Trumpcare

Standard & Poor's, December 22, 2016:

Well THAT figures: Insurance carriers finally breaking even on ACA exchanges just in time for GOP to tear up the law.

Health insurers may finally be seeing improved results on their Obamacare plans just as a newly elected president is poised to follow through on promises to end the controversial coverage program, a new report suggests.

An analysis out Thursday says that health insurers are expected in 2016 "to start reversing" financial losses on their Obamacare business after "hitting bottom" in 2015.

And 2017 "will likely see continued improvement" for those insurers selling individual health plans, "with more insurers getting close to breakeven or better," according to the report by Standard and Poor's Global Ratings.

 

UPDATE: ...or, perhaps not. Latest word is that there's basically little to see here; lots of big talk about pushing forward but very little action. Or perhaps there will be next week, who the heck knows? Wash, rinse, repeat.

On March 24th, just after the AHCA (Trumpcare) bill was yanked from the House floor with literally minutes to go, I posted the following headline:

CELEBRATE A FEW HOURS. Then come back and read this.

Well, according to Matt Fuller and Jonathan Cohn of the Huffington Post, Trumpcare 2: Electric Boogaloo may indeed be a go:

 

Exactly one month ago, I asked a rhetorical question:

How High will Initial 2018 Rate Hike Filings Be?

...and then went on to conclude that, given the insane amount of uncertainty and confusion about what Donald Trump, Tom Price and the Congressional GOP in general has in mind for the 2018 insurance market, on top of normal stuff like inflation, an aging population and so on, that there are five likely scenarios:

Now, put yourself in the position of an insurance carrier executive and/or one of their actuaries. The level of uncertainty in the air is mind boggling. You have five choices for your initial filing:

 

Last week, former CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt conveyed a warning to the Trump Administration and the GOP about how critical confirming ongoing Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursements (not just for the rest of 2017, but continuing into 2018) is, by paraphrasing multiple anonymous sources within the health insurance industry.

On Monday, it looked as though the Trump admin was finally providing some reassurance on the CSR issue; as Robert Pear reported in the New York Times:

The Trump administration says it is willing to continue paying subsidies to health insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act even though House Republicans say the payments are illegal because Congress never authorized them.

The statement sends a small but potentially significant signal to insurers, encouraging them to stay in the market.

UPDATE 6/8/18: Welp. Given last night's bombshell development that Donald Trump's Department of Justice has decided to not only abandon doing their jobs by defending the law of the land but to actually actively argue in favor of tearing away the ACA's prohibition of denying coverage for (or charging more for) pre-existing conditions, it seemed appropriate to dust off this entry from over a year ago.

A couple of important caveats: The individual market has shrunk by one or two milion people since a year ago (due in large part to other forms of Trump/GOP sabotage, I should note), so most of the estimates for the last column are likely a bit smaller as well, although those with pre-existing conditions are the least-likely to drop their coverae for that very reason. Also, a good half-dozen Congressional Districts have had special elections over the past year and now have new members of Congress (SC-05, MT-AL, PA-18 and so on) or currently have vacancies not shown below (MI-13, TX-27, etc).

Last fall, when the insurance carriers were jacking up their rates on the individual market by an (unsubsidized) national weighted average of around 25%, aside from the understandable grumbling about such a dramatic all-at-once increase, the big question was whether that would be enough to stabilize the market going forward, or whether this was just the beginning of an inevitable Death Spiral, etc etc.

Back in December, Standard & Poor's issued an analysis in which they concluded that:

An analysis out Thursday says that health insurers are expected in 2016 "to start reversing" financial losses on their Obamacare business after "hitting bottom" in 2015.

And 2017 "will likely see continued improvement" for those insurers selling individual health plans, "with more insurers getting close to breakeven or better," according to the report by Standard and Poor's Global Ratings.

The report also says big price increases for Obamacare plans in 2017 were likely a "one-time pricing correction."

OK, I was about to go with the more obvious saying: "Sh*t or get off the pot", but I'm trying to avoid blatant profanity in the headlines, at least.

Here's a tweetstorm from fomer director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, Andy Slavitt, from yesterday/continuing through today. He confirms everything I've been sounding the alarm about, especially regarding the CSR payment crisis:

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is why don't more health plans speak up about what a disaster AHCA would be. 1

— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) April 5, 2017

A related question I get asked a lot is why don't health plans speak up more loudly about the impact of govt reneging on CSR payments. 2

— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) April 5, 2017

By tomorrow, I will have asked 10 CEOs that question & will tweet back what they say. 3

— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) April 5, 2017

Hot off the presses:

A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that the average premium for a benchmark silver plan in Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces would need to increase by an estimated 19 percent for insurers to compensate for lost funding if they don’t receive federal payment for ACA cost-sharing subsidies.

Not exactly a surprise: The stampede appears to be starting.

The efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act have caused worry for insurers, who aren’t sure about the law’s future or what would replace it. On Thursday, Aetna Inc. said it would pull out of Iowa’s Obamacare market, becoming the second major health plan to do so this week after Wellmark Inc. said it was quitting the state as well.

“Aetna will not participate in the Iowa individual public exchange for 2018 as a result of financial risk and an uncertain outlook for the marketplace,spokesman T.J. Crawford said in an email Thursday. “We are still evaluating Aetna’s 2018 individual product presence in our remaining states.”

 

In our last episode of As the Stomach Churns, you may recall that after getting tired of having thousands of old white people screaming at them during town halls, the House GOP attempted to get them to shut up by demanding that the Senate throw $85 billion at them to make them go away.

The Congressional Budget Office determined that, nope, around 24 million people would still be kicked off their healthcare coverage due to how crappy the rest of the plan was. They would've just been pissing away another $85 billion for literally no reason.

The CEO of Molina Healthcare made it about as clear as he possibly could today:

Molina Healthcare CEO: GOP's 'piecemeal approach' to health-care reform will lead to a 'health-care disaster'

With the GOP's failure to repeal Obamacare last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan refused to give a time line for a new bill.

...But many health-care providers are wary of the fast pace the GOP seems to be taking with repealing Obamacare.

...Molina is particularly worried about the potentially higher premiums and misleading packages insurance companies can price and sell.

December 9, 2016:

...Many Republicans would prefer to argue the Obamacare markets were already in their death throes before they took charge — the question is whether they can get away with it.

“The first question I think they’re trying to figure out is, do we actually own it for 2018?” said one health care lobbyist, speaking on background. “If premiums spike and plans exit, can we still blame it on Obama and get away with it? That’s one of the threshold questions that I don’t think they’ve answered.”

March 24, 2017:

 

Immediately after the "death" of the AHCA (Trumpcare) bill, I posted the clip above (from the underrated suspense thriller "Dead Again"), noting that as much of a victory as it was, there was little time to pat ourselves on the back, because Trump and the GOP would no doubt be back for Round 2 at any moment.

At the time, I assumed that they would likely abandon the "official" attempt at repeal/replace for the time being, and focus instead "only" on sabotage efforts of the ACA itself by doing whatever they can to scare off the carriers...and for the most part, that's exactly what Trump has done ("It's gonna explode!" and so forth).

I see that I've been thrown into the crossfire of a wonk debate between John Cochrane (who I've never actually heard of before today) and Brad DeLong/Paul Krugman (both of whom I very much have heard of!) regarding the question of whether the individual healthcare market is or isn't in a Death Spiral and/or whether it will/won't enter one next year.

Back in January, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that, overall, they didn't see any death spiral forming if the ACA is kept mostly intact...but also concluded that growth of the exchange population has likely plateaued; around 13 million appears to be the enrollment ceiling barring any significant changes to the law. Interestingly, however, a couple of weeks ago they concluded that there would also be no death spiral if the GOP's AHCA "replacement" plan were to become law either.

Meanwhile, over at the Brookings Institute, Matthew Fiedler ran his own analysis of the exchange risk pool and concluded "No Death Spiral!" there either:

 

(This is an updated version of a post from February 1st):

COSMO: When I was in prison I learned that everything in this world, including money, operates not on reality...

MARTY: ...but on the perception of reality.

COSMO: Posit: People think a bank might be financially shaky.

MARTY: Consequence: People start to withdraw their money.

COSMO: Result: Pretty soon it is financially shaky.

MARTY: Conclusion: You can make banks fail.

COSMO: Bzzzzt! I've already done that. Maybe you've heard about a few? Think bigger.

MARTY: Stock market?

COSMO: Yes.

MARTY: Currency market?

COSMO: Yes.

MARTY: Commodities market?

COSMO: Yes.

MARTY: Small countries?

COSMO: I might even be able to crash the whole damned system.

Friday, January 20th:

via TV Tropes:

Synthetic Plague

So The Plague is wreaking havoc on the world's population. Maybe Super Flu has killed millions, or some unknown biological agent is causing people to snap and kill each other. Heck, maybe we even have a good old fashioned Zombie Apocalypse on our hands. Either way, it's safe to say that for most of humanity, these are not fun times. How could things get much worse, you ask?

By the revelation that the disease in question has been manufactured by genetic engineering, and possibly is distributed by humans. The untold amount of death and destruction has been directly caused by the foolish or malicious action of Man himself.

It may have been designed for use as a biological weapon, or an unexpected result of an experiment gone wrong. Perhaps we just shouldn't have let monkeys watch TV for too long. However it came to be, it has now been unleashed on humanity at large, and has almost certainly gone far beyond what its designers had originally intended.

There's been a lot of talk, by myself and others, about just which populations would be screwed over by a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Analysts, reporters and pundits have sliced and diced the numbers every which way...by race, income level, geography and of course political leanings.

Of course, this gets awfully messy right out of the gate because some ACA provisions apply to everyone in the country, such as the cap removal on annual/lifetime coverage limits; the reassurance that you can't be denied coverage for having pre-existing conditions (which applies to those covered by employer insurance as well, I should note, since many of them may have to switch jobs or be without one at some point in their lives), and so on. Other benefits apply to subgroups which aren't talked about much, such as the Medicare fund being extended by years and the Medicare Part D "donut hole" being closed.

Politico, January 26th:

The Trump administration has pulled the plug on all Obamacare outreach and advertising in the crucial final days of the 2017 enrollment season, according to sources at Health and Human Services and on Capitol Hill.

Even ads that had already been placed and paid for have been pulled, the sources told POLITICO.

...Individuals may still sign up for Obamacare plans until the Jan. 31 deadline — but the Trump administration isn't advertising that fact any longer.

It is also halting all media outreach designed to spur signups in the days leading up to the deadline. Emails are no longer being sent out to individuals who visited HealthCare.gov, the enrollment website, to encourage them to finish signing up. Those emails had proven highly successful in getting stragglers to complete enrollment before the deadline.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a consumer group that supports the law, called the decision "a mean-spirited effort that can only result in fewer people getting coverage who need it."

 

Robert Costa in the Washington Post:

President Trump called my cellphone to say that the health-care bill was dead

President Trump called me on my cellphone on Friday afternoon at 3:31 p.m. At first I thought it was a reader with a complaint since it was a blocked number.

Instead, it was the president calling from the Oval Office. His voice was even, his tone muted. He did not bury the lede.

“Hello, Bob,” Trump began. “So, we just pulled it.”

...The Democrats, he said, were to blame.

...Trump said he would not put the bill on the floor in the coming weeks. Instead, he is willing to wait and watch the current law continue and, in his view, encounter problems. And he believes Democrats will eventually want to work with him on some kind of legislative fix to Obamacare, although he did not say when that would be.

Late last night, just a few hours ahead of the actual vote in the House of Representatives, the House GOP released their final changes to the American Health Care Act (AHCA), otherwise known as Trumpcare. The last-minute changes range from pointless to insulting to disastrous:

  • It tacks on an additional one-time $15 billion to the "State Stability Fund", supposedly to cover maternity, newborn care and mental health services.
  • It pays for the above by holding onto the existing 0.9% Medicare tax on people earning over $200,000 for another 6 years
  • And, most significantly, it would get rid of the requirement that all qualifying healthcare policies cover the 10 Essential Health Benefits mandated by the federal government.

I want to take a moment to address the first two bullet points above, because they're basically the exact same thing that Paul Ryan did a few days earlier.

The original version of the AHCA would have resulted in older Americans having to pay exhorbitant premiums due to the idiotic restructuring of the tax credit system and the 5:1 age band change. This led the AARP to unleash their army to understandable scream bloody murder at Congressional town halls nationwide.

In response, the GOP added an oddly-worded amendment which "instructed" the Senate to pony up $85 billion which would be used to "increase tax credits for 50-64 year olds" in some vague fashion. Why they didn't simply cross out "$4,000" and replace it with "$10,000" in the language of their own text I have no idea, but whatever. The point is that they gummed up the works for older enrollees, got screamed at for it, and responded by throwing a boatload of cash at those folks to get them to STFU.

 

If it was any other politician, I'd call this a strategic bluff to try and get the bill to pass:

UPDATE: 7:42 p.m.: President Donald Trump is demanding a vote Friday in the House on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. If the bill fails, Trump is prepared to move on and leave Obamacare in place, Mulvaney said.

In the case of Donald Trump, however, he could mean it. He doesn't actually give a rat's ass about healthcare or helping people anyway; the only reason he wants to repeal the ACA is because a) it'd let him stick it to Barack Obama; b) it'd give him another tax cut and c) he'd get to brag about "winning" by finally slaying the mighty Obamacare Beast, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, the Congressional Budget Office projected that Trumpcare 1.0, aka the "American Health Care Act" or AHCA would kick 14 million people off their healthcare coverage next year alone, followed by an additional 10 million getting the boot by 2026. It would, however, save the federal government around $336 billion over that time period, which was pretty much the only positive part of their analysis.

Unfortunately, it also meant that a 64-year old earning $26,500 per year would end up having to spend about 60% of their entire gross income in order to pay for health insurance even after their tax credits.

This didn't go over too well with the "moderate" wing of the House GOP, as the AARP crowd wouldn't stop screaming at them during town halls nationwide. Meanwhile, the "Freedom Caucus" (basically, the ultra-batcrap insane wing as opposed to the only-kinda-insane members) was angry because the Trumpcare bill didn't hurt enough people quickly enough.

 

House leaders postpone vote on their health-care plan

House leaders postponed a vote Thursday on their plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system, as they struggled to meet demands of conservative lawmakers who said they could not support the bill.

Earlier Thursday, conservative House Republicans had rebuffed an offer by President Trump on Thursday to strip a key set of mandates from the nation’s current health-care law, raising doubts about whether House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) had the votes.

Trump met at the White House with the most conservative House Republicans, hoping to close a deal that would help ensure passage of the party’s health-care plan by shifting it even further to the right. But the session ended with no clear resolution, and some lawmakers said they needed more concessions before they would back the bill.

Via Quinnipiac a few hours ago:

March 23, 2017 - U.S. Voters Oppose GOP Health Plan 3-1, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Big Opposition To Cuts To Medicaid, Planned Parenthood

American voters disapprove 56 - 17 percent, with 26 percent undecided, of the Republican health care plan to replace Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. Support among Republicans is a lackluster 41 - 24 percent. 

If their U.S. Senator or member of Congress votes to replace Obamacare with the Republican health care plan, 46 percent of voters say they will be less likely to vote for that person, while 19 percent say they will be more likely and 29 percent say this vote won't matter, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll finds. 

(Granted, most of the 46% who say they're less likely to vote for them are most likely Democrats anyway, but still).

 

Republican Pete Sessions just literally said "Nobody is going to lose their coverage, you'll be able to keep your same doctor," "same plan." pic.twitter.com/nn0f4dFloc

— Tommy Christopher (@tommyxtopher) March 22, 2017

(sigh)

Seven years ago, President Obama repeatedly made an infamous promise: That under the Affordable Care Act, "If You Like Your Plan, You Can Keep It...If You Like Your Doctor, You Can Keep Them."

As a big fan of Obama and a supporter of the ACA, this statement has been making me, and any intellectually honest Democrat, wince ever since.

As I've stated many, many, many times over the years:

UPDATE: After thinking about it all day, I've decided to remove the "scrotum" nickname from the headline. I reserve the right to keep it in the body of this and future posts, however.

After being lambasted by pundits, reporters and politicians across the political spectrum for pushing an ACA replacement bill which would effectively raise insurance premiums on older enrollees up to eight times higher than they would be otherwise (eating up over 50% of their annual income in some cases)...

...it looks like Paul "Scrotum" Ryan has decided to resolve this issue by...beefing up the tax credits for the higher age bracket:

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Sunday he's seeking changes to the Republican health care bill to provide more assistance to 50-and-60-year-olds.

I've spent the past two months painstakingly crunching the numbers in an attempt to project just how many people would likely lose their healthcare coverage if the ACA were to be: a) fully repealed; b) with immediate effect; and c) without any substantive replacement policy put into its place.

My conclusion, after much analysis, double-checking and updating, is that the grand total would be roughly 24 million people: Around 8.2 million current exchange enrollees, nearly 15 million via Medicaid (expansion or otherwise), and the 750,000+ people enrolled in BHP programs in Minnesota and New York.

 

I told the following story about two years ago. It bears repeating for a different reason:

When I was 18 years old, my father died of a brain tumor. 

A few weeks after the funeral, I left for college at Michigan State University. Freshmen were required to room blind, so I had no idea who my roommate would be. When I met him, a tall blonde guy named Brian, I was still wearing the Kriah ribbon--a small torn piece of black cloth.

We shook hands, introduced ourselves, and then Brian asked me what the torn ribbon was for. I explained that my father had recently passed away, and that Jewish custom was for mourners to wear torn black cloth as part of the mourning process.

His response?

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that he's burning in hell right now."

I should note that this was less than 5 minutes after we had met. I was assigned to live in the same room as this guy for the next 9 months.

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting as many blog entries the past week or two. This has been partly due to our 5-day power outage, of course, as well as various other personal odds & ends. The main reason, however, is that I've been driving around the metro Detroit area giving a PowerPoint presentation about the ACA and Trumpcare to various groups. Last night was my 4th or 5th presentation, and while it was kind of sloppy and scattershot the first few times, I'm streamlining and modifying for each new event.

Even so, I'm cramming a lot of information into an hour or so, and several people at each event have asked if I could upload the slideshow to the website for easy download.

Therefore, I present: The Affordable Care Act and Repeal/Replace: Where Things Stand (pdf).

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