Individual mandate

While all eyes focused on the presidential race, the ultimate fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could depend on the Senate contests in the states.

Even if Mitt Romney were elected, he alone could not overturn major provisions of healthcare reform. Only Congress can pass the legislation needed to change the ACA.

Republicans are expected to maintain control of the House, but if Democrats hold the Senate, they will be able to block House bills aimed at eviscerating “Obamacare.”

What is at stake

If Republicans take the Senate, the two chambers could pass legislation that would:

· eliminate the premium subsidies designed to make health insurance affordable for middle-income and low-income families
· bring an end to Medicaid expansion, and
· rescind the individual mandate that everyone buy insurance or pay a tax.

Under “budget reconciliation,” Republicans would need only a simple majority to pass such legislation. In the Senate, 51 votes would do it. Today, Republicans hold 47 seats.

Razor-sharp margins in many states make it impossible to predict outcomes. Polls only give us a blurry snapshot of one moment in time – and in states like Arizona, candidates have been trading leads from week to week.

Continue reading “The Future of Health Reform May Turn on Senate Races”

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Now that the Supreme Court has decided that ObamaCare’s mandate to buy health insurance is a tax, will the IRS be able to collect it?

Generally speaking, if you owe the IRS, it will get the money from you—with the possible exception of the ObamaCare tax. Though ObamaCare’s individual mandate imposes a tax on people who do not purchase government-approved health insurance, the law explicitly neuters the IRS’s ability to collect the tax.

Bizarre? Yes. And it matters. If policymakers expect uninsured young people to buy health insurance when it is even more expensive than it is today, the threat of serious consequences for not doing so must be real. Yes, the threat that the IRS might come after you if you do not do what you are told looks real at first glance. But Democratic politicians, fearing public backlash for making the mandate too intrusive, pulled its teeth.

First, the tax (nee penalty) is too small to matter to the people who are its target. In 2014, the tax will be the larger of $95 or 1 percent of taxable income for an individual. By 2016 it rises to $695 or 2.5 percent of income. Young people would not want to pay a dollar if they could avoid it, but avoiding the tax means signing up for insurance that many do not think they need. That insurance is not free. Even with subsidies, they will pay at least 3 percent of their incomes for premiums and up to 6 percent of the cost of the insurance in deductibles and copayments. That adds up to a lot more than 95 bucks.

Continue reading “Health Care’s New Rules: If You Don’t Buy Insurance, Will You Really Pay the Tax?”

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Since the Supreme Court upheld the ACA/Obamacare, there has been a renewed interest in the Massachusetts healthcare law. I have blogged many times before to caution readers and the media not to assume the two laws will lead to the same results, because they won’t, mostly as Massachusetts is not the same patient with the same ailments as New Mexico, or Michigan, or even Florida.

I know I am fighting against the conventional wisdom,  but this issue warrants discussion as Congress passed a national program and modeled the behavior and cost estimates (incorrectly in my opinion) partially on our experience here in the Bay State.

As a result of the national interest, I assume we will see more local reports on Romneycare. On cue, WBUR’s CommonHealth Blog put up:

5 Quick Facts About Mass. Health Reform You Now Need To Know

One of the facts cited is the decrease in the number of Massachusetts residents paying the individual mandate penalty.

Continue reading “Are Fewer People in MA Paying the Individual Mandate Penalty?”

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Now that the Supreme Court has spoken and upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA), how exactly does this impact state governments?

One of the biggest ramifications of this decision revolves around the ACA’s individual mandate requiring citizens to purchase some form of health insurance or face a penalty, and the subsequent requirement for each state to establish a health insurance exchange (HIX).

While many states have spent the last two years preparing themselves in some capacity to set up an exchange, the amount of progress made varies greatly from state to state. Some have taken measureable strides to ensure their exchange is up and running to meet the October 2013 enrollments and January 2014 coverage effective deadlines set forth by the ACA, while others have been waiting on the final decision from the Court.  Now that it’s been made, we’re going to see these states in a scramble to build their HIXs in accordance with the ACA’s mandates and timeline.

What we’re hearing from our clients indicates the majority want to make health reform as state-specific as possible. In other words, they want to maintain control over their HIX rather than defaulting to the federal solution. But as the certification deadline looms, it’s increasingly important for states to consider a comprehensive solution that doesn’t require building a product and allows time for customization.

We have formally announced our Health Insurance Exchange solution, which enables us to provide a customizable HIX solution that states can tailor to meet the needs of their residents and small businesses and be sure it’s ready on time. We were recently awarded an ACA-compliant exchange in Nevada and also announced a partnership with Florida Health Choices to build Florida’s insurance marketplace.

Continue reading “Supreme Court Ruling: States Move Forward with Health Exchanges”

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The Supreme Court’s imminent decision on the Affordable Care Act will trigger a political firestorm whether they accept the legislation in its entirety, throw out every page of the 906-page bill or do something in between, which is the most likely outcome.

If the high court follows the polls, it probably will rule the requirement that individuals purchase insurance – the mandate – is unconstitutional but leave the rest of “Obamacare” intact. A CBS/New York Times poll released earlier this month showed that 41 percent wanted the entire law overturned, 24 percent supported it fully and 27 percent supported it but wanted the mandate eliminated.

Pooling the latter two groups suggests there is majority support for the coverage expansion, insurance protections and delivery system reforms contained in the bill – as long as there is no mandate. It was only the Obama administration’s decision to include the requirement that individuals purchase health coverage – something done to win insurance industry backing for the law – that gave opponents the cudgel they needed to stoke widespread opposition to reform.

The insurance industry, recognizing many of the reforms are popular, is already preparing for a thumbs-down ruling on the mandate. Three major carriers, UnitedHealth, Aetna and Cigna, said last week they would continue to allow young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, pay for 100 percent of preventive services and eliminate lifetime caps on coverage, reforms from the ACA that are already in place.

Continue reading “Why Reform Will Survive Mandate’s Fall”

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Ezekiel Emanuel says he has been betting on how the Supreme Court will decide the case challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network in Philadelphia not long ago, Emanuel, who served as Special Advisor on Health Policy to the Obama administration when the bill was being drafted, confided that he has placed five wagers expressing his optimism that “the mandate will survive” along with the rest of the legislation.

“I think the vote will be 6:3 in favor with Kennedy and Roberts voting for.” There is “No doubt it is constitutional,” he declared. “Legally, this is an open and shut case.”

Emanuel, now chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Vice Provost for Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, also revealed that he recently had dinner with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Emanuel says Scalia will not vote for the reform bill. (No surprise there.)

For reasons I have explained in earlier posts here and here, I tend to share Emanuel’s optimism. Nevertheless, I could easily be wrong.

Continue reading “If the Supreme Court Strikes Down the Mandate–What’s Next?”

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Like waiting outside the Vatican for the puff of white smoke, the nation sits on edge awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. The ruling, which is likely to be announced next week, could toss out the entire healthcare reform bill, chop off one of its limbs (probably the so-called individual mandate), or leave the ACA intact. Whatever the ruling, it will be chum for the blogosophere, particularly in the heat of presidential silly season.

The two fundamental challenges to American healthcare today are how to improve value (quality divided by cost) and how to improve access (primarily by insuring the tens of millions of uninsured people). The bill sought to address these twin challenges in ways that were complex and intertwined. I’ll argue that a decision by the Court to throw out all or part of the ACA will have a profoundly negative effect on the access agenda, but surprisingly little impact on the value agenda. To understand why requires that we focus less on the bewildering details (mandates, insurance exchanges, PCORI, CMMI, IPAB, etc.) and more on some big picture truths and tradeoffs.

The job of any healthcare system is to deliver high quality, safe, satisfying care to patients at the lowest possible cost. Although America certainly does specialty and high tech care like nobody’s business, on all of the key dimensions of value we aren’t very good. The numbers tell the sorry tale: we provide evidence-based care about half the time, there are huge variations in how care is delivered, we kill 44,000-98,000 patients per year from medical errors, and we spend 18% of our gross domestic product on medical care, far more than any other country.

Continue reading “Why the Supreme Court’s Healthcare Decision Will Mean a lot … and Not so Much”

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Mitt Romney’s entire career reflects a businesslike approach. On the one hand he has been willing to act boldly to solve problems. On the other hand he has been willing to keep what works and discard what doesn’t. The latest Romney pronouncements on health policy are consistent with that history.

As President Obama has said on many occasions, ObamaCare is based on a health reform Governor Romney spearheaded in Massachusetts. But blindly copying a health reform — while ignoring what’s really worth copying and what’s not — is hardly sensible presidential leadership.

Here is what is good about the Massachusetts health reform: (1) Governor Romney brought both parties together to achieve genuine bipartisan reform (something Barack Obama failed at miserably at the national level); (2) he cut the insurance rate in half by giving substantial tax relief to people who must purchase their own insurance, and (3) he did all this without raising taxes.

Continue reading “Romney’s Response to ObamaCare”

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Soon the healthcare blogosphere will be filled with reactions to the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act. Rather than see my own blog lost amidst hundreds of others, I thought it best to preempt the competition, so to speak, and offer my reactions now.

The 5-4 decision should not have surprised anyone. Many Americans will conclude (and not without reason) that most justices based their vote on whether they supported the ACA and not on whether its provisions violated the Constitution. I also have little doubt that as we move forward, many Americans will blame the court’s majority and their political allies if healthcare spending continues to rise unabated.

The justices offered thought provoking arguments on both sides of the case. While the media has focused on a couple of snarky comments written by Justice Scalia, I was particularly struck by an economic argument made by Justice Ginsberg. She notes that there is no meaningful economic difference between collecting a general tax from the entire population and then offering a rebate to individuals who purchase a specific good, and collecting a limited tax from individuals who do not purchase that good.

Continue reading “My Initial Reaction to the Supreme Court Decision”

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The Supreme Court has already decided the fate of the health reform law, and in a few short weeks the rest of us will know whether it is upheld, struck down entirely, or badly damaged. Of the possible decisions, four are the most likely and each would have significant ramifications.

1)  The Court could uphold the law. Prior to oral arguments, this was the conventional wisdom. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s stinging questions led many to change this view, but he has surprised Court watchers before.

If he springs another surprise and supports the individual mandate, the law’s implementation would continue unabated. States that have waited for the Court’s decision would start moving on exchanges and essential benefits.

HHS would issue more regulations: on subsidies, employer penalties, insurance requirements, and others. However, it is common knowledge that many of the more controversial rules are being slow walked until after November 6th so as to not complicate President Obama’s reelection chances.

Upholding the law would certainly raise the stakes of the November elections. Should Democrats hold the Senate and/or President Obama win reelection, it’s likely the law would be permanently ensconced. On the other hand, should Republicans control the House and Senate and Governor Romney win the presidency, they will try to repeal the law or gut it through budget reconciliation before major provisions take effect in 2014.

But based on the “train wreck” of oral arguments, it seems unlikely that the law will escape the Court unscathed. It is more likely that the law will be damaged.  The question is, to what extent?

Continue reading “Awaiting the Court’s Decision on Healthcare”

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