Friday, July 28, 2017

Strike Three! A Statesman and Two Adults––Republicans Fail to "Repeal and Replace" Obamacare

The latest attempt by Senate Republicans to "repeal and replace" Obamacare––the “skinny” plan––failed early this morning on a vote of 49-51.

The deciding vote came from John McCain (AZ), joined by Republican Senators Collins (ME) and Murkowski (AK).

Trying to pass the “skinny” bill was a fool’s errand. How did McConnell think he was going to do any better bringing 240 House Republicans—including the Freedom Caucus—into a process that he could get no more than 45 Republican votes for in his own Senate?

Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had earlier said the “skinny” plan was a “half assed” bill whose only purpose was to keep what had been so far a horribly failed process alive—just before he voted for it.

Now what?

The focus now has to be on what will happen to the failing Obamacare exchange markets.

Will there be a bipartisan effort to shore them up?

I will suggest that there are two pre-conditions for any Congressional bipartisan solution:
  1. Democrats will have to admit the problems with Obamacare are more than “imperfections”––they will have to admit that Obamacare has been a dismal failure for those who have no choice but to buy their health insurance in the individual health insurance market and make too much money to qualify for a subsidy––40% of American households make more than 400% of the federal poverty level, which is the cutoff point for subsidies.
  2. Republicans will have to admit that most American households not eligible for Medicare, employer-based health insurance, or the pre-2014 Medicaid program, cannot afford to buy health insurance on their own—even if we had 2013 premium rate levels.
Will Trump make things worse in the Obamacare insurance exchanges?

Probably:


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Strike Two––The Republican Obamacare "Repeal and Replace" Fiasco

Three strikes and you're out.

On Monday, Senate Republicans approved proceeding to debate on "repealing and replacing" Obamacare by a vote of 50-50-1, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the deciding vote.

Strike One
Yesterday, Senate Republicans failed to approve the bill they had been working on for over a month, which included the Cruz amendment that would have bifurcated the individual health market into separate healthy and sick pools. The vote was 43-57. Of course, all Democrats voted no. The nine Republicans voting against the leadership bill included Collins (ME), Corker (TN), Cotton (AR), Graham (SC), Heller (NV), Lee (UT), Moran (KS), Murkowski (AK), and Paul (KY).

Interestingly, West Virginia’s Capito, who had expressed lots of reservations about the Senate bill, did not vote against it.

The list of those voting no included both the most conservative and the most moderate. Both Maine and Kansas have not expanded Medicaid. Yet, Collins and Moran both voted no, at least in part, because of the impact the long-range caps on Medicaid would have on the large senior populations (nursing home payments) benefiting from the baseline Medicaid program in their states.

Lee and Paul voted no because the Senate bill didn’t go far enough to reduce the cost of insurance. Paul’s objective is complete repeal generally wanting to go back to 2013. Lee also wants a wide-open market.

The rest, in one way or another, just saw the Senate bill as leaving too much trauma in its wake, with the CBO estimating that 22 million fewer would ultimately be covered, and are generally are calling for a return to the "regular order" committee process and bipartisan negotiations with Democrats. The problem with that approach is that most of the 43 Republican Senators that voted for the bill want nothing to do with an agreement that makes Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer happy.

All of this was made more complicated this week when the Senate parliamentarian ruled key provisions in the Senate bill out of order under budget reconciliation rules. These included the six-month lockout substitute for the individual mandate, association health plans, and going from 3:1 age rating to 5:1 age rating.

Strike Two
Repeal, with a two-year period within which to create a replacement, also failed, on a 45 to 55 vote. This time the Republican no votes included Alexander (TN), Capito (WV), Collins (ME), Heller (NV), McCain (AZ), Murkowski (AK), and Portman (OH).

The Last Attempt:
Now, McConnell will likely proceed to pass a “skinny” bill that only repeals provisions that arguably have unanimous support among Republicans: Repealing the medical device tax, the employer mandate, and the individual mandate.

His purpose is to just pass something that would keep this alive by having a bill to take back to the House for a conference. His hope is that he can ultimately hash out an agreement with the House. But that is nuts. The House bill is arguably even more conservative than the Senate bill. What makes McConnell think by bringing the Freedom Caucus back into these discussions that he can find a way to keep his moderate Republicans onside?

No one knows if this “skinny” strategy has 50 votes and won’t until the vote is taken.

Even if McConnell can pass the "skinny" option, I just can’t see a viable end game here for Republicans on their own.

There is also a zero chance of any kind of bipartisan agreement so long as a substantial majority of Republicans––as well as the Twitter in Chief––find a “bailout” of Obamacare unacceptable.

Let me also suggest that the Jeff Sessions fiasco has relevance here.

President Trump has said repeatedly that Obamacare is imploding. Any attempts now by the Secretary of HHS to administratively shore it up would likely put Secretary Price in the same boat that Attorney General Sessions is sitting in right now.

And, if we needed any more complications, the Anthem CEO’s comments this morning won’t help. He said, “We don’t believe we have been heard,” when referring to the largest Blue Cross carrier’s warnings to Congress and the administration about the precarious state of the individual health insurance market. He also said uncertainty over whether the $7 billion in low-income cost sharing subsidies would be paid by the Trump administration would lead to 20 points more in rate increases on top of the average 20% rate increases Anthem has already applied for. He also said that Anthem would consider getting out of more states if the Obamacare insurance exchanges aren't quickly stabilized.

The Anthem comments just underscore that the only thing a successful "skinny" strategy on the part of Republicans could lead to is a 2018 individual market fiasco, particularly for the individual market participants who don't get a subsidy.

If you had set out to design the perfect nightmare you couldn’t do it this well.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Post-Republican Obamacare Market Will Be "Stable" and Very Profitable for Health Insurers

Predictions that the individual health insurance market will now implode are misplaced.

First, in the wake of the Republican collapse of efforts to replace Obamacare, Medicaid will continue on unaffected. The Obama Medicaid expansion is fully funded for years to come. The nineteen states that did not take the expansion will continue to be on the outside looking in as their taxpayers continue to fund the expansion in the 31 states that did expand. And, health insurers will continue to enjoy that growth in their business as states continue to benefit from the open-ended federal funding.

The individual health insurance market will not collapse.

With about 3,000 counties in the U.S., I can't give you an absolute guarantee that there won't be a few that will not have an insurance carrier serving the Obamacare market in 2018. But generally, the vast majority of people eligible for subsidies will have at least one carrier to buy from.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is out with a recent study looking at medical loss ratios in the first quarter of 2017. They concluded that "individual market insurers on average are on a path toward regaining profitability in 2017."

I wouldn't go so far as to say that participating health plans will generally make money in 2017––the first quarter medical loss ratio is always better early on as consumers satisfy their ever-growing Obamacare deductibles.

But I do think 2018 could be a decent bottom line year for most Obamacare exchange insurers. And, 2019 should be just fine.

Does this mean the Obamacare insurance exchanges are working well?

No.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Senate Republican Obamacare "Repeal and Replace" Bill Dead––Good Riddance To An Awful Public Policy Proposal

The Senate Republican Obamacare "repeal and replace" legislation––just like the House version––was an awful bill. Individual health insurance costs wouldn't have gone down they would have gone up and both bills would have screwed a lot of low-income people. The latest Cruz amendment bifurcating the market with the sick in one place and the healthy in another was the most cynical kind of public policy.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

What's Really Behind the Cruz Amendment to the Republican Senate Plan to Replace Obamacare?

A Cunning Strategy to Back Door Risk Pools and Market Segmentation 

 

Ted Cruz has offered an amendment—since included in the latest Republican Senate draft—that would enable health insurance plans to offer stripped down coverage outside the current Obamacare compliant individual market. Anytime spent covered by them would be considered a break in service and subject the consumer to the six-month lockout provision should they want to get into the standard market. Carriers offering these plans could not deny pre-existing conditions but could up-rate sicker people.

Critics, including the health insurance industry trade associations, have come out against the idea because it would bifurcate the market into two separate pools—the healthier “Cruz pool” and the standard individual market subject to all of the current Obamacare consumer protections.
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