Celebration for passing a bill may have been premature

With a White House eager to claim legislative victory, there was a celebratory bash after the Republican led House passed the AHCA by a squeaker of margins 217 to 213. The bill has been vilified by several advocacy groups like the AMA, American Cancer Society and AARP and it has still not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office. The bill is also dead in the water in the Senate “once it gets sent there.”

Wait a minute, the last sentence said “once it gets sent there.” To the surprise of some Republican House members, the AHCA bill has not yet been sent to the Senate. Why, you might ask? Since the House did not wait for the CBO to score the cost and impact of the bill on the numbers of uninsured, it cannot be included in the budgeting process, and would thus require 60 votes, not 51 to pass in the Senate. The whole idea was to sneak the bill through this process, so it did not need the super-majority of 60 votes, which it cannot achieve.

Unless the CBO scores this where it saves a threshold amount of the budget, it may not qualify. So, the House leadership has not yet sent the AHCA to the Senate. If they did and the CBO results were not favorable, the House would have to start over. Again, I should reiterate that this bill cannot get even the 51 votes needed due to the impact on Medicaid. As we speak, about two dozen state governors are beseeching the Senate about not harming Medicaid. Unlike the House, the Senate is actually listening.

So, the victory lap on mile 250 of the Indy 500, may have been premature. Voting on something without knowing its impact is not the wisest course of action and is unbecoming of a legislator we trust to do our homework.

 

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Puzzled about the ACA – take this quick quiz

Now that the AHCA effort by the President and Republican majority has fizzled, it would be appropriate to step away from the rhetoric and ask a few questions about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I would also suggest you may not want to listen only to politicians on this as I have learned the health care awareness of politicians is not as high as we need it to be and some are more interested in optics than impact.

The questions and answers have been provided by a retired benefits actuary, consultant and manager for a Fortune 500 company.

Question 1: The ACA is: (a) undergoing a death spiral, (b) a disaster and will implode, (c) doing well in a number of places, but needs help in a few others.

Question 2: The reasons for rising costs under the ACA are: (a) adverse selection where more bad risks are signing up than good risks, (b) Congress refusing to fully fund insurers as promised for this adverse selection, (c) increased demand of services due to our aging and more obese country and pent-up demand, (d) over-prescribed medicine and tests due to profit-induced incentives, (e) all of the above.

Question 3: In its report of the initial and refined draft of the ill-fated AHCA bill, the Congressional Budget Office noted the number of un-insureds under this bill if passed would: (a) increase by 14 million in 2018, (b) increase by 24 million by 2026, (c) both (a) and (b).

Question 4: Medicaid expansion to cover individuals who earn less than 138% of the poverty level is a key part of the ACA. What do we know about the Medicaid expansion effort: (a) 31 states elected to do so, (b) states that did so received federal funding that started at 100% and will phase down to 90%, (c) per a study by George Washington University, the states that expanded Medicaid have more insureds, better performing economies and more secure hospitals, especially rural ones who had a high percentage of indigent (unpaid for) care, (d) the states who expanded Medicaid are witnessing a decline in personal bankruptcy rates and an increase in hospital accounts receivable rates (e) all of the above.

Question 5: The ACA added which of the following improvements to insurance coverage under the employer and the ACA marketplaces (a) guaranteed issue and renewability of insurance, (b) eliminated life time limits on coverage, (c) extended eligibility to adult children not going to college up to age 26 on their parent plans, (d) provided subsidies to purchase coverage up to 4 times the poverty level based on family size and income, (e) all of the above.

Question 6: What are reasonable considerations to improve the ACA? (a) better fund the promised adverse selection protection to stabilize premiums for insurers, (b) offer to reimburse insurers who left the marketplace for unpaid adverse selection protection as promised under the law to woo them back, (c) offer a public option (such as Medicare) in some places with no competition, (d) encourage the expansion of Medicaid in the remaining 19 states, (e) stop the unproductive naysaying and think of the impact on people not the politics, (f) all of the above.

In my view as a benefits professional who follows these issues, the answers to each of these questions is the last choice provided. I have grown weary of politicians playing with people’s lives. We are owed the truth. Overall, this law is working reasonably well, but needs improvements, especially where insurers have left markets leaving one choice. The framework is there, but the improvements noted in Question 6 are reasonable changes.

One final thought I learned this weekend. To some there is a stigma of being on Medicaid. One man said he was embarrassed to show his card. Under the Medicaid expansion with the ACA, the card does not reference Medicaid, so it removes some of the stigma. The man began seeing a doctor and that has made a huge difference.