Friday, February 15, 2019

What if the Obama administration had ended direct CSR reimbursement in 2016?

Trump's bid to fund his wall with money not appropriated by Congress has set me thinking about the Obama administration's far better grounded, but still dubious, determination to fund the ACA's Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies without an explicit appropriation from Congress.

That decision was challenged in court by the Republican Congress in 2014 and, with the suit still pending, countermanded by Trump in October 2017, with disruptive but far from catastrophic consequences.

I'm thinking not of tendentious comparisons between Obama's executive actions and Trump's, but rather about a counterfactual: What if the Obama administration had taken the likely Congressional refusal to appropriate funds at face value, and declined to directly fund CSR?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Should Democrats seek to kill the anti-ACA lawsuit with legislation? Bagley v. Jost

Progressive legal opinion is divided with respect to how Democrats should fight the latest ridiculous suit seeking to have the ACA declared unconstitutional, Texas v. U.S., The suit was upheld in December by an extremist U.S. District Court judge in Texas, Reed O'Connor, who stayed the ruling pending appeal.

The question: should the Democratic House simply join the defense against the suit in court, which it has opted to do, or also pass legislation that would render the suit moot if it became law? Taking opposite sides are two progressive stalwarts of the ACA's legal wars.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The water is wide: Health Policy Valentines 2019

Love grows old, and waxes cold...but HealthPolicyValentines must be maintained (or endured) year over year.  So here we go again, with a cache that should grow through 2/14.

For those who never get enough, here's Health Policy Valentines (2018) Love Knows No Repeal (2017),  Love in the Time of Obamacare (2016), love, 2015, and first love, 2014.

Untriggered warning: many of these are valentines to Twitter's healthcare stalwarts. I'll leave the footnotes to the Norton anthologist...

The water is wide,
I cannot get o'er.
Universal healthcare
Is on the far shore.

   *     *     *

Courting is pleasure,
And parting is grief,
But a Utah legislator
Is worse than a thief.

   *     *     *

Medicare for All
Is your fantasy lover.
Medicare E
May get everyone covered.

   *     *     *

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Medicaid expansion to just 100% FPL: What's the effect on marketplace risk pool?

Utah legislators voted this week to contravene the will of Utah voters, expressed in a 2018 referendum, by limiting the ACA Medicaid expansion to adults with incomes up to 100% of the Federal Poverty Level, instead of the 138% FPL threshold stipulated by the ACA statute and the referendum.

The more limited expansion would be bad for Utahns in the 101-138% FPL range, as explained below, though it would save the state some outlays (if approved by CMS), since the federal government pays 100% of marketplace subsidies and "only" 90% of premiums for the Medicaid expansion population.

Leaving aside for a moment the effect on low income Utahns, and on state finances, I want to consider a tertiary question: How would expansion affect the risk pool in the state's ACA marketplace? (David Anderson has touched on this, at least on Twitter, and may be looking at it in more depth.)

In 2016 the answer would have been straightforward: the 101-138% FPL population is less healthy on average than higher income enrollees, and so raises costs and premiums. A 2016 CMS study estimated that premiums are about 7 percent lower in expansion states, controlling for a variety of other factors.

Does silver loading improve the risk pool?

The picture has been clouded, however, by "silver loading" -- state marketplaces' adaptation to Trump's cutoff of direct reimbursement of insurers for Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies that they are obligated to provide to low income enrollees who select silver plans. Those subsidies are highest in the 100-150% FPL range, where they raise the actuarial value of a silver plan from a baseline of 70% to 94%.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

How many might be loathe to trade employer-sponsored insurance for expanded Medicare?

In my last post, I stressed that a significant and politically powerful subset of the 156-odd million Americans who get health insurance through employers have coverage way better than the norm. Those with the most generous employer-sponsored coverage (ESI) might be averse to transitioning to a public plan with significant cost sharing -- say, to a plan with coverage comparable to a typical Medicare Advantage plan.

Out-of-pocket costs for enrollees in ESI have risen rapidly in recent years; premiums have risen more slowly, but steadily. Nonetheless, a lot of people have coverage a good deal more generous than the norms reported in the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2018 Employer Health Benefits Survey -- e.g., deductibles well below the $1,573 average for single coverage, and premiums well below the $99 per month average for single and $462/month average for family coverage.

The figures below**, taken from the Kaiser survey, highlight benefits enjoyed by insured employees with the most generous coverage.
  • For 12% of covered workers, the employer pays 100% of the premium for single coverage. Another 8% of workers in single coverage pay less than $500 per year. Just 3% of covered workers pay nothing for family coverage; another 4%, pay under $1500 annually.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

What to expect when Democrats are weighing single payer

Last week, Kamala Harris was asked about her support for single payer healthcare and responded, with respect to employer-sponsored insurance, "let's eliminate all that. Let's move on." Then Cory Booker was asked an imprecisely worded question  -- would he "do away with private health care" --  and gave an equally imprecise answer (no..) that left ambiguous whether health care or health insurance was under discussion. Ever since, warnings have been percolating on healthcare Twitter against framing single payer as all-or-nothing -- no more private insurance, or no Medicare for all.

Now cometh Sarah Kliff to inject some nuance. One point: "even countries we think of as single-payer still have some level of employer-provided health insurance." In Canada, everyone has "Medicare" -- fairly comprehensive insurance in which government (provincial and federal) does pay the providers. But most people also have employer-provided supplemental insurance to cover prescription drugs, dental, vision, and/or other services not covered by Canadian Medicare.

Another point: whether a transition away from private primary insurance in the U.S. is successful depends mainly on what people are asked to transition to:
Transitioning half of all Americans from one type of health insurance to another is no-doubt a huge undertaking. But whether or not it’s successful, I think, rests on what kind of coverage is on the other end. If it’s a government plan where Americans feel like they can afford to go to the doctor, then I’d expect any frustration with the transition to eventually dissipate. If it’s a government plan where co-payments and deductibles are high — especially if they’re higher than employer-sponsored coverage — then frustrations would almost certainly only grow over time.
Quite so. But I'd like to add some nuance to the nuance, on a couple of fronts.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Beyond healthcare reform at Health Action 2019

Sharice Davids at Health Action 2019

For the past three Januaries, it's been my delight to attend Families USA's annual Health Action conference, which brings together healthcare advocates, enrollment counselors, scholars and policymakers to analyze the functioning and malfunctioning of U.S. healthcare and report on plans to improve access and delivery.

As my experience of the conference dates to the dawn of the Trump era, it's wedded in my mind to the high drama of resisting massive rollback of the federal commitment to make healthcare affordable to most (we're still far from all) who make their home in the U.S.

In 2017, the dominant chord was to my mind struck by incoming FUSA executive director Frederick Isasi:  "Our action should lead to inaction."  That is, ACA defenders needed to slow down Republicans' legislative drive to repeal the ACA to make it run aground on its own contradictions.

That...happened. The 2018 conference celebrated, reliving miracles wrought by the Little Lobbyists, Indivisible, ADAPT and others who brought home the human cost of repeal.  It was also a forum for feeling out the shape of healthcare reform to come. I wrote last year that the tea leaves seemed to shadow forth a Medicare-like public option that employers and employees could buy into, as Jacob Hacker proposed back in 2007. That still seems to me where we're headed.

This year too had its note of triumph and promise -- beginning with a keynote from Nancy Pelosi celebrating the centrality of healthcare in the November election. Yet the really sustained focus, through three plenary sessions was on the gross inequities, based mainly on race and ethnicity, in our healthcare delivery system and beyond, in housing, criminal justice, mental health, diet -- basic conditions of life that shape health (actually, that was true last year too).

A persistent theme was that a lot more has to change than the number of people with insurance that provides access to healthcare as we know it. Another was the enormous challenge of moving equity to the center of system reform efforts.