Friday, September 29, 2017

CSR takeup: Good enough for me* and Emily Gee

Long before the Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies accessed by more than half of enrollees in the ACA marketplace became a political battleground zero, I was preoccupied with CSR as the marketplace's primary (and too limited) defense against underinsurance. In dozens of posts, I explored what leads people to accept or reject CSR, i.e. to buy or forego silver plans if they qualify for the benefit (as CSR is available only with silver plans). Among the most basic conclusions:

1. Although a large body of research suggests that health insurance shoppers often make the wrong choice when faced with relatively small tradeoffs between premium and out-of-pocket costs, a large majority of CSR-eligible marketplace enrollees make the right choice That is, they choose not to leave a large subsidy on the table, despite the fact that silver premiums can be a strain on income and bronze plans temptingly cheap. Over 80% of enrollees eligible for strong CSR -- i.e., enrollees with incomes below 201% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) -- choose silver plans.

2. CSR takeup declines in step with the weakening of the benefit at higher income levels, with a sharp drop at 201% FPL, where the benefit weakens almost to insignificance.  Based on data released by CMS in July 2016, the chart below shows the takeup rates in the 38 states that used in 2016. The rates are inflated by probably about 2 percentage points, for reasons explained in this post. The numbers attached to "Silver" under coverage level are the CSR-enhanced actuarial value of silver at each level.

CSR Takeup: states, 2016

in income
0-150% FPL
151-200% FPL
201-250% FPL
Silver 73

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What might moderate Republicans do to the ACA?

From the release of the AHCA on March 4 to Sunday night's amendments to Graham-Cassidy, Republican repeal bills have got ten worse and worse -- more conducive to individual market chaos, more draconian in Medicaid expansion rollback and per capita capping of federal medicaid payments. All of the bills would reduce the ranks of the insured by more than 20 million. Which suggests a question: what would a "good" partial repeal bill look like?

To some extent that's a nonsense question. The ACA embodies a Democratic concession to a core conservative concept: That there's inherent virtue in establishing a competitive insurance market, that doing so will drive down costs and improve healthcare quality (i.e., that insurers can make providers deliver better care more cheaply). The ACA's flaws are in any case all in a conservative direction. Real fixes would include bigger subsidies, including via reinsurance; some means of capping the rates insurers pay providers, as in Medicare Advantage or Medicaid managed care; rules more or less compelling providers to accept the insurance (i.e., if they accept Medicare); and strong incentives for insurers to participate in the market (tied to their eligibility to participate in managed Medicaid or Medicare Advantage markets).

A genuinely moderate Republican would not accept such changes but would seek to amend rather than repeal/replace the ACA -- not just in the short term, as Lamar Alexander has called for, but for the long term, as Susan Collins would probably like to do  There's no shortage of proposed conservative tweaks that might do minimal harm and in some cases perhaps even some good. Yevgeniy Feyman and Paul Howard could write such a bill. Here's my sense of what concessions might be won from Democrats in exchange for CSR and reinsurance funding.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A healthcare homepage chorus screaming STOP at Senate Republicans

Last night I went to the American Medical Association website to retrieve the remarkable joint statement of the AMA, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Hospital
Association, Federation of American Hospitals, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and the
BlueCross BlueShield Association unequivocally calling on the Senate to reject Graham-Cassidy.  .

Though I had already absorbed the statement's stark assertions that the bill would "drastically weaken" individual insurance market, undermine safeguards for those with preexisting conditions, uninsure millions by kicking them off Medicaid, and force on states the "impossible task" of completely transforming their individual markets and Medicaid program in little more than a year, I was nonetheless a bit taken aback by the banner dominating the AMA home page

Saturday, September 23, 2017

If bipartisan ACA legislation comes back to the House, remember the Problem Solvers

As hope goes stronger that the Senate will reject the ruinous Graham-Cassidy ACA repeal bill, the back-burnered Senate HELP Committee hearings in pursuit of bipartisan legislation to stabilize the individual insurance market may become relevant again. On Sept. 20, HELP chair Lamar Alexander pulled out of the talks to get on team Scorched Earth.  After John McCain came out against Graham-Cassidy yesterday, Patty Murray, ranking Democrat on the HELP Committee, put out this statement:
I  agree with Senator McCain that the right way to get things done in the Senate—especially on an issue as important to families as their health care—is through regular order and working together to find common ground. I’m still at the table ready to keep working, and I remain confident that we can reach a bipartisan agreement as soon as this latest partisan approach by Republican leaders is finally set aside.
That raises the possibility too that at some point the Problem Solvers, the House caucus formed to seek bipartisan solutions on multiple fronts, could also become relevant. On July 31, the Problem Solvers released a five-point outline for bipartisan market stabilization legislation. As in the HELP Committee, "state flexibility" -- i.e. some easing of the process for states seeking ACA Section 1332 innovation waivers -- was a plank.

On September 5, the day before the first HELP Committee hearing, I participated in a call between BlueWaveNJ and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, Democratic co-chair of the Problem Solvers. It seems another lifetime, as the Graham-Cassidy cancer was still in watchful waiting phase, but we were concerned as to what Democratic Problems Solvers might be prepared to yield on the waiver front. Here's what we learned, as reported on the BlueWaveNJ blog:

Monday, September 18, 2017

My letter to Chris Christie on Graham-Cassidy

Graham-Cassidy's sponsors are relying in large part on support from Republican governors to win senators' votes for the bill. Today, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey came out in favor, notwithstanding that CBPP estimates that Arizona stands to lose $1.6 billion in federal funding in 2026 alone under the bill's redistribution formula.

At BlueWave New Jersey, we are calling on NJ Governor Chris Christie this week to defend the state's Medicaid expansion and coverage gains and come out against Graham-Cassidy. I have a letter in today's print Star-Ledger, but it's not online. Here is the text:
Behold the last and worst of the ACA repeal bills, introduced this week by four Republican U.S. senators.The bill ends the ACA Medicaid expansion, ultimately ends all ACA funding to help people gain health insurance, and guts federal spending on all Medicaid programs, which serve 75 million Americans. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

How could Patty Murray "thread the needle" with Lamar Alexander?

Ever since the Cassidy-Collins bill was introduced in January, I've thought that Democrats should engage with Republicans in Congress who were willing to leave the ACA's taxes and core benefits intact. Cassidy-Collins didn't do that, but I thought it came close enough to be a basis for talks.

Triage was the byword. If a handful of the dozen-odd Republican senators who were then expressing qualms about repeal of the Medicaid expansion in particular could be engaged in compromise negotiations, I thought, that would lessen the chances of passage for a bill that would uninsure tens of millions -- as would the AHCA, the BCRA, and now Cassidy-Graham.

Events have almost proved me wrong. The prevailing Democratic strategy -- we'll talk about fixes when they give up on repeal -- has almost worked. Three repeal bills failed in the Senate. Lamar Alexander, HELP Committee chaired, has held hearings on a bipartisan bill to stabilize the individual market.  And on the other end of the equation, Cassidy -- who seemed like a possible partner since he wanted to preserve ACA taxes and so something like its scale of benefits -- is now a driving force behind a bill that would zero out ACA benefits and lay waste to Medicaid.

Still, ironically, we're at a point again where I'm tempted by similar logic: if Patty Murray and other Democrats engage with Alexander and come up with a compromise stabilization bill, that could blunt the drive toward Cassidy-Collins passage. Would co-sponsors of a stabilization bill, led by Alexander, turn around and vote for Graham-Cassidy?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Synthetic single payer

Here's a healthcare reform bill that fits on a postcard:

The Medicare-for-all Biosimilar Act of 2017

Title 1: Uniform Payment Rate
     Sect. 101. All payers for healthcare services shall pay providers at a rate equal to 120% of current Medicare payment rates. Price schedule will be maintained and updated by CMS, with existing alternative payment programs maintained at the 120% payment ratio. Medicare Advantage benchmarks will be adjusted accordingly.

Title II: Healthcare Budget
     Sect. 201. The Medicare tax will be increased to a level sufficient to fund the government's increased payments in Medicare and Medicaid.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Census: ACA cut uninsured rate in half in Medicaid expansion states by 2016

The Census Bureau released its report on health insurance coverage in the U.S. for 2016 today. One striking trend was flagged by Matt Broaddus at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities: the gap between states that expanded Medicaid and those that refused continues to widen:

Uninsured Rate Gap Between Medicaid Expansion States and Others Widening

To this let me add a sidelight: in expansion states, the uninsured rate has been cut in half since the main ACA programs were implemented in 2014 -- from 12.9% in 2013 to 6.5% in 2016.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Elizabeth Warren is for single payer, sort of. And against healthcare profiteering...sort of.

Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to supporters last week announcing that she's co-sponsoring Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All bill and asking recipients to sign on as "citizen-co-sponsors."

That's interesting, as Warren herself does not sound exactly all-in.   My emphasis below:
I believe it’s time to take a step back and ask: what is the best way to deliver high quality, low cost health care to all Americans? Everything should be on the table – and that’s why I’m co-sponsoring Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill that will be introduced later this month 
Warren is for putting Bernie's bill on the table -- not necessarily for passing it. There's more hedging near the bottom of the letter:

Friday, September 08, 2017

ACA innovation waivers: a need for speed? Not so fast, says Emma Sandoe

For all the relative comity of the Senate HELP Committee hearings on legislation to strengthen the individual market for health insurance (Sept. 6, Sept. 7), a potential battle line of sort was drawn on Tuesday in statements by the chair, Lamar Alexander, and ranking member, Patty Murray. As the Times' Robert Pear reported:
“To get a result,” Mr. Alexander said, “Democrats will have to agree to something — more flexibility for states — that some may be reluctant to support. And Republicans will have to agree to something, additional funding through the Affordable Care Act, that some may be reluctant to support. That is called a compromise.”

The senior Democrat on the panel, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, said: “Threading this needle won’t be easy. But I do believe an agreement that protects patients and families from higher costs and uncertainty, and maintains the guardrails in our current health care system, is possible.”

Sunday, September 03, 2017

How to hand the keys to an unfit successor

How do you hand the keys to the Oval Office to a man you've declared in no uncertain terms to be unfit for the presidency?

Obama's handwritten note to Trump, placed before Inauguration Day in the top drawer of the president's desk, is a carefully calibrated document -- a muted "don't be evil" plea on behalf of the nation, with goals distilled to the most basic: justice, security, democracy. Stark in its simplicity, it's generous without warmth, avoiding the hypocrisy of any hint of confidence in the recipient.

It begins with a depersonalized wish: