Medicaid Program Under Siege

This new post by Robert Greenwald and Judith Solomon appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

For more than 50 years, Medicaid has been our nation’s health care safety net. Medicaid allows our lowest-income, sickest, and often most vulnerable populations to get care and treatment, and supports the health of more than 68 million Americans today. As an entitlement program, Medicaid grows to meet demand: There is no such thing as a waiting list. This vital health program found itself under fire in 2017, and while there were no major reductions in funding or enrollment, it is far from safe in 2018. Whether by new legislation or actions the Trump administration may take, the threats to Medicaid are not going away anytime soon.

Congressional Threats To Medicaid’s Expansion, Structure, And Funding

Throughout 2017, Republicans tried unsuccessfully to roll back the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the law’s expansion of Medicaid. Underpinning each effort was the oft-stated belief, held by Republican leadership, that the expansion was a disastrous move that extended coverage to more than 12 million able-bodied people who should not be getting health insurance from the government. While these unsuccessful efforts were commonly referred to as attempts to “repeal and replace the ACA,” every bill that gained any traction in 2017 went far beyond repealing only the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. The proposals also included plans to fundamentally alter the way in which the traditional Medicaid program is structured and paid for. […]

Read the full post here!

Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs) after Tax-Penalty Repeal

By Aobo Dong

The passage of the Republican tax reform bill affects the health care industry in ways that might be confusing and unpredictable for tens of millions of Americans. Due to political rhetoric and inaccurate portrayal of the bill, it seems as if the Individual Mandate – an essential element in the ACA – has been fully repealed. Nonetheless, as Health Affairs rightly points out, Section 5000A still remains in the statute to require “minimal essential coverage” for all individuals. Therefore, although the tax bill repealed the tax penalty for not having insurance coverage, the law still technically mandates individuals to acquire health insurance. Moreover, the tax penalty repeal will not take effect until the 2019 tax year, so individuals who are uninsured for more than 2 months in the 2018 tax year may still be liable for paying the tax penalty, unless future laws and regulations, or an executive order from Trump, indicates otherwise.

Under the new regulatory landscape, what could be some potential repercussions for Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs)? These ministries, largely run by evangelical Christians who believe in the merit of private cost sharing, have been benefiting from the Individual Mandate since the inception of the ACA. Under Section 5000A, HCSM members are exempt from paying the tax penalty. The dearth of legal exemptions available and the widespread dislike of Obamacare among white evangelical communities in America likely fueled the rapid growth of HCSMs in recent years. Members pay their monthly “shares” to each other to cover health insurance expanses, without going through a central insurance or governmental agency for redistribution. Read More

Searching For Stability: The Political Future Of The Affordable Care Act

This new post by Benjamin Sommers and John McDonough appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

Efforts to repeal and replace the coverage expansions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as the tax increases that financed them were persistent throughout 2017. Even after the congressional Republicans’ highly visible failures earlier this year, they kept coming back—finally succeeding in zeroing out the penalties in the ACA’s individual mandate as part of federal tax cut legislation signed into law in late December.

Of keen interest and importance now is the question: What’s next for the ACA?

Originally, many ACA supporters assumed during the years of the Obama administration that once the law’s major coverage provisions took effect in January 2014, the reality on the ground of a successful coverage expansion and broader insurance benefits would transform the ACA into a popular program—growing in acceptance and inevitability as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid all did before it. […]

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With The Federal Individual Mandate Gone, States Might Step Up: Lessons From Massachusetts

This new post by Audrey Morse Gasteier appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

The effective repeal of the federal individual mandate represents one of the most significant changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) since its implementation. Especially on the heels of the federal government’s sudden withdrawal of cost-sharing reduction payments this past October, the instability that the federal mandate repeal could introduce to health insurance markets is material. However, states can craft reaction strategies to protect against such effects.

In Massachusetts, where I manage policy and strategy for the state-run insurance exchange, we’ve now spent a decade administering our own state-based individual mandate. And, while our state is unique in many ways—our experience may prove useful to policy makers in other states considering locally tailored pathways to maintaining coverage gains. State-administered mandates or alternative policies to encourage broad coverage across a state’s population can be a tool to foster premium stability and healthy issuer participation, but we have found that mandates can also introduce extra advantages such as the promotion of consistent benefit floors and enabling effective outreach to the uninsured. […]

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Whither Private Health Insurance Now?

This new post by Wendy Mariner appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

Congress has been busy enacting and proposing changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s regulation of private health insurance, from repealing the tax on individuals without minimum essential coverage to the Alexander-Murray bill intended to shore up the private market. These changes do not play well together. Three reasons are explored here: the great wall, which divides advocates with different goals; whipsawed insurance markets, in which insurers are simultaneously pulled in different directions; and, of course, the cost of care, which each reform shifts onto different entities.

The Great Wall

A great ideological wall makes it almost impossible to reach national consensus on whether or how to regulate private insurance markets. The wall divides people—especially in Congress—who believe in personal responsibility for one’s health care costs from those who believe in social responsibility for many such costs or social solidarity. The former believe that you are responsible for your own health and you should be free to buy (or not buy) health care and health insurance as you choose. In this view, health insurance is a commercial product that is properly priced according to actuarial risk. Ideally, competition among insurers can produce affordable products of reasonable quality.

Those who favor in social responsibility for health care believe that health depends on more than personal behavior; it depends on the social determinants of health, including education, income, occupation, housing, and environmental factors. This view recognizes that illness is not always predictable and millions of people cannot afford needed health care. (Many also believe that access to health care is a human right as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.) In this view, insurance is not a commodity, but a method of financing health care that should be available to all in need, and therefore a social responsibility. To enable everyone to have access to affordable care within a private market, government must regulate private insurers (and providers) more extensively than would be necessary in a public insurance system. […]

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The Individual Insurance Market In 2018: Business As Usual?

This new post by Joseph Antos appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

Congress has enacted a tax bill that repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA) penalties for individuals who fail to enroll in health insurance. Open enrollment for the 2018 plan year may stay roughly even with 2017 exchange enrollment—lackluster performance that some blame on what they call “Trump sabotage”. Some Republicans are urging Congress to appropriate funds for cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments and a national reinsurance pool, presumably to promote enrollment and moderate premium increases. Will Democrats vote to resolve the CSR problem and reinstitute reinsurance—policies many say they support? Or will it be business as usual on Capitol Hill with strict party-line votes (and the inevitable failure of ACA fixes)? Would that change anything about the way the nongroup insurance market operates next year?

The short answers are no, yes, and no. Here are some thoughts about why the status quo is likely to remain largely undisturbed by political speech-making and over-reaction from the editorial pages. My comments are based loosely on my presentation at the Petrie-Flom Health Law Year in P/Review conference held at Harvard University on December 12, 2017.

Exchange Enrollment For 2018

Early reports showed a more rapid pace of exchange enrollment this year than last.  As of December 15, 2017, 8.8 million people in the 39 states using the federal exchange had selected plans. That is less than last year’s total of 9.2 million enrollments through Healthcare.gov, but not the dramatic reduction that advocates may have expected. […]

Read the full article here!

The Illusion of Choice in Health Care Consumerism

By Aobo Dong

The rhetoric of “choice” has been pervasive in U.S. health care reforms and the consumerist health care culture for a long time. The idea is that giving patients more choices over doctors and insurance plans would increase competition in the industry and consequently improve the quality of health care patients receive. However, Allison Hoffman made a convincing case debunking this seemingly intuitive idea in this week’s HLS health law workshop. She argued that reform efforts aimed at increasing consumer choice often fail to empower patients to make better health care choices, and instead, create a wasteful market bureaucracy that is anathema to free market ideals. Her argument reminds me of one of my earlier blog posts on U.S. drug prices, where I compared insurance companies to the Central Planner in a socialist economy. Indeed, there are ironically many institutions and features in the so-called market-driven U.S. health care system that resemble authoritarian and technocratic practices that are directly against the principles of a laissez-faire health care economy.

I will expand Professor Hoffman’s argument by making a few additional points. First, her presentation discusses a number of revealing ways in which the market-based competition creates a false sense of choice in health care. Even Obamacare, which is supposed to offer patients more choices in the Exchange, fails to transcend the falsity of consumer choice. Most patients do not make the best available choice, even when they’re “nudged” by experts in the decision-making process. I’d like to also point out that even if consumers are capable of making the best choice for themselves, whether by thinking with perfect rationality or by accepting “expert opinions,” the choice they ultimately make could still be suboptimal or even disastrous. To understand why this might be the case, it is important to realize that the target population for Obamacare is the minority of people who do not have adequate employer-sponsored plans. Thus, many people enrolled in Obamacare may not have stable jobs and income levels. Nonetheless, the mechanism that determines how much premium for which one qualifies is predicated on an estimation of that individual’s projected annul earnings – a number that is hard to know in advance for those without stable income levels. Hence, a person who made the “right choice” by selecting a silver plan with only $100 monthly premium after receiving a $900 subsidy to cover a $1,000 plan at the beginning of a year may find herself owing the federal government thousands of dollars at the end of the tax year, if she happens to end up with a much higher income level. Had she known the future outcome, she would have chosen a less expensive plan to begin with, but either choice would be a gamble for her. This arbitrariness must be attended to in future health reforms. Read More

TODAY, 11/13 at 5 PM: Health Law Workshop with Allison Hoffman

November 13, 2017 5-7 PM
Hauser Hall, Room 104
Harvard Law School, 1575 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Presentation: “Health Care’s Market Bureaucracy”

To request a copy of the paper in preparation for the workshop, please contact Jennifer Minnich at jminnich@law.harvard.edu.

Allison K. Hoffman joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School in fall 2017. Hoffman’s research examines the role of regulation and the welfare state in promoting health, as well as how regulation affects conceptions of risk and responsibility. Her recent work includes “Reimagining the Risk of Long Term Care” in the Yale Journal of Health Policy Law and Ethics—an article that argues for a more capacious vision of how we think about long-term care risk—and the Oxford Handbook of U.S. Health Law (2017), a volume co-edited with I. Glenn Cohen and William M. Sage. She also contributed a chapter to this volume entitled “What Health Reform Reveals about Health Law,” which explores the Affordable Care Act as a window into the idiosyncrasies of U.S. health care law and the values that have shaped this field. Her work and commentary has been featured in top media outlets, including the New York Times, The Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Morningstar, CNBC, the New York Daily News, Marketplace by American Public Media, Jotwell, and Penn Law’s Regulatory Review (formerly RegBlog).

Hoffman received her AB summa cum laude from Dartmouth College and her JD from Yale Law School. After graduating from law school, she practiced law at Ropes & Gray LLP, where she focused on health care regulation. Previously, she provided strategic advice to corporations and nonprofit organizations as a consultant at The Boston Consulting Group and The Bridgespan Group. Prior to joining the Penn faculty, Hoffman was a faculty member at UCLA Law School. She was previously an Academic Fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Autopsy of a Failed Health Insurance Experiment: Did It Die of Natural Causes, or Was It Murdered?

By Anthony Orlando

It was just another week for the Trump administration. A senior official resigned after admitting to major ethics violations, the President insulted millions of innocent brown-skinned Americans on Twitter, and quietly—so quietly that almost no one noticed—the Department of Health and Human Services pulled another Jenga block out of the teetering tower that is the Affordable Care Act. Fortunately, it did not fall.

But it did become more expensive. And in that understated tragedy, we find our mystery: Was that HHS’s intent all along?

It all started back in February when Gov. Mary Fallin announced that Oklahoma would submit a 1332 waiver request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. At the time, no one really knew how 1332 waivers would work. All they knew was that Oklahoma needed to try something different.

Oklahoma had the same problem that a lot of heavily rural states had. Even with the subsidies in the ACA, it wasn’t very profitable for health insurers to compete in many counties. Sparsely populated areas have always been harder to service. It’s why Lyndon Johnson led the charge to electrify Texas, why rural phone rates went up after the courts broke up Ma Bell, and why small-town Post Offices are closing around the country. Add in the fact that rural Americans pose higher health risks on average, and it’s not hard to see why insurers are wary of setting up shop in these communities. Read More

Special Deals for States?

By Christopher R. Robertson

Over at HuffPo, Craig Konnoth has a short-but-smart piece exploring the Constitutionality of the logrolling deals now underway to persuade Alaska Senator Lisa Murkoswki to support the latest effort to repeal Obamacare.  Would other states have a right to object to a deal that showered special benefits on Alaska?  Konnoth explains how an “equal sovereignty” principle has emerged in recent Supreme Court decisions, and suggests that it may provide some grounds for challenging this sort of special treatment.

I am left wondering about the longstanding practices of states requesting and receiving waivers from the Federal government.  For example, Maryland has for decades enjoyed a Medicare waiver, which allows it to regulate prices.  Massachusetts has a $52B waiver to put its Medicaid members in accountable care organizations.   Do these violate equal sovereignty too?

Maybe the answer is that all states are treated equally in their right to apply for such waivers, under several explicit statutory vehicles, which have yielded several hundred such applications.  These are not simply bribes to secure votes in Congress.  On the other hand, some of these waivers were very much the result of politically-charged negotiations between conservative governors (such as Indiana’s Mike Pence) and the Obama administration, who granted these waivers as a way to expand insurance coverage.  Maybe that’s not so different than what Murkowski is demanding?

On related questions, also check out Brian Galle’s piece over at Medium.com.