Health care ‘reform’ just keeps getting worse

The bottom line: worse health care coverage at higher cost to millions, loss of coverage entirely to millions more, in order to finance tax cuts for corporations.

The House Republican plan to replace Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) with the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which a few weeks ago failed to even come to a vote, has been reincarnated. The new version of the AHCA has apparently won the support of the Freedom Caucus in the House, but in so doing has become significantly worse for millions of Americans.

Here are the key points about this new attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare:

  • Despite repeated promises to keep the most popular part of Obamacare, the provision prohibiting insurance companies from refusing to cover those with pre-existing conditions, the new version returns us to the bad old days. While a particular state may choose to keep the prohibition, there is no longer any nationwide requirement that insurance companies issue affordable policies regardless of pre-existing conditions.
  • Nationwide standards for health insurance policies will be rolled back; plans will no longer be required to cover services such as mental health, maternity care, or substance abuse treatment.
  • The nationwide prohibition on lifetime and annual limits on benefits will be gone, meaning the possibility of medical bankruptcy will loom once again for many.
  • The modified version of the bill still effectively ends the Medicaid expansion; about 150,000 Iowans now covered under that provision could lose insurance altogether.
  • The bill still cuts $840 billion from Medicaid over 10 years, most of the savings going to wealthy individuals, drug companies, insurance companies, and other corporations.
  • Premiums and deductibles will still rise for large numbers of persons buying insurance on the exchanges, especially for the elderly, those with lower incomes, and those in high-cost states or areas, such as most of rural Iowa.
  • Under the bill, there would be no limit on the premium an insurance company can charge based on medical history; thus someone with pre-existing conditions could in theory be offered coverage, but at a cost that is simply unaffordable. There is little difference between this situation and straight denial of coverage. A state could choose to prohibit this practice (i.e., to keep the Obamacare provision in place), but few states chose to do so before Obamacare.

While the proponents of this revised plan may argue that it keeps the prohibition on gender discrimination, a woman would pay substantially more for a plan that included maternity coverage. Such coverage would not be a required part of all plans, but instead would be an expensive option.

Just how this revised bill would affect overall coverage rates, premiums, and out-of-pocket costs, awaits a new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. But it is quite possible that the bill will be voted on in the house without the benefit of that analysis. Part of the pressure to pass the bill now comes from the desire on the part of the Trump administration to come up with large savings to the federal government that can then be used to finance cuts to corporate and individual income taxes.

The bottom line: worse health care coverage at higher cost to millions, loss of coverage entirely to millions more, in order to finance tax cuts for corporations (and probably millionaires as well).

Posted by Peter Fisher, research director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.

Also see Fisher’s March 2017 policy brief for the Iowa Fiscal Partnership: “Replacing ACA: What you need to know about the AHCA.”

Unfunded Mandates? Not Quite, Governor

What is clear is that the mandates in the Affordable Care Act are not “unfunded.” Though Iowa will be required to cover a small portion of the costs of the Medicaid expansion, this hardly qualifies as “shackl[ing] Iowa taxpayers.”

Andrew Cannon photo
Andrew Cannon

This week, Governor Branstad signed Iowa on to a multistate lawsuit challenging health care reform. In his statement announcing that Iowa would join the suit, Governor Branstad said the health reform law would “shackle Iowa taxpayers for billions in unfunded mandates.”

You may be wondering what “unfunded mandates” he’s referring to. So am I.

He might be talking about the individual responsibility requirement, since that is the provision that is being challenged in the lawsuit. Section 1501 of the Affordable Care Act requires all individuals to maintain health insurance coverage or face a tax penalty (with exemptions for those with religious oppositions or with financial difficulties).

But the individual mandate is not “unfunded;” indeed, it is largely funded by the federal government. Individuals and families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level  ($88,200 for a family of four) are eligible for premium assistance. The vast majority of Iowa’s uninsured, approaching 300,000 Iowans, will be covered by the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid. After the Medicaid expansion, the majority of the remaining Iowans will be eligible for the health insurance premium tax credits. Only about 27,400 Iowans earned more than 400 percent of the FPL ($88,200 for a family of four) and were uninsured, on average, from 2008 to 2010.

On the other hand, Governor Branstad could have been referring to the expansion of Medicaid as an “unfunded mandate.” As noted above, the Affordable Care Act vastly expands the Medicaid program, allowing all individuals with income below 133 percent of FPL ($29,326 for a family of four) to enroll. Medicaid is jointly financed by the states and the federal government, with the feds picking up the lion’s share of the tab. In normal times, the federal government pays for around 63 percent of the Medicaid program in Iowa; in recent years, that has been increased to around 71 percent, thanks to the federal Recovery Act.

But unlike traditional Medicaid, which comprises a large portion of the state’s budget, the Medicaid expansion will be almost entirely funded by the federal government. In other words, no unfunded mandate here, either. During the first three years, (2014-2016) the costs of expansion will be fully covered by the federal government. In subsequent years, the federal government’s share of the expansion costs will decrease, but not by much. In 2020 and beyond, Iowa will only be paying for 10 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion.

The fate of the lawsuit (and thus reform) is unclear, at this point, though experts and administration officials alike are confident that health reform will survive the legal challenges. Given the diverse rulings to date, the challenge will likely be resolved by the Supreme Court.

What is clear, however, is that the mandates in the Affordable Care Act are not “unfunded.” Though Iowa will be required to cover a small portion of the costs of the Medicaid expansion, this hardly qualifies as “shackl[ing] Iowa taxpayers.”

Posted by Andrew Cannon, Research Associate