Thursday, October 20, 2016

HHS projects no growth in individual market for health insurance in 2017

The salient point about HHS's enrollment projection for the ACA marketplace in 2017 is that it does not project any growth in the individual market as a whole.

The ASPE brief laying out the forecast projects 13.8 million enrollments in the ACA marketplace by the end of open enrollment 2017, an increase of 1.1 million over the end of the 2016 enrollment period. That estimate includes 1.1 million people expected to move from off-marketplace coverage into the marketplace -- a projection based on HHS's recent estimate that 2.5 million off-marketplace enrollees are potentially eligible for marketplace subsidies.

Since insurers' ACA-compliant off-marketplace plans share a risk pool with their on-marketplace plans, a total market that stays flat will not improve insurers' risk pools, except to the extent that those who come on-marketplace switch from pre-ACA grandfathered and grandmothered plans (as far as I can tell, the ASPE brief does not clarify whether some of the anticipated transfers will come from such plans, which are phasing out). Thus the individual market as a whole may not be any more attractive to insurers next year than this year, except to the extent that this year's price hikes cover last year's losses, or the pent-up demand for medical care on the part of previously uninsured marketplace enrollees starts to level off, or regulatory and risk adjustment changes have a positive effect.

On the other hand, as Kaiser's Cynthia Cox pointed out on Twitter, a transfer from off-marketplace to on-marketplace may reduce insurers' temptation to end their marketplace participation and sell off-marketplace only in some regions.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Chipping away at the uninsured: What about those who can't afford employer-sponsored insurance?

Last week, I explored  why HHS's estimate that 9 million of the uninsured may be eligible for ACA marketplace tax credits is so much larger than the Kaiser Family Foundation's estimate of 5.4 million. In brief, the chief differences seem to be a) Kaiser takes into account those among the uninsured who have an offer of insurance from an employer, most of whom are probably ineligible for tax credits, and b) Kaiser also estimates and excludes those with incomes in the 250-400% FPL range who are "potentially" tax credit eligible but in fact ineligible because the unsubsidized premium for the benchmark silver plan in their area is deemed affordable by ACA criteria (i.e., costs under 8-10% of income).

Today, Kaiser updated its 2015 estimates, published in January 2016, of various categories of uninsured. The first thing to note is that the pool has shrunk: Kaiser now estimates 27.2 million nonelderly uninsured in 2016, down from 32.3 million in 2015. Next, the estimated percentage of uninsured who are eligible for financial assistance -- either Medicaid or marketplace subsidies -- is down from 49% to 43%.

That's due in large part to Medicaid enrollment: The estimate of uninsured people eligible for Medicaid is down from 8.9 million in 2015 to 6.4 million at present. But the estimate of the uninsured who are eligible from marketplace tax credits is also down, from 7.0 million in 2015 to 5.3 million now (an estimate Kaiser had already published, with minimal difference, earlier this year, and which I cited in the prior post).

As the ACA marketplace and the larger individual market with which it shares a risk pool wobble this fall, a key question is how close to capacity those linked markets are. Kaiser's new estimates suggest that not only has the pool of uninsured and potentially subsidizable marketplace candidates shrunk, but so has the pool of those who earn too much to qualify for subsidies yet remain uninsured -- from 3.7 million in 2015 to 3.0 million this year. (One thing to watch this year is whether premium spikes reverse that progress among the unsubsidized.)

Put the two together, and the pool of uninsured who might buy health insurance in the individual market has shrunk from 10.7 million to 8.7 million.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Michelle Obama opens the doors of perception

For the second time* in this election season, Michelle Obama riveted the country and the world with moral clarity, in a speech delivered yesterday in New Hampshire. She named Donald Trump before the world. She detailed the effects of his sexual predation -- on herself, voice shaking a little, and on a series of concentric audiences -- the one before her, the nation's children, the world. As she did at the convention, she set Trump's manifest depravity against an idealized portrait of American values as she (or her husband) strives to embody them.

The denunciation was as carefully structured as it was deeply personal. She began, by way of contrast, with a norm as she experiences it, American values that she strives to advance, as expressed in an International Day of the Girl event at the White House  (part of her Let Girls Learn program). There she "had the pleasure of spending hours talking to some of the most amazing young women you will ever meet, young girls here in the U.S. and all around the world." That opened a window on the ravages of male dominance throughout human society - and the route out:

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Are 2.5 million off-exchange health plan enrollees subsidy-eligible?

A recent HHS ASPE* analysis of the ACA marketplace and the uninsured found that an estimated 2.5 million people currently enrolled in health plans bought in the off-exchange individual market are potentially eligible for premium subsidies in the ACA marketplace. That is, 2.5 million people may have foregone subsidies by buying off-exchange or may be eligible for them in 2017. That's a pretty eye-popping number -- indicating that 70% of those currently enrolled in the individual market (on- and off-exchange) are subsidy-eligible.

HHS further estimated that 9 million of the uninsured are potentially eligible for subsidies in the ACA marketplace, and that a total of 20.9 million people are subsidy-eligible -- more than double the 9.4 million enrolled in subsidized marketplace plans as of March 31 of this year. Those estimates are markedly different from those of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which estimates that 5.4 million of the uninsured are potentially subsidy-eligible, and pegs the total subsidy-eligible population at 14.9 million.

The HHS analysis is based on different survey data than the Kaiser estimate: HHS uses the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) while Kaiser relies on the Current Population Survey (CPS). But HHS's higher estimates may stem in large part from two more fundamental differences.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Bill Clinton's other "craziest thing in the world"

I have a post up at that looks at an apparent slip from Bill Clinton's political id regarding Obamacare. No, not that "craziest thing in the world" slip -- the one about allowing those who earn too much to qualify for subsidies in the ACA marketplace to buy into Medicaid.

To buy into what? Who suggested that? Certainly not Hillary. But it -- or something very like it  -- might not be such a bad idea. Please take a look.

My last several posts at explore outside-the-box ideas for strengthening and/or amending the ACA. They include a Medicare buy-in that Republicans might like and a way to get public option pricing into the ACA marketplace without the 'public' part. Also pointing possible alternate paths: a close look at the Basic Health Programs and proposals to expand them in Minnesota and New York.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Hillary, speak to service workers

In this aphorism by Binyamin Appelbaum lies latent, I think, the organizing principle, articulated or not (okay, not), of Hillary Clinton's economic agenda:
Soon, we will be living in the United States of Home Health Aides, yet the candidates keep talking about steelworkers. 
Let's back up for some context. While U.S. manufacturing output is at an all-time high,  80% of Americans work in the service sector, Appelbaum reports, Yet politicians of both parties keep romanticizing and prioritizing manufacturing jobs:

Monday, October 03, 2016

In which Obama feels the pain of the price tag he imposed on the ACA

In an interview with Jonathan Chait, President Obama rather casually ticked off his first priority for shoring up the ACA:
In my mind the [Affordable Care Act] has been a huge success, but it’s got real problems. They’re eminently fixable problems in terms of strengthening the marketplace, improving the subsidies so more folks can get it, making sure everybody has Medicaid who was qualified under the original legislation, doing more on the cost containment. But you hit a point where if Congress just is not willing to make any constructive modifications and it’s all political football, then you’re getting a suboptimal solution. 
By now, the imperative to enrich the marketplace subsidies is a matter of consensus among progressive healthcare scholars and officials. Out-of-pocket costs are just too high for prospective enrollees with incomes over 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)*, the cutoff for strong Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies, and premium subsidies leave buyers paying too high a percentage of their income -- between 6.4% and 9.7% of income for those in the 200-400% FPL range. In August 2015, Urban Institute scholars Linda Blumberg and John Holahan put out a detailed proposal for subsidy enrichment that included raising the actuarial value of the benchmark plan to 80% from the current 70% , with richer CSR extending further up the income ladder, as well as capping premiums at 8.5% of income for all income levels. Hillary Clinton's rather vague proposal for subsidy enrichment is apparently based on Blumberg and Holahan's. ACA improvement proposals by Timothy Jost and Harold Pollack and Sabrina Corlette and Jack Hoadley also prominently feature subsidy boosts.

The inadequacy of marketplace subsidies was evident to progressives from the beginning. Complaints began when Max Baucus's Senate Finance Committee released its bill in fall 2009, with a subsidy schedule that was far skimpier than that of the House bill.** In his 2011 book about the battle to pass the ACA, Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager from 2008-12 for Health Care for America Now (HCAN), an  umbrella group formed by unions and progressive nonprofits to advocate for universal health care, pins responsibility for the skimpy subsidies primarily on Obama: