ACA lawsuit puts GOP in an awkward position

https://www.axios.com/affordable-care-act-lawsuit-republicans-2c0aff0e-e870-49af-a15e-554d34d3ad62.html

Image result for aca lawsuit

A lawsuit that threatens to kill the entire Affordable Care Act could be a political disaster for the GOP, but most Republicans aren’t trying to stop it — and some openly want it to succeed.

Between the lines: The GOP just lost the House to Democrats who campaigned heavily on health care, particularly protecting people with pre-existing conditions, but the party’s base still isn’t ready to accept the ACA as the law of the land.

The big picture: A district judge ruled last month that the ACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the whole law must fall along with it. That decision is being appealed.

  • A victory for the Republican attorneys general who filed the lawsuit — or for the Trump administration’s position — would likely cause millions of people with pre-existing conditions to lose their coverage or see their costs skyrocket.

Some Republicans want the lawsuit to go away.

  • Rep. Greg Walden, ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, supports fully repealing the ACA’s individual mandate, which the 2017 tax law nullified. That’s what sparked this lawsuit, and formal repeal would likely put the legal challenge to rest.
  • Sen. Susan Collins laughed when I asked her whether she hopes the plaintiffs win the case. “No. What a question,” she said.

But other Republicans say they see an opportunity.

  • If the lawsuit prevails, “it means that we could rebuild and make sure that we have a health care system that is going to ensure that individuals are in charge of their health care,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said.
  • Sen. David Perdue said that “of course” he wants the challengers to win, which would “give us an opportunity to get at the real problem, and that is the cost side of health care.”
  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said she views the lawsuit “as an opportunity for us to assure pre-existing conditions and make sure that we fix some of the broken problems,” but that she doesn’t know if it’d be good if the plaintiffs win.

The bottom line: “The longer we’re talking about preexisting conditions, the longer we’re losing. We need to focus on a message that can win us voters in 2020. The debate of preexisting conditions was a stone-cold loser for us in 2018,” said Matt Gorman, the communications director for House Republicans’ campaign arm during the 2018 cycle.

 

 

The Commonwealth Fund’s Top 10 for 2018

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/2018/dec/commonwealth-funds-top-10-2018?omnicid=CFC%25%25jobid%25%25&mid=%25%25emailaddr%25%25

top 10

In 2018, the Commonwealth Fund’s centennial year, we continued our efforts to advance health care for all. When viewed through the lens of the most popular publications, it has been a year dedicated in large part to showing how Americans covered through the Affordable Care Act have fared as the law has come under attack from Congress and the White House. 

In the last year, we also released our latest state scorecard of health system performance and updated our analysis of the rise in deaths attributable to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. Another top report demonstrated how states can sustain investments in social supports for people in Medicaid managed care.

Please join us as we look back over the year. Here they are: the 10 most-read Commonwealth Fund publications released in 2018.

 

 

 

10 Notable Health Care Events of 2018

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2018/10-notable-health-care-events-2018?omnicid=CFC%25%25jobid%25%25&mid=%25%25emailaddr%25%25

2018

Between the fiercely competitive midterm elections and ongoing upheaval over the Trump administration’s immigration policies, 2018 was no less politically tumultuous than 2017. The same was true for the world of health care. Republicans gave up on overt attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through legislation, but the administration’s executive actions on health policy accelerated. Several states took decisive action on Medicaid and some of the struggles over the ACA made their way to the courts. Drug prices remain astronomically high, but public outrage prompted some announcements to help control them. At the same time, corporate behemoths made deeper inroads into health care delivery, including some new overtures from Silicon Valley. Here’s a refresher on some of the most notable events of the year.

1. The ACA under renewed judicial assault

Texas v. Azar, a suit brought by Texas and 19 other Republican-led states, asked the courts to rule the entire ACA unconstitutional because Congress repealed the financial penalty associated with the individual mandate to obtain health insurance that was part of the original law. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, creating confusion at the end of the ACA’s open enrollment period, and setting up what may be a years-long judicial contest (yet again) over the constitutionality of the ACA. To learn more about the legal issues at stake, see Timothy S. Jost’s recent To the Point post.

2. Turnout for open enrollment in health insurance marketplaces surged at the end of the sign-up period

The federal and state-based marketplaces launched their sixth enrollment season on November 1 for individuals seeking to buy health coverage in the ACA’s individual markets for 2019. Insurer participation remained strong and premiums fell on average. While some states have extended enrollment periods, HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace, closed on December 15. After lagging in the early weeks, enrollment ended just 4 percent lower this year than in 2017.

3. The administration continues efforts to hobble ACA marketplaces

While the reasons behind lower enrollment cannot be decisively determined, executive action in 2018 may have contributed. The Trump administration dramatically cut back federal investments in marketplace advertising and consumer assistance for the second year in a row. The federal government spent $10 million on advertising for the 34 federally facilitated marketplaces this year (the same as last year but an 85 percent cut from 2016) and $10 million on the navigator program (down from $100 million in 2016), which provides direct assistance to hard-to-reach populations.

4. Insurers encouraged to sell health plans that don’t comply with the ACA

Another tactic the Trump administration is using to undercut the ACA is increasing the availability of health insurance products, such as short-term health plans, that don’t comply with ACA standards. Short-term plans, previously available for just three months, can now provide coverage for just under 12 months and be renewed for up to 36 months in many states. These plans may have gaps in coverage and lead to costs that consumers may not anticipate when they sign up. By siphoning off healthy purchasers, short-term plans and other noncompliant products segment the individual market and increase premiums for individuals who want to — or need to — purchase ACA-complaint insurance that won’t discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, for example.

5. Medicaid expansion in conservative states

Few states have expanded Medicaid since 2016, but in 2018, a new trend toward expansion through ballot initiatives emerged. Following Maine’s citizen-initiated referendum last year, Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah passed ballot initiatives in November to expand Medicaid. Other red states may follow in 2019. Medicaid expansion not only improves access to care for low-income Americans, but also makes fiscal sense for states, because the federal government subsidizes the costs of newly eligible Medicaid enrollees (94 percent of the state costs at present, dropping to 90 percent in 2020).

6. Red states impose work requirements for Medicaid

A number of states submitted federal waivers to make employment a requirement for Medicaid eligibility. Such waivers were approved in five states — Arkansas, Kentucky, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Indiana — and 10 other states are awaiting approval. At the end of 2018, lawsuits are pending in Arkansas and Kentucky challenging the lawfulness of work requirements for Medicaid eligibility. About 17,000 people have lost Medicaid in Arkansas as a result of work requirements.

7. Regulatory announcements respond to public outrage over drug prices

Public outrage over prescription drug prices — which are higher in the U.S. than in other industrialized countries — provided fodder for significant regulatory action in 2018 to help bring costs under control. Of note, the Food and Drug Administration announced a series of steps to encourage competition from generic manufacturers as well as greater price transparency. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in October announced a proposed rule to test a new payment model to substantially lower the cost of prescription drugs and biologics covered under Part B of the Medicare program.

8. Corporations and Silicon Valley make deeper inroads into health care

Far from Washington, D.C., corporations and technology companies made their own attempts to alter the way health care is delivered in the U.S. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and J.P. Morgan Chase kicked 2018 off with an announcement that they would form an independent nonprofit health care company that would seek to revolutionize health care for their U.S. employees. Not to be outdone, Apple teamed up with over 100 health care systems and practices to disrupt the way patients access their electronic health records. And CVS Health and Aetna closed their $69 billion merger in November, after spending the better part of the year seeking approval from state insurance regulators. In a surprise move, a federal district judge then announced that he was reviewing the merger to explore the potential competitive harm in the deal.

9. Growth in health spending slows

The annual report on National Health Expenditures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that in 2017, health care spending in the U.S. grew 3.9 percent to $3.5 trillion, or $10,739 per person. After higher growth rates in 2016 (4.8%) and 2015 (5.8%) following expanded insurance coverage and increased spending on prescription drugs, health spending growth has returned to the same level as between 2008 to 2013, the average predating ACA coverage expansions.

10. Drug overdose rates hit a record high

Continuing a tragic trend, drug overdose deaths are still on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 70,237 fatalities in 2017. Overdose deaths are higher than deaths from H.I.V., car crashes, or gun violence, and seem to reflect a growing number of deaths from synthetic drugs, most notably fentanyl. 2018 was the first year after President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. National policy solutions have so far failed to stem the epidemic, though particular states have made progress.

As we slip into 2019, expect health care issues to remain front and center on the policy agenda, with the administration continuing its regulatory assault on many key ACA provisions, Democrats harassing the executive branch with House oversight hearings, both parties demanding relief from escalating pharmaceutical prices, and the launch of health care as a 2020 presidential campaign issue.

 

 

MID-TERM MESSAGE: DON’T MESS WITH MY HEALTHCARE!

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/mid-term-message-dont-mess-my-healthcare

Tired of the partisanship and dithering in Congress, voters took matters into their own hands Tuesday and largely embraced initiatives and politicians who vowed to expand Medicaid and protect coverage for pre-existing conditions.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

You can’t undo an entitlement.

‘Repeal and replace’ is dead. Drug pricing reforms a likely area of bipartisan consensus.

Democrats can push Medicare For All at their own peril.

For healthcare economist Gail Wilensky, the big message that voters sent to their elected officials during Tuesday’s mid-term elections was straightforward and simple.

“Don’t mess with my healthcare,” says Wilensky, a senior fellow at Project HOPE and a former MedPAC chair.

“It’s as clear as that. There were no subtleties involved here,” she says. “That includes protections for pre-existing conditions and added coverage under Medicaid.”

Consider what happened on Tuesday:

  • Overall, Democrats wrested control of the House from Republicans in an election where healthcare was seen as the single biggest issue. Democrats ceaselessly hammered Republicans with the claim that the GOP would eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions.
  • Ballot initiatives in three bright-red Republican states all passed with healthy margins. A similar ballot initiative in Montana failed, but observers blamed the failure on an unpopular $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes that would have paid for the expansion.
  • Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, a lead plaintiff in a Texas v. Azar, was ousted by Democrat Josh Kaul, who promised to withdraw Wisconsin from the suit.
  • Three-term Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker lost a re-election bid to Democrat Tony Evers, likely scuttling that state’s recent waiver approval for Medicaid work requirements. Evers also pledged to expand Medicaid.
  • Phil Weiser, Colorado’s Democratic Attorney General-elect, and a former Obama administration staffer, told Colorado Public Radio that one of his first actions would be to join the 17 Democratic attorneys general intervening to defend the ACA in Texas v. Azar.  

Wilensky says the mid-terms results reinforce one of the oldest truisms in politics: Once an entitlement is proffered, there’s no going back.

“There is no precedent that I’m aware of in American political history where a benefit can be taken away,” she says. “Once granted, it can be modified, it can be increased, it can be augmented in some way, but there’s no taking it away after it’s been in place.”

When Democrats took control of the House, Wilensky says, they drove a stake through the heart of the “repeal and replace” movement.

“Republicans couldn’t even get that done when they control both houses of Congress, she says. “It’s a non-issue, in part because a lot of Republicans support major provisions of the Affordable Care Act.”

With repealing the ACA off the table, Democrats and Republicans might find common ground on issues such as drug pricing.

“That’s clearly is the most obvious, in general, but the specifics of what you want to do become much more challenging,” Wilensky says. “Typically, Democrats want to use administered pricing the way that we use administer pricing in parts of Medicare. I don’t know how much Republican support there is for that.”

The two parties could reach some sort of bipartisan agreement on Medicare Part B drugs, Wilensky says, because it’s a smaller program and the drugs are generally much more expensive.

“Most members of Congress are not talking about messing around with Part D, the ambulatory prescription drug coverage,” Wilensky says. “So it really has to do either with the expensive infusion drugs that are administered in the physician’s office or maybe something about drug advertising. Even then, it’s going to be hard lift when you actually get down to the specifics.”

Besides, Wilensky says, it’s not the cost of drugs that’s at the heart of voter agitation.

“You have to unpack what they’re saying to figure out what they’re actually pushing for,” she says. “People couldn’t care less about drug prices. They only care about what it costs them. So when they talk about drug prices they mean, ‘I want to spend less for the drugs I want, and I don’t want any constraints about what I can order.’

More likely, she says, common ground could be found in arcane areas such as mandating greater transparency for pharmacy benefits managers, and changing PBMs’ rebate structure.

Wilensky warns that giddy Democrats should learn from the mistakes of Republicans in the mid-terms and not attempt to force a Medicare-For-All solution on a wary public.

“First of all, they’re going to have to define what it means,” she says. “But, you have to be very careful because historically there’s not been warm and fuzzy response to taking away people’s employer-sponsored insurance.”

“Again, historically, when candidates mess around with employer-sponsored insurance they have gotten themselves into trouble,” she says. “Most people would like to keep what they have, because keeping what you have is much safer than going with something as yet to be defined.”

“DON’T MESS WITH MY HEALTHCARE. IT’S AS CLEAR AS THAT. THERE WERE NO SUBTLETIES INVOLVED HERE,”

 

THE RACES AND ISSUES HEALTHCARE LEADERS NEED TO WATCH ON ELECTION NIGHT

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/races-and-issues-healthcare-leaders-need-watch-election-night

The 2018 midterm elections will decide the fate of numerous healthcare-related ballot measures as well as which leaders will shape health policy in the coming years.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Issues to watch: Medicaid expansion in 4 states, a healthcare bond initiative in California, and the debate over preexisting condition protections.

Candidates to watch: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, and others.

Healthcare has been an overarching issue for voters in the 2018 midterm election cycle, with many focusing on the future of the Affordable Care Act when it comes to national health policy but also taking stock of state and local ballot initiatives as well.

Several traditionally Republican states will decide whether to expand Medicaid under the ACA; staffing requirements for nurses are a hot-button topic in Massachusetts; and a major children’s hospital bond is on the table in California. 

Beyond the issues are the candidates, including many Republican leaders on Capitol Hill in tight races to defend their seats after voting to repeal and replace the ACA. At the state level, Republican governors and their attorneys general are having their healthcare records put to the test as Democrats make protecting preexisting conditions and rejecting Medicaid work requirements key parts of the campaign.

Here are the key issues and candidates healthcare leaders will be watching as results begin rolling in Tuesday evening, with voters determining the direction of healthcare policymaking for years to come.

MEDICAID EXPANSION IN 4 RED STATES

One year after voters approved Medicaid expansion in Maine, the first state to do so through a ballot initiative, four other states have the opportunity to join the Pine Tree State.

Montana: The push to extend Medicaid expansion in Montana before the legislative sunset at the end of the year is tied to another issue: a tobacco tax hike. The ballot measure, already the most expensive in Montana’s history, would levy an additional $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes to fund the Medicaid expansion which covers 100,000 persons.

Nebraska: Initiative 427 in traditionally conservative Nebraska, could extend Medicaid coverage to another 90,000 people. The legislation has been oft-discussed around the Cornhusker State, earning the endorsement of the Omaha World-Herald editorial board.

Idaho: Medicaid expansion has been one of the most talked about political items in Idaho throughout 2018. Nearly 62,000 Idahoans would be added to the program by Medicaid expansion, some rural hospitals have heralded the move as a financial lifeline, and outgoing Gov. Bruce Otter, a Republican, blessed the proposal last week.

Utah: Similar to Montana’s proposal, Utah’s opportunity to expand Medicaid in 2018 would be funded by a 0.15% increase to the state’s sales tax, excluding groceries. The measure could add about 150,000 people to Medicaid if approved by voters, who back the measure by nearly 60%, according to a recent Salt Lake Tribune/Hinckley Institute poll.

4 MORE BALLOT INITIATIVES

In addition to the four states considering whether to expand Medicaid, there are four others considering ballot initiatives that could significantly affect the business of healthcare.

Massachusetts mulls nurse staffing ratios. Question 1 would implement nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in hospitals and other healthcare settings, as Jennifer Thew, RN, wrote for HealthLeaders. The initiative has backing from the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Nurses have been divided, however, on the question, and public polling prior to Election Day suggested a majority of voters would reject the measure, which hospital executives have actively opposed. The hospital industry reportedly had help from a major Democratic consulting firm.

California could float bonds for children’s hospitals. Proposition 4 would authorize $1.5 billion in bonds to fund capital improvement projects at California’s 13 children’s hospitals, as Ana B. Ibarra reported for Kaiser Health News. With interest, the measure would cost taxpayers $80 million per year for 35 years, a total of $2.9 billion, according to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Proponents say children’s hospitals would be unable to afford needed upgrades without public assistance; opponents say the measure represents a fiscally unsound pattern. (California voters approved a $750 million bond in 2004 and a $980 million bond in 2008.)

Nevada nixing sales tax for medical equipment? Question 4 would amend the Nevada Constitution to require the state legislature to exempt certain durable medical goods, including oxygen delivery equipment and prescription mobility-enhancing equipment, from sales tax. The proposal, which passed a first time in 2016, would become law if it passes again.

Bennett Medical Services President Doug Bennett has been a key proponent of the measure, arguing that it would bring Nevada in line with other states, but opponents contend the measure is vaguely worded, as the Reno Gazette Journal reported.

Oklahoma weighs Walmart-backed optometry pitch. Question 793 would add a section to the Oklahoma Constitution giving optometrists and opticians the right to practice in retail mercantile establishments.

Walmart gave nearly $1 million in the third quarter alone to back a committee pushing for the measure. Those opposing the measure consist primarily of individual optometrists, as NewsOK.com reported.

INCUMBENTS, PLAINTIFFS, PREEXISTING CONDITIONS

It’s been more than two months since Republican attorneys general for 20 states asked a federal judge to impose a preliminary injunction blocking further enforcement of the Affordable Care Act, including its coverage protections for people with preexisting conditions. Some see the judge as likely to rule in favor of these plaintiffs, though an appeal of that decision is certain.

Amid the waiting game for the judge’s ruling, healthcare policymaking—especially as it pertains to preexisting conditions—rose to the top of voter consciousness in the midterms. That explains why some plaintiffs in the ACA challenge have claimed to support preexisting condition protections, despite pushing to overturn them.

The lawsuit and its implications mean healthcare leaders should be watching races in the 20 plaintiff states in the Texas v. Azar lawsuit: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Thirteen of those plaintiff states have active elections involving their state attorneys general, and several have races for governor in which the ACA challenge has been an issue, including these noteworthy states:

  • Texas: Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican representing the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, is facing a challenge from Justin Nelson, a Democrat, and the race seemed to be competitive, as The Texas Tribune reported. Gov. Greg Abbott was expected to win against Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez.
  • Florida: Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, is term-limited, so she’s not running for reelection. Ashley Moody, a Republican, and Sean Shaw, a Democrat, are facing off for Bondi’s position. Moody expressed support for Florida’s participation in the ACA challenge, while Shaw said he would pull the state out, calling the case a “partisan stunt,” as the Tampa Bay Times reported. Bondi has campaigned, meanwhile, for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, who’s facing off with Democrat Andrew Gillum. Gillum said he would back a state law to protect people with preexisting conditions, while DeSantis said he would step in if federal action removed the ACA’s preexisting condition protections, as the Miami Herald reported. Gillum and DeSantis are vying to succeed term-limited Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who’s running for U.S. Senate.
  • Wisconson: Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, is facing a challenge from Josh Kaul, a Democrat who has slammed Schimel’s participation in the ACA challenge, as The Capital Times reported. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, said he supports preexisting condition protections, despite authorizing his state’s participation in the lawsuit. Democratic challenger Tony Evers accused Walker of “talking out of both sides of his mouth,” as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

PROPONENTS OF MEDICAID WORK REQUIREMENTS

Five states have received approvals from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to institute Medicaid work requirements: Kentucky, Indiana, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Arkansas. (Only four have active approvals, however, since a federal judge blocked Kentucky’s last summer.)

Three incumbent governors who pushed for work requirements are running for reelection:

New Hampshire: After receiving approval for New Hampshire’s Medicaid work requirements, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said the government is committed to helping Granite Staters enter the workforce, adding that it is critical to the “economy as a whole.” Despite spearheading a controversial topic in a politically centrist state, Sununu has not trailed against his Democratic opponent Molly Kelly in any poll throughout the midterm elections.

Arkansas: Similarly, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, is running in a race where he has held a sizable lead over his Democratic challenger Jared Henderson. Since enacting the work requirements over the summer, the state has conducted two waves where it dropped more than 8,000 enrollees.

Wisconsin: The most vulnerable Republican governor of a state with approved Medicaid work requirements is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has been neck and neck with Democratic nominee Tony Evers. While the Badger state only received approval for its Medicaid work requirements last week, healthcare has been a central issue of the campaign as Walker, a longtime opponent of the ACA, works to address premium costs in the state and defend his record on preexisting conditions.

Indiana and Kentucky: Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin are not on the ballot this year.

When HealthLeaders issued its first list in April of the healthcare leaders running for public office during the primaries, there were more than 60 candidates with relevant healthcare backgrounds out on the campaign trail.

Now, for the general election, that list has nearly been halved, with 35 candidates still remaining. 

This collection of healthcare leaders includes registered nurses, former insurance company executives, physicians, and former government health policy leaders.

U.S. Senate: Running for the Senate are Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, former Celgene CEO Bob Hugin, and State Sen. Leah Vukmir.

U.S. House: Among those aiming to join the House are Lauren Underwood, RN, former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, and Dr. Kim Schrier.

 

 

Dinged, Dented, Defiant: The ACA Is Still Standing

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/dinged-dented-defiant-aca-still-standing

Texas v. Azar is the latest in a long line of lawsuits and legislation that Republicans have used to undermine the Affordable Care Act, which has shown itself to be remarkably resilient.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

A federal judge in Texas could slap a preliminary injunction on the ACA.

The case is the latest in a long string of efforts to dismantle the ACA since its inception in 2010.

A federal judge in Texas is poised to drop a ruling that could determine the future of the Affordable Care Act.

Or, maybe not.

The Republican plaintiffs from 20 states in Texas v. Azar argued before U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in early September that the entire ACA became unconstitutional when Congress zeroed out the individual mandate penalty, effective 2019.

Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Republican plaintiffs are asking for a preliminary injunction. The Department of Justice, which declined to defend portions of the ACA, also urged O’Conner to delay any injunction until after the enrollment period, saying any attempts to impose the injunction during the enrollment period would invite “chaos.”

If the injunction goes through, it could end premium subsidies for ACA beneficiaries and cripple enrollment. The Urban Institute has estimated that 17 million people would lose their health insurance coverage if the ACA was overturned.

As potentially catastrophic as this sounds, the healthcare sector doesn’t seem to be overly concerned. In fact, business couldn’t be better.

A report in Axios shows that many players in the healthcare sector are prospering under the ACA. The website notes that S&P 500 healthcare index of 63 major companies has grown by 186% since the ACA became law in 2010, outstripping the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones.

In addition, health insurance companies are flush. Shares of UnitedHealth Group have gone up more than 700% since 2010, and the stock price of ACA marketplace insurer Centene has gone up 1,100% over the same period, Axios reports.

While hospitals have had a tougher time of it, especially in states that refused to expand Medicaid, they’re still seeing reductions in charity care and bad debt owing.

Regardless of how O’Connor rules in Texas v. Azar, ACA payers, providers, and other stakeholders will continue to presume that the law isn’t going anywhere, says healthcare economist Gail Wilensky.

“They’re assuming it’ll be around, or something very similar will be,” says Wilensky, a former director of Medicare and Medicaid, and a former chair of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

“I don’t think people are regarding any serious likelihood of it going away again,” she says.

Even if O’Connor, appointed to the court in 2007 by President George W. Bush, agrees with the severability arguments raised by the Republican governors and attorneys general in 20 states who brought the suit, the matter likely would get shot down on appeal, Wilensky says.

” I would be surprised if it doesn’t get reversed someplace else,” says Wilensky, now a senior fellow at Project HOPE.

“If it had go all the way to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court isn’t going to tolerate it, but I don’t know that it would even get that far,” she says.

The case is just one in a long string of legal and legislative actions Republicans are taking at the state and federal level to either undermine or bolster the ACA.

Earlier this year, O’Connor sided with Texas and five other states and threw out an Obama administration tax on states receiving Medicaid funds.

The Republican-controlled Congress has tried more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that Republicans may try again in 2019.

While the signature legislation of the Obama era has been dinged and dented, it’s also proven to be remarkably resilient.

Wilensky says the ACA is resilient because it solves a problem “for a small but non-trivial group of people,” and that Republicans don’t have a credible alternative.

“Once a benefit is in place for any measurable amount of time, certainly two or three years would qualify, there’s no precedent for removing it,” she says.

“And most of the proposals that had come up did not seriously get the job done,” Wilensky says.

“They really weren’t effective as an alternative and you simply aren’t going to take away a benefit, like the extension of insurance to people who are above the poverty line and not offered traditionally employer sponsored insurance without having a credible alternative.

“It’s just not going to happen because there are too many issues that have already been adjudicated at a more serious level,” Wilensky says. “I don’t know why they did this other than that this is 20 attorneys general and they’re running for something.”

 

 

 

 

ACA court case causing jitters in D.C. and beyond

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20180831/NEWS/180839976

Image result for 2018 midterm elections

 

For months, congressional Republicans have ignored the Texas-led lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act. With the midterm elections looming, talk of the case threatened to reopen wounds from failed attempts to repeal the law. Not to mention that legal experts have been panning the basis of the suit.

But that’s all changing as the ACA faces its day in court … again. The queasy feeling of uncertainty that surrounded the law just one year ago is back. The level of panic setting in for the industry and lawmakers is pinned to oral arguments set for Sept. 5 in Texas vs. Azar. Twenty Republican state attorneys general, led by Ken Paxton of Texas, are seeking a preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of the law effective Jan. 1. Their argument is built around the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in which Chief Justice John Roberts said the law is constitutional because it falls under Congress’ taxing authority. The AGs have seized on the congressional GOP’s effective elimination of the individual mandate penalty in the 2017 tax overhaul as grounds to invalidate the law. 

They have the Trump administration on their side, in part. The Justice Department in June filed a brief arguing that the individual mandate as well as such consumer protection provisions as barring insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional. But the department stopped short of suggesting that the entire law be vacated.

Conservative U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor will hear the case in Austin, Texas. O’Connor has already ruled against an ACA provision that prohibited physicians from refusing to perform abortions or gender-assignment surgery based on religious beliefs, and he is considered a wild card.

Even ACA supporters who downplay the legal standing of the case are bracing for the possibility that O’Connor will side with the plaintiffs, who ultimately see a path to the Supreme Court.

Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to head off a potential political storm. A coalition of Senate Republicans led by Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina introduced a bill to codify guaranteed issue for people with pre-existing conditions into HIPAA laws. But they left out the key mandate that insurers can’t exclude coverage of treatment for pre-existing conditions. That omission left health insurers scratching their heads and Democrats came out swinging, with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri dubbing the measure “a cruel hoax.”

The politics around coverage protections will really start to matter for Republicans should O’Connor signal support for the plaintiff states, according to Rodney Whitlock, a Washington healthcare strategist and former GOP Senate staffer. “It ups the pressure considerably,” he said. “There’s no question it complicates things for Republicans if a decision comes down in October.”

Insurers are on the lookout for signs of what could happen next. If O’Connor’s decision comes down before open enrollment starts on Nov. 1, the GOP will feel increasing pressure to do something substantive, according to an industry official who asked not to be identified.

Although a ruling striking down the law wouldn’t necessarily impact the individual market in 2019, it would spark the kind of massive uncertainty that insurers hate and complained of last year during the GOP repeal-and-replace efforts.

America’s Health Insurance Plans filed an amicus brief urging the court to deny the request for a preliminary injunction, citing the massive impact such a move would have on insurers in the individual market, Medicaid managed care and Medicare Advantage plans.

“It creates a lot of impetus for federal or state action,” the insurance official said, noting that insurers would have to rely on HHS to interpret how the law’s regulations would apply going forward. If mounting court decisions start to drastically affect the law’s mandates, it would fall to HHS how to manage complicated questions around how to follow ACA rules.

HHS and Justice Department officials declined to comment. CMS Administrator Seema Verma in August told McCaskill when pressed at a Senate committee hearing that she would support legislation to protect pre-existing conditions, but she declined to specify how the CMS would respond administratively if the suit succeeds.

For now, lawmakers aren’t showing any willingness to take a bipartisan approach. The House GOP plans to introduce a companion bill to the Senate measure, Tillis told Modern Healthcare last week. Meanwhile Democrats have made hay over the fact that the protections in his legislation are incomplete. Tillis said leaving out the prohibition of coverage exclusions was not intentional and GOP senators would look again at the bill if the lawsuit advances.

He added that he envisions the legislation as just one piece that could build into a bigger overhaul effort, and wants to see protections of other popular provisions such as allowing people up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance.

“It’s similar to what we talked about last year,” Tillis said, referencing the 2017 repeal-and-replace efforts. “Any sort of court challenge that would cause a precipitous voiding of Obamacare would leave a lot of people in the lurch, and one of those areas is pre-existing conditions.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who spearheaded the last major GOP effort to repeal and replace the ACA last year, also said he would want to look at more comprehensive legislation if the lawsuit advances. “I certainly would,” Cassidy said. “I can’t speak for all, but I do think there would be a drive to.”

How Republicans will move past messaging and into action remains to be seen, Whitlock said.

“If you think of the seminal moments of 2017, you think of pre-existing conditions and the Jimmy Kimmel test,” Whitlock said, referencing the talk show host’s attack on the repeal-and-replace effort following emergency heart surgery for his newborn son. “This was a big deal because people were concerned. It is a very important issue, and it’s also one that Republicans have tried to say in every bill that they’re trying to protect. They have been successful to varying degrees in making that case. But with the Texas lawsuit, there’s no protecting it. It says, throw out the entire ACA root and branch.”

And as nomination hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh get underway Sept. 4, Democrats will keep using the GOP’s dilemma as a cudgel. McCaskill, for instance, is leveraging the issue in her neck-and-neck race against Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is part of the lawsuit.

“How do you have a pre-existing conditions bill that says we’re not going to protect someone with a pre-existing condition?” she told reporters last week. “It’s embarrassing, it’s the Potomac two-step. Do they think nobody’s paying attention? They’re just trying to cover themselves politically, isn’t it obvious?”

And then there’s the other political dilemma for Republicans who want to show they can secure Obamacare’s protections: convincing their base that they still fundamentally oppose Obamacare even if they don’t want to talk about repeal-and-replace anymore.

“You can be sure there are folks out there who really desperately don’t want to see the Texas side laughed out of court,” Whitlock said. “It destroys the whole narrative about the lawsuit. It’s this bizarre dynamic where an obscure lawsuit that has no legal basis whatsoever leaves the opportunity to talk about” repeal.

He added: “There are people who are flat-earthers on ACA, still preaching complete and total repeal.”