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.

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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.

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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.

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Medical bill and health insurance claim form with calculator.

Price Transparency: Progress, But Not Yet Celebration

By Wendy Netter Epstein

Price transparency has long eluded the health care industry, but change — fueled by rare bipartisan support — is afoot. 

The Trump Administration promulgated new rules relating to health care price transparency, and the Biden Administration seems poised to keep them. Though patients have grown accustomed to going to the doctor and agreeing to pay the bill — whatever it ends up being — they aren’t happy about it. The majority of the public (a remarkable 91%) supports price transparency. And lack of access to pricing has long been a significant glitch in a system that relies on markets to bring down prices. 

Though recent rulemaking looks like progress, it is still too soon to celebrate. Questions remain about consumer adoption, the role that providers will be willing to play, and the impact that transparency will have on pricing. The possibility that transparency will worsen existing inequities also requires careful observation.

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Emergency department entrance.

Be a Transformational President, Mr. Biden: Launch a Commission to Create an Ethical Health Care System

By William M. Sage

My message for President Joe Biden and his administration is a simple one. Invite physicians to create an ethical health care system. Demand that physicians take seriously that mission and work closely with other health professions and the public, sharing their power and authority.  

Physicians’ silence in the face of massive health injustice, inefficiency, and waste must be called out by leaders of the medical profession for what it is: complicity. Commitment to an ethically indefensible status quo has made much-needed reform proposals seem morally threatening, rather than representing opportunities for ethical introspection and improvement. All those who profit from the current system — a large group, given $4,000,000,000,000 of annual U.S. health care spending — use physician complacency to justify their own resistance to change.

The U.S. health care system will not change without permission from health professionals, especially America’s physicians. Permission must be built on principle, and it should take the form of re-envisioning and reaffirming medical ethics. The need to do so has been evident for over two decades, but COVID-19 has increased its urgency.

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Fairview Heights, IL—Jan 5, 2020; Sign on medical clinic announces Planned Parenthood branch is now open, the southern Illinois clinic was built to serve St Louis after Missouri restricted abortions.

Financing Reproductive Justice Through Title X

By Elizabeth Sepper

The Trump administration left Title X in tatters. In the last year, its capacity to finance family planning and reproductive health services for the poor was cut in half. Many family planning providers, including Planned Parenthood, whose clinics alone served 40% of patients, were forced out of the program. Six states were left with no active Title X providers at all. 1.5 million people lost access to care.

The Biden administration has said it will undo the harm. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has promulgated new rules to restore the family planning network. But more than restoration is in order. The administration must actively pursue reproductive justice. Doing so will require Congress. But failure to do so will leave Title X’s poor and uninsured patients to serve as a political football once again.

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Doctor or surgeon with organ transport after organ donation for surgery in front of the clinic in protective clothing.

Recent Organ Procurement Organization Regulations Will Save Lives

By Matthew Wadsworth

Thirty-three Americans die every day for lack of an organ transplant. As the CEO of an organ procurement organization (OPO) — one of the network of 57 government contractors responsible for organ recovery across the country — this is what I think about every day: how to help the 3,000 people waiting in my home state of Ohio and the more than 100,000 others around the country who wake up each morning hoping they get a call that a transplant is available.

Fortunately, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently published new, pro-patient regulations to bring baseline accountability to OPOs. While some of my peers have opposed the reform effort, I see it as long overdue.

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Washington, USA- January13, 2020: FDA Sign outside their headquarters in Washington. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA) is a federal agency of the USA.

Weaknesses in Medical Device Regulation Worsened by Trump Administration

By Jacob Howard

In the waning days of the Trump administration, a final push was made to fundamentally weaken regulation of medical devices.

Lambasted as a “full frontal assault on public health” by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials, key policy changes include proposed emergency exemptions to bring a multitude of devices to market without the necessary scientific backing. Justified as a strategy to expedite the delivery of life-saving products, this speed comes at a risk to millions of patients.

As the third most prevalent cause of death in the U.S., medical error continues to be a critical issue that is exacerbated by weakening integrity of the regulatory process. This issue is further compounded by the fact that past regulatory failures in the medical device sphere have not been adequately addressed. The surgical stapler offers an illustrative example.

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U.S. Capitol Building at Night

Advantages of Using the Congressional Review Act to Revoke Health Care Waivers

By Matthew B. Lawrence

The Trump Administration has granted health care waivers that the Biden Administration will surely look to end, including work requirement waivers that the Supreme Court is going to consider in Azar v. Gresham. How the Biden Administration approaches this task may set precedents that last far into the future, which is one argument in favor of considering the Congressional Review Act as a potential path forward.

Waivers are a huge part of health policy. They entail a state seeking approval from the federal government to make various changes to ACA or Medicaid programs. Waivers are normally approved for several years at a time, and routinely renewed. They foster experimentation, and are also (or especially) a tool the federal government uses to steer national health policy by pushing states to adopt some reforms and not others, as I explain in a forthcoming article.

Over at the Yale Journal of Regulation blog, I describe how the Congressional Review Act (CRA) could potentially be used to revoke health care waivers (like community engagement, aka work requirement, waivers).

In brief, the CRA is a way Congress can change the law to revoke agency actions without the votes necessary to override a filibuster. The CRA might be a cleaner alternative for revoking health care waivers than administrative revocation by the Biden Administration. One big policy advantage of this route is that it wouldn’t come back to haunt health policy. Revocations through the administrative process would set a precedent that could undermine the stability of all waivers, but revocations through the CRA would not.

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organ transplant

New Regulations for Organ Procurement Organizations Pose Concerns

By Alexandra Glazier

The United States has one of the highest organ donation and transplant rates in the world. A poorly crafted regulatory change could disrupt our world-leading system and put patients at risk.

Recently, new performance regulations for organ procurement organizations (OPOs) were promulgated by CMS in the last stretch of the Trump Administration, which should be reviewed by the incoming Biden Administration.

While there is widespread support for reform to the system of organ donation and transplantation, including consensus that changes to the CMS metrics measuring OPO performance are warranted, there are significant differences in opinion on how that can be accomplished best.

Bipartisan groups and delegations of both Democrats and Republicans, donor families, the medical community, and donation and transplant professionals as well as OPOs have raised a range of concerns about specific aspects of the proposed and final regulations, making suggestions on how the regulations could be improved to achieve the goal of transplanting more patients.

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