Monday, January 16, 2017

TrumpCare's coming! What kind of garbage in a gold box awaits us?

The Washington Post's Robert Costa published the gist of an interview with Trump last night in which Trump claimed that his administration is putting the finishing touches on a health reform plan that would provide universal access to affordable, low deductible coverage. This is so apparently out of keeping with existing Republican ACA replacement plans that it's hard to know what to make of it. Here are three possibilities:

1) Trump's plan will depend heavily on "mini-med" plans for low income people -- that is plans with low up-front costs but tight caps on how much the plan will pay (annual caps, lifetime caps or both).  An ACA replacement plan put forward by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) features such plans for the poor.

2) Trump will offer a plan that proposes something very like Medicaid for people higher up the income chain than the ACA does with something very like Tom Price's plan for people with somewhat higher incomes -- that is, relatively small tax credits, unadjusted for income, to be spent in a deregulated insurance market. I've proposed this myself, and I think it's too good to be Trump.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It's up to you to save the ACA

I have a piece up on healthinsurance.org, arguing that Republicans' ACA insta-repeal train can be derailed, and how-to-ing the basic forms of citizen action by which we can all do our part.

It's mostly the nuts and bolts of how to phone, write, tweet, etc., but here's my closing argument that it's all eminently worth doing:
Any and all Republican senators are worth contacting with a “no repeal without delay” message. Taking away constituents’ existing benefits is not in senators’ job description. Almost none of them want to do it, though they have almost all promised to in some form. Those who have expressed doubts include some of the hardest core conservatives (Cotton, Paul).

Some may stealthily work against a swift repeal even if they’re publicly for it. Some may also work to mitigate the effects if it does pass – for example, by delaying repeal of the taxes along with the benefits. If that happens, the ACA may in effect be “renewed” indefinitely.

Remember – just three Republican senators are needed to kill passage via reconciliation. It’s also possible that the “queasies” will insist that repeal of key features such as taxes that the fund benefits or the individual mandate be delayed along with the premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion – and that the hard-core right wing may then in turn balk, on grounds that the bill is a “repeal” only in name.

By hook or crook, supporters of the law should be able to help Democrats in Congress find a way to preserve the vast improvement the ACA has wrought in millions of Americans’ lives.
Hope you'll take a look.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Careful with that study! A second look at enrollment decisions in Covered California

A study of the buying decisions of enrollees in California's ACA marketplace, Covered California, in 2014, suggests that a lot of people left benefits on the table:
The Affordable Care Act includes financial assistance that reduces both premiums and cost-sharing amounts for lower-income Americans, to increase the affordability of health insurance coverage and care. To receive both types of assistance, enrollees must purchase a qualified health plan through a public insurance exchange, and those eligible for the cost-sharing reduction must purchase a silver-tier plan. We estimate that 31 percent of individual-market enrollees in California who were likely eligible for financial assistance purchased plans that were not silver tier or that were not sold on the state’s exchange and thus missed opportunities to receive premium or cost-sharing assistance or both. Lower-income enrollees who chose plans not eligible for subsidies had two to three times higher odds of reporting difficulty paying premiums and out-of-pocket expenses during the year, compared to those who chose eligible plans. Regardless of how the structure of the individual market evolves in the coming years, efforts are likely needed to steer lower-income enrollees away from financially suboptimal plan choices.
The study, just published in Health Affairs, lead author Vicki Fung of Harvard and Mass General, is based on  survey responses from 2103 enrollees and has some very interesting results regarding the difficulty (or lack thereof) that enrollees experienced paying premiums and out-of-pocket expenses at different income levels and benefit levels. But while the authors are quite thorough in enumerating the study's limitations, some caveats are worth elaborating.* In brief: CSR takeup is higher at income levels where the benefit is strong, and many of those deemed potentially eligible for subsidies are not in fact eligible.

Let's look more closely at the more specific claims.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Rosetta Stone of Cost Sharing Reduction takeup in the ACA marketplace

I don't know why it's taken me so long to notice, but something I've always wanted to know about ACA enrollment has been hiding in plain sight since July.

The question is what percentage of marketplace enrollees at different income levels who are eligible for Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies do in fact access the benefit by selecting silver plans, the only metal level at which CSR is available. This is important, because out-of-pocket expenses for lower income enrollees -- which means most enrollees -- are basically only manageable in CSR-enhanced plans.

CSR raises the actuarial value of a silver plan from a baseline of 70% to 94% for those with incomes up to 150% FPL; to 87% for those in the 150-200% FPL range, and to just 73% for those between 200% and 250% FPL.  Conversely, the percentage of income required to buy a silver plan rises with income -- disproportionately, to judge from takeup, which is higher at lower income levels.  Those who opt for a lower premium by buying bronze plans are leaving a valuable benefit on the table and letting themselves in for deductibles generally north of $6,000.

Every year since the launch of the ACA marketplace for 2014, HHS has published ever-more specific enrollment data (for HealthCare.gov states in particular). But CSR takeup at different levels has had to be extrapolated from various not-quite-complete hints, including data published by states that run their own marketplaces.

That was the case, that is, until this past July, when a CMS data brief  appeared with a CSR Rosetta Stone wrapped in the middle. And I'm going to take a little credit for that, as well as drawing conclusions.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Medicaid envy in the rust belt

Yesterday, Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, published an op-ed in the New York Times in which he reported results of focus groups that KFF conducted with Trump voters in rust belt states who are enrolled in Medicaid and ACA marketplace plans.  One set of complaints from marketplace enrollees is worth pondering:
They spoke anxiously about rising premiums, deductibles, copays and drug costs. They were especially upset by surprise bills for services they believed were covered. They said their coverage was hopelessly complex. Those with marketplace insurance — for which they were eligible for subsidies — saw Medicaid as a much better deal than their insurance and were resentful that people with incomes lower than theirs could get it.
While Medicaid enrollees may have difficulty finding an in-network provider for a given need, they generally not only pay little-to-nothing in premiums and out-of-pocket costs, but also are shielded from balance billing to greater or lesser extent by state law*, Medicaid beneficiaries generally rate their coverage higher than marketplace enrollees -- although, as Altman points out, large majorities of marketplace enrollees also generally rate their coverage at least satisfactory (Trump voters are likely less satisfied than the average). While no one likes a narrow network, it may be the case that what people dislike most is not a narrow choice of providers, but the risk that an out-of-network provider will inflict himself on you, or more exactly, on your checkbook.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Who are the "20 million" insured via the ACA?

In references to the roughly 20 million people the ACA has said to have insured, three things tend to be conflated: 1) the net increase in the insured population since ACA enactment (roughly 20 million), 2) the number insured through the ACA marketplace (10-11 million at present), and 3) the number insured through the individual market (18-20 million, about half of them subsidized).

Below, a few points aiming to clarify who's benefiting and to what degree. Teaser: don't miss my slicing of CPS data in the chart below.

1. The contributing streams to the 20 million increase in insured Americans include  a) an increase of 17 million in Medicaid enrollment since July-Sept. 2013, including nearly 12 million categorized by states as rendered newly eligible by the ACA; b) 8-9 million subsidized enrollees in the ACA marketplace, contributing to an increase in overall individual market enrollment of roughly the same size;c)  2-3 million adults under age 26 added to their parents' health plans; and 4) a possible moderate increase in enrollment in employer-sponsored plans.

Monday, January 02, 2017

How Democrats might lose the ACA insta-repeal battle and win the war

In the interview I posted last week with Chris Condeluci, who was counsel to Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee when the ACA was being drafted,  I foregrounded the most urgent point at present: ACA proponents have a very short window to deter lightning passage of a repeal-and-delay bill, and at least a handful of Republican senators may be responsive to pressure and balk at repeal with no replacement. Three defections would kill insta-repeal, if Democrats hold together.

I think this possibility has been underplayed. 21 Republican senators are in states that have enacted the Medicaid expansion, and many of those states have slashed their uninsurance rates by 40% or more.

Still, odds are probably that Republicans will go through with a repeal-and-delay, in which they preserve the ACA Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies for at least 2-3 years while they allegedly craft a replacement plan.

If that's the case, there's still a high-stakes battle to be fought. Its outline can be discerned in the detailed options menu Condeluci laid out for Republicans (or their aides) racing to draft a repeal bill. Since that interesting material was buried rather deep in the prior post, I've reposted it below.

The sticking point (to my mind) is whether repeal of the taxes that largely fund ACA benefits is delayed along with repeal of the benefits. If not, the Medicaid expansion is probably dead, along with marketplace subsidies that make coverage affordable for lower-income buyers. The negotiations with Democrats over a replacement bill that Condeluci envisions are really only possible if substantial tax revenue is still coming in.

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