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

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20180605.966625/full/?utm_term=Read%20More%20%2526gt%3B%2526gt%3B&utm_campaign=HASU&utm_content=email&utm_source=06-10-18&utm_medium=Email&cm_mmc=Act-On%20Software-_-email-_-Health%20Affairs%20June%20Issue%3A%20Hospitals%2C%20Primary%20Care%20%2526%20More%3B%20ACA%20Round-Up%3B%20Harassment%20In%20Medicine-_-Read%20More%20%2526gt%3B%2526gt%3B

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.

 

Short-Term Plans Could Bring Long-Term Risks to California’s Individual Market

https://www.chcf.org/publication/short-term-plans-long-term-risk-california/

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The Trump administration is considering changes to federal rules regulating short-term, limited-duration insurance (“short-term plans”) that could result in the expansion of these plans in California.

This report, written by Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, provides an overview of short-term plans and the current market for these plans in California. It explains how changes to federal policy around short-term plans might affect California’s individual health insurance market and describes policies that various states are pursuing in response to these changes.

Key points include:

  • Short-term plans are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections. Insurers can deny coverage based on preexisting conditions, not cover certain services, and limit what they will pay for services. For example, many short-term plans currently available in California do not cover maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use services, and outpatient prescription drugs. They also limit the total amount that plans will pay per day in the hospital and for particular services, such as surgeon fees, in addition to imposing a maximum the plan will spend toward claims covered by the policy.
  • Short-term plans are rare right now in California, but that could change. There is only one insurer currently selling approved short-term plans in California, and fewer than 10,000 policies in effect across the state. But if the Trump administration changes federal rules, and there is no change in California law, enrollment in short-term plans is likely to grow. Under these conditions, the Urban Institute projects that over 600,000 Californians would enroll in short-term plans in 2019.
  • Enrollment in short-term plans could contribute to destabilizing Covered California and increasing premiums. Short-term plans are likely to siphon off healthier and younger consumers from Covered California, which would increase premiums for those remaining in the ACA-compliant market.
  • States are taking action. Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island have taken steps to ensure that short-term plans don’t destabilize their individual health insurance markets. A bill is currently pending in the California legislature banning short-term plans altogether.

The full report is available under Related Materials below.

 

Americans’ Confidence in Their Ability to Pay for Health Care Is Falling

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/blog/2018/may/americans-confidence-paying-health-care-falling?omnicid=CFC1404232&mid=henrykotula@yahoo.com

President Trump is expected to soon address the nation about the rising cost of prescription drugs. But Americans are worried about more than drug prices. New findings from the Commonwealth Fund Affordable Care Act Tracking Survey show that consumers’ confidence in their ability to afford all their needed health care continues to decline.

Last week, we reported that the survey indicated a small but significant increase in the uninsured rate among working-age adults since 2016. In this post, we look at people’s views of the affordability of their health care. The Affordable Care Act Tracking Survey is a nationally representative telephone survey conducted by SSRS that tracks coverage rates among 19-to-64-year-olds, and has focused in particular on the experiences of adults who have gained coverage through the marketplaces and Medicaid. The latest wave of the survey was conducted between February and March 2018.1

Findings

Confidence in Ability to Afford Health Care Continues to Decline

In each wave of the survey, we’ve asked respondents whether they have confidence in their ability to afford health care if they were to become seriously ill. In 2018, 62.4 percent of adults said they were very or somewhat confident they could afford their health care, down from a high of nearly 70 percent in 2015 (Table 1). Only about half of people with incomes less than 250 percent of poverty ($30,150 for an individual) were confident they could afford care if they were to become very sick, down from 60 percent in 2015 and about 20 percentage points lower than the rate for adults with higher incomes. There were also significant declines in confidence among young adults, those ages 50 to 64, women, and people with health problems. Declines were significant among both Democrats and Republicans.

People in Employer Plans Have the Greatest Confidence in Their Insurance

We asked people with health insurance how confident they were that their current insurance will help them afford the health care they need this year. Majorities of adults were somewhat or very confident in their coverage; those with employer coverage were the most confident. More than half (55%) of adults insured through an employer were very confident their coverage would help them afford their care compared to 31 percent of adults with individual market coverage and 41 percent of people with Medicaid (Table 2). The least confident were adults enrolled in Medicare. Working-age adults enrolled in Medicare were the sickest among insured adults and the second-poorest after those covered by Medicaid (data not shown).2

One-Quarter of Adults Said Health Care Became Harder to Afford

We asked people whether, over the past year, their health care, including prescription drugs, had become harder for them to afford, easier to afford, or if there had been no change. The majority (66%) said there had been no change, one-quarter (24%) said it had become harder to afford, and 8 percent said it had become easier (Table 3). People with individual market coverage were significantly more likely than those with employer coverage or Medicaid to say health care had become harder to afford. About one-third of adults with deductibles of $1,000 or more said health care had become harder to afford, twice the share of those who had no deductible. About one-third of those enrolled in Medicare and 41 percent who were uninsured also reported that their health care had become harder to afford.

Only About Half of Americans Would Have Money to Pay for an Unexpected Medical Bill

Accidents and other medical emergencies can leave both uninsured and insured people with unexpected medical bills, which usually require prompt payment. We asked people if they would have the money to pay a $1,000 medical bill within 30 days in the case of an unexpected medical event. Nearly half (46%) said they would not have the money to cover such a bill in that time frame (Table 4). Women, people of color, people who are uninsured, those covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and those with incomes under 250 percent of poverty were among the most likely to say they couldn’t pay the bill.

Health Care Is Among People’s Top Four Greatest Personal Financial Concerns

Fourteen percent of adults said that health care was their biggest personal financial concern, after mortgage or rent (23%), student loans (17%), and retirement (17%) (Table 5). Those most likely to cite health care as their greatest financial concern were people who could potentially face high out-of-pocket costs because they were uninsured or had high-deductible health plans.

Policy Implications

Uninsured adults are the least confident in their ability to pay medical bills. But the risk of high out-of-pocket health care costs doesn’t end when someone enrolls in a health plan. The proliferation and growth of high-deductible health plans in both the individual and employer insurance markets is leaving people with unaffordable health care costs. Many adults enrolled in Medicare for reasons of disability or serious illness also report unease about their health care costs. An estimated 41 million insured adults have such high out-of-pocket costs and deductibles relative to their incomes that they are effectively underinsured. As this survey indicates, the nation’s health care cost burden is felt disproportionately by people with low and moderate incomes, people of color, and women.

The ACA’s reforms to the individual insurance market have doubled the number of people who now get insurance on that market to an estimated 17 million, with approximately half receiving subsidies through the ACA marketplaces. The ACA also has made it possible for people who were regularly denied coverage by insurers — older Americans and those with health problems — to get insurance. They are now entitled by law to an offer should they want to buy a plan.

But as this survey suggests, the ACA’s reforms did not fully resolve the individual market’s relatively higher costs for all those enrolled, compared to employer coverage or Medicaid. Moreover, recent actions by Congress and the Trump administration, including the repeal of the individual mandate penalty and loosened restrictions on plans that don’t comply with the ACA, are expected to exacerbate those costs for many. In the survey, people with individual market coverage are more likely than those with employer coverage or Medicaid to say that their health care, including prescription drugs, has become harder to afford in the past year. They express less confidence than those with employer coverage that their insurance will help them afford their care this year. As explained in the first post, there are a number of policy options that Congress can pursue that would improve individual market insurance’s affordability and cost protection. In the absence of bipartisan Congressional agreement on legislation, several states are currently pursuing their own solutions. But if current trends continue, the federal government will likely confront growing pressure to provide a national solution to America’s incipient health care affordability crisis.

 

 

 

 

 

Premium hikes reignite the ObamaCare wars

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/387836-premium-hikes-reignite-the-obamacare-wars?userid=12325

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The ObamaCare premium wars are back.

The cost of health insurance plans on the ObamaCare exchanges could jump in the coming weeks, some by double digits, inflaming the issue ahead of the midterm elections.

Democrats argue the price increases are the result of what they refer to as “Republican sabotage.” They contend that, since the GOP controls Congress and the White House, the price hikes are their responsibility — and that’s the message they plan to take into the fall campaign.

“If these early states are any indication, health insurance companies are going to ask for huge hikes in the wake of President Trumpand congressional Republicans’ repeated efforts to sabotage our health-care system,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference last week. “And we Democrats are going to be relentless in making sure the American people exactly understand who is to blame for the rates.”

Republicans counter that it was Democrats who passed the law, enacted in 2010, in the first place and without any GOP votes. And they blame Democrats for the failure to pass a bill that was aimed at shoring up ObamaCare’s exchanges.

Democrats wrote the Affordable Care Act, so “they should look in the mirror,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said last week on the Senate floor.

“And this is the very worst. When Republicans were prepared one month ago to stabilize these markets — and according to the Oliver Wyman health-care experts, to lower rates by up to 40 percent over three years — the Democrats said no,” he said.

For years, Republicans had the upper hand on health care, with the backlash to the Affordable Care Act helping them win the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016.

During the Obama administration, Republicans railed against ObamaCare premium hikes while pledging to repeal and replace the law.

But that repeal push ended in failure last year, and Democrats say the political winds have shifted in their favor.

Democrats argue that any higher premiums this year will be a direct result of the Republican Congress and the Trump administration. They refer to certain actions by the GOP — such as the repeal of the individual mandate to have health insurance — as acts of “sabotage” that will siphon healthy people out of the ObamaCare insurance markets, leading to sicker people on the plans and higher costs.

“Thus far, Democrats have been on the defensive about premium increases,” said Cynthia Cox, a health insurance expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Now they’re starting to play offense, and from our polling we’ve seen that a lot of the public now feels that the Trump administration and Congress are responsible for any problems with the [Affordable Care Act] going forward, so it may be that the politics of premium increases has changed.”

Protect Our Care, a pro-ObamaCare group, launched “Rate Watch” on Tuesday, a media campaign and website aimed at getting out the Democrat’s message that Republicans are to blame for rate hikes.

Only a handful of states have released proposed premiums for next year, as insurers are largely still hammering out what their preliminary rates are going to be.

In Maryland, the average proposed increase among insurers and plans was 30 percent. CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, for example, requested an 18.5 percent hike for its HMO plans and 91.4 percent for its PPO plans.

In Virginia, proposed rate hikes varied widely, from 15 percent to 64 percent. Vermont’s proposed premium increases were more modest.

It’s too early to know the full picture for what premiums will look like around the country for 2019. Insurers tend to file proposed rates in the late spring and early summer, and they’re generally not finalized until early fall — a little more than a month before the ObamaCare exchanges open for business on Nov. 1.

“It’s hard to come up with a general impression … but I think what we can expect is probably another year of double-digit rate increases driven in large part by the individual mandate repeal and the expansion of short-term health plans and association health plans,” Cox said.

The Trump administration proposed a rule to increase the length of time a consumer can keep a plan that doesn’t comply with ObamaCare’s insurance regulations from three months to nearly a year. Democrats deride those plans as “junk insurance.”

Association health plans would let small businesses and self-employed individuals band together to buy coverage that doesn’t comply with ObamaCare’s rules.

Republicans say the rules will expand choice and allow people to buy cheaper alternatives to ObamaCare plans.

Some insurers have cited the repeal of the individual mandate as a factor in their decision to propose rate hikes, and at least one also included the proposed regulations from the administration as a factor.

Some insurance commissioners across the country are approaching the open enrollment period with a level of “concern and a bit of trepidation,” said Julie Mix McPeak, Tennessee’s insurance commissioner who serves as the president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

In McPeak’s home state, she’s hopeful that signs are pointing to rates beginning to plateau and that Tennessee won’t see the large hikes of years past.

“My experience in Tennessee … is not typical for all of the states in the United States,” said McPeak, who was appointed to run the state’s insurance department by Gov. Bill Haslam (R.).

“I’m hearing from some of my colleagues from the national perspective that they are looking at significant rate increases,” she said.

Dave Jones, California’s Democratic insurance commissioner, said he’s worried that some insurers may leave parts of the state.

“We’re working closely with our exchange and other California agencies to do everything we can to encourage insurers to stay and to create as much stability as we can, not withstanding all of the rocks that the Trump administration is throwing at health-care reform,” he said.

If the short-term and association health plan rules are implemented, Jones said he’s prepared to file litigation aimed at stopping the regulations.

In North Dakota, the state’s Republican insurance commissioner is more optimistic.

Jon Godfread said he expects North Dakota’s marketplace will consist of three carriers selling plans across the state — an increase from last year, when areas had only one or two insurers to choose from.

As for rate hikes, he’s hoping in the low double-digits or, worst case, in the 18 percent to 22 percent range. He believes the repeal of the individual mandate won’t have much impact on consumer behavior in North Dakota because people who couldn’t afford insurance have likely already left the marketplace in the state.

“Health insurance and health care by its very nature is demographic,” Godfread said. “We may be leading into a somewhat calm year — in North Dakota, at least that’s what we’re hoping for. But that doesn’t mean my colleagues in Iowa and Nebraska and other places aren’t facing some pretty significant challenges, and we very well, that could be us next year, or it could be us this year still, too. There’s a lot of time between now and open enrollment.”

 

 

Let the ACA rate hikes begin

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Get ready for about six more months of headlines like this: Insurers in Maryland are proposing premium hikes as high as 91% for coverage sold through the Affordable Care Act.

This will keep happening, nationwide. Proposed increases have been steep in Maryland and Virginia, the first two states to release them. But all signs point to steep hikes across the country, especially in rural areas. Some insurers also will likely decide to simply quit offering coverage in some parts of the country.

The latest: Insurers in Maryland’s individual market are seeking rate hikes for next year that range from 18% (for the biggest plan in the state) to 91% (for the smallest). They average out to roughly 32%.

  • These rates are still preliminary — Maryland can approve or reject proposed increases, and it’s also pursuing a reinsurance program that would help bring these increases down.

Why you’ll hear about this again: More preliminary rates will trickle out until the summer, as will any insurers’ decisions to pull up stakes in some markets. After negotiations with state regulators, rates will be finalized a few weeks before the midterms.

  • Expect to hear Democrats making hay of these increases as they accuse Republicans of “sabotaging” the ACA.
  • There’s really no denying that the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate, coupled with some of the Trump administration’s regulatory moves, is a big driver — though not the only driver — of these staggering increases.

The other side: Expect the Trump administration to cite these same figures as it finalizes regulations that would loosen access to options outside the ACA’s exchanges, saying they’re providing new options to people who simply can’t afford ACA coverage.

  • Don’t forget, though, that some of those options would only benefit the healthiest consumers.

How The Farm Bill Could Erode Part Of The ACA

How The Farm Bill Could Erode Part Of The ACA

Some Republican lawmakers continue to try to work around the federal health law’s requirements. That strategy can crop up in surprising places. Like the farm bill.

Tucked deep in the House version of the massive bill — amid crop subsidies and food assistance programs — is a provision that supporters say could help provide farmers with cheaper, but likely less comprehensive, health insurance than plans offered through the Affordable Care Act.

It calls for $65 million in loans and grants administered by the Department of Agriculture to help organizations establish agricultural-related “association” type health plans.

But the idea is not without skeptics.

“I don’t know that anyone at the Department of Agriculture, with all due respect, knows a darn thing about starting and maintaining a successful insurance company,” said Sabrina Corlette, a professor and project director at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.

Association health plans are offered through organizations whose members usually share a professional, employment, trade or other relationship, although the Trump administration is soon to finalize new rules widely expected to broaden eligibility while loosening the rules on benefits these plans must include.

Under that proposal, association plans would not have to offer coverage across 10 broad “essential” categories of care, including hospitalization, prescription drugs and emergency care. They could also spend less premium revenue on medical care.

Under the farm bill, the secretary of Agriculture could grant up to 10 loans of no more than $15 million each, starting next year, to existing associations whose members are ranchers, farmers or other agribusinesses.

The language is strikingly similar to a bill introduced April 12 by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), a supporter of association health plans. He did not respond to calls for comment.

Although the farm bill is usually considered “must-pass” by many lawmakers, it is currently facing pushback because of controversy surrounding other parts of the measure, mainly language that would add additional work requirements to the food stamp program.

Still, the focus on association health plans won’t go away.

The plans — coupled with another Trump administration move to make short-term insurance more widely available — could draw healthier people out of the ACA markets, leaving the pool of beneficiaries with higher percentages of people who need medical care. And that, some say, could drive up premiums for those who remain.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, for example, has warned that association plans “threaten the stability of the small group market” and “provide inadequate benefits and insufficient protection to consumers.”

Actuaries have made similar arguments.

Others are concerned about the idea of the government providing funding for such plans.

“We have reams of experience with AHPs that have gone belly up … and the notion that we should put taxpayer money into them is irresponsible,” said Georgetown University’s Corlette.

She was referring to the industry’s mixed track record with plans. Some have served members well, but other plans have been marked by solvency problems that left consumers on the hook with unpaid medical bills or were investigated for providing little or no coverage for such things as chemotherapy or doctor office visits.

It’s not fair to simply focus on the failures, countered attorney Christopher Condeluci, who served as tax and benefits counsel to the Senate Finance Committee and now advises private clients, some of whom are interested in association plans.

“Some AHPs were not successful,” he agreed. “But there’s arguably more examples of AHPs that work. The trouble is everyone focuses on the negative.”

Although the GOP generally supports association plans, using taxpayer funds to help start them could prove problematic for some conservatives in Congress.

Many Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about the use of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to start insurance co-ops that were part of the ACA, most of which failed.

“The hard-earned tax dollars collected from working Americans, sitting at Treasury right now, are not venture capital, said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) at a subcommittee hearing in November 2015. Currently, Brady is chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

The provision could also be popular in rural areas.

“We think it’s a good idea,” said Rob Robertson, chief administrator for the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, whose group is considering sponsoring one.

About half of his members, Robertson said, have a spouse working a non-farm job, mainly for insurance coverage. Of those who buy their own plan, some are facing astronomical premiums and are looking for relief.

“I can’t think of any sector that is affected more by the huge premium increases under Obamacare than farmers and ranchers,” he said.

The farm bill — including the AHP provision — was approved by the House Committee on Agriculture in mid-April, and is currently awaiting floor consideration. Meanwhile, a final rule on the Trump AHP rule, which has drawn more than 900 comments from supporters and opponents, could be issued as early as this summer.