Monday, November 30, 2020

Medicaid enrollment growth stays on pace in October

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The growth in Medicaid enrollment stimulated by the pandemic -- and by the pause in disenrollments mandated by the Families First Act -- appears not to have slowed in October, or not appreciably.

In the 29 states for which October numbers are recorded below, enrollment is up 1.2% in September. As usual, slow growth in California will probably drag the national rate down. In fact, California's September total is also tentative, for reasons explained at bottom. Illinois' September total remains estimated.

When all the October numbers are in, the 32-state sample below, based on state-published monthly reports, will probably show a 10.7% increase nationally since February. As I detailed in my last post, CMS's official tallies, now posted through July and updated through June, indicate a slightly slower growth rate -- 6.8% compared to my 7.4% tally for July.  A similar gap for October would suggest 9.8% growth since February, and a national enrollment total through October of 78.2 million nationally. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

State Medicaid enrollment totals in light of CMS's (lagging) reports

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Update, 12/21/20: CMS has just posted its preliminary August Medicaid/CHIP enrollment total: 76,489,912, up 8.3% since February (per below, CMS compares preliminary totals from each month for consistency; the final total for August will probably be 300-400,000 higher than the prelim). My own August estimate, based on state reports, was 8.7% growth since February. As I'm showing an 11% increase from February through October, CMS will probably come in at a bit over 10% - probably about 78.5 million total enrollment.

CMS's monthly tally of state-by-state Medicaid enrollment growth in this pandemic year is currently posted through July* -- reflecting five months in which enrollment was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and four-plus months in which the suspension of disenrollments mandated by the Families First Act was in effect. 

Most states post provisional Medicaid totals on state websites on a monthly basis, revising at varying intervals, and I have been tracking enrollment in 32 states in advance of CMS's 2-3-month lag. The available state reports vary somewhat from the the CMS tabulations, and both are adjusted retroactively. February-through-July is a large enough sample for me to compare my monthly tallies with the  CMS figures.

From February through July, in 32 states, I recorded a 7.4% increase in Medicaid enrollment.  Since CMS has so far only released its preliminary report for July, an apples-to-apples February-July comparison requires using CMS's preliminary rather than the updated February totals. With each month's new preliminary report, CMS reports updates the prior month state-by-state totals, and the updated totals are higher, as they include retroactive enrollment and enrollees whose applications were not finalized in the prior month. The February updated total is 405,491 higher than the preliminary February tally.** Comparing the preliminary totals for both months, as CMS does here, suggests a 6.9% increase nationally from February-July, and 6.8% in the 32 states I track, as the chart below shows. Links to the state-issued reports are provided at bottom.

The most recent published update to my 32-state sample derived from state-published supports suggests about 9.7% increase from February through September. Reducing that estimate proportionately to the July estimate would peg growth from February-September at 8.9%, suggesting total enrollment of about 77.5 million. [Update, 4/5/21: CMS's updated total for September is 77,682,409.] Totals look to be up more than 1% in October, putting enrollment above 78 million.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Pennsylvania transforms its ACA marketplace with one sentence

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With a two-step regulatory change*, Pennsylvania has transformed its ACA marketplace. The measure is probably the most impactful single step a state has taken to improve its marketplace. And the move won't cost the state a cent. It simply picks up money the Trump administration left on the table when it cut off direct federal reimbursement of insurers for the Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies they must provide to low income marketplace enrollees who select silver plans.

The new Insurance Department regulation (Revision 1b here) requires individual market insurers filing rate submissions to make this change:

CSR Defunding Adjustment of 1.20 – all individual silver exchange plans.

In other words, price silver plans proportionately to their real actuarial value (as estimated by the Department) with CSR priced in -- at 1.2 times the value of silver without CSR.  

That change dates back to 2020. For 2021, the Dept. of Insurance added a requirement that insurers must base their estimates of "induced demand" at each metal level on the scale HHS uses for its risk adjustment program, also incorporating the CSR adjustment.  "Induced demand" is a measure of how much each increase in coverage generosity is likely to stimulate more use of medical services. Left to their own devices, insurers have tended to overestimate the "induced demand" imputed to gold plans, leading to their overpricing relative to silver.

The change standardizes, and therefore in almost all cases increases, silver loading -- pricing of CSR into the premiums of silver plans only, since CSR is available only with silver plans (see note below). The result: statewide, the cheapest gold plan costs less than the benchmark silver plan against which premium subsidies are set, and bronze plan discounts have increased as well. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

ACA Medicaid expansion enrollment continues to swell as pandemic surges

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 As our woes show no sign of abating -- 120,000-plus new Covid-19 cases per day, a million new jobless claims per week -- neither does Medicaid expansion enrollment. This part of the ACA is providing a vital safety net. The sampling below (states that have reported expansion category enrollment through October) indicates that enrollment growth did not slow in October.

How representative is the sample? Well, August growth is about 1 percentage point higher in this sample than in the larger (18-state) sample I posted for that month. California, where Medicaid enrollment has been almost flat in pandemic months, drags down the all-state rate of increase by probably another 2 percentage points. I am pretty confident that expansion-category enrollment growth since February tops 20% nationally. For more about my various assumptions, see this post (and this September update).

Pandemic Medicaid expansion enrollment in 12 states
February thru October 2020

 Idaho increase through August is estimated at a rate comparable to Sept-Oct increase.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

ACA Ok? Once again, Chief Justice Roberts seems to dismiss an argument from intent

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In his June 2015 decision disposing of King v. Burwell, the last lawsuit before the presenting pending one seeking to cripple the Affordable Care Act, Chief Justice Roberts summarily disposed of the plaintiffs' patently fraudulent argument about Congressional intent. 

The suit was based on a drafting error. While the law envisioned states forming their own health insurance exchanges, but gave them the option of deferring to a federal exchange, key provisions referred only to "an exchange established by a state" as the vehicle for allocating premium subsidies to enrollees. The error was a biproduct of the political warfare that affected the ACA's drafting history, preventing an ordinary reconciliation of Senate and House versions.

Recognizing that spotlighting a drafting error would not suffice to convince the courts to cripple the ACA marketplace, the plaintiffs argued that the omission was no error. They claimed that while Congress intended to authorize state-based health insurance exchanges to grant premium subsidies to qualifying enrollees, Congress intended not to authorize the federal exchange to grant those subsidies. (At the time the suit came before the Supreme Court, 37 states were relying on the federal exchange, Testimony by those involved in the law's creation was unanimous that no one intended to bar the federal exchange from awarding premium subsidies.

Writing for a 6-3 majority, Roberts' disposed of the intent question thusly:

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. 

Friday, November 06, 2020

Improving the ACA under gridlock, Part II: Innovation waivers and new revenue sources

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Earlier this week I reviewed the many ways a Biden administration might improve healthcare access and affordability by administrative action, on the assumption that with a Republican Senate majority, major legislation to improve the ACA or revolutionize drug pricing is off the table. The laundry list was courtesy of Elizabeth Warren, except for a final item, maximizing silver loading, would likely have the largest impact on the ACA marketplace.

Now let's think about another non-legislative means by which insurance coverage might be boosted: the ACA Section 1332 innovation waivers available to states. 

Under these waivers, states can propose to change almost any aspect of ACA marketplace coverage -- subsidy structure, metal level, essential health benefits, employer mandate -- in an effort to improve affordability and access. There are tight constraints, however: the proposed alternative must  provide coverage as comprehensive and affordable to as many people as does the existing marketplace design (or rather, will again, with CMS director Seema Verma gone), without increasing the federal deficit. 

That fiscal constraint amounts almost to a Catch-22, as the requirement not to boost spending is on an absolute, not per capita basis. If the state's changes boost enrollment, even while reducing cost per person, the state must foot any excess spending.

I have reviewed potential state innovations many times, e.g., here and here (one major option for states to consider, a Medicaid-like Basic Health Program for enrollees with incomes up to 200% FPL, is enabled by a different ACA provision, Section 1331).

Here I want to focus not on potential alternative schemes themselves, bur rather on fiscal opportunities that have opened up for states in the Trump years and that potentially make waivers more viable. By both accident and design, the federal government has put new money on the table.  Potential revenue sources include:

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Trump's corrupt schemes didn't help him -- but they didn't hurt him either

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Some time in the night, I found myself thinking about this claim of Greg Sargent's, which I found clarifying when it was published on October 7:

When you step back and survey the last two years of U.S. politics, one of the biggest story lines that comes into view is this: One after another, a whole string of deeply corrupt schemes that President Trump has hatched to smooth his reelection hopes have crashed and burned.

The "corrupt schemes" run from attempting to extort a bogus investigation of Biden from the Ukrainian president to trying to retail the same Biden smears in U.S. media to a retaliatory investigation of those who conducted the investigation of Russian influence to siccing federal troops on protestors to sabotaging the Post Office, smearing vote-by-mail and promising legal challenges against full vote counts.

While it's true that all of these schemes have failed (so far), it's also true that none of them hurt Trump's standing much. His support is pretty much where it was in November 2016. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

A healthcare reform plan for Joe Biden with a Republican Senate

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If, as seems likeliest but by no means certain, we have a President Biden and a retained Republican majority in the Senate, the ACA's core programs are likely to limp along fully funded but not radically improved.

Biden had proposed major reforms to the ACA, including: 1) establishing a public option, 2) allowing those with access to affordable employer-sponsored insurance to buy in to the marketplace on a subsidized basis, 3) capping premiums for a benchmark plan at a maximum 8.5% of income, with no income cap on subsidy eligibility, 4) boosting subsidies at every income level, and 5) offering free marketplace coverage to low income people in states that refused to enact the ACA Medicaid expansion.

None of that is likely to happen. At best, Biden may be able to convince McConnell to render moot Texas v. California, the case before the Supreme Court seeking to have all or part of the ACA declared unconstitutional on patently fraudulent grounds, by either repealing the individual mandate or raising the penalty to $1. 

There's much that can be done to improve the ACA -- and the entire U.S. healthcare system -- administratively, however. And we have a blueprint -- provided by an indefatigable and aggressive reformer with administrative smarts: Elizabeth Warren.

You may recall that during the campaign, Warren jumped through some convoluted hoops to straddle the gap between Medicare for All and more incremental (though still sweeping) and swiftly achievable reform.  

To that end, she released a transitional plan for her prospective first term as president last November. What's relevant now: a sweeping set of proposed administrative actions.  They include:

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

If Republicans had succeeded in ACA repeal in 2017: state snapshots

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Last week, David Anderson, Louise Norris and I looked at how many more Americans would be uninsured if the Republican effort in 2017 to "repeal and replace" the ACA's core programs had succeeded, as it very nearly did (90% of Republicans in Congress voted for the main House or Senate bills). 

"Repeal and replace" was a misnomer: the Republican bills would have established an inadequate replacement for the marketplace -- but simply ended the ACA Medicaid expansion, which has had more impact. According to CBO projections, the repeal bills would have reduced Medicaid enrollment by 8 to 9 by this year, and by 14-15 million as of 2024, when the phase-out of enhanced federal funding for the expansion population would be complete. With the expansion intact, Medicaid enrollment has increased by about 8 million during the pandemic. Enrollment by those specifically rendered eligible by the ACA has increased by about 20% since February.

We also prepared several state-specific versions, as frankly we were apparently caught in a pre-election op-ed tsunami and couldn't quickly place the original.  Below, I've pasted state-specific outtakes.

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In Pennsylvania, as the repeal bills were being voted on, 754,000 Medicaid enrollees owed their eligibility to ACA expansion criteria. All would likely have lost Medicaid coverage had repeal passed... February 2020, just before the pandemic caused economic havoc, 12 million adult Medicaid enrollees were rendered eligible by the ACA, and 9.2 million enrollees in the ACA private plan marketplace received federal subsidies that paid for an average of 76% of their premiums. In Pennsylvania, 267,000 marketplace enrollees were subsidized as of February...

[Re Medicaid enrollment during the pandemic] By June, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Medicaid enrollment had grown to 75 million — an increase of 4 million since February. Enrollment growth has continued throughout this pandemic. It is likely now stands at 78 million. In Pennsylvania, enrollment increased by 178,000 from February through July. 


Both the AHCA and the BCRA would have sharply reduced the ACA's premium subsidies in the individual market for health insurance and would have rendered the available coverage virtually unusable for millions of low-income enrollees by eliminating the ACA's Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies – currently accessed by 96,000 Michiganders, while 212,000 receive federal premium subsidies that pay for an average of 76% of their premiums...

In Michigan, 800,000 current Medicaid enrollees owe their eligibility to ACA expansion criteria. All would likely have lost Medicaid coverage had repeal passed. Since the pandemic started triggering massive job loss, Medicaid enrollment enabled by the ACA expansion  has increased by 20 percent. None of the 130,000 “expansion” enrollees who have gained coverage in Michigan since this past February would have been eligible had the 2017 repeal effort succeeded.


In Illinois, 273,000 marketplace enrollees were subsidized as of February 2020, while more than 631,000 current Medicaid enrollees owe their eligibility to ACA expansion criteria. More than 500,000 of them would likely have lost Medicaid coverage had repeal passed...

Both the AHCA and the BCRA would have sharply reduced the ACA's premium subsidies in the individual market for health insurance and would have rendered the available coverage virtually unusable for millions of low-income enrollees by eliminating the ACA's Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies, currently received by 118,000 enrollees in Illinois.

*          *          *

Complete nullification of the ACA via the patently fraudulent Texas v. California suit, brought by 20 Republican attorneys general and governors  and now before the Supreme Court, is current Republican policy, urged by the Trump administration (at Trump's insistence). Success would increase the ranks of the uninsured by 23 million, according to an estimate by the Center for American Progress. Charles Gaba, who assisted in the analysis, has broken out projected losses by Congressional district.

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