Trump’s (overlooked) plans for employer coverage

https://www.axios.com/vitals-2495705081.html

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Trump’s executive order will likely include a provision making it easier for employers to set aside some money, tax-free, to help their workers pay insurance premiums. This one hasn’t gotten as much attention yet as some of the other policies Trump is expected to pursue, but it’s a big deal — one insurers fear could push more people into a shaky market.

The details: Employers already can set aside some pre-tax dollars to help cover employees’ health care costs. Trump’s executive order will likely expand those programs so that they can be used to help employees cover the premiums for an individual insurance policy, an insurance industry official told me.

The reactions:

  • Insurers are afraid this will give employers an incentive to stop offering traditional health benefits: Why go to all the trouble of finding and offering a health care plan if you can just offer your workers some money to go buy their own?
  • “That would be survivable, I think,” if the individual market were more stable, the official said. But because that market is shaky, insurers are nervous.
  • Another fear: Employers might be able to offer coverage to their younger employees, while using these new funds to shift older workers, who tend to have higher health care costs, into the individual market.

The unknowns: Dumping workers into the individual market, even with help paying their premiums, would likely trigger penalties under the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, the insurance official said. That might be a disincentive to use these new options — if the Trump administration were planning tough enforcement of the employer mandate.

The bottom line: Other sections of Trump’s executive order will likely pull healthy people out of the individual market; this one could push unhealthy people into it. Insurers are uneasy about both sides of that equation, and say they haven’t had a chance to offer the policy feedback previous administrations would have sought out.

What else to expect from Trump’s executive order

Here’s a quick rundown of what else to expect from today’s executive order:

  • The order itself probably won’t fill in the details of how its policy changes would work. Look for broad outlines, with the nitty-gritty coming separately — probably in the form of a proposed rule from the Labor Department.
  • Although the public will technically have an opportunity to comment on that proposed rule, the insurance industry official told me the final version is largely already written.

The policy:

  • Association health plans: Trump will likely make it easier for individuals (for example, a group of freelancers) to band together and buy insurance like a large employer would.
  • New associations will likely need some form of approval before they can start buying insurance, but insurers don’t expect that process to be much more than a rubber stamp.
  • Short-term plans: Trump is expected to let people hang onto short-term, stopgap policies for a full year; they’re currently limited to three months. Those plans don’t cover much and don’t have to comply with many of the ACA’s consumer protections.
  • Total impact: Insurers and independent policy experts fear that both of those measures would weaken the individual market by pulling healthy people out of it and into skimpier, cheaper coverage.

How Trump is planning to gut Obamacare by executive order

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/8/16439492/trump-obamacare-association-health-plans

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With a repeal bill off the table, the Trump administration has drafted an executive order that could blow a huge hole in the Affordable Care Act, according to a source with direct knowledge of the plan.

The order would, in effect, exempt many association health plans, groups of small businesses that pool together to buy health insurance, from core Obamacare requirements like the coverage of certain essential health benefits. It would potentially allow individuals to join these plans too, which would put individual insurance marketplaces in serious peril by drawing younger and healthier people away from them.

The draft order is also said to broaden the definition of short-term insurance, which is also exempt from the law’s regulations. Together, these changes represent a serious threat to Obamacare: President Trump seems ready to open more loopholes for more people to buy insurance outside the health care law’s markets, which experts anticipate would destabilize the market for customers who are left behind with higher premiums and fewer insurers.

“This appears to be a backdoor way of undermining the Affordable Care Act,” Kevin Lucia, who studies the markets at Georgetown University, said of the alleged changes.

It’s possible that the order could change before Trump signs it, or never be signed at all, as has happened with other executive orders in the past. The details of the order as described, though, generally match up with what had been expected after Trump said he would soon issue an executive order on health care. Association health plans have been a priority for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has urged Trump to expand them.

The White House declined to comment when Vox inquired about the pending order. A senior administration official detailed the outline of the executive order to the Wall Street Journalon Saturday evening, which aligns with the description provided to Vox.

On Tuesday morning, Trump promised that his forthcoming actions would provide “great HealthCare to many people.”

But experts have warned they could significantly destabilize the Obamacare markets.

Association health plans, explained

An association health plan, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff has previously explained, is a way for a group of small businesses pool together to buy insurance, giving them more purchasing power and access to cheaper premiums. A group of bakeries, for example, might form a bakers association and purchase health coverage together. The most famous examples have been farm bureaus, which allowed independent farming businesses to band together and get insurance.

Before Obamacare, national associations could pick and choose which states’ insurance rules they wanted to follow and use those rules to guide the plans they offered nationwide. The bakers association could choose to follow the rules for, say, the Alabama insurance market, which mandates coverage of relatively few benefits, for all its bakeries in New York, a state with many mandates.

The result was often health insurance that skirted state rules and was a better deal for businesses with young and healthy employees, who are likely to prefer skimpier health plans. The former insurance regulator described the situation prior to the ACA to Kliff as being “a race to the bottom, with some associations offering lower-cost plans that covered virtually nothing.”

Obamacare changed these rules. Association health plans were treated as small businesses and were therefore required to cover all of the law’s mandated benefits.

Essential health benefits, mandating that insurers cover everything from hospital care to prescription drugs to maternity care, are central to the ACA’s insurance protections: They prevent plans from crafting their coverage to attract mostly young and healthy customers at the expense of older and sicker people, which had been one of the primary problems with the association health plan model before the law.

How Trump’s executive order could damage Obamacare

Requiring association health plans to follow the same rules as small businesses was one of the many ways the Affordable Care Act cracked down on skimpy health plans. Trump is now looking to roll back those changes.

Under the draft executive order as described, new regulations would allow association health plans to be considered large employers when it comes to health insurance. Large employers are not subjected to the same rules as individual or small-group plans under Obamacare. Most notably, they do not have to cover all of the law’s essential health benefits or meet the requirement that insurance cover a minimal percentage of a person’s medical bills.

If that change were made, association health plans would be freed to craft skimpier (and cheaper) health plans that appeal only to businesses with younger and healthier employees. Small businesses left in Obamacare’s marketplace would likely face higher costs and fewer options as the market became less attractive to insurers.

“It will destroy the small-group market,” Tim Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who generally supports Obamacare, told me. “We’ll be back to where we were before the Affordable Care Act.”

The draft order did not specify whether individuals would also be allowed to buy into these associations health plans, as some Republicans like Paul want. But, according to the source, the regulations resulting from the order could potentially be written to allow self-employed people to buy into the now-deregulated association market, which would be an even bigger blow to Obamacare.

The self-employed individuals likely to flee the law’s markets for association plans would probably be younger and healthier, leaving behind an older, sicker pool for the remaining Obamacare plans. That has the makings of a death spiral, with ever-increasing premiums and insurers deciding to leave the market altogether.

“The ability for individuals to purchase health insurance through an association really puts the individual market at risk and destabilizes it over the long term,” Lucia said. “When you have market segmentation, it over time leads to higher premiums and it becomes less attractive to carriers.”

Trump is also eyeing short-term coverage to undercut the health law

Trump’s executive order would also expand what’s called short-term limited duration insurance. These short-term policies typically have higher out-of-pocket costs and cover fewer services than traditional insurance. They were designed for people who, for example, expect to be out of work and therefore without insurance for a limited period of time.

That kind of coverage is totally free from the health care law’s insurance regulations: the mandate to cover essential health benefits, the prohibition on charging sick people more than healthy people or denying people coverage based on their medical history, and so on.

Short-term insurance had previously been allowed to last as long as 364 days. The Obama administration, in an effort to curtail the use of such coverage to circumvent the health care law, shortened it to three months. Trump’s draft order would reverse that rule, once again allowing people to buy this non-Obamacare coverage for almost an entire year, my source said.

The effect would be much the same as the changes to association health plans: Healthier people would be the consumers most likely to use this escape hatch to find cheaper, if far less comprehensive, coverage outside of Obamacare — though they would still be subject to the law’s individual mandate, as short-term insurance is not considered sufficient.

“If you allow them to sell 364-day policies, or policies that are renewable, that’s just going to suck a lot of the healthy people out of the individual market,” Jost said.

And here, again, fewer healthy people in the Obamacare market means higher costs to insurers, which leads to higher premiums and possibly more insurers dropping out.

“Consumers are going to face a less stable, less competitive individual market,” Lucia said.

The ultimate impact on Obamacare will depend on the final language of the executive order Trump signs. But based on the draft described to me, Trump is readying the devastating blow to the health care law that congressional Republicans have so far failed to deliver.

Steep Premiums Challenge People Who Buy Health Insurance Without Subsidies

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/10/07/555957419/steep-premiums-challenge-people-who-buy-health-insurance-without-subsidies

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Paul Melquist of St. Paul, Minn., has a message for the people who wrote the Affordable Care Act: “Quit wrecking my health care.”

Teri Goodrich of Raleigh, N.C., agrees. “We’re getting slammed. We didn’t budget for this,” she says.

Millions of people have gained health insurance because of the federal health law. Millions more have seen their existing coverage improved.

But one slice of the population, which includes Melquist and Goodrich, is unquestionably worse off. They are healthy people who buy their own coverage but earn too much to qualify for help paying their premiums. And the premium hikes that are being announced as enrollment looms for next year — in some states, increases topping 50 percent — will make their situations more miserable.

Exactly how big is this group? According to Mark Farrah Associates, a health care analysis firm, as of 2017, there were 17.6 million people in the individual market, 5.4 million of whom bought policies outside the health exchanges, where premium help is not available. Combine that with the percentage of people who bought insurance on the exchanges but earned too much (more than four times the federal poverty level, or about $48,000 for an individual) to get premium subsidies, and the estimate is 7.5 million, or 43 percent of the total individual market purchasers, according to insurance industry consultant Robert Laszewski.

Who are these people?

“They’re early retirees,” says Laszewski. “They’re people working part time who have substantial outside income. They’re people who are self-employed of any age, people who are small employers.”

Melquist is one of those early retirees. He and his wife are both 59. He worked in the defense industry and retired at the end of 2016.

He always planned to retire at age 55 but ended up working longer, in part because he knew health insurance costs were rising. When he did retire and sought to purchase coverage for himself and his wife, he says, “I was shocked to find out how bad it actually was.”

For a bronze-level plan with a health savings account, Melquist says, “we pay $15,000 a year [in premiums] and the first $6,550 [for health care expenses] for each of us comes out of our pocket. So basically you could be looking at $30,000 out of pocket before anything gets covered.”

Insurance is important, Melquist says, particularly if a catastrophic health issue were to hit either of him or his wife. In the meantime, he can still pay the bills. But he’s frustrated. “I’m not eating dog food, but I’m also not able to do stuff for my grandchildren,” he says, like help with college costs. “It’s not that my life is falling apart, but the [Affordable Care Act] has ruined a lot of things I’d like to have done.”

The good news, if there is any, for Melquist is that premiums in Minnesota are going up by only small amounts for 2018, and in some cases going down, because of a reinsurance program passed by the state legislature that will help cover the costs for some of the state’s sickest patients in the individual market. That move will help keep premiums from spiking even more.

But that won’t be the case in Raleigh, where Goodrich and her husband, John Kistle, work as private consultants in the energy industry.

Goodrich, 59, and Kistle, 57, bought insurance through the ACA exchange in their state for three years. When premiums reached $1,600 per month with deductibles of $7,500 each, however, “it was just unbelievable. We decided just not to get insurance,” Goodrich says.

Eventually, they bought short-term plans that cover only catastrophic illness or injury. That insurance is not considered adequate under the ACA, so the couple could be liable for a tax penalty as well.

Goodrich, who volunteers to help people with their taxes in her spare time, says she has run the numbers and thinks that insurance is so expensive where she lives that the couple will be exempt from the penalty. That is because the cheapest insurance would cost the couple more than 8.16 percent of their income. Under the health law’s provisions, the penalty doesn’t apply above that level because insurance is considered unaffordable.

“We try to be good citizens and do the right thing,” she says. “Next year, we’re trying to figure out how to make less than $64,000 so we can get subsidies.” That amount is equal to 400 percent of the federal poverty line for two people, the cutoff for premium assistance because Congress assumed those who earned more could afford to buy affordable coverage.

Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University who specializes in health insurance, agreed that this is a population “that faced big hikes” in premiums when the health law took effect.

But, she says, in many cases, people in the individual market were previously paying artificially low premiums. Some of those old policies had substandard coverage. For others, however, the higher prices are the result of one of the fundamental changes enacted by the health law. “These are folks who were benefiting from a system that was affordable solely because insurers were able to keep sick people out,” Corlette says, adding that they are now being asked “to pay more of the true cost of health care.”

This is a population that is also more likely to vote Republican, says Laszewski, “which is one of the grand ironies now.”

Republicans in Congress and President Trump haven’t been able to “repeal and replace” the health law. But some of their efforts are undermining it — primarily the administration’s threat to stop paying billions of dollars to insurers in subsidies to help some lower-income people pay their out-of-pocket costs. The uncertainty surrounding those subsidies has led insurers to boost premiums next year by an estimated 20 percent. Those who get premium help from the government won’t have to pay more. But those who are paying the full freight will.

Also driving up premiums for next year, says Corlette, are the administration’s threats not to enforce the individual requirement for insurance and its decision to cancel most advertising and outreach for the year’s open-enrollment period that begins Nov. 1. Both of those provisions bring more healthy people into the insurance pool to help spread costs.

“One could argue that the 2014 premium increases were painful, but it was about getting us to a system that was more fundamentally fair and just,” Corlette says. “Now, it’s completely unnecessary price increases for unsubsidized folks that could so easily be avoided by a rational political system.”

What the FY 2018 budget resolution means for ACA repeal

http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/aca/2018-budget-resolution-republicans-aca-repeal?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal&mrkid=959610&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTTJZNU4yTTNZV05sWm1FNSIsInQiOiJ2OXhPMHVRRk82MmRcL2llaVprUXFYSFJkbDBIS1lTcm1mRzVDSnFQQWRncUR5WmVDaFdFOGdTTkh4RWhIRTNHakR4Nm5Cd1hVYUIyZ1wveVl4ZTBpUXZqbkdYQldPTFpPazJqYlV4UGlNekw0QklMTHNwaEZtZVJGNHRXY2xVbzJPIn0=

The Senate side of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Senate Republicans’ fiscal year 2018 budget resolution suggests that they have put their goal of broadly unwinding the Affordable Care Act on the back burner—yet they could still use it to repeal key parts of the law.

The budget resolution (PDF), released by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., on Friday, contains reconciliation instructions that direct the Senate Finance Committee to “reduce revenues and change outlays to increase the deficit by not more than $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.”

Since that reconciliation instruction is rather broad, the GOP could potentially use it to repeal some ACA-related taxes and other provisions that make health insurance affordable under the law, argued a post from the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP).

With their new budget resolution, Republicans could also still roll back other portions of the ACA, including the individual mandate, a Bloomberg article noted.

But because the budget resolution doesn’t include any instructions for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee or the House Energy and Commerce Committee to craft reconciliation legislation, that may indicate that broader ACA repeal efforts are on hold, The Hill reported.

In addition to the reconciliation instructions, the budget resolution includes deficit-neutral reserve funds for legislation that would allow Congress to repeal or replace the ACA. This primarily just signals rhetorical support for rolling back the healthcare law, the CAP post noted, but that’s significant since it shows the GOP isn’t giving up on repeal.

Senate Budget Won’t Let GOP Pursue Full Obamacare Repeal

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-29/senate-budget-allows-1-5-trillion-tax-cut-not-full-aca-repeal

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Senate Republicans unveiled a fiscal 2018 budget resolution Friday that they intend to use to push through as much as $1.5 trillion of tax cuts in the coming months, but it won’t allow the GOP to pursue a full repeal of Obamacare.

The budget proposal would still allow Republicans to pursue a much narrower attack on the Affordable Care Act, including repealing the individual mandate to purchase coverage. The resolution also would let the GOP use the fast-track process to open up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The budget, authored by Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi, forecasts a balance in nine years through $5 trillion in largely unspecified spending cuts. Unlike the House budget proposed in July, Enzi’s blueprint doesn’t call for cuts to Medicaid or a partial privatization of Medicare.

“A pro-growth tax plan will move the U.S. economy forward and help to produce better jobs and bigger paychecks for every American,” Enzi, of Wyoming, said in an emailed statement.

The Senate draft is to be voted on by the Budget Committee next week, with floor votes planned later in October and a conference to resolve differences with the House after that. The House plans a floor vote on its budget plan next week.

Tax Cut

Once in place, the budget resolution would allow Republicans to bring up a tax-cut bill that would increase deficits by as much as $1.5 trillion, compared with a Congressional Budget Office baseline. Under the fast-track process, the GOP-controlled Senate could pass the proposal with no Democratic votes.

The budget sets a target for the Senate Finance to report back with its draft tax bill by Nov. 13.

“The Senate budget resolution drafted by Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi is a critical step to advance President Trump’s agenda to provide tax relief for the middle-class and unleash economic prosperity for all Americans,” said White House budget director Mick Mulvaney in a statement. “I urge the Senate to pass this resolution and come to a swift agreement with the House so President Trump can sign America-first tax relief into law this year.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the GOP plan would “blow a huge hole in the deficit and stack up debt, leading to cuts in programs that middle-class Americans rely on.”

Individual Tax Rate

President Donald Trump and Republican leaders announced a tax-cut plan Wednesday that would cut the top individual rate to 35 percent from the current 39.6 percent. It would let Congress decide whether to create a higher bracket for those at the top of the income scale. The rate on corporations would be set at 20 percent, down from the current 35 percent. Under Senate rules, any tax cuts that increase the deficit would have to expire in 10 years because the budget process can’t be used for long-term deficit increases.

The provision making it easier for Congress to allow oil and gas drilling in part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was sought by Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan. Under the proposal, royalties from oil and gas production in the wildlife refuge would be raise revenue that could help offset at least $1 billion in tax cuts over a decade.

The proposal’s instructions to the Finance Committee could allow a partial repeal of Obamacare, although panel Chairman Orrin Hatch has said he will keep that separate from a tax overhaul. Republican leaders have said they won’t try again on the health-care law until fiscal 2019.

Balanced Budget

When Republicans attempted to use the 2017 budget process to repeal Obamacare earlier this year, they didn’t provide a 10-year plan for reducing the deficit.

The new Senate plan proposes a balanced budget within nine years, while leaving it to other committees to figure out how to achieve that. The proposal calls for $4.8 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years and $1.635 trillion in revenue losses, including the tax cuts. Balance by 2026 is achieved by assuming $1.2 trillion in economic growth, in part due to the tax cuts. Enzi claims to achieve a $197 billion surplus in 2027.

The Republican assumptions of robust economic benefits from the budget were called into question by a separate CBO analysis. CBO predicted that the budget would reduce economic growth in the first two years and slightly increase it in later years.

CBO estimated that annual real GDP growth in the first two years would average 1.3 percent, down from an average of 1.6 percent in CBO’s baseline. In later years, real GDP growth would be 2.0 percent, compared with 1.9 percent in the CBO baseline.

The budget, unlike the one proposed by Trump in May, would hold defense spending at the current budget cap instead of the president’s proposed $489 billion defense increase over 10 years. Non-defense discretionary appropriations — which fund domestic agencies like the Agriculture Department and National Institutes of Health — would be cut by $632 billion over 10 years compared with $1.6 trillion in Trump’s budget request.

While the Trump and House budget proposals contain a number of nonbinding policy suggestions to carry out their spending cuts, Senate Republicans — weary of policy infighting — are keeping things vague.

Medicare, Medicaid

The House budget seeks to make $203 billion in cuts in entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, and it could be used to fast-track changes to the Dodd-Frank financial law. The Senate plan avoids those options.

The Senate proposal does allow adjustments to increase the defense spending caps. It also urges senators to revise the Children’s Health Insurance Program, improve management of wildfire-prevention funding, prevent private-pension bailouts and improve services to veterans.

The budget resolution doesn’t address Social Security, which will run a trillion-dollar-plus deficit in the coming 10 years. In the past, Republicans have sought to balance a “unified budget” that includes the program. This time, they are keeping it “off-budget.”

CBO says that without the Social Security accounting move, Enzi’s budget would never balance and would show a $424 billion deficit in 2027.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said in a statement it prefers the House budget. “We encourage the Senate to look to the House Budget Committee, which passed a budget calling for revenue-neutral tax reform and at least $200 billion of mandatory spending cuts on top of that,” it said.

Dynamic Scoring

The Senate plan renews authority for the CBO and Joint Committee on Taxation to use so-called dynamic scoring when evaluating bills — a move allowing lawmakers to assume that tax cuts will cause economic growth that would offset some of the revenue loss.

And it changes several rules to allow senators to rush a tax bill through, including abolishing the need for a CBO analysis at least 28 hours before a vote.

The Senate plan avoids other tricks, though. Enzi included provisions to keep appropriators from using phantom cuts known as “changes to mandatory programs” to offset discretionary spending increases.

The chairman also rejected pressure from some lawmakers to use a baseline number for tax revenue that would allow $450 billion in additional tax cuts. Instead, he stayed with the baseline used by the CBO.

3 Ways the Senate Budget Reopens the Door for ACA Repeal

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2017/09/29/440039/3-ways-senate-budget-reopens-door-aca-repeal/

After the latest failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the Senate, Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) declared that they would only support a new budget resolution that enabled them to keep trying to force through their own health care bill. The Senate has not had to meet the 60-vote standard to pass ACA repeal because of the budget reconciliation process, which lets the Senate pass legislation with a simple majority vote. This process began with reconciliation instructions included in the fiscal year 2017 budget that Congress passed in January 2017, but those instructions expire on September 30.

While the new FY 2018 budget resolution from the Senate Budget Committee retreats from ACA repeal to some extent—after massive public opposition—it would still enable Congress to revive major elements of ACA repeal using reconciliation. Here are three ways the proposed Senate budget supports ACA repeal.

1. An overly broad reconciliation instruction to the Senate Finance Committee

The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over both tax policy and several federal health care programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. If the Senate wanted to limit the scope of a reconciliation bill to tax policy, the budget resolution could give instructions to the Senate Finance Committee that only cover revenues. Instead, the budget instructs the Finance Committee to produce legislation that increases deficits by up to $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

Since deficit changes can be accomplished via changes to both spending and revenues, the Finance Committee could use this reconciliation instruction to repeal ACA-related taxes as well as much of the spending that helps people purchase health insurance under current law. Politico reports that “95 percent of health care policy” goes through the Senate Finance Committee, according to a Republican Congressional staffer discussing ACA repeal. As a result, the staffer said, “it’s not like we couldn’t slip it in anyway.”

Every dollar the Finance Committee cuts from health care could be used to pay for tax cuts for the rich that would be on top of the $1.5 trillion tax cut financed by deficits. This reconciliation instruction could let Congress pass a huge deficit-financed tax cut for the wealthy and corporations, combined with major elements of ACA repeal, in a single omnibus reconciliation bill. If the Finance Committee’s overall bill does not increase deficits by more than $1.5 trillion over 10 years, the Senate could pass it on a party-line vote under reconciliation.

Aside from the Finance Committee, the only other committee involved in ACA repeal in the Senate is the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The Senate budget resolution does not give a reconciliation instruction to the HELP Committee, which signals a meaningful retreat from full ACA repeal. Nevertheless, the Finance Committee instruction would still enable the Senate to change major parts of the law, which could include nullifying the ACA mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance, repealing the ACA-related taxes that finance the coverage expansion, and making all of the Medicaid cuts in earlier ACA repeal legislation, such as repealing the Medicaid expansion and making further cuts by turning the program into a block grant.

2. A deficit-neutral reserve fund for ACA repeal

The Senate budget resolution further smooths the path for ACA repeal with a deficit-neutral reserve fund for “repealing or replacing” the ACA. This allows Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) to adjust the aggregates that are included in the budget resolution, such as overall spending and revenue levels, to accommodate ACA repeal. This reserve fund helps the Senate majority avoid points of order that could otherwise create hurdles for passing a future health care bill. A similar reserve fund was also included in the FY 2017 budget resolution.

Budget resolutions often include many reserve funds that are mostly designed to signal rhetorical support for an issue. Not only does the reserve fund for health legislation smooth the way for ACA repeal, it also shows that supporters of the Senate budget continue to endorse ACA repeal even after the FY 2017 reconciliation instructions expire on September 30.

3. Deficit-financed tax cuts

Even if Congress does not go after the ACA using reconciliation instructions in the FY 2018 budget, the deficits from the tax cuts the Senate budget enables will be used by the ACA’s opponents to attack the law in the future. Whipping up hysteria about budget deficits is a common tactic to advocate cuts to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and it is already being used to justify ACA repeal. When asked a question on CNN from a person who had recovered from substance abuse addiction and who worried about loss of Medicaid coverage for treatment for others suffering from addiction, Sen. Graham responded, “Let’s talk about $20 trillion of debt.”

If lawmakers increase the debt with the very tax cuts that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says will be “done by the end of the year,” it will add further fuel to their drive to slash programs for low- and middle-income Americans using reconciliation instructions in their next budget resolution for FY 2019. This will not be a long delay—the FY 2019 budget would be passed by April 15, 2018, if Congress follows the schedule for the regular budget process.

Lawmakers can cut taxes, increase deficits, and use those higher deficits to justify a renewed push to repeal the ACA, all before the 2018 midterm elections.

Conclusion

The window is closing for Congress to pass ACA repeal using the FY 2017 reconciliation instructions, but the Senate Budget Committee is reopening it with the FY 2018 budget. The quest to repeal the ACA—thereby cutting taxes for the wealthy, taking health insurance from tens of millions of Americans, eliminating protections for preexisting conditions, and driving up out-of-pocket costs—will continue if Congress passes the Senate budget resolution.

Following the ACA Repeal-and-Replace Effort, Where Does the U.S. Stand on Insurance Coverage?

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2017/sep/post-aca-repeal-and-replace-health-insurance-coverage

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Conclusion and Policy Implications

The findings of this study could inform both short- and long-term actions for policymakers seeking to improve the affordability of marketplace plans and reduce the number of uninsured people in the United States.

Short-Term

The most immediate concern for policymakers is ensuring that the 17 million to 18 million people with marketplace and individual market coverage are able to enroll this fall.

Congress could take the following three steps:

  1. The Trump administration has not made a long-term commitment to paying insurers for the cost-sharing reductions for low-income enrollees in the marketplaces, which insurers are required to offer under the ACA. Congress could resolve this by making a permanent appropriation for the payments. Without this commitment, insurers have already announced that they are increasing premiums to hedge against the risk of not receiving payments from the federal government. Since most enrollees receive tax credits, higher premiums also will increase the federal government’s costs.9
  2. While it appears that most counties will have at least one insurer offering plans in the marketplaces this year, Congress could consider a fallback health plan option to protect consumers if they do not have a plan to choose from, with subsidies available to help qualifying enrollees pay premiums.
  3. Reinsurance to help carriers cover unexpectedly high claims costs.10 During the three years in which it was functioning, the ACA’s transitional reinsurance program lowered premiums by as much as 14 percent.

The executive branch can also play an important role in two ways:

  1. Signaling to insurers participating in the marketplaces that it will enforce the individual mandate. Uncertainty over the administration’s commitment to the mandate, like the cost-sharing reductions, is leading to higher-than-expected premiums for next year.
  2. Affirming the commitment to ensuring that all eligible Americans are aware of their options and have the tools they need to enroll in the coverage that is right for them during the 2018 open enrollment period, which begins November 1. The survey findings indicate that large shares of uninsured Americans are unaware of the marketplaces and that enrollment assistance makes a difference in whether people sign up for insurance.

Long-Term

The following longer-term policy changes will likely lead to affordability improvement and reductions in the number of uninsured people.

  1. The 19 states that have not expanded Medicaid could decide to do so.
  2. Alleviate affordability issues for people with incomes above 250 percent of poverty by:
    1. Allowing people earning more than 400 percent of poverty to be eligible for tax credits. This would cover an estimated 1.2 million people at an annual total federal cost of $6 billion, according to a RAND analysis.11
    2. Increasing tax credits for people with incomes above 250 percent of poverty.
    3. Allowing premium contributions to be fully tax deductible for people buying insurance on their own; self-employed people have long been able to do this.
    4. Extending cost-sharing reductions for individuals with incomes above 250 percent of poverty, thus making care more affordable for insured individuals with moderate incomes.
  3. Consider immigration reform and expanding insurance options for undocumented immigrants.

In 2002, the Institute of Medicine concluded that insurance coverage is the most important determinant of access to health care.12 In the ongoing public debate over how to provide insurance to people, the conversation often drifts from this fundamental why of health insurance. At this pivotal moment, more than 30 million people now rely on the ACA’s reforms and expansions. Nearly 30 million more are uninsured — because of the reasons identified in this survey. It is critical that the health of these 60 million people, along with their ability to lead long and productive lives, be the central focus in our debate over how to improve the U.S. health insurance system, regardless of the approach ultimately chosen.