AHCA, CBO, and Workers’ Comp

There’s lots of news out there about the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the Republican healthcare reform bill known as AHCA; we’ll narrowly focus on what passage of AHCA would mean for workers’ comp – and highlight what’s missing from every other analysis of the CBO report.

Briefly, I’d expect case-shifting and claims-shifting to workers comp to increase significantly, resulting in higher work comp expenses for employers, and more business for the work comp service industry.

Here’s why.

The expansion of Medicaid and the individual mandate covered about 13 million more workers than pre-ACA; 81% of Medicaid recipients’ families have at least one member working. When workers who have health insurance get hurt, they are less motivated to claim it was on the job. And, if they are hurt on the job, work comp doesn’t have to pay for non-occupational medical conditions (e.g. dealing with hypertension before doing surgery).

The newly insureds are also working in jobs with higher claim frequency than average.

Some argue that the high deductibles and copays common in some insurance plans negates my argument; I respectfully disagree.  That’s because the newly insureds are poorer than average, thus they are much more likely to either:

  • get premium support payments from ACA which also cover deductibles and copays or
  • be covered by Medicaid, which has no cost-sharing (except in Indiana).

Since ACA was fully implemented in 2014 we’ve seen historically-low work comp medical trend rates, a strong indication that ACA is a major factor in lower work comp costs.

The CBO has projected:

  • 14 million will lose health insurance next year
  • 7 million more by 2020
  • another 5 million will lose coverage by 2026
  • most of those losing coverage would be older
  • deductibles and copays would be higher than under ACA

(credit Washington Post)

All of these projections are bad for work comp; older workers’ injuries are more expensive, and the higher deductibles and copays, along with a big drop in Medicaid coverage, would financially motivate workers to “claim shift.”

(credit Washington Post)

So, those losing health insurance would be:

  • much older
  • more likely to be employed in higher-risk jobs
  • more likely to be currently covered by Medicaid

What’s missing

…from all of the press reports and analyses of the CBO report is a discussion of how providers would react to passage of AHCA. That’s in part because the CBO report (full copy here) doesn’t address the issue.

Insurance coverage is just part of the story; doctors, hospitals, pharma and other providers are going to be hugely affected by a big decrease in their customer base.

More on that tomorrow.

What does this mean for you?

For work comp payers, higher claims and higher medical bills.

 

ACA Deathwatch: Republicans should hope AHCA doesn’t pass

I’ll stipulate to this – ACA needs major fixing. See below, and multiple past posts, for my take on what’s needed.  Unfortunately that doesn’t look likely.  The internecine warfare among Republicans over the American Health Care Act was inevitable, and will not be easily resolved.

That’s because there’s no consensus among Congressional Republicans on what healthcare reform should look like, who should pay for it, or what the priorities should be – access, coverage, cost control, less government intrusion, lower taxes, budget deficits are all in play, and many conflict. There’s also palpable and well-justified fear of the conservative infrastructure, a force including media outlets, think tanks, consultants, donors, and fringe groups that is extremely vocal, very powerful, and critical to the political future of individual Republicans.

Outside the reliably Republican world there is even more danger lurking.

What’s not being reported is this – If AHCA passes, the Republicans are in deep trouble.  10 – 15 million Americans will lose coverage (and loss aversion is powerful indeed).  Insurers will drop out of many markets overnight.  Hospitals, especially in rural America, will get crushed due to lower reimbursement and higher bad debt. Trump voters who believed him when he said he’s lower costs and improve insurance are going to be disappointed indeed. Deficits will go up.

Thus Republicans are in a can’t win situation; they have to deliver on impossible campaign promises, and if they do, voters will blame them for loss of coverage, higher prices, and anything and everything related to healthcare.

While Republicans battle amongst themselves, the medical provider community – AMA, AHA, American Nurses Association – just about every national interest group has come out firmly against AHCA. Insurance companies are warily walking the fence, not willing to provoke a tweetstorm but concerned indeed that AHCA will pass and their risk pools will crater. Seniors are up in arms, outraged that they’d have to pay more (!) for insurance if younger people don’t subsidize their needs.

There is a possible compromise bill, Cassidy Collins does offer some hope as it would likely garner support from both sides of the aisle if it gets any attention – and a lot of modification along the way.  But that is a very big “if”.

While all have different and specific issues, the net is this: AHCA will not lower the cost of care, and will increase the number of Americans without health insurance by at least 10 to 15 million people at the outset.

If AHCA passes, that number will inevitably increase as insurers’ risk pools experience worsens when fewer young people enroll, driving up costs for older folks. The death spiral in the individual markets will accelerate until…something happens.

There’s no question ACA needs fixing.

  • An excellent start would be to re-fund the risk corridor program killed by Sen Rubio in 2015 when he was able to force thru defunding of risk adjustment in the budget agreement.
  • Adding a public option to markets with limited choice would provide an insurance backstop, much like residual markets in workers’ comp.
  • Increasing the penalties for failing to carry insurance is another wise step.
  • Replacing deductibles with co-insurance requirements would help ensure people could afford the care they need while making sure the high-utilizers think long and hard about their medical care.
  • Requiring all to take greater responsibility for personal behaviors that increase health risks should be front and center. Obesity, substance abuse, medication adherence and failure to utilize preventive medicine should all be addressed

The intractable problem is cost. AHCA focuses on insurance markets, subsidies, eligibility, and credits.  It does nothing to address what drives cost – the massive waste due to unnecessary care and inflated prices for drugs, services, devices.

What does this mean for you?

AHCA won’t pass, a fate Republicans should be forever grateful for.

 

ACA Deathwatch – (some) Republicans reveal their bill

Good morning all – it’s going to be a busy day in health reform land – so here’s the latest.

Republicans have released their long-secret healthcare plans; don’t get all excited as it’s going nowhere, mostly because Congressional Republicans aren’t all behind it.

This legislation will have to pass the House and Senate.  It will not pass the Senate as is, because four Republican Senators have publicly stated they will not vote for the bill due to concerns over Medicaid coverage.  Three other Republican Senators have expressed concern with the cost of the bill, and appear reluctant to vote in favor.

For the bill to pass, at least 7 Democrats would have to get behind it- which is highly unlikely.

Republicans will not ask CBO to score the bill – thus we don’t know what the impact on federal deficits would be.  There’s also no estimate of how many would gain or lose insurance.

And, Freedom Caucus members in the House are denigrating the bill as “Obamacare Lite”, demanding a “clean repeal” instead of a replacement.

So, this is mostly an academic exercise, but does provide a starting point for the GOP.  Here are the key points from the bills, with my quick take appended:

  • Eliminates subsidies, replacing them with age-based tax credits ranging from $2000 to $4000
    MCM – this does little to help lower-income Americans; the current subsidies haven’t been enough to drive participation, so these lower amounts won’t do much.  Also, these aren’t income-based, so it amounts to a giveaway to wealthier Americans who don’t need the subsidy. UPDATElate change to the bill adds income levels that would change credits.
  • Eliminates premium-support and deductible/copay funding 
    MCM – these subsidies help poorer Americans pay for deductibles; eliminating them is a major concern of insurers, and several insurers have said they will immediately move to end coverage without the subsidies
  • Roll back Medicaid expansion, capping payments to states
    MCM – Anathema to many GOP Governors and several Senators from expansion states.
  • Delays the Cadillac Tax
    MCM – this would reduce tax receipts, leading to higher deficits
  • Ends most of tax provisions of ACA, reducing taxes to wealthiest Americans
    MCM – this will result in higher federal deficits, a key issue with at least three R Senators
  • Eliminates the individual mandate requirement and tax penalties for failure to maintain coverage
    MCM – this would likely reduce the number of young members who subsidize older and sicker people, leading to higher costs for older members.
  • Requires people to maintain coverage or be subject to a 30 percent penalty.
    MCM – Many would likely face this penalty as 24%+ of people 26-64 have a pre-existing condition, and those who lose employer-based coverage would have a tough time paying the entire premium themselves without a job
  • Ends all federal funds to Planned Parenthood
    This troubles some Republicans as PP provides a lot of healthcare to lower-income women.

The legislation is exposing splits among and between Republicans on ACA and health reform.  Republicans opposed ACA, but for diverse reasons; costs too high, mandate, tax provisions, Planned Parenthood.

But there is no unity around a solution.  It’s easy to rally opposition to a complex issue; many Democrats have been pointing out problems with ACA for years. It’s far harder to come up with a new solution because everyone has different priorities and ideologies.

What does this mean for you?

The ACA Deathwatch clock moved forward a bit – but not much…

ACA Deathwatch: Further and further away

The hands of the Deathwatch Clock have been moving back for some time now, signaling that your reporter believes the chances for ACA repeal have steadily receded.

The reason is clear – killing ACA would be politically devastating for Republicans, especially Republicans in vulnerable election districts. Two months ago I predicted ACA would not be repealed due to the political cost; if anything I feel more strongly today.  Here’s why.

  1. The President has acknowledged healthcare is enormously complicated.  Who knew? of course, MCM’s faithful readers knew…
  2. Governors could not come up with any consensus on what a replacement plan would look like, components thereof, funding, or even how to treat Medicaid.
  3. There is no consensus between Republican Congresspeople or Senators, with the Senate’s key leadership expressing notable reluctance to repeal without an agreed-upon replacement plan ready for a vote.
  4. Democratic Senators are – so far – standing unified in their opposition to repeal/replace.  Without at least 8 Democrats, a replacement is a non-starter.

So, what’s going to happen?

Here, in order of likelihood, are my best guesses.  I reserve the right to change the order based on future developments – or the lack thereof.

  • Minor tweaking
    Republicans will futz around with the mandate, premium supports, Medicaid funding, and a few other less-important aspects, call it a huge improvement, and be done. Dems will support these changes, as they’ve been trying to get their R colleagues to do this for years.
  • Nothing
    Attempts to tweak ACA will come to naught as the House Freedom Caucus and arch-conservatives in the Senate will refuse to do anything until their party delivers on its campaign promises to “rip it out root and branch”.
  • Bigger tweaking
    Remember – ACA includes major changes to Medicare reimbursement, medicaid expansion, the individual mandate, a variety of taxes and fees, medical education funding, and on and on.  It does NOT lend itself to big tweaks, but some Republicans are hellbent on doing whatever they can that doesn’t require any Democrats to support it.  For example, use reconciliation rules to block grant or per-capita cap Medicaid

When will this occur?

Next year is looking more and more likely, however insurers selling via the Exchanges will need some assurances within a month if they are going to feel any degree of comfort in setting rates.

Those assurances are anathema to the Freedom Caucus, so we may see a fist fight between that faction and more centrist Republicans in the House.  The centrists will win that fight.

So, expect no practical changes to ACA thru the end of 2018.  There will be much window-dressing as Republicans seek to show voters that they delivered on their promises, but it will be just that – window-dressing.

What does this mean for you?

Likely no major changes till 1/1/2019 – if then.

ACA Deathwatch: Two Immutable Truths

Two immutable truths were behind much of ACA’s original construction. These same truths are giving Republicans seeking to repeal/replace major heartburn.

First, healthcare is the single largest part of America’s economy.  One out of every six (soon to be five) dollars flows thru the healthcare system.

“Controlling cost” really means someone is going to make less money. 

As most of you reading this get a big chunk of your income from healthcare, that’s a problem. For politicians trying to come up with a plan to reform the reform, solving healthcare means some very, very powerful entities are going to get screwed. 

The question is, which ones?

  • Hospitals are often the largest single employer in an area.
  • Pharma is hugely profitable and pharma workers are very well paid.
  • Medical device and equipment companies are similarly disposed and their employees similarly compensated (the largest employer in our town is WelchAllyn)
  • Healthcare professionals enjoy good incomes and generally good working conditions (full disclosure – our daughter and her husband are both ER RNs)
  • Healthplans have generally done well under ACA – remember the Exchanges are just a small part of their overall business.
  • Taxpayers, who don’t want to pay higher taxes

You can’t cut costs without cutting hospital revenues, reducing doctors’ incomes, lowering pharma prices, or slashing profits for device companies. (Healthplans are a bit of a separate issue as their gross income is based on underlying costs, so if healthcare costs go down, so do their revenues).

The power of the healthcare lobby is beyond measure; three years ago the industry spent over a half-billion dollars on lobbying in DC.  Pikers.  Last year,

So, which one of these incredibly well-funded and well-connected stakeholders is going to willingly give up a few tens of billions of dollars to keep your insurance costs and taxes down?

Put another way, are you personally ok with a lower paycheck?

Truth Two – Older people vote, younger people don’t.

(credit US election project)

If you’re trying to keep insurance costs low, you have to get more healthy people (i.e. younger people) into the pool to help pay costs for us older folks.  To get more people to buy insurance, you have to keep premiums low.  The best way to do that is by allowing a big premium disparity between older and younger folks.

Currently, ACA only allows insurers to charge old folks 3 times more than young ones. The result – insurance for younger people is higher than it would be if healthplans could split the population into, say, five “age bands” and charge older people 5 times more than the youngest. Sure, it’s likely a lot more young people would sign up if their premiums were lower – and they would be – about 15 percent lower.

But if they do, the oldest people – who are about 2.5 times more likely to vote than the youngest group – are going to be hopping mad. Estimates are premiums for the older group would jump 22%.

What do these Two Immutable Truths mean for you?

It could mean your income drops a lot, your taxes go up, your premiums go up or down, your stock portfolio suffers…

Net is, to “fix” healthcare someone’s ox is going to be gored.  And pissed-off oxen are scary indeed.

ACA Deathwatch: Where are we today?

The net – we’re further away from repeal and replace than we were even a week ago.

The details

There’s been a good deal of understandable confusion about the fate of ACA; first it was going to be repealed on Day One of the new Administration, then January 27 was the day, now it’s either sometime late this year or early next. Or perhaps, not.

What’s indisputable is this;  undoing ACA and “replacing” it with legislation that will reduce costs, increase coverage options, and not leave anyone with coverage today uninsured is not possible – unless drastic cost-reduction measures are implemented, measures that are anathema to free-market Republicans.

Republicans sought to use the budget reconciliation process to undo much of ACA, figuring that would allow them to kill components such as the mandate that are particularly offensive to the GOP, while working on a replacement bill that might or might not be passed with a final “repeal” bill.  As reconciliation bills can’t be filibustered, the initial step in the repeal process passed easily.

But here’s the problem – the proverbial clock is ticking, and the longer this drags on, the less likely it is a Repeal/Replace bill will happen.  

First, insurers MUST have some idea what will happen in 2018 before they can come up with rates for coverage in the Exchanges. And they need to know this by May 3 – at the very latest.

Second, Governors need to know what’s going to happen with Medicaid. Seniors need to know what their Medicare Advantage costs will be.  Hospitals need to know what they will get paid for Medicare, Medicaid, and in DSH and other payments before they can set prices.

As has been well-documented here, there’s little consensus among Congressional Republicans on what a replacement would look like. And there are a bunch of other high-priority bills that are must-pass; tax reform, budget, spending and the like, all of which will take a lot of time off the legislative calendar.

And there’s this – Once a budget resolution for 2018 is passed, the current ACA reconciliation bill is null and void. While it’s possible Republicans delay the Fiscal Year 2018 resolution as they try to cobble together a replacement bill, this will greatly complicate the legislative process, likely hinder another key priority – tax reform, and as of today there’s no consensus even among Republicans on what “replacement” would look like.

While it’s theoretically possible Republicans pass another reconciliation bill for the FY 2018 budget year to further kick the ACA can down the road, it’s highly unlikely.

Lots more detail on this here.

What does this mean for you?

Yes, it’s certainly possible ACA will be repealed and replaced. Just a little less possible with each passing day.

 

ACA Deathwatch: Healthcare and Snow storms

Happy Monday!  Up here in the northeast we’re still digging out from a major snowstorm that’s a long way from being over.

I’ll make a lousy analogy; that’s pretty much what’s happening in DC.  For local governments, getting the snow off the streets is the political test that ensures mayors another term, or ends their political career.

Healthcare is the national equivalent, with a rather important difference.  Unlike snow removal, healthcare is devilishly complicated.  It’s not just coordination of more plows, salt, drivers, and tow trucks.

Premium subsidies are one example.  About $9 billion goes towards helping poorer folks pay their deductibles, copays, and other costs.  Back when Republicans were in the opposition, they sued the Obama Administration to block those payments. If the suit were to succeed today, insurers would suddenly find themselves forced to:

  • come up with the $9 billion out of their own pockets or
  • terminate coverage for millions of members.

Not surprisingly, Republicans have apparently decided to keep paying the premium subsidies for the time being.

Kicking-the-can-down-the-road doesn’t do anything other than prolong the inevitable, which, stated simply, is this: Congressional Republicans are stuck.  It’s not possible to ensure poorer folks keep their coverage while reducing costs and de-regulating the health insurance markets.

Pre-election promises that voters can “Have their cake, Eat it too, and Not get fat” are coming up against the hard reality that healthcare is really complicated; and insurance companies, pharma, doctors, and healthcare systems are in business to make profits.

For insurers to be profitable, they have to:

  • enroll lots of people by charging premiums low enough to
  • get enough healthy people to join so they can pay for sick peoples’ care, yet
  • set premiums high enough to pay pharma and healthcare providers so those industries make a profit;

Without premium subsidies, lots of lower-income people can’t afford insurance, insurance companies can’t afford to insure those people, and more and more healthy people will drop coverage. Republicans’ apparent decision to maintain premium support will keep things calm for now.  The individual market looks pretty stable – rate increases have stabilized and enrollment, despite Republicans’ efforts to hinder sign-ups, is adequate.

Eventually the healthcare “snow” is going to pile up deep enough that Congress is going to have to start plowing.

Either that, or this…

What does this mean for you?

Don’t expect much REAL progress on healthcare legislation in the next month or two.  Or maybe even longer.

Got your shovel ready?

 

ACA Deathwatch: Whoa, there, cowboy!

The news from the White House is the “replacement” isn’t going to appear until the end of this year – or perhaps sometime in 2018.

That’s a very good thing.

For those that have been following our ACA Deathwatch, that is no surprise.  In fact it’s a good thing, as the plans proffered by Ryan, HHS-Secretary-designee Price, and various other Republicans are short on details, conflict with Republican Governors’ wishes, and would result in major disruption to health insurance markets and imperil the Medicare Trust Fund.

There is no consensus among Republicans around key aspects of a replacement plan or the timing thereof. The White House’ latest announcement is at odds both with previous statements that the replacement bill would be released right after Tom Price’s confirmation as HHS Secretary, Speaker Ryan’s commitment to introduce a bill in March and Majority Leader McConnell’s promised timetable.

Here are the key problems facing the Repeal-and-Replace crowd.

  • ACA is NOT a bunch of totally separate and stand-alone laws, regulations, fees, taxes, policy requirements, and standards. The fees, taxes, and reimbursement changes provide funding for Medicaid expansion, Seniors’ drug costs, premium support, technology, guideline development, and hundreds of other initiatives, many close to the heart of really powerful constituencies.
    Republican leaders who once hooted at the length and complexity of the ACA bill are now learning that fixing healthcare is, shockingly, really complicated.
  • Republican Governors are quite concerned that a replacement will drastically cut funding they rely on for Medicaid, community health centers, public health, and other budget-critical programs. They expanded Medicaid based on a promise that the Feds would pay almost all of that cost; none of the plans currently under discussion live up to that promise.
  • AARP is marshalling its very large and very vocal membership to complain about higher premiums for the 50-64 year old group that would result from changing age bands and reductions to Medicaid that would hurt dual-eligibles.
  • Budget hawks are stuck because repealing ACA – or even just the taxes that are part of ACA – would lead to Medicare insolvency as early as this year.
  • Most troubling of all – loss aversion.  Now that people have coverage, they will be furious if Republicans don’t deliver on their oft-stated promises to reduce costs, preserve coverage, and expand choice.  And no, the attempts by politicians to wordsmith their way out of this commitment by talking about “healthcare access” and “access to insurance” will NOT placate voters who lose coverage.

This last is the key.

The political cost to Republicans of failing to deliver on an impossible campaign promise will be high indeed.  For now, they are going to push the deadline out as far as possible, perhaps pass a repeal-in-name-only bill, then wait till after the mid-term elections – or even the next presidential election – before doing anything serious.

What does this mean for you?

Republicans won’t pass and sign a true repeal bill for months.

 

 

 

ACA Deathwatch – quick update

After a few days of wonderful California weather and Golden State hospitality its back to work.

There’s been so much coming out of DC on all manner of topics healthcare has been somewhat under-covered.  No worries – I got this.

Quick take is Senate Republicans are no closer to a repeal today than they were a month ago. In fact, the “repeal clock” has moved backwards over that time as key Senate Rs have realized repeal is fraught with political landmines.

This bubbled up publicly when Sen Alexander, Chair of Senate HELP Committee and Sen Hatch got into a disagreement over Hatch’s push to repeal the tax provisions of ACA now, then work on a replacement later.

Hatch’s move would have effectively forced many insurers to drop their insureds’ coverage this year, as without premium support low-income insureds would have no funds to cover their share of the premiums deductibles, etc. Insurers would be faced with the need to either a) come up with the money themselves or b) drop out of coverage leaving insureds without coverage.

Alexander’s position was strengthened yesterday by multiple announcements from big insurers about likely withdrawals from the individual markets, as well as news that both the Senate and the House have scaled back plans to do a big bill to repeal and replace ACA.

What does this mean for you?

ACA Repeal is NOT a done deal.

ACA Deathwatch: the GOP’s “repeal”

If you are confused and frustrated with the Republicans’ moves to repeal and replace ACA, rest assured they are way more frustrated – and more than a little concerned – than you are.

10152012_wileecoyote1_article

Here’s what’s going on.

There are two main issues.

  1. Repeal without replacement is a budgetary and political minefield.
  2. Congressional Republicans aren’t even close to agreeing on what a replacement bill would look like

Republicans are working to finalize a bill that would defund major parts of ACA. There is NO consensus among Republicans on the details of this bill – and won’t be until at least January 27 (don’t be surprised if the replacement bill isn’t ready till well after January 27…). This won’t require any Democratic support as it is a budget bill. The GOP will own the bill – and the bill’s repercussions.

Earlier this week the CBO gave us a taste of what a repeal without credible replacement would look like, and that taste was bitter indeed.

  • 18 million would lose health insurance within twelve months
  • Premiums would jump by 20 percent to 25 percent immediately

BTW the CBO’s Director was appointed by Republicans in 2015.

If the GOP moves forward with repeal without a replacement bill – which looks highly likely – it will get hammered by Democrats in what will be reminiscent of the Tea Party’s assault on Democrats during ACA’s passage. Dems will turn the tables on Republicans, and with voters primed to fear losing coverage, the message will resonate.

The GOP’s problem is simple – ACA funding is very complex and cutting funding (which is how Republicans are “repealing” ACA);

  • decreases the number of people with insurance and/or
  • increases state government budget deficits and/or
  • increases the federal deficit and/or
  • hurts Medicare, and/or
  • hurts hospitals, and/or
  • hurts insurers.

There’s intense lobbying going on as device manufacturers, hospitals, governors, insurance companies, the very wealthy and other special interests seek to protect themselves.

While Republicans do have “plans” to replace ACA, they do NOT have consensus on “A plan”.  There’s a plan from HHS Secretary nominee Tom Price, another from Speaker Ryan, other plans based on prior GOP bills, plus lots of ideas from GOP-affiliated think tanks and lobbying groups. Make no mistake, there’s a lot of ideological division among Congressional Republicans.

When the GOP does write a replacement bill, it will be scored by the CBO.  A part of that scoring has to do with the definition of health insurance. Up till now, CBO used the ACA’s definition; now that ACA is going away, it will revert to the previous definition.  Not to get too deep in the weeds here, but that’s NOT good news for the GOP.

The dilemma facing Republicans is simple; there’s no way they can deliver on their promises to ensure people don’t lose coverage, reduce costs, and improve access.

Republicans are about to pull a Wile E Coyote, running full speed off the cliff. Given Democrats’ amazing ability to turn certain victory into crushing defeat by losing the messaging battle, the GOP may make it to the other side unscathed.

What does this mean for you?

The CBO is the key.