Tag Archives: Medicare actuary

Summary of House Republicans’ Latest Obamacare “Replace” Legislation

UPDATE:        On March 13, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its score of the bill. CBO found that the bill would:

  • Reduce deficits by about $337 billion over ten years—$323 billion in on-budget savings, along with $13 billion in off-budget (i.e., Social Security) savings.
  • Increase the number of uninsured by 14 million in 2018, rising to a total of 24 million by 2026.
  • Raise individual market premiums by 15-20 percent in 2018 and 2019, but then lower premiums in years following 2020, such that in 2026, premiums would be about 10 percent lower than under current law.

Among CBO’s major conclusions regarding provisions in the bill:

Individual Market Changes, 2017-19:             CBO believes that eliminating the mandate penalties will effectively increase insurance premiums; however, the presence of subsidies will still induce “a significant number of relatively healthy people” to purchase coverage. The budget office believes that elimination of the mandate will increase the number of uninsured by roughly 4 million in 2017. In 2018, CBO believes the number of uninsured would increase by 14 million—6 million from the individual market, 5 million from Medicaid, and 2 million from employer coverage. “In 2019, the number of uninsured would grow to 16 million people because of further reductions in Medicaid and non-group coverage.” CBO believes most of these coverage losses would be due to repealing the individual mandate—as a result of individuals who stop buying coverage with repeal of the mandate penalties, or those deterred by expected premium spikes.

With respect to premiums, CBO believes that “average premiums for single policy-holders in the non-group market would be 15 percent to 20 percent higher than under current law, mainly because of the elimination of the individual mandate penalties.” Eliminating the mandate penalties would increase adverse selection (i.e., a disproportionately older and sicker enrollee population), mitigated somewhat by potential reinsurance payments from the State Stability Fund.

CBO believes that the availability of Obamacare premium subsidies (but NOT cost-sharing subsidies) to individuals purchasing coverage off of Exchanges in 2018 and 2019 will lead to about 2 million individuals taking the subsidies for off-Exchange coverage. Likewise, CBO believes that altering the subsidy regime for 2019 only—to increase subsidies for younger enrollees, while decreasing them for older enrollees—will increase enrollment by about one million, “the net result of higher enrollment among younger people and lower enrollment among older people.”

With respect to other market changes during the transition period, CBO expects that the State Stability Fund will operate through the Department of Health and Human Services (as opposed to the states) before 2020, as states will not have adequate time to set up their own programs for 2018 and 2019. CBO also notes that the “continuous coverage” provision—i.e., a 30 percent surcharge for those who lack coverage for more than 63 days—will induce about 1 million individuals to purchase coverage in 2018, but will deter about 2 million individuals from purchasing coverage in 2019 and future years.

CBO also notes that “the people deterred from purchasing coverage [by the surcharge] would tend to be healthier than those who would not be deterred and would be willing to pay the surcharge”—raising the question of whether or not this “continuous coverage” provision would exacerbate, rather than alleviate, adverse selection in insurance markets.

The expansion of age rating bands—from 3-to-1 under current law to 5-to-1 in the new bill—would increase enrollment marginally, by less than 500,000 in 2019, “the net result of higher enrollment among younger people and lower enrollment among older people.”

While CBO does not believe a “death spiral” would emerge in most sections of the country, it does note that “significant changes in non-group subsidies and market rules would occur each year for the first three years following enactment, which might cause uncertainty for insurers in setting premiums.” CBO believes that the health status of enrollees would worsen in 2018, due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalties. However, in 2019 CBO notes that two changes for that year—expansion of the age rating bands, as well as a one-year change to the Obamacare subsidies—may attract healthier enrollees, but “it might be difficult for insurers to set premiums for 2019 using their prior experience in the market.”

Individual Market Changes, 2020-2026: In 2020, CBO believes that roughly 9 million fewer individuals would purchase coverage on the individual market than under current law—a number that would fall to 2 million in 2026. Employer-based coverage would also decline, by a net of roughly 2 million in 2020, rising to 7 million by 2026, because elimination of the individual mandate penalties will discourage individuals from taking up employer-sponsored coverage. “In addition, CBO and JCT expect that, over time, fewer employers would offer health insurance to their workers.” Overall, the number of uninsured would increase to 48 million by 2020, and 52 million by 2026, with the increase “disproportionately larger among older people with lower income.”

With respect to premiums in years 2020 and following, CBO believes that “the increase in average premiums from repealing the individual mandate penalties would be more than offset by the combination of three main factors:” 1) a younger and healthier mix of enrollees than under current law; 2) elimination of actuarial value requirements, therefore lowering premiums; and 3) reinsurance payments from the State Stability Fund. CBO believes that “by 2025, average premiums for single policy-holders in the non-group market under the legislation would be roughly 10 percent lower than the estimates under current law.” Some conservatives may note that in 2009, CBO analyzed Obamacare as increasing premiums by 10-13 percent relative to prior law—meaning that under the best possible assumptions, the bill might only begin to undo one decade from now the harmful premium increases created by Obamacare.

CBO also notes that the overall reduction in premiums would mask significant changes by age, raising premiums for older enrollees while lowering them for younger enrollees. Specifically, “premiums in the non-group market would be 20 percent to 25 percent lower for a 21-year-old and 8 percent to 10 percent lower for a 40-year-old—but 20 percent to 25 percent higher for a 64-year-old.”

CBO notes that, while elimination of the actuarial value requirements would theoretically allow health insurance plans to reduce coverage below 60 percent of actuarial value (i.e., percentage of expected health costs covered by insurance), retention of Obamacare’s essential health benefits requirements would “significantly limit the ability of insurers to design plans with an actuarial value much below 60 percent.”

However, CBO does believe that the insurance market changes would lower plans’ average actuarial value overall, while increasing out-of-pocket costs. “CBO and JCT [also] expect that, under the legislation, plans would be harder to compare, making shopping for a plan on the basis of price more difficult.”

The transition to a new subsidy regime in 2020 would change market composition appreciably. Specifically, CBO believes that “fewer lower-income people would obtain coverage through the non-group market under the legislation than under current law,” and that because “the tax credits under the legislation would tend to be larger than current law premium tax credits for many people with higher income,” the new subsidy regime “would tend to increase enrollment in the non-group market among higher-income people.”

In general, changes in the age-rating in the individual market, coupled with changes in the subsidy regime, lead CBO to conclude that “a larger share of enrollees in the non-group market would be younger people and a smaller share would be older people.” Overall spending on subsidies would be “significantly smaller under the legislation than under current law,” due to both smaller take-up of the subsidies and smaller per-beneficiary subsidies. CBO believes that subsidies in 2020 will equal about 60 percent of average premium subsidies under current law, and will equal about 50 percent of current law subsidies in 2026.

According to CBO, the State Stability Fund grants “would exert substantial downward pressure on premiums in the non-group market in 2020 and later years and would help encourage participation in the market by insurers.” However, CBO did note that effects may be determined by whether states elect to participate in the grant programs, and whether states’ activities directly affect the individual market for health insurance.

CBO believes that the bill would encourage employers to drop employer-sponsored health coverage—both due to the elimination of the employer mandate penalties, and the broader availability of subsidies to individuals at higher income levels than Obamacare. In part as a result, CBO scores a total of $70 billion in savings due to interaction effects—that is, individuals’ compensation moving from pre-tax health insurance to after-tax wages as employers drop coverage. However, CBO also believes that the lower level of subsidies compared to Obamacare—which would grow more slowly over time—coupled with less rich health coverage offered on the individual market would mitigate employers’ incentives to drop coverage.

In 2020, CBO believes the State Stability Fund grants “would contribute substantially to the stability of the non-group market,” and that “the non-group market is expected to be smaller in 2020 than in 2019 but then is expected to grow somewhat over the 2020-2026 period.”

Medicaid Changes:  Overall, CBO believes that about 5 million fewer individuals with enroll in Medicaid in 2018 (due largely to elimination of the individual mandate penalties), 9 million fewer individuals in 2020, and 14 million in 2026.

If the bill passes, CBO believes that coming changes taking effect in 2020 mean that “no additional states will expand eligibility, thereby reducing both enrollment in and spending on Medicaid,” because CBO’s current-law baselines assume that additional states will expand their programs by 2026. This change would lead to a reduction in estimated enrollment of approximately 5 million by 2026.

CBO believes that “some states that have already expanded their Medicaid programs would no longer offer that coverage, reducing the share of the newly eligible population residing in a state with expanded eligibility to about 30 percent in 2026.” (CBO believes roughly half of the Medicaid eligible population currently lives in one of the 31 states that have expanded eligibility—and that, absent changes, this percentage will increase to 80 percent in 2026.)

CBO believes that, once the “freeze” on the enhanced Medicaid match takes effect at the beginning of 2020, “about one-third of those enrolled as of December 31, 2019 would have maintained continuous eligibility two years later,” remaining eligible for the enhanced federal match. By the end of 2024 (i.e., five years after the “freeze” takes effect), the enhanced federal match would apply to under 5 percent of newly eligible enrollees.

With respect to the per capita caps on Medicaid, CBO believes that the CPI-medical inflation measure in the House bill would reduce spending slightly compared to CBO’s baseline projections: CPI-medical would increase at a 3.7 percent rate, compared to a 4.4 percent increase in Medicaid spending under current law. CBO believes states would adopt a mix of approaches to reflect the lower spending growth: increasing state spending; reducing payments to health care providers and plans; eliminating optional services; restricting eligibility; or improving program efficiency.

 

Where available, scores of specific provisions are integrated into the earlier summary of the legislation, which follows below.

Legislative Summary

On March 6, House leadership released a revised draft of their Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill—the Energy and Commerce title is here, and the Ways and Means title is here.

A detailed summary of the bill is below, along with possible conservative concerns where applicable. Changes with the original leaked discussion draft (dated February 10) are noted where applicable. Where provisions in the bill were also included in the reconciliation bill passed by Congress early in 2016 (H.R. 3762, text available here), differences between the two versions, if any, are noted.

Of particular note: It is unclear whether this legislative language has been vetted with the Senate Parliamentarian. When the Senate considers budget reconciliation legislation—as it plans to do with the Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill—the Parliamentarian plays a key role in determining whether provisions are budgetary in nature and can be included in the bill (which can pass with a 51-vote simple majority), and which provisions are not budgetary in nature and must be considered separately (i.e., require 60 votes to pass).

In the absence of a fully drafted bill and complete CBO score, it is entirely possible the Parliamentarian has not vetted this draft—which means provisions could change substantially, or even get stricken from the bill, due to procedural concerns as the process moves forward.

Title I—Energy and Commerce

Prevention and Public Health Fund:             Eliminates funding for the Obamacare prevention “slush fund,” and rescinds all unobligated balances. This language is substantially similar to Section 101 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. Saves $8.8 billion over ten years.

Community Health Centers:             Increases funding for community health centers by $422 million for Fiscal Year 2018—money intended to offset reductions in spending on Planned Parenthood affiliates (see “Federal Payments to States” below). The spending amount exceeds the $285 million provided in the leaked discussion draft. Language regarding community health centers was included in Section 102 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. Costs $422 million over ten years.

Federal Payments to States:             Imposes a one-year ban on federal funds flowing to certain entities. This provision would have the effect of preventing Medicaid funding of certain medical providers, including Planned Parenthood, so long as Planned Parenthood provides for abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother). This language is virtually identical to Section 206 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. CBO believes that, after taking into account increased births (and Medicaid spending) due to lack of access to contraceptive care, this provision will save Medicaid a net of $156 million over ten years.

Medicaid:       The discussion draft varies significantly from the repeal of Medicaid expansion included in Section 207 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. The 2015/2016 reconciliation bill repealed both elements of the Medicaid expansion—the change in eligibility allowing able-bodied adults to join the program, and the enhanced (90-100%) federal match that states received for covering them.

By contrast, the House discussion draft retains eligibility for the able-bodied adult population—making this population optional for states to cover, rather than mandatory. (The Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius made Medicaid expansion optional for states.) Some conservatives may be concerned that this change represents a marked weakening of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill language, one that will entrench a massive expansion of Medicaid beyond its original focus on the most vulnerable in society.

With respect to the Medicaid match rate, the discussion draft reduces the enhanced federal match to states, effective December 31, 2019. The bill provides that states receiving the enhanced match for individuals enrolled by December 31, 2019 will continue to receive that enhanced federal match, provided they do not have a break in Medicaid coverage of longer than one month. (In the case of states that already expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults prior to Obamacare’s enactment, the bill provides for an 80 percent federal match for 2017 and all subsequent years.)

Some conservatives may be concerned that—rather than representing a true “freeze” that was advertised, one that would take effect immediately upon enactment—the language in this bill would give states a strong incentive to sign up many more individuals for Medicaid over the next three years, so they can qualify for the higher federal match as long as those individuals remain in the program.

The bill also repeals the requirement that Medicaid “benchmark” plans comply with Obamacare’s essential health benefits, also effective December 31, 2019.

The repeal of the Medicaid expansion, when coupled with the per-capita caps, will reduce Medicaid spending by a total of $880 billion over ten years. CBO did not provide granularity on the savings associated with each specific provision.

Finally, the bill repeals the Community First Choice Option, eliminating a six percent increase in the Medicaid match rate for some home and community-based services. This provision saves $12 billion over ten years.

DSH Payments:         Repeals the reduction in Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments. Non-expansion states would see their DSH payments restored immediately, whereas states that expanded Medicaid to the able-bodied under Obamacare would see their DSH payments restored in 2019. This language varies from both Section 208 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill and the leaked discussion draft. Spends $31.2 billion over ten years. In addition, increases in the number of uninsured will have the effect of increasing Medicare DSH payments, raising spending by an additional $43 billion over ten years.

Medicaid Program Integrity:             Beginning January 1, 2020, requires states to consider lottery winnings and other lump sum distributions as income for purposes of determining Medicaid eligibility. Effective October 2017, restricts retroactive eligibility in Medicaid to the month in which the individual applied for the program; current law requires three months of retroactive eligibility.

Requires, beginning six months after enactment, Medicaid applicants to provide verification of citizenship or immigration status prior to becoming presumptively eligible for benefits during the application process. With respect to eligibility for Medicaid long-term care benefits, reduces states’ ability to increase home equity thresholds that disqualify individuals from benefits; within six months of enactment, the threshold would be reduced to $500,000 in home equity nationwide, adjusted for inflation annually. These provisions were not included in the leaked discussion draft.

Eligibility Re-Determinations:             Requires states, beginning October 1, 2017, to re-determine eligibility for individuals qualifying for Medicaid on the basis of income at least every six months. This provision was not included in the leaked discussion draft. All told, this change, along with the program integrity provisions highlighted above, saves a total of $7.1 billion over ten years.

Non-Expansion State Funding:             Includes $10 billion ($2 billion per year) in funding for Medicaid non-expansion states, for calendar years 2018 through 2022. States can receive a 100 percent federal match (95 percent in 2022), up to their share of the allotment. A non-expansion state’s share of the $2 billion in annual allotments would be determined by its share of individuals below 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) when compared to non-expansion states. This funding would be excluded from the Medicaid per capita spending caps discussed in greater detail below. This provision was not included in the leaked discussion draft. Costs $8 billion over ten years.

Medicaid Per Capita Caps:              Creates a system of per capita spending caps for federal spending on Medicaid, beginning in Fiscal Year 2019. States that exceed their caps would have their federal match reduced in the following fiscal year.

The cap would include all spending on medical care provided through the Medicaid program, with the exception of DSH payments and Medicare cost-sharing paid for dual eligibles (individuals eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare). The cap would rise by medical CPI plus one percentage point annually.

While the cap would take effect in Fiscal Year 2019, the “base year” for determining cap levels would be Fiscal Year 2016 (which concluded on September 30, 2016), adjusted forward to 2019 levels using medical CPI. The inflation adjustment is lower than the leaked discussion draft, which set the level at medical CPI plus one percent.

Creates five classes of beneficiaries for whom the caps would apply: 1) elderly individuals over age 65; 2) blind and disabled beneficiaries; 3) children under age 19; 4) expansion enrollees (i.e., able-bodied adults enrolled under Obamacare); and 5) all other non-disabled, non-elderly, non-expansion adults (e.g., pregnant women, parents, etc.). Excludes State Children’s Health Insurance Plan enrollees, Indian Health Service participants, breast and cervical cancer services eligible individuals, and certain other partial benefit enrollees from the per capita caps.

Requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reduce states’ annual growth rate by one percent for any year in which that state “fails to satisfactorily submit data” regarding its Medicaid program. Permits HHS to adjust cap amounts to reflect data errors, based on an appeal by the state, increasing cap levels by no more than two percent.

For the period including calendar quarters beginning on October 1, 2017 through October 1, 2019, increases the federal Medicaid match for certain state expenditures to improve data recording, including a 100 percent match in some instances.

Some conservatives may note the bill’s creation of a separate category of Obamacare expansion enrollees, and its use of 2016 as the “base year” for the per capita caps, benefit states who expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults under Obamacare. The most recent actuarial report on Medicaid noted that, while the actuary originally predicted that adults in the expansion population would cost less than existing populations, in reality each newly eligible enrollee cost 13.6% more than existing populations in 2016. Some states have used the 100% federal match for their expansion populations—i.e., “free money from Washington”—to raise provider reimbursement levels.

Some conservatives may therefore be concerned that the draft bill would retain the increased spending on adults in expansion states—extending the inequities caused by states that have used Obamacare’s “free money” to raise Medicaid spending while sending Washington the tab.

The per-capita caps, when coupled with the repeal of the Medicaid expansion, will reduce Medicaid spending by a total of $880 billion over ten years. CBO did not provide granularity on the savings associated with each specific provision.

Cost-Sharing Subsidies:      Repeals Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies, effective December 31, 2019. However, the bill does not include an appropriation for cost-sharing subsidies for 2017, 2018, or 2019. The House of Representatives filed suit against the Obama Administration (House v. Burwell) alleging the Administration acted unconstitutionally in spending funds on the cost-sharing subsidies without an explicit appropriation from Congress. The case is currently on hold pending settlement discussions between the Trump Administration and the House. Similar language regarding cost-sharing subsidies was included in Section 202(b) of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

On a related note, the bill does NOT include provisions regarding reinsurance, risk corridors, and risk adjustment, all of which were repealed by Section 104 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. While the reinsurance and risk corridor programs technically expired on December 31, 2016, insurers have outstanding claims regarding both programs. Some conservatives may be concerned that failing to repeal these provisions could represent an attempt to bail out health insurance companies.

Patient and State Stability Fund:              Creates a Patient and State Stability Fund, to be administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), for the years 2018 through 2026. Grants may be used to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions (whether through high-risk pools or another arrangement), stabilizing or reducing premiums, encouraging insurer participation, promoting access, directly paying providers, or subsidizing cost-sharing (i.e., co-payments, deductibles, etc.).

In the leaked discussion draft, the program in question was called the State Innovation Grant program. The new bill changes the program’s name, and includes additional language requiring the CMS Administrator, in the case of a state that does not apply for Fund dollars, to spend the money “for such state,” making “market stabilization payments” to insurers with claims over $50,000, using a specified reinsurance formula. Some conservatives may view this as a federal infringement on state sovereignty—Washington forcibly intervening in state insurance markets—to bail out health insurers.

Provides for $15 billion in funding for each of calendar years 2018 and 2019, followed by $10 billion for each of calendar years 2020 through 2026 ($100 billion total). Requires a short, one-time application from states describing their goals and objectives for use of the funding, which will be deemed approved within 60 days absent good cause.

For 2018 and 2019, funding would be provided to states on the basis of two factors. 85% of the funding would be determined via states’ relative claims costs, based on the most recent medical loss ratio (MLR) data. The remaining 15% of funding would be allocated to states 1) whose uninsured populations increased from 2013 through 2015 or 2) have fewer than three health insurers offering Exchange plans in 2017. This formula is a change from the leaked discussion draft, which determined funding based on average insurance premiums, and guaranteed every state at least a 0.5% share of funding ($75 million).

For 2020 through 2026, CMS would be charged with determining a formula that takes into account 1) states’ incurred claims, 2) the number of uninsured with incomes below poverty, and 3) the number of participating health insurers in each state market. The bill requires stakeholder consultation regarding the formula, which shall “reflect the goals of improving the health insurance risk pool, promoting a more competitive health insurance market, and increasing choice for health care consumers.” The formula language and criteria has been changed compared to the leaked discussion draft.

Requires that states provide a match for their grants in 2020 through 2026—7 percent of their grant in 2020, 14 percent in 2021, 21 percent in 2022, 28 percent in 2023, 35 percent in 2024, 42 percent in 2025, and 50 percent in 2026. For states that decline to apply for grants, requires a 10 percent match in 2020, 20 percent match in 2021, 30 percent match in 2022, 40 percent match in 2023, and 50 percent match in 2024 through 2026. In either case, the bill prohibits federal allocation should a state decline to provide its match.

Some conservatives may note the significant changes in the program when compared to the leaked discussion draft—let alone the program’s initial variation, proposed by House Republicans in their alternative to Obamacare in 2009. These changes have turned the program’s focus increasingly towards “stabilizing markets,” and subsidizing health insurers to incentivize continued participation in insurance markets. Some conservatives therefore may be concerned that this program amounts to a $100 billion bailout fund for insurers—one that could infringe upon state sovereignty.

This program spends a total of $80 billion over ten years, according to CBO.

Continuous Coverage:         Requires insurers, beginning after the 2018 open enrollment period (i.e., open enrollment for 2019, or special enrollment periods during the 2018 plan year), to increase premiums for individuals without continuous health insurance coverage. The premium could increase by 30 percent for individuals who have a coverage gap of more than 63 days during the previous 12 months. Insurers could maintain the 30 percent premium increase for a 12 month period. Requires individuals to show proof of continuous coverage, and requires insurers to provide said proof in the form of certificates. Some conservatives may be concerned that this provision maintains the federal intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare, rather than devolving insurance regulation back to the states.

Essential Health Benefits:              Permits states to develop essential health benefits—which include actuarial value and cost-sharing requirements—for insurance for all years after December 31, 2019.

Age Rating:   Changes the maximum variation in insurance markets from 3-to-1 (i.e., insurers can charge older applicants no more than three times younger applicants) to 5-to-1 effective January 1, 2018, with the option for states to provide for other age rating requirements. Some conservatives may be concerned that, despite the ability for states to opt out, this provision, by setting a default federal standard, maintains the intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare.

Special Enrollment Verification:                Removes language in the leaked discussion draft requiring verification of all special enrollment periods beginning for plan years after January 1, 2018, effectively codifying proposed regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month.

Transitional Policies:           Removes language in the leaked discussion draft permitting insurers who continued to offer pre-Obamacare health coverage under President Obama’s temporary “If you like your plan, you can keep it” fix to continue to offer those policies in perpetuity in the individual and small group markets outside the Exchanges.

Title II—Ways and Means

Subsidy Recapture:              Eliminates the repayment limit on Obamacare premium subsidies for the 2018 and 2019 plan years. Obamacare’s premium subsidies (which vary based upon income levels) are based on estimated income, which must be reconciled at year’s end during the tax filing season. Households with a major change in income or family status during the year (e.g., raise, promotion, divorce, birth, death) could qualify for significantly greater or smaller subsidies than the estimated subsidies they receive. While current law caps repayment amounts for households with incomes under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL, $98,400 for a family of four in 2017), the bill would eliminate the repayment limits for 2018 and 2019. This provision is similar to Section 201 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. Saves $4.9 billion over ten years.

Modifications to Obamacare Premium Subsidy:         Allows non-compliant and non-Exchange plans to qualify for Obamacare premium subsidies, with the exception of grandfathered health plans (i.e., those purchased prior to Obamacare’s enactment) and plans that cover abortions (although individuals receiving subsidies can purchase separate coverage for abortion). In a change from the leaked discussion draft, individuals with “grandmothered” plans—that is, those purchased after Obamacare’s enactment, but before the law’s major benefit mandates took effect in 2014—also cannot qualify for subsidies.

While individuals off the Exchanges can receive premium subsidies, they cannot receive these subsidies in advance—they would have to claim the subsidy back on their tax returns instead.

Modifies the existing Obamacare subsidy regime beginning in 2018, by including age as an additional factor for determining subsidy amounts. Younger individuals would have to spend a smaller percentage of income on health insurance than under current law, while older individuals would spend a higher percentage of income. For instance, an individual under age 29, making just under 400% FPL, would pay 4.3% of income on health insurance, whereas an individual between ages 60-64 at the same income level would pay 11.5% of income on health insurance. (Current law limits individuals to paying 9.69% of income on insurance, at all age brackets, for those with income just below 400% FPL.)

Some conservatives may be concerned that 1) these changes would make an already complex subsidy formula even more complicated; 2) could increase costs to taxpayers; and 3) distract from the purported goal of the legislation, which is repealing, not modifying or “fixing,” Obamacare. No independent score of the cost of the modified subsidy regime is available—that is, the CBO score did not provide a granular level of detail regarding these particular provisions in isolation.

Repeal of Tax Credits:         Repeals Obamacare’s premium and small business tax credits, effective January 1, 2020. This language is similar to Sections 202 and 203 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, with one major difference—the House bill provides for a three-year transition period, whereas the reconciliation bill provided a two-year transition period. Repeal of the subsidy regime saves a net of $673 billion (after taking into account the modifications to subsidies outlined above), while repeal of the small business tax credit saves an additional $8 billion.

In addition, CBO estimates an additional $70 billion of “interaction” savings—based largely on assumed reductions in employer-sponsored health coverage, which would see individuals receiving less compensation in the form of pre-tax health insurance and more compensation in the form of after-tax wages.

Abortion Coverage:             Clarifies that firms receiving the small business tax credit may not use that credit to purchase plans that cover abortion (although they can purchase separate plans that cover abortion).

Individual and Employer Mandates:             Sets the individual and employer mandate penalties to zero, for all years after December 31, 2015. This language is similar to Sections 204 and 205 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, except with respect to timing—the House bill zeroes out the penalties beginning with the previous tax year, whereas the reconciliation bill zeroed out penalties beginning with the current tax year. Reduces revenues by $38 billion over ten years in the case of the individual mandate, and $171 billion in the case of the employer mandate.

Repeal of Other Obamacare Taxes:             Repeals all other Obamacare taxes, effective January 1, 2018. Taxes repealed include (along with CBO/Joint Committee on Taxation revenue estimates over ten years):

  • Limitation on deductibility of salaries to insurance industry executives (lowers revenue by $400 million);
  • Tax on tanning services (lowers revenue by $600 million);
  • Tax on pharmaceuticals (lowers revenue by $24.8 billion);
  • Health insurer tax (lowers revenue by $144.7 billion);
  • Net investment tax (lowers revenue by $157.6 billion);
  • Tax on high-cost health plans (also known as the “Cadillac tax”)—but only through 2025 (lowers revenue by $48.7 billion);
  • Restrictions on use of Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Arrangements to pay for over-the-counter medications (lowers revenue by $5.5 billion);
  • Increased penalties on non-health care uses of Health Savings Account dollars (lowers revenue by $100 million);
  • Limits on Flexible Spending Arrangement contributions (lowers revenue by $18.6 billion);
  • Medical device tax (lowers revenue by $19.6 billion);
  • Elimination of deduction for employers who receive a subsidy from Medicare for offering retiree prescription drug coverage (lowers revenue by $1.7 billion);
  • Limitation on medical expenses as an itemized deduction (lowers revenue by $34.9 billion);
  • Medicare tax on “high-income” individuals (lowers revenue by $117.3 billion);

These provisions are all substantially similar to Sections 209 through 221 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. However, when compared to the leaked discussion draft, the bill delays repeal of the tax increases by one year, until the end of calendar year 2017. Additionally, the bill does NOT repeal the economic substance tax, which WAS repealed in Section 222 of the 2015/2016 bill, as well as the leaked discussion draft.

Refundable Tax Credit:       Creates a new, age-rated refundable tax credit for the purchase of health insurance. Credits total $2,000 for individuals under age 30, $2,500 for individuals aged 30-39, $3,000 for individuals aged 40-49, $3,500 for individuals aged 50-59, and $4,000 for individuals over age 60, up to a maximum credit of $14,000 per household. The credit would apply for 2020 and subsequent years, and increase every year by general inflation (i.e., CPI) plus one percent. Excess credit amounts can be deposited in individuals’ Health Savings Accounts.

When compared to the leaked discussion draft, the bill would also impose a means-test on the refundable credits. Individuals with modified adjusted gross incomes below $75,000, and families with incomes below $150,000, would qualify for the full credit. The credit would phase out linearly, at a 10 percent rate—every $1,000 of income would cause the subsidy to shrink by $100. Assuming the maximum credit possible ($14,000), the credit would phase out completely at income of $215,000 for an individual, and $290,000 for a family.

The credit may be used for any individual policy sold within a state, or unsubsidized COBRA continuation coverage. The credit may also not be used for grandfathered or “grandmothered” health plans—a change from the leaked discussion draft. The bill also increases penalties on erroneous claims for the credit, from 20 percent under current law for all tax credits to 25 percent for the new credit—a change from the leaked discussion draft.

Individuals may not use the credit to purchase plans that cover abortions (although they can purchase separate plans that cover abortion). The credit would be advanceable (i.e., paid before individuals file their taxes), and the Treasury would establish a program to provide credit payments directly to health insurers.

Individuals eligible for or participating in employer coverage, Part A of Medicare, Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Tricare, or health care sharing ministries cannot receive the credit; however, veterans eligible for but not enrolled in VA health programs can receive the credit. Only citizens and legal aliens qualify for the credit; individuals with seriously delinquent tax debt can have their credits withheld.

Some conservatives may be concerned that, by creating a new refundable tax credit, the bill would establish another source of entitlement spending at a time when our nation already faces significant fiscal difficulties.

Some conservatives may also note that, by introducing means-testing into the bill, the revised credit (when compared to the leaked discussion draft) by its very nature creates work disincentives and administrative complexities. However, whereas Obamacare includes several “cliffs”—where one additional dollar of income could result in the loss of thousands of dollars in subsidies—this credit phases out more gradually as income rises. That structure reduces the credit’s disincentives to work—but it by no means eliminates them. Costs $361 billion over ten years. The CBO score did not provide any granularity on the amount of the credit that represents revenue effects (i.e., tax cuts to individuals with income tax liability) versus outlay effects (i.e., spending on “refunds” to individuals who have no income tax liability).

Health Savings Accounts:  Increases contribution limits to HSAs, raising them from the current $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families in 2017 to the out-of-pocket maximum amounts (currently $6,550 for an individual and $13,100 for a family), effective January 2018. Allows both spouses to make catch-up contributions to the same Health Savings Account. Permits individuals who take up to 60 days to establish an HSA upon enrolling in HSA-eligible coverage to be reimbursed from their account for medical expenses. The increase in contribution limits would lower revenue by $18.6 billion, and the other two provisions would lower revenue by a combined $600 million.

Cap on Employer-Provided Health Coverage: Does NOT contain a proposed cap on the deductibility of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage included in the leaked discussion draft.

Summary of House Republicans’ “Repeal-and-Replace” Legislation

This evening, House leadership released a revised draft of their Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill—the Energy and Commerce title is here, and the Ways and Means title is here.

A detailed summary of the bill is below, along with possible conservative concerns where applicable. Changes with the original leaked discussion draft (dated February 10) are noted where applicable. Where provisions in the bill were also included in the reconciliation bill passed by Congress early in 2016 (H.R. 3762, text available here), differences between the two versions, if any, are noted.

Of particular note: It is unclear whether this legislative language has been vetted with the Senate Parliamentarian. When the Senate considers budget reconciliation legislation—as it plans to do with the Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill—the Parliamentarian plays a key role in determining whether provisions are budgetary in nature and can be included in the bill (which can pass with a 51-vote simple majority), and which provisions are not budgetary in nature and must be considered separately (i.e., require 60 votes to pass).

In the absence of a fully drafted bill and complete CBO score, it is entirely possible the Parliamentarian has not vetted this draft—which means provisions could change substantially, or even get stricken from the bill, due to procedural concerns as the process moves forward.

Title I—Energy and Commerce

Prevention and Public Health Fund:             Eliminates funding for the Obamacare prevention “slush fund,” and rescinds all unobligated balances. This language is substantially similar to Section 101 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Community Health Centers:             Increases funding for community health centers by $422 million for Fiscal Year 2018—money intended to offset reductions in spending on Planned Parenthood affiliates (see “Federal Payments to States” below). The spending amount exceeds the $285 million provided in the leaked discussion draft. Language regarding community health centers was included in Section 102 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Federal Payments to States:             Imposes a one-year ban on federal funds flowing to certain entities. This provision would have the effect of preventing Medicaid funding of certain medical providers, including Planned Parenthood, so long as Planned Parenthood provides for abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother). This language is virtually identical to Section 206 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Medicaid:       The discussion draft varies significantly from the repeal of Medicaid expansion included in Section 207 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. The 2015/2016 reconciliation bill repealed both elements of the Medicaid expansion—the change in eligibility allowing able-bodied adults to join the program, and the enhanced (90-100%) federal match that states received for covering them.

By contrast, the House discussion draft retains eligibility for the able-bodied adult population—making this population optional for states to cover, rather than mandatory. (The Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius made Medicaid expansion optional for states.) Some conservatives may be concerned that this change represents a marked weakening of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill language, one that will entrench a massive expansion of Medicaid beyond its original focus on the most vulnerable in society.

With respect to the Medicaid match rate, the discussion draft reduces the enhanced federal match to states, effective December 31, 2019. The bill provides that states receiving the enhanced match for individuals enrolled by December 31, 2019 will continue to receive that enhanced federal match, provided they do not have a break in Medicaid coverage of longer than one month. (In the case of states that already expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults prior to Obamacare’s enactment, the bill provides for an 80 percent federal match for 2017 and all subsequent years.)

Some conservatives may be concerned that—rather than representing a true “freeze” that was advertised, one that would take effect immediately upon enactment—the language in this bill would give states a strong incentive to sign up many more individuals for Medicaid over the next three years, so they can qualify for the higher federal match as long as those individuals remain in the program.

Finally, the bill repeals the requirement that Medicaid “benchmark” plans comply with Obamacare’s essential health benefits, also effective December 31, 2019.

DSH Payments:         Repeals the reduction in Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments. Non-expansion states would see their DSH payments restored immediately, whereas states that expanded Medicaid to the able-bodied under Obamacare would see their DSH payments restored in 2019. This language varies from both Section 208 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill and the leaked discussion draft.

Medicaid Program Integrity:             Beginning January 1, 2020, requires states to consider lottery winnings and other lump sum distributions as income for purposes of determining Medicaid eligibility. Effective October 2017, restricts retroactive eligibility in Medicaid to the month in which the individual applied for the program; current law requires three months of retroactive eligibility.

Requires, beginning six months after enactment, Medicaid applicants to provide verification of citizenship or immigration status prior to becoming presumptively eligible for benefits during the application process. With respect to eligibility for Medicaid long-term care benefits, reduces states’ ability to increase home equity thresholds that disqualify individuals from benefits; within six months of enactment, the threshold would be reduced to $500,000 in home equity nationwide, adjusted for inflation annually. These provisions were not included in the leaked discussion draft.

Non-Expansion State Funding:             Includes $10 billion ($2 billion per year) in funding for Medicaid non-expansion states, for calendar years 2018 through 2022. States can receive a 100 percent federal match (95 percent in 2022), up to their share of the allotment. A non-expansion state’s share of the $2 billion in annual allotments would be determined by its share of individuals below 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) when compared to non-expansion states. This funding would be excluded from the Medicaid per capita spending caps discussed in greater detail below. This provision was not included in the leaked discussion draft.

Eligibility Re-Determinations:             Requires states, beginning October 1, 2017, to re-determine eligibility for individuals qualifying for Medicaid on the basis of income at least every six months. This provision was not included in the leaked discussion draft.

Medicaid Per Capita Caps:              Creates a system of per capita spending caps for federal spending on Medicaid, beginning in Fiscal Year 2019. States that exceed their caps would have their federal match reduced in the following fiscal year.

The cap would include all spending on medical care provided through the Medicaid program, with the exception of DSH payments and Medicare cost-sharing paid for dual eligibles (individuals eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare). The cap would rise by medical CPI plus one percentage point annually.

While the cap would take effect in Fiscal Year 2019, the “base year” for determining cap levels would be Fiscal Year 2016 (which concluded on September 30, 2016), adjusted forward to 2019 levels using medical CPI. The adjustment was reduced from medical CPI plus one percentage point in the leaked discussion draft.

Creates five classes of beneficiaries for whom the caps would apply: 1) elderly individuals over age 65; 2) blind and disabled beneficiaries; 3) children under age 19; 4) expansion enrollees (i.e., able-bodied adults enrolled under Obamacare); and 5) all other non-disabled, non-elderly, non-expansion adults (e.g., pregnant women, parents, etc.). Excludes State Children’s Health Insurance Plan enrollees, Indian Health Service participants, breast and cervical cancer services eligible individuals, and certain other partial benefit enrollees from the per capita caps.

Requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reduce states’ annual growth rate by one percent for any year in which that state “fails to satisfactorily submit data” regarding its Medicaid program. Permits HHS to adjust cap amounts to reflect data errors, based on an appeal by the state, increasing cap levels by no more than two percent.

For the period including calendar quarters beginning on October 1, 2017 through October 1, 2019, increases the federal Medicaid match for certain state expenditures to improve data recording, including a 100 percent match in some instances.

Some conservatives may note the bill’s creation of a separate category of Obamacare expansion enrollees, and its use of 2016 as the “base year” for the per capita caps, benefit states who expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults under Obamacare. The most recent actuarial report on Medicaid noted that, while the actuary originally predicted that adults in the expansion population would cost less than existing populations, in reality each newly eligible enrollee cost 13.6% more than existing populations in 2016. Some states have used the 100% federal match for their expansion populations—i.e., “free money from Washington”—to raise provider reimbursement levels.

Some conservatives may therefore be concerned that the draft bill would retain the increased spending on adults in expansion states—extending the inequities caused by states that have used Obamacare’s “free money” to raise Medicaid spending while sending Washington the tab.

Cost-Sharing Subsidies:      Repeals Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies, effective December 31, 2019. However, the bill does not include an appropriation for cost-sharing subsidies for 2017, 2018, or 2019. The House of Representatives filed suit against the Obama Administration (House v. Burwell) alleging the Administration acted unconstitutionally in spending funds on the cost-sharing subsidies without an explicit appropriation from Congress. The case is currently on hold pending settlement discussions between the Trump Administration and the House. Similar language regarding cost-sharing subsidies was included in Section 202(b) of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

On a related note, the bill does NOT include provisions regarding reinsurance, risk corridors, and risk adjustment, all of which were repealed by Section 104 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. While the reinsurance and risk corridor programs technically expired on December 31, 2016, insurers have outstanding claims regarding both programs. Some conservatives may be concerned that failing to repeal these provisions could represent an attempt to bail out health insurance companies.

Patient and State Stability Fund:              Creates a Patient and State Stability Fund, to be administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), for the years 2018 through 2026. Grants may be used to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions (whether through high-risk pools or another arrangement), stabilizing or reducing premiums, encouraging insurer participation, promoting access, directly paying providers, or subsidizing cost-sharing (i.e., co-payments, deductibles, etc.).

In the leaked discussion draft, the program in question was called the State Innovation Grant program. The new bill changes the program’s name, and includes additional language requiring the CMS Administrator, in the case of a state that does not apply for Fund dollars, to spend the money “for such state,” making “market stabilization payments” to insurers with claims over $50,000, using a specified reinsurance formula. Some conservatives may view this as a federal infringement on state sovereignty—Washington forcibly intervening in state insurance markets—to bail out health insurers.

Provides for $15 billion in funding for each of calendar years 2018 and 2019, followed by $10 billion for each of calendar years 2020 through 2026 ($100 billion total). Requires a short, one-time application from states describing their goals and objectives for use of the funding, which will be deemed approved within 60 days absent good cause.

For 2018 and 2019, funding would be provided to states on the basis of two factors. 85% of the funding would be determined via states’ relative claims costs, based on the most recent medical loss ratio (MLR) data. The remaining 15% of funding would be allocated to states 1) whose uninsured populations increased from 2013 through 2015 or 2) have fewer than three health insurers offering Exchange plans in 2017. This formula is a change from the leaked discussion draft, which determined funding based on average insurance premiums, and guaranteed every state at least a 0.5% share of funding ($75 million).

For 2020 through 2026, CMS would be charged with determining a formula that takes into account 1) states’ incurred claims, 2) the number of uninsured with incomes below poverty, and 3) the number of participating health insurers in each state market. The bill requires stakeholder consultation regarding the formula, which shall “reflect the goals of improving the health insurance risk pool, promoting a more competitive health insurance market, and increasing choice for health care consumers.” The formula language and criteria has been changed compared to the leaked discussion draft.

Requires that states provide a match for their grants in 2020 through 2026—7 percent of their grant in 2020, 14 percent in 2021, 21 percent in 2022, 28 percent in 2023, 35 percent in 2024, 42 percent in 2025, and 50 percent in 2026. For states that decline to apply for grants, requires a 10 percent match in 2020, 20 percent match in 2021, 30 percent match in 2022, 40 percent match in 2023, and 50 percent match in 2024 through 2026. In either case, the bill prohibits federal allocation should a state decline to provide its match.

Some conservatives may note the significant changes in the program when compared to the leaked discussion draft—let alone the program’s initial variation, proposed by House Republicans in their alternative to Obamacare in 2009. These changes have turned the program’s focus increasingly towards “stabilizing markets,” and subsidizing health insurers to incentivize continued participation in insurance markets. Some conservatives therefore may be concerned that this program amounts to a $100 billion bailout fund for insurers—one that could infringe upon state sovereignty.

Continuous Coverage:         Requires insurers, beginning after the 2018 open enrollment period (i.e., open enrollment for 2019, or special enrollment periods during the 2018 plan year), to increase premiums for individuals without continuous health insurance coverage. The premium could increase by 30 percent for individuals who have a coverage gap of more than 63 days during the previous 12 months. Insurers could maintain the 30 percent premium increase for a 12 month period. Requires individuals to show proof of continuous coverage, and requires insurers to provide said proof in the form of certificates. Some conservatives may be concerned that this provision maintains the federal intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare, rather than devolving insurance regulation back to the states.

Essential Health Benefits:              Permits states to develop essential health benefits—which include actuarial value and cost-sharing requirements—for insurance for all years after December 31, 2019.

Age Rating:   Changes the maximum variation in insurance markets from 3-to-1 (i.e., insurers can charge older applicants no more than three times younger applicants) to 5-to-1 effective January 1, 2018, with the option for states to provide for other age rating requirements. Some conservatives may be concerned that, despite the ability for states to opt out, this provision, by setting a default federal standard, maintains the intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare.

Special Enrollment Verification:                Removes language in the leaked discussion draft requiring verification of all special enrollment periods beginning for plan years after January 1, 2018, effectively codifying proposed regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month.

Transitional Policies:           Removes language in the leaked discussion draft permitting insurers who continued to offer pre-Obamacare health coverage under President Obama’s temporary “If you like your plan, you can keep it” fix to continue to offer those policies in perpetuity in the individual and small group markets outside the Exchanges.

Title II—Ways and Means

Subsidy Recapture:              Eliminates the repayment limit on Obamacare premium subsidies for the 2018 and 2019 plan years. Obamacare’s premium subsidies (which vary based upon income levels) are based on estimated income, which must be reconciled at year’s end during the tax filing season. Households with a major change in income or family status during the year (e.g., raise, promotion, divorce, birth, death) could qualify for significantly greater or smaller subsidies than the estimated subsidies they receive. While current law caps repayment amounts for households with incomes under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL, $98,400 for a family of four in 2017), the bill would eliminate the repayment limits for 2018 and 2019. This provision is similar to Section 201 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Modifications to Obamacare Premium Subsidy:         Allows non-compliant and non-Exchange plans to qualify for Obamacare premium subsidies, with the exception of grandfathered health plans (i.e., those purchased prior to Obamacare’s enactment) and plans that cover abortions (although individuals receiving subsidies can purchase separate coverage for abortion). In a change from the leaked discussion draft, individuals with “grandmothered” plans—that is, those purchased after Obamacare’s enactment, but before the law’s major benefit mandates took effect in 2014—also cannot qualify for subsidies.

While individuals off the Exchanges can receive premium subsidies, they cannot receive these subsidies in advance—they would have to claim the subsidy back on their tax returns instead.

Modifies the existing Obamacare subsidy regime beginning in 2018, by including age as an additional factor for determining subsidy amounts. Younger individuals would have to spend a smaller percentage of income on health insurance than under current law, while older individuals would spend a higher percentage of income. For instance, an individual under age 29, making just under 400% FPL, would pay 4.3% of income on health insurance, whereas an individual between ages 60-64 at the same income level would pay 11.5% of income on health insurance. (Current law limits individuals to paying 9.69% of income on insurance, at all age brackets, for those with income just below 400% FPL.)

Some conservatives may be concerned that 1) these changes would make an already complex subsidy formula even more complicated; 2) could increase costs to taxpayers; and 3) distract from the purported goal of the legislation, which is repealing, not modifying or “fixing,” Obamacare.

Repeal of Tax Credits:         Repeals Obamacare’s premium and small business tax credits, effective January 1, 2020. This language is similar to Sections 202 and 203 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, with one major difference—the House bill provides for a three-year transition period, whereas the reconciliation bill provided a two-year transition period.

Abortion Coverage:             Clarifies that firms receiving the small business tax credit may not use that credit to purchase plans that cover abortion (although they can purchase separate plans that cover abortion).

Individual and Employer Mandates:             Sets the individual and employer mandate penalties to zero, for all years after December 31, 2015. This language is similar to Sections 204 and 205 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, except with respect to timing—the House bill zeroes out the penalties beginning with the previous tax year, whereas the reconciliation bill zeroed out penalties beginning with the current tax year.

Repeal of Other Obamacare Taxes:             Repeals all other Obamacare taxes, effective January 1, 2018, including:

  • Limitation on deductibility of salaries to insurance industry executives;
  • Tax on tanning services;
  • Tax on pharmaceuticals;
  • Health insurer tax;
  • Net investment tax;
  • Tax on high-cost health plans (also known as the “Cadillac tax”)—but only through 2025;
  • Restrictions on use of Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Arrangements to pay for over-the-counter medications;
  • Increased penalties on non-health care uses of Health Savings Account dollars;
  • Limits on Flexible Spending Arrangement contributions;
  • Medical device tax;
  • Elimination of deduction for employers who receive a subsidy from Medicare for offering retiree prescription drug coverage;
  • Limitation on medical expenses as an itemized deduction;
  • Medicare tax on “high-income” individuals;

These provisions are all substantially similar to Sections 209 through 221 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. However, when compared to the leaked discussion draft, the bill delays repeal of the tax increases by one year, until the end of calendar year 2017. Additionally, the bill does NOT repeal the economic substance tax, which WAS repealed in Section 222 of the 2015/2016 bill, as well as the leaked discussion draft.

Refundable Tax Credit:       Creates a new, age-rated refundable tax credit for the purchase of health insurance. Credits total $2,000 for individuals under age 30, $2,500 for individuals aged 30-39, $3,000 for individuals aged 40-49, $3,500 for individuals aged 50-59, and $4,000 for individuals over age 60, up to a maximum credit of $14,000 per household. The credit would apply for 2020 and subsequent years, and increase every year by general inflation (i.e., CPI) plus one percent. Excess credit amounts can be deposited in individuals’ Health Savings Accounts.

When compared to the leaked discussion draft, the bill would also impose a means-test on the refundable credits. Individuals with modified adjusted gross incomes below $75,000, and families with incomes below $150,000, would qualify for the full credit. The credit would phase out linearly, at a 10 percent rate—every $1,000 of income would cause the subsidy to shrink by $100. Assuming the maximum credit possible ($14,000), the credit would phase out completely at income of $215,000 for an individual, and $290,000 for a family.

The credit may be used for any individual policy sold within a state, or unsubsidized COBRA continuation coverage. The credit may also not be used for grandfathered or “grandmothered” health plans—a change from the leaked discussion draft. The bill also increases penalties on erroneous claims for the credit, from 20 percent under current law for all tax credits to 25 percent for the new credit—a change from the leaked discussion draft.

Individuals may not use the credit to purchase plans that cover abortions (although they can purchase separate plans that cover abortion). The credit would be advanceable (i.e., paid before individuals file their taxes), and the Treasury would establish a program to provide credit payments directly to health insurers.

Individuals eligible for or participating in employer coverage, Part A of Medicare, Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Tricare, or health care sharing ministries cannot receive the credit; however, veterans eligible for but not enrolled in VA health programs can receive the credit. Only citizens and legal aliens qualify for the credit; individuals with seriously delinquent tax debt can have their credits withheld.

Some conservatives may be concerned that, by creating a new refundable tax credit, the bill would establish another source of entitlement spending at a time when our nation already faces significant fiscal difficulties.

Some conservatives may also note that, by introducing means-testing into the bill, the revised credit (when compared to the leaked discussion draft) by its very nature creates work disincentives and administrative complexities. However, whereas Obamacare includes several “cliffs”—where one additional dollar of income could result in the loss of thousands of dollars in subsidies—this credit phases out more gradually as income rises. That structure reduces the credit’s disincentives to work—but it by no means eliminates them.

Health Savings Accounts:  Increases contribution limits to HSAs, raising them from the current $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families in 2017 to the out-of-pocket maximum amounts (currently $6,550 for an individual and $13,100 for a family), effective January 2018. Allows both spouses to make catch-up contributions to the same Health Savings Account. Permits individuals who take up to 60 days to establish an HSA upon enrolling in HSA-eligible coverage to be reimbursed from their account for medical expenses.

Cap on Employer-Provided Health Coverage: Does NOT contain a proposed cap on the deductibility of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage included in the leaked discussion draft.

A PDF version of this document is available at the Texas Public Policy Foundation website.

Unwinding Obamacare: Why Congress Must Rescind the Massive Medicaid Expansion

This report was originally published by the Palmetto Promise Institute, and is available in PDF form on their website here.

As Congress prepares to consider legislation repealing and replacing Obamacare in 2017, unwinding that law’s massive expansion of Medicaid should stand at the top of the Congressional agenda. The source of most of the law’s spending, Medicaid expansion has resulted in exploding enrollment, creating state budget shortfalls that legislatures will need to remedy in 2017.

Moreover, Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid to the able-bodied has undermined Medicaid’s original mission to provide services to the most vulnerable in society—including seniors and individuals with disabilities. The law effectively discriminates against vulnerable populations, providing states with more federal funding to cover the able-bodied than individuals with disabilities. Sadly, even as able-bodied beneficiaries have flooded into Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of individuals with disabilities continue to suffer long waits for needed care.

Congressional Republicans have put forward proposals seeking to reform Medicaid, transforming the program into a system of block grants or per capita allotments that will provide greater flexibility to states in exchange for a fixed federal spending commitment. However, such reforms are necessary—but not sufficient—in reforming the Medicaid program. First and foremost, Congress should take immediate action to unwind Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, re-orienting the program to serve the most vulnerable populations for which it was originally designed.

History of Medicaid and Obamacare

As originally enacted into law in 1965, the Medicaid program provided federal matching funds to states to cover certain discrete populations, including the blind, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and needy parents. Obamacare changed the program fundamentally by expanding the program to all low-income adults; under Section 2001 of the law, all those with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) qualified for Medicaid coverage.[1] The statute as written made expansion mandatory for all states participating in Medicaid. States could decline to expand Medicaid, but in so doing, they would have had to forfeit all federal Medicaid funds, including funds for their existing aged, blind, and disabled populations.

In June 2012, the Supreme Court struck down the mandatory nature of Medicaid expansion as unconstitutionally coercive. Speaking for a seven-member majority, Chief Justice John Roberts concluded that “the threatened loss of 10 percent of a state’s overall budget [i.e., the federal share of Medicaid spending]…is economic dragooning that leaves states with no real option but to acquiesce in the Medicaid expansion.”[2] The Court left the expansion, and the rest of the law, intact, but prohibited the federal government from withholding all Medicaid funds from any states that chose not to pursue the categorical expansion to all adults with incomes under 138 percent FPL.

Because the Supreme Court ruling gave them a free choice about whether or not to embrace Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, states—the “laboratories of democracy”—have taken different approaches. Some states, fearing that the federal government will renege on its promised high levels of funding, declined to expand. Some states passed a traditional Medicaid expansion, ratifying Obamacare’s massive new entitlement as its authors intended. Other states have utilized a system of premium assistance—also called the “private option”—that uses Medicaid dollars to subsidize private Exchange insurance coverage for individuals qualified for Medicaid under the Obamacare expansion.

Whether through the “private option” or traditional Medicaid, outcomes for states embracing Obamacare’s massive expansion of Medicaid to the able-bodied have been little different. States that have embraced Obamacare’s expansion have faced spiking enrollment and skyrocketing costs, all while perpetuating a system that encourages discrimination against the most vulnerable. Policy-makers should closely examine these cautionary tales as they look to rescind and replace Obamacare.

Exploding Enrollment, Skyrocketing Spending

The evidence among those states that have expended Medicaid demonstrates the massive effects on state budgets—due in large part to skyrocketing enrollment. A recent report by the Foundation for Government Accountability showed how the Medicaid rolls exploded in states that chose to expand the program under Obamacare. In a whopping 24 states that decided to expand, state Medicaid programs exceeded the highest enrollment projections:

  • Arizona predicted a maximum enrollment of 297,000; by September 2016, 397,879 had enrolled in Medicaid;
  • Arkansas predicted a maximum enrollment of 215,000; by October 2016, enrollment had reached 324,318;
  • California predicted a maximum enrollment of 910,000; by May 2016, enrollment had more than quadrupled prior maximum projections, reaching 3,842,200;
  • Colorado predicted a maximum enrollment of 187,000; by October 2016, enrollment hit 446,135;
  • Connecticut predicted a maximum enrollment of 113,000; by December 2015, 186,967 had enrolled;
  • Hawaii predicted a maximum enrollment of 35,000; by June 2015, enrollment had exceeded that projection, reaching 35,622;
  • Illinois predicted a maximum enrollment of 342,000; by April 2016, nearly double that amount—650,653—were enrolled;
  • Iowa predicted a maximum enrollment of 122,900; by February 2016, enrollment had reached 139,119;
  • Kentucky predicted a maximum enrollment of 188,000; by December 2015, enrollment more than doubled the initial expectation, reaching 439,044;
  • Maryland predicted a maximum enrollment of 143,000; by December 2015, enrollment reached 231,484;
  • Michigan predicted a maximum enrollment of 477,000; by October 2016, enrollment exceeded that projection, reaching 630,609;
  • Minnesota predicted a maximum enrollment of 141,000; by December 2015, enrollment hit 207,683;
  • Nevada predicted a maximum enrollment of 78,000; enrollment more than doubled those maximum projections, reaching 187,110 by September 2015;
  • New Hampshire predicted a maximum of enrollment of 45,500; by August 2016, enrollment reached 50,150;
  • New Jersey predicted a maximum enrollment of 300,000; twelve months after expansion began, in January 2015, enrollment totaled 532,917;
  • New Mexico predicted a maximum enrollment of 140,095; by December 2015, enrollment had reached 235,425;
  • New York predicted a maximum enrollment of 76,000; by December 2015, nearly four times as many had enrolled—a grand total of 285,564;
  • North Dakota predicted a maximum enrollment of 13,591; by March 2016, a total of 19,389 had enrolled;
  • Ohio predicted a maximum enrollment of 447,000; by August 2016, enrollment hit 714,595;
  • Oregon predicted a maximum enrollment of 245,000; by December 2015, enrollment hit 452,269;
  • Pennsylvania predicted a maximum enrollment of 531,000; by April 2016, enrollment had hit 625,970;
  • Rhode Island predicted a maximum enrollment of 39,756; in December 2015, enrollment reached 59,280;
  • Washington state predicted a maximum enrollment of 262,000; by July 2016, enrollment had more than doubled the highest enrollment projections, reaching 596,873; and
  • West Virginia predicted a maximum enrollment of 95,000; enrollment in December 2015 hit 174,999.[3]

While Medicaid is considered a counter-cyclical program—one in which enrollment typically rises during recessions, as household incomes shrink and individuals lose access to employer-sponsored coverage—Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion went into effect at a time of steady, albeit slight, economic growth. In other words, Medicaid enrollment under the Obamacare expansion could eventually exceed these figures—even as the actual enrollment numbers themselves exceeded projections prior to implementation, in some cases by several multiples.

By contrast, enrollment in health insurance Exchanges remains far below expectations set at the time of the law’s passage. Just before Obamacare passed in March 2010, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that in 2016, the Exchanges would enroll a total of 21 million Americans.[4] For the first half of 2016, the Exchanges averaged enrollment of only 10.4 million—less than half the original CBO projection.[5]

Moreover, an analysis of Exchange enrollees shows enrollment concentrated largely among the individuals who qualify for the largest subsidies. According to an analysis conducted by the consulting firm Avalere Health, 81% of eligible individuals with income below 150 percent FPL—who are eligible for both subsidized premiums and reduced cost-sharing—have selected an Exchange plan.[6] On the other hand, only 16% of those with incomes between 300 and 400 percent FPL—who qualify for modest premium subsidies, but not reduced cost-sharing—have enrolled in Exchange coverage, while only 2% of individuals with incomes above 400 percent FPL—who do not qualify for subsidies at all—have signed up.[7] When it comes to both Medicaid expansion and Exchange coverage, the evidence suggests that only those individuals who receive free, or heavily subsidized, insurance have signed up in great numbers.

Just as enrollment for subsidized Medicaid under Obamacare dramatically exceeded expectations, so too have per-enrollee health costs for Medicaid participants. In the official 2014 report on the state of Medicaid’s finances, government actuaries acknowledged for the first time that per-enrollee costs for Obamacare’s newly eligible Medicaid enrollees ($5,488) exceeded those of previously eligible Medicaid participants ($4,914).[8] Actuaries had previously assumed that per-enrollee costs for the newly eligible population would be 30 percent lower than spending on existing populations—but the actual data suggested otherwise.[9] At the time, the actuaries believed some of the higher Medicaid spending arose because of pent-up demand—newly insured individuals requesting care for long-ignored medical conditions—a phenomenon they suggested might fade over time.[10]

But contrary to the expectations of government actuaries, costs for newly eligible beneficiaries continued to increase for a second straight year in 2015. Whereas the gap between per-enrollee costs for newly eligible beneficiaries and existing beneficiaries stood at approximately $500 in 2014, in the following year the gap grew to over $1,000—an average cost of $6,366 for every newly enrolled adult, versus $5,159 for every adult previously eligible for Medicaid.[11] As a result, the Congressional Budget Office likewise increased their estimates of per-enrollee spending on Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion—at least in the short term.[12] CBO still believes that per-enrollee spending on Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will stabilize at lower levels over time, despite the evidence that actual costs continue to exceed prior assumptions by sizable margins.

The combination of higher-than-expected enrollment and higher-than-expected enrollee costs has created a “double whammy” for state budgets. While the federal government paid 100 percent of the cost to cover Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion population for the law’s first three years, states must contribute 5 percent of costs for the newly eligible beginning in 2017, rising to 10 percent by 2020—a share proving larger than expected, and one placing fiscal strains on states.

With the new entitlement costing much more than expected, states may have to cut other critically important spending priorities to continue funding Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid to able-bodied adults. In Kentucky, costs for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 are now estimated at $257 million—more than double the original estimate of $107 million.[13] As a result, education, transportation, corrections, and other priorities will receive $150 million less from the state budget. Ohio’s budget for Medicaid expansion more than doubled from the $55.5 million originally projected, likewise robbing other important state spending programs.[14]

Even Democrats serving in state legislatures have expressed alarm at the rising tide of spending associated with Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and the other programs being cannibalized to pay for this new entitlement. In Oregon, facing a $500 million Medicaid-imposed budgetary shortfall over the next three years, Democratic state Senator Richard Devlin noted that “the only way to keep this [budget situation] manageable is to keep those costs under control, get people off Medicaid.”[15] In New Mexico, also facing pressures due to higher-than-expected enrollment, Democratic state Senator Howie Morales expressed anguish over the fiscal choices:

When you’re looking at a state budget and there are only so many dollars to go around, obviously it’s a concern. The most vulnerable of our citizens—the children, our senior citizens, our veterans, individuals with disabilities—I get concerned that those could be areas that get hit.[16]

Sen. Morales’ comments eloquently describe the plight that legislators face. States that expand Medicaid may have to cut important programs for individuals with disabilities, seniors, and the most vulnerable—to provide additional taxpayer funds for an expansion of Medicaid to able-bodied adults.

Undermining the Most Vulnerable

Supporters’ claims to the contrary, Medicaid expansion actually undermines principles of social justice and fairness—in which our society focuses the safety net first and foremost on those unable to provide for themselves. Expanding Medicaid under Obamacare serves only to endorse a horrifically unfair system created by the law, which effectively discriminates against individuals with disabilities—prioritizing coverage of able-bodied adults over protecting the most vulnerable in society.[17]

How does this happen in practice?

In 2013, the congressionally-appointed Commission on Long-Term Care heard testimony about the significant numbers of individuals with disabilities on waiting lists for home- and community-based services (HCBS).[18] Because coverage of HCBS—as opposed to institutional care in a nursing home—remains an optional service for state Medicaid programs, Americans in 42 states remain on lists waiting for access to home-based care.[19] More than 582,000 individuals—including nearly 350,000 with intellectual and developmental disabilities, over 155,000 aged and/or disabled individuals, over 58,000 children, more than 14,000 individuals with physical disabilities, and more than 4,000 Americans with traumatic brain injuries—remain on Medicaid waiting lists.[20] All these individuals could benefit from home-based care that would improve their quality of life, and could keep them from requiring more costly nursing home care in the future—yet they must wait in the Medicaid queue, in many cases for years on end.

Yet even as more than half a million Americans with disabilities wait for service, Obamacare prioritizes coverage of able-bodied adults over treating the most vulnerable—providing states as much as 45 cents on the dollar more to cover the able-bodied than individuals with disabilities. In 2017, the law provides a federal match for expansion populations—that is, individuals with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level—of 95 percent, dipping slightly to 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019, and 90 percent in 2020 and future years.[21] Conversely, states wishing to expand coverage to individuals with disabilities—to eliminate their Medicaid waiting lists—will receive only the normal Medicaid matching rate, which for the current fiscal year ranges from 50 percent to 75 percent, based on states’ relative income.[22] In other words, in 2017, states will receive at least 20 cents, and as much as 45 cents, more on the dollar for covering able-bodied adults than they will ending waiting lists for individuals with disabilities seeking care.

Sadly, some states have responded to Obamacare’s perverse incentives in predictable ways. In the few years since the law took effect, the most vulnerable in society have suffered, while able-bodied adults received a new, taxpayer-funded entitlement:

  • A recent report from Illinois found that 752 individuals with disabilities died while awaiting access to home- and community-based services since Obamacare’s expansion took effect. Ironically enough, on the very day that Illinois voted to expand Medicaid to the able-bodied early, it also cut funding for medication and services provided to special needs children.[23]
  • In Arkansas, while Gov. Asa Hutchison pledged to cut his state’s waiting list for individuals with disabilities in half, instead it has grown by 25 percent—even as Hutchison has embraced Medicaid expansion to the able-bodied. The individuals waiting for care include ten-year-old Skylar Overman, whose mother worries she will die before she ever receives access to the in-home care she needs.[24]
  • In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich’s administration cut Medicaid eligibility for 34,000 individuals with disabilities, even while expanding the program to the able-bodied.[25]

Any law that results in these types of inequities—the most vulnerable cast aside to hasten access to care for the able-bodied—cannot be considered compassionate or just.

The disparities and perverse incentives present in Obamacare apply to South Carolina just as much as they do in other states. The law provides massive incentives for South Carolina to expand Medicaid to these able-bodied adults—many of whom may be unemployed or under-employed—rather than ending waiting lists for individuals with disabilities. In fiscal year 2017, South Carolina will receive a 71.3 percent match from the federal government for the traditional Medicaid program—including coverage for individuals with disabilities.[26] Yet Obamacare will provide a 95 percent match should the state choose to expand Medicaid to able-bodied adults. Effectively, the law provides South Carolina with nearly 25 cents more on the dollar should the state discriminate against the most vulnerable in our society.

South Carolina has rightly rejected the effective discrimination perpetuated by Obamacare, for multiple reasons. The state has a list of 5,656 individuals with disabilities waiting to receive HCBS.[27] Providing enough funding to end the Medicaid waiting list should stand as the state’s pressing health care priority—not expanding health coverage to able-bodied adults, many of whom would exceed the income limits to qualify for Medicaid if they pursued full-time employment. The fact that Washington does not agree with South Carolina’s decision to prioritize the most vulnerable—because federal officials want the state to put the able-bodied, rather than individuals with disabilities, at the head of the Medicaid line—is a reason for Washington to change its priorities, not South Carolina.

Not a Panacea for Hospitals

In many states debating the future of Medicaid under Obamacare, hospital associations have served as the biggest supporters of expansion. Hospitals claim that expanding Medicaid will result in substantial improvements to their bottom line, making the difference between facilities remaining open or shutting their doors. Unfortunately, however, Medicaid expansion will not make a meaningful impact on hospitals’ bottom line.

In September 2016, staff at the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report illustrating the minimal impact of Medicaid expansion on hospitals’ profitability.[28] The paper analyzed the effects of several changes associated with Obamacare on two variables: hospitals’ aggregate profit margin nationwide, and the percentage of hospitals with negative margins. The analysis estimated these two factors in 2025, and compared hospital profitability with 2011, before most of Obamacare’s major provisions took effect.

The CBO analysis found that, under the best possible scenario, hospitals will fare no better in 2025 than they did prior to Obamacare’s major provisions taking effect—and they could fare much worse. A scenario that coupled the law’s Medicare payment reductions with its coverage expansions yielded a best-case scenario similar to the status quo ante: about one quarter of hospitals with negative profit margins (26% in 2025, versus 27% in 2011), and an aggregate margin of 6.0% in both cases.[29] However, should hospitals fail to achieve the productivity gains contemplated under Obamacare, margins will fall significantly—with as many as half of all hospitals having a negative profit margin by 2025, and the industry as a whole barely profitable.[30] Thanks to Obamacare, hospitals will struggle mightily just to tread water—and many may end up sinking financially.

The CBO paper also specifically examined whether all states expanding Medicaid would make a material impact on its analysis. Would a broader expansion of insurance coverage overcome the damaging fiscal effects of Obamacare’s Medicare payment reductions? CBO concluded that broader Medicaid expansion would have a minor impact:

Differing assumptions about the number of states that expand Medicaid coverage have a small effect on our projections of aggregate hospitals’ margins. That is in part because the hospitals that would receive the greatest benefit from the expansion of Medicaid coverage in additional states are more likely to have negative margins, and because in most cases the additional revenue from the Medicaid expansion is not sufficient to change those hospitals’ margins from negative to positive. Moreover, the total additional revenue that hospitals as a group would receive from the newly covered Medicaid beneficiaries…is not large enough relative to their revenues from other sources to substantially alter the projected aggregate margins.[31]

Despite claims from some hospital executives that Medicaid expansion represents a make-or-break financial decision for their industry, non-partisan experts disagree.

The real problem for hospitals lies elsewhere within Obamacare, in the Medicare productivity adjustments that will affect hospitals each and every year. The Medicare actuary, along with other non-partisan experts, has made annual warnings every year since the law’s passage concluding the productivity reductions are unsustainable, and will make most hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and home health agencies unprofitable in the coming decades.[32] The September CBO report confirms, and further validates, the Medicare actuary’s work highlighting the unrealistic nature of the payment reductions used to fund Obamacare.

As has been explained elsewhere, hospitals made a terribly unwise bargain when negotiating behind closed doors with the Obama Administration: They agreed to annual reductions in their Medicare payments forever in exchange for a one-time increase in the number of insured Americans.[33] Hospital lobbyists themselves know full well that the agreement they negotiated will ultimately destroy the industry.

At a televised event in August 2010, months after the law passed, Chip Kahn—the CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, which represents the for-profit hospital industry—admitted his knowledge of Obamacare’s long-term effects on the hospital sector.[34] Then-Medicare actuary Richard Foster asked Kahn why hospitals agreed to what appears on its face to be a bad deal: Perpetual Medicare payment reductions in exchange for a one-time increase in insured Americans. Mr. Kahn first claimed that “from the hospital industry standpoint, there never was any kind of illusion that this was some kind of standard that we could meet in terms of improving quality”—even though the law itself assumes that hospitals will become more productive year-over-year, and reduces their Medicare payments accordingly.[35] When pressed on this issue—what will happen to the hospital industry when these year-on-year reductions cascade over time—Mr. Kahn eventually threw up his hands: “Now, you could say, did you make a bad deal? And fortunately, I don’t think I’ll probably be working after 2020. [Laughter.]…I’m glad my contract only goes another six years. [Laughter.]”[36]

The candid comments by the head of the Federation of American Hospitals months after the law passed say it all. In endorsing Obamacare, hospital lobbyists knew they were agreeing to provisions that would decimate their industry in the long run—but didn’t care, because those devastating provisions would only take effect well after they had retired. These incredibly cynical comments provide two additional reasons for legislators not to embrace Medicaid expansion. As both the CBO analysis and Mr. Kahn’s comments indicate, expanding Medicaid will not solve hospitals’ financial difficulties, which arise from a self-inflicted blow—namely, agreeing to massive Medicare payment reductions that overwhelm the comparatively small revenue gain associated with Medicaid expansion. But while expanding Medicaid will not save hospitals in the long term, it will serve to sink state budgets, leaving them with the worst of both worlds on the fiscal front.

Work Disincentives

Supporters of Medicaid expansion claim that the additional federal funds generated by expansion have created jobs and economic growth. In reality, expanding Medicaid has only created additional disincentives for work, according to non-partisan economic experts.

Many studies claiming Medicaid expansion will create jobs represent one-sided—and therefore highly biased—analysis, examining the federal revenue flowing into states as a result of expansion without studying the impact of the tax increases necessary to generate said revenue. However, many studies—including a seminal analysis undertaken by President Obama’s former chief economic adviser, Christina Romer—find that the economic damage—in technical terms, the deadweight losses associated with Obamacare’s tax increases—will vastly outweigh any job gains associated with Medicaid expansion.[37]

Ironically, one of the architects of Obamacare disputes the economic theories put forward by Medicaid expansion proponents. In a New York Times op-ed, former Obama Administration advisor Zeke Emanuel stated that “Health care is about keeping people healthy or fixing them up when they get sick. It is not a jobs program.”[38] Likewise, two Harvard economists note that viewing the health system as a jobs program will ultimately increase spending and raise health costs, limiting access for the poor: “Treating the health care system like a (wildly inefficient) jobs program conflicts directly with the goal of ensuring that all Americans have access to care at an affordable price.”[39]

Rather than creating jobs, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) believes that Medicaid expansion will discourage work. In part of its 2014 update on Obamacare’s effects on the labor supply—in which CBO asserted that the law as a whole will reduce the supply of labor provided by the equivalent of 2.5 million jobs by 2024—the budget office noted that “expanded Medicaid eligibility under [the law] will, on balance, reduce incentives to work.”[40] For instance, individuals who exceed Medicaid eligibility limits by even one dollar could face hundreds, or thousands, of dollars in premiums and co-payments to obtain subsidized Exchange coverage; such workers will likely work fewer hours to keep their income below eligibility caps.

Medicaid expansion will discourage work precisely because most of the participants in the expansion are able-bodied adults of working age. According to analysis conducted by the liberal-leaning Urban Institute, nearly nine in ten individuals (88.1%) who would benefit from Medicaid expansion in South Carolina represent adults without dependent children.[41] Moreover, the vast majority of South Carolinians to be covered under expansion would come within the ages of 19-55—prime working ages for most Americans. More than one-quarter (27.6%) of would-be beneficiaries of expansion are aged 19-24, with a further 21.9% aged 25-34, and more than one-third (35.5%) aged 35-54.[42]

The Urban Institute data strongly suggest that the vast majority of the potential beneficiaries from Medicaid expansion in South Carolina constitute individuals who could be in work, or preparing for work. Indeed, many South Carolinians working full-time would generate enough income not to qualify for benefits under Medicaid expansion. In 2016, 138 percent of the federal poverty level represents an income of just under $16,400 for an individual.[43] A South Carolinian working a full-time job (40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year) at a wage of $8.25 per hour would earn $16,500 annually, thereby exceeding the limit to qualify for Medicaid benefits.

However, CBO believes the Medicaid “benefit cliff” will discourage individuals from working, precisely because they wish to remain eligible for benefits. A December 2015 CBO paper quantified this impact: Analysts concluded that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will reduce beneficiaries’ labor force participation by about 4 percent, by “creat[ing] a tax on additional earnings for those considering job changes” that would raise their income above the threshold for eligibility.[44]

While Obamacare’s massive expansion of Medicaid to the able-bodied discourages work and will reduce the labor supply, unwinding the expansion will produce salutary economic effects. Tennessee’s decision to roll back a Medicaid coverage expansion in 2005 encouraged more individuals to join the labor force, in order to obtain employer-sponsored health coverage.[45] If states wish to grow their economies and encourage work, unwinding Obamacare provides a better approach to achieving those objectives.

“Private Option” Results in Greater Public Spending

While some supporters of Medicaid expansion believe that the so-called “private option”—using Medicaid dollars to purchase Exchange coverage for beneficiaries—represents an efficient use of taxpayer dollars, evidence suggests otherwise. In 2012, immediately following the Supreme Court ruling that made Medicaid expansion optional for states, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) considered expansion through health insurance Exchanges significantly more costly than expansion through traditional Medicaid:

For the average person who does not enroll in Medicaid as a result of the [Supreme] Court’s decision and enrolls in an Exchange instead, estimated federal spending will rise by roughly $3,000 in 2022—the difference between estimated additional Exchange [premium and cost-sharing] subsidies of about $9,000 and estimated Medicaid savings of roughly $6,000.[46]

Providing Medicaid beneficiaries private coverage through the insurance Exchanges could cost approximately 50% more, according to CBO’s 2012 estimate—a concern other non-partisan experts have flagged.

Government auditors have raised significant concerns that the “private option” waiver method of providing coverage improperly wastes taxpayer funds. In an August 2014 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that, when approving the first instance of this “private option” model in Arkansas, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “did not ensure budget neutrality,” which is required under federal law, in three key areas:

  • “HHS approved a spending limit for the demonstration that was based, in part, on hypothetical costs—significantly higher payment amounts the state assumed it would have to make to providers if it expanded coverage under the traditional Medicaid program—without requesting any data to support the state’s assumptions.” GAO concluded that these higher payment assumptions increased the program’s budget caps by $778 million—or nearly 20% of the approximately $4.0 billion, three-year budget for the program.
  • “HHS gave Arkansas the flexibility to adjust the spending limit if actual costs under the demonstration proved higher than expected…one which HHS has not provided in the past.”
  • “HHS in effect waived its cost-effectiveness requirement that providing premium assistance to purchase individual coverage on the private market prove comparable to the cost of providing direct coverage under the state’s Medicaid plan—further increasing the risk that the demonstration will not be budget-neutral.”[47]

The GAO report illustrates how, in order to ensure that Arkansas endorsed Obamacare’s massive new entitlement, federal officials raised the budgetary caps required under law so high that they became nearly meaningless—and then gave Arkansas officials discretion to raise them even higher. Such actions represent a disservice to taxpayers in all states, including South Carolina. The GAO report demonstrates why unwinding the law’s Medicaid expansion—in all its forms, including the “private option”—represents the wisest way to protect taxpayer funds.

How to Unwind Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion: Congress

As Congress considers legislation to repeal Obamacare in January 2017, it should embark on a three-step approach to unwind the law’s massive Medicaid expansion:

  • First, Congress should take action to freeze enrollment in the Medicaid expansion immediately after enactment of the repeal bill. Freezing enrollment will hold those currently on Medicaid harmless, while beginning a process to roll back the higher levels of spending associated with Medicaid expansion.
  • Second, Congress should roll back the enhanced federal match for expansion populations, consistent with budget reconciliation legislation that Congress passed, and President Obama vetoed, during the 114th Congress.[48] Ending the enhanced federal match by 2019 will eliminate the discrimination inherent in Obamacare—whereby states receive a higher match to cover able-bodied adults than individuals with disabilities.
  • Third, Congress and states should reorient Medicaid towards the vulnerable populations for which the program was originally designed. Added flexibility from Congress, and the incoming Trump Administration, will allow states to achieve additional savings in their Medicaid programs—savings that will permit states to achieve other important priorities, like reducing waiting lists for individuals with disabilities seeking access to home-based care.

While proposals to transform Medicaid into a block grant or per capita allotment would give states welcome flexibility from Washington’s dictates, lawmakers must focus first on unwinding Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion—and eliminating distortions to the program caused by same. Any block grant or Medicaid funding formula that uses the years 2014 through 2017 as a “base year” will perpetuate the inequities caused by the Obamacare expansion—the massive enrollment of able-bodied adults, and the increased spending by states that used the prospect of a 100% federal match to increase Medicaid reimbursements. States that made the policy choice to keep Medicaid focused on the most vulnerable in society should not be penalized by a block grant formula that rewards those states who embraced Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid to the able-bodied.

How to Unwind Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion: The States

The states also have a role, albeit a limited one, in the undoing of Obamacare’s massive Medicaid expansion. As state legislatures reconvene, they can:

  • Continue to resist calls for expanding Medicaid to able-bodied adults. No state is expected to expand or choose a “private option” scheme in their new legislative terms, but fiscally responsible legislators should nevertheless arm themselves with the facts of this paper and prepare for misguided calls for subjecting more states to the excessive costs of Medicaid expansion.
  • Pass resolutions memorializing Congress to resist attempts to retain any of the core principles of Obamacare, including Medicaid expansion, as having a negative impact on state budgets and state policies. Both with respect to the costs of Medicaid expansion, and with respect to skyrocketing premiums in health insurance Exchanges, states and consumers alike are begging for relief from Obamacare. If enough states call for a top to bottom repeal and replace of Obamacare, including Medicaid expansion, consumers will win.
  • Prepare for possible common sense solutions, formerly known as “Obamacare off-ramps,” that will insure freedom for the insured without bullying businesses or individuals into plans they don’t like and doctors they don’t want. Members of both the United States House and Senate previously introduced such plans in the last Congress.[49] The new Trump Department of Health & Human Services, and specifically the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), should provide guidance on blanket waivers designed to maximize flexibility for state Medicaid programs immediately upon taking office.[50]

Need for Reform

Even prior to Obamacare, Medicaid stood as a program in need of significant reform. The program has nearly tripled as a share of state budgets since 1987, yet provides beneficiaries with care of questionable quality.[51] Results from Oregon suggest that newly enrolled individuals in Medicaid used the emergency room at rates 40 percent higher than the uninsured—a disparity that persisted over time—yet did not achieve measureable improvement in their physical health outcomes.[52] With high (and growing) levels of spending coupled with subpar outcomes, states should use the flexibility promised from the Trump Administration to rethink their approach to Medicaid.

However, such efforts should come only after Congress has first backed down Obamacare’s massive expansion of Medicaid to the able-bodied. Restoring Medicaid as a safety net program for the most vulnerable in society would unwind more than $1 trillion in projected spending over the coming decade providing coverage to the able-bodied.[53] Just as important, it would remove the inequities created by Obamacare, and put all states on a level playing field for the reformed Medicaid program that should follow.

Mr. Jacobs is the Founder and CEO of Juniper Research Group, a policy research and consulting firm.



[1] Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, Public Law 111-152, http://housedocs.house.gov/energycommerce/ppacacon.pdf, Section 2001(a).

[2] NFIB v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. __ (2012).

[3] Jonathan Ingram and Nicholas Horton, “Obamacare Expansion Enrollment Is Shattering Projections,” Foundation for Government Accountability, November 16, 2016, https://thefga.org/download/ObamaCare-Expansion-is-Shattering-Projections.PDF, p. 5.

[4] Congressional Budget Office, estimate of H.R. 4872, Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, in concert with H.R. 3590, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, March 20, 2010, https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/111th-congress-2009-2010/costestimate/amendreconprop.pdf, Table 4, p. 21.

[5] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “First Half of 2016 Effectuated Enrollment Snapshot,” October 19, 2016, https://www.cms.gov/Newsroom/MediaReleaseDatabase/Fact-sheets/2016-Fact-sheets-items/2016-10-19.html.

[6] Avalere Health, “The State of Exchanges: A Review of Trends and Opportunities to Grow and Stabilize the Market,” report funded by Aetna, October 2016, http://go.avalere.com/acton/attachment/12909/f-0352/1/-/-/-/-/20161005_Avalere_State%20of%20Exchanges_Final_.pdf, Figure 3, p. 6.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The numbers in parentheses represent revised 2014 data cited in the 2015 actuarial report, based on actual spending patterns. The numbers initially cited in the 2014 actuarial report were $5,514 for newly eligible adults, and $4,650 for previously eligible adults.

[9] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary, “2014 Actuarial Report on the Financial Outlook for Medicaid,” report to Congress, 2014, https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/financing-and-reimbursement/downloads/medicaid-actuarial-report-2014.pdf, pp. 36-37.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary, “2015 Actuarial Report on the Financial Outlook for Medicaid,” report to Congress, 2015, https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/financing-and-reimbursement/downloads/medicaid-actuarial-report-2015.pdf, p. 27.

[12] For an analysis of the ways that the Medicare actuary’s office and CBO have changed their baseline projections of Medicaid spending over time, see Brian Blase, “Evidence Is Mounting: The Affordable Care Act Has Worsened Medicaid’s Structural Problems,” Mercatus Center, September 2016, https://www.mercatus.org/system/files/mercatus-blase-medicaid-structural-problems-v1.pdf, pp. 15-20.

[13] Christina Cassidy, “Rising Cost of Medicaid Expansion is Unnerving Some States,” Associated Press October 5, 2016, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/4219bc875f114b938d38766c5321331a/rising-cost-medicaid-expansion-unnerving-some-states.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Christina Cassidy, “Medicaid Enrollment Surges, Stirs Worry about State Budgets,” Associated Press July 19, 2015, http://www.bigstory.ap.org/article/c158e3b3ad50458b8d6f8f9228d02948/medicaid-enrollment-surges-stirs-worry-about-state-budgets.

[16] Ibid.

[17] See also Chris Jacobs, “How Obamacare Undermines American Values: Penalizing Work, Citizenship, Marriage, and the Disabled,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2862, November 21, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/11/how-obamacare-undermines-american-values-penalizing-work-marriage-citizenship-and-the-disabled.

[18] The author served as an appointee to the commission, whose work can be found at www.ltccommission.org.

[19] Kaiser Family Foundation, “Waiting List Enrollment for Medicaid Section 1915(c) Home- and Community-Based Services Waivers,” Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured 2015 survey, http://kff.org/health-reform/state-indicator/waiting-lists-for-hcbs-waivers/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Section 2001(a) of PPACA.

[22] “Federal Financial Participation in State Assistance Expenditures,” Federal Register November 25, 2015, pp. 73781-82, Table 1, https://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/167966/FMAP17.pdf.

[23] Nicholas Horton, “Hundreds on Medicaid Waiting List in Illinois Die While Waiting for Care,” Illinois Policy November 23, 2016, https://www.illinoispolicy.org/hundreds-on-medicaid-waiting-list-in-illinois-die-while-waiting-for-care-2/.

[24] Jason Pederson, “Waiver Commitment Wavering,” KATV June 15, 2016, http://katv.com/community/7-on-your-side/waiver-commitment-wavering.

[25] Chris Jacobs, “Obamacare Takes Care from Disabled People to Subsidize Able-Bodied, Working-Age Men,” The Federalist November 18, 2016, http://thefederalist.com/2016/11/18/obamacare-takes-care-disabled-people-subsidize-able-bodied-working-age-men/.

[26] “Federal Financial Participation,” Table 1.

[27] Kaiser Family Foundation, “Waiting List Enrollment.”

[28] Tamara Hayford et al., “Projecting Hospitals’ Profit Margins Using Several Alternative Scenarios,” Congressional Budget Office Working Paper 2016-04, September 2016, https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/workingpaper/51919-Hospital-Margins_WP.pdf.

[29] Ibid., Table 6, p. 29.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., p. 34.

[32] For the most recent version, see John Shatto and Kent Clemens, “Projected Medicare Expenditures under an Illustrative Alternative Scenario,” Office of the Actuary, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, June 22, 2016, https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/ReportsTrustFunds/Downloads/2016TRAlternativeScenario.pdf.

[33] Chris Jacobs, “The Report Every State Legislator Should Read,” National Review September 27, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/440411/obamacare-medicaid-expansion-hospitals-wont-benefit-says-cbo.

[34] American Enterprise Institute, “Medicare after Reform: the 2010 Medicare Trustees Report,” August 6, 2010, video available through C-SPAN at https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4402939/chip-kahn.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Chris Conover, “Will Medicaid Expansion Create Jobs?” Forbes February 25, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisconover/2013/02/25/will-medicaid-expansion-create-jobs/#73893e3e3d25.

[38] Ezekiel Emanuel, “We Can Be Healthy and Rich,” New York Times February 2, 2013, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/we-can-be-healthy-and-rich/.

[39] Kate Baicker and Amitabh Chandra, “The Health Care Jobs Fallacy,” New England Journal of Medicine June 28, 2012, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1204891.

[40] Congressional Budget Office, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” February 2014, http://cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/45010-Outlook2014_Feb.pdf, Appendix C: Labor Market Effects of the Affordable Care Act: Updated Estimates, pp. 117-27.

[41] Genevieve M. Kenney et al., “Opting in to the Medicaid Expansion Under the ACA: Who Are the Uninsured Adults Who Could Gain Health Insurance Coverage?” Urban Institute, August 2012, p. 9, Appendix Table 2, http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/412630-Opting-in-to-the-Medicaid-Expansion-under-the-ACA.PDF.

[42] Ibid., p. 8, Appendix Table 1.

[43] “Annual Update of the HHS Poverty Guidelines,” Federal Register January 25, 2016, pp. 4036-37, https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-01-25/pdf/2016-01450.pdf.

[44] Edward Harris and Shannon Mok, “How CBO Estimates Effects of the Affordable Care Act on the Labor Market,” Congressional Budget Office Working Paper 2015-09, December 2015, https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/workingpaper/51065-ACA_Labor_Market_Effects_WP.pdf, p. 12.

[45] Craig Garthwaite, Tal Gross, and Matthew Notowidigdo, “Public Health Insurance, Labor Supply, and Employment Lock,” National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper 19220, July 2013, http://www.nber.org/papers/w19220.

[46] Congressional Budget Office, “Estimates for the Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act Updated for the Recent Supreme Court Decision,” July 2012, https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/112th-congress-2011-2012/reports/43472-07-24-2012-CoverageEstimates.pdf, p. 4.

[47] Government Accountability Office, “Medicaid Demonstrations: HHS’ Approval Process for Arkansas’ Medicaid Waiver Raises Cost Concerns,” Report GAO-14-689R, August 8, 2014, http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665265.pdf, p. 3.

[48] Section 207 of H.R. 3762, Restoring Americans’ Health Care Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015.

[49] Palmetto Promise Institute, “King v. Burwell: The Obamacare Off-Ramp?” Health Care Fast Facts May 2015, http://www.kbcsandbox4.com/palmetto/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/King-v-Burwell-Fast-Facts.pdf.

[50] Chris Jacobs, “Reforming Medicaid, Beginning on Day One,” Chris Jacobs on Health Care December 12, 2016, http://www.chrisjacobshc.com/2016/12/12/reforming-medicaid-beginning-on-day-one/.

[51] National Association of State Budget Officers, Fiscal Survey of States: Spring 2016, https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/NASBO/9d2d2db1-c943-4f1b-b750-0fca152d64c2/UploadedImages/Reports/Spring%202016%20Fiscal%20Survey%20of%20States-S.pdf, p. 63; National Association of State Budget Officers, 1996 State Expenditure Report, April 1997, https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/NASBO/9d2d2db1-c943-4f1b-b750-0fca152d64c2/UploadedImages/SER%20Archive/ER_1996.PDF, Table 3, p. 11.

[52] Amy Finklestein et al., “Effect of Medicaid Coverage on ED Use—Further Evidence from Oregon’s Experiment,” New England Journal of Medicine October 20, 2016, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1609533; Katherine Baicker, et al., “The Oregon Experiment—Effects of Medicaid on Clinical Outcomes,” New England Journal of Medicine May 2, 2013, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1212321.

[53] Congressional Budget Office, baseline estimates for federal subsidies for health insurance, March 2016, https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/recurringdata/51298-2016-03-healthinsurance.pdf, Table 3, p. 5.

Will Medicare Premium Increases Be an Issue in November?

Buried in the Medicare trustees report released Wednesday are a few lines that could cause political controversy. “In 2017 there may be a substantial increase in the Part B premium rate for some beneficiaries,” the actuaries write—which means seniors will find out about increases shortly before Election Day.

Higher-than-expected Medicare spending in 2014 and 2015 set the stage for a large premium adjustment in 2016. But, notably, the absence of inflation thanks to the drop in energy prices last year meant that seniors receiving Social Security benefits did not receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment.

The Medicare statute has a “hold harmless” provision that prevents Part B premiums from rising by more than the amount of a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment. For most beneficiaries, the provision meant that in 2016, they received no such adjustment—but also did not pay a higher Part B premium. However, nearly one-third of beneficiaries—new Medicare enrollees, “dual eligibles” enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid (in places where state Medicaid programs pay the Medicare Part B premium), and wealthy seniors subject to Medicare means-testing—do not qualify for the provision.

The New York Times noted last fall that the hold-harmless provision, by protecting most beneficiaries, exposed some to higher increases: “If premiums are frozen for 70 percent of beneficiaries, premiums for the other 30 percent must be raised more to cover the expected increase in overall Medicare costs. In other words … the higher Medicare costs must be spread across a smaller group of people.”

Congress, seeing a dynamic in which some seniors could face a nearly 50% increase in premiums, crafted a provision to forestall such a high and sudden spike. The Bipartisan Budget Act capped Part B premium increases for 2016, paid for by a loan from the Treasury that would be repaid by seniors in future years.

The legislative language used, however, allows premium spikes to come back with a vengeance. The Bipartisan Budget Act provided that the Medicare Part B “smoothing” provision would be renewed in 2017—but only if Social Security beneficiaries received no cost-of-living adjustment at all. The trustees report out Wednesday says that beneficiaries are projected to receive a very modest adjustment: 0.2%. Although that change is relatively small, it means that the “smoothing” provisions in last year’s budget deal do not apply—and, as the Wednesday Medicare report notes, premiums for some beneficiaries “need to be raised substantially,” up to nearly $150 per month.

Before the trustees’ report was released, some experts had predicted that a series of payment reductions by the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) under Obamacare would spark talk of “death panels” in political campaigns this fall. Spending levels did not require the board to convene, making that issue moot for now. But that doesn’t mean that Medicare won’t be an issue on the campaign trail. Democrats raised the Part B premium issue last year; expect to hear much more about it before November.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog.

Obamacare Increasing Government Bureaucracy

Even as federal regulators take steps to constrain administrative spending by private health insurers, government overhead on health coverage has soared.

In a Health Affairs blogpost published Wednesday, David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler use actuarial estimates from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to project that between 2014 and 2022, national spending on private insurance overhead and government administration will rise by $273.6 billion related to the health-care overhaul.

The authors both favor single-payer health insurance; Mr. Himmelstein co-founded Physicians for a National Health Program, an advocacy organization directed to that end. They close their piece by saying that “In health care, public insurance gives much more bang for each buck.”

Yet overhead in the public sector is growing much faster than in the private sector.

Mr. Himmelstein and Ms. Woolhandler combine two categories of spending—government administration and the net cost of private insurance (i.e., overhead)—to reach their estimates of administrative costs. Combining the two categories masks significant differences. While private insurance overhead is projected to rise at an average annual rate of 8.2% between 2014 and 2022, government administration is projected to rise at a 22.7% annual rate—nearly three times as fast. That’s consistent with my 2012 analysis, which noted that federal actuaries projected double-digit increases in spending on government administration for three of the first four years of Obamacare implementation (2011, 2012, and 2014).

This week federal regulators proposed extending medical-loss ratio requirements—a price control on overhead spending—to Medicaid managed-care plans. Meanwhile, several state-run insurance exchanges face financial difficulties, with structural challenges to their ability to attain self-sufficiency while limiting their charges on consumers to only a small share of premiums. The growing spending on bureaucracy reported in Health Affairs suggests that regulators should perhaps focus first on increasing efficiency and reducing government’s own costs before issuing more requirements on the private sector—such as the 653-page regulations issued Wednesday—that attempt to pass them on to consumers.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog.

“Doc Fix” Bill Makes Things Worse

Proponents of the “doc fix” legislation the House passed before Congress’s Easter recess have argued that it would permanently solve the perennial issue of physician reimbursements in Medicare. But an analysis by Medicare’s nonpartisan actuary all but cautions: “Not so fast, my friends!

The estimate of the legislation’s long-term impacts by Medicare’s chief actuary is sober reading. The legislation provides for a bonus pool that physicians can qualify for over the next 10 years but applies only in 2019 to 2024. The budgetary “out-years” provide for minimal increases in reimbursement rates. Beginning in 2026, physicians would receive a 0.75 percent annual increase if they participate in some alternative payment models or a 0.25 percent annual increase if they do not. Both are significantly lower than the normal rate of inflation.

Such paltry increases could have daunting effects over time. “We anticipate that payment rates under [the House-passed bill] would be lower than scheduled under the current SGR [sustainable growth rate formula] by 2048 and would continue to worsen thereafter,” the report said. By the end of the 75-year projection, physician reimbursements under the House-passed bill would be 30% lower than under the SGR. Critics have called the current system unsustainable, but over time the House bill’s “fix” would result in something worse.

The actuary said that the inadequacies of the House-proposed payment increases “in years when levels of inflation are higher.” Under the House-passed bill, physicians would receive a 2.3% increase in reimbursements over a three-year period. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the inflation rate was 11.3% in 1979, 13.5% in 1980, and 10.3% in 1981. If high inflation returned, doctors could effectively receive a paycut after inflation.

While physician groups are clamoring to avoid the 21% cut that would take effect this month if some sort of “doc fix” is not enacted, the House’s “solution” could result in larger real-term cuts in future years. Medicare’s chief actuary explains the results of these reimbursement changes over time:

“While [the House-passed bill] addresses the near-term concerns of the SGR system, the issues of inadequate physician payment rates are ultimately greater. . . . [T]here would be reason to expect that access to physicians’ services for Medicare beneficiaries would be severely compromised, particularly considering that physicians are less dependent on Medicare revenue than are other providers, such as hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.”

In sum, “we expect that access to, and quality of, physicians’ services would deteriorate over time for beneficiaries.”

The House “doc fix” legislation involved increasing the deficit by $141 billion, purportedly to solve the flaws in Medicare’s physician reimbursement system. But Medicare’s actuary thinks this legislation will make the long-term problem worse. When will Congress figure out that if you’re in a fiscal hole, it’s best to stop digging?

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog.

How Politics and Policy Could Accelerate Health Spending

Medicare actuaries’ annual projections of health expenditures for the next decade emphasized that health spending will rise modestly in the coming years. However, decisions by the administration and Congress to undo future spending reductions could change that picture.

The Wednesday release showed that national health spending will grow at a 5.6% rate this year, due in large part to coverage expansions under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. In 2015, the actuaries estimate that health spending will rise at a slightly lower 4.9% pace, due to “significant decelerations in Medicare and Medicaid spending.” But policy makers may yet reverse the policies behind those projected slowdowns.

With respect to Medicaid, the actuaries noted that in 2015, a “temporary increase in payments in primary care providers is scheduled to expire,” leading to slower spending growth. But spending growth would accelerate if lobbying by numerous medical groups is successful in extending — and broadening — the payment provision.

Likewise, the actuaries note that in 2015, Medicare spending will grow at a much slower rate, “mainly as a result of reduced payments to Medicare Advantage plans.” However, the Medicare Advantage payment reductions included in Obamacare have become a political albatross. In 2011, fearing seniors’ wrath at the polls in 2012, the Obama administration announced a temporary—and legally dubious—Medicare Advantage demonstration program that mitigated much of the effects of Obamacare’s payment cuts.

The administration also scaled back other rounds of Medicare Advantage cuts in 2013 and 2014. If past performance is indicative of future results, some or all of these cuts could be reversed administratively, leading Medicare spending growth to rise instead of fall in 2015.

The analysis above demonstrates the extent to which policy choices made in Washington directly influence national health spending trends. To the extent that reductions in health spending programs become politically unpalatable, and Congress or an administration feels the need to undo them, our health spending growth—to say nothing of our fiscal deficits—will only increase.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog.

The Middle Class Is Already Paying Higher Taxes

The Washington Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb penned a blog post this week arguing that taxes on the middle class look destined to rise, in order to sustain additional spending on research and development, paid family leave, and other federal programs. But his analysis misses several key points: Taxes are already going up on the middle class—and raising them further won’t solve our fiscal woes.

Candidate Obama’s “firm pledge” from 2008 notwithstanding, the president has signed numerous tax increases that affect the middle class. For instance, a reauthorization of children’s health insurance signed in the president’s first month in office raised tobacco taxes. And Obamacare includes direct tax increases—on tanning products, for instance—along with indirect tax increases such as those on drug manufacturers, device makers and insurers, that the Congressional Budget Office and other experts agree will be “passed through to consumers in the form of higher premiums.”

Obamacare also stretches the definition of “middle class,” by failing to index its “high-income” tax for inflation—meaning more individuals will be ensnared by this tax every year. The nonpartisan Medicare actuary concluded that, while only 3% of households were subject to the tax in 2013, nearly 79% will be by 2080.  For these and other reasons, Politifact has said that the president broke his campaign promise not to raise middle-class taxes.

As to Mr. Goldfarb’s point that a middle-class tax increase would make the federal budget more sustainable, one quote provides the contrary argument:

If you look at the numbers, then Medicare in particular will run out of money and we will not be able to sustain that program no matter how much taxes go up.  I mean, it’s not an option for us to just sit by and do nothing.

Those words were spoken by none other than Barack Obama, in a July 2011 news conference. So while Mr. Goldfarb says that “it’s hard to see a way to preserve the nation’s entitlements without raising taxes further,” the reverse scenario is more accurate: Medicare needs significant reforms, regardless of whether taxes go up, down or stay the same.

Mr. Goldfarb is well within his rights to call for higher taxes on the middle class as a way to fund additional federal spending. But the facts are clear: The middle class is already absorbing higher taxes due to Obamacare—and higher taxes won’t solve our fundamental fiscal shortfalls. As the president himself might say, that’s not class warfare; that’s math.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog.

Morning Bell: Who Is Affected by Obamacare? EVERYONE

In response to the wave of insurance cancellations hitting millions of Americans, and the admission by some on the left that President Obama’s “if you like your plan” promise was false, Obamacare’s defenders are now taking a different tack.

While the law’s supporters finally admit that some people will be worse off under the law, they now claim that those “losers” will be few and far between.

The facts speak otherwise, because few Americans will be unaffected by Obamacare’s new health care regime:

If You Have Insurance Through an Employer: The Administration claims that employer-provided coverage is not changing under Obamacare—even as it brags that Obamacare is providing better benefits to those with employer plans. Those “better benefits” are not free, however. One recent survey from consultants at Mercer found that half of large employers believe Obamacare will raise health costs by at least 2 percent next year. With the average employer plan costing more than $16,000 per family, even a 2 percent increase amounts to hundreds of dollars in added costs for employers and families every year—for “benefits” they may not have wanted to purchase absent a government order.

If You Buy Insurance Yourself: As many Americans have found in recent weeks, the odds are that those who previously purchased their own health plan will not be able to keep it. Some experts have predicted that as many as 16 million individuals could fall into this category. Individuals whose insurance has been canceled will have to buy Obamacare-compliant insurance. As a result, they may face substantially higher premiums for insurance coverage that provides a smaller network of doctors and hospitals.

If You Qualify for Subsidized Insurance: Defenders of the law would argue that these individuals are clear “winners” under Obamacare. But many of these Americans may use taxpayer subsidies to buy insurance coverage they don’t need or want—because the federal government has forced them to, and/or because Washington bureaucrats have taken away their existing plan. What’s more, the nearly $1.8 trillion in spending on exchange plans and for Medicaid will create a significant new burden for future generations of taxpayers.

If You Are a Senior Citizen on Medicare: Obamacare will affect seniors as well—because, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) famously said in 2011, Democrats “took half a trillion dollars out of Medicare in [Obamacare]” to fund the law’s new entitlements. The Administration’s non-partisan actuary concluded that the law’s unsustainable spending reductions to Medicare could cause 15 percent of hospitals to become unprofitable by 2019, and 40 percent to become unprofitable by 2050—which could have a significant impact on beneficiaries’ access to care.

The idea that “only” 3 percent of Americans will end up on the short end of a 2,700-page law remaking the nation’s health care system seems as fanciful as the President’s pledge that anyone who likes their current plan could keep it.

The facts are clear: Obamacare isn’t just unfair for a small percentage of Americans; it’s unfair for the entire country.

The American people deserve better.

This post was originally published at the Daily Signal.

Kathleen Sebelius’ Scare Tactics

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is already claiming that seniors would be adversely affected by House-passed legislation defunding Obamacare. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Obamacare is the program inflicting harm on seniors—because, as Nancy Pelosi said, the law “took half a trillion dollars out of Medicare” to fund Obamacare. Defunding the law would make seniors much better off.

Several of the Secretary’s claims deserve specific responses. First, the Secretary alleged that, if Obamacare is defunded, the Administration “would not be able to pay [Medicare Advantage] plans,” and that “Medicare beneficiaries may be forced to dis-enroll from their current plans” as a result. But Secretary Sebelius has broad authority to prevent the kind of scenario she claims would happen—provided she wants to exercise it. Section 402(a) of the Social Security Act—42 U.S.C. 1395b-1—allows the Secretary

to develop and engage in experiments and demonstration projects…to determine whether, and if so which, changes in methods of payment or reimbursement…would have the effect of increasing the efficiency and economy of health services…through the creation of additional incentives to these ends.

In other words, Secretary Sebelius would have all the authority she needs to preserve the Medicare Advantage program, provided she wishes to use it.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agrees that HHS has broad legal authority to make changes to Medicare and other programs should Obamacare be defunded. Here’s what CBO said back in March 2011 about the impact of defunding Obamacare:

CBO and JCT assume that the Administration will interpret that [defunding] provision in conjunction with other statutes (including Public Laws 111-148 and 111-152) to give maximum effect to all laws wherever possible.

It’s important to note that, both in 2011 and 2013, CBO has not said that defunding Obamacare would cause Medicare Advantage enrollment to plummet, or the program to end. That’s because CBO assumes that HHS will use its existing authority to keep the Medicare Advantage program up and running—unless Secretary Sebelius wants to score political points by taking benefits away from seniors.

Second, Secretary Sebelius claims that Medicare “beneficiaries could have tremendous difficulty finding a doctor or experience delays in their care” if Obamacare is defunded. The truth, however, is that seniors will have difficulty finding access to care if Obamacare is NOT defunded. Non-partisan actuaries in the Secretary’s own department said that, within a decade, 15 percent of hospitals could become unprofitable due to Obamacare, and “might end their participation in the program, possibly jeopardizing access to care for beneficiaries.” If Secretary Sebelius is worried about beneficiaries’ access to care, she should support defunding Obamacare, not oppose it.

Secretary Sebelius’s letter may be intended to score political points, but it’s simply not accurate. Moreover, when it comes to seniors, the greater threat lies not in defunding Obamacare, but in allowing it to take effect.

This post was originally published at the Daily Signal.