Yuval Levin, among other conservatives, has made an offer to liberals: Let’s delay the implementation of Obamacare for a year and make everybody better off:
Congressional Democrats surely want to avoid being blamed for a meltdown of American health care during a congressional election year, the people implementing this law at every level could certainly use the time, and Republicans believe that more time would not make Obamacare more popular but would allow them to further develop and articulate their alternatives (and allow another election to intervene earlier in the rollout process, making a replacement more plausible).
Liberals, wisely, are saying no. What’s funny about this conversation is that conservatives have been accidentally managing expectations for implementation: By harping constantly on what a disaster the rollout is going to be, they will make what actually happens look good by comparison.
Jonathan Cohn has a good piece in the New Republic arguing that implementation won’t be as bad as people are saying. This is his really important observation:
Notice that the worries about implementation chaos apply strictly to people who would otherwise be uninsured or at the mercy of the existing individual insurance market, in which plans are inconsistently priced, full of coverage holes, and of unpredictable reliability — and in which financial assistance for buying private coverage is not available at all. Even if it takes these people a while to get insurance, and even if finding that coverage is a maddening experience, they’re going to end up with something they don’t have now: Coverage that meets more of their needs and is available to them, with substantial financial assistance. Don’t forget: Today, people with pre-existing medical conditions frequently cannot get any coverage on the individual market.
This is something that has been lost in the discussion of Obamacare implementation difficulties:
Implementation won’t much affect the 78 percent of Americans currently covered through Medicaid, Medicare, or employer group health plans. It will make some people who currently buy individual coverage worse off. But only 5 percent of Americans get insurance through the individual market, which is already hugely dysfunctional. Three times as many Americans are currently uninsured, and they can only stand to gain from Obamacare implementation, even if it does not go smoothly.
For those 5 percent who buy individual coverage now, the new law will be a mixed bag. Some people will probably have frustrating bureaucratic experiences with the new exchanges that they didn’t have buying directly from insurers. And some people (particularly young and healthy people) will see their premiums go up. But others will see their premiums go down, either because they currently pay a lot because of age or health status, or because income-based premium subsidies will more than offset any premium increase.
There will also be people who lose group health coverage, when premium subsidies make it attractive for their employers to send them to shop in the exchanges. (Others will gain group coverage if employers decide it is better to offer it than to pay a penalty for uninsured workers.) But neither this effect nor any problems faced by people with existing individual insurance is likely to create a clamor for repeal that is any more effective than the din of the last three years.
That is because the most obvious way to fix the problem of those who have trouble in the health exchanges will be to fix the exchanges, not repeal them. Let’s say your employer dropped group coverage and you’re having trouble with the exchange. Will you want the whole law repealed in the hope that will lead your employer to reverse course and offer a group plan again? Or will you want the exchange fixed so you are guaranteed access to coverage?
Cohn looks back to Medicare Part D and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and argues that those programs got through their rocky implementations in large part because benefits obtained with bureaucratic difficulty are better than no benefits at all. He’s right, and this is why conservatives are “magnanimously” offering to delay implementation of Obamacare. They realize that once people have guaranteed access to health coverage, they won’t want to give it up, even if there are implementation problems.
The political landscape is already dire for those who still hope to repeal Obamacare, and they’re actually making their position worse by talking constantly about what a nightmare implementation is going to be. This fall, as the exchanges come on line, tens of millions of people are going to find they can get health coverage they never could before. They are likely to be quite happy about that, especially if they’ve been hearing for months in advance that it will be a mess.
By: Josh Barro, Bloomberg, April 29, 2013
It looked like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had come up with a fairly clever scheme. Unfortunately for him, it died yesterday when his fellow House Republicans refused to go along.
The gambit was a little complicated, but in a nutshell, Cantor thought he’d come up with a way to severely undermine the Affordable Care Act — the House would pass a bill to strip federal funds from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which helps states set up the exchanges that are needed to make the ACA work. The proposal would then divert that money into existing-but- underfunded high-risk pools for the uninsured — a favorite GOP health care policy — that help people with pre-existing conditions buy subsidized coverage.
For Cantor, the plan checked a lot of boxes. If the exchanges are gutted, implementing “Obamacare” would be nearly impossible. At the same time, voters were supposed to see this and say, “See? House Republicans really are interested in providing solutions to problems people face in the real world.” As a matter of public policy, this was an awful idea, but the whole endeavor was billed as an element in the party’s “rebranding” campaign.
So what happened? Cantor’s plan failed miserably because his own allies balked.
On Wednesday, Republican leaders abruptly shelved one of the centerpieces of Mr. Cantor’s “Making Life Work” agenda — a bill to extend insurance coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions — in the face of a conservative revolt. [...]
Items that Mr. Cantor had hoped would change the Republican Party’s look, if not its priorities, have been ignored, have been greeted with yawns or have only worsened Republican divisions.
Cantor expected Democratic opposition and he received it — House Dems immediately saw through the scheme and the White House issued a veto threat yesterday morning.
But that wasn’t the majority leader’s real problem. Rather, far-right lawmakers, activists, and organizations saw Cantor’s proposal as an effort to “fix” the Affordable Care Act by investing in high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions.
For the left, Cantor’s “Helping Sick Americans Now Act” was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. For the right, it was just a sheep to be slaughtered.
Republican leaders assumed that if they just explained the legislation to their own members — this was about cutting “Obamacare” off at the knees, not actually improving the law — they’d have enough support to pass the bill. But House Republicans wouldn’t listen, seeing this as a misguided effort to spend public funds in support of a provision within the health care law they’ve been told to despise.
The Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation and tea party groups have urged Republican lawmakers to oppose the bill, which was authored by GOP Reps. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, Michael Burgess of Texas and Ann Wagner of Missouri. Club for Growth said it would include this vote in its annual rating of members of Congress.
Brent Bozell, a tea party leader, dubbed the bill “CantorCare” in a news release Tuesday.
Republican lawmakers privately fretted that the bill would bolster Obamacare, which the GOP has long tried to dismantle.
Cantor, humiliated, was forced to pull the bill from the floor, realizing it would lose if brought up for a vote. His office insisted that the proposal would be brought back after the leadership had more time to educate its caucus, but there’s no indication of when that might happen.
Remember, Cantor and his allies didn’t really expect this to become law; they only hoped to use this as a political scheme that made House Republicans look better. In practice, it had the opposite of the intended effect, and divided the caucus instead of uniting it.
This was, as NBC’s First Read put it, “mundane posturing,” which should have been easy for the far-right lawmakers, but which ended up backfiring.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 25, 2013
Most of the really big changes made by the 2010 health law don’t start for another year. That includes things like a ban on restricting pre-existing conditions, and required insurance coverage for most Americans. But Jan. 1, 2013, will nevertheless mark some major changes.
One of those changes that will affect everyone with private health insurance actually took effect last September. But most people won’t see it until they renew or apply for new health insurance. It’s called a summary of benefits and coverage. The idea is to help people actually understand what’s in their insurance policies.
“One of the big complaints of people in polls or focus groups is that they just … don’t understand either the coverage or the price,” said Jay Angoff, a former official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who worked on implementing the health law.
But with the new document, he says, “there’s a standard format that allows people to compare benefits to make apples-to-apples comparisons, not just on price, but on benefits.”
Health plans will also have to provide consumers a glossary of insurance terms if they ask for it.
“It’s still harder than some people would want,” Angoff says. “It’s still a complicated area. But I think HHS has really done a very good job in making it as simple and as meaningful as possible.”
Later in 2013 will also bring a key launch date for the law, says Angoff: “Oct. 1, 2013, is when open enrollment begins.”
That’s when people can start signing up for their 2014 coverage through the new health exchanges, or marketplaces, that the states and federal government are creating. Angoff, who used to head the office that’s in charge of building those exchanges, says he’s confident that things will happen on time.
“HHS has met all statutory deadlines on this until this point, and I have confidence that HHS will continue to meet those deadlines,” he said.
But the majority of what happens on Jan. 1 is to pay for the changes in 2014. In other words, tax increases and cuts in tax deductions. For example, starting next year, people will only be able to put $2,500 pre-tax into Flexible Spending Accounts that they use to pay for items insurance doesn’t cover.
“For example if they buy eyeglasses, if they pay copays on drug benefits or to their physician, they can submit those claims and be reimbursed from the pretax dollars,” said Marilyn Moon of the American Institutes for Research.
Moon says that while the change may hurt some people with very high out-of-pocket spending not covered by insurance, lawmakers decided this was a fair way to raise some of the money needed to pay for the rest of the law.
“This is a benefit that largely accrues to higher-income individuals who can afford to set aside a certain amount of money every year, to pay towards their health care spending,” she said.
There’s another tax change coming next year for the wealthy. Individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and couples earning more than $250,000 will see a nearly 1 percentage point increase in their Medicare payroll tax. They’ll also have to pay a 3.8 percent Medicare tax on their non-wage income. Moon says that represents a big change.
“The payroll tax usually applies only to wages, and now this law will extend it to investment income as well,” she said.
Those who take deductions for medical expenses on their income taxes will also see a change starting in 2013. Right now, expenses in excess of 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income are deductible. That’s going up to 10 percent for all except the elderly.
It will affect some people who spend a lot on medical care, says Moon. But the new law should also reduce the number of people with those very large bills, “because if everyone has health insurance, many fewer people should have to pay large amounts out-of-pocket on health care. Ten percent will not affect very many people, one would hope, when they get better insurance coverage.”
Finally, there’s a key change made by the health law for 2013 that will affect only the poor. Starting Jan. 1, state Medicaid programs will be required to reimburse doctors who provide primary care at Medicare rates, which are substantially higher. The idea is to get more doctors into the Medicaid program, which will itself expand in 2014.
The Medicaid increase, however, is only for two years.
By:Julie Rovner, NPR, January 1, 2013
“Rejecting Their Own Ideas”: Republicans Are Creating Needless Difficulties For Themselves And The Country
We know that the House of Representatives has been unable to reach a sensible deal to avoid unnecessary fiscal trouble at the first of the year because of right-wing Republicans’ aversion to tax increases.
But there is another issue on which conservatives are creating needless difficulties for themselves and the country: It’s harder and harder for politicians on the right to think straight about health care.
Conservatives once genuinely interested in finding market-based ways for the government to expand health insurance coverage have, since the rise of Obamacare, made choices that are dysfunctional, even from their own perspective.
Start with the decision of the vast majority of Republican governors to refuse to set up the state insurance exchanges required under the law. The mechanisms would allow more than 20 million Americans to buy coverage. They were originally a conservative idea for large, trustworthy marketplaces where individuals and families could buy plans of their choice.
Many liberals preferred a national exchange, in which the federal government could institute strong rules to protect consumers and offer broader options. This was the path the House took, but the final Senate-passed law went with state-level exchanges in deference to Republican sensibilities.
To ensure that governors could not just prevent their residents from having access to the new marketplaces, the bill required the federal government to run them if states defaulted. So, irony of ironies, in declining to set up state exchanges, conservative governors are undermining states’ rights and giving liberals something far closer to the national system they hoped for. As Robert Laszewski, an industry critic of Obamacare, told The Post’s N.C. Aizenman, conservative governors are engaging in “cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face” behavior.
This is one of many forms of conservative health-care unreason. The “fiscal cliff” debate has been distorted because the problems confronting federal finances are consistently misdescribed. We do not have “an entitlement problem.” We have a giant health-care cost problem.
Our major non-military fiscal challenges lie in Medicare and Medicaid. In principle, conservatives should seek to find ways of holding down health-care inflation in both the private and public sectors. In practice, they see most efforts to take on this issue system-wide as examples of big government run wild. They seem to have a vague idea that markets can yet solve a problem that markets have not been very good at solving.
The result is that conservatives would either let government get bigger, or they’d save money by throwing ever more risk onto individuals by undercutting core government guarantees.
Their most outrageous move was the big lie that the original health-care bill included “death panels.” This would have been laughable if it had not been so pernicious. The provision in question would simply have paid for consultations by terminally ill patients — if they wanted them — with their physicians on their best options for their care. Few things are more important to the future of health care than thinking straight about the costs and benefits (to patients and not just the system) of end-of-life treatments. For those of us who oppose physician-assisted suicide, it’s urgent to promote, rather than block, serious, moral and compassionate discussions of the difficult issues raised by high-tech medicine.
Or take the health-care law’s creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, known as IPAB. It’s a 15-member body charged with finding ways of cutting the costs of treatment under Medicare. Congress would have the final say, but through a fast-track process. Yet the ink was barely dry on Obama’s signature of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) when a group of Republican senators introduced what they called the Health Care Bureaucrats Elimination Act, to get rid of IPAB. Thus did an innovative effort to save money meet with a slap in the face. Conservatives barely acknowledge other cost-saving experiments in the ACA.
Is it any wonder that our fiscal politics are so dysfunctional? Yes, we liberals are very reluctant to cut access to various government health-insurance programs. With so many Americans still uninsured, we are wary of depriving more people of coverage. But we fully accept the need to contain government health spending.
Yet given the conservatives’ habit of walking away even from their own ideas (the exchanges, for example) and of rejecting progressive efforts to save money, is it any wonder that liberals suspect them of greater interest in dismantling programs than in making them more efficient? We won’t find genuine common ground on deficits until we resolve this dilemma.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 26, 2012
The anti-Obamacare world is atwitter over comments made last week by Aetna CEO, Mark Bertolini, who predicts that some insurance markets will “go up as much as much as 100 percent” when Obamacare takes hold in 2014—with the average increases running between 25 percent and 50 percent in the small group and individual segments of the business.
Mr. Bertolini has dubbed this phenomenon “premium shock”.
To be sure, this is a great headline for those who remain committed to defeating the Affordable Care Act with nothing better to suggest in its place. However, the facts reveal that Bertolini’s comments—while just maybe true for a very few participants buying coverage on the exchanges in the individual markets—are completely misleading with respect to the individual markets and likely completely untrue as applied to the small group market.
So, how is Mr. Bertolini arriving at his dire predictions?
Apparently, it’s all about (a) the new tax placed on health insurance company sales, (b) the community rating requirements that now prohibit older participants in a health insurance pool to be charged more than 3 times what is paid by younger members and (c) the new minimum standard of benefits that will need to be provided to those who purchase health coverage on the exchanges.
Pretty scary, yes?
The problem with Mr. Bertolini’s prediction is that it is completely and utterly at odds with not only the Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”) projections but with American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) —the very lobbying organization that represents Aetna and was an active and hugely important supporter of Obamacare.
In 2009, the CBO projected that the Affordable Care Act will have little impact on small and large group policies. This is notable given the expectation that, by 2016, the small group market will represent 13 percent of the total insurance market while large groups will provide coverage for a full 70 percent of Americans with health insurance coverage. Do the math and you find that, according to the CBO, 83 percent of all covered Americans will experience little to no change in premium rates beyond normal increases that would occur had Obamacare never become the law of the land.
As for the individual markets, which will comprise 17 percent of the overall insurance market in 2016, premium rates are predicted to rise about 10 to 13 percent by 2016—considerably lower than the doubling Mr. Bertolini has suggested will take place in 2014.
What’s more, approximately half of those gaining coverage in the individual market will qualify for the government subsidies, thereby reducing the price of their insurance premiums below where they currently exist.
Of course, it is not uncommon for people to discount CBO projections and proclaim them to be biased when the projections fail to meet a desired political narrative.
So, let’s see what Aetna’s own trade association, AHIP, has to say.
A review of the AHIP website reveals that the sales tax imposed on the health insurance companies—and sure to be passed along to consumers—will account for a premium increase averaging 1.9 percent to 2.3 percent by 2014 and 2.8 percent to 3.7 percent by 2023.
Now, you may object to this potential increase—but it is a long way from the increases Mr. Bertolini is predicting.
On the subject of community rating—where insurance companies will now be prohibited from charging older participants in their health insurance pools as much as 10 times more than what they charge younger members even if the elder participants have no pre-existing health problems—AHIP indicates that limiting the rates for the older participants to only 3 times the rate charged the young will result in some younger insurance customers paying as much as 45 percent more in premium payments while older participants will pay 13 percent less.
No doubt, this is a large part of what Aetna’s Bertolini is relying on when trying to freak out the public.
The problem with Bertolini’s prediction is that even this large percentage increase, should it prove to be actuarially accurate, would not apply in the small and large group markets- it would apply only to a very limited number of people purchasing their health insurance on the exchanges who are (a) very young and (b) not qualified for subsidies.
The number is also misleading in its severity.
According to AHIP, the average premium paid by a 24 year old in the individual marketplace is $1200 a year. Using AHIP’s numbers, the price of making the cost of heath insurance more equitable for a 60 year old will potentially cost that 24 year old, on average, an extra $45 a month.
While I don’t mean to minimize this increase, as I recognize that every dollar counts when one is young and getting started, it is important to keep the actual price tag in perspective and weigh the equities when considering that those at the older age range have been overcharged for many years.
The reality is that the young have been paying unreasonably low premium rates for for a very long time—it being in the health insurance company’s profit interest to bring in as many young and healthy people as possible in the door by charging artificially low rates. The problem is that they make up for it by charging artificially high rates to the older people the insurance company would rather not have in the first place. What the ACA seeks to do is correct this situation so that 60 year olds are not precluded from gaining health insurance coverage by being priced out of the market.
Note that this problem could have been averted for younger Americans had we lowered the Medicare age to 55 however this was not acceptable to the Congressional GOP.
And that brings us to the topic of minimum benefits that must now be including in insurance policies offered on the health care exchanges, another area where large increases can be found in the effort to alarm the public.
According to AHIP, the additional costs attributable to health insurance companies actually having to provide a meaningful benefit ranges for as little as a tenth of a percentage point in Rhode Island to 33 percent in Maine where, apparently, health insurance policies do not provide much in the way of actual coverage. And, again, these numbers apply only to the individual marketplace on the exchange.
Thus, if you are one of the 8.5 percent of Americans who will be buying your coverage on the exchange in the state of Maine (making for a very, very tiny percentage) you may now have to pay more to actually get some health care coverage in exchange for what you pay.
So, what does all this tell us?
Gary Klaxon, Vice President of the Kaiser Family Foundation—one of the few health care think- tanks that just about everyone agrees is completely non-partisan and objective, had this to say about Mr. Bertolini’s predictions:
“That just seems silly. I can’t imagine anything going on in the small-group market that would change the average premium that much. On the individual market, there’s arguments for things changing, but those magnitudes seem high.”
There is, of course, more to this than what the anti-Obamacare folks are choosing to report.
That would be the part where Bertolini noted in his ‘premium shock’ comments that this huge, one-time jump in premium rates to be expected in 2014 also includes increases in costs that would come even without the health care reform law.
Translation—health insurance companies have been trying to raise rates at a ridiculous pace ever since the word ‘Obamacare’ first entered the American lexicon, always seeking to blame these increases on the law even before the law became the law. So, when 2014 arrives, you can be certain that they will do everything in their power to grab as large an increase as they can get away with in order to preserve their profits.
Mr. Bertolini is merely laying the groundwork for that effort as Obamacare has provided the health insurance industry with a wonderful scapegoat, perfectly suited and even more perfectly timed to cover the inescapable truth of health insurance—it is a business model whose time has passed.
The sooner the American public realizes that private health insurance companies no longer work, the sooner we can get busy with the solutions that, while politically uncomfortable, can actually solve the nation’s health care challenges.
In the meantime, if you are a part of a large or small business health insurance group, there is no reason to expect that there should be significant—if any— increases in your premium charges in 2014. If you are an individual who will be shopping for health insurance on the exchanges, the 50 percent of you that will qualify for subsidies should experience premium costs at a lower rate than what you are currently paying, If you are in that other half, you may, indeed, see some increase in your rate—but nowhere near the ‘doubling’ the insurance industry would like you to believe is in your future.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, December 20, 2012