Friday, October 30, 2020

What if Republicans had succeeded in repeal of the Affordable Care Act?

I've teamed up with friends for this final pre-election reminder of what the Republican healthcare agenda is really all about.

By Andrew Sprung, David Anderson and Louise Norris

On November 10, the Trump administration will ask the Supreme Court in oral argument to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional – and nullify the law in the midst of a pandemic, uninsuring an estimated 23 million people. As Republicans rushed to confirm the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  asserted that “no one believes” the Court will strike down the law – implying, as many hard-pressed Republican incumbents have also implied, that Republicans have no wish to do so.

But ACA repeal has been Republican policy since President Obama signed the bill into law in March 2010.  In 2017, a Republican House and Congress came within a whisker of repealing the ACA’s core programs, and 90% of Republicans in Congress voted for repeal. Where would be now if they had succeeded? How many more Americans would be uninsured, and what options would be available to the millions who have lost job-based coverage since the pandemic reached our shores? 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

A narrow look at the broad middle of the ACA marketplace

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 This is a rather unilluminating post.  Are you still here?

I have been expecting to see more discounts in gold plans this year than in prior years, given CMS's report showing that lowest-cost gold plan premiums in 20201 are down an average of 6% from the year prior, while lowest-cost bronze and silver plans are down just 1%.  Yesterday's sampling of premiums in the 10 counties with the highest enrollment nationally offered some evidence in favor, albeit with really cheaply gold concentrated mostly in Texas' largest markets, Harris County (Houston) and Dallas.

As a followup, I took a look at middling markets -- literally: zip codes where enrollment was at the median for all 27,365 zip codes in the U.S. That is, 13 zip codes that each had 239 on-exchange enrollees. These markets are scattered through the country's broad middle (four were in Tennessee, but the plan offerings varied considerably among them). Population ranged from 3800 to 11,300.

The one consistent pattern was an increase in participating insurers -- often resulting in higher premiums for lowest-cost plans. Market watchers know that new competition is more likely to weaken discounts for subsidized enrollees than to improve them, and that's the case here (though new entrants may provide important new options where provider networks are concerned).  On average, lowest-cost bronze and silver premiums for subsidized enrollees in these markets rose from 2020 to 2021. Lowest-cost gold was all over the map, but also rose a bit.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Cheaper gold in the ACA marketplace's high-enrollment counties

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Last week, CMS reported that in 2021, average premiums in states are dropping for the third straight year. I noted that since lowest-cost gold plans were dropping an average of 6%,  compared to a 1% drop for lowest cost silver and bronze, we should see steeper discounts in gold plans this year. 

Perhaps, that is, the markets will move a bit closer to the gold-cheaper-than-benchmark-silver norm envisioned by the prophets of silver loading prior to Trump's cutoff of direct CSR funding in October 2017 (see this post for an explanation). 

That appears to be the case, to judge by premium changes in the ten U.S. counties with highest marketplace enrollment in 2020. Enrollment in these 10 counties accounts for 17% of all enrollment nationally.

Friday, October 23, 2020

In NJ Spotlight News: "Happy Launch, GetCoveredNJ: Don’t Forget NJ FamilyCare"

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In New Jersey Spotlight News, I put in a plea that New Jersey's new state-based exchange GetCoveredNJ, and the coming "get covered" outreach during Open Enrollment, give due emphasis to Medicaid:

GetCoveredNJ and state officials should avoid repeating a mistake endemic to state exchanges: overemphasizing the private-plan marketplace at the expense of Medicaid (NJ FamilyCare)...

From the ACA’s passage in 2010 to the present, the private-plan marketplace has sucked up all the political passion. But the Medicaid expansion has insured far more people who would otherwise be uninsured. In New Jersey, as of September, 597,000 enrollees in NJ FamilyCare were rendered eligible by ACA criteria. About 175,000 New Jerseyans were subsidized in the private-plan marketplace...

Gov. Murphy and the state Legislature have used financial judo to fund improvements in the state’s health insurance marketplace, capturing funds that previously went to the federal government to finance enrollment assistance, advertising and supplementary subsidies. To best protect New Jerseyans from becoming uninsured during the current crisis, however, they need to focus equal energy on maximizing Medicaid enrollment.

We all have our hobbyhorses...  here again is the full article in NJ Spotlight News.

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

September update: ACA Medicaid expansion enrollment up 19% since February in 16-state sample

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Time for an update on "expansion" Medicaid enrollment in the pandemic months -- new enrollees since February rendered eligible by ACA expansion criteria. That is, adults with household income below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level who are not blind or disabled or eligible according to other pre-ACA criteria.

In 16 states that have reported expansion-category enrollees through September, enrollment in this category is up 19.2% since February, and 1.9% since August. That points toward perhaps 2.9 million new enrollees in this category -- minus perhaps 400,000 in California, which has had mysteriously weak Medicaid enrollment growth in the pandemic. A bit more than 2 million have likely been rendered "newly eligible" by the ACA.  See the previous post on pandemic expansion enrollment for details.

Pandemic Medicaid "expansion" enrollment in 16 states
February through September 2020

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

ACA marketplace 2021: Cheap gold proliferates

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In October 2017, when Trump cut off direct federal reimbursement of ACA marketplace insurers for the Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies they are obliged to provide to low income enrollees who select silver plans, he boasted that he'd destroyed Obamacare. The likely effect, however, had been anticipated at least since January 2016: inflated silver premiums triggering deep discounts in bronze and gold plans, stimulating enrollment. 

Briefly: CSR raises the actuarial value of a silver plan from its baseline 70% to 94% for enrollees with incomes up to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level and to 87% at incomes from 150-200% FPL. Gold plan AV is 80%. When CSR, available only with silver plans, is priced into silver plan premiums, that inflates subsidies, which are set to a silver plan benchmark and designed so that the enrollee pays a fixed percentage of income. That creates discounts for subsidized buyers in bronze and gold plans.

The prophets of silver loading, however, expected deeper discounts in gold plans than we've gotten so far. Here's what Linda Blumberg and Matt Buettgens of the Urban Institute anticipated in January 2016:

In addition, as discussed, the increase in silver plan premiums means that the premium for silver plan (70 percent actuarial value) coverage becomes higher than the premium for gold plan (80 percent actuarial value) coverage. This means that individuals above 200 percent of FPL can obtain higher-value plans at a lower cost if they shift from silver to gold plans. Consequently, virtually all tax credit–eligible individuals with incomes above 200 percent of FPL move to gold plans; their tax credit, computed using the second-lowest-cost silver plan, goes further when used for a gold plan.

Monday, October 19, 2020

New Jersey's new state-based ACA marketplace subsidies *rise* with income

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The "preview plans and prices" tool on New Jersey's spanking new state-based ACA exchange, GetCoveredNJ,  is live for 2021. The tool works well -- you can punch in ages and income and get results in short order. The results come with a surprise.

The new state-based supplemental premium subsidies (tacked onto federal subsidies for enrollees with incomes up to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level) average $578 per person per year ($48/month), as Governor Murphy announced this week. The key word here is "average." The new subsidies are not flat. In direct contrast to federal subsidies, they rise with income. 

For a single individual with an annual income of $19,000, a hair below 150% FPL, the state supplement is $20/month. At an income of $25,000 (just below 200% FPL), that rises to $30/month.  At $38,000 (just under 300% FPL), it's $95/month. That's the maximum, available at a solo income up to $51,040 (400% FPL).

That may seem counterintuitive, as enrollment losses in New Jersey's individual market, which have been steep, are especially concentrated at lower incomes, as illustrated below. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Estimate: Total Medicaid enrollment stands at 78 million

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Update, 10/24/20: September totals added for IN, MD, ME, MI, MO, NV and UT. I also had to correct misallocated months in Kansas.

Enough Medicaid enrollment data is in for September to venture an estimate that total Medicaid enrollment now stands at 78 million, up by about 7 million or 10% since February. 

In 13 states with total enrollment of about 24 million, enrollment rose 1.3% from August to September, roughly in line with recent month-to-month increases.  As in previous months, California will probably drag down the total, perhaps to 1%.

Please see this post for the assumptions behind my August estimate of 77.3--77.6 million, further updated here. Note that the August total for Illinois is still estimated, based on increases in prior months. Any error there would have a negligible effect on the total.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Job losses and the uninsured rate in the pandemic: A one-state snapshot

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Let's try a somewhat ambiguous one-state snapshot -- in New Jersey, my home state --  of the extent to which ACA programs may have blunted an increase in the uninsured population during the months when Covid-19 triggered huge increases in unemployment. 

According to the New Jersey Department of Labor, job losses due to the pandemic peaked at about 835,500 and stood at 426,110 as of August. Estimates of the ratio between the number of people losing jobs and the number losing insurance vary quite a bit, and the ratio probably varies quite a bit by state, depending on the types of jobs lost. The pandemic created novel conditions, in which a fair number of workers were furloughed and were able to keep their job-based insurance, at least for a while. 

In New Jersey, as in most states that enacted the ACA Medicaid expansion, Medicaid is the primary safety net for the newly uninsured.  Enrollees rendered eligible by the expansion -- adults with incomes up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level -- are driving rapid growth in Medicaid enrollment in the state. Here's the story since February: 

Medicaid Enrollment Growth in New Jersey in the Pandemic

Coverage group

Feb 2020

Sept 2020

Increase Feb-Sept

% increase Feb-Sep

ACA expansion adults





Non-ABD children





All Medicaid





Source: NJ FamilyCare Monthly Enrollment Statistics

Thursday, October 08, 2020

ACA marketplace enrollment in Covid-19 season: Flat? Up a million? Both?

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 As millions of Americans lose job-based health insurance during the pandemic months, Medicaid, bolstered by the ACA Medicaid expansion, has served as a far more potent protection against becoming uninsured than the ACA marketplace, for several reasons:

  1. As family incomes crash, about twice as many newly unemployed and uninsured become eligible for Medicaid as for subsidized marketplace coverage, according to Urban Institute calculations (2.4 times as many in expansion states; 1.6 times as many in nonexpansion states).  Medicaid eligibility is determined on a current monthly basis, while marketplace subsidies are calculated on the basis of estimated annual income.

  2. The emergency extra $600/week unemployment insurance provided for up to four months (now expired) by the CARES Act does not (did not) count with respect to Medicaid eligibility, but did count in calculation of marketplace subsidies, severely weakening them (it continues to count, since the relevant measure is annual income).

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Estimate: Between 42 million and 50 million people have enrolled in ACA-compliant plans since 2014

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While only about 5% of the nonelderly U.S. population is insured through the ACA-compliant individual market for health insurance, a far larger percentage of us are likely to access the market at some point in our lives (if it survives). At, I've estimated that between 42 million and 50 million people have accessed the ACA marketplace since its launch in January 1, 2014.

I've referred readers of that post here for more explanation of the basis of that estimate. CMS does not provide a simple count, yearly or cumulatively, of unique enrollees at all times and venues: during the annual Open Enrollment, via Special Enrollment Period year-round, and off- as well as on-exchange. So here is what I have pieced together:

1. New enrollment on-exchange during Open Enrollment

In its reports and Public Use Files tallying annual marketplace enrollment, CMS breaks out the number of new enrollees (as opposed to renewals). Each year, after reporting on total signups during the Open Enrollment period, CMS later reports on effectuated enrollment  -- that is, the number of enrollees who have paid their premiums. Effectuated enrollment at its peak each year has averaged about 89% of initial signups.  In the right column below, I have estimated effectuated new enrollment in each year and in total.

Total New ACA marketplace enrollment, 2014-2020

    Source: CMS Public Use Files (see note at bottom for adjustments)

From 2014 through this year, approximately 27.7 million people have purchased plans during the annual Open Enrollment period and paid their first premiums, effectuating coverage ("approximate" because I'm applying the overall effectuated percentage to the new enrollees specifically).  Some "new" enrollees may have dropped out and returned.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Medicaid enrollment (likely) up 9% since February

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As my post tracking pandemic Medicaid enrollment through August has gotten rather clotted with updates, I've posted the totals afresh below.

The big addition is California. The state has adjusted its August tally to a slight increase, in line with those of prior months, which have also been adjusted.  I am using the raw totals from the state database of certified eligibles. California's adjusted totals show a slightly bigger increase than previously, but still well below national averages, a mystery examined here. Adding California pulls down the 32-state increase from February through August by 1.7 percentage points.

For context and discussion of some data issues, such as how I reconcile states that report monthly totals  as of the beginning or end of each month, please see the prior post. In particular, the most recent update at the top of that post explains the basis of my estimate that Medicaid enrollment nationally is somewhere between 77.3 million and 77.6 million as of August, based on what's now a 32-state sample below. 

In brief, the 51-state enrollment increase from February thru August is probably about 9%. Nationally, Medicaid enrollment is now about 37% higher than it was in the third quarter of 2013, the pre-ACA point of comparison.

As the chart text was getting rather small, I've removed columns providing info about the programs each state tracks and the extent to which their tracking matches CMS's. See note, and chart with those columns retained, at bottom.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Trump's healthcare plan, revealed

Let it not be said that Trump doesn't have a healthcare plan. It's this:

  • Defund the ACA marketplace and Medicaid expansion
  • Strangle Medicaid long-term via block grants or per capita caps
  • Privatize Medicare
Oh right, that's the healthcare plan of the entire Republican Party.  

I have a post up on the BlueWaveNJ that lays this program out: