Ryan eyes push for ‘entitlement reform’ in 2018

http://thehill.com/homenews/house/363642-ryan-pledges-entitlement-reform-in-2018?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=12524

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday said House Republicans will aim to cut spending on Medicare, Medicaid and welfare programs next year as a way to trim the federal deficit.

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said during an interview on Ross Kaminsky’s talk radio show.

Health-care entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid “are the big drivers of debt,” Ryan said, “so we spend more time on the health-care entitlements, because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”

Ryan said he’s been speaking privately with President Trump, who is beginning to warm to the idea of slowing the spending growth in entitlements.

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly promised not to cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.

“I think the president is understanding choice and competition works everywhere, especially in Medicare,” Ryan said.

House and Senate Republicans are currently working on their plans for tax reform, which are estimated to add more than $1 trillion to the deficit. Democrats have voiced concerns that the legislation could lead to cuts to the social safety net.

Ryan is one of a growing number of GOP leaders who have mentioned the need for Congress to cut entitlement spending next year.

Last week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said that once the tax bill was done, “welfare reform” was up next.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), last week, said “instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future” will be the best way to reduce spending and generate economic growth.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told Bloomberg TV that “the most important thing we can do with respect to the national debt, what we need to do, is obviously reform current entitlement programs for future generations.”

Ryan also mentioned that he wants to work on changing the welfare system, and Republicans have in the past expressed a desire to add work requirements to programs such as food stamps.

Speaking on the Senate floor while debating the tax bill last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he had a “rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.”

His comments were echoed by Ryan.

“We have a welfare system that’s trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work,” Ryan said Wednesday. “We’ve got to work on that.”

 

20 charged in $146M healthcare fraud scheme in Brooklyn

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/antifraud/healthcare-fraud-scheme-164-million-brooklyn?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiT1RZNE9HVmhObVZoTW1ReSIsInQiOiJJOVIwamhJUzZScW1XQVhjb09IakYzbWNrWVZcL1gzYlwvMm15RWllNnlxYlJkbzNoT09CblgwMWYrcVdXS2N4Q2tyeHBKa2hQeXBtRDNwQktDK0NSQ3NSOUpzRUV4VG91RjF1Z0lIdjZIK0NCaTY3UURTUHV2VnFxZzRHRjZlalJhIn0%3D&mrkid=959610&utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

Money, handcuffs and a stethoscope

Twenty people—four of whom are doctors—are facing charges related to a massive fraud scheme that bilked Medicare, Medicaid and other managed care organizations out of $146 million.

Prosecutors from the Brooklyn District Attorneys Office said the defendants ran an enterprise in which recruiters offered cash to low-income and homeless patients to get them to undergo a series of medically unnecessary tests at participating clinics.

They then allegedly billed publicly funded insurance programs for performing those tests and laundered the fraudulently obtained funds through the bank accounts of a series of shell companies in far-flung countries such as Taiwan and Lithuania.

Once that money reached the defendants, prosecutors said, they used it to buy expensive real estate—such as a $3.25 million apartment in downtown Brooklyn, New York—and fund shopping sprees at high-end stores like Hermes and Bulgari.

“This massive scheme, which provided no patient care at all, wasted millions of taxpayer dollars dedicated to Medicaid and Medicare,” Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in the announcement.

The investigation began following a referral from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. To uncover the alleged scheme, investigators employed undercover detectives, intercepted communications and conducted surveillance and financial analyses.

The defendants are facing charges including enterprise corruption, healthcare fraud, grand larceny and money laundering. Prosecutors said 35-year-old Kristina Mirbabayeva, of Brooklyn, was the ringleader of the scheme, and 53-year-old New Jersey resident Kevin Custis, M.D., was her business partner.

Another one of the doctors charged, 61-year-old Robert Vaccarino, was also employed as a New York Police Department surgeon, according to The Wall Street Journal. The police department said Tuesday that Vaccarino had been suspended.

At a news conference this week, representatives from the Brooklyn District Attorneys Office said the scheme was the biggest healthcare case in the office’s history, the article added.

In other antifraud news:

Prosecutors insist Florida eye doctor stole $136M from Medicaid

The attorney for Salomon Melgen, M.D., a Florida eye doctor who has been convicted of a $100 million Medicare fraud, argued at a sentencing hearing on Thursday that the government has only proven Melgen stole about $64,000.

Attorney Josh Sheptow said Melgen—who was charged separately with bribing New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez—injected patients with then-experimental drugs that are now approved, the Associated Press reported. Sheptow suggested Melgen may have falsified billing statements to get around the fact that Medicare doesn’t pay for experimental treatments—so since the treatments were actually legitimate, the government didn’t lose money on paying for them.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Chase argued that the judge should accept the government’s estimate that Melgen stole $136 million, noting that even if he stole half as much, he would be eligible for a life sentence. Prosecutors are asking for a 30-year sentence.

 

Paul Ryan says GOP aiming to cut Medicare, Medicaid spending

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/cms-chip/paul-ryan-medicare-medicaid-spending-cuts?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWXpZMk5qaGtOVFkzWXpVNCIsInQiOiJrTmFEUmZER0J6WnNGSGNqcXpRWmI0cHNsbkxNZ3B1WU1Lb2dBZ0NIUGRISEZoOVEzeEhIMDUrczQwZ2hYWld2VW1SMk5EXC9tSk0wVk96QU9UUWFcL1JZZ093bHF2Mjh2RmpiaEU5enlyOEkzb2hKM0FZd3RMNVp3azhBV0Q3aVVnIn0%3D&mrkid=959610&utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

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In further proof that Republicans are not giving up their push to enact major changes to healthcare policy, House Speaker Paul Ryan has signaled that the party will focus on cutting Medicare and Medicaid spending next year.

“We’re going to get back, next year, at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said during an interview with conservative talk show host Ross Kaminsky.

In addition to welfare, it’s the “healthcare entitlements”—Medicare and Medicaid—that are the major targets, Ryan said, reasoning that they are some of the biggest drivers of national debt, alongside military spending.

As evidenced by a 2015 tweet, President Donald Trump pledged as a candidate not to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, but the GOP’s legislative attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act would have slashed Medicaid funding drastically.

Both the president and GOP lawmakers have pledged to revisit that legislation in 2018, and Ryan noted he’s making headway with convincing Trump to back Medicare cuts.

“I think the president’s understanding [that] choice and competition works everywhere in healthcare, especially in Medicare,” he said.

But while Ryan contended that entitlement reform was the logical next step after passing a tax bill that reduces revenue, Democrats don’t see it that way. They argue that Republicans only want to cut key government programs to make up for the fact that their tax bill is estimated to increase the deficit by at least $1 trillion over a decade.

Republicans’ tax bill will also have healthcare policy implications. The Senate’s version of the bill repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and House conservatives have said they want that provision to make it into the final draft of the legislation.

Study: ‘Big five’ insurers depend heavily on Medicare, Medicaid business

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/cms-chip/big-five-insurers-medicare-medicaid-growth-profits?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiT0RnMFkySXdPV0psWldSaCIsInQiOiJQSllQNlpcL2RhTzBDZFwvZXh5M1ZUSDJyUU5JTGw3dnh1QTVac01rZUFcL2pNUUhhMXBaQjBxK29ScHRrOHhsT3d6aE5pcFRJUWd4Sm0rYXA4S0RYVGE2N0czN2hhc2hsXC9EZk9mSGVLR0V1UFlwVDZpQmdkcll0eTBMNDUzTHlIZDIifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610&utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

Rising Stocks

Even as they’ve retreated from the Affordable Care Act exchanges, the country’s biggest for-profit health insurers have become increasingly dependent on Medicare and Medicaid for both profits and growth.

In fact, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for 59% of the revenues of the “big five” U.S. commercial health insurers—UnitedHealthcare, Anthem, Aetna, Cigna and Humana—in 2016, according to a new Health Affairs study.

From 2010 to 2016, the combined Medicare and Medicaid revenue from those insurers ballooned from $92.5 billion to $213.1 billion. The companies’ Medicare and Medicaid business also grew faster than other segments, doubling from 12.8 million to 25.5 million members during that time.

All these positive trends, the study noted, helped offset the financial losses that drove the firms to reduce their presence in the individual marketplaces. Indeed, the big five insurers’ pretax profits either increased or held steady during the first three years of the ACA’s individual market reforms (2013-2016). Their profit margins did decline during those three years, but stabilized between 2014 and 2016.

Not only do these findings demonstrate the “growing mutual dependence between public programs and private insurers,” the study authors said, but they also suggest a useful policy lever. The authors argued that in order to help stabilize the ACA exchanges, federal and state laws could require any insurer participating in Medicare or state Medicaid programs to also offer individual market plans in those areas.

Nevada has already done something similar: It offered an advantage in Medicaid managed care contract billing for insurers that promised to participate in the state’s ACA exchange. The state credited that policy with its ability to coax Centene to step in and cover counties that otherwise would have lacked an exchange carrier in 2018.

It’s far less certain, though, whether such a concept will ever be embraced at the federal level during the Trump administration, since its focus has been on unwinding the ACA rather than propping it up.

Either way, recent events underscore the study’s findings about how lucrative government business has become for major insurers. One of the main goals of CVS’ proposed acquisition of Aetna is to improve care for Medicare patients, which would help the combined company “be more competitive in this fast-growing segment of the market,” CVS CEO Larry Merlo said on a call this week.

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini added that the transaction has “incredible potential” for Medicare and Medicaid members, as the goal is to provide the type of high-touch interaction and care coordination they need to navigate the healthcare system.

 

Outlook Darkens for Not-for-Profit Hospitals

http://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/outlook-darkens-not-profit-hospitals?spMailingID=12500545&spUserID=MTY3ODg4NTg1MzQ4S0&spJobID=1300449776&spReportId=MTMwMDQ0OTc3NgS2

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The revised outlook from Moody’s comes amid a larger-than-expected drop in cash flow this year and the ongoing uncertainty regarding federal healthcare policy for public and not-for-profit hospitals.

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded from stable to negative its 2018 outlook for the not-for-profit hospital sector based on an expected drop in operating cash flow.

“Operating cash flow declined at a more rapid pace than expected in 2017, and we expect continued contraction of 2%-4% through 2018,” said Eva Bogaty, a Moody’s vice president.

“The cash flow spike from insurance expansion under the Affordable Care Act in 2014 and 2015 has largely worn off, but cash flow has not stabilized as expected because of a low revenue and high expense growth environment,” Bogaty said.

In a briefing released Monday, Moody’s said hospital revenue growth is slowing and is expected to remain slightly above medical inflation, which declined to a low of 1.6% in September. Hospitals can’t translate volume growth into stronger revenue growth because of the lower reimbursement rate increases across all insurance providers and higher expense growth.

In addition, rising exposure to governmental payers will dampen revenue growth for the foreseeable future due to a rapidly aging population and low reimbursement rates. Medicare and Medicaid, represent 60% of gross patient revenue in 2017, Moody’s said.

Key drivers of expense growth include rising labor costs, driven by an acute nursing shortage and ongoing physician and medical specialist hiring. Technology costs are also rising as systems are upgraded and IT staff is needed for training and maintenance. While the ACA’s arrival heralded a drop in bad debt from 2014-16, bad debt rebounded in 2017 and will continue to grow at a rate of 6%-7% in 2018, Bogaty said.

“Rising copays and use of high deductible plans will increase bad debt for both expansion and non-expansion states,” she said.

In the near-term, uncertainty regarding federal healthcare policy will have a marginal fiscal impact on NFP hospitals. Bogaty said ambiguity surrounding the ACA does affect the planning and modelling of long-term strategies, while recent federal tax proposals will add to rising costs for hospitals.

The outlook could be revised to stable if operating cash flow resumes growth of 0%-4%. A change to positive could result from expectations of accelerated operating cash flow growth of more than 4% after inflation, Moody’s said.

Five health-care fights facing Congress in December

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/361592-five-health-care-fights-facing-congress-in-december

Five health-care fights facing Congress in December

Health-care issues are at the top of Congress’s hefty December to-do list.

Republicans spent much of the year on a failed bid to repeal and replace ObamaCare. That’s left several programs and taxes hanging in the balance as the year draws to a close, in addition to the latest health-care drama thrust into the GOP tax-reform debate.

Here are five of the biggest health-care issues Congress will face next month.

Will Republicans repeal the individual mandate?

Weeks ago, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) began to push for a repeal of the individual mandate to be added into the GOP tax overhaul. It worked, at least in the upper chamber.

To Democrats’ dismay, the Senate Finance Committee passed a tax-reform bill before breaking for Thanksgiving that included repeal of the ObamaCare mandate that Americans without health insurance pay a fee.

The House already passed a bill out of its chamber on a party-line vote — legislation that didn’t include repealing the individual mandate. But leaders have said they’re open to it if the Senate is able to muster enough votes to pass tax reform with the repeal.

It appears that the upper chamber might be able to pull it off.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said the repeal shouldn’t be in the bill, but hasn’t said she would vote against the tax-reform bill if it was included. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) hasn’t rung any alarms that he would vote against the bill, saying he wants to see the whole package before deciding, and applauding the Finance Committee for holding hearings on the measure.

In a boost to the effort, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wrote in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Tuesday that she backs repealing the individual mandate. All three senators voted against a scaled-down version of an ObamaCare repeal bill in late July, effectively sinking the measure.

GOP leaders have signaled that a bipartisan stabilization bill from Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) could pass if the individual mandate is repealed. On Sunday, Collins said she would like the Alexander-Murray bill, along with a bipartisan bill to provide funding for high-cost enrollees she introduced, to pass before tax reform does.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said that the deal is “likely” to be included in an end-of-the-year package.

But that effort could face resistance from Democrats, who have balked at repealing the individual mandate, and say that runs counter to the bipartisan spirit that Alexander-Murray was crafted under.

Will Congress reauthorize critical health programs it let lapse?

It’s been nearly two months since funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers expired. Advocates are holding out hope that lawmakers will reauthorize both before the new year, but are frustrated that Congress failed to reauthorize the dollars by a Sept. 30 deadline.

Roughly 9 million low- and middle-income children rely on CHIP for health coverage. Some states have asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for funding to hold them over in the interim, and the agency has awarded about $607 million in redistributed funds to states and U.S. territories.

Community health centers have been crafting contingency plans as they wait for Congress to reauthorize a fund that amounts to 70 percent of their federal funding. These centers are a large source of comprehensive primary care for over 26 million of the nation’s most vulnerable people.

Some have already instituted hiring freezes. Others are examining which services they could cut or scale back. If the funding lapses, staff could be laid off, facility renovations or expansions could be canceled or delayed and hours of operation could be reduced.

Though the uncertainty has caused angst for health centers, they haven’t yet seen a monetary impact. But that impact could come on Jan. 1 for 25 percent of centers and on Feb. 1 for another 17 percent, because that’s when their new grant periods begin.

The Health Resources and Services Administration plans to help out on a prorated, monthly basis, according to a spokesperson.

But advocates hope it won’t come to that. The House passed a bill to fund CHIP for five years and community health centers for two. It passed on a party-line vote, as Democrats criticized how Republicans planned to pay for the bill.

The Senate Finance Committee passed a bipartisan, five-year CHIP extension, but hasn’t yet released offsets. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) have introduced a bipartisan bill to extend community health center funding for five years.

Will Congress fund the opioid response?

In late October, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency.

But the move didn’t come with millions of new dollars to combat the crisis, nor did it include a funding ask to Congress. This has frustrated Democrats and many advocates, who say a significant infusion of federal funds is needed to make an emergency declaration effective.

It’s not clear if money will come.

Senate Democrats introduced a bill to provide $45 billion over 10 years to address the crisis — a nod to a similar amount of funding Republicans included in an ObamaCare repeal bill, in part to attempt to offset changes to Medicaid.

But Republicans haven’t named a dollar figure. With a jam-packed December, advocates worry the new year could begin without more money to help curb the crisis of prescription painkillers and heroin that’s ravaged the country.

As for the administration, Hogan Gidley, White House deputy press secretary, said in a statement that “we will continue discussions with Congress on the appropriate level of funding needed to address this crisis” but didn’t say how much that would be.

What does Congress do on ObamaCare taxes?

Behind the scenes, industry lobbyists are working hard to ensure several ObamaCare taxes won’t kick in come January.

The medical device industry wants a full repeal of a 2.3 percent tax on the sale of certain medical devices, such as pacemakers and MRI machines.

“We feel we’re very much in play and that is for full repeal,” said Greg Crist, a spokesman for the medical device trade association AdvaMed. “We’re talking with staff and leadership for the right vehicle.”

The insurance industry is pushing for at least a one year delay of the health insurance tax. Both taxes were delayed in a 2015 spending bill, though for different durations; the medical device tax was paused for two years, and the health insurance tax for just 2017.

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) addressed the ObamaCare taxes during a marathon hearing on House Republican’s tax-reform bill, saying the legislation wasn’t the right vehicle to repeal or delay them. But, he added, he is working to do so by the end of the year.

“As the ranking member and members on both sides of the aisle know — we have been working with them over the past month to find a path forward,” Brady said. “We are working on common-sense temporary and targeted relief from many of these taxes to be acted on in the House before the end of the year.”

Employer groups are also pushing for a delay of the so-called Cadillac tax, a 40 percent fee levied on pricey employer-sponsored plans slated to begin in 2020. Critics of the tax argue a delay is needed now because employers will begin planning for 2020 next year.

Will Congress help Puerto Rico fund its Medicaid program?

The storm-ravaged island territory could be out of federal dollars for its Medicaid program in a matter of months.

Federal disaster funds haven’t been earmarked to go to the joint state-federal health insurance program for low-income and disabled Americans. On Nov. 17, the White House asked Congress for $44 billion for disaster relief. The notice mentioned Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, but didn’t put a dollar amount on it.

“Though the Administration expects to work with Puerto Rico and the Congress on medium-term liquidity issues through a future request, the Administration is aware of legislation being considered to address Medicaid sooner,” the letter stated.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Roselló has asked for $1.6 billion annually for five years. Democratic lawmakers and advocates have been pushing to fulfill that request.

 

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

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

November 19 Update: Distributional Effects Of Individual Mandate Repeal

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

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

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

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

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

Original Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind The Coverage Loss Estimate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Involuntary Impact From ‘Voluntary’ Coverage Losses

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

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

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

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