After a summer of disappointing economic news, the recent Census report on the uninsured was a rare bit of sunshine. The number of uninsured Americans declined by about 3 percent, or 1.34 million, to 48.6 million in 2011. This was the largest one-year numerical decline in twelve years. There were “only” about 1.7 million more uninsured in 2011 than there were in 2006, before the devastating recession.
Medicaid’s vital role. The search for policy fingerprints on these findings points directly to Medicaid. For all the controversy over this program, the safety net did its job. Medicaid enrollment rose another 4.4 percent in 2011, or 2.2 million people, likely masking continued shrinkage in private insurance coverage. If Medicaid rolls had not expanded by 10 million folks from 2006 to 2011, the number of uninsured would have soared due to the recession.
Digging deeper into the Census numbers, one surprise was the relatively modest decline in the number of uninsured between the ages of 19 and 25, about 540,000, or about 40 percent of the overall drop. The reported reduction in the uncovered 19-25 year olds falls far short of the 3.1 million newly covered GenY’ers claimed by the Department of Health and Human Services due to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to retain them on parents’ health policies.
Let’s take a look at Mitt Romney’s Health Care plan using his own outline (“Mitt’s Plan”) on his website.
Romney’s approach to health care reform summarized:
- “Kill Obamacare” – There seems to be no chance Romney would try to fix the Affordable Care Act––he would repeal all of it.
- No new federal health insurance reform law – There is no indication from his policy outline that he would try to replace the health care reform law for those under age-65 (“Obamacare”) with a new federal law–his emphasis would be on making it easier for the states to tackle the issue as he did in Massachusetts.
- Small incremental steps – His approach for health insurance reform for those under age-65 relies on relatively small incremental market ideas when compared to the Democrats big Affordable Care Act–tort reform, association purchasing pools, insurance portability, more information technology, greater tax deductibility of insurance, purchasing insurance across state lines, more HSA flexibility.
- Getting the federal government out of the Medicaid program – He would fundamentally change Medicaid by putting the states entirely in control of it and capping the annual federal contribution–“block-granting.”
- Big changes for Medicare – Romney offers a fundamental reform for Medicare beginning for those who retire in ten years by creating a more robust private Medicare market and giving seniors a defined contribution premium support to pay for it.
The ongoing saga of savings estimates for the Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC) patient-centered medical home (PCMH) is finally over. The verdict: no savings. Because the scale and visibility of the CCNC experiment are unparalleled in the Medicaid sector today, it is important that the right policy and delivery system lessons be learned from this dispositive conclusion.
Lesson 1: Enhancements in access do not necessarily create cost reductions, at least in Medicaid.
CCNC is by all accounts an excellent program from the patient’s perspective. Indeed, if I were a Medicaid recipient, I would want to live in North Carolina. The leadership of CCNC is passionate about the program and constantly strives to improve it. However, as was amply observed by J.D. Kleinke on this very blog last week, Medicaid recipients have many lifestyle and economic issues that even the best-intentioned and best-incentivized doctors will never be able to systematically address.
Lesson 2: Perhaps it is time to create an ER co-pay for Medicaid recipients that has more than one digit to the left of the decimal point.
Even as ER co-pays for commercial insurers have soared in the last decade, Medicaid ER co-pays remain virtually non-existent. CCNC created excellent reasons to use primary care but was not permitted to re-price the ER to economically encourage use of primary care. Many Medicaid recipients overuse the ER in part because it is basically free. For the CCNC experiment to truly have a chance to reduce ER visits now that they have created a worthy substitute with their PCMH, it’s only fair to them (and to taxpayers) to reconfigure the financial incentives so that people use their worthy substitute … and then re-measure savings.
Since 2010, when the Affordability Care Act was signed into law, the American mainstream media has insisted that President Obama’s bill provides the most at-risk Americans, low income families and seniors, with better health care. And that must mean, by any logic, better access to doctors, more access to the modern tools of diagnosis and treatment, and ultimately better health outcomes. That poor Americans benefit greatly from the ACA, and that seniors will be more secure under the president’s law, has seemed so obvious to the left-leaning news outlets that this fact has yet to be critically examined by them.
President Obama’s ACA law purports to provide new health coverage to upwards of 16 million low income Americans by way of Medicaid. We already see in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that many, if not most, states simply cannot be burdened with massive increases in their Medicaid outlays, regardless of the promise of financial support from the federal government (itself a financially unsustainable funding source).
But President Obama’s assertion about new insurance for the poor and all it brings is, in fact, a grand deception. We know that 55 percent of primary care physicians and obstetricians already refuse all or most new Medicaid patients (about four times the percentage that refuse new private insurance patients), and only half of specialist doctors accept most new Medicaid patients. Clearly, granting poor people Medicaid is not equivalent to providing access to doctors.
You know we’ve gone through the looking glass when the hottest health care money on Wall Street is chasing Medicaid.
No, I didn’t mean Medicare, the $560 billion per year federal program for insuring the elderly that has launched a thousand IPOs. The current darling of health care investors is Medicaid, the hybrid federal-state program for insuring the poor that now dominates, and often overwhelms, state government budgets.
Last month, Wellpoint agreed to pay $4.5 billion for Amerigroup, a Medicaid managed care company, representing a nearly 50% premium over Amerigroup’s market price. Not to be outdone, Aetna this past week purchased Coventry for $5.7 billion, which also services Medicaid populations. These deals and several others like them rumored to be in the pipeline have driven up the share prices of Amerigroup’s competitors – other Medicaid managed care companies like Centene and Molinas – in anticipation of the latest round of monkey-see, monkey-acquire deals by health insurers.
By expanding Medicaid, the state-federal partnership that offers health insurance to low-income Americans, the Affordable Care Act set out to cover some 17 million uninsured – or roughly half of the 34 million who are expected to gain coverage under reform. But when the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act in June, it struck down a key provision which threatened that if a state refused to co-operate in extending Medicaid to more of its citizens, it could lose the federal funding it now receives for its current Medicaid enrollees.
In a 7-to-2 decision, the justices ruled that this punishment was too coercive: “withholding of ‘existing Medicaid funds’ is ‘a gun to the head’” – that would force states to acquiesce.
As a result, states can, if they choose, opt out of the Medicaid expansion, and some governors are threatening to do just that – even though the federal government has committed to pay 100 percent of the cost from 2014 to 2017. After that, the federal share would gradually decline to 90 percent in 2020, and remain there. This is a generous offer; today the federal government now picks up just 57 percent of the Medicaid tab.
Nevertheless, some states claim that the 10 percent that they would have to ante up after 2020 is more than they can afford. A few go further and admit that this isn’t just about money: by rejecting the federal funds, they are voicing their objection to “Obamacare.”
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.
Here’s the most underreported story of the summer. When the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) it inadvertently liberated millions of people who were going to be forced into Medicaid. Now they will have the opportunity to have private health insurance instead. What difference does that make? It could be the difference between life and death.
A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report this week says there are 3 million such people. The actual number could be several times that size. But first things first.
Imagine that you are the head of a family of three, struggling to get by on an income, say, of $25,000 a year. You’ve signed up for your employer’s health plan because you want your family to get good health care when they need it. But that takes a big bite out of your paycheck — $250 a month.
When you first heard about the president’s health plan, you heard him say that if you like the plan you’re in you can keep it. That was good news. You also believed the whole point of the reform was to help families like yours get health insurance if for some reason you had to seek insurance on your own.
The big health care story in Washington, D.C this week comes down to three letters: CBO. The Congressional Budget Office released its latest projections about the Affordable Care Act’s cost and coverage, concluding that the Supreme Court’s changes to the ACA will lead to some states to opt out of its Medicaid reform. As a result, the ACA’s cost would fall by $84 billion over 11 years but lead to about three million fewer people receiving health insurance.
The CBO numbers are incredibly important in one sense: They reframe the debate over the ACA yet again. As I noted last week, more than two-thirds of states are waffling on whether to participate in the law’s Medicaid expansion, and the new CBO numbers will offer new targets for supporters and opponents of ObamaCare to make their case.
But the CBO score is also more of a political story than policy news. And as both parties continue to haggle over the ACA’s price and impact, keep in mind that the CBO’s projections about health law costs are often wrong.
So rather than focus on estimates of future reforms, we’ll focus on results from a current one: the Alternative Quality Contract. It’s an important payment pilot developed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts — and a key forerunner of the ACA’s accountable care organizations.
AQC Offers Template for ACO
Under the AQC, which Blue Cross launched in January 2009, a hospital or physician group negotiates a budget — or global payment — that covers the cost of care for all patients in their practice. If participating providers stay under budget, they receive bonuses; if they overspend, they pay the difference.
In a recent column, Clarence Page ridiculed Republicans who claim that they want healthcare reform but oppose programs that dramatically reduce the number of uninsured. Republicans counter that the PPACA is not true reform because it fails to contain costs. It seems that our political commentators have finally joined a long standing debate among health policy experts. More precisely, they have joined two-thirds of that debate.
The healthcare system is often described as a three-legged stool, supported by access, cost, and quality. Policy makers have usually paid attention to the most “rickety” leg, sometimes to the detriment of the others. During the 1960s and 1970s, access was the biggest problem, and government gave us Medicare, Medicaid, and the community health center movement. These programs triggered a surge in healthcare spending, and by the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, the emphasis shifted to cost containment. When government price controls and planning laws failed, the private sector stepped in with a “competitive” solution based on HMOs and selective contracting.