Tag Archive: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Conservative tack on market-based reforms comes with high degree of political risk

Conservative economic ideology on reforming America’s health care system is that being a market — albeit an “unbelievably complex” one as President Donald Trump told governors gathered at the White House Monday — market-based reforms are the best and most appropriate remedy to achieve lower costs and better value care and outcomes. These goals are also central to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The law took a decidedly interventionist approach to making the health care market work on both the payer and provider sides, particularly with regard to individual medical plans. In an effort to save the market from collapse, the Affordable Care Act recast the marketplace rules based on a principle coined by healthcare economist Alain Enthoven called managed competition. Under managed competition, the rules of the game are designed to strengthen the sell and buy sides of the market and force sellers to play under market rules designed to reduce market manipulation and level the playing field. Creating state health benefit exchanges and subsidizing purchasers are intended to create a more robust market where plan issuers have to compete on value for a larger pool of buyers than might otherwise exist without the new rules. Those rules also required all plans to offer a core set of benefits to ensure a minimum level of value while leaving plans to offer five different levels of generosity, i.e. how much plan members must pay out of pocket before reaching statutory out of pocket maximums.

Central to market-based reforms is enhancing competition among sellers. The big question in the very complex, multi-siloed market of health care is to what extent competition is possible. Market competition isn’t a black or white, yes or no issue. Rather, competition is a matter of degree. Economists define a perfectly competitive market as one in which there are many sellers and buyers on relatively equal footing with real time access to information about the products or services offered and their price and value. Few if any markets are perfectly competitive. Using that standard, health care is far from a perfectly competitive market, especially so since most consumers don’t directly deal with their medical care providers as beneficiaries and members, respectively, of government and commercial medical plans that do so on their behalf. So far in fact that it is questionable that it can be reformed into a truly competitive market. Cost barriers to entry to new players are high, driving both payers and providers to consolidate, further eroding competition by reducing the number of sellers.

Because competition hasn’t effectively controlled the cost of health care, stakeholders are instead left to attempt to shift rising costs and blame for them to other stakeholders. Or reduce demand for health care by providing disincentives for utilization by forcing consumers to share more of the cost. Under the Affordable Care Act, that has taken the form of higher deductibles. Problem is those higher deductibles have not come with the customary tradeoff of significantly lower premiums. Premium rates have gone up along with the deductibles. That has led consumers and particularly those who purchase individual plans without subsidies to view their plans as “useless,” offering little or no value. That sentiment proved corrosive to the Affordable Care Act since they naturally felt ripped off. They were more than happy to vote for candidates in the November elections committed to scrapping a law they saw as giving them a lousy deal.

Today’s Los Angeles Times reports on political downside of shifting more costs onto consumers as a theoretical means of boosting competition to lower medical utilization and with it, demand stoking rising costs. Doing so runs the risk of irritating consumers even more, who will then take their anger out on their federal representatives in the upcoming midterm elections. Excerpts from The Times story:

Those are politically risky ideas, said Robert Blendon, an authority on public attitudes about healthcare at Harvard University. “Skin in the game has been never popular,” he said. “It may be an economist’s dream. But it’s never been something people say they want.”

“We believe in a patient-centered system, where individuals have the freedom to buy what they want and not what the government makes them buy,” (House Speaker) Ryan told reporters at the Capitol recently. “It’s really, really important to have choice and competition in healthcare because choice and competition lowers cost and increases quality.”

If Ryan were talking about another market like furniture or automobiles where consumers deal directly with sellers and make calm and rational purchasing decisions free of the anxiety that accompanies often painful, highly stressful medical issues, his vision of putting more power in the hands of buyers might be doable. That along with the reality that consumers are tied to government and commercial medical care plans that negotiate and set the terms and conditions of their medical care makes Ryan’s goal a very tall order.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Immediate ACA repeal rhetoric mooted as Trump administration issues rulemaking to reinforce law’s individual market reforms

With only about six weeks left to enact any comprehensive replacement for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration has sent a clear signal it won’t happen this year by introducing proposed rules today reinforcing the law’s individual insurance market reforms rather than a wholesale repeal of the omnibus statute. The Market Stabilization rulemaking is a confidence building measure aimed at calming nervous individual health plan issuers as they plan their market participation for 2018 amid worries over adverse selection.

The rulemaking comes just 10 days after President Trump said in a televised interview his administration’s comprehensive successor to the Affordable Care Act would take the rest of 2017 and likely into next year to finalize and move through Congress. That’s realistic considering the Affordable Care Act contains ten titles and runs more than 2,000 pages. It will take time to determine which to keep, which to amend and which to eliminate — and attract sufficient support from across the aisle for any overhaul.

The proposed rule would more closely conform individual coverage to employer-sponsored and Medicare coverage by establishing the plan year 2018 open enrollment period as November 1 to December 15, 2017. The rulemaking would require those seeking to enroll outside this period to provide documented evidence of life events such as a change in family status or loss of employer sponsored coverage. It also would make it easier for health plan issuers to collect lapsed premium payments upon renewal, liberalizes the actuarial value definitions of all but silver plans as well as network adequacy standards.

The proposed rule also indicates the federal government plans to revise the timeline for the certification of qualified health plans (QHPs) sold on state health benefit exchanges and rate review process for plan year 2018. “In light of the need for issuers to make modifications to their products and applications to accommodate the changes proposed in this rule, should they be finalized, we would issue separate guidance to update the QHP certification calendar and the rate review submission deadlines to give additional time for issuers to develop, and states to review, form and rate filings for the 2018 plan year that reflect these changes,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) stated. Comment on the proposed rule is due March 7, 2017.

The issuance of the proposed rule renders moot campaign rhetoric leading up to the November 2016 elections to immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act and highlights the lack of a ready Republican plan to replace the law. The party’s opposition is less about genuine policy differences but more about ongoing hard feelings arising from the process (versus substance) of the Affordable Care Act’s enactment in early 2010 that essentially steamrolled then minority Republicans. With no clearly articulated GOP policy alternative, there cannot be a true policy debate.

Congress and the administration have incentive to back off the immediate repeal talk given the likelihood they’d face political blow back from payers and providers vexed by the enormous uncertainty of gutting the law without a clear replacement as well as constituents fearing their coverage might be disrupted. The political consequences of inchoate policy outweigh any immediate policymaking in Congress, particularly since unhappy voters could punish some members of Congress in the 2018 mid-term elections.

In addition to this proposed rule, expect Congress to make a rapid appropriation to stave off another issue threatening the stability of the individual market stemming from ongoing hard feelings over the law’s enactment its implementation by the Obama administration: House v. Burwell. An appropriation is necessary because a federal court ruled in that case funding for out of pocket cost sharing subsidies for low income households purchasing silver plans on state health benefit exchanges requires an appropriation by Congress and that the required appropriation is absent. The House of Representatives challenged the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s funding of the subsidies without an explicit appropriation by Congress. Implementation of the federal court ruling is on hold until at least this month as it’s not expected the Trump administration will pursue an appeal.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Honoring basic insurance principles proves challenging in state individual health insurance markets

A growing number of Minnesotans are tapping tax credits through the health law that discount premium costs on the policies. But eligibility for subsidies depends on income, and there’s growing evidence that those who don’t qualify for tax credits or have other affordability problems are fleeing the market. On Thursday, the Minnesota Council of Health Plans released numbers that show 80,000 fewer residents covered in the individual market now than a year ago, a decline of 30 percent. The current tally of 190,000 will likely drop further, insurers say.A shrinking market is a bigger problem for insurers than a drop in revenue. People with costly health problems tend to maintain even expensive coverage, knowing it’s a better deal than paying the full cost of health care. So, a shrinking market at a time of skyrocketing premiums leads insurers to conclude that healthy people are leaving the mix.

Source: Health insurers say they need insurance protection from big claims – StarTribune.com

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act aims to improve the spread of risk and honor the law of large numbers — bedrock principles that underpin all forms of insurance — by pooling most everyone not covered in the three main pillars of health coverage (Medicare, Medicaid, employer-sponsored coverage) into a single risk pool in each state. But even putting everyone in a given state into a single, statewide risk pool may not be enough in states with fewer residents as this account illustrates. When there are too few “covered lives” in the pool in insurance industry lingo, the risk spreading mechanism of insurance gets stressed and the pool threatened by adverse selection. That occurs when a relatively small number of people incur large claims costs as the case here in Minnesota.

Since the individual market is comprised of only a relatively small segment of the population nationwide given the dominance of the big three pillars of health coverage, honoring fundamental insurance axioms may only be possible in states with large populations such as California, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

What Trumpcare will likely look like

Donald Trump is following the path of every president elected before him from at least the Truman administration forward, proclaiming a public policy goal of providing medical insurance to all Americans. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” the soon to be president told The Washington Post last week. “It will be in a much simplified form,” he said. “Much less expensive and much better” than what’s available under the Affordable Care Act.

How will Trump bring that about? Wryly playing off then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s famous statement in early 2010 that opponents of the Affordable Care Act would have to first vote for it in order to see all of its provisions, Trump similarly wants to see his Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Price confirmed by the Senate before he reveals his plan.

I’ll go out on a limb and make some predictions on the rough outlines. This prediction assumes Trump will forge his own policy in this area and not necessarily conform to longstanding Republican principles that were posted to his transition website but have since been taken down. Trump’s reform plan won’t be a wholesale repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It will at least initially keep much of the omnibus reform statute intact and concentrate on scrapping Titles I and II dealing with the individual market reforms and expanded Medicaid eligibility to single adults given these components of the law have dominated the Republican reform agenda.

The Trump administration’s plan will give up on trying to make the problematic and inherently unstable individual market as it’s currently structured work with a mix of incentives and disincentives like those of the Affordable Care Act. The Trump plan will likely largely replace the nongroup market with something ironically along the lines of what Affordable Care Act designer Ezekiel Emanuel suggested last week: automatic enrollment in a catastrophic plan. Trump’s plan could offer a level of basic coverage for all working age Americans, starting when the reach their 18th birthday and lasting until they go onto Medicare at age 65 or older. As per Emanuel’s concept, there would be an option to enroll in supplemental plans for those who need or desire more generous coverage, similar to Medicare advantage plans. Most of the funding would come from new payroll and self-employment taxes. These supplemental plans could conceivably comport with Trump’s statement that his plan would offer low deductibles.

This reform of the nongroup market would also pave the way for a gradual transition away from employer-sponsored group plans. Employers would fund the aforementioned supplemental plans as an employee benefit. Or not. Either way, the dominance of employer-sponsored all inclusive medical coverage – which also dates to the Truman administration – would begin to go into decline.

As Trump stated previously, his plan will end the Title II Medicaid reforms and turn Medicaid into a state block grant program. Health savings accounts contribution limits will be increased and contributions permitted to cover supplemental plan premiums and any uncovered medical or dental expenses.

Finally, look for Trump’s plan to focus strongly on prescription drug costs to bend the medical care cost curve, creating a bidding entity or even a federal monopsony that will effectively set the prices of medications for all government programs, including the new basic health plan. Trump indicated in a news conference last week he will play hardball with the pharmaceutical industry.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

ACA architect Ezekiel Emanuel’s post-ACA alternative to individual market reforms: auto enrollment in catastrophic coverage

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act retains the current system in which those not covered by employer-sponsored and government plans purchase their own medical coverage from insurance companies. The individual or non-group market as it’s termed is like buying life insurance. A policy is issued and the covered party pays a monthly premium to keep the coverage in force.

To ensure the market functions well with large numbers of people in the risk pool and a good spread of risk among those who use little medical care and those who use a lot, the Affordable Care Act compels health plan issuers to make coverage widely available to anyone wanting to buy it. Similarly, it stimulates buyer demand by requiring everyone to have some form of medical coverage or pay an income tax penalty.

The problem is while Americans like the idea of being able to purchase coverage and not be turned down for underwriting reasons as they can when applying for life insurance, they don’t support being forced to purchase individual coverage and want the option to go without. That gives health plan issuers concern because with too many people “going bare,” they will be nakedly exposed to too many high utilizers who aren’t inclined to forgo coverage because they suffer from costly-to-treat medical conditions. Summed up, what the buy and sell sides of the market feels the other side must do to make it work, the other side dislikes. Sellers and buyers are forced into an uneasy relationship, one that needs many years to determine if can sustainably work after a somewhat rocky start. Four years isn’t likely to be long enough, but political exigencies are now requiring policymakers to reexamine the relationship.

One alternative is coming from none other than one of the Affordable Care Act’s primary architects, Ezekiel Emanuel. In remarks delivered at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco this week, Emanuel suggested moving away from the market-based model of the law and toward making the individual market more like a government insurance program and specifically Medicare. Those eligible – presumably those not covered by an employer-sponsored or government plan – would be automatically enrolled in basic, catastrophic coverage. There would be an option to pay a premium for more generous coverage. Emanuel predicted that approach could garner bipartisan support. While he didn’t specifically raise the point, such as scheme could conceivably be funded at least in part by payroll and self employment taxes. It also wouldn’t be incompatible with conservative ideas such as providing a tax credit to help households offset the cost of medical insurance. Emanuel’s comments on this topic start at 13 minutes into this audio recording of his remarks.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Fate of individual market hangs in balance

An immutable truth of any market is sellers and buyers must be able to get together on mutually agreeable terms and conditions and do so on a sustainable basis. If that doesn’t occur, markets grow weak and eventually fail. Sellers withdraw and buyers don’t buy. That has certainly been happening in the individual medical insurance market. Some health plan issuers have pulled back their offerings in many states for the current plan year. Many consumers are reluctant buyers, accustomed for decades to all inclusive, low co-pay managed care plan model. They naturally see individual plans that come with both high premiums and high out of pocket costs as a poor value, expecting a greater inverse relationship between the two. Particularly if they don’t benefit from premium and cost sharing subsidies.

That’s not a prescription for long term buy side support. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act forces sellers and buyers of individual plans together by requiring sellers to sell regardless of an individual’s medical history and buyers to buy under pain of paying an income tax penalty for not having some form of continuous, credible coverage. But even those efforts to prop up the market appear less than certain to achieve a robust, well-functioning market. The big questions for the incoming administration and new Congress are:

  • Whether the individual medical insurance segment that covers a sizable and growing portion of the working age population can sustainably function as a market?
  • To what extent government policy should support the market and does the political will exist to do so?
  • If the market should be left intact, what must be done to make it actuarially viable over the long term and avoid its tendency toward adverse selection?
 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Trump Promises On Health Insurance Appealed To Family Struggling With Cost : Shots – Health News : NPR

Source: Trump Promises On Health Insurance Appealed To Family Struggling With Cost : Shots – Health News : NPR

Pocketbook issues can determine the outcome of elections. In this case, National Public Radio did a piece today profiling a young Pennsylvania family that perceives it is getting poor value in the individual health insurance market. They are among what I dubbed a few years back as the 401 percenters, households who earn more than 400 percent of federal poverty levels and thus ineligible for premium and cost sharing subsidies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Premiums for catastrophic coverage with high deductibles appear to this family more in line with those one might expect for a very generous plan with little or no out pocket costs. That’s the economic disconnect and sense of unfairness that Trump tapped into and was likely a major issue in his victory over Hillary Clinton. In 2013, I predicted the 401 percenters could seek political redress, feeling the Affordable Care Act has left them worse off than before. In 2016, at least a sizeable portion of that voter cohort did just that, donning red Trump hats and voting for what they hope will be a better deal under a Trump administration. It remains to be seen whether Trump and the new Congress can deliver one.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Pence calls for “market-based” medical insurance system. Problem is it already is.

President-elect Donald Trump has made repealing President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law the “first order of business” and intends a smooth transition to a “market-based” medical insurance system, Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Wednesday.

Source: Pence Calls Obamacare Repeal ‘First Order of Business’

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act specifically kept intact the nation’s private medical insurance system that covers the bulk of Americans under age 65. The Affordable Care Act intervened in the private market with its managed competition-based approach, but by no means replaced it. It strongly intervened on both the sell and buy sides of the individual health insurance market in an attempt to rescue the segment from an adverse selection death spiral and restore it to healthy functioning. Doubts have been raised as to whether the rescue effort would have succeeded as premium rates rose and fewer plans were offered for plan year 2017. By the same token, rescinding the individual market reforms aren’t likely to restore it to health either given its deeply problematic nature.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

ACA provisions to restore individual health insurance market may have missed target

One of the major reforms of the individual health insurance market segment put in place by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is pooling people into statewide risk pools to achieve greater spread of risk. In addition, the law reinforces the fundamental insurance principle of risk spreading by creating incentives for people to get into the pool. Those include advance tax credit premium and reduced cost sharing subsidies for individual plans offered on state health benefit exchanges and tax penalties applied to everyone not covered under some minimum form of coverage for hospital and physician care. Also, requiring health plans to accept all applicants for coverage regardless of medical history.

The goal is to restore what was a struggling market segment circling the drain of runaway adverse selection prior to the reforms going into effect in 2014. Few might have thought such a sweeping overhaul of the market wouldn’t restore it to a healthy, viable segment of the health insurance market. But as the reforms are about to enter their fourth year, it’s unclear whether they will achieve the goal of improved spread of risk. Health plan issuers complain the risk pool is imbalanced with too few young people and too many older and higher utilizing folks. They’ve openly expressed concern that’s driving adverse selection – the very problem the reforms intended to remedy.

Other factors that jeopardize the sustained actuarial viability of the individual market:

  • Poor overall population health status and low health education levels (i.e. how to stay healthy, minimize need for medical care), generally increasing utilization and cost trend.
  • Inadequate market forces exerting downward pressure on medical costs. The Affordable Care Act includes provisions to shift to value-based medical provider reimbursement reform for Medicare, but not the individual or small group market segments.
  • A high level of churn as people’s life situations change, moving them into and out of the individual health insurance market.
 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

New Washington regime seeks to move from managed competition to more unfettered health care markets

Republicans take the reins of the federal government next month and are generally expected to repeal or at least revamp the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to harness market forces and competition to achieve the triple aim of better health care outcomes and patient satisfaction while lowering costs. Instead of the managed competition of the Affordable Care Act that put in place rules on the sell and buy sides of the health insurance market to promote competition and established government run markets for small group and individual coverage, the incoming Trump administration and new Congress will favor less managed competition with fewer market rules and constraints.

Achieving such a market environment is an enormous challenge given the heavily siloed health care system, with each silo having its own complex microeconomics. Cast as a market, health care has the essential element of many sellers and many consumers. Buyers ultimately drive the economics of all markets and determine their long term viability. But consumers generally don’t deal directly with health care providers given the large role of public and commercial health plans and employers. For the most part, people don’t plan to use health care, only doing so when accident or illness strikes. That precludes time for deliberate, considered comparison of providers and costs to determine the best value. Instead, consumers must deal with difficult to decipher bills filled with multiple, incremental charges after they consume health care services.

True market competition cannot function ex post facto transaction without some intermediary to negotiate terms and conditions on behalf of consumers. It remains to be seen how the new administration and Congress will finesse the complex microeconomics of health care as they seek to harness competitive forces to lower costs without resorting to even more extensive reforms than under the Affordable Care Act.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

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