Most of the newspaper coverage of the just-released Census Bureau data on health insurance coverage has focused changes in coverage between 2009 and 2010. Since the advent of the Great Recession, the reduction in health insurance coverage has been dominated by the simple fact that as unemployment has risen, since most families with prime-age earners receive health insurance as a fringe benefit of employment, the number of uninsured has risen. The increase was large from 2008 to 2009 when unemployment rose rapidly. From 2009 to 2010, when unemployment stabilized at high levels, the increase was smaller, although still disturbingly large.
If one looks back a bit farther, however, some noteworthy differences by age group emerge, as shown in the table. Health insurance coverage fell for all age groups but one from 2007 to 2010 and over the longer period starting with the boom year of 1999. That coverage would have fallen in both periods is unsurprising because, as noted, health insurance for most people is linked to employment and unemployment rose over both of those periods.
I’ve written previously about the looming train wreck from Obamacare’s new long-term care entitlement for the elderly, called the CLASS (Community Living Assistance Services and Support) Act. Democratic Senator Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), you may recall, once described the CLASS Act as “a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of.” The Obama Administration strongly supported the CLASS Act’s inclusion in the Affordable Care Act, and Conrad ended up voting for it anyway.
However, the case for the CLASS Act has been rapidly unraveling. In February, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before the Senate Finance Committee, admitting for the first time that CLASS is “totally unsustainable.” Under questioning by Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), she pointedly refused to rule out an individual mandate that would force everyone to join the program. Though Sebelius assured Thune that she had broad authority to fix CLASS’ structural problems, I obtained a Congressional Research Service report that stated the opposite. In the July/August issue ofForeign Affairs, former White House budget director Peter Orszag proposed an individual mandate as one of “the only solutions” to CLASS’ unsustainability.
So, we’re all in agreement that CLASS is a mess that could cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. So why was it included in our new health law in the first place?
The reason is simple: budget gimmickry. CLASS will rake in $86 billion in premiums from 2012-2021, but pay out substantially more than that over the long-term, rapidly generating deficits and bankruptcy. However, the Congressional Budget Office can only score the law’s impact over the next ten years, a period in which CLASS “reduces” the deficit. The claim that Obamacare was budget-neutral was critical to winning the approval of skittish moderate Democrats.
And now, today, a new Congressional investigation led by John Thune reveals that the Obama Administration knew all along that CLASS was unsustainable. “As a result of this investigation,” the authors write, “it is now clear that some officials inside HHS warned for months before passage that the CLASS program would be a fiscal disaster. Within HHS the program was repeatedly referred to as ‘a recipe for disaster’ with ‘terminal problems.’”
Why don’t we think about the Exchanges as a place for people to choose their health care, not just their health insurance?
As the Exchanges are being designed, we have a great opportunity to rethink how to help people choose a physician for their care, but our current mindset may get in the way of developing innovative approaches.
Under the Affordable Care Act, each state is expected to establish “health benefit exchanges” for individuals and small employers in order to “facilitate the purchase of qualified health plans.” This is consistent with the concept of health insurance exchanges that has been developed over many decades. In this model – used by many large employers as well as existing exchanges such as CBIA’s Health Connections and the Massachusetts Health Connector – the individual consumer or employee is given a choice among several health insurers.
The consumers are given information about the quality, patient satisfaction, and provider networks of each insurer to help them choose the one that best meets their needs, and healthy competition among the health insurers is expected to drive improved value for consumers. The consumer makes this choice upon initial enrollment and annually thereafter. Once the consumer has chosen an insurer, the second step is to choose a provider from the list of providers with which the insurers has contracts. It is seen as a two-step process: (1) choose an insurer, and (2) choose a provider.Continue reading…
The big news from [last Friday’s] two decisions was not that Virginia lacks standing; that was a problem lurking in that case from the beginning, a nettlesome issue going all the way back to Judge Hudson’s first opinion (in August 2010) rejecting the United States’s motion to dismiss on 12(b)(1) grounds. Virginia would have stood on much stronger ground had it also alleged an injury in fact from the effect of the minimum essential coverage provision’s necessarily pushing more Virginia residents onto the state’s Medicaid rolls, and thus imposing a significant financial cost on the state. But the Commonwealth failed to do this, instead resting on the claim that it had standing based on the alleged “conflict” between its Virginia Health Care Freedom Act and the individual mandate. This was a weak argument from the beginning, and the Fourth Circuit’s holding was entirely unsurprising.
What is surprising–perhaps not on the merits, but in relation to the attention the issue has received to date, from the courts and the parties–is the court’s holding in Liberty Universityv. Geithner that federal courts lack any subject matter jurisdiction over a suit seeking to enjoin enforcement of the individual mandate because such jurisdiction is precluded by the Anti-Injunction Act. In this respect, there are some important points worth noting:
* This is a potential problem in every lawsuit currently challenging the individual mandate. That is, if the Fourth Circuit’s analysis is correct, then the Supreme Court would lack jurisdiction to hear any private plaintiff’s claim that the minimum coverage provision exceeds Congress’s enumerated powers until after a taxpayer was assessed a penalty under ACA 1501, paid the penalty, and sued the federal government for a refund. The case thus would not reach the Supreme Court until somewhere in the neighborhood of 2015 or 2016.
Revenues = volume x price. This is the financial reality for every organization that makes its money serving customers, whether for-profit or not-for-profit.
For the U.S. hospital sector, both volumes and prices are falling, leading to a depressed top-line. Reimbursement reductions from Medicare, Medicaid and commercial health plans are all under pressure: that’s the ‘price’ part of the equation. On the volume multiplier, the recession economy has caused patients to delay care, such as elective surgeries. Hospitals are forced to scrutinize every aspect of operations, according to Hospital Revenues in Critical Condition; Downgrades May Follow, from Moody’s Investors Service.
Moody’s points to declines in inpatient admissions, and falling outpatient indicators including ER visits, outpatient visits, and outpatient surgeries, all due to the “sluggish economy,” the agency wrote.
Exacerbating the negative bottom-line impact is the continued growth of uncompensated care: that is, health services provided to patients who leave the hospital without paying their bill.
Ever since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was passed, opponents have looked for ways to overturn it in the court of law and the court of public opinion. They’ve had reasonable success in both arenas, using opposition to the individual mandate to buy health insurance as Exhibit A. Ironically, President Obama wasn’t a big fan of the individual mandate at the outset. In the primary election, Hillary Clinton favored an individual mandate while Obama opposed it. But somehow the mandate –at its core a Republican concept of personal responsibility– has become synonymous with so-called Obamacare.
With the recent court decision, it seems reasonably likely we will end up in a situation where the individual mandate is overturned but the rest of the law is upheld. Observers have some thoughts on what would happen:
- Insurance companies will be unhappy. PPACA puts many restrictions on health plans, e.g., minimum medical loss ratio, no exclusions for pre-existing conditions but the upside is the mandate: lots of new customers, and a reduction in adverse selection, because everyone has to buy insurance and you can’t wait till your sick
- Many fewer people will be enrolled in insurance. Jonathan Gruber’s objectivity may be suspect, but he persuasively argues that repeal of the mandate would lead to many fewer people in coverage and higher premiums due to adverse selection. And the cost of the law wouldn’t drop by much despite the lower impact
- Some opponents think/hope that eliminating the mandate will cause the whole law to collapse. I really doubt it.
Other than the egg-laying exercise surrounding the ACO regulations, 2011 was a quiet year among Washington health policy experts until June 6 when McKinsey released the results ofa survey of employer plans under the Affordable Care Act. The McKinsey study found that roughly 30 percent of employers were considering dropping their employee insurance coverage and encouraging their employees to receive federally subsidized health insurance through the Exchanges created in the Affordable Care Act. This compared to low- to mid-single digit estimated drop rates based upon economic modeling by the Urban Institute, Lewin and, importantly, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
To judge by the storm of angry political reaction, you would have thought that McKinsey had advocated mass psychedelic drug use. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) sent McKinsey a letter demanding that the firm disclose its methods and questioning its motives. There followed a flurry of hostile press coverage of the study, echoed in the progressive blogosphere. Horrified, McKinsey released its study methodology, survey instrument, and tabulations of responses.
Why such a sharp reaction? If McKinsey turns out to be right about employer intentions, the cost estimates of the federal subsidies for individuals to purchase coverage through the Exchanges (roughly $777 billion from 2012 to 2021 according to CBO’s March, 2011 analysis) are far too low, making the program even more vulnerable to Republican efforts to cancel it. And if a third of employers drop coverage, President Obama’s pledge that “if you like your health insurance coverage, you can keep it” won’t look so great either.
Foes of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) made a big point of complaining about the length of the bill. Personally, I think that criticism is unfair, because the law deals with a complex industry that’s almost one-fifth of the economy.
But today I read a brilliant two-sentence proposal in the letters section of the Wall Street Journal from David J. Gross, a Florida dermatologist. He was reacting to an article about the extensive cardiac care received by former vice president Dick Cheney.
Before any of Dick Cheney’s heirs get a nickel from his estate, Medicare should be reimbursed for the difference between what it paid out versus what he paid in all these years. This same paradigm should apply to all of us.
(Actually the essence is expressed in just one sentence.)
If we actually implemented that solution it would have significant salutary effects:
* Make Medicare financially viable for the long run
* Improve inter-generational equity
* Instill cost consciousness in Medicare beneficiaries, thus keeping a lid on expenses
* Reduce the need for an estate tax
The Obama administration’s progress—with just a few stumbles—towards health care reform implementation took another major step this past week. In a carefully chosen small business setting—a Washington DC hardware store—HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius released draft regulations for the health benefit exchanges called for by the Affordable Care Act.
The exchanges, required to be established for every state, are predicted to serve some 24 million consumers by 2019 (provided that the ACA is neither significantly changed nor found unconstitutional), with the majority receiving federal subsidies to help pay for coverage. So far, a dozen states have enacted bills to create exchanges, while in nine states such legislation has failed.
Responding to strident opposition to the ACA requirements from conservatives and from many business owners, Secretary Sibelius emphasized the flexibility of the draft regulations, which would allow considerable variation among states, give participating businesses considerable latitude in coverage selection, and interpret states’ readiness for exchange operation more loosely than implied by the ACA itself. In describing the intent of the exchanges, she stated that they will “offer Americans competition, choice, and clout.”
Well, maybe, depending on one’s interpretation of the draft regs.
The 2010 health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), hits small business with a barrage of inequities. Among the most egregious is the health insurance tax (HIT) launched by the law’s Section 9010. Ostensibly a tax on insurers, its real effect will be hundreds of billions of dollars of taxation on people who purchase coverage in the fully-insured market – mostly small business employers and employees and the self-employed. These are the people who usually generate around two-thirds of America’s new jobs.
In contrast, the HIT bypasses those who have coverage through self-insured plans – mostly big business, labor unions, and governments. Like PPACA’s essential health benefits and longstanding state benefit mandates, the HIT puts an anchor around the neck of small business while leaving larger organizations free to swim unburdened. And the anchor is a heavy one.
Over the first decade, the HIT will hit the fully-insured market with an estimated $87.4 billion tab, but that figure greatly understates the long-run financial impact. The tax is not implemented until the fourth year of the decade (2014) and is only fully implemented in 2018. The tax rises from $8 billion in 2014 to $14.3 billion in 2018 and in later years, even higher according to a complex (and at this point opaque) index, discussed below.
To put this in perspective, that $14.3 billion equals around 15 percent of the total small business expenditures on employee benefits in 2007. According to IRS data, proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations with up to $10 million in annual receipts deducted $96.8 billion that year for Employee Benefit Programs. An extra 15 percent or so constitutes an enormous blow to the ability of small businesses to compete against larger entities.
The HIT’s full magnitude will only become apparent in the second decade (2021-2030), when businesses and consumers experience 10 years of a premium-indexed, fully-implemented HIT. The second-decade cost is difficult to forecast, but may exceed $200 billion or even $300 billion. It all depends on how rapidly the law’s arcane index lifts the HIT beyond its $14.3 billion base in later years. There are two major sources of uncertainty in that index.Continue reading…