Charles Gaba's blog

There's over a half a dozen major healthcare reform bills swirling around the Democratic side of the aisle these days. The two biggest contenders at the moment are the universal, 100% mandatory single payer "Medicare for All" bill being pushed by the Progressive Caucus in the House (led by Pramila Jayapal) and, of course Bernie Sanders in the Senate; and the universal, 50% mandatory (over time) "Medicare for America" being championed by Reps. Rosa Delauro and Jan Schakowsky in the House and Presidential contender Beto O'Rourke.

Regular ACA Signups readers know that I'm a huge fan of the Medicare for America approach (although I think we also need a robust ACA 2.0 upgrade to tide things over until Med4Am can be ramped up). However, there are still a bunch of other proposals out there, and there's nothing wrong with any of them; it's mostly a question of how far you want to set your marker.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has been out of the national news for the past month or so, keeping a low profile since the media frenzy over the "med school blackface photo" debacle subsided. Rightly or wrongly, in the end, in spite of pretty much everyone under the sun demanding that he resign, he stuck it out and outlasted the scandal by simply...not.

He isn't up for reelection (and in fact under Virginia law he can't run again anyway), he didn't actually commit any crimes or anything else impeachable, so it sounds like the state has pretty much just sort of accepted that he's gonna stick it out for another couple of years. In fact, according to this article in the Virginian-Pilot, he seems to have regained some of his pre-scandal stature:

Two months after a blackface photo in an old yearbook nearly ended the political career of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, his life seems mostly back to normal.

Over the past week or so, I've written several posts explaining how the new ACA 2.0 bill rolled out by the House Democrats would improve the law. So far I've mainly focused on the impact on health insurance policy premiums, since that's the single most obvious improvement.

In particular, I posted an extensive explainer, with colorful graphs and tables, showing how single adults at various ages would fare under ACA 2.0 compared to current law (households with more than one person would follow a similar patter, with the dollar amounts simply being higher across the board).

However, it's probably a good idea for people to also understand how age bands work. The age band is the reason an (unsubsidized) 64-year old pays so much more than a 21-year old.

From February:

The full expansion initiative passed last fall, of course, is supposed to cover Utah residents earning up to 138% of the poverty line, or around 150,000 people...without any work requirements.

The bill barreling through the Utah Legislature was “an effort to override the will of the people,” said Matthew Slonaker, the executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, a nonprofit group that supported the full expansion of Medicaid.

Utah lawmakers, worried that the sales tax increase might not fully cover the costs, are rushing through a bill that would limit the expansion of Medicaid to people with incomes less than or equal to the poverty level, about $12,140 for an individual.

State officials say that the bill, which is estimated to cover 90,000 people, could be on the desk of Gov. Gary R. Herbert, a Republican, in a week or two.

In an excellent scoop by Dan Diamond and Adam Cancryn this morning, Politico reports that CMS Administrator Seema Verma--the woman in charge of Medicare and Medicaid who takes great joy in trashing Medicare and Medicaid--has spent millions of dollars on partisan consulting firms to boost her own image:

The Trump appointee who oversees Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare quietly directed millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts to Republican communications consultants during her tenure atop the agency — including hiring one well-connected GOP media adviser to bolster her public profile.

Lost amidst all the other overwhelming ACA-related news this week is one other important nugget: The Affordable Care Act's "individual mandate penalty", which was lowered to $0 in December 2017, was still the law of the land until December 31, 2018. It may have been changed at the time, but that change didn't become effective until January 1, 2019.

Here's the exact text:

PART VIII--INDIVIDUAL MANDATE SEC. 11081.

ELIMINATION OF SHARED RESPONSIBILITY PAYMENT FOR INDIVIDUALS FAILING TO MAINTAIN MINIMUM ESSENTIAL COVERAGE.

(a) In General.--Section 5000A(c) <<NOTE: 26 USC 5000A.>> is amended--
(1) in paragraph (2)(B)(iii), by striking ``2.5 percent'' and inserting ``Zero percent'', and
(2) in paragraph (3)--

(A) by striking ``$695'' in subparagraph (A) and inserting ``$0'', and
(B) by striking subparagraph (D).

(b) <<NOTE: 26 USC 5000A note.>> Effective Date.--
The amendments made by this section shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2018.

So much crazy healthcare policy/legal news is happening this week I'm having trouble keeping up.

This happened yesterday:

BREAKING: federal judge strikes down Kentucky's Medicaid work requirements. Again. Remands them back to HHS

— Nathaniel Weixel (@NateWeixel) March 27, 2019

Same judge also strikes down work requirements in Arkansas

— Nathaniel Weixel (@NateWeixel) March 27, 2019

And since I was too swamped with other stuff, I didn't have a chance to write about it until now. A bunch of other outlets have already posted the details, so here's Dylan Scott of Vox.com to save me the trouble:

A federal district judge has blocked Medicaid work requirements approved by the Trump administration in Arkansas and Kentucky.

There's been so many Big Important Breaking News stories about healthcare this week I haven't been able to keep up. On top of the ACA 2.0 rollout and Trump's kamikaze #TexasFoldEm maneuver via the Dept. of Justice memo and the release of the 2019 Open Enrollment Period report and a major judicial ruling which torpedoed Medicaid expansion work requirements in Kentucky (again) and Arkansas which also had immediate implications for Idaho and Iowa...and potentially other states as well!!

And then, this evening, THIS just happened:

It's been a long time since I last wrote a piece for healthinsurance.org, but the latest chapter in the neverending "GOP attack on the ACA" drama compelled me to do so yesterday.

I left out one tidbit in my latest post, however: There's been a lot of speculation the past two days about the timing of both Trump's DOJ memo formally asking the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act on Monday the 25th and the timing of the House Democrats' ACA 2.0 press conference/bill rollout the very next day on March 26th.

The House Dems announced on Saturday the 23rd that they were scheduling their big ACA 2.0 rollout on Tuesday the 26th.

 

As I'm typing this, the House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee is holding markup hearings regarding twelve different healthcare-related bills. The first six relate to prescription drug pricing and regulation, and some of them appear to have genuine bipartisan support.

The other six are directly related to the ACA...these are the six "mini ACA 2.0" bills which cover six of the eleven ACA repairs & improvement provisions included the the larger ACA 2.0 bill introduced yesterday. Here's summaries of all twelve bills being debated today:

 

Most people know that over the past three years, I've gone from being a fan of Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders to...well, not being a fan; let's just leave it at that. They also know that while I support an eventual move towards a single payer-based healthcare system, I simply feel that it will have to be achieved via incremental steps (preferably large steps, not baby ones).

However, for the past year, I've repeatedly made sure to temper my concerns and criticisms of Sen. Sanders views by making sure to note that Bernie himself cosponsored the Senate version of ACA 2.0 introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, aka the Consumer Health Insurance Protection Act, or CHIPA.

I addressed this point at the time in response to earlier attacks on me by MFA purists:

I need to take a moment here to call out progressives who badmouthed and scolded me last week for promoting the House ACA 2.0 bill by insisting that ONLY Bernie's M4A bill will do, and ANYTHING short of that--even in the short term--is unacceptable.

OK, the House Democrats just wrapped up their press conference at which they officially introduced...The Protecting Pre-Existing Conditions and Making Healthcare More Affordable Act, or #PPECMHMAA.

Just rolls off the tongue, huh?

(sigh) Naming-wise, this is actually worse than the title of last year's ACA upgrade bill ("The Undo Sabotage and Expand Affordability of Health Insurance Act", or #USEAHIA), H.R.5155, which I didn't think was possible.

In any event, last year I went with simply calling it "ACA 2.0", which seems even more appropriate today. Others seem to agree:

The bill Democrats are rolling out to shore up Obamacare is called the Protecting Pre-Existing Conditions and Making Healthcare More Affordable Act. I think @charles_gaba calling it ACA 2.0 is going to catch on pretty quickly.

— Kimberly Leonard (@leonardkl) March 26, 2019

(sigh) I was planning on writing up an in-depth analysis of the 2019 ACA Open Enrollment Period report which was just released by CMS a few hours ago.

Instead, in a bit of sick irony, I have to spend the evening writing about this (via Nicholas Bagley):

The Trump Administration Now Thinks the Entire ACA Should Fall

In a stunning, two-sentence letter submitted to the Fifth Circuit today, the Justice Department announced that it now thinks the entire Affordable Care Act should be enjoined. That’s an even more extreme position than the one it advanced at the district court in Texas v. Azar, when it argued that the court should “only” zero out the protections for people with preexisting conditions.

UPDATE 3/26/19: In light of last night's bombshell announcement that the Trump DOJ is now officially calling for the entire ACA to be repealed in the #TexasFoldEm lawsuit, the wording of yesterday's press release from Trump's CMS division is straight out of 1984 territory:

CMS Issues the 2019 Exchange Open Enrollment Period Final Report
Agency also extends the policy allowing issuers to continue “grandmothered” plans

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today released the Health Insurance Exchanges 2019 Open Enrollment Report. With the Trump Administration’s focus on making healthcare more affordable, the report confirms another successful open enrollment period coinciding with a stabilization of premiums after years of substantial increases. Specifically, the report shows plan selections in Exchange plans in the 50 states and D.C. remained steady at 11.4 million. This represents a minimal decline of around 300,000 plan selections from the same time last year. Also, as outlined in the report, average total premiums for plans selected through HealthCare.gov dropped by 1.5 percent from the prior year, the first decline since the Exchanges began operations in 2014.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that Colorado is joining over a half-dozen other states in moving forward with their own ACA reinsurance program 1332 waiver request. At the time, I was a bit vague as to just how much the program, if approved, would actually lower unsubsidized premiums, especially since the wording of the bill differentiates between different rating areas:

The Commissioner shall set the payment parameters at amounts to achieve:

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