Map of the United States.

Health Reform via State Waiver

By Erin Fuse Brown and Chelsea Campbell

The path to systemic health reform in the U.S. may run through the states. To get there, the Biden/Harris administration should use its existing waiver authority under federal health care statutes to facilitate progressive state health reform efforts, including a state-based public option or single-payer plan.

One of the benefits of the United States’ federalist system, in which the power to enact policy and govern is divided between the national government and the states, is that we can test policies at the state level, and if we can establish a proof of concept there, it smooths the way for federal reform.

Read More

U.S. Capitol Building.

Possibilities and Pitfalls of Health Reform Through Budget Reconciliation

By Nicole Huberfeld

The Biden administration entered office promising health reform. But the evenly-split Senate means ten Republican votes are necessary to move major legislation — cooperation that seems unlikely after years of Republican attempts to repeal and obstruct the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Still, expanding health insurance coverage may be on the menu through budget reconciliation. A budget reconciliation bill progresses with a simple majority vote: special rules limit debate and make filibuster impossible.

The Biden administration has already navigated budget reconciliation to enact speedy health policy measures in response to the pandemic. Signed March 11, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) is a reconciliation bill which, among other things, offers federal money to support states’ and localities’ public health needs; facilitates economic recovery; increases tax subsidies provided through health insurance exchanges to expand affordability; and builds on the ACA and 2020 COVID relief bills by offering Medicaid non-expansion states an enhanced federal match of 5% for each enrollee to encourage expansion and counterbalance costs. The ARPA also addresses determinants of health and health equity, for example by extending the option of maternal Medicaid coverage for a year after the 60-day post-partum period and creating a new child tax credit. Most provisions last no more than two years.

Read More

Grafton, Illinois, USA, June 1, 2019 -Car submerged under flood water in small river town, Grafton, Illinois, as Mississippi River floods roads, businesses and houses. vehicle under water, men in boat

Bail Out Humans

By Christina S. Ho

This past year has sensitized us politically to government’s affirmative obligations, especially the duty to backstop health catastrophes in order to dampen the risks that ordinary people must bear. 

Our government bails out large risks in so many other arenas. Yet we too often fail to backstop the most human risk of all — our vulnerability to suffering and death. 

Throngs of scholars have described our deep tradition of government-sponsored risk mitigation to nurture favored private activities and expectations, and relieve those favored actors from catastrophes beyond what they could be expected to plan for. I have characterized this distinctive political role figuratively as one of “government as reinsurer.”

The federal government provides standard reinsurance for private crop insurers, virtually full risk-assumption for private flood insurance, guarantees for employer pension benefits, robust backstops for bank liquidity risks, FHA mortgage insurance and a federal secondary market to absorb the risks of housing finance.

In these arenas and more, statistically correlated or high-magnitude catastrophic losses are shed onto the state in order to smooth out and shore up the underlying private risk market. We have yet to commit similarly in the health care domain. 

Read More

People protesting with signs that say "healthcare is a human right" and "medicare for all."

A Long View on Health Insurance Reform: The Case for an Employer Public Option

By Allison K. Hoffman

Historically, job-based health insurance coverage was the gold standard. It was broadly available to workers and was comprehensive. It covered the lion’s share of most services someone might need. 

Yet, job-based private health coverage has been in decline. Employers are struggling to maintain plans in the face of escalating health care prices, and indicating the need for government involvement to solve this problem.  

Even before the pandemic, a decreasing share of workers, especially lower wage workers, had health benefits through their jobs. The majority of the currently uninsured are workers, either those whose jobs do not offer them coverage, such as gig workers and part-time workers, or those who are offered coverage but cannot afford their share of the cost. Ironically, some of these workers become ineligible for Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace subsidies because they are offered job-based coverage. 

Even for those who have job-based coverage, health benefits have become less generous over time, leaving households vulnerable to unmanageable health care expenses. The average deductible for a worker-only plan has increased 25% over the last five years and 79% over the last ten years. 

To help address these shortcomings and challenges of job-based coverage, the Biden administration should offer employers a Medicare-based public health insurance option for their employee coverage. It would simultaneously offer an out for employers who want it, and start to build the foundation for a simpler, more equitable financing system down the road.

Read More

Biden’s Early Focus: Durable and Attainable Private Insurance

By Zack Buck

Though health policy debates during the 2020 presidential primaries centered around expanding access to public health insurance programs (e.g., “Medicare-for-All”), the focus of the nascent Biden administration has been on making private health insurance more durable, not deconstructing it.

While these changes are likely to make private insurance plans more affordable and attainable, choosing to reinforce private insurance plans puts global systemic reform, the goal of many advocates, further out of reach.

Read More

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Symposium Introduction: Recommendations for a Biden/Harris Health Policy Agenda

By Erin C. Fuse Brown

This digital symposium explores recommendations for the Biden/Harris administration’s health policy agenda. We asked leading health law scholars to describe one health policy action the administration should pursue, beyond the pandemic response. Their recommendations make up this symposium. The responses range from concrete policy changes to broad reform ideas and can be grouped into three categories, those that (1) Reverse and Restore; (2) Reinforce; (3) Reform.

Read More

U.S. Capitol Building at Night

How a Public Option Would Lead to Single Payer

By Abe Sutton

This past Democratic Party presidential primary season highlighted the differences between the health policy approaches championed by Senator Sanders and President Biden.

But, despite short-term distinctions and differences in services covered between Medicare For All’s single payer and a public option built on the Affordable Care Act, I believe that in the long run, these approaches are indistinguishable. This is because a public option would lead to single payer over time.

In this post, I walk through three ways that many public option proposals would pave the way for single payer.

Read More

Photograph of a Medicare for All rally

Medicare-for-All Wouldn’t be Medicare if it Eliminated Private Insurance

By Robert Field

Should Medicare-for-All replace private insurance? That question, although central to many current health reform debates, presents a fundamental contradiction. If Medicare-for-All were to eliminate private coverage, it wouldn’t be Medicare, which has made room for private insurers from the start.

Medicare could have been designed as a pure single payer with comprehensive coverage for all health care needs. However, that approach would have risked alienating several important constituencies, including the insurance industry, and provoking their opposition. Before the program was enacted, private Insurers enjoyed a sizeable market through which they sold coverage of some sort to about half the nation’s elderly. Medicare eliminated that market but created an attractive new one to replace it. It did this by enabling insurers to sell Medigap policies that filled some of the program’s most significant coverage gaps, such as coverage for vision and dental care, and that reduced or eliminated its sizeable copayments and deductibles. When the program launched, more than 80 percent of beneficiaries who had previously maintained private coverage purchased these new supplemental policies. Medicare also gave some insurers the chance to earn additional revenue by administering claims as carriers and intermediaries.

Read More

Close-up of a stethoscope on an American flag

Healthcare Already Taking Center Stage in 2020 Democratic Primary Race

With Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announcing that she was forming a Presidential exploratory committee, I suppose that means the 2020 Democratic Primary is off to the races. Joining her are some lower profile candidates, including John Delaney (former MD congressman), Richard Ojeda (WV state senator and former congressional candidate), Tulsi Gabbard (HI congresswoman), Julian Castro (former secretary of HUD). And within the last week, senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) put their hats in the ring.

While many issues are likely to play prominent roles in this campaign — immigration, taxes, inequality, housing, universal pre-k, college affordability, environment/climate change — healthcare is likely to play an outsized role after Democrats found it to be a winning issue in 2018.  Read More