States in the Obamacare lawsuit are biting the hand that feeds them

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-health-202/2018/12/20/the-health-202-states-in-the-obamacare-lawsuit-are-biting-the-hand-that-feeds-them/5c1a559e1b326b2d6629d4f8/?utm_term=.48253007006e

Image result for biting the hand that feeds them

Obamacare is precarious yet entrenched as 2019 approaches. Even many of the GOP-led states seeking to knock it down in court would be in a real bind should they succeed.

Of the 20 states involved in a high-profile Texas-led lawsuit arguing the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, nearly half have already accepted its extra dollars to expand their Medicaid programs or are moving that direction. States don’t have to expand Medicaid under a 2012 Supreme Court decision, but most have found it advantageous because the federal government foots most of the bill.

These states — nine in total — would suddenly be facing a much larger expense for hundreds of thousands of low-income earners newly enrolled in Medicaid under the ACA, should last week’s decision by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor rolling back the entire health-care law ultimately stand.

They include Louisiana, North Dakota and West Virginia, along with Arizona, Arkansas and Indiana, three states that expanded Medicaid but with some modifications. In three other states — Maine, Nebraska and Utah — voters approved ballot initiatives adopting expansion.

Yet these states are asking the courts to overthrow not just Obamacare’s protections for people with preexisting conditions – the part of the lawsuit that has gotten the most attention — but also the entire sweeping law, which is now firmly a part of the country’s health-care ecosystem eight years since its passage. More than 12 million people have become eligible for Medicaid since ACA passage, while another 11 million have enrolled in the ACA’s federally subsidized private marketplaces.

“God help us all, because the dark age is not that far from us again,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). “It will be worse than before because there won’t be the money to help rural clinics and hospitals.”

Developments in the past week — including the court ruling and slightly lagging marketplace enrollment figures released yesterday by the Trump administration — underscore the political divides dogging Obamacare even though Republicans in Congress and at the state level have embraced some of its major components.

Nearly 8.5 million people signed up for 2019 plans in the 39 states using the HealthCare.gov website (the other states run their own marketplaces), per figures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Enrollment was just 4 percent less than a year ago, due to a last-minute rush that suggests consumers were undeterred by the court ruling, our Washington Post colleague Amy Goldstein reports.

“After lagging by about 11 percent most of the six weeks of open enrollment — a shortened period adopted by the Trump administration a year ago — the more than 400,000 who selected coverage during the final week actually exceeded the year before,” Amy writes.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma seemed unperturbed by the reduced enrollment numbers, saying they merely show new GOP and administration policies to roll back some ACA requirements on insurers and consumers are working.

But if the entire law gets scrapped by the Supreme Court ( we should note, the case still has a long way to go in the legal system), it will quickly become clear the ACA — for whatever its faults — has extended benefits to Americans they’ve now come to expect. Despite their persistent rhetoric against the law, Republicans have found it politically necessary to embrace big parts of it, including its protections for people with preexisting conditions — and, in some states, its Medicaid expansion.

Case in point: West Virginia. Its Republican attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, has joined the lawsuit against Obamacare even though the state embraced its Medicaid expansion, growing its enrollment in the program by nearly one-third.The federal government covers more than 90 percent of the cost of the newly eligible enrollees.

When I asked Morrisey’s office about what striking the ACA would mean for Medicaid recipients, his office provided a statement praising O’Connor’s ruling and discussing premium hikes in the marketplaces — but didn’t mention Medicaid.

“Our nation must move beyond Obamacare, innovate, provide more choices to consumers, and attack the skyrocketing premiums that have caused such pain and hardship on West Virginian and American families,” the statement said.

In some cases, the decisions by state attorneys general to join the anti-ACA lawsuit has put them at odds with their governor. Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, moved quickly to expand Medicaid when he took office in 2016. Nearly half a million people have enrolled in Medicaid since then, growing the state’s program by 27 percent.

Edwards hasn’t hidden his disdain for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R), who has called the law an “unconstitutional overreach.” Edwards issued a critical statement after last Friday’s decision.

“This was a short-sighted lawsuit, to say the least,” Edwards said in a statement. “I intend to vigorously pursue legislation to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions from losing their health insurance and ensuring the working people of our state aren’t penalized because of this decision.”

 

Conservatives Are Using the Courts to Attack Health Care for All Americans

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/healthcare/news/2018/12/20/464562/conservatives-using-courts-attack-health-care-americans/

A doctor in Milton, Massachusetts, wheels his patient into his office, February 2018.

Conservative state officials, in conjunction with the Trump administration, have launched an all-out attack on health care in the United States. They have brought a suit to overturn the entirety of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which would have serious consequences for nearly every American who has health coverage, whether through their employer, the individual market, Medicare, or Medicaid. And they found a partisan judge who, last Friday, proved willing to ignore the rule of law and help them advance their political agenda through the courts.

For now, the ACA remains the law of the land. But if the partisan decision in Texas v. United States is upheld, the consequences could be devastating. The Urban Institute estimates that overturning the ACA would result in 17 million more Americans being uninsured in 2019—in addition to coverage reductions that would occur due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalty. Millions of American families could be left without access to health care—and without the financial safety and peace of mind that health insurance provides. Overturning the law would also have serious negative effects on public health and drug development and would shorten the life of the Medicare trust fund. Moreover, it would provide a major tax break to the wealthiest Americans, insurance companies, and drug manufacturers.

Supporters of the decision have talked about this as an effort to end “Obamacare,” which may cause some people to mistakenly believe it only affects those who obtain coverage through the individual marketplace. Nothing could be further from the truth: Virtually no American’s health care coverage would be safe from the effects of this decision. Here are just some of the impacts that this decision, if upheld, would have.

Risks for people who obtain coverage through their employer

  • Lifetime and annual limits on coverage: Polling shows that without the ACA’s ban on lifetime and annual caps on benefits, firms would choose to reinstate limits on coverage. Tens of millions of workers and dependents could face annual or lifetime limits.
  • Loss of coverage for young adult children: The ACA requires employer plans that cover dependents to include young adults up to age 26. More than 2 million young adults have gained coverage under the ACA’s dependent coverage provision.
  • Loss of free preventive services, including contraception: The ACA requires preventive services—such as immunizations; screenings for cancer, diabetes, and depression; and well-child visits—to be available at no cost to the patient. Womensave about $250 annually thanks to the lack of cost sharing for contraception.
  • Elimination of rebates to cover excessively high premiums: The ACA requires insurers to provide rebates if they overprice premiums relative to actual medical costs. Under the ACA’s medical loss ratio provision, insurance companies paid back $344 million in 2016 to people with employer coverage.

Risks for people who receive coverage through Medicare

  • Increases in premiums and out-of-pocket costs: Elimination of the ACA would increase some beneficiaries’ premiums, deductibles, and copayments in Medicare Part A and Part B; overturning the law would eliminate Medicare savings, and premiums are based on program spending.
  • Cost sharing for preventive services such as mammograms: Under the ACA, Medicare provides preventive services and covers a yearly wellness visit at no cost to the patient.
  • Possibility of falling back into the prescription drug coverage gap: The ACA narrowed the Part D coverage gap and was on track to completely fill it by 2020. Without the ACA, many seniors could face higher costs for prescription medications.

Risks for people who receive coverage through Medicaid

  • Loss of coverage under the Medicaid expansion: About 12 million people are covered under the Medicaid expansion, which was funded mostly by the federal government under the ACA.
  • Higher costs for preventive services such as children’s vaccines: The ACA provided a financial incentive for states to provide preventive services to Medicaid beneficiaries free of charge, which a number of states currently utilize.
  • Fewer options to receive care in homes and communities: The ACA provided new options to states to allow elderly enrollees and enrollees with disabilities to receive care in their homes. If the law is overturned, more enrollees will be forced into institutional care.

Risks for people who buy insurance on their own

  • Loss of tax credits that make coverage affordable: Nearly 9 in 10 enrollees in the ACA marketplaces receive premium tax credits. Without the ACA, enrollees would lose financial assistance toward monthly premiums, as well as funding that helps lower deductibles and copayments.
  • Increased costs or denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions: Without the ACA, individual market insurers would be allowed to charge more, exclude coverage benefits, or turn away people based on medical history. More than 133 millionAmericans with pre-existing conditions could be subject to discrimination if they ever needed individual market coverage.
  • Increased costs for older enrollees: The ACA limits how much more insurance companies can charge older people for coverage relative to younger ones. Without the ACA’s protections, the elderly and near-elderly would see their premiums rise

The legal reasoning behind the lower court’s decision to overturn the ACA is so poor that it has been decried by even some of the most strident conservative legal critics of the law—including those who have backed the previous efforts to overturn it through the courts. Congress has tried and failed to repeal the ACA, and voters in the midterm elections made it clear that they care about keeping protections for pre-existing conditions. Yet the court’s ruling has been approvingly cited by conservative political officials, including President Donald Trump. As such, the decision is best understood not as a legal opinion but instead as a policy preference pursued through the U.S. judiciary. That preference could not be clearer: to give the country’s wealthy and special interests massive taxes cuts—and pay for them with everyone else’s health care.

 

 

 

Senators Consider Dueling Bills Over Texas Individual Mandate Litigation

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20180828.283008/full/?utm_term=Read%20More%20%2526gt%3B%2526gt%3B&utm_campaign=Health%20Affairs%20Sunday%20Update&utm_content=email&utm_source=Act-On_2018-08-05&utm_medium=Email&cm_mmc=Act-On%20Software-_-email-_-Individual%20Mandate%20Litigation%3B%20Housing%20And%20Equitable%20Health%20Outcomes%3B%20Simplifying%20The%20Medicare%20Plan%20Finder%20Tool-_-Read%20More%20%2526gt%3B%2526gt%3B

Litigation in Texas over the constitutionality of the individual mandate and, with it, the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) is receiving more and more attention in Congress. On August 23, 2018, Republican Senators released new legislation that they believe would help blunt the impact of a ruling for the plaintiffs in Texas v. United States. The stated aim of the bill is to “guarantee” equal access to health care coverage regardless of health status or preexisting conditions. However, in the event that the court agrees with the plaintiffs—or even just the Trump administration—the legislation leaves significant gaps.

At the same time, Democratic Senators had their efforts to potentially intervene in the litigation rebuffed during the debate over a recent appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and Defense. With a hearing on Texas scheduled for September 5, 2018—the same time as hearings are set to begin in Congress over the confirmation of D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—attention on the case is only likely to increase.

Brief Background On Texas

In Texas, 20 Republican state attorneys general and two individual plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which was zeroed out by Congress beginning in 2019. Without the penalty, the plaintiffs argue that the mandate is unconstitutional. Because the mandate cannot be severed from the rest of the law, they believe the entire ACA should also be struck down.

In June, the Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to defend the constitutionality of the individual mandate alongside the ACA’s provisions on guaranteed issue (42 U.S.C. §§ 300gg-1, 300gg-4(a)), community rating (42 U.S.C. §§ 300gg(a)(1), 300gg-4(b)), and the ban on preexisting condition exclusions and discrimination based on health status (42 U.S.C. § 300gg-3). These provisions collectively ensure that individuals with preexisting conditions cannot be charged more for their coverage or denied coverage or benefits based on health status or other factors.

The plaintiffs have asked Judge Reed O’Connor of the federal district court in the Northern District of Texas to enjoin HHS and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from enforcing the ACA and its implementing regulations—or, at a minimum, to strike down the law’s guaranteed issue and community rating provisions alongside the mandate. Judge O’Connor is considering ruling on the merits of the case (instead of issuing a preliminary injunction) and has scheduled a hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction for September 5.

As noted above, the hearing will coincide with confirmation hearings for Judge Kavanaugh. Texas will likely be a focal point in the Kavanaugh proceedings because of the possibility that the case will reach the Supreme Court and because previous decisions suggest that Judge Kavanaugh believes that a President can decline to enforce laws that he or she believes to be unconstitutional.

The New Republican Legislation

Recognizing the potential impact of the Texas lawsuit, 10 Republican Senators released new legislation on August 23. The bill is sponsored by Senators Thom Tillis (NC), Lamar Alexander (TN), Chuck Grassley (IA), Dean Heller (NV), Bill Cassidy (LA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Joni Ernst (IA), Lindsey Graham (SC), John Barrasso (WY), and Roger Wicker (MS). It is tied directly to the Texas litigation: Press releases acknowledge the September 5 hearing and state that “protections for patients with pre-existing conditions could be eliminated” if Judge O’Connor rules in favor of the plaintiffs.

The legislation would amend the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Although HIPAA offered significant new protections at the time it was passed, these protections were limited in terms of ensuring that people with preexisting conditions could access affordable, comprehensive coverage, particularly in the individual market. HIPAA established a minimum set of federal protections for certain consumers—for example, those who lost their group coverage—facing certain situations, such as job lock because of a new preexisting condition exclusion period. HIPAA also required guaranteed issue in the small group market and guaranteed renewability in the individual and group markets.

As mentioned, the DOJ has declined to defend the ACA’s provisions on guaranteed issue (42 U.S.C. §§ 300gg-1, 300gg-4(a)) and community rating (42 U.S.C. §§ 300gg(a)(1), 300gg-4(b)), and the ban on preexisting condition exclusions and discrimination based on health status (42 U.S.C. § 300gg-3). Thus, their position in the lawsuit implicates parts of four provisions of federal law: 42 U.S.C. §§ 300gg, 300gg-1, 300gg-3, and 300gg-4.

The legislation introduced by Republican Senators would restore only two of the four provisions that stand to be invalidated in Texas: 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-1 (guaranteed issue) and most of § 300gg-4 (guaranteed issue and rating based on health status). So the bill would prohibit the denial of coverage and rating based on health status, but it would not prohibit preexisting condition exclusions or rating based on other factors, such as age, gender, tobacco use, or occupation. This means that many individuals, including those with preexisting conditions, could still face higher premiums, higher out-of-pocket costs, and the denial of benefits because of a preexisting condition even after paying premiums for many months.

Implications 

The protections offered by the restoration of the two provisions included in the Senate GOP bill, § 300gg-1 and most of § 300gg-4, are largely illusory without the other parts of the ACA—community rating and the ban on preexisting condition exclusions—that are at risk in the lawsuit. Assuming the at-risk provisions are struck down and the new legislation is adopted, consumers would still face significant gaps. For instance, a woman with a history of cancer could purchase a policy under the new bill, but she could be charged more based on her gender and age, potentially pricing her out of the market. In addition, her policy could have a preexisting condition exclusion, meaning that any recurrence of cancer—or any other health condition—might not be covered at all; this could lead to much higher out-of-pocket costs and far less financial protection.

If Congress were to enact this bill today, it would largely be duplicative of existing law (and would do nothing to disturb the ACA). If Congress were to enact this bill in response to the Texas litigation, its effect would depend on how (if at all) a court would invalidate the ACA provisions in Texas. Would a court strike the entire provisions, including what was adopted under HIPAA and other federal laws? Or would a court simply strike the amendments that were made by the ACA?

If the latter, the new legislation might do even less than its authors think, because much of the bill is, in fact, devoted to readopting existing federal law that may not be at issue in Texas. These provisions were adopted before the ACA and touch on, for instance, genetic information nondiscrimination and long-standing exceptions to guaranteed issue.

No Vote On Manchin Resolution To Potentially Intervene In Texas

In July, Democratic Senators led by Joe Manchin (WV) introduced a resolution with the goal of intervening in Texas to defend the ACA’s protections for people with preexisting conditions. The resolution would authorize the Senate Legal Counsel to move to intervene in the case on behalf of the Senate and defend the ACA. During last week’s debate over an HHS appropriations bill, Senate leadership blocked a vote on the amendment.

 

 

Squeeze On Affordable Health Insurance For 50- To 64-Year-Olds

https://www.forbes.com/sites/howardgleckman/2018/06/21/the-trump-administrations-squeeze-on-affordable-health-insurance-for-50-64-year-olds/#4ea0538b1d94

Image result for high health premiums

In a series of recent decisions, the Trump Administration is taking steps that will sharply raise insurance premiums for people aged 50 to 64, just before they become eligible for Medicare. While these steps are likely to make coverage less expensive for young, healthy consumers, they will inevitably raise costs for middle-aged people with chronic conditions. For many, insurance will become unaffordable. And that lack of coverage will eventually result in higher costs for Medicare.

Trump is taking three major steps that will affect the availability of Affordable Care Act health insurance for middle-aged consumers.  

Repealing but not replacing

First, at the urging of the Trump Administration, Congress last year repealed the tax penalty that has to be paid by those without health insurance, effective for tax year 2019. The penalty is the ACA’s mechanism to push people to buy insurance. The logic: By broadening the pool of those with ACA insurance to include those less likely to incur significant medical costs, the individual mandate would keep premiums relatively low for everyone.

Then, early this month, the Trump Administration refused to defend the remaining provisions of the ACA in federal court. In the case Texas v. the federal Department of Health and Human Services, 20 red states argued that, absent the now-repealed individual mandate, the rest of the ACA will be unconstitutional. Thus, all its other provisions, including several important to those older consumers, also would be thrown out. They include premium limits for those 50-64, minimum benefit requirements,  and the ban on insurance companies rejecting potential purchasers due to pre-existing conditions.

Pre-existing conditions

Prior to the ACA, in a practice known as age-rating, 60-year-olds could pay premiums that were 11 times higher than younger buyers. The ACA capped that ratio at 3:1. AARP estimates that bumping it up to 5:1 would raise annual premiums for a 60-year-old by more than $3,000, or 22%.

Similarly, allowing carriers to underwrite for pre-existing conditions would make insurance widely unavailable for people aged 50 to 64. AARP estimates that 25 million people, or 40% of those 50 to 64, have a condition that could disqualify them from non-group insurance.

The Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center estimates that tossing out the remaining provisions of the ACA would result in 17 million people losing commercial insurance and another 15 million losing Medicaid and children’s health care under the CHIP program.

By Urban colleagues project that even those remaining  in the private individual insurance market “would likely have policies that cover fewer benefits and require more out-of-pocket spending for services.”

Rare agreement

The Texas lawsuit, and the Administration’s refusal to defend the law in court, has generated an outpouring of opposition. It created a rare moment when consumer groups, hospitals, and doctors agreed on a health policy issue.

But the story doesn’t end there. This week, the Trump Administration took one more step towards dismantling the ACA in a way that will likely harm pre-Medicare consumers: The Department of Labor adopted new rules opening the door to low cost, low-benefit health plans.  These will now be widely available to small businesses and, importantly, self-employed individuals.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 4 million people will buy these policies, sold by association health plans (AHPs). The consulting firm Avalere Health estimates that individual AHP premiums will be an average of $9,700 cheaper than ACA coverage, and that 1 million people will shift from marketplace plans to AHP policies. But it predicts premiums will rise by 3.5 percent for more comprehensive ACA insurance, largely because the remaining consumers will be older and sicker than AHP buyers.

President Trump promotes these plans as a less costly alternative to ACA coverage. This week he told the National Federation of Independent Business, “You’re going to save massive amounts of money and have much better health care. You’re going to save a fortune and you’re going to be able to give yourselves and your employees tremendous health care.”

Low cost, few benefits

But the plans do not include any minimum benefit requirements. Thus, they can exclude coverage for pregnancies, mental health issues, or drugs or hospital care. Carriers won’t be able to exclude buyers on the basis of pre-existing conditions but can adjust premiums based on age or sex. And, because they often exclude benefits important to those with chronic conditions, such as medications, they don’t need to underwrite: Those consumers simply won’t buy these policies.

Priced out of ACA coverage and uninterested in limited insurance that won’t cover their needs, it is easy to imagine many of those in their early 60s simply going without coverage (and care) until they become eligible for Medicare at age 65. That will not only put their health at risk, it will raise Medicare costs. Medicare spends about one-third more on medical care for those who join the program without having had insurance in the year before enrolling.

The result of all this: Trump is creating two separate individual health insurance markets, one for young and healthy people, and one for older and sick people.  Some young people may buy low-cost policies that will serve them well—until they get sick. Many older people won’t buy insurance at all, risking their health and, very likely, raising costs to government.

 

Efforts to Undo Pre-Existing Condition Protections Put Millions of Women and Girls at Risk

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2018/06/21/452643/moving-backward/

A mother and her child visit the doctor, October 2013.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits discriminatory insurance practices in pricing and coverage in the individual market. Before the law was enacted, women routinely were denied coverage or charged more for insurance based on so-called pre-existing conditions. For example, in the individual insurance market, a woman could be denied coverage or charged a higher premium if she had been diagnosed with or experienced HIV or AIDS; diabetes; lupus; an eating disorder; or pregnancy or a previous cesarean birth, just to name a few. The ACA provided women with protections for pre-existing conditions and access to comprehensive, affordable, and fair health services.

But recent efforts to eliminate key ACA protections, discussed below, would put millions of women and girls once again at risk of being charged more or denied coverage for individual insurance.

Efforts to eliminate ACA protections threaten the security of women with pre-existing conditions

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice refused to uphold the law in Texas v. United States, when it argued that the community rating and guaranteed issue provisions of the ACA are unconstitutional. Without guaranteed issue, women could be denied coverage based on their medical history, their age, and their occupation, among other factors. Without community rating, women could be charged more, or priced out of the insurance market altogether, based on their health status or other factors. Insurance companies could also try to reinstate gender rating, a common pre-ACA practice in which insurance companies charged women higher premiums than they did men, even though other parts of the ACA protect women from discrimination in the health care system.

Now, think tanks and conservative opponents of the ACA are introducing proposals to repeal the ACA yet again. If implemented, these proposals would similarly put women at risk of being denied coverage or charged more because of their health status.

More than half of all women and girls have pre-existing conditions

The authors estimate that more than half of women and girls nationwide—more than 67 million—have pre-existing conditions. There are also nearly 6 million pregnancies each year, a commonly cited reason for denying women coverage on the individual market before the ACA. The two tables available for download below provide state-level detail for the number of women and girls with pre-existing conditions and the number of pregnancies.

A large share of women have coverage through an employer or Medicaid and would, therefore, not face discriminatory practices such as medical underwriting or denials based on health conditions. But the data make clear that allowing insurers to return to pre-ACA practices could lead to millions of women and girls being denied coverage or charged more based on their health status if they ever sought coverage in the individual market.