‘Outrageous giveaway to Big Pharma’: A political ‘bomb’ over drug prices may threaten NAFTA 2.0

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/02/13/business/outrageous-giveaway-big-pharma-political-bomb-drug-prices-may-threaten-nafta-2-0/#.XGR6YlVKi1s

Image result for big pharma

The clash over free trade in North America has long been fought over familiar issues: low-paid Mexican workers. U.S. factories that move jobs south of the border. Canada’s high taxes on imported milk and cheese.

But as Democrats in Congress consider whether to back a revamped regional trade pact being pushed by President Donald Trump, they’re zeroing in on a new point of conflict: drug prices. They contend that the new pact would force Americans to pay more for prescription drugs, and their argument has dimmed the outlook for one of Trump’s signature causes.

The president’s proposed replacement for the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement is meant to win over Democrats by incentivizing factories to hire and expand in the United States. Yet the pact would also give pharmaceutical companies 10 years’ protection from cheaper competition in a category of ultra-expensive drugs called biologics, which are made from living cells.

Shielded from competition, critics warn, the drug companies could charge exorbitant prices for biologics.

“This is an outrageous giveaway to Big Pharma,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said in an interview. “The government guarantees at least 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic medicine. It’s a monopoly. It’s bad policy.”

The objections of DeLauro and other Democrats suddenly carry greater potency. The need to curb high drug prices has become a rallying cry for voters of all political stripes. Trump himself has joined the outcry. The revamped North America trade deal must be approved by both chambers of Congress, and Democrats have just regained control of the House.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, the new chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, told The Associated Press that “I don’t think candidly that it passes out of my trade subcommittee” with the biologics provision intact.

“The biologics are some of the most expensive drugs on the planet,” Blumenauer said.

Still, the politics of NAFTA 2.0 are tricky for Democrats and not necessarily a sure-fire winner for them.

The original NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, tore down most trade barriers separating the United States, Canada and Mexico. Like Trump, many Democrats blamed NAFTA for encouraging American factories to abandon the United States to capitalize on lower-wage Mexican labor and then to ship goods back into the U.S., duty-free.

Having long vilified NAFTA, Trump demanded a new deal — one far more favorable to the United States and its workers. For more than a year, his top negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, held talks with Canada and Mexico. Lighthizer managed to insert into the new pact provisions designed to appeal to Democrats and their allies in organized labor. For example, 40 percent of cars would eventually have to be made in countries that pay autoworkers at least $16 an hour — that is, in the United States and Canada and not in Mexico — to qualify for duty-free treatment.

The new deal also requires Mexico to encourage independent unions that will bargain for higher wages and better working conditions.

Late last year, the three countries signed their revamped deal, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. But it wouldn’t take effect until their three legislatures all approved it. In the meantime, the old NAFTA remains in place.

The question now is: Are Democrats prepared to support a deal that addresses some of their key objections to NAFTA and thereby hand Trump a political victory? Some Democrats have praised the new provisions that address auto wages, though many say they must be strengthened before they’d vote for the USMCA.

Protection for drug companies is another matter. Many Democrats had protested even when the Obama administration negotiated eight years of protection for biologics— from cheap-copycat competitors called “biosimilars” — in a 12-country Pacific Rim trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

Trump abandoned the TPP in his first week in office. But the pharmaceutical industry is a potent lobby in Washington, and Trump’s negotiators pressed for protection for U.S. biologics in the new North American free trade deal. They ended up granting the drug companies two additional years of protection in the pact.

Top biologics include the anti-inflammatory drug Humira, the cancer fighter Rituxan and Enbrel, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

The administration and drug companies argue that makers of biologics need time to profit from their creations before biosimilars sweep in, unburdened by the cost of researching and developing the drugs. Otherwise, they contend, the brand-name drug companies would have little incentive to invest in developing new medicines.

They note that a 2015 law authorizing presidents to negotiate trade deals requires American officials to push other countries toward U.S.-level protections for intellectual property such as biologic drugs. (The same law, somewhat contradictorily, directs U.S. negotiators to “promote access to medicines.”)

Supporters also note that existing U.S. law gives makers of biologics 12 years’ protection. So the new pact wouldn’t change the status quo in the United States, though it would force Mexico to expand biologics’ monopoly from five years and Canada from eight years. In fact, supporters of the biologics monopoly argue that the pact might cut prices in the United States because drug companies would no longer face pressure to charge Americans more to compensate for lower prices in Canada and Mexico.

But critics say that expanding biologics’ monopoly in a trade treaty would prevent the United States from ever scaling back the duration to, say, the seven years the Obama administration once proposed.

“By including 10 years in a treaty, we are locking ourselves in to a higher level of monopoly protection for drugs that are already taking in billions of dollars a year,” said Jeffrey Francer, general counsel for the Association for Accessible Medicines, which represents generic drug companies. “The only way for Congress to change it is to back out of the treaty. … Does the United States want to be in violation of its own treaty?”

For Democrats, higher drug prices are shaping up as a powerful political argument against approving the president’s new North American trade deal. In December, Stanley Greenberg, a leading Democratic pollster and strategist, conducted focus groups in Michigan and Wisconsin with Trump voters who weren’t affiliated with the Republican Party. Some had previously voted for Barack Obama. Others called themselves political independents. They’re the kinds of voters Democrats hope to attract in 2020.

Greenberg said he was “shocked” by the intensity of their hostility to drug companies — and to the idea that a trade pact would shield those companies from competition.

“It was like throwing a bomb into the focus group,” said Greenberg, who is married to DeLauro. He said the voters’ consensus view was essentially: “The president was supposed to go and renegotiate (NAFTA) so that it worked for American workers. But it must be that these lobbyists are working behind the scenes” to sneak in special-interest provisions.

That perception gives Democrats reason to reject the new pact as the 2020 election approaches.

“Democrats have no incentive to do this,” said Philip Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a White House economist under President George W. Bush. “Before you know it, the presidential election season is going to be upon us.”

U.S. trade rules are designed to force Congress to give trade agreements an up-or-down vote — no nitpicking allowed. Still, there are ways to bypass those restrictions. Congressional Democrats could, for example, push the administration to negotiate so-called side letters with Canada and Mexico to address their concerns. President Bill Clinton did this with the original NAFTA.

“Lighthizer and his team are very creative,” said Blumenauer, chair of the House trade subcommittee. “This is something that can be handled.”

 

 

 

Big Pharma Lobby Group Spent Record Amount as Reform Push Grows

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-22/big-pharma-lobby-group-spent-record-amount-as-reform-push-grows

The pharmaceutical industry’s 2 leading trade groups both set records for lobbying spending in 2018 — a sign of just how much the industry believes is on the line in the political battle over drug prices.

By the numbers:

  • PhRMA, the industry’s largest trade organization, spent $27.5 million on lobbying last year, per Bloomberg. That’s the most it has ever spent in 1 year.
  • A full $10 million of that came in the first quarter — the most PhRMA has ever spent in a single quarter.
  • The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, meanwhile, spent just shy of $10 million, according to STAT — also a record.
  • Those totals don’t include the millions individual drug companies spent on their own lobbyists. They also don’t include the industry’s campaign contributions, which topped $17 million in the 2018 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Between the lines: PhRMA set its previous lobbying record during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, trying to stop a fully Democratic government from taking a bite out of its bottom line.

  • It’s remarkable that PhRMA would break that record in a year where Republicans — the industry’s allies — controlled the House, Senate and White House.

 

 

 

 

10 Notable Health Care Events of 2018

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2018/10-notable-health-care-events-2018?omnicid=CFC%25%25jobid%25%25&mid=%25%25emailaddr%25%25

2018

Between the fiercely competitive midterm elections and ongoing upheaval over the Trump administration’s immigration policies, 2018 was no less politically tumultuous than 2017. The same was true for the world of health care. Republicans gave up on overt attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through legislation, but the administration’s executive actions on health policy accelerated. Several states took decisive action on Medicaid and some of the struggles over the ACA made their way to the courts. Drug prices remain astronomically high, but public outrage prompted some announcements to help control them. At the same time, corporate behemoths made deeper inroads into health care delivery, including some new overtures from Silicon Valley. Here’s a refresher on some of the most notable events of the year.

1. The ACA under renewed judicial assault

Texas v. Azar, a suit brought by Texas and 19 other Republican-led states, asked the courts to rule the entire ACA unconstitutional because Congress repealed the financial penalty associated with the individual mandate to obtain health insurance that was part of the original law. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, creating confusion at the end of the ACA’s open enrollment period, and setting up what may be a years-long judicial contest (yet again) over the constitutionality of the ACA. To learn more about the legal issues at stake, see Timothy S. Jost’s recent To the Point post.

2. Turnout for open enrollment in health insurance marketplaces surged at the end of the sign-up period

The federal and state-based marketplaces launched their sixth enrollment season on November 1 for individuals seeking to buy health coverage in the ACA’s individual markets for 2019. Insurer participation remained strong and premiums fell on average. While some states have extended enrollment periods, HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace, closed on December 15. After lagging in the early weeks, enrollment ended just 4 percent lower this year than in 2017.

3. The administration continues efforts to hobble ACA marketplaces

While the reasons behind lower enrollment cannot be decisively determined, executive action in 2018 may have contributed. The Trump administration dramatically cut back federal investments in marketplace advertising and consumer assistance for the second year in a row. The federal government spent $10 million on advertising for the 34 federally facilitated marketplaces this year (the same as last year but an 85 percent cut from 2016) and $10 million on the navigator program (down from $100 million in 2016), which provides direct assistance to hard-to-reach populations.

4. Insurers encouraged to sell health plans that don’t comply with the ACA

Another tactic the Trump administration is using to undercut the ACA is increasing the availability of health insurance products, such as short-term health plans, that don’t comply with ACA standards. Short-term plans, previously available for just three months, can now provide coverage for just under 12 months and be renewed for up to 36 months in many states. These plans may have gaps in coverage and lead to costs that consumers may not anticipate when they sign up. By siphoning off healthy purchasers, short-term plans and other noncompliant products segment the individual market and increase premiums for individuals who want to — or need to — purchase ACA-complaint insurance that won’t discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, for example.

5. Medicaid expansion in conservative states

Few states have expanded Medicaid since 2016, but in 2018, a new trend toward expansion through ballot initiatives emerged. Following Maine’s citizen-initiated referendum last year, Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah passed ballot initiatives in November to expand Medicaid. Other red states may follow in 2019. Medicaid expansion not only improves access to care for low-income Americans, but also makes fiscal sense for states, because the federal government subsidizes the costs of newly eligible Medicaid enrollees (94 percent of the state costs at present, dropping to 90 percent in 2020).

6. Red states impose work requirements for Medicaid

A number of states submitted federal waivers to make employment a requirement for Medicaid eligibility. Such waivers were approved in five states — Arkansas, Kentucky, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Indiana — and 10 other states are awaiting approval. At the end of 2018, lawsuits are pending in Arkansas and Kentucky challenging the lawfulness of work requirements for Medicaid eligibility. About 17,000 people have lost Medicaid in Arkansas as a result of work requirements.

7. Regulatory announcements respond to public outrage over drug prices

Public outrage over prescription drug prices — which are higher in the U.S. than in other industrialized countries — provided fodder for significant regulatory action in 2018 to help bring costs under control. Of note, the Food and Drug Administration announced a series of steps to encourage competition from generic manufacturers as well as greater price transparency. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in October announced a proposed rule to test a new payment model to substantially lower the cost of prescription drugs and biologics covered under Part B of the Medicare program.

8. Corporations and Silicon Valley make deeper inroads into health care

Far from Washington, D.C., corporations and technology companies made their own attempts to alter the way health care is delivered in the U.S. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and J.P. Morgan Chase kicked 2018 off with an announcement that they would form an independent nonprofit health care company that would seek to revolutionize health care for their U.S. employees. Not to be outdone, Apple teamed up with over 100 health care systems and practices to disrupt the way patients access their electronic health records. And CVS Health and Aetna closed their $69 billion merger in November, after spending the better part of the year seeking approval from state insurance regulators. In a surprise move, a federal district judge then announced that he was reviewing the merger to explore the potential competitive harm in the deal.

9. Growth in health spending slows

The annual report on National Health Expenditures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that in 2017, health care spending in the U.S. grew 3.9 percent to $3.5 trillion, or $10,739 per person. After higher growth rates in 2016 (4.8%) and 2015 (5.8%) following expanded insurance coverage and increased spending on prescription drugs, health spending growth has returned to the same level as between 2008 to 2013, the average predating ACA coverage expansions.

10. Drug overdose rates hit a record high

Continuing a tragic trend, drug overdose deaths are still on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 70,237 fatalities in 2017. Overdose deaths are higher than deaths from H.I.V., car crashes, or gun violence, and seem to reflect a growing number of deaths from synthetic drugs, most notably fentanyl. 2018 was the first year after President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. National policy solutions have so far failed to stem the epidemic, though particular states have made progress.

As we slip into 2019, expect health care issues to remain front and center on the policy agenda, with the administration continuing its regulatory assault on many key ACA provisions, Democrats harassing the executive branch with House oversight hearings, both parties demanding relief from escalating pharmaceutical prices, and the launch of health care as a 2020 presidential campaign issue.

 

 

CIVICA RX ADDS 12 HEALTH SYSTEMS AS FOUNDING MEMBERS

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/civica-rx-adds-12-health-systems-founding-members

The alliance, which was formed last year by seven health systems and three philanthropic organizations, aims to tamp down drug costs by collaborating on generics.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Health system executives and policymakers alike are looking for ways to get drug prices under control.

The consortium of major health systems aims to tackle cost and shortage challenges by producing its own generics.

The number of participating hospitals has grown to about 750 in the U.S., with more expected to join.

A nonprofit alliance of health systems seeking to rein in drug costs and alleviate shortages has grown significantly in the four months since its launch.

Civica Rx announced Monday that 12 additional health systems, representing about 250 hospitals, have joined the venture as founding members, bringing the total number of participating U.S. hospitals to about 750.

The organization described its growth as momentum, with future growth expected, as policymakers and health system executives nationwide look for ways to wrangle escalating drug costs.

Three philanthropic organizations and seven major health systems—including Trinity Health, Catholic Health Initiatives, HCA Healthcare, Intermountain Healthcare, Mayo Clinic, Providence St. Joseph Health, and SSM Health—founded Civica Rx last September, with a plan to produce generic drugs to stabilize supply and challenge manufacturers that have hiked prices sharply.

With its launch, the organization identified 14 hospital-administered generics as its initial focus. The plan is for members to drive the selection of additional drugs.

The 12 new founding members announced Monday are as follows:

  • Advocate Aurora Health
  • Allegheny Health Network
  • Baptist Health South Florida
  • Franciscan Alliance
  • Memorial Hermann Health System
  • NYU Langone Health
  • Ochsner Health System
  • Sanford Health
  • Spectrum Health
  • St. Luke’s University Health Network
  • Steward Health Care
  • UnityPoint Health

In a statement, Civica Rx CEO Martin VanTrieste expressed excitement and gratitude for the additions.

“Drug shortages have become a national crisis where patient treatments and surgeries are canceled, delayed or suboptimal,” VanTrieste. “We thank these organizations for joining us to make essential generic medicines accessible and affordable in hospitals across the country.”

The three philanthropic organizations that helped found Civica Rx are the Gary and Mary West Foundation, Laura & John Arnold Foundation, and the Peterson Center on Healthcare. The organization is collaborating also with the American Hospital Association’s Center for Health Innovation.

 

 

Proposed Changes to Medicare Part D Would Benefit Drug Manufacturers More Than Beneficiaries

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2019/proposed-changes-medicare-part-d-would-benefit-drug-manufacturers-more-beneficiaries?omnicid=EALERT1538445&mid=henrykotula@yahoo.com

senior opens medications

As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA), Congress made changes to the Medicare prescription drug benefit program, or Part D, to lower spending for both beneficiaries and the federal government. Specifically, the BBA increased the size of the discount on brand-name drugs that manufacturers are required to offer beneficiaries who are in the Part D coverage gap, or “donut hole,” from 50 percent to 70 percent. (The donut hole, in which Medicare beneficiaries who have spent over a certain amount on prescription drugs must pay all drug costs out of pocket, was designed to help contain federal costs.) By increasing the size of the manufacturer discount, Congress was able to shrink the share of spending in the donut hole covered by Part D plan sponsors and beneficiaries.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers have continued to put pressure on Congress to make two changes: 1) roll back the discount from manufacturers from 70 percent to 63 percent (and increase Part D plan-sponsor liability) and 2) block an increase in the total amount beneficiaries must spend out of pocket on their prescription drugs before catastrophic coverage kicks in.

According to our analysis, these proposals would financially benefit drug manufacturers more than Medicare beneficiaries: while beneficiaries’ spending in the coverage gap would be slightly reduced, manufacturers’ spending would be reduced far more. Moreover, Medicare spending under Part D would increase to cover the savings to beneficiaries and manufacturers.

Key Definitions Under Part D

Donut Hole: The third phase of Medicare Part D coverage in which beneficiaries pay all drug costs out of pocket.

TrOOP (True Out-of-Pocket) Threshold: The total amount beneficiaries need to spend out of pocket before reaching catastrophic coverage.

Part D Plan Sponsors: Typically insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers

Part D Coverage Gap Discount: A program established by the ACA that requires drug manufacturers and Part D plan sponsors to give beneficiaries price discounts on brand-name drugs when beneficiaries reach the coverage gap. It also reduces the share of spending that Part D plan sponsors cover.

Original Medicare Part D Design

When the Medicare Part D program was created in 2003, Congress required all Part D plan sponsors — typically insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers — to establish a standard benefit package with four phases of coverage that beneficiaries move through depending on their drug spending. In the first phase, the federal government covers 100 percent of cost-sharing until beneficiaries reach their deductible. In the second phase, the federal government covers 25 percent of cost-sharing. In the third phase, known as the coverage gap or donut hole, beneficiaries pay all drug costs out of pocket. In the final phase, catastrophic coverage is reached and beneficiaries cover just 5 percent of cost-sharing.

The amount beneficiaries need to spend out of pocket before reaching catastrophic coverage is called the TrOOP (“True Out-of-Pocket) threshold; it was $5,000 in 2018. The TrOOP threshold increases each year to account for growth in Medicare per-beneficiary spending under Part D, which includes prescription drug prices.

Filling the Part D “Donut Hole”

As part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Congress included two changes to Part D to help fill the donut hole. First, Congress established the Part D Coverage Gap Discount Program that requires participating drug manufacturers and Part D plan sponsors give beneficiaries price discounts on brand-name drugs when beneficiaries reach the coverage gap. Between 2011 and 2020, this program reduces beneficiary cost-sharing in the gap from 100 percent to 25 percent. The discounts were phased in and scheduled to fill the coverage gap by 2020.

Second, Congress slowed the annual update to the TrOOP threshold through 2019 by basing the update on the consumer price index (CPI) plus 2 percentage points rather than drug spending growth. The purpose was to give certainty to the size of the donut hole during the phase-in of the manufacturer discount program. Because the CPI has grown far less rapidly than drug prices under Part D, this change has kept the size of the donut hole smaller, enabling beneficiaries to reach the catastrophic benefit sooner than they would have under the original Part D benefit. This also helps manufacturers, who don’t have to offer as many discounts when people are in the coverage gap for a shorter period of time. And once the federal government is covering more costs under catastrophic coverage, manufacturers no longer have to provide discounts at all.

While Congress slowed growth in the TrOOP threshold through 2019, under the ACA, the threshold amount reverts back to the pre-ACA calculation in 2020. When the threshold is based on drug price spending growth again, the amount a beneficiary must spend in the coverage gap will jump from $5,100 to $6,350. (If manufacturer price growth had been at or close to CPI growth in recent years, there would be no increase in 2020.) But if Congress wants to block the spike in the TrOOP amount, it must take action no later than June 2019, the deadline for Part D plans bidding to offer coverage in 2020.

Effect of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 on the Coverage Gap

In February 2018, the BBA made changes to the Part D Coverage Gap Discount Program to help fill the donut hole in 2019 (a year earlier than the ACA provision) by increasing the manufacturer discount for beneficiaries from 50 percent to 70 percent and reducing the share that Part D plan sponsors cover. This change will require manufacturers to offer a larger discount and reduce beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket drug costs in the donut hole. By reducing the share that insurance companies or pharmacy benefit managers are responsible for, Congress intended to lower premiums, which in turn will save the federal government on premiums subsidies.

The Financial Impact of the New Proposals

While Congress established the Part D Coverage Gap Discount Program at the same time it slowed growth in the TrOOP threshold — and both relate to the donut hole — the two policies function independently and need not be conflated in terms of making changes to them in statute.

Moreover, the financial implications of proposals to change these components differ markedly. Beneficiaries spend an average of $1,321 on cost-sharing in the coverage gap today and would spend $1,156 in 2020 — or $165 less — if Congress amends the BBA and blocks the TrOOP increase as proposed by the pharmaceutical industry.

However, manufacturers would save even more under these proposed policies. Brand-name manufacturer discounts in the donut hole would fall from $3,698 per beneficiary today to roughly $2,998 — a reduction of $785 per beneficiary. Part D plan sponsors would spend $555 per beneficiary in the coverage gap or $291 more if both policies were addressed.

Understanding the implications of these proposals beyond their impact on Medicare spending and the federal budget is important. Even if Congress were only to block the increase in the TrOOP threshold — and not undo the increase in manufacturer discounts — beneficiary spending would be slightly lower (as a lower limit on TrOOP spending would enable beneficiaries to get out of the donut hole and into the most generous level of federal coverage more quickly) but manufacturers would still come out far ahead of both Part D plan sponsors and beneficiaries. Given the financial implications of these two policies, Congress may want to consider broader changes to Part D that would lower drug prices, provide more cost savings to beneficiaries, and avoid higher spending under the Medicare program.

 

 

 

Drug Prices Due to Rise in 2019

Image result for Drug Prices Due to Rise in 2019
28 pharmaceutical companies will raise their drug prices next year going back on the price freezes that they instituted this summer after public shaming from Administration officials, according to press reports. 

Allergan, Bayer, Novartis, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Biogen, and GlaxoSmithKline are among the companies who filed disclosures with California earlier this year that they planned to raise prices within at least 60 days, in accordance with the state’s 2017 notification law.

Payers have reported that they anticipate drug price increases about 20 percent higher than previous years with the average price increase for a pharmacy-dispensed drug to be in the high single digits and the increase for physician-administered drugs to be around 3 percent.

Click here for the Reuters report.

 

Can a Divided Congress Fix Health Care?

https://www.kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kff-health-tracking-poll-november-2018-priorities-congress-future-aca-medicaid-expansion/

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest tracking poll finds that costs and affordability are the health care issues Americans most want Congress to address — though the public remains highly skeptical that Democrats and Republicans can actually work together to do anything on health care.

The poll also finds that the favorability of the Affordable Care Act has risen to 53 percent and that 59 percent of people living in states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA want such an expansion.

Key Findings:

  • The November KFF Health Tracking Poll, conducted the week after the 2018 midterm election, finds a majority of the public wants the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to work with Republicans on legislation to address the major problems facing the country as well as conduct oversight of the Trump administration’s actions on policies such as health care. Yet, few Americans are “very confident” (6 percent) that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will be able to work on bipartisan legislation to address the health care issues facing the country.
  • The midterm elections brought Medicaid expansion to three additional states, bringing the total number of states that have expanded their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income uninsured adults to 37 (including Washington, D.C.). Those living in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs continue to hold a favorable view of Medicaid expansion and most would like to see their state expand their Medicaid program. And as a possible indicator of how some other states may expand their Medicaid programs in the future, most of those living in a non-expansion state say that if their state government chooses not to expand, voters themselves should be able to decide if their state expands their Medicaid program.
  • The new Democratic majority in the House all but guarantees the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will remain the law of the land for at least the next two years. The most recent tracking poll finds a slight uptick – largely driven by Democrats – in the overall favorability of the law (53 percent) and many of the ACA’s provisions continue to be quite popular with a majority of the public. But the poll also finds the public is largely unaware about the law’s sixth open enrollment period, and four in ten 18-64 year olds who buy their own insurance or are currently uninsured say they will choose to go without coverage in 2019.

    Most Americans say it is “very important” to keep the ACA provisions barring insurers from denying coverage or charging more (62%) to people with pre-existing conditions, even after hearing that these may have increased costs for some healthy people

  • A divided Congress does not mean that the coming year will not see any changes to the country’s health care system. There is an impending lawsuit, Texas v. United States, which may end the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions as well as the Trump administration’s recent actions allowing employers to be exempt from covering the full cost of birth control for their employees if they oppose to it due to religious or moral reasons, which could lead to substantial changes to health coverage for many Americans. This month’s tracking poll examines the public’s support for these proposed changes and examines the malleability of these opinions.

The Public’s Priorities for Next Congress

With Democratic gains in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2018 midterm election, Democrats and Republicans will split control of Congress next year. These results will mean that President Trump will have a divided Congress for the first time in his presidency. About half of the public (53 percent) say oversight of the Trump administration’s actions on policies such as health care, education, and the environment should be a “top priority” for House Democrats in the coming year. This is similar to the share (55 percent) who say that working to enact new laws to address the major problems facing the country should be a “top priority” for House Democrats in the coming year and substantially larger than the share who say investigating corruption within President Trump’s administration should be a “top priority” (36 percent).

Majority of The Public Say Working To Enact New Legislation And Oversight Are Top Priorities For Democrats

Figure 1: Majority of The Public Say Working To Enact New Legislation And Oversight Are Top Priorities For Democrats

Unsurprisingly, the share of partisans who say each of these should be a “top priority” for Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives varies drastically; majorities of Democrats saying conducting oversight (77 percent), working to enact legislation (67 percent), and investigating corruption (58 percent) should all be top priorities for the coming year. A majority of independents (54 percent) say working to enact legislation should be a “top priority,” while less than half of Republicans say any of these – including working to enact legislation – should be “a top priority” for House Democrats.

Figure 2: Most Democrats Say New Legislation, Oversight, and Investigating Corruption Are Top Priorities For House Democrats

Figure 2: Most Democrats Say New Legislation, Oversight, and Investigating Corruption Are Top Priorities For House Democrats

Immigration and Health Care Top Public’s Priorities

Similar to the issues driving voters in the 2018 midterm elections, the most recent KFF Health Tracking Poll finds immigration and health care as the top issues the public want to see the next Congress act on in 2019 with the issues offered largely driven by party identification. Overall, about one-fifth of voters offer immigration or border security (21 percent) when asked to say in their own words the issue Congress should work on next year. This is similar to the share of the public who offer health care (20 percent) as the top issue they want to see the next Congress work on. Fewer offer gun control/legislation (8 percent), tax reform (4 percent), or education (4 percent) as the issues they want to see Congress act on in 2019.

Four times as many Republicans (41 percent) offer immigration/border security as the issue they would most like the next Congress to act on in 2019 as Democrats (10 percent). On the other hand, health care is the top issue for Democrats. One-fourth of Democrats (27 percent) say health care is the issue they would most like to see the next Congress act on, compared to 11 percent of Republicans who say the same. Independents are divided across the top two issues, with similar shares offering immigration/border security (22 percent) and health care (21 percent) as the issues they want to see Congress work on.

Table 1: Immigration and Health Care Top Public’s Priorities for Next Congress
Thinking about next year, which issue would you most like the next Congress to act on in 2019? (open-end) Total Democrats Independents Republicans
Immigration/Border security 21% 10% 22% 41%
Health care 20 27 21 11
Gun control/legislation 8 13 4 8
Tax reform 4 2 7 8
Education 4 7 2
Note: Only top five responses shown. Question asked of half sample.
COST AND AFFORDABILITY CONTINUES TO DOMINATE HEALTH CARE PRIORITIES

When asked which health care issue they would most like to see the next Congress act on in 2019, more Americans offer issues around health care affordability and cost (19 percent) than other health care issues including the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) (10 percent) or Medicare (6 percent). Health care affordability and cost are also the most frequently mentioned health care issues by Democrats (14 percent), independents (25 percent), and Republicans (17 percent). The ACA is the second most frequently mentioned health care issue among partisans, with Democrats saying they want to see Congress “protecting or improving the ACA” while Republicans say they want to see the next Congress “repealing the ACA.” Independents are divided on this issue, with similar shares saying they want to see Congress repealing and protecting the 2010 health care law.

Figure 3: Cost And Affordability Top Public’s Health Care Priorities For Next Congress

Figure 3: Cost And Affordability Top Public’s Health Care Priorities For Next Congress

While there appears to be consensus among the public on what health care issue they want to see Congress work on next year, not quite one-third are confident that Democrats and Republicans in Congress will be able to work together on bipartisan legislation to address the health care issues facing the country. In fact, seven in ten say they are either “not very confident” (34 percent) or “not at all confident” (35 percent) that Congress will be able to work on such bipartisan legislation, while fewer are confident, either “very confident” (six percent) or “somewhat confident” (24 percent), in Congress being able to work together.

Figure 4: Less Than One-Third Are Confident Congress Can Work Together To Address Health Care Issues Facing The Country

Figure 4: Less Than One-Third Are Confident Congress Can Work Together To Address Health Care Issues Facing The Country

Democrats are slightly more confident in the ability of Democrats and Republicans in Congress to be able to work together on bipartisan health care legislation (41 percent) compared to independents (27 percent) and Republicans (19 percent); yet, a majority across party identification say they are either “not very confident” or “not at all confident” (58 percent, 72 percent, and 79 percent, respectively).

The Future of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid Expansion

The 2018 midterm elections have major implications for both the future of the 2010 health care law known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as one of its most popular provisions – individual state’s expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income people.

The Affordable Care Act

With Democrats regaining a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 2010, and without continued efforts among Republicans to repeal the ACA, the latest KFF Tracking Poll finds a slight uptick in the public’s view of the law with 53 percent saying they view law favorably compared to four in ten who have an unfavorable view of the law. This slight shift is largely driven by Democrats with about eight in ten saying they have a favorable opinion of the law, including about half (48 percent) who have a “very favorable” view. Similarly, three-fourths of Republicans (76 percent) continue to view the law unfavorably with more than half (54 percent) saying they have a “very unfavorable” opinion of the law.

Figure 5: Post-Election Tracking Poll Finds Slight Uptick in ACA Favorability, Largely Driven By Democrats

Figure 5: Post-Election Tracking Poll Finds Slight Uptick in ACA Favorability, Largely Driven By Democrats

AMERICANS CONTINUE TO HOLD FAVORABLE OPINIONS OF ACA PROVISIONS

Similar to previous KFF Tracking Polls, many of the ACA’s provisions continue to be quite popular, even across party lines. A majority of the public – regardless of party identification – hold favorable views of all of the ACA’s provisions with one exception (fewer than half of Republicans say they have a favorable opinion of the Medicare payroll tax increases on earnings for upper-income Americans).

Table 2: Americans’ Opinions of ACA Provisions
Percent who say they have a FAVORABLE opinion of each of the following provisions of the law: Total Democrats Independents Republicans
Allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 82% 90% 82% 66%
Creates health insurance exchanges where small businesses and people can shop for insurance and compare prices and benefits 82 91 78 71
Provides financial help to low- and moderate-income Americans who don’t get insurance through their jobs to help them purchase coverage 81 92 82 63
Gradually closes the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” so people on Medicare will no longer be required to pay the full cost of their medications 81 85 82 80
Eliminates out-of-pocket costs for many preventive services 79 88 78 68
Gives states the option of expanding their existing Medicaid program to cover more low-income, uninsured adults 77 91 77 55
Requires employers with 50 or more employees to pay a fine if they don’t offer health insurance 69 88 61 56
Prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history 65 70 66 58
Increases the Medicare payroll tax on earnings for upper-income Americans 65 77 69 42
Note. Some items asked of half samples.

In previous KFF Health Tracking Polls, one of the ACA’s provisions – the individual mandate which required nearly all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine – was consistently viewed unfavorably by a majority of the public. As part of the federal tax bill passed in 2017, Congress zeroed out the dollar amount and percentage of income penalties imposed by the individual mandate. Overall, three in ten Americans (31 percent) are aware that Congress has gotten rid of the penalty for not having health insurance, while four in ten (38 percent) incorrectly say Congress has not gotten rid of this penalty and an additional three in ten (31 percent) are unsure. The results are similar among those under 65 years old who either buy their own insurance or are currently uninsured with three in ten (31 percent) aware Congress has gotten rid of the penalty for not having health insurance.

Figure 6: Most Americans Are Not Aware Congress Has Gotten Rid Of The Penalty For Not Having Health Insurance

Figure 6: Most Americans Are Not Aware Congress Has Gotten Rid Of The Penalty For Not Having Health Insurance

Medicaid Expansion

Three states (Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah) voted during the 2018 election to expand their Medicaid program to cover more low-income residents, bringing the total number of states that have expanded their Medicaid programs to 37 states including Washington, D.C. Overall, about three-fourths of the public – including 77 percent of those living in non-expansion states – have a favorable view of the ACA’s provision that gives states the option of expanding their existing Medicaid program to cover more low-income, uninsured adults. In addition, a majority (59 percent) of those living in non-expansion states would like to see their state expand Medicaid to cover more low-income uninsured people while one-third (34 percent) say they want to see their state keep Medicaid as it is today. A majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they want to see their state expand Medicaid (84 percent) while most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents want to see their state keep Medicaid as it is today (65 percent).

Figure 7: Majority Of Residents In Non-Expansion States Want Their State To Expand Their Medicaid Programs

Figure 7: Majority Of Residents In Non-Expansion States Want Their State To Expand Their Medicaid Programs

Among those living in states without Medicaid expansion who want to see their state expand their Medicaid program, nearly nine in ten (51 percent of all residents living in non-expansion states) say that if their governor and state government choose not to expand Medicaid, voters themselves should be able to decide if their state expands Medicaid.

The ACA’s 2019 Open Enrollment Period

The ACA’s sixth open enrollment period for individuals who purchase health plans on their own began on November 2, 2018 and closes in most states on December 15, 2018.1 According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as of November 21, 2018, 1.9 million people have signed up for insurance through the federal marketplace, which is slightly less than in previous years.2

The most recent KFF Tracking Poll finds a majority of the group most directly affected by open enrollment (those 18-64 years old who either purchase their own insurance or are currently uninsured) are unaware of the current open enrollment deadlines. About one-fourth (24 percent) of this group is aware of the current deadline to buy insurance for 2019 while six in ten (61 percent) say they “do not know” the deadline and 16 percent either offer the wrong date, incorrectly say there is no deadline or that the deadline has passed, or refuse to answer the question.

Figure 8: About One-Fourth Of Those Who Buy Their Own Insurance Or Are Uninsured Know Current Open Enrollment Deadline

Figure 8: About One-Fourth Of Those Who Buy Their Own Insurance Or Are Uninsured Know Current Open Enrollment Deadline

Slightly less than half (45 percent) of those 18-64 who either purchase their own insurance or are currently uninsured, say they have heard or seen any ads in the past thirty days from an insurance company attempting to sell health insurance. Fewer – about three in ten (31 percent) say they have heard or seen any information about how to get health insurance under the health care law.

IT IS STILL UNCLEAR HOW TWO MAJOR CHANGES TO ACA MARKETPLACES WILL AFFECT OPEN ENROLLMENT

This year’s open enrollment period has two major changes brought about by Republicans and President Trump’s administration: the removal of the penalty for not having health insurance and the introduction of short-term health insurance plans. About half of 18-64 year olds who buy their own insurance or are currently uninsured say they plan to buy their own insurance in 2019, despite the elimination of the fine for people who don’t have health insurance, while four in ten (42 percent) say they will choose to go without coverage in 2019.

Figure 9: Unclear How Changes To Individual Mandate Penalty And New Short-Term Plans May Affect Open Enrollment

Figure 9: Unclear How Changes To Individual Mandate Penalty And New Short-Term Plans May Affect Open Enrollment

One option available to those who buy their own insurance that would not have satisfied the ACA individual mandate in previous years are short-term health insurance plans. These plans cost significantly less than ACA-compliant plans but provide fewer benefits and may not pay for care for some pre-existing medical conditions.3 About one-fifth (21 percent) of those under the age of 65 who buy their own insurance or are currently uninsured say that if they had the opportunity, they would want to purchase a short-term plan. Seven in ten say they would either continue going without coverage or keep the plan they have now.

Public Support Trump Administration’s Actions on Prescription Drug Advertisements, Divided on Actions Aimed at Women’s Health and Pre-Existing Coverage

In recent months, the Trump administration has announced several actions aimed at different aspects of the U.S. health care system. The most recent KFF Tracking Poll finds the public supports the Trump administration’s proposed actions on prescription drug advertisements, even after hearing counter-arguments. The public is more divided on the administration’s actions on women’s health and protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

PRESCRIPTION DRUG ADVERTISEMENTS

Earlier this year, President Trump announced a series of ideas aimed at lowering the price of prescription drugs. One of its key elements is to require drug manufacturers to publish list prices for their prescription drugs in television advertisements. About three-fourths (77 percent) favor the federal government requiring prescription drug advertisements to include a statement about how much the drug costs. In a rare instance of bipartisanship, this policy proposal is supported by a majority of Democrats (80 percent), independents (74 percent) and Republicans (77 percent).

Figure 10: Large Shares, Regardless Of Party, Favor Requiring Prescription Drug Advertisements To Include Pricing Information

Figure 10: Large Shares, Regardless Of Party, Favor Requiring Prescription Drug Advertisements To Include Pricing Information

After President Trump announced this proposal, there was some debate about how this could be implemented with opponents saying that since people often pay different prices for the same drug based on the type of insurance they have, including a price in a drug advertisement could be confusing to consumers. About one-fifth of those who originally supported this proposal change their minds after hearing this counter-argument, leaving a slight majority of the public (53 percent) continuing to support this proposal. On the other side of the debate, nearly half of those (7 percent of total) who originally opposed this proposal change their minds after hearing that putting the price of a drug in an advertisement would put pressure on drug companies to lower their prices.

Figure 11: Majority Of The Public Continue To Favor Putting Prices In Drug Advertisements Even After Hearing Counter-Arguments

Figure 11: Majority Of The Public Continue To Favor Putting Prices In Drug Advertisements Even After Hearing Counter-Arguments

EMPLOYER EXEMPTION FROM COVERING BIRTH CONTROL

On November 15, 2018, the Trump Administration issued final regulations expanding the types of employers that may be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage requirement to all nonprofit and closely-held for-profit employers with objections to contraceptive coverage based on religious beliefs or moral convictions, including private institutions of higher education that issue student health plans.4 Overall, six in ten (57 percent) of the public, including most women, oppose allowing employers to be exempt from the requirement to cover the full cost of prescription birth control in their plans if they object to it for religious or moral reasons.

Figure 12: Majorities Across Groups – Except For Republicans – Oppose Allowing Employers To Be Exempt From Covering Birth Control

Figure 12: Majorities Across Groups – Except For Republicans – Oppose Allowing Employers To Be Exempt From Covering Birth Control

Few individuals, on either side of the debate, change their minds about employers being exempt from covering the cost of prescription birth control for religious or moral reasons after hearing counter-arguments. About one-fourth (9 percent of total) change their minds and now oppose employer exemptions after hearing that this means some women would not be able to afford birth control. On the other side of the argument, one in eight (7 percent of total) now favor this exemption if they heard that some business owners feel like they are being forced to pay for a benefit that violates their religious or moral beliefs.

Figure 13: Few, On Either Side Of Debate, Change Minds About Employer Birth Control Coverage After Hearing Counter-Arguments

Figure 13: Few, On Either Side Of Debate, Change Minds About Employer Birth Control Coverage After Hearing Counter-Arguments

PROTECTIONS FOR PEOPLE WITH PRE-EXISTING MEDICAL CONDITIONS

In June 2018, President Trump’s administration announced – as part of a lawsuit known as Texas v. United States, brought by 20 Republican state attorneys general – it will no longer defend the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. These provisions prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage based on a person’s medical history (known as guaranteed issue), and prohibit insurance companies from charging those with pre-existing conditions more for coverage (known as community rating). The impending suit, Texas v. United States, will decide, among other things, whether both of these protections are unconstitutional and if they will be deemed invalid beginning on January 1, 2019.

The majority of the public say it is “very important” to them that the ACA’s provisions protecting those with pre-existing conditions remain law even after hearing that these protections may have led to increased insurance costs for some healthy people. Sixty-five percent of the public say it is “very important” to them that the provision that prohibits health insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history remains law. An additional fifth (22 percent) say it is “somewhat important” this provision remains law. Similarly, about six in ten say it is “very important” that the provision that prohibits health insurance companies from charging sick people more remains law, while an additional one in five (22 percent) say it is “somewhat important.”

Figure 14: Majorities Say Pre-Existing Condition Protections Are Very Important To Them

Figure 14: Majorities Say Pre-Existing Condition Protections Are Very Important To Them

If the judge ruling on Texas v. United States decides the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional, a majority of the public – including 87 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents, and about half of Republicans – say they would want their state to establish protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, even if this means some healthy people may pay more for coverage.

Figure 15: Majorities Say They Would Support State Action If ACA’s Pre-Existing Condition Protections Are Ruled Unconstitutional

Figure 15: Majorities Say They Would Support State Action If ACA’s Pre-Existing Condition Protections Are Ruled Unconstitutional