Trump admin now backs elimination of ACA in court

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/trump-admin-now-backs-elimination-of-aca-in-court/551319/

UPDATED: AHA blasted the decision, calling it “unprecedented and unsupported” by law or facts and warned it would lead to repeal of Medicaid expansion and gut protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Dive Brief:

  • The Trump administration has reversed its stance on the Affordable Care Act, arguing in a court filing Monday that the entire law should be eliminated instead of just removing provisions protecting people with preexisting conditions.
  • The move came hours after Democratic attorneys general defending the ACA filed their brief arguing that the landmark law is still constitutional even without an effective individual mandate penalty. Both filings are in the Fifth Circuit following an appeal of a Texas judge’s decision from December declaring the law unconstitutional after Congress set the mandate penalty to zero in tax overhaul legislation. That decision was stayed pending appeal.
  • Industry groups lambasted the administration’s about-face. America’s Health Insurance Plans CEO Matt Eyles said in a statement the decision was, like the Texas ruling, “misguided and wrong.” He added the payer lobby “will continue to engage on this issue as it continues through the appeals process so we can support and strengthen affordable coverage for every American.” Federation of American Hospitals CEO Chip Kahn said in a statement the decision is “unfortunate but not unexpected considering [the administration’s] long-held views on the health law.”

Dive Insight:

Elimination of the ACA would be a particular blow for some payers that have found increasing profitability in the individual market. Centene and Molina have found success with the exchanges and have expanded their footprints.

It would also put major hospital chains in a bad spot. Companies like HCA, Tenet and Community Health Systems have exposure that could subject them to reduced patient volumes and more bad debt, Leerink analyst Ana Gupte said when the Texas ruling first came down.

Public support for the ACA has gradually increased over the years, and the latest polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows about 53% of respondents giving a favorable view and 40% unfavorable. Individual components of the law are even more popular.

The ACA, which just days ago marked its ninth anniversary, brought forth massive change in American healthcare. A repeal of the law would do the same, stripping insurance coverage for as many as 17 million people.

The Trump administration’s new stance presents an intensely stark contrast with the growing field of Democratic presidential contenders, who have shifted the healthcare conversation to the left as the 2020 field shapes up. Candidates have proposed various forms of Medicare for all as well as scaled back versions that still greatly expand government coverage.

It moves the DOJ away from even some Republicans. During last year’s midterms a few GOP candidates said they approved of the ACA’s most popular element — protection for people with preexisting conditions (although voting records didn’t necessarily back them up).

Most Democrats in Congress aren’t fully backing any single-payer model at the moment, but their support for the ACA is strong. Democrats in the House of Representatives are expected to announce a legislative package Tuesday that would strengthen the ACA by eliminating short-term health plans that don’t comply with the law and increasing subsidies for exchange plans.

Since the GOP’s quite public failure to repeal the law two years ago, efforts to do so through Congress have sputtered to nearly a halt. Instead, the Trump administration started chipping away at the law’s provisions. It cut the open enrollment period for ACA plans, as well as the advertising budget for promoting sign-ups, and stopped cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers.

More recently, HHS has bolstered short-term and association health plans that offer cheap but skimpy coverage not in line with ACA requirements. Analysts fear proliferation of these plans could draw young and healthy people away from the exchanges, jeopardizing the stability of the risk pool.

A Democratic-led House panel launched an investigation into short-term plans and is requesting documents from Anthem and UnitedHealth Group, among other companies.

The legal issue at hand is known as severability — the question of whether a single provision of the law, in this case the individual mandate, becoming unenforceable invalidates the entire statute. The mandate was also the key question in the original U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the ACA to move forward.

The high court has since lurched to the right, which is notable if the appeal on the Texas ruling reaches that stage, although that would likely be far down the road.

 

 

 

Judge rules Trump AHP expansion unlawful ‘end-run’ around ACA

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/judge-rules-trump-ahp-expansion-unlawful-end-run-around-aca/551601/

Image result for association health plans

Dive Brief:

  • A federal judge on Thursday struck down a Trump administration expansion of association health plans, which aren’t bound by the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. U.S. District Judge John Bates said the June rule from the Department of Labor that loosened restrictions on what groups could band together to offer AHPs “is clearly an end-run around the ACA.”
  • The ruling stems from a lawsuit 11 states and the District of Columbia filed to challenge the DOL rule. It comes the same week the Trump administration stepped up its attacks against the ACA, arguing in a court filing Monday the law should be eliminated in its entirety following a Texas judge’s decision the act is unconstitutional without the individual mandate penalty.
  • The judge had strong language condemning the administration’s attempt to allow for easier creation and use of AHPs, calling the regulatory change a “magic trick” that allowed for “absurd results” undermining the intent of Congress.

Dive Insight:

The ruling is a blow to the Trump administration’s efforts to circumvent the ACA, which ramped up significantly with the administration’s filing this week seeking complete repeal of the law. Another hit to those efforts came down Wednesday when a different federal judge struck down Medicaid work requirements in Arkansas and Kentucky.

The renewed fight comes as Democrats lining up for a 2020 presidential run are pushing for more progressive policies than have previously gained public traction. Some Democratic contenders are making Medicare for all and other single-payer models a central part of their platforms as healthcare shapes up to be a major issue for the next presidential election.

Experts have argued extended use of AHPs could siphon away young and healthy people looking for minimum coverage at a lower cost. If they choose AHPs they upset the balance on risk pools for more comprehensive coverage. Also, many consumers don’t understand the tradeoff and could be surprised by what isn’t covered when they are in need.

But even though the plans aren’t required to meet ACA standards, some that have formed have been adamant they provide adequate coverage, including the 10 essential ACA benefits. The plans are less obstructive to the regulatory environment than short-term health plans, which have also been granted more leeway under the Trump administration.

Land O’Lakes, for example, which said it was the first to offer an AHP under the more relaxed rules, said its plan covered essential benefits and pre-existing conditions, as well as “broad network coverage.”

The Society of Actuaries has said as many as 10% of people in ACA plans could leave for AHPs, which would also drive up premiums for plans in the individual market. Avalere predicted about 3.2 million people would shift and premiums would rise by 3.5%.

Supporters of AHPs decried the judge’s decision Thursday. Kev Coleman, founder of AssocationHealthPlans.com, said in a statement the ruling will hurt small businesses throughout the country.

“Thousands of employees and family members within the small business community have already enrolled in association health plans — which help lower health care costs — since they first became available last fall,” he said. “They have provided a means by which broad benefits may be accessed at more economical prices. While I do not believe today’s ruling will survive appeal, I believe Judge Bates’ decision is an unnecessary detour on small businesses’ path toward more affordable health coverage.”

 

 

Congress Warns Against Medicaid Cuts: ‘You Just Wait for the Firestorm’

Image result for Congress Warns Against Medicaid Cuts: ‘You Just Wait for the Firestorm’

WASHINGTON — If President Trump allows states to convert Medicaid into a block grant with a limit on health care spending for low-income people, he will face a firestorm of opposition in Congress, House Democrats told the nation’s top health official on Tuesday.

The official, Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, endured more than four hours of bipartisan criticism over the president’s budget for 2020, which would substantially reduce projected spending on Medicaid, Medicare and biomedical research. Democrats, confronting Mr. Azar for the first time with a House majority, scorned most of the president’s proposals.

But few drew as much heat as Mr. Trump’s proposed overhaul of Medicaid. His budget envisions replacing the current open-ended federal commitment to the program with a lump sum of federal money for each state in the form of a block grant, a measure that would essentially cap payments and would not keep pace with rising health care costs.

Congress rejected a similar Republican plan in 2017, but in his testimony on Tuesday before the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Mr. Azar refused to rule out the possibility that he could grant waivers to states that wanted to move in that direction.

Under such waivers, Mr. Azar said, he could not guarantee that everyone now enrolled in Medicaid would keep that coverage.

“You couldn’t make that kind of commitment about any waiver,” Mr. Azar said. He acknowledged that the president’s budget would reduce the growth of Medicaid by $1.4 trillion in the coming decade.

Representative G. K. Butterfield, Democrat of North Carolina, said that “block-granting and capping Medicaid would endanger access to care for some of the most vulnerable people” in the country, like seniors, children and the disabled.

Mr. Trump provoked bipartisan opposition by declaring a national emergency to spend more money than Congress provided to build a wall along the southwestern border. If the president bypasses Congress and allows states to convert Medicaid to a block grant, Mr. Butterfield said, he could face even more of an outcry.

“You just wait for the firestorm this will create,” Mr. Butterfield said, noting that more than one-fifth of Americans — more than 70 million low-income people — depend on Medicaid.

As a candidate, Mr. Trump said he would not cut Medicare, but his new budget proposes to cut more than $800 billion from projected spending on the program for older Americans in the next 10 years. Mr. Azar said the proposals would not harm Medicare beneficiaries.

“I don’t believe any of the proposals will impact access to services,” Mr. Azar said. Indeed, he said, the cutbacks could be a boon to Medicare beneficiaries, reducing their out-of-pocket costs.

After meeting an annual deductible, beneficiaries typically pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for doctor’s services and some prescription drugs administered in doctor’s offices and outpatient hospital clinics.

Mr. Azar defended a budget proposal to impose work requirements on able-bodied adults enrolled in Medicaid. Arkansas began enforcing such requirements last year under a waiver granted by the Trump administration. Since then, at least 18,000 Arkansans have lost Medicaid coverage.

Mr. Azar said he did not know why they had been dropped from Medicaid. It is possible, he said, that some had found jobs providing health benefits.

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, Democrat of Massachusetts, said it would be reckless to extend Medicaid work requirements to the entire country without knowing why people were falling off the rolls in Arkansas.

If you are receiving free coverage through Medicaid, Mr. Azar said, “it is not too much to ask that you engage in some kind of community engagement.”

Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, expressed deep concern about Mr. Trump’s proposal to cut the budget of the National Cancer Institute by $897 million, or 14.6 percent, to $5.2 billion.

Mr. Azar said the proposal was typical of the “tough choices” in Mr. Trump’s budget. He defended the cuts proposed for the National Cancer Institute, saying they were proportional to the cuts proposed for its parent agency, the National Institutes of Health.

The president’s budget would reduce funds for the N.I.H. as a whole by 12.6 percent, to $34.4 billion next year.

Mr. Azar was also pressed to justify Mr. Trump’s proposal to cut federal payments to hospitals serving large numbers of low-income patients. Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York, said the cuts, totaling $26 billion over 10 years, would be devastating to “safety net hospitals” in New York and other urban areas.

Mr. Azar said that the Affordable Care Act, by expanding coverage, was supposed to “get rid of uncompensated care” so there would be less need for the special payments.

While Democrats assailed the president’s budget, Mr. Azar relished the opportunity to attack Democrats’ proposals to establish a single-payer health care system billed as Medicare for all.

Those proposals could eliminate coverage provided to more than 20 million people through private Medicare Advantage plans and to more than 155 million people through employer-sponsored health plans, he said.

But Mr. Azar found himself on defense on another issue aside from the president’s budget: immigration. He said he was doing his best to care for migrant children who had illegally entered the United States, were separated from their parents and are being held in shelters for which his department is responsible.

He said he was not aware of the “zero tolerance” immigration policy before it was publicly announced in April 2018 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. If he had known about the policy, Mr. Azar said, “I could have raised objections and concerns.”

Representative Anna G. Eshoo, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the subcommittee, summarized the case against the president’s budget.

“The Trump administration,” she said, “has taken a hatchet to every part of our health care system, undermining the Affordable Care Act, proposing to fundamentally restructure Medicaid and slashing Medicare. This budget proposes to continue that sabotage.”

 

 

 

 

Federal Subsidies Could Expand to Health Programs That Violate Obamacare

Image result for skinny health plans

 

 The Trump administration said Thursday that states could bypass major requirements of the Affordable Care Act by using federal funds for a wide range of health insurance programs that do not comply with the law.

Federal officials encouraged states to seek waivers from provisions of the law that specify who is eligible for premium subsidies, how much they get and what medical benefits they receive.

It was “a mistake to federalize so much of health care policy under the Affordable Care Act,” Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told state officials at a conference in Washington.

The new policy outlined by the administration on Thursday upends a premise of the Affordable Care Act: that federal subsidies can be used only for insurance that meets federal standards and is purchased through public marketplaces, also known as insurance exchanges.

Under the new policy, states could use federal subsidies to help people pay for employer-sponsored insurance. Consumers could combine federal funds with employer contributions to buy other types of insurance.

Under the Affordable Care Act, premium tax credits are available to people with incomes up to four times the poverty level, roughly $83,000 a year for a family of three. With a waiver, states could provide assistance to higher-income families.

The Trump administration laid out templates for state programs — waiver concepts — that could significantly depart from the model enacted by Congress in 2010.

Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, said states could use the suggestions to “create more choices and greater flexibility in their health insurance markets, helping to bring down costs and expand access to care.”

Democrats assailed the initiative as an audacious effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act. And they said the administration was ignoring the midterm election success of Democrats who had promised to defend health care that they said was threatened by President Trump and Republicans in Congress.

“The American people just delivered an overwhelming verdict against Republicans’ cruel assault on families’ health care,” said the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California. “But instead of heeding the will of the people or the requirements of the law, the Trump administration is still cynically working to make health insurance more expensive and to leave more Americans without dependable coverage.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee, said the administration was creating a fast lane for swift approval of “junk insurance.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing medical conditions. At campaign rallies this fall, Mr. Trump repeatedly promised: “We will always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. Always.”

Ms. Verma said Thursday that “the A.C.A.’s pre-existing condition protections cannot be waived.

But states could use federal funds to subsidize short-term plans and “association health plans,” in which employers band together to provide coverage for employees. Such plans are free to limit or omit coverage of benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, such as mental health care, emergency services and prescription drugs.

A provision of the Affordable Care Act allows waivers for innovations in state health policy. The federal law stipulates that state programs must provide coverage that is “at least as comprehensive” as that available under the Affordable Care Act and must cover “at least a comparable number” of people.

Two powerful House Democrats said the new guidance issued by the Trump administration was illegal because it did not meet the standards for waivers set forth in the Affordable Care Act.

“It is contrary to the plain language of the statute, and it appears to be part of the administration’s ideologically motivated efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” said a letter sent to Mr. Azar by Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey and Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts.

In issuing the guidance, they said, Mr. Azar also violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which generally requires agencies to provide an opportunity for public comment before adopting new rules.

Republican governors have been pleading with federal officials to give states more authority to regulate health insurance.

Paul Edwards, a deputy chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah, a Republican, said, “Utah welcomes all efforts that give us maximum flexibility to structure our health care programs to the unique needs of our citizens.” State officials “will look closely at how these new rules could benefit Utahns,” he said.

Brenna Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, a Republican, said the governor “has a proven track record of expanding health care options for Iowans and is eager to see the new opportunities this proposal might open up.”

Iowa tried last year to get a waiver under Obama-era guidance, seeking essentially to opt out of the Affordable Care Act marketplace by offering customers a single plan with lower premiums and a high deductible.

Ms. Reynolds ultimately withdrew the request in frustration, saying at the time that “Obamacare’s waiver rules are as inflexible as the law itself.”

One option for states is to take federal funds and put the money into accounts that consumers could use to pay insurance premiums or medical expenses.

Likewise, Ms. Verma said: “States can develop a new state premium subsidy structure and decide how premium subsidies should be targeted. States can set the rules for what type of health plan is eligible for state premium subsidies.”

She was speaking Thursday at a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that promotes limited government and drafts model legislation.

 

Shifting the Healthcare Debate

http://click1.email.thehill.com/ViewMessage.do?m=ndkqkwkw&r=jnjbrjrv&s=ugcmvzybchhjzjhgnccmmcykhyhddfcbzpk&q=1541641771&a=view

Related image

 

Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care, where Democrats have won back the House, opening the door to a shift in the health care debate.

Here’s what we’ll be watching for on health care when the new Democratic House majority takes over:

  1. Oversight. Democrats are sure to launch investigations and hearings into all sorts of actions Republicans have taken that they think undermined the Affordable Care Act, from expanding skimpier short-term health insurance plans to cutting outreach efforts. They could also bring up different industry executives to testify, for example those from drug companies. We’ve seen some of this happen already with Martin Shkreli and Heather Bresch, but Democrats may want to go even further to shame the industry for high prices.
  2. Drug pricing. Speaking of which, legislation to fight high drug prices is an early priority for House Democrats. They think it could be an area for bipartisan support, as President Trump has also focused on the issue. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday she thinks there could be “common ground” with Trump on the idea, and Trump listed the issue as a possible area of cooperation Wednesday as well. But any drug pricing action always faces an uphill climb.
  3. Pre-existing condition protections. If a federal judge rules in favor of Texas and the other Republican state attorneys general challenging the law, Congress is going to need to have a backstop in place. Republicans in the Senate already passed their versions of such legislation, but left the door open to insurers charging higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. If the law’s protections are truly at risk, Senate Republicans will need to back up their campaign rhetoric with action.
  4. Medicare for All. The most sweeping change Democrats have discussed does not have any real chance of being enacted into law with a Republican Senate and president. But it’s worth watching whether liberal Democrats start planning and agitating for some action on Medicare for all, with hearings, revised legislation, etc.

 

Medicaid wins big at the polls

It was a big night for Medicaid. Three red states voted to expand Medicaid, giving health coverage to potentially hundreds of thousands of newly eligible people.

Idaho voters approved expansion with more than 61 percent of the vote, Utah passed expansion with 54 percent and Nebraska passed it with 53 percent. In Nebraska and Utah, the approval came despite opposition from the states’ Republican governors.

Democrats also won close gubernatorial races in Kansas and Wisconsin, putting expansion on the table. In Kansas, expansion legislation passed in 2017 but former Gov. Sam Brownback (R) vetoed it. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) lost to Democrat Tony Evers, who campaigned on a platform that included expansion.

 

The Trump administration finalized two rules today making it easier for some employers to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Here’s what they do:

  • The first rule provides an exemption to the mandate for entities that object to contraception based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • The second rule gives ax exemption to nonprofits, small businesses and individuals that have non-religious, moral objections to the mandate.

These rules are largely similar to two interim final rules released by the administration last year. But the second rule was amended to state that the moral exemptions don’t apply to publicly traded businesses and government entities.

The rules take effect 60 days after their publication in the Federal Register.

Context: These rules are already the subject of multiple lawsuits against the administration. From National Women’s Law Center President Fatima Goss Graves:

“The Trump Administration decided to finalize these outrageous rules, despite several pending lawsuits and two federal courts blocking them. It’s clear that this Administration will stop at nothing to attack women’s health care… if the Administration thinks it can move these rules forward without a fight, they’re wrong.”

 

On the topic of abortion, two states last night laid the groundwork to ban abortion if the Supreme Court makes changes to Roe v. Wade.

Voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved sweeping amendments to state constitutions that could put major limitations on access to abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.

Alabama’s amendment makes it state policy to protect “the rights of unborn children” and “support the sanctity of unborn life.” It also says there are no constitutional protections for a woman’s right to an abortion.

Fifty-nine percent of voters approved the measure.

West Virginia narrowly passed a similar amendment that states nothing in the state Constitution “secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” That vote was 52 percent to 48 percent.

Read more here.

 

 

Trump’s undermining of Obamacare violates the Constitution, new lawsuit charges

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/trump-s-undermining-obamacare-violates-constitution-new-lawsuit-charges-n896626

Image: People Sign Up For Health Care Coverage Under The Affordable Care Act During First Day Of Open Enrollment

ASHINGTON — After congressional Republicans repeatedly failed last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump promised to “let Obamacare implode” on its own.

A new lawsuit being filed Thursday argues that Trump’s efforts to make good on that promise violate the U.S. Constitution.

Trump has “waged a relentless effort to use executive action alone to undermine and, ultimately, eliminate the law,” the complaint charges, according to a draft obtained by NBC News. The lawsuit is being filed in Maryland federal court by the cities of Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio.

Since Trump’s first executive order directing federal agencies to claw back as much of the Affordable Care Act as possible, his directives have increased health coverage costs and depressed enrollment, the complainants say.

Specifically, the suit argues that Trump is violating Article II of the Constitution, requiring the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

“There’s a clear case of premeditated destruction of the Affordable Care Act,” said Zach Klein, Columbus city attorney.

This includes making it easier for individuals and trade groups to purchase coverage outside the law’s insurance markets; threatening to eliminate cost-sharing reduction payments; cutting funding for “navigators,” or those who help individuals enroll in the program; and using federal funds Congress dedicated to implementing the law toward making videos criticizing it.

On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced a plan for cheaper, short-term insurance plans, the latest example of actions that critics say will drive up costs on Obamacare exchanges.

During a call-in appearance on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show Wednesday, Trump took credit for all but ending the Affordable Care Act.

“I have just about ended Obamacare. We have great health care,” he said. “We have a lot of great things happening right now. New programs are coming out.”

The suit also relies on a list of Trump’s tweets indicating his intent to unravel the law, according to a lawyer involved in the case.

Constitutional scholars have long debated the extent to which the chief executive must “faithfully” execute U.S. laws under Article II — from Franklin Roosevelt’s objections to legislative veto provisions and Harry Truman’s seizure of steel mills.

Citing the same “take care” clause, Republicans took issue with President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration as well as his delayed implementation of the health law.

This case stands apart from all others, says Abbe Gluck, a Yale University law professor and expert on Article II, because it’s not about the extent to which Trump is “faithfully” implementing a law. Rather Trump has been frank that he is sabotaging the law, she said.

“That’s what makes this case novel, first of its kind and really important,” Gluck said. “No scholar or court has ever said the president can use his discretion to implement a statute to purposely destroy it.”

“If there’s ever going to be a violation of the ‘take care’ clause, this is it,” she said.

If successful, the suit would strike down aspects of a Trump rule designed to undercut insurance markets; render a judgment he’s violating his constitutional obligation to enforce the statute; and issue an injunction that he implement the law faithfully.

LOCAL IMPACT

The suit also cites Trump scaling back oversight of insurance issuers, cutting open enrollment in half, urging a federal court to throw out Obamacare’s protections for pre-existing conditions and undermining the individual mandate.

All of these actions, they say, undercut confidence in the program and enrollment, the keys to its success. The whole concept of insurance, whether it’s for cars, homes or people, is to minimize risk by creating a diverse pool — in this case of healthy and unhealthy, young and old participants.

John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and former Bush Justice Department official, said a president can’t refuse to enforce a law just because he disagrees with it.

Still, Obamacare was written in a way that gives great leeway to the executive, said Yoo.

“Is there something specific in the statute that he is refusing?” he said, adding that funding reductions don’t qualify. “That’s the constitutional standard,” said Yoo.

In 2017, there was a 37 percent average increase in premiums nationwide, and 3 million more people lacked health insurance than did in 2016. In Columbus, city-subsidized health centers saw almost 3,000 more uninsured patients in 2017. As the uninsured rate increases, Columbus must also pay more for ambulance transports, draining millions of dollars from localities.

“The accumulation of these (acts) has cost Americans thousands of dollars more, and it was done in a way that can be clearly traced” to Trump’s orders, said Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid under Obama.

The budget strain is also hampering efforts to address the opioid crisis. Ohio has the second-highest drug overdose death rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the city of Columbus averaging nine or 10 Naloxone administrations a day to prevent deaths.

“The time for criticism is over,” Klein said. “We have no ability to recoup that money. We just have to eat it due to the Trump administration’s efforts to sabotage the law.”

HEALTH CARE POLITICS

The plaintiffs deny politics play a role in the timing of the suit, which they say they have been building for the past year.

But it will likely serve as a reminder to voters of Trump’s hand in rising premiums just as they are set to skyrocket. Trump’s 2016 campaign platform was built in part on greater economic security for working-class Americans.

Insurance companies are hiking rates in the individual market, citing decisions being made in Washington. And premiums are set to surge in 2019, with a majority of states proposing increases over and above the previous year.

After several elections in which Republicans used Obamacare to attack Democrats, the party says it’s regained the advantage on the health care issue. In the past few years, the Republican-led Congress has voted dozens of times to try and repeal the law, failing each time. “People got to see they (the GOP) have no better alternative,” said Slavitt.

“Most Democrats are saying ‘look we never said the ACA is perfect, but the other person is trying to take away your coverage,” said Slavitt.

Trump’s former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has also faulted Congress’s repeal of the individual mandate for coming premium increases. Further, Trump’s Justice Department is taking aim at Obamacare’s most popular provisions: a ban on insurance companies’ discriminating against individuals with pre-existing conditions.

CONSTITUTIONAL OBLIGATION

The suit seeks to force Trump to adopt policies intended to expand rather than shrink enrollment; reduce rather than increase premiums; and promote instead of attack the ACA.

Among the specific rules plaintiffs seek to reverse are allowing exchanges to strip individuals of tax credits without notification and reducing oversight of insurance agents and brokers, as well as oversight of the law in general.

“What’s insidious here is the administration is doing it knowing that confidence in the act is key to its success,” said Adam Grogg, senior counsel at Democracy Forward and the lead litigator on the case. The fewer Americans who enroll in the program, the more volatile the market, he said.

“The overall picture here is one of sabotage that drives up the rates of uninsured and underinsured and leaves cites and counties holding the bag,” Grogg said.

Four cities are charging that the president is failing to execute the law by actively undercutting the Affordable Care Act.

 

CMS to allow states to define essential health benefits

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20171027/NEWS/171029872/cms-to-allow-states-to-define-essential-health-benefits

Image result for end run

The CMS proposed a rule late Friday aimed at giving states more flexibility in stabilizing the Affordable Care Act exchanges and in interpreting the law’s essential health benefits as a way to lower the cost of individual and small group health plans.

In the 365-page proposed rule issued late Friday, the agency said the purpose is to give states more flexibility and reduce burdens on stakeholders in order to stabilize the individual and small-group insurance markets and improve healthcare affordability.

The CMS said the rule would give states greater flexibility in defining the ACA’s minimum essential benefits to increase affordability of coverage. States would play a larger role in the certification of qualified health plans offered on the federal insurance exchange. And they would have more leeway in setting medical loss ratios for individual-market plans.

“Consumers who have specific health needs may be impacted by the proposed policy,” the agency said. “In the individual and small group markets, depending on the selection made by the state in which the consumer lives, consumers with less comprehensive plans may no longer have coverage for certain services. In other states, again depending on state choices, consumers may gain coverage for some services.”

However, the CMS acknowledged it’s unclear how much money the new state flexibility will save. States are not required to make any changes under the policy.

The CMS urged states to consider the so-called spillover effects if they choose to pick their own benefits. These include increased use of other services, such as increased used of emergency services or increased use of public services provided by the state or other government entities.

The agency in 2017 proposed standardized health plan options as a way to simplify shopping for consumers on the federally run marketplaces. The CMS said it would eliminate standardized options for 2019 to maximize innovation. “We believe that encouraging innovation is especially important now, given the stresses faced by the individual market,” the proposed rule states.

The CMS proposes to let states relax the ACA requirement that at least 80% of premium revenue received by individual-market plans be spent on members’ medical care. It said states would be allowed to lower the 80% medical loss ratio standard if they demonstrate that a lower MLR could help stabilize their individual insurance market.

The CMS also said it intended to consider proposals in future rulemaking that would help cut prescription drug costs and promote drug price transparency.

The Trump administration hopes to relax the ACA’s requirements and provide as much state flexibility as possible through administrative action, following the collapse of congressional Republican efforts this year to make those changes legislatively.

The proposed rule comes after months of calls from health insurers and provider groups for the federal administration to help stabilize the struggling individual insurance market. The fifth ACA open enrollment is slated to begin Nov. 1, and experts have predicted fewer sign-ups in the wake of a series of actions by the Trump administration to undercut the exchanges.

In the proposed rule, the CMS also proposes to exempt student health insurance from rate reviews for policies beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2019. The CMS said student health insurance coverage is written and sold more like group coverage, which is already exempt from rate review, and said the change would reduce regulatory burden on states and insurance companies.

The ACA requires that insurers planning to increase premiums by 10% or more submit their rates to regulators for review. The CMS proposed to increase the rate review threshold to 15% “in recognition of significant rate increases in the past number of years.”

The rule also tweaks a requirement that enrollees need to have prior coverage before attempting to get coverage via special enrollment after moving to a new area. Under the proposal, a person who lived in an area with no exchange qualified health plans will be able to obtain coverage.