The fight over preexisting conditions is back. Here’s why the Obamacare battle won’t end.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/6/11/17441858/obamacare-repeal-debate-lawsuit

 

There is a persistent divide in the US: Is insurance a privilege to be earned through hard work? Or is it a right?

President Trump and Republicans are so committed to killing Obamacare they’ve decided, just months before the midterm elections, to take aim at the most popular part of the law: coverage for preexisting conditions.

The Trump administration signed on to a long-shot lawsuit this week that would overturn the parts of the law that require insurers to cover preexisting conditions and not charge more for them.

The lawsuit, which you can read more about from Vox’s Dylan Scott, is, in some ways, a perplexing move mere months before midterm elections. Polling finds that both Democrats and Republicans think it’s a good idea to ensure that sick people have access to health insurance.

Politically, though, Republicans spent eight years campaigning on a promise to repeal Obamacare. They believe they have a responsibility to do something, even if the something doesn’t poll well.

But after eight years of covering the Affordable Care Act, I think there is a much deeper tension that keeps the fight over Obamacare alive. It is a persistent, unresolved split in how we think about who deserves health insurance in the United States: Is insurance a privilege to be earned through hard work? Or is it a right?

The United States hasn’t decided who deserves health insurance

Since World War II, the United States has had a unique health insurance system that tethers access to medical care to employment. Changes to the tax code created strong incentives for companies to provide health coverage as a benefit to workers. Now most Americans get their insurance through their employer, and, culturally, health insurance is thought of as a benefit that comes with a job.

Over time, the government did carve out exceptions for certain categories of people. Older Americans, after all, wouldn’t be expected to work forever, so they got Medicare coverage in 1965. Medicaid launched the same year, extending benefits to those who were low-income and had some other condition that might make it difficult to work, such as blindness, a disability, or parenting responsibilities.

Then the Affordable Care Act came along with a new approach. The law aimed to open up the insurance market to anybody who wanted coverage, regardless of whether he or she had a job.

It created a marketplace where middle-income individuals could shop on their own for private health coverage without the help of a large company. It expanded Medicaid to millions of low-income Americans. Suddenly, a job became a lot less necessary as a prerequisite for gaining health insurance.

This, I think, is the divide over health insurance in America. It’s about whether we see coverage as part of work. In my reporting and others’, I’ve seen significant swaths of the country where people push back against this. They see health as something you ought to work for, a benefit you get because of the contribution you make by getting up and going to a job each day.

This came out pretty clearly in an interview I did in late 2016 with a woman I met on a reporting trip to Kentucky whom I’ll call Susan Allen. (She asked me not to use her real name because she didn’t want people to know that she uses the Affordable Care Act for coverage.)

Allen used to do administrative work in an elementary school but now is a caregiver to her elderly mother. Her husband has mostly worked in manual labor jobs, including the coal industry.

Allen told me a story about when she worked in the school. At Christmas, there would be a drive to collect present for the poorest families, presents she sometimes couldn’t afford for her own kids. It made her upset.

”These kids that get on the list every year, I’d hear them saying, ‘My mom is going to buy me a TV for Christmas,’” Allen says. “And I can’t afford to buy my kid a TV, and he’s in the exact same grade with her.”

Allen saw her health insurance as the same story: She works really hard and ends up with a health insurance plan that has a $6,000 deductible. Then there are people on Medicaid who don’t work and seem to have easier access to the health care system than she does.

”The ones that have full Medicaid, they can go to the emergency room for a headache,” she says. “They’re going to the doctor for pills, and that’s what they’re on.”

Is health insurance a right or a privilege?

More recently, Atul Gawande wrote a piece for the New Yorker exploring whether Americans view health care as a right or a privilege.

He reported the story in his hometown in Appalachian Ohio, where he kept running into this same idea: that health insurance is something that belongs to those who work for it.

One woman he interviewed, a librarian named Monna, told him, “If you’re disabled, if you’re mentally ill, fine, I get it. But I know so many folks on Medicaid that just don’t work. They’re lazy.”

Another man, Joe, put it this way: “I see people on the same road I live on who have never worked a lick in their life. They’re living on disability incomes, and they’re healthier than I am.”

As Gawande noted in his piece, “A right makes no distinction between the deserving and undeserving.” But he often found this to be the key dividing line when he asked people whether everyone should have health coverage. Often, it came down to whether that person was the type who merited such help.

This isn’t a debate that happens in most other industrialized countries. If you asked a Canadian who deserves health care, you’d probably get a baffled look in return. Our northern neighbors decided decades ago that health insurance is something you get just by the merit of living in Canada. It’s not something you earn; it’s something you’re entitled to.

But in the United States, we’ve never resolved this debate. Our employer-sponsored health care system seems to have left us with some really deep divides over the fundamental questions that define any health care systems.

Those are the questions we’ll need to resolve before the debate over Obamacare ever ends.

 

 

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.

 

 

An Estimated 52 Million Adults Have Pre-Existing Conditions That Would Make Them Uninsurable Pre-Obamacare

https://www.kff.org/health-reform/press-release/an-estimated-52-million-adults-have-pre-existing-conditions-that-would-make-them-uninsurable-pre-obamacare/

Image result for pre existing conditions

In Eleven States, 3 in 10 Non-Elderly Adults Would Likely Be Denied Individual Insurance Under Medical Underwriting Practices.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that 52 million adults under 65 – or 27 percent of that population — have pre-existing health conditions that would likely make them uninsurable if they applied for health coverage under medical underwriting practices that existed in most states before insurance regulation changes made by the Affordable Care Act.

In eleven states, at least three in ten non-elderly adults would have a declinable condition, according to the analysis: West Virginia (36%), Mississippi (34%), Kentucky (33%), Alabama (33%), Arkansas (32%), Tennessee (32%), Oklahoma (31%), Louisiana (30%), Missouri (30%), Indiana (30%) and Kansas (30%).

States with the most people estimated to have the conditions include: California (5,865,000), Texas (4,536,000), and Florida (3,116,000).

Using data from two large government surveys, the analysis estimates the total number of nonelderly adults in each state with a health condition that could lead to a denial of coverage in the individual insurance market, based on pre-ACA field underwriting guides for brokers and agents. The results are conservative because the data don’t include some declinable conditions. The estimates also don’t include the number of people with other health conditions that wouldn’t necessarily cause a denial, but could lead to higher insurance costs based on underwriting.

 

 

Despite Attacks on Obamacare, the Uninsured Rate Held Steady Last Year

The Uninsured Rate Held Steady

Image result for Despite Attacks on Obamacare, the Uninsured Rate Held Steady Last Year

 

The numbers suggest a surprising resilience of the health law.

Last year, Trump administration officials declared Obamacare “dead,” pulled enrollment ads offline, distributed social media videos critical of the law and sent signals that the law’s requirement to buy health insurance was no longer in effect.

But the number of Americans with health insurance stayed largely unchanged. The results of a big, government survey on health insurance status were published Tuesday, and they show that the uninsured rate remained basically flat at 9.1 percent in the first year of the Trump presidency.

The numbers suggest a surprising resilience of the health law, and its expansion of insurance coverage, even in the face of efforts that the law’s defenders call “sabotage.”

The new statistics come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors the number of Americans with and without health insurance every quarter. Some smaller private surveys, from Gallup and the Commonwealth Fund had shown the uninsured rate rising last year. But the C.D.C. research includes a larger sample size, and is generally regarded as a more definitive study. Tuesday’s study contains data from the entire calendar year of 2017.

Among states that expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate actually fell last year. Among states that didn’t expand, it rose a little.

Overall, Obamacare has substantially reduced the number of Americans without insurance. According to the report, 19.3 million fewer people were living without health insurance in 2017 compared with 2010, when the Affordable Care Act passed Congress.

New health insurance options aren’t the only thing that has changed since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. A strengthening economy has nudged more Americans into the work force, increasing people’s access to health insurance at work.

Obamacare has shown other signs of hardiness. This year, the Trump administration slashed the program’s advertising budget by 90 percent, and withdrew key subsidies from insurance companies, leading to premium increases for some customers. But every market had at least one insurer that continued to offer plans on the Obamacare marketplaces, and sign-ups dipped only slightly.

That does not mean that the insurance trends will hold forever. There are several reasons the uninsured rate may rise in the future:

  • In the face of rising premiums, it is likely that some who do not qualify for federal subsidies have dropped coverage this year.

  • Several states are trying to set up work or other “community engagement” requirements for some Medicaid beneficiaries. A few will impose such rules this year. States requesting such changes estimate they will result in a declining number of residents covered by Medicaid.

  • The Trump administration is working on regulations to allow more loosely regulated insurance plans into the market. These plans could prove appealing to some people who are currently uninsured. But they could cause prices to rise for insurance plans with all of the Obamacare consumer protections, prompting other people to drop their coverage. According to an estimate from the Urban Institute, about 2.6 million fewer people may have comprehensive coverage next year.

  • The tax penalty for people who decline to obtain insurance will disappear entirely next year. That change alone is likely to cause several million fewer Americans to have insurance. Early filings by insurance carriers suggest the change will cause another round of big price increases. And economists at the Congressional Budget Office estimate that the policy’s disappearance will also cause fewer people eligible for government help from even investigating such options.

The combination of those changes is likely to mean some backsliding. But last year’s data suggest that Obamacare’s policies have helped create options that are appealing to many Americans who would have gone without insurance in the years before its passage.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Let the ACA rate hikes begin

Image result for ACA Rate Hikes

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.

Evidence keeps mounting that Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was a success

http://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/evidence-keeps-mounting-affordable-care-acts-individual-mandate-was-success?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTXpGak1qTmhNbVUxWVRsaSIsInQiOiJwQlwvU1ZxcTU2bExreng4NXpEZ0Q2WkRYeldUbzlNM3kwWlJFeER5WlwvS3NqQ0lvMFwveHVNRExjdmVkdkRNMTBOb3FlZlwvOUJIMTYzR0tVWlNlcDJWMlRkMVM4TzZCK1I3XC9NSkFkc1U5QjhYaTZXKzhaUnY0M2RKNGNubTR5dk84In0%3D

Former HHS Secretary Tom Price. Credit: Alex Wong, Getty Images

Former HHS Secretary Tom Price.

Former HHS Secretary Tom Price’s statements and new research from the Commonwealth Fund suggest the ACA brought more young people to insurance pool.

When the Affordable Care Act was initially passed, some thought that many people, high-income men in good health particularly, would be driven from the insurance market and that would indicate a failure on the part of the ACA’s individual mandate. Instead the opposite appears to be true.

What’s more, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, MD, said publicly this week that when President Trump’s tax bill, which ends the individual mandate in 2019, kicks in insurance prices are going to rise.

Price’s statement comes after the uninsured rate dropped substantially at least when it comes to one studied demographic during the law’s first few years. Among 26-34-year-old men who earned more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, the uninsured rate dropped from 11.7 percent in 2013 to 7.2 percent in 2015, according to new research by the Commonwealth Fund.

That’s actually greater than the drop in the uninsured rate of older men. Those between 55-64 also saw a reduction, but only from 3.9 to 2.5 percent.

Before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, young and healthy individuals in many states could purchase limited benefit packages at low premiums. The ACA mandated coverage and charged higher premiums to those not covered by federal subsidies.

Young, healthy males shouldered higher costs due to regulations that shifted the brunt of the cost away from disadvantaged groups, such as the poor and the elderly.

At the time of passage, some states had imposed rating rules for insurance coverage that sought to qualify more people for health subsidies, but the researchers found that when the ACA was passed, the percent of uninsured men that didn’t qualify for subsidies dipped at about the same rate in all states, regardless of whether they had enacted those rules.

The positive impact on young, high-earning men was credited by authors to financial penalties and effective marketing, but the Trump administration has cut the ACA marketing budget by $90 million. Just $10 million is now earmarked for that purpose.

“There are many, and I’m one of them, who believe that [the tax bill] will harm the pool in the exchange market,” Price said at the World Health Care Congress on Tuesday. “Because you’ll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market, and consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks.”