With his announcement on Nov. 14 of a plan to offer a temporary reprieve to people facing cancellation of their health-care policies, President Barack Obama may have created his own version of the much-maligned, often yearly, Medicare “doc fix”.
The doc fix, a recurring effort by Congress to override statutory formulas that limit the growth in Medicare payments to doctors, often sparks political theatrics as lawmakers work to assuage the concerns of physician groups and Medicare recipients. Many members of Congress want to repeal and replace the underlying program — the sustainable growth rate formula for reimbursing physicians — but agreement has proved elusive, in part because of deficit concerns and the high cost of repealing the formula.
The president may have set himself up for another situation similar to the doc fix with his proposal to administratively tweak the health law. Obama said he will temporarily allow health insurance companies and state insurance commissioners to continue offering insurance plans “that would otherwise be terminated or canceled” for failing to meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Has President Obama created his own version of the annual “doc fix” by continuing insurance plans that would have otherwise been canceled?
While this change will help some health-insurance consumers, it is a serious complication for health insurers who in a few weeks will have to readjust their plans. In the 24 hours since the announcement, the initial reaction from insurers and state health insurance commissioners has been mixed. Some insurers have already voiced concerns that any short-term fix will deprive their ACA-compliant exchange plans of the healthier customers needed to keep rates down for everyone, including older, sicker customers.
Fast-forward 11 months to late October, 2014, with the midterm elections imminent and the president’s “transitional policy” about to expire. Will Democrats want the issue of whether people can “keep their health plan if they like it” raising its ugly head again, just as voters are about to cast their ballots?
The Congressional Budget Office’s new estimates of the budgetary impact of the Affordable Care Act, made in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling last month, glides right by one obvious fact: the budget analysts really have no idea how the court ruling will affect their previous estimates.
The CBO report says very clearly that “what states will be able to do and what they will decide to do are both highly uncertain.” Translation? They don’t know any more than anyone else right now about how states will act, now that the high court has determined that the federal government can’t force states to participate in the expansion of Medicaid by withholding the federal share for existing activities.
CBO isn’t to blame for this uncertainty. Rather, they should be commended for their candor in acknowledging the degree of uncertainty that remains. Most news reports and commentaries on the new CBO findings have downplayed or ignored this problem.
President Obama’s push for near-universal health insurance coverage may be harder to kill than most zombies.
If the Supreme Court decides to take a metaphorical stake to Obama’s health-care overhaul law and tosses the individual mandate out on the front steps of the court, there could still be life left in that battered and bruised corpse.
Bloomberg Government senior health policy analyst Peter Gosselin took a close look at various alternatives to the individual mandate, should the court rule against it. Gosselin’s study, “A Plan to Replace the Individual Mandate If the High Court Strikes It Down,” finds that a voluntary, auto-enrollment process — similar to that used to enroll employees in corporate 401(k) retirement plans –could be an effective substitute.
Gosselin found that “even if auto-enrollment performs at a lower level of its effectiveness in retirement savings, it could offset much or all of the non-group enrollment loss of six million people expected if the mandate is overturned.”
As important as the sheer numbers of people, the study found that auto-enrollment “could largely restore the mix of young and old, healthy and unhealthy people that the mandate was intended to ensure and that’s needed to make an insurance system work well.”
Depending on how the high court rules, we may need to rename the much fought-over law to Ozombie Care.