The Fiscal Case for Medicaid Expansion

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2019/fiscal-case-medicaid-expansion

Fiscal Case for Medicaid Expansion 21x9

After a two-and-a-half-year lull in which no state took up the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) provision to expand Medicaid eligibility to more Americans living in poverty, 2019 has already ushered in an expansion in Virginia. And as many as six more states are waiting in the wings. In November, voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah overwhelmingly approved state ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid. And in January, new governors supportive of expansion took office in Kansas and Wisconsin. The prospect of Medicaid expansion in these five states plus Maine, where implementation is finally under way following a 2017 ballot referendum, means that as many as 300,000 uninsured Americans may gain coverage this year.

But concerns about the cost of expanding eligibility for Medicaid have been a roadblock to implementation in these states, along with the dozen others that have yet to expand the program. Here, we look at the cost to states of expanding eligibility for Medicaid, and what expansion means in practice for state budgets.

The Federal Government Pays 90 Percent of the Total Cost of Medicaid Expansion

Beginning in 2014, the ACA offered states the option to expand eligibility for Medicaid to individuals with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $17,000 per year for a single person. (Previously, the federal government required Medicaid be available only to children, parents, people with disabilities, and some people over age 65, and gave states considerable discretion at setting income eligibility levels.) While Medicaid is a jointly funded partnership between the federal government and the states, the ACA provided 100 percent federal funding to cover the costs of newly eligible enrollees until the end of 2016 in states that took up the expansion. The federal government currently pays 93 percent of the total costs, and this year alone will provide an estimated $62 billion to fund expansion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In 2020, the federal share will drop to 90 percent where, barring a change to the law, it will stay. This leaves states on the hook for at most 10 percent of the total cost of enrollees in the new eligibility category — considerably less than the roughly 25 percent to 50 percent of the cost that states pay for enrollees eligible for Medicaid under pre-ACA criteria.

States Realize Savings from Expansion

Opponents of Medicaid expansion in states that have yet to implement it worry that even a 10 percent contribution to the cost of extending Medicaid coverage to more people will result in a large increase in state spending. But the experience of a long list of states suggests otherwise. That’s because expansion allows states to realize savings by moving adults who are in existing state-funded health programs into expansion coverage. Expansion also allows states to reduce their spending on uncompensated care as uninsured people gain coverage.

The table below offers a snapshot of what this looked like in Montana, where Medicaid expansion took effect in January 2016. In FY2017, the total cost of Medicaid expansion was $576.9 million. Because the federal match was 95 percent to 100 percent during this time, the state’s share was $24.5 million. But the state then experienced a series of offsets, or savings it realized from not spending money on separate health-related programs fully funded by the state, such as substance use disorder programs. The state also realized savings when some groups who were previously covered under existing Medicaid were moved to the expansion population, which has a higher federal matching rate. Taken together, these offsets added up to $25.2 million, leaving Montana with a surplus of $700,000 in FY2017. One study found that Arkansas and Kentucky amassed enough surplus because of offsets during the first two years of expansion, when the federal government was footing the entire bill, to cover the costs of expansion through FY2021.

Net Costs Are a Minuscule Portion of States’ Overall Budgets

It’s also worth noting that even if Montana had been responsible for 10 percent of the total cost in FY2017, or $57.7 million, after offsets were applied, the net cost to the state — or the amount it actually spent on Medicaid expansion — would have been $32.5 million, only about 1 percent of Montana’s general fund expenditures of $236.5 billion in FY2017. In Nebraska1 and in Kansas, two of the states that may be among the next to implement expansion, estimates have shown that the state cost after offsets is less than 1 percent of the general fund.

Paying the Balance

Of the 32 states that, along with the District of Columbia, have implemented Medicaid expansion, nine are using taxes — on cigarettes; alcohol; or hospital, provider, or health plan fees — to help pay for it. The ballot initiative approved by voters in Utah in November increased the state’s sales tax by 0.15 percent with the requirement that the new revenue be used to pay for the cost of expansion there. (Even so, earlier this week, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law a bill approved by the Republican-led legislature that will scale back the full Medicaid expansion that voters approved.)

States that expand Medicaid also realize economic benefits beyond increased federal funds. For example, a Commonwealth Fund-supported study found that as a result of new economic activity associated with Medicaid expansion in Michigan, including the creation of 30,000 new jobs mostly outside the health sector, state tax revenues are projected to increase $148 million to $153 million a year from FY2019 through FY2021.

A U.S. Senate bill cosponsored by Senator Doug Jones (D–Ala.), who has advocated for his state to adopt expansion, could help reassure states skittish about expanding because of the impact on their budget. The legislation would grant states, regardless of when they adopt expansion, the same levels of federal matching funds that states that expanded the program in 2014 received (100% federal funding for the first three years, phasing down over three more years to 90%).

Indeed, a national study confirmed that during the two years when the federal government paid all of the costs for newly eligible enrollees, Medicaid expansion did not lead to any significant increases in state spending on Medicaid or to reductions in spending on other priorities such as education. But even at a lesser percent match, the fiscal case for expansion is compelling.

A future To the Point post will examine the broader economic benefits associated with Medicaid expansion.

 

 

 

Health Insurance Coverage Eight Years After the ACA

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2019/feb/health-insurance-coverage-eight-years-after-aca

Fewer Uninsured Americans and Shorter Coverage Gaps, But More Underinsured

What does health insurance coverage look like for Americans today, more than eight years after the Affordable Care Act’s passage? In this brief, we present findings from the Commonwealth Fund’s latest Biennial Health Insurance Survey to assess the extent and quality of coverage for U.S. working-age adults. Conducted since 2001, the survey uses three measures to gauge the adequacy of people’s coverage:

  • whether or not they have insurance
  • if they have insurance, whether they have experienced a gap in their coverage in the prior year
  • whether high out-of-pocket health care costs and deductibles are causing them to be underinsured, despite having continuous coverage throughout the year.

As the findings highlighted below show, the greatest deterioration in the quality and comprehensiveness of coverage has occurred among people in employer plans. More than half of Americans under age 65 — about 158 million people — get their health insurance through an employer, while about one-quarter either have a plan purchased through the individual insurance market or are enrolled in Medicaid.1Although the ACA has expanded and improved coverage options for people without access to a job-based health plan, the law largely left the employer market alone.2

Survey Highlights

  • Today, 45 percent of U.S. adults ages 19 to 64 are inadequately insured — nearly the same as in 2010 — though important shifts have taken place.
  • Compared to 2010, many fewer adults are uninsured today, and the duration of coverage gaps people experience has shortened significantly.
  • Despite actions by the Trump administration and Congress to weaken the ACA, the adult uninsured rate was 12.4 percent in 2018 in this survey, statistically unchanged from the last time we fielded the survey in 2016.
  • More people who have coverage are underinsured now than in 2010, with the greatest increase occurring among those in employer plans.
  • People who are underinsured or spend any time uninsured report cost-related problems getting care and difficulty paying medical bills at at higher rates than those with continuous, adequate coverage.
  • Federal and state governments could enact policies to extend the ACA’s health coverage gains and improve the cost protection provided by individual-market and employer plans.

The 2018 Commonwealth Fund Biennial Heath Insurance Survey included a nationally representative sample of 4,225 adults ages 19 to 64. SSRS conducted the telephone survey between June 27 and November 11, 2018.3 (See “How We Conducted This Study” for more detail.)

WHO IS UNDERINSURED?

In this analysis, we use a measure of underinsurance that accounts for an insured adult’s reported out-of-pocket costs over the course of a year, not including insurance premiums, as well as his or her plan deductible. (The measure was first used in the Commonwealth Fund’s 2003 Biennial Health Insurance Survey.*) These actual expenditures and the potential risk of expenditures, as represented by the deductible, are then compared with household income. Specifically, we consider people who are insured all year to be underinsured if:

  • their out-of-pocket costs, excluding premiums, over the prior 12 months are equal to 10 percent or more of household income; or
  • their out-of-pocket costs, excluding premiums, over the prior 12 months are equal to 5 percent or more of household income for individuals living under 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($24,120 for an individual or $49,200 for a family of four); or
  • their deductible constitutes 5 percent or more of household income.

The out-of-pocket cost component of the measure is only triggered if a person uses his or her plan to obtain health care. The deductible component provides an indicator of the financial protection the plan offers and the risk of incurring costs before someone gets health care. The definition does not include other dimensions of someone’s health plan that might leave them potentially exposed to costs, such as copayments or uncovered services. It therefore provides a conservative measure of underinsurance in the United States.

Compared to 2010, when the ACA became law, fewer people today are uninsured, but more people are underinsured. Of the 194 million U.S. adults ages 19 to 64 in 2018, an estimated 87 million, or 45 percent, were inadequately insured (see Tables 1 and 2).

Despite actions by the Trump administration and Congress to weaken the ACA, our survey found no statistically significant change in the adult uninsured rate by late 2018 compared to 2016 (Table 3). This finding is consistent with recent federal surveys, but other private surveys (including other Commonwealth Fund surveys) have found small increases in uninsured rates since 2016 (see “Changes in U.S. Uninsured Rates Since 2013”).

While there has been no change since 2010, statistically speaking, in the proportion of people who are insured now but have experienced a recent time without coverage, these reported gaps are of much shorter duration on average than they were before the ACA. In 2018, 61 percent of people who reported a coverage gap said it has lasted for six months or less, compared to 31 percent who said they had been uninsured for a year or longer. This is nearly a reverse of what it was like in 2012, two years before the ACA’s major coverage expansions. In that year, 57 percent of adults with a coverage gap reported it was for a year or longer, while one-third said it was a shorter gap.

There also has been some improvement in long-term uninsured rates. Among adults who were uninsured at the time of the survey, 54 percent reported they had been without coverage for more than two years, down from 72 percent before the ACA coverage expansions went into effect. The share of those who had been uninsured for six months or less climbed to 20 percent, nearly double the rate prior to the coverage expansions.

Of people who were insured continuously throughout 2018, an estimated 44 million were underinsured because of high out-of-pocket costs and deductibles (Table 1). This is up from an estimated 29 million in 2010 (data not shown). The most likely to be underinsured are people who buy plans on their own through the individual market including the marketplaces. However, the greatest growth in the number of underinsured adults is occurring among those in employer health plans.

WHY ARE INSURED AMERICANS SPENDING SO MUCH OF THEIR INCOME ON HEALTH CARE COSTS?

Several factors may be contributing to high underinsured rates among adults in individual market plans and rising rates in employer plans:

  1. Although the Affordable Care Act’s reforms to the individual market have provided consumers with greater protection against health care costs, many moderate-income Americans have not seen gains. The ACA’s essential health benefits package, cost-sharing reductions for lower- income families, and out-of-pocket cost limits have helped make health care more affordable for millions of Americans. But while the cost-sharing reductions have been particularly important in lowering deductibles and copayments for people with incomes under 250 percent of the poverty level (about $62,000 for a family of four), about half of people who purchase marketplace plans, and all of those buying plans directly from insurance companies, do not have them.4
  2. The bans against insurers excluding people from coverage because of a preexisting condition and rating based on health status have meant that individuals with greater health needs, and thus higher costs, are now able to get health insurance in the individual market. Not surprisingly, the survey data show that people with individual market coverage are somewhat more likely to have health problems than they were in 2010, which means they also have higher costs.
  3. While plans in the employer market historically have provided greater cost protection than plans in the individual market, businesses have tried to hold down premium growth by asking workers to shoulder an increasing share of health costs, particularly in the form of higher deductibles.5 While the ACA’s employer mandate imposed a minimum coverage requirement on large companies, the requirement amounts to just 60 percent of typical person’s overall costs. This leaves the potential for high plan deductibles and copayments.
  4. Growth in Americans’ incomes has not kept pace with growth in health care costs. Even when health costs rise more slowly, they can take an increasingly larger bite out of incomes.

It is well documented that people who gained coverage under the ACA’s expansions have better access to health care as a result.6 This has led to overall improvement in health care access, as indicated by multiple surveys.7 In 2014, the year the ACA’s major coverage expansions went into effect, the share of adults in our survey who said that cost prevented them from getting health care that they needed, such as prescription medication, dropped significantly (Table 4). But there has been no significant improvement since then.

The lack of continued improvement in overall access to care nationally reflects the fact that coverage gains have plateaued, and underinsured rates have climbed. People who experience any time uninsured are more likely than any other group to delay getting care because of cost (Table 5). And among people with coverage all year, those who were underinsured reported cost-related delays in getting care at nearly double the rate of those who were not underinsured.

There was modest but significant improvement following the ACA’s coverage expansions in the proportion of all U.S. adults who reported having difficulty paying their medical bills or said they were paying off medical debt over time (Table 4). Federal surveys have found similar improvements.8 However, those gains have stalled.

Inadequate insurance coverage leaves people exposed to high health care costs, and these expenses can quickly turn into medical debt. More than half of uninsured adults and insured adults who have had a coverage gap reported that they had had problems paying medical bills or were paying off medical debt over time (Table 6). Among people who had continuous insurance coverage, the rate of medical bill and debt problems is nearly twice as high for the underinsured as it is for people who are not underinsured.

Having continuous coverage makes a significant difference in whether people have a regular source of care, get timely preventive care, or receive recommended cancer screenings. Adults with coverage gaps or those who were uninsured when they responded to the survey were the least likely to have gotten preventive care and cancer screenings in the recommended time frame.

Being underinsured, however, does not seem to reduce the likelihood of having a usual source of care or receiving timely preventive care or cancer screens — provided a person has continuous coverage. This is likely because the ACA requires insurers and employers to cover recommended preventive care and cancer screens without cost-sharing. Even prior to the ACA, a majority of employer plans provided predeductible coverage of preventive services.9

Conclusion and Policy Implications

U.S. working-age adults are significantly more likely to have health insurance since the ACA became law in 2010. But the improvement in uninsured rates has stalled. In addition, more people have health plans that fail to adequately protect them from health care costs, with the fastest deterioration in cost protection occurring in the employer market. The ACA made only minor changes to employer plans, and the erosion in cost protection has taken a bite out of the progress made in Americans’ health coverage since the law’s enactment.

Both the federal government and the states, however, have the ability to extend the law’s coverage gains and improve the cost protection of both individual-market and employer plans. Here is a short list of policy options:

  • Expand Medicaid without restrictions. The 2018 midterm elections moved as many as five states closer to joining the 32 states that, along with the District of Columbia, have expanded eligibility for Medicaid under the ACA.10 As many as 300,000 people may ultimately gain coverage as a result.11 But, encouraged by the Trump administration, several states are imposing work requirements on people eligible for Medicaid — a move that could reverse these coverage gains. So far, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has approved similar work-requirement waivers in seven states and is considering applications from at least seven more. Arkansas imposed a work requirement last June, and, to date, more than 18,000 adults have lost their insurance coverage as a result.
  • Ban or place limits on short-term health plans and other insurance that doesn’t comply with the ACA. The Trump administration loosened regulations on short-term plans that don’t comply with the ACA, potentially leaving people who enroll in them exposed to high costs and insurance fraud. These plans also will draw healthier people out of the marketplaces, increasing premiums for those who remain and federal costs of premium subsidies. Twenty-three states have banned or placed limits on short-term insurance policies. Some lawmakers have proposed a federal ban.
  • Reinsurance, either state or federal. The ACA’s reinsurance program was effective in lowering marketplace premiums. After it expired in 2017, several states implemented their own reinsurance programs.12  Alaska’s program reduced premiums by 20 percent in 2018. These lower costs particularly help people whose incomes are too high to qualify for ACA premium tax credits. More states are seeking federal approval to run programs in their states. Several congressional bills have proposed a federal reinsurance program.
  • Reinstate outreach and navigator funding for the 2020 open-enrollment period. The administration has nearly eliminated funding for advertising and assistance to help people enroll in marketplace plans.13 Research has found that both activities are effective in increasing enrollment.14 Some lawmakers have proposed reinstatingthis funding.
  • Lift the 400-percent-of-poverty cap on eligibility for marketplace tax credits. This action would help people with income exceeding $100,000 (for a family of four) better afford marketplace plans. The tax credits work by capping the amount people pay toward their premiums at 9.86 percent. Lifting the cap has a built in phase out: as income rises, fewer people qualify, since premiums consume an increasingly smaller share of incomes. RAND researchers estimate that this policy change would increase enrollment by 2 million and lower marketplace premiums by as much as 4 percent as healthier people enroll. It would cost the federal government an estimated $10 billion annually.15 Legislation has been introduced to lift the cap.
  • Make premium contributions for individual market plans fully tax deductible. People who are self-employed are already allowed to do this.16
  • Fix the so-called family coverage glitch. People with employer premium expenses that exceed 9.86 percent of their income are eligible for marketplace subsidies, which trigger a federal tax penalty for their employers. There’s a catch: this provision applies only to single-person policies, leaving many middle-income families caught in the “family coverage glitch.” Congress could lower many families’ premiums by pegging unaffordable coverage in employer plans to family policies instead of single policies.17

REDUCE COVERAGE GAPS

  • Inform the public about their options. People who lose coverage during the year are eligible for special enrollment periods for ACA marketplace coverage. Those eligible for Medicaid can sign up at any time. But research indicates that many people who lose employer coverage do not use these options.18 The federal government, the states, and employers could increase awareness of insurance options outside the open-enrollment periods through advertising and education.
  • Reduce churn in Medicaid. Research shows that over a two-year period, one-quarter of Medicaid beneficiaries leave the program and become uninsured.19 Many do so because of administrative barriers.20 By imposing work requirements, as some states are doing, this involuntary disenrollment is likely to get worse. To help people stay continuously covered, the federal government and the states could consider simplifying and streamlining the enrollment and reenrollment processes.
  • Extend the marketplace open-enrollment period. The current open-enrollment period lasts just 45 days. Six states that run their own marketplaces have longer periods, some by as much as an additional 45 days. Other states, as well as the federal marketplace, could extend their enrollment periods as well.

IMPROVE INDIVIDUAL-MARKET PLANS’ COST PROTECTIONS

  • Fund and extend the cost-sharing reduction subsidies. The Trump administration eliminated payments to insurers for offering plans with lower deductibles and copayments. Insurers, which by law must still offer reduced-cost plans, are making up the lost revenue by raising premiums. But this fix, while benefiting enrollees who are eligible for premium tax credits, has distorted both insurer pricing and consumer choice.21 In addition, it is unknown whether the administration’s support for the fix will continue in the future, creating uncertainty for insurers.22 Congress could reinstate the payments to insurers and consider making the plans available to people with higher earnings.
  • Increase the number of services excluded from the deductible.Most plans sold in the individual market exclude certain services from the deductible, such as primary care visits and certain prescriptions.23As the survey data suggest, these types of exclusions appear to be important in ensuring access to preventive care among people who have coverage but are underinsured. In 2016, HHS provided a standardized plan option for insurers that excluded eight health services — including mental health and substance-use disorder outpatient visits and most prescription drugs — from the deductible at the silver and gold level.24 The Trump administration eliminated the option in 2018. Congress could make these exceptions mandatory for all plans.

IMPROVE EMPLOYER PLANS’ COST PROTECTIONS

  • Increase the ACA’s minimum level of coverage. Under the ACA, people in employer plans may become eligible for marketplace tax credits if the actuarial value of their plan is less than 60 percent, meaning that under 60 percent of health care costs, on average, are covered. Congress could increase this to the 70 percent standard of silver-level marketplace plans, or even higher.
  • Require deductible exclusions. Congress could require employers to increase the number of services that are covered before someone meets their deductible. Most employer plans exclude at least some services from their deductibles.25 Congress could specify a minimum set of exclusions for employer plans that might resemble the standardized-choice options that once existed for ACA plans.
  • Refundable tax credits for high out-of-pocket costs. Congress could make refundable tax credits available to help insured Americans pay for qualifying out-of-pocket costs that exceed a certain percentage of their income.26
  • Protect consumers from surprise medical bills. Several states have passed laws that protect patients and their families from unexpected medical bills, generally from out-of-network providers.27A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has proposed federal legislation to protect consumers, including people enrolled in employer and individual-market plans.

Health care costs are primarily what’s driving growth in premiums across all health insurance markets. Employers and insurers have kept premiums down by increasing consumers’ deductibles and other cost-sharing, which in turn is making more people underinsured. This means that policy options like the ones we’ve highlighted above will need to be paired with efforts to slow medical spending. These could include changing how health care is organized and providers are paid to achieve greater value for health care dollars and better health outcomes.28 The government also could tackle rising prescription drug costs29 and use antitrust laws to combat the growing concentration of insurer and provider markets.30

 

 

U.S. Uninsured Rate Rises to Four-Year High

https://news.gallup.com/poll/246134/uninsured-rate-rises-four-year-high.aspx?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Line graph. The percentage of U.S. adults without health insurance has grown steadily since 2016.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • The U.S. uninsured rate has risen steadily since 2016
  • Women, younger adults, the lower-income have the greatest increases
  • All regions except for the East reported increases

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. adult uninsured rate stood at 13.7% in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to Americans’ reports of their own health insurance coverage, its highest level since the first quarter of 2014. While still below the 18% high point recorded before implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate in 2014, today’s level is the highest in more than four years, and well above the low point of 10.9% reached in 2016. The 2.8-percentage-point increase since that low represents a net increase of about seven million adults without health insurance.

Nationwide, the uninsured rate climbed from 10.9% in the third and fourth quarters of 2016 to 12.2% by the final quarter of 2017; it has risen steadily each quarter since that time. Since Gallup’s measurement began in 2008, the national uninsured rate reached its highest point in the third quarter of 2013 at 18.0%, and thus, the current rate of 13.7% — although it continues a rising trend — remains well below the peak level.

These data, collected as part of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, are based on Americans’ answers to the question, “Do you have health insurance coverage?” Sample sizes of randomly selected adults in 2018 were around 28,000 per quarter.

The ACA marketplace exchanges opened on Oct. 1, 2013, and most new insurance plans purchased during the last quarter of that year began their coverage on Jan. 1, 2014. Medicaid expansion among 24 states (and the District of Columbia) also began at the beginning of 2014, with 12 more states expanding Medicaid since that time. Expanded Medicaid coverage as a part of the ACA broadens the number of low-income Americans who qualify for it to those earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level. The onset of these two major mechanisms of the ACA at the beginning of 2014 makes the uninsured rate in the third quarter of 2013 the natural benchmark for comparison to measure the effects of that policy.

Uninsured Rates Increase Most Among Women, Young Adults, the Lower-Income

The uninsured rate rose for most subgroups in the fourth quarter of 2018 compared with the same quarter in 2016, when the uninsured rate was lowest. Women, those living in households with annual incomes of less than $48,000 per year, and young adults under the age of 35 reported the greatest increases. Those younger than 35 reported an uninsured rate of over 21%, a 4.8-point increase from two years earlier. And the rate among women — while still below that of men — is among the fastest rising, increasing from 8.9% in late 2016 to 12.8% at the end of 2018.

At 7.1%, the East region, which has in recent years maintained the lowest uninsured rate in the nation, is the only one of the four regions nationally whose rate is effectively unchanged since the end of 2016. Respondents from the West, Midwest and South regions all reported uninsured rates for the fourth quarter of 2018 that represent increases of over 3.0 points. The South, which has always had the highest uninsured rate in the U.S. but has seen some of the greatest declines at the state level, has had a 3.8-point increase to 19.6%.

Implications

A number of factors have likely played a role in the steady increase in the uninsured rate over the past two years. One may be an increase in the rates of insurance premiums in many states for some of the more popular ACA insurance plans in 2018 (although most states saw premiums stabilize for 2019). For enrollees with incomes that do not qualify for government subsidies, the resulting hike in rates could have had the effect of driving them out of the marketplace. Insurers have also increasingly withdrawn from the ACA exchanges altogether, resulting in fewer choices and less competition in many states.

Other factors could be a result of policy decisions. The open enrollment periods since 2018 have been characterized by a significant reduction in public marketing and shortened enrollment periods of under seven weeks, about half of previous periods. Funding for ACA “navigators” who assist consumers in ACA enrollment has also been reduced in 2018 to $10 million, compared with $63 million in 2016. Overall, after open enrollment in the ACA federal insurance marketplace (i.e., healthcare.gov) peaked in 2016 at 9.6 million consumers, it declined by approximately 12.5%, to 8.4 million in 2019, based on recently released figures.

Other potential factors include political forces that may have increased uncertainty surrounding the ACA marketplace. Early in his presidency, for example, President Donald Trump announced, “I want people to know Obamacare is dead; it’s a dead healthcare plan.” Congressional Republicans made numerous high-profile attempts in 2017 to repeal and replace the plan. Although none fully succeeded legislatively, the elimination of the ACA’s individual mandate penalty as part of the December 2017 Republican tax reform law may have reduced participation in the insurance marketplace in the most recent open enrollment period.

Trump’s decision in October 2017 to end cost-sharing reduction could also potentially have affected the uninsured rate. The cost-sharing payments were made to insurers in the marketplace exchanges to offset some of their costs for offering lower-cost plans to lower-income Americans. The Trump administration had previously renewed the payments on a month-by-month basis but later concluded that such payments were unlawful. In April 2018, a federal court granted a request for a class-action lawsuit by health insurers to sue the federal government for failing to make the payments. Such lawsuits continue to be litigated.

 

 

 

 

Payer, provider trends to watch in 2019

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/payer-provider-trends-to-watch-in-2019/545612/

Ripple effects from 2018 will continue well into the new year as players deal with some massive policy and business shifts.

 

 

20% of Americans are deferring healthcare because of cost, poll finds

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/20-of-americans-are-deferring-healthcare-because-of-cost-poll-finds.html?origin=rcme&utm_source=rcme

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Americans are delaying medical care as they struggle with its affordability, according to the latest NPR-IBM Watson Health poll.   

The survey of more than 3,000 U.S. households in July found about 20 percent of respondents or someone in their household had postponed or canceled a healthcare service due to cost in the prior three months. 

Younger respondents were more likely to put off their healthcare needs. Thirty-four percent of respondents under 35 said they deterred care because of cost, compared with 8 percent of respondents 65 and older.

The poll also found 26 percent of respondents or someone in their household had difficulty paying for some type of healthcare service in the prior three months.

Again, younger respondents were more likely to experience trouble. Forty-one percent of respondents under 35 said they or a member of their household struggled to pay for a healthcare service, compared to 11 percent of respondents 65 and older and 26 percent of respondents ages 35 to 64.

The poll found 66 percent of respondents said they received a prescription in the prior three months, and 97 percent of those respondents had it filled. Of the respondents who said they had a prescription filled, 19 percent reported they had trouble paying for it.

Access the full poll results here.

 

Federal Subsidies Could Expand to Health Programs That Violate Obamacare

Image result for skinny health plans

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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