CBO’s Revised View Of Individual Mandate Reflected In Latest Forecast


On May 23, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released updated projections of federal spending and tax expenditures related to supporting enrollment in health insurance, along with a new forecast of the number of Americans younger than age 65 who will have coverage or will be uninsured in the coming years.

The bottom line: The CBO continues to expect that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) markets will have relatively stable enrollment, more states will expand their Medicaid programs, and per-person health costs will rise at rates that exceed economic growth. Federal spending on subsidies for health insurance enrollment, along with tax breaks for employer coverage, will continue to grow at a rapid rate, thus intensifying pressure within the overall federal budget.

While the CBO’s new forecast looks in many ways quite similar to previous projections, the agency has revised its views on one very important aspect of its forecast—the effectiveness of the individual mandate—and also updated its forecast to reflect the effects of relevant executive decisions and proposed regulations by the Trump administration. These revisions and updates to the forecast are the primary reasons the current baseline does not differ more than it does from those issued by the CBO previously.

CBO’s Revised View Of The Individual Mandate

The most notable change in the CBO’s new forecast is the agency’s revised view of the effectiveness of the ACA’s individual mandate. During 2017, as Republicans in Congress attempted to pass legislation substantially rolling back and replacing the ACA, the CBO estimated that these efforts would dramatically increase the number of Americans going without insurance coverage. For instance, in July 2017, the CBO estimated that the version of repeal and replace assembled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would have increased the number of uninsured from 28 million in 2017 to 41 million in 2018 and 50 million in 2026. There were several reasons that the McConnell proposal would have led to more people going without coverage, but the CBO specifically cited the planned repeal of the individual mandate as the most important factor.

In December, Congress repealed the penalty associated with the individual mandate as part of the sweeping individual and corporate tax reform law. At the time of enactment, the CBO estimated that the repeal would eventually lead to an increase in the number of people going without health insurance by 13 million people annually.

The CBO’s new forecast, however, places less weight on the importance of the mandate. The agency states that, for a number of reasons, it now believes that the mandate’s role in expanding coverage after 2013 is only about two-thirds of what it previously assumed. So instead of repeal adding 13 million more people to the ranks of the uninsured, the CBO now estimates the effect at slightly more than 8 million people.

The CBO cites a number of considerations for making this important revision to its forecast. Among other things, the agency is placing more emphasis on the financial reasons for expanded enrollment into coverage after 2013, such as the ACA’s subsidy structure, instead of nonfinancial factors, such as the expectation, or social norm, of insurance enrollment that the mandate was intended to create.

Summing Up 

In the aggregate, the CBO’s updated projections of health insurance enrollment and federal subsidies for coverage do not differ all that much from previous projections. What’s different are some of the assumptions. The CBO expects there will be more uninsured in the future than is the case today, but the agency does not expect a reversion back to the uninsured levels of the pre-ACA era. Furthermore, because of changes in policies set in motion by the Trump administration, there are likely to be more people enrolled in non-ACA compliant insurance plans than is the case today, and that coverage, while different, will still provide a reasonable level of financial protection to enrollees.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

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


Virginia Senate approves Medicaid expansion


Virginia Senate approves Medicaid expansion

Virginia is on the cusp of expanding Medicaid after the Senate on Wednesday narrowly approved a budget that would allow the state to cover as many as 400,000 low-income people.

The House, which already voted in favor of expansion earlier this year, will have to vote again before the bill can go to Gov. Ralph Northam (D). Northam has made expansion one of the top priorities of his administration.

When it passes, Virginia will become the 33rd state, along with Washington, D.C., to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare.

The 23-17 vote for expansion is a major victory for Virginia Democrats and other ObamaCare advocates, who have been fighting for six years to convince enough Republicans in the state to accept federal money to pay for the expansion.

“We have the ability to move something through that’s very sure in these uncertain times,” said Sen. Emmett Hanger, Jr., (R), the sponsor of the Medicaid expansion compromise bill. “We can develop a uniquely Virginia plan. While it draws from the experience of many states that have been out there before us, it will serve our citizens.”

Northam’s predecessor, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), was unable to get Republicans in the state to expand Medicaid, but Democrats in the state have been gaining power and nearly flipped the state’s House of Delegates in November.

Under ObamaCare, the federal government originally covered 100 percent of the costs of states that expanded Medicaid beginning in 2014. In 2017, the federal share dropped to 95 percent; it will drop to 90 percent in 2020, but never fall below that amount.

The Virginia expansion relies on provider taxes as a way to raise money.

The expansion agreement comes at a cost for Democrats, as the state will eventually submit a waiver request to the federal government to impose work requirements and premiums on beneficiaries who earn more than the federal poverty level.

The Trump administration has made state innovation a priority and has promised to fast-track Medicaid waivers, especially those that will impose work requirements on beneficiaries.

Four states have been granted permission to do so — Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana and New Hampshire — and six others have pending waivers.

Virginia has yet to work out the final details of the work requirement, but Senate proponents of the policy rejected arguments from expansion opponents that the requirement would be weak and unenforceable.

Northam has not said he supports work requirements, but he has said he will sign any legislation that expands Medicaid.

National Republicans have been attempting to derail Medicaid expansion in Virginia. White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in March urged Virginia not to pursue expansion, saying it was unsustainable, and that the administration is committed to addressing it.

Earlier on Wednesday, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) met with Virginia Republicans to speak about efforts in Washington to repeal ObamaCare, including the Medicaid expansion. Santorum has been working with conservative groups on a long-shot plan to keep repeal alive this year.



Red states find there’s no free pass on Medicaid changes


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Red states are getting a reality check from the Trump administration in just how conservative they can remake their Medicaid programs.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rejected a request from Kansas to limit Medicaid eligibility to just three years.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma followed up on the Kansas decision by saying the administration will not allow any states to impose lifetime limits on Medicaid.

“We’ve indicated that we would not approve lifetime limits and I think we’ve made that pretty clear to states,” Verma said last week at a Washington Post event on health care.

The Trump administration has made state innovation a priority and has promised to fast-track Medicaid waivers, especially those that will impose work requirements on beneficiaries.

Four states have been granted permission to do so — Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana and New Hampshire — and six others have pending waivers.

States have also been allowed to impose lockout periods if beneficiaries can’t meet the work requirements and to charge higher premiums than the Obama administration allowed.

But the decision on lifetime limits marks the first time the administration completely rejected a policy favored by conservatives and shows there is no blank check for red states.

Verma never promised automatic approvals of conservative ideas, though some might have interpreted it that way, according to Jeff Myers, president and CEO of the Medicaid Health Plans of America.

He said it’s becoming clear that what the Trump administration wants is to construct policies that will make Medicaid beneficiaries self-sufficient, but that will not take away their benefits entirely.

Verma has long argued that promoting self-sufficiency is key to any changes states make to Medicaid. In explaining the decision to reject lifetime limits, Verma noted that states only temporarily suspend benefits if work requirements aren’t met.

“An individual may not comply with a requirement around cost-sharing and they could potentially lose coverage. But we want to make sure that there’s a pathway back into the program … if they’re compliant with the requirements,” Verma said last week.

Medicaid experts said officials in Kansas and other red states were mistaken if they thought they could get the Trump administration to approve changes just because they happen to be conservative.

“Contrary to some states’ expectations, there really is a waiver approval process,” said Joe Antos, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Forum, a conservative think tank.

“Decisions will move more rapidly than they were … [but] that doesn’t mean approvals,” he said.

Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, said any time there’s a change in administration, states jockey to see what policies they can get approved.

“There’s a lot of pent-up interest in pursuing flexibility and changes that the Obama administration would not entertain, [but] I don’t think anyone thought it was a blank check, do whatever you want,” Salo said.

The administration has yet to make a decision on other conservative wish list policies, such as Wisconsin’s proposal for drug testing Medicaid recipients, and partial Medicaid expansion, which would let states expand coverage for only a fraction of the population and still receive full federal funding under ObamaCare.

Salo said federal officials want to make sure that any waivers they approve will survive the inevitable lawsuits that follow.

“People are pretty savvy … if you’re just going to approve something that gets torn down in the courts, you’re wasting everyone’s time,” Salo said. “The granting of a wish list that gets trounced doesn’t do any good, and even sets the agenda back somewhat. Everyone’s better off if there’s a real rationale.”

CMS recently declined to issue a decision on a request by Arkansas to roll back the eligibility levels for Medicaid beneficiaries. The agency also declined to rule on Kansas’s request to impose work requirements, which experts have speculated could be an implicit rejection of the proposals.

Unlike the other four states that have been approved, Kansas is not a Medicaid expansion state, and the administration has not approved work requirements in any nonexpansion states.

Kansas officials indicated they were still working with federal officials.

“While we will not be moving forward with lifetime caps, we are pleased that the Administration has been supportive of our efforts to include a work requirement in the 1115 waiver. This important provision will help improve outcomes and ensure that Kansans are empowered to achieve self-sufficiency,” Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) said in a statement.


Implications of the ACA Medicaid Expansion: A Look at the Data and Evidence



More than four years after the implementation of the Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act, debate and controversy around the implications of the expansion continue. Despite a large body of research that shows that the Medicaid expansion results in gains in coverage, improvements in access and financial security, and economic benefits for states and providers, some argue that the Medicaid expansion has broadened the program beyond its original intent diverting spending from the “truly needy”, offers poor quality and limited access to providers, and has increased state costs. New proposals allow states to implement policies never approved before including conditioning Medicaid eligibility on work or community engagement. New complex requirements run counter to the post-ACA movement of Medicaid integration with other health programs and streamlined enrollment processes. This brief examines evidence of the effects of the Medicaid expansion and some changes being implemented through waivers. Many of the findings on the effects of expansion cited in this brief are drawn from the 202 studies included in our comprehensive literature review that includes additional citations on coverage, access, and economic effects of the Medicaid expansion. Key findings include the following:

  • Coverage: Research and data show that Medicaid expansion has resulted in coverage gains without diverting coverage from traditional groups; for example, data do not support a relationship between states’ expansion status and community-based services waiver waiting lists. Reductions in Medicaid coverage would result in an increase in the uninsured population.
  • Access, Affordability, and Health Outcomes: Research demonstrates that Medicaid generally, and expansion specifically, positively affects access to care, utilization of services, the affordability of care, and financial security among the low-income population. While there is a growing body of evidence on Medicaid and outcomes, further research is needed to more fully determine the health effect of expansion on outcomes given that measureable changes take time to occur.
  • Economic Effects: Analyses find positive economic effects of expansion largely tied to the infusion of federal dollars, despite Medicaid enrollment growth initially exceeding projections in many states. Some studies look at 2014-2016 when expansion costs were 100% financed by the federal government, others studies project net fiscal gains even after states start to pay a share of expansion costs (up to 10% by 2020). Studies also show that Medicaid expansion resulted in reductions in uninsured visits and uncompensated care costs for hospitals, clinics, and other providers.
  • Expansion and Work: Studies find that Medicaid expansion has had positive or neutral effects on employment and the labor market and new work requirement proposals add complexity and could result in coverage losses for many who are working or face barriers to work.


Health Care and the Midterms

1 big thing: health care and the midterms

More than half of voters in Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee want Congress to modify the Affordable Care Act, while less than a third want it to be completely repealed and only 6% think Congress should “let it fail.”

Why it matters: Arizona and Nevada are seen as the states where Democrats have the best chance in November to take Senate seats currently held by Republicans, and Tennessee is working its way up the list. One of Democrats’ most unifying and effective messages this cycle is health care, and they’ll be sure to campaign hard against the GOP’s repeal effort in these states.

Mainers voted to expand Medicaid last year. Could these states be next?


Jennie Pirkl campaign manager for "Yes on 2" announces victory on 2017 Election Day in Portland, Maine. Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Republicans in Congress may have relented on their attempts to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act, but the battle has shifted to states. Citizens in Idaho, Utah, Missouri and Nebraska have taken Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act into their own hands via ballot initiative campaigns, hoping to force statewide votes to either adopt or reject expansion this coming November.

Medicaid provides health coverage for more than 68 million Americans with low incomes or disabilities through federal and state programs. The far-reaching 2010 Affordable Care Act law, which expanded Medicaid coverage, was lambasted by conservatives as federal overreach. A 2012 Supreme Court ruling said that rather than being forced, states had to opt into Medicaid expansion.

Since then, 32 states have done so. But 18 states have not.

It’s been politically challenging for governors and legislators “who spent years railing against the federal overreach or the assaults on individual liberty in the ACA” to now back Medicaid expansion, said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors.

But for many states “expanding Medicaid makes a lot of sense” since more people get coverage and the federal government pays nearly the full cost, said Ben Ippolito, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who focuses on health economics.

The campaigns to expand Medicaid via ballot have varied in scope and success. After Maine voters petitioned for and passed a first-of-its-kind expansion last November, campaigns in Idaho and Utah have gained momentum to expand Medicaid coverage. In Missouri, there was a longshot effort to gather 100,000 signatures to put expansion on the state ballot. The head of the campaign, Gary Peterson, couldn’t get the state Democratic party on board, only mustering support from local church groups. He told the PBS NewsHour that he suspended his campaign in February. And in Nebraska, residents launched a petition drive to appeal to voters this November after six consecutive years of failed legislation.

Where is the fight over Medicaid expansion now, and where will it go next? Here’s what we know.

Who exactly does Medicaid affect?

In 24 states, at least 50 percent of births are financed by Medicaid, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Medicaid also covers costs for about 62 percent of seniors living in nursing homes.

The ACA’s Medicaid expansion raised the income limit on the program, allowing more people to qualify, and also allowed adults without children to enroll.

In a 2016 study, the Urban Institute reported that expanding Medicaid in the 19 states who had not yet done so would make more than 13 million people newly eligible. (Maine didn’t expand until 2017.)


The issue: In November, Medicaid expansion made the ballot in Maine — the first time this had occurred in any state since Congress passed the ACA in 2010. Fifty-nine percent of Mainers who voted supported expanding Medicaid, rebuking Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who had previously vetoed five expansion bills.

On July 2, people will become eligible under the law.

What’s happening now: LePage, who called expansion “fiscally irresponsible,” had to submit by April 3 a state plan to the federal government on how it would fund the expansion. In December, LePage sent a letter to the Maine Legislature outlining demands for how to fund the expansion, stating, for example, that raising taxes or drawing money from Maine’s Budget Stabilization (or, rainy day) Fund was “not an option.”

When asked whether the administration submitted the state plan by the deadline, LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said that “we should not make a down payment without a plan to pay for the ongoing cost” and that LePage “laid out four simple principles to guide how to pay for expansion without jeopardizing the state’s long-term fiscal health,” referring to the December letter.

What’s next: In an interview, Maine’s Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon called LePage’s December correspondence “his imaginary if-I-were-king letter,” and said that it was “not really going to impact what we’re doing here.”

If the administration shirks funding duties, Gideon said the state’s existing Medicaid funds “are enough to start getting people [from the expansion] online” until January.

Idaho and the “Medicaid mobile”

The campaign: In summer 2017, Luke Mayville drove his forest green 1977 Dodge Tioga RV, dubbed the “Medicaid mobile,” across Idaho to campaign for expanded health care access.

His RV had been the rolling trademark of Reclaim Idaho, the organization coordinating the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative. The “Medicaid for Idaho” campaign began as “an awareness raising tour” with the founders touring the Medicaid mobile across Idaho to gauge and build support, Mayville said.

An estimated 78,000 Idahoans fall into the Medicaid coverage gap — people with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low to be eligible for the ACA subsidies that help buy coverage.

By the end of the summer, the RV “was covered with signatures.”

What’s happening now: For Medicaid expansion to reach the ballot, the campaign must gather signatures from a total of 56,192 voters (six percent of the state’s 936,529 registered voters in the 2016 general election). They must also meet separate signature thresholds in just more than half of the state’s 35 legislative districts by May 1.

What lawmakers say: Most of the state’s registered voters are Republican and the GOP-led Legislature stalled on expansion in the past. Republican Gov. Butch Otter presented his own plan, but it was pulled from the House floor in February.

What’s next: So far, the campaign has accumulated about 40,000 signatures, leaving about three weeks to gather the remaining 16,000. Mayville said he believes Medicaid is a nonpartisan issue that people on either side of the aisle can sympathize with. “It really cuts across party lines,” he said.


The campaign: Advocates have been pushing for Medicaid expansion in Utah for years. In 2016, drawn-out battles in the Legislature and governor’s office led to a limited expansion. But advocates like Utah Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis called it “less than crumbs,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

RyLee Curtis, campaign manager of Utah Decides Healthcare, the organization coordinating Utah’s Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, said early efforts she was involved with attracted the attention of The Fairness Project, a nonprofit organization that supports ballot initiatives on issues such as raising the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid. The organization has provided more than 90 percent of Utah Decides’ roughly $900,000 in contributions, much of which has been spent on signature gathering, according to public records.

What’s happening now: Paid canvassers and volunteers have racked up more than 130,000 signatures to date.

What lawmakers say: At the same time, the state Legislature passed a new partial expansion last month that is estimated to cover about 70,000 low-income Utahns in the Medicaid gap, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. For states that undergo full ACA Medicaid expansion, the federal government funds 90 percent of its costs while the state finances the rest. But this partial expansion, which includes a work requirement, must get federal approval for that same 90 percent federal funding.

Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, said that the Trump administration did not approve a similar request from Arkansas and says it’s unclear whether the administration will approve Utah’s request. Still, it could be “an attractive political compromise.”

What’s next: The campaign for a ballot initiative has exceeded the required 113,143 signatures statewide, but still has to get at least 10 percent of voters from the time of the 2016 election in 26 of the state’s 29 senate districts by April 15. All considered, Curtis said, “we are confident that we can get there.”


The campaign: Proposals have been introduced into the Nebraska Legislature for six consecutive years — all have failed. So one state senator and a group of Nebraskans are trying different approaches.

A petition drive kicked off last month to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot.

Insure the Good Life, the organization leading the charge, and local media outlets have said that expanding Medicaid would provide coverage for about 90,000 additional Nebraskans.

What’s happening now: Amanda Gershon, a sponsor of the petition, told Live Well Nebraska that “the governor and the legislature haven’t solved this problem, so it’s now time for the people to decide.”

Gershon, 35, has been battling chronic health problems since college and around that time lost her health coverage. She said she “went so long without [health] care” that she became gravely ill, but was eventually able to get Medicaid through disability. Even after being approved for disability it took another nine months of paperwork to qualify for Medicaid, Gershon said.

“I really don’t want to see anybody else have to go down that same road to get the health care they need,” Gershon added.

What lawmakers say: Nebraska’s governors have staunchly opposed Medicaid expansion. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has a slew of lengthy statements outlining his objections to Medicaid expansion and decrying attempts by the Legislature to expand coverage.

But 32-year-old state Sen. Adam Morfeld, a Democrat, proposed a state constitutional amendment that would also put expansion on the ballot. “Every year that we have tried on Medicaid expansion in this state, the people that are opposed to it have never come up with alternative solutions — the governor included,” Morfeld told the NewsHour.

“[F]or thousands of people in my district who are low-income, working-class folks, it’s [current Nebraska health care] not only making them go bankrupt, they’re starting to die,” Morfeld said. His bill was referred to a committee.

What’s next: Organizers will have until July 5 to collect about 85,000 valid signatures and meet thresholds in 38 of 93 Nebraska counties.