyndon B. Johnson to enact Medicare and Medicaid, in 1965. This was about 20 years after Truman introduced his proposal; President Johnson issued the first Medicare card to former President Truman.

Shortly after implementation of Medicare and Medicaid, how best to address rising health care costs became a staple subject in presidential campaigns. Between 1960 and 1990, the share of the economy (gross domestic product) spent on health care rose by about 30 percent each decade, with the public share of spending growing as well (Exhibit 3). In his 1968 campaign, Richard Nixon raised concerns about medical inflation, and subsequently proposed his own health reform, which included, among other policies, a requirement for employers to offer coverage (i.e., an employer mandate).18 Nixon’s proposal was eclipsed by Watergate, as Jimmy Carter’s health reform promises were tabled by economic concerns. Presidents and candidates in the 1980s set their sights on incremental health reforms.19

In 1991, comprehensive health reform helped Harris Wofford unexpectedly win a Pennsylvania Senate race. In 1992, it ranked as the second most important issue to voters.20 Democratic candidates vied over health reform in the 1992 primaries, with Bill Clinton embracing an employer “pay or play” mandate. George H. W. Bush developed his own plan, which included premium tax credits and health insurance reforms. Five days after his inauguration, President Clinton tasked the first lady, Hillary Clinton, with helping to develop health care legislation in the first 100 days. Yet, mostly because he prioritized economic and trade policy, Clinton did not address a joint session of Congress until September and did not send his bill to Congress until November of 1993. Key stakeholders (including the AMA and the Health Insurance Association of America) initially supported but ultimately opposed the legislation. In September 1994, the Senate Democratic leadership declared it could not pass a bill.21 Less than two months later, Democrats lost their majorities in the House and the Senate, and did not regain them for over a decade. This created a view that comprehensive reform of the complex health system was politically impossible.22 Indeed, presidential candidates in 1996, 2000, and 2004 did not emphasize major health policies. That said, by 2004, health system problems had escalated and, at least on paper, the candidates’ plans addressing them had expanded.23

In 2008, health reform was a dominant issue in the Democratic primaries and platform. Hillary Clinton supported a requirement for people who could afford it to have coverage (i.e., the individual mandate). Barack Obama limited his support to a requirement that all children be insured. Both candidates supported an employer mandate.24 John McCain countered with a plan whose scope exceeded those of many Republican predecessors: it would cap the tax break for employer health benefits and use the savings to fund premium tax credits for the individual market.25 Attention to health reform waned during the general election, as the economy faltered. Even so, the stage was set for a legislative battle. President Obama opened the door to his rivals’ ideas at a White House summit in March 2009.26 After more than a year of effort, he signed the Affordable Care Act into law.27 Obama said that he did so “for all the leaders who took up this cause through the generations — from Teddy Roosevelt to Franklin Roosevelt, from Harry Truman, to Lyndon Johnson, from Bill and Hillary Clinton, to one of the deans who’s been fighting this so long, John Dingell, to Senator Ted Kennedy.”28

Nonetheless, the partisan fight over the ACA extended into the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. Despite the ACA’s resemblance to his own 2006 reform plan for Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, as the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, vowed to repeal the ACA before its major provisions were implemented; Republicans would subsequently replace it with conservative ideas (mostly to be developed). Four years later, even though the health system landscape had dramatically changed following the ACA’s implementation, the Republicans’ position had not altered.29 Candidate Donald Trump joined his primary rivals in pledging to “repeal and replace Obamacare” (he also embraced unorthodox ideas such as Medicare negotiation for drug prices). Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton proposed a wide array of improvements to the ACA rather than a wholesale replacement of it with a “Medicare for All” single-payer proposal, as did her Democratic primary rival, Bernie Sanders.30 The intra-party differences among primary candidates in 2016 increased attention to the party platforms relative to previous elections.31 But despite continued voter interest (Exhibit 4), differences in health policy were not credited with determining the outcome of the 2016 election.

Setting the Stage for 2020

President Trump’s attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to repeal and replace the ACA dominated the 2017 congressional agenda. In January 2017, the Republican Congress authorized special voting rules toward this effort, while President Obama was still in office. On the day of his inauguration, Trump signed an executive order to reduce the burden of the law as his administration sought its prompt repeal.32 Yet among other factors,33 the lack of a hammered-out, vetted, and agreed-upon replacement plan crippled the Republicans’ progress.34 Speaker Paul Ryan had to take his bill off the House floor on March 24, 2017, because it lacked the necessary votes; the House passed a modified bill on May 4. Senator Mitch McConnell’s multiple attempts in June and July to secure a majority in favor of his version of a health care bill failed on July 26, when Senator John McCain cast the deciding vote against it. In September, Senators Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, Dean Heller, and Ron Johnson failed to get 50 cosponsors for their amendment, the prerequisite for its being brought to the Senate floor.35 The Republicans subsequently turned to tax legislation and, in it, zeroed out the tax assessment associated with the ACA’s individual mandate. At the bill’s signing on December 22, Trump claimed that “Obamacare has been repealed,”36 despite evidence to the contrary.37

A different type of legislative effort began in mid-2017: bipartisan attempts to improve the short-run stability of the ACA’s individual market. This was in part necessitated by the Trump administration’s actions pursuant to the Inauguration Day executive order: reductions in education efforts, marketing funding, and premium tax credits, among others.38 On October 12, 2017, the president signed a second ACA executive order, directing agencies to authorize the sale of health plans subject to fewer regulatory requirements.39 On the same day, his administration halted federal funding for cost-sharing reductions, a form of subsidy, claiming the ACA lacked an appropriation to make such payments. Concerns that these actions would increase premiums, reduce insurer participation, and discourage enrollment prompted coalitions of bipartisan lawmakers to introduce bills. Most notable was a bill by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray; their proposal, released October 18, 2017, had 12 Republican cosponsors and implicit support from all Democrats, giving it the 60 votes needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster.40 Yet the version that Senator McConnell ultimately brought to the floor for a vote, in March 2018, included changes that repelled Democrats, preventing its passage.41 Partisans on both sides have blamed this failure, in part, for emerging increases in health insurance premiums.

Indeed, benchmark premiums in the health insurance marketplaces rose by an average of over 30 percent in 2018 and are projected to increase by 15 percent in 2019, largely because of policy changes.42 Some data suggest that the growth in health care costs may be accelerating as well.43 This may have contributed to an increase in the number of uninsured Americans. One survey found that the number of uninsured adults, after falling to a record low in 2016, had risen by about 4 million by early 2018.44 These statistics could heighten candidates’ interest in health policy in 2020.

Public opinion, too, could help health reform gain traction. Tracking polls suggest that concerns about health care persist, with 55 percent of Americans worrying a great deal about the availability and affordability of health care, according to a poll from March 2018.45 Interestingly, while the partisan differences of opinion on the ACA continue, overall support for the ACA has risen, reaching a record high in February 2018 (Exhibit 5).

This concern about health care has entered the 2018 midterm election debate. It is currently a top midterm issue among registered voters, a close second to jobs and the economy.46 Some House Republicans who formerly highlighted their promise to repeal and replace the ACA no longer do so in light of the failed effort of 2017.47 Democrats, in contrast to previous elections, have embraced the ACA, unifying around its defense in the face of Republican “sabotage.”48 The debate also has been rekindled by Trump’s decision to abandon legal defense of key parts of the ACA.49 Regardless of what happens in the courts, this signifies his antipathy toward the law. Barring a midterm surprise, the next Congress is unlikely to succeed where the last one failed. As such, “repeal and replace” would be a repeat promise in Trump’s reelection campaign.

Likely 2020 Campaign Plans

Against this backdrop, presidential primary candidates and the political parties will forge their health care promises, plans, and platforms. Common threads from past elections are likely to be woven into the 2020 debate. The different parties’ views of the balance between markets and government have long defined their health reform proposals.50 Republicans will most likely still be against the ACA as well as uncapped Medicare and Medicaid spending, and for market- and consumer-driven solutions. Democrats will most likely blame Republicans’ deregulation for rising health care costs; defend the ACA, Medicare, and Medicaid; and advocate for a greater role for government in delivering health coverage and setting payment policy. Potential policies for inclusion in candidates’ plans have been introduced in Congress (Exhibit 6). But major questions remain, such as: how will these campaign plans structure choices for individuals and employers, promote efficient and high-quality care, and learn from the experience of local, state, national, and international systems?

Likely Republican Campaign Plan: Replace the ACA with Devolution and Deregulation

President Trump has indicated he will run for reelection in 2020.51 His fiscal year 2019 budget included a proposal “modeled closely after the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson (GCHJ) bill.” It would repeal federal financing for the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and health insurance marketplaces, using most of the savings for a state block grant for health care services. It would also impose a federal per-enrollee spending cap on the traditional Medicaid program. States could waive the ACA’s insurance reforms.52 The congressional bill also would repeal the employer shared responsibility provision (i.e., the employer mandate) and significantly expand tax breaks for health savings accounts, among other policies.53 The framework for this proposal — repealing parts of the ACA, replacing them with state block grants, reducing regulation, and expanding tax breaks — is similar to the 2016 Republican platform.

Trump may continue to express interest in lowering prescription drug costs. In 2016 and early 2017, he supported letting Medicare negotiate drug prices54 — a policy excluded from the 2016 Republican platform and his proposals as president. His 2019 budget seeks legislation primarily targeting insurers and other intermediaries that often keep a share of negotiated discounts for themselves.55 On May 11, 2018, he released a “blueprint” to tackle drug costs, including additional executive actions and ideas for consideration. Polls suggest that prescription drug costs rank high among health care concerns.56

One policy initiative in the recent Republican platforms but not embraced by the president is Medicare reform. The idea of converting Medicare’s defined benefit into a defined contribution program and raising the eligibility age to 67 was supported by Vice President Mike Pence when he was a member of Congress and by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.57 Major Medicare changes were excluded from the 2017 ACA repeal and replace proposals. In contrast, versions of Medicaid block grant proposals appeared in various bills, including the GCHJ amendment, as well as numerous Republican presidential platforms.

Historically, presidents running for reelection have limited competition in primaries. Those challengers, by definition, emphasize their differences with the incumbent, which may include policy. It may be that John Kasich will run on maintaining the ACA Medicaid expansion but otherwise reforming the program (his position as governor of Ohio throughout 2017). Or, Rand Paul could campaign on his plan to repeal even more of the ACA than the Republicans’ 2017 bills attempted to do. Incumbents tend to have slimmer campaign platforms than their opponents in general and primary elections, since their budget proposals, other legislative proposals, and executive actions fill the policy space (see Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama). Exceptions include George H. W. Bush, who in 1992 developed a plan given voters’ concerns about health; and Nixon, who offered a proposal for health reform at the end of his first term.

Likely Democratic Campaign Plan: Improve the ACA and Add a Public Plan

It is possible and maybe probable that the ultimate Democratic Party platform in 2020 will resemble that of 2016: build on the ACA and include some sort of public plan option. Legislation has been introduced during this congressional session that builds on the law by extending premium tax credits to higher-income marketplace enrollees (e.g., Feinstein, S. 1307), lowering deductibles and copayments for middle-income marketplace enrollees (e.g., Shaheen, S. 1462), providing marketplace insurers with reinsurance (e.g., Carper, S. 1354), and strengthening regulation of private market insurance (e.g., Warren, S. 2582). Some proposals aim to increase enrollment following the effective repeal of the individual mandate, by, for example, raising federal funding for education and outreach, and testing automatic enrollment of potentially eligible uninsured people (e.g., Pallone, H.R. 5155). These proposals would have different effects on health insurance coverage, premiums, and federal budget costs.58

The Democrats will inevitably discuss a public plan in their platform, although the primary contenders will most likely disagree on its scale (e.g., eligibility) and design (e.g., payment rates, benefits).59 In September 2017, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the Medicare for All Act (S. 1804). It would largely replace private insurance and Medicaid with a Medicare-like program with generous benefits and taxpayer financing. “Medicare for more” proposals have also been introduced: Medicare Part E (Merkley, S. 2708), an option for individuals and small and large businesses; Medicare X (Bennet, S. 1970), which is available starting in areas with little insurance competition or provider shortages; and a Medicare buy-in option, for people ages 50 to 65 (Higgins, H.R. 3748). A Medicaid option (Schatz, S. 2001), similar to Medicare Part E, offers a public plan choice to all privately insured people, aiming to capitalize on the recent popularity of that program. Publicly sponsored insurance plans have long been included in Democratic presidents’ platforms, although the government’s role has ranged from regulating the private plans (Carter, Clinton) to sponsoring them (Truman, Obama). It may be that the candidate who prevails in the primaries will determine whether the Democratic platform becomes “Medicare for all” or “Medicare for more.”

This may be the extent of Medicare policies in the 2020 Democratic platform. Relatively high satisfaction and low cost growth in Medicare have limited Democratic interest in Medicare policy changes in recent years. Similarly, Democrats have not introduced or embraced major reforms of Medicaid. However, the public concern about prescription drug costs has fueled Democratic as well as Republican proposals, some of which target the drug companies (e.g., addressing “predatory pricing,” allowing Medicare rather than prescription drug plans to negotiate the prices for the highest-cost drugs).60

Discussion

Predictions about presidential campaigns have inherent limits, as many experts learned in the 2016 election. Events concerning national security (e.g., conflict), domestic policy (e.g., a recession), or the health system (e.g., a disease outbreak) could alter the policy choices of presidential candidates. New ideas could emerge, or candidates could take unconventional approaches to improving the health system. And, while campaign plans have relevance, the long history of attempts at health reform underscores that by no means are promises preordained.

That said, perennial policies and recent political party differences will likely figure in 2020. Republican presidential candidates, with few exceptions, have adopted a small government approach to health reform: shifting control to states, cutting regulation, preferring tax breaks and block grants over mandatory federal funding, and trusting markets to improve access, affordability, and quality. Democratic presidential candidates have supported a greater government role in the health system, arguing that market solutions are insufficient, and have defended existing programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and, now, the ACA. Some will probably support the government’s taking a primary role in providing coverage given criticism of the efficacy and efficiency of private health insurers. The direction and details of the campaign plans for 2020 will be developed in the coming months and year. Given such plans’ potential to shape the next president’s agenda, now is the time to scrutinize, modify, and generate proposals for health reform.

 

 

Efforts to Undo Pre-Existing Condition Protections Put Millions of Women and Girls at Risk

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2018/06/21/452643/moving-backward/

A mother and her child visit the doctor, October 2013.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits discriminatory insurance practices in pricing and coverage in the individual market. Before the law was enacted, women routinely were denied coverage or charged more for insurance based on so-called pre-existing conditions. For example, in the individual insurance market, a woman could be denied coverage or charged a higher premium if she had been diagnosed with or experienced HIV or AIDS; diabetes; lupus; an eating disorder; or pregnancy or a previous cesarean birth, just to name a few. The ACA provided women with protections for pre-existing conditions and access to comprehensive, affordable, and fair health services.

But recent efforts to eliminate key ACA protections, discussed below, would put millions of women and girls once again at risk of being charged more or denied coverage for individual insurance.

Efforts to eliminate ACA protections threaten the security of women with pre-existing conditions

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice refused to uphold the law in Texas v. United States, when it argued that the community rating and guaranteed issue provisions of the ACA are unconstitutional. Without guaranteed issue, women could be denied coverage based on their medical history, their age, and their occupation, among other factors. Without community rating, women could be charged more, or priced out of the insurance market altogether, based on their health status or other factors. Insurance companies could also try to reinstate gender rating, a common pre-ACA practice in which insurance companies charged women higher premiums than they did men, even though other parts of the ACA protect women from discrimination in the health care system.

Now, think tanks and conservative opponents of the ACA are introducing proposals to repeal the ACA yet again. If implemented, these proposals would similarly put women at risk of being denied coverage or charged more because of their health status.

More than half of all women and girls have pre-existing conditions

The authors estimate that more than half of women and girls nationwide—more than 67 million—have pre-existing conditions. There are also nearly 6 million pregnancies each year, a commonly cited reason for denying women coverage on the individual market before the ACA. The two tables available for download below provide state-level detail for the number of women and girls with pre-existing conditions and the number of pregnancies.

A large share of women have coverage through an employer or Medicaid and would, therefore, not face discriminatory practices such as medical underwriting or denials based on health conditions. But the data make clear that allowing insurers to return to pre-ACA practices could lead to millions of women and girls being denied coverage or charged more based on their health status if they ever sought coverage in the individual market.

 

 

Covering the Coming Battle Over the ACA: What You Need to Know

http://www.chcf.org/~/media/MEDIA%20LIBRARY%20Files/PDF/PDF%20W/PDF%20WebinarBattleOverACA12192016Adams.pdf

Image result for Battle for Obamacare

http://www.chcf.org/~/media/MEDIA%20LIBRARY%20Files/PDF/PDF%20W/PDF%20WebinarBattleOverACAResources.pdf