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Below is a summary of recent events to help you stay current on healthcare reform news all in one place. To make your voice heard on these issues, visit, a non-partisan movement that lets you share your opinion on healthcare legislation with friends, family, and even Washington D.C.!

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 16, 2019

Medicare Considering Covering Acupuncture for Back Pain

A new Medicare proposal would cover acupuncture for beneficiaries with chronic low-back pain as an alternative to opioid treatments, which can become addictive.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Monday that the coverage would apply only to patients enrolled in clinical trials or other CMS-approved studies. The agency would then use results of those trials to determine further acupuncture coverage options.

CMS is gathering public input before finalizing the proposal.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 15, 2019

Appeals Court Blocks Trump Administration’s Exemptions to ACA Contraception Rules

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision to block the Trump administration from “allowing employers with moral and religious objections” to deny birth control coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA requires that employer-sponsored health plans include birth control coverage with no copays. In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order encouraging federal agencies to expand “conscience-based objections” to the mandate.

The panel of three judges sided with Democratic state attorneys general from Pennsylvania and New Jersey who argued that the new exemption rules contained “serious substantive problems.”

Connecticut ACA Insurers Propose Rate Increases for 2020 Plans

Anthem and ConnectiCare, the two insurance companies on Connecticut’s state healthcare exchange, have proposed premium increases for individual Affordable Care Act plans in 2020.

Anthem has requested an average 15.2 percent rate increase for individual plans sold on and off the exchange and an average 14.8 percent rate increase for small group health plans.

ConnectiCare requested a 4.9 percent rate increase for individual plans sold on and off the exchange.

The companies attributed rising healthcare costs, the aging population, and the newly reinstated Health Insurance Tax (HIT) as factors in their proposals.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 12, 2019

Cancer Patients Face Substantial Financial Burden

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the annual out-of-pocket expenses for cancer survivors is increasing with 25 percent experiencing problems paying their bills and 34 percent worried about their costs.

Average out-of-pocket spending for cancer survivors is $1,000 per year compared to $622 per year for people who’ve never had cancer. And those costs are growing. Even with health insurance in place, cancer patients incur an additional financial burden from  things such as traveling to treatment and being away from work.

Other findings from the study:

  • Out-of-pocket expenses were highest among cancer survivors ages 18-64 and those who were unemployed.
  • Cancer survivors ages 40-49 reported the highest percentage of “material or psychological financial hardship.”
  • A higher percentage of minority racial/ethnic cancer survivors reported “material or psychological financial hardship.”
  • “Cancer survivors [are] more likely to be older, female, non-Hispanic white, married, privately insured,” full-time employees, more educated, and have more chronic conditions compared to people who’ve never had cancer.

Narrow Medicare Advantage Networks Limit Access for Some Enrollees

Finding a doctor in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan network can be difficult for many enrollees, especially if they live in rural areas.

Government audits have found that nearly half of the entries in MA directories had incorrect addresses, phone numbers, or doctors who were not accepting new patients. The American Journal of Managed Care found that a Google search for participating doctors could be more accurate than using a plan’s directory.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study from 2017 found that MA plans included “46 percent of all physicians in a county, on average.” Access to psychiatrists is the most restricted, with 23 percent in a county’s plan on average, followed by cardiothoracic surgeons, neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons, and radiation oncologists.

Rural beneficiaries can be especially burdened by narrow MA networks. A study of California MA plans showed that some enrollees in rural areas lived over 100 miles from in-network specialists.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 10, 2019

Appeals Judges Question Validity of ACA’s Individual Mandate

A panel of three federal appeals court judges pressed the state attorneys general defending the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday over whether the law remains constitutional without its individual mandate penalty.

In the two hours of oral arguments, two Republican-appointed judges appeared skeptical about the constitutionality of the individual mandate. Judge Kurt Engelhardt suggested that severing the tax penalty from the ACA should be the job of Congress rather than the courts.

The two judges also questioned whether either side of the lawsuit had any legal standing to initially challenge the ACA or appeal the lower-court’s decision.

Carolyn Dineen King, the only Democratic-appointed judge, did not ask questions during the hearing.

The judges did not indicate when they would issue their ruling, but it is expected in the coming months.

California 2020 ACA Premiums Show Record Low Increases

Proposed premium increases for 2020 ACA plans in California are the lowest in the state exchange’s history, with an average hike of 0.8%, officials said. That’s down from an average increase of nearly 9% for 2019 plans and a five-year average increase of 8.4%.

Proposed bronze plan rates will increase an average of 5.7%, and silver plans will decrease an average of 4.3%.

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said the rate stabilizations were due to new state-funded tax credits to middle-class enrollees and a new state penalty imposed on uninsured residents.

All of the state’s 11 ACA insurers will return for 2020, and Anthem Blue Cross will expand into the Central Coast, parts of the Central Valley, Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire.

Minnesota 2020 ACA Premiums Show Modest Increase

Proposed 2020 ACA premiums in Minnesota show only slight increases compared to this year’s rates.

Proposed average individual rate changes for the state’s four ACA insurers are as follows:

  • Medica: down 1.4%
  • UCare: up 0.3%
  • HealthPartners: up 2.1%
  • Blue Cross HMO: up 4.8%

In the state’s small group market, the proposed rate increases were between 3 and 6%.

Final rates are scheduled to be released in early October.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 9, 2019

Federal Appeals Court Hearing on ACA Constitutionality Begins Today

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments today on whether a lower court ruling that declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional should be overturned.

The ACA is being challenged by 18 Republican-led states. The three-judge panel will also decide whether the coalition of Democratic states and the U.S. House of Representatives have standing to intervene in the case after the Trump administration declined to defend the health law.

It’s unclear when the panel will make its ruling. However, it’s expected that the case will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

Connecticut Enacts Mental Health Parity Bill

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed a bill into law that will require insurance providers to submit annual reports to state insurance commissioners, detailing their coverage of mental health and substance abuse services.

The new law intends to hold insurers accountable for complying with state and federal laws that mandate equal access to mental and physical health services.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 8, 2019

Medicare Coverage Expanded for Blood Pressure Monitoring Devices

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has extended coverage of Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitoring (ABPM) devices to Medicare beneficiaries who have suspected abnormal low blood pressure readings while in a doctor’s office.

Previously, Medicare covered ABPM devices only for patients with suspected “white coat hypertension,” which occurs when a patient’s blood pressure is elevated due to anxiety associated with a clinical setting. The 24-hour monitoring device is now also approved for “masked hypertension,” the inverse of “white coat hypertension,” which causes patients to have lower-than-normal blood pressure readings while in a clinical setting.

The new rule also lowers the definition of hypertension from a reading of 140/90 to 130/80 “to align with the latest society recommendations regarding the diagnostic criteria.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 3, 2019

Federal Appeals Court Denies ACA Lawsuit Postponement

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request from Republican state attorneys general to delay oral arguments in the case to strike down the Affordable Care Act.

The lawyers had asked for a 20-day delay to file briefs relating to questions on whether the Democratic-led states defending the ACA have legal standing to intervene. The court allowed a two-day delay and will hear the case July 9 as scheduled.

Pennsylvania Will Switch to State-based ACA Exchange for 2021 Plans

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation Tuesday implementing a state-based Affordable Care Act exchange that’s expected to begin with next year’s Open Enrollment for 2021 plans.

The law also includes a new state reinsurance fund, which could help reduce premiums by as much as 10 percent, state officials say.

The Department of Health and Human Services must approve the law before it can be enacted.

Poll: Majority Support Medicare for All if Healthcare Providers Remain

A majority of voters would back a Medicare for All plan if they could keep their preferred doctors and hospitals, according to a new Morning Consult/Politico survey.

Of those surveyed, 55% of respondents backed a single-payer system that would reduce the role of private insurance companies but allow them to keep their healthcare providers.

But 46% were in favor when told the role of private insurers would be reduced, and 53% approved when not given any specifics about insurers or doctors.

The poll found that general support for a Medicare for All system comes from 77% of Democrats, 27% of Republicans and 50% of Independents.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 27, 2019

Court Questions Democrats’ Right to Defend ACA

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has asked whether the Democrat-led House of Representatives or Democratic states have the legal right to appeal the ruling that struck down the Affordable Care Act.

It’s possible that the panel could toss out the appeal on procedural grounds if it decides that the opposing side does not have the authority to appeal U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s decision to declare the ACA unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel requested that both sides of the lawsuit provide written arguments. Oral arguments will begin on July 9.

Senate Committee Approves Surprise Billing Package

The Senate health committee approved its healthcare package, called the Lower Health Care Costs Act, which includes a cap on how much providers can bill for out-of-network care.

Before approval, an amendment was added to the legislation. The change requires insurers to reveal all physicians and hospitals in their networks so patients can see all available options before choosing a plan.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said that the bill will likely have more revisions before a vote in August.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 26, 2019

New Study Shows 14% Increase in Out-of-Pocket Healthcare Costs

In 2018, out-of-pocket costs for inpatient services increased 14% over the previous year, according to a report from TransUnion Healthcare.

TransUnion tracked deductible and co-pay costs for patients with commercial insurance, Medicare Advantage, Traditional Medicare, and those who self-pay to find the annual averages.

2018 Average Out-of-Pocket Cost

2017 Average Out-of-Pocket Cost

Inpatient visit



Outpatient visit



Emergency visit



In addition, the study found that 59% of patients had out-of-pocket expenses between $501 and $1,000, compared to 39% in 2017. Patients with expenses of $500 or less drop from 49% in 2017 to 36% in 2018.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 25, 2019

Supreme Court to Rule on ACA Risk Corridor Suit

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that will decide if insurers are owed $12 billion in government payments from the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridor program.

The program was created to help offset potential financial losses during the initial years of the ACA. Insurers with lower-than-expected costs would pay into the program, and those with heavy-than-expected costs would be reimbursed from this fund.

In 2014, Congress required the program to be budget-neutral and limited payments, which insurers say lead to a shortfall.

President Signs Executive Order on Healthcare Pricing Transparency

President Trump signed an executive order on Monday that will require hospitals and insurance companies to publicly disclose their negotiated pricing.

The order is meant to increase price transparency through five policies:

  1. Providers must disclose the prices for insurers and patients in an easy-to-read format.
  2. Providers and insurance must provide patients with the estimated out-of-pocket costs before they receive care.
  3. Agencies must propose ways to simplify and improve quality measures across all healthcare programs.
  4. Researchers must gain increased access to healthcare claims information, stripped of individual details.
  5. The Treasury Department must look for ways to expand how health savings accounts can be used.

Before the changes can be implemented, government agencies, including Health and Human Services and the Treasury Department, must determine a rule-making process and work out the details of how the president’s plan will be executed.

California Lawmakers Approve State Individual Mandate

The California Legislature voted to impose a tax on residents who do refuse to purchase health insurance.

The penalty will go into effect on January 1, 2020, if the bill becomes law. The state will use the funds collected from the tax to provide insurance premium subsidies to middle-income Californians who earn up to six times the federal poverty limit.

The bill is expected to be signed by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 20, 2019

Senate Committee to Propose Pay Cap for Surprise Medical Bills

The Senate health committee has come to decision on how its bipartisan healthcare package will help patients with surprise medical bills. Patients often face these unexpectedly-high bills after receiving care from a provider that isn’t in their insurance network.

To combat these charges, panel leaders Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will include a “benchmark” system as part of their new healthcare bill. The benchmark system will cap charges for out-of-network care based on a plan’s median in-network rate for an area.

The announcement came right before a new Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 1 in 6 insured Americans have been affected by surprise bills after a hospital stay.

The committee expects to vote on the legislation next week.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 14, 2019

New Rule Allows Workers to Use HRAs to Purchase Health Insurance Plans

The Trump administration has issued a new rule that will enable employees of small businesses to use tax-free health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) to purchase individual health insurance plans.

Previously, employers could set up tax-deductible HRAs to help reimburse workers for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Beginning January 1, 2020, small employers who do not offer group health insurance can set up HRAs that workers can use to purchase ACA-compliant plans on the individual market.

Employers who offer group insurance can set up an “excepted benefit” HRA that can be used to purchase short-term health insurance plans that don’t comply with the ACA. These HRAs will be limited to $1,800 per year.

White House officials said provisions have been created to block employers from using the new rule to send only their oldest and/or sickest employers to the individual marketplace.

The rule change will provide coverage to an estimated 800,000 people who currently do not have health insurance, according to the Trump administration.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 13, 2019

House Committee Debates Medicare for All Proposals

For the first time, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on the various Democratic proposals for universal healthcare.

The discussion, held Wednesday with a panel of healthcare experts and advocates, primarily served as a platform for partisan debate. Republicans were united in the belief that Medicare for All measures would cost too much, raise taxes and dilute the quality of healthcare. Democrats remain split on what type of public plans to support and whether the Affordable Care Act could be used to move those proposals forward.

Lawmakers from both parties agreed that the current healthcare system needs to be revised so that more people can have access to quality care and affordable coverage.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 7, 2019

250K Medicare Beneficiaries Could Be Impacted by Error

At least 250,000 Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans could receive bills for five months of coverage due to a “processing error” within the Social Security Administration.

This error has caused some beneficiaries to be dropped from their coverage due to nonpayment.

In a notice to beneficiaries, the Department of Health and Human Services disclosed that some enrollees have not had premiums deducted from their Social Security benefit checks since February. The error has been corrected and payments will be resumed beginning this month or in July.

Insurance companies will bill customers for any shortfalls. Members will have at least two months to pay the premiums that were missed. Payment plans can be set up for beneficiaries who need them.

Neither the SSA or Medicare have said how the glitch occurred, which plans were affected, or the total amount of premiums that will need to be paid retroactively.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 5, 2019

Medicare for All Hearing Set for Next Week

The House Ways and Means Committee has scheduled a Medicare for All hearing for June 12. It will be the first time the measure is examined by a panel that oversees healthcare issues.

The House version of the proposal is sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and currently has 110 Democratic cosponsors.

This hearing could encourage the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also has control over healthcare issues, to consider the Medicare for All proposal.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 4, 2019

Premiums for 2020 ACA Plans Trend Toward Modest Increases

States have just begun to release rate filings for 2020 Affordable Care Act plans, and so far the modest premium rate increases indicate that the market remains stable.

Some of the proposed average rate changes by state include:

  • Maryland: 2.9 percent decrease
  • Washington: less than 1 percent increase
  • New York: 8.4 percent increase
  • Vermont: 13 percent increase

Increases in premiums for 2020 are attributed to 4 to 8 percent increase in medical costs and the return of the ACA’s health insurance tax.

New Poll Shows Nearly Half of Country Struggles With Paying Medical Expenses

A national survey released by Monmouth University shows that 45% of Americans have difficulty paying out-of-pocket medical expenses, and 40% have trouble paying their health insurance premiums.

In addition, the report found that 49 percent of adults believe that access to health insurance plays a significant role in their decision to pursue a new job opportunity, with 20% saying that the need to keep their employer-sponsored plan prevented them from pursuing a new job opportunity in the past 10 years.

Other poll findings:

  • 46 percent say that their health care costs have increased over the past two years.
  • 27 percent say that a family member did not seek medical care in the past two years because of the costs.
  • 52 percent of people who earn less than $50,000 a year say it is difficult for them to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Minnesota Will Continue ACA Reinsurance Program

Legislators in Minnesota voted to extend the Minnesota Premium Security Plan, the state’s reinsurance program, which has helped stabilize ACA premium rates.

The program’s initial $542 million appropriation has not been exhausted, so its continuation will not require additional funds.

Committee Starts Talks to Expand Long-Term Care in MedSupp Plans

The House Ways and Means Committee has reached out to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners for recommendations on how to expand long-term care benefits for Medicare Supplement plans.

Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) wrote to NAIC President Eric Cioppa asking for ideas on how a federal policy could be crafted to “provide some relief” to families without causing adverse selection. Neal requested suggestions on lifetime and daily caps, waiting periods, eligibility requirements, and enrollment forecasts.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 3, 2019

Studies Link ACA to Reduced Racial Gap in Cancer Care & Earlier Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis

New research suggests that the Affordable Care Act improved the racial disparities in cancer treatment and helped women with ovarian cancer get diagnosed earlier.

Before the implementation of the ACA, African Americans were 4.8 percent less likely than white patients to begin treatment for advanced cancers within a month of diagnosis. A new study shows that today, 49.6 percent of black patients receive treatment within 30 days, compared to 50.3 percent of white patients, in the states were Medicaid has been expanded under the ACA.

A second study found that since the ACA became law, more women with ovarian cancer have begun receiving treatment within one month of diagnosis.

The studies were presented at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology on Sunday.

California Governor Proposes Health Insurance Subsidies for Middle-Class

Governor Gavin Newsom has asked California state legislators to provide tax subsidies for middle class residents that would help pay the premiums on Affordable Care Act health plans. The proposal would affect an estimated 850,000 residents.

If approved, individuals who earn between $50,000 and $75,000, and families who earn between $103,000 and $154,500, would receive tax credits of $144 per month on average.

The proposal also provides some additional tax credits for individuals and families who earn between 200% and 400% of the federal poverty level.

The subsidies would be funded by a tax penalty on state residents who do not have insurance coverage, much like the original federal mandate that was recently removed from the ACA.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 28, 2019

Senate Committee Proposes Bipartisan Fix for Healthcare Costs, Billing

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee released a draft bill last week aimed at lowering out-of-pocket costs and reforming other healthcare issues such as surprise billing and prescription drug pricing.

The proposal from Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) includes three

suggestions to stop the practice of surprise billing:

  1. Require that all hospital providers, as well as corresponding labs and diagnostic tests, be “in network.”
  2. Use outside arbitration to resolve disputed charges higher than $750.
  3. Establish a standard benchmark for physician pay.

Consumer protections in the draft legislation include a requirement that patients receive “good-faith” estimates of out-of-pocket costs within two days of a request and receive their full bills within 30 days of a procedure.

To lower drug costs, the patent process would be revised to make it faster and easier for generic drugs to be available.

The draft legislation also addresses hospital and insurer contracts, vaccine education, grants to improve maternal mortality rates, and measures to improve cybersecurity.

Alexander said that he expects a Senate vote on the bill in July.

Proposed HHS Rule Reverses ACA Transgender Protections

The Trump administration has proposed a rule that would roll back Affordable Care Act protections for transgender individuals.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says the ACA’s definition of sex discrimination is too broad, and the change makes regulations more consistent with other agencies.

Critics of the proposal say the rule would impact the treatment of both LGBTQ and female patients. Legal challenges are expected when the final rule is released.

ACA Lawsuit Hearing Date Set

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has slated July 9 as the hearing date for Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

O’Connor ruled that the Affordable Care Act became unconstitutional in 2017 when Congress eliminated the tax penalty for not having health insurance.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 17, 2019

House Passes Bill That Strengthens ACA Measures

The Democrat-led House passed a package of healthcare bills designed to lower drug prices and strengthen the Affordable Care Act on Thursday.

The bills’ ACA changes include:

  • Restoring $100 million in funding for the open enrollment period navigator program
  • Reversing the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term health insurance plans
  • Funding for states to create their own online healthcare exchanges

Other provisions in the legislation address lowering prescription drug prices by increasing the availability of generic alternatives.

Though Republicans are in favor the drug-pricing measures, the changes to the ACA are expected to prevent the bill’s passage in the GOP-led Senate.

Bipartisan Senators Create Legislation on Surprise Medical Bills

A bipartisan senate coalition introduced legislation to protect patients from unexpected out-of-pocket medical costs. The surprise bills can occur when a patient receives care from a medical provider who is not in their insurance network.

The bill would take the patient out of price disputes between out-of-network healthcare providers and insurance companies.

Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) propose that insurers automatically pay out-of-network providers approximately the same rate as in-network providers. Instead of billing patients the difference in cost, hospitals, specialty physicians and insurers would use arbitration to settle any disputes with the pay rate proposed.

Trump Administration Releases Final Rule for Medicare Drug Pricing

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a final rule Thursday aimed at lowering costs and improving price transparency for prescription drugs.

Stipulations in the rule include:

  • Medicare Part D plans will continue to cover drugs in six “protected classes,” including antidepressants and immunosuppressants.
  • Medicare Advantage plans are allowed to use “step therapy” for Part B drugs, which requires the use of a lower-cost medication before trying a more expensive one.
  • Pharmacists may disclose when Part D drugs can be purchased at a lower cost out-of-pocket than through their insurance.

Also, beginning in 2021:

  • The Part D explanation of benefits beneficiaries receive will include a notice of price hikes and any low-cost therapeutic alternatives.
  • Each Part D plan will use at least one electronic benefit tool that works with electronic health records.

CMS did not implement some rules it had proposed last fall, including allowing insurance companies to drop a medication from its formulary if the price soared or was a new formulation of an existing single-source drug.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 14, 2019

Washington Creates Country’s First State-Run, Long-Term Care Benefit Program

A first-of-its-kind program that will help state residents offset the costs of long-term care became a law on Monday when Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the new bill.

Beginning in 2025, participants will receive a $100-per-day allowance that can be used for nursing home fees, in-home assistance, and reimbursement for family caretakers, up to a lifetime maximum of $36,500, indexed to inflation. To receive the funds, residents must need help with at least three “activities of daily living,” such as bathing, eating, and dressing.

The program will be funded through a payroll tax that starts in 2022. Employees will pay 0.58 percent of their income into a state fund. Workers will have to pay the premium for at least 500 hours per year for three of the previous six years, or for a total of 10 years (with at least five of those paid without interruption), in order to be eligible for the benefit.

Residents who have long-term care insurance policies are exempt from paying the tax. Those who are self-employed can opt to pay into the program, but it’s not required.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 13, 2019

Washington to Become First State With a Public Healthcare Option

Washington will establish the country’s first universally available public insurance option when Governor Jay Inslee signs the legislation today.

The public option, called Cascade Care, is a hybrid insurance model: the state will create the terms of the plans and private insurance companies will administer the day-to-day operations, such as enrollment and claims payments.

Premiums are expected to be up to 10 percent lower than comparable private insurance coverage. The reduced costs are made possible by capping payments to healthcare providers at 160 percent of federal Medicare rates.

The set of tiered plans will available by 2021 and will be offered to all Washington residents, regardless of income.

Uninsured in Maryland Will Get Help via State Income Tax Returns

Maryland residents will soon be able to see if they qualify for free or low-cost insurance after filing their taxes, as Governor Larry Hogan is scheduled to sign a bill today that will alter the state’s income tax form.

If the new checkbox on the form is selected, Maryland’s healthcare exchange will determine if the tax filer is eligible for help with insurance.

Residents who qualify for Medicaid will be automatically enrolled. Those who qualify for Affordable Care Act plans will be contacted by the exchange.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 10, 2019

House Passes Bill Strengthening Pre-Existing Condition Protections

The House voted to overturn a new Trump administration waiver program that weakens the Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing condition protections.

The waiver allows states to offer low-cost, low-coverage policies that can deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charge them more for the same policy.

House Republicans said the waivers promote state flexibility and expand consumer healthcare choices.

The bill its not expected to clear the Republican-led Senate.

Study: Employer Plans Pay 241% More Than Medicare

Hospitals charged private employer-sponsored plans 240% more on average than what they billed Medicare, according to a new RAND Corp. study on healthcare pricing.

Researchers compared payment rates for 1,600 hospitals in 25 states. The charges represent the negotiated allowed amounts between hospitals and health plans.

Some of the findings include:

  • The price disparity has increased from 2015, when it was 236%.
  • The difference between Medicare and employer plans ranged from 150% to over 400%.
  • If employer plans were charged the same as Medicare during the study period. It would have reduced health spending by $7.7 billion.
  • The price difference was higher for outpatient care (293%) than for inpatient care (204%).

The study also recommends measures that employers could take to help reduce the disparity, including:

  • pressuring their health plan to base pricing on Medicare rates
  • encouraging state or federal policy intervention as a way to readjust “negotiating leverage between hospitals and employer health plans”

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 8, 2019

Study: 2018 Brought Record Financial Performance for ACA Insurers

Last year was the most profitable year for Affordable Care Act plans since they were made available, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s recently published analysis of 2018 individual market performance.

The data also show that “financial results suggest the market is still stable and sustainable.”

Some of the report’s findings also include:

  • Insurers are expected to owe rebates totaling almost $800 million to consumers as a result of not meeting the medical loss ratio threshold.
  • Insurers are regaining profitability, but the Trump administration’s proposed changes to the ACA make predictions for the future uncertain.
  • Premium increases combined with modest growth in medical expense claims helped fuel improvements in financial performance.
  • The premium increases for 2017 plans were a necessary one-time market correction adjustment due to a “sicker-than-expected risk pool.”
  • Premium increases in 2018 were mostly “compensating for policy uncertainty and the termination of cost-sharing subsidy payments.”
  • Premiums in 2019 decreased partly because 2018 premiums “were higher than necessary to cover claims costs.”

Poverty Threshold Changes Would Affect ACA Premium Tax Subsidies

The Trump administration has proposed changes to how the poverty level is determined, which would influence the number of consumers eligible for premium tax credits on Affordable Care Act health plans.

Currently, the poverty level is determined by the consumer price index. The Office of Management and Budget is considering a different measure called “chained CPI” that raises the poverty level at a slower rate. This means fewer Americans would qualify for services that are based on their incomes.

To qualify for the ACA premium tax credit, an enrollee’s estimated income must fall between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level.

Critics of the plan say the change would cause harm to low-income workers who would be stripped of benefits they are currently eligible for.

The administration notes that the poverty threshold has not changed in 40 years and “is worth re-evaluating.”

Bipartisan Senators Ask Trump Administration to Defend the ACA

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) wrote a letter to Attorney General William Barr asking that the Trump administration stop its attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act in federal court.

The senators said Congress’ repeal of the individual mandate was not a move to invalidate the entire health law and that the administration’s position would cause 133 million Americans to lose their health coverage.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 7, 2019

Study: Medicare Advantage Beneficiaries Spend Less

People who switch to Medicare Advantage plans spend less on average and use fewer services than traditional Medicare beneficiaries—even before they enroll in Medicare Advantage, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family.

In the study, researchers compared the “average traditional Medicare spending and use of services in 2015 among beneficiaries who switched to Medicare Advantage plans in 2016 with those who remained in traditional Medicare that year, after adjusting for health risk.”

Those who switched spent $1,253 less on average in 2015, according to the analysis.

The spending difference remained, regardless of age, gender, or health condition. Medicare Advantage users with dual-eligibility also spent less prior to their switch to Medicare Advantage.

The findings suggest that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) could be overpaying MA plans by billions of dollars per year because the department bases its payments on spending by those on traditional Medicare.

In addition, the results question whether the care management strategies of Medicare Advantage plans are responsible for the lower spending of enrollees.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 2, 2019

Trump Administration Formally Files To Strike Down Entire ACA

The Trump administration filed its support of overturning the entire Affordable Care Act with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this Wednesday. The administration, along with a coalition of Republican-led states, are asking the court to uphold U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling that the ACA became invalid when the individual mandate was repealed.

Previously, the Justice Department’s held the position that some provisions of the law should continue to stand, including Medicaid expansion, premium tax subsidies and health insurance markets. The administration has since reconsidered.

In the legal filing, Justice Department stated that “the remaining provisions of the ACA should not be allowed to remain in effect — again, even if the government might support some individual positions as a policy matter.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who leads the group of 21 Democratic states defending the ACA, said, “Our legal coalition will vigorously defend the law and the Americans President Trump has abandoned.”

Oral arguments in the case are expected to begin in July.

CBO Report Highlights Complexities of a Medicare for All System

The Congressional Budget Office released a report on Wednesday that analyzes the “opportunities and risks” of creating a Medicare for All type of healthcare system like those proposed by some Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates.

Instead of cost estimates, “Key Design Components and Considerations for Establishing a Single-Payer Health Care System” lays out the positive and negative outcomes that lawmakers and consumers could face if current system were revised.

The report outlines ways in which Congress could address issues that may arise with a single-payer system, such as:

  • Funding the system
  • Plan oversight
  • Eligibility
  • Cost-sharing
  • The role of private insurance providers
  • Management of provider rates and prescription drugs

The analysis suggests drawbacks of single-payer healthcare could include longer wait times and decreased access to care. New taxes would also have to be established for income, payroll, or consumption to help pay for the system.

Benefits of a single-payer system, according to the report, include costs savings from administrative streamlining, and a greater focus on preventive care and increasing the nation’s health as a whole.

Other considerations for legislators include whether or not to pay for undocumented immigrants and long-term care services, and what strategies should be used to maintain costs.

Democrats Reintroduce Compromise Medicare Expansion Proposal

Democratic Representatives Rosa DeLaura of Connecticut and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois presented their plan for expanding healthcare coverage on Wednesday. The Medicare for America Act is considered a more moderate approach than a single-payer models like Medicare for All.

The plan debuted last year, but now has 16 cosponsors.

The proposal would maintain employer-based health plans, but employees would have the option to enroll in Medicare coverage. Consumers who have coverage though Affordable Care Act plans, Medicaid, Medicare and CHIP would all transition to the newly expanded Medicare plans.

Premiums for the plans would be based on income, but cost would be capped at 8 percent of monthly pay. Tax subsidies would be provided to those with low-incomes. There would be no deductibles to be met before coverage begins.

CMS Seeks New Ideas for State ACA Waivers

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Treasury Department has issued a call for ways to improve the system states use to ask for exceptions to Affordable Care Act regulations.

“Ultimately, the goal here is to see states develop new waiver concepts and submit waiver applications that improve their health insurance markets,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma via a blog post.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 1, 2019

President Trump Asks Senator to Restart Bipartisan ACA Stabilization Deal

President Trump asked Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) on Tuesday to renew her efforts to create a bipartisan bill that would help stabilize the Affordable Care Act.

Murray’s previous proposal with Senator Lama Alexander (R-TN) stalled last year after legislators could not agree on modifications to the Hyde Amendment, which concerns abortion funding restrictions. At the time, the president waivered in his support of the bill.

Murray said through an aide that she is willing to try again, and that she is ready to work with either Democrats or Republicans to roll back any sabotage to the ACA and make healthcare more affordable.

Alexander remains firm on the issue that derailed the initial bill. “I was extremely disappointed our legislation didn’t become law. If Democrats are willing to modify their position on the Hyde Amendment and renew their interest in Alexander-Murray, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss it,” he said.

Medicare for All Bill Receives First Congressional Hearing

The first public congressional discussion on Medicare for All was held on Wednesday in front of the House Rules Committee. The hearing centered on a bill from Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), which has over 100 Democratic co-sponsors.

Speakers included healthcare providers, a conservative economist, liberal activists with disparate opinions on how a single-payer system would operate, and Ady Barkan, a supporter with Lou Gehrig’s disease who described his struggles with exorbitant out-of-pocket costs.

Jayapal’s bill currently lacks support from centrist Democrats and would not be able to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, she and other advocates were positive about gaining a hearing. “This was the first step, it’s a big step, but we’re on our way. Medicare for All is possible. It is reasonable. It can move forward, and I think it should,” said the Chairman of the Rules Committee Jim McGovern (D-MA.).

Republicans remained skeptical about Medicare for All efforts. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), the ranking Republican on the committee, said that supporters have “not told us how much this massive new program would cost, who would pay for it and how much taxes would have to go up.”

Additional hearings on Medicare for All were confirmed during Wednesday’s discussion: one for The House Budget Committee and another for the House Ways and Means Committee.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 30, 2019

Florida Senate Approves New Standards for State Health Plans

On Thursday, the Florida senate passed a health benefits package that could define new standards for health insurance in the state if the Affordable Care Act is removed. The bills address pre-existing condition protections, association plans, short-term health plans, and essential health benefits.

The package will allow insurance companies to offer plans that limit or deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, as long as policies without these restrictions are actively marketed. No limits would be set on the differences in premiums for the two types of plans, which means that the state would allow insurance companies to charge those with pre-existing conditions higher rates.

The package will also allow association health plans and three-year short-term plans to be sold in the state. Part of the package allows for the defining of a new list of essential health benefits.

Senators who sponsored the package said that they believed the new standards will help in lowering premiums.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 25, 2019

New Poll Shows Americans Concerned About Drug Costs and Pre-Existing Condition Protections

Americans believe the top healthcare priorities for Congress should be lowering prescription drug costs, pre-existing condition protections, and protecting people from surprise medical bills, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Wednesday. The poll gathered opinion data on the Affordable Care Act, healthcare concerns and future healthcare legislation.

While 54% of Americans do not want the Affordable Care Act overturned, opinions are split between political parties. Of Republicans, 73% support striking down the entire ACA. Conversely, 83% of Democrats are against eliminating the ACA. However, a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents (67%) believe the government should require health insurance plans to cover a designated set of benefits and pre-existing conditions.

In addition, a majority of respondents are worried that they or a family member could lose, or not be able to afford, coverage if the Supreme Court overturns the ACA or pre-existing condition protections.

Other findings from the poll include:

  • Nearly six in 10 Americans (56%) support a Medicare-for-all plan.
  • More than half (52%) of Democrats prefer a focus on improving and protecting the ACA over passing a Medicare-for-all plan.
  • Only 26% of Americans believe low-cost, short-term plans without required coverage or pre-existing condition protections should be allowed.
  • Four in 10 insured families (41%) received an unexpected medical bill over the last two years.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 23, 2019

Two Republican Bills Address Pre-Existing Condition Protections

Two similar bills introduced by Republican legislators seek to protect patients with pre-existing conditions in the event that the Affordable Care Act is struck down. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Representative Greg Walden of Oregon have authored similar proposals.

The bills would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of health status, but they are missing some of the protections available under the current law. Insurance companies would be allowed to charge women higher premiums and put lifetime limits on benefits.

Democrats say that the bills fall short in their promise to protect insurance beneficiaries. “You could theoretically buy insurance if you have a pre-existing condition, but it is very deceptive because the bill will still allow insurers to set premiums based on health status.” said Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NY) chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

CMS Announces New Medicare Payment Models for Primary Care Practices

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Monday announced two new voluntary Medicare programs for primary care physicians that will reward practices based on their patients’ health improvements instead of the traditional fee-for-service payments.

The initiative will “move [the nation] toward a system where providers are paid for outcomes rather than procedures, and free up doctors to focus on the patients in front of them, rather than the paperwork we send them,” Azar said.

The CMS Primary Cares initiative, set to launch in 2020, contains new payment models where physicians and hospitals assume varying levels of financial responsibility for reducing costs and improving services.

The first model, aimed at small, primary-care practices, gives two payment options that include a flat monthly fee per patient, with bonuses and penalties based on patients’ health.

Larger practices and health systems have three payment options within this initiative:

  • The “Professional Option:” Providers would receive a fixed monthly payment and assume 50% of the financial risk.
  • The “Global Option:” Providers would assume the full risk of the cost of caring for patients.
  • The “Geographic Option:” Health systems or insurance plans take on the full risk for the primary care cost for communities within a specific region.

CMS Primary Cares was designed to promote new technologies such as telehealth and remote patient monitoring. “Providers will have greater flexibility to spend these resources how they want, allowing them to come up with innovative ways to care for patients — and receive significant savings if they keep patients healthier than expected,” Azar said.

Azar said he expects around one-fourth of primary care practices to sign up for CMS Primary Cares.

Medicare and Social Security Funds Face Uncertainty

A new report from the board of trustees for Medicare forecast that the Medicare Supplementary hospital insurance fund will be depleted by 2026, which is the same date projected last year.

In addition, costs for the Medicare Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) fund, which covers drug cost in Part B and D, are expected to grow gradually from 2.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2018 to about 3.7 percent of GDP in 2038. However, trustees report that the fund will be sufficiently financed by general revenues and beneficiary premiums.

Social Security also faces an uncertain financial future, as its total cost is predicted to exceed its total income in 2020, which will be the first time it’s happened since 1982.

The report requests that legislators “take action sooner rather than later to address these shortfalls, so that a broader range of solutions can be considered and more time will be available to phase in changes while giving the public adequate time to prepare.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 22, 2019

Congressional Budget Office Revises its Insurance Estimate Model

The Congressional Budget Office announced that it will change how it estimates the financial impact of new health insurance legislation, beginning with its budget projections later this spring. The new model will consider consumer and employer preferences.

The revisions were made to address Republican criticism of how the nonpartisan agency makes estimates, specifically regarding the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and its individual mandate.

“The new model better captures underlying relationships among individuals, families, employment, income, and insurance coverage because it incorporates new data and includes refinements in modeling insurance choices,” said CBO Director Keith Hall.

Kansas Governor Allows Farm Bill to Pass

The Kansas Farm Bureau will be allowed to offer health coverage that does not meet Affordable Care Act standards, as Governor Laura Kelly declined to block the law.

The new association health plan is not considered insurance, so it will be exempt from state and federal insurance regulations. It does not include protections for people with pre-existing conditions, nor does it include the ACA’s ten essential benefits, such as coverage for prescription drugs, maternity care, or mental health services.

In a statement, Kelly mentioned reservations about the law, but chose not to block it as a demonstration or compromise. “I believe the potential risks of this legislation can be mitigated if they are coupled with a stable, secure, proven health care option: Medicaid expansion,” said Kelly.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 19, 2019

Changes to 2020 ACA Plans Announced by CMS

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its finalized rule for 2020 Affordable Care Act health plans on Thursday.

The agency will reduce user fees to plans on the federal exchange from 3.5 percent of premiums to 3 percent. User fees for plans sold on state exchanges will drop from 3 percent to 2.5 percent.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in the announcement that “The rule issued today will give consumers immediate premium relief for 2020 by reducing the federal exchange user fees thanks to successful efforts to improve the efficiency of the exchange. At CMS, we have improved the operations of the exchange to deliver a better consumer experience at a lower cost.”

Other changes include:

  • raising the maximum out-of-pocket limit to $8,150 for individuals and $16,300 for families and increase of by 3.16 percent,
  • slightly decreasing the amount subsidized enrollees are required to contribute toward benchmark silver plans to 8.24 percent, and
  • allowing insurers to block drug manufacturer coupons from applying to annual out-of-pocket limits if a generic version of the drug is available.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 18, 2019

Colorado Pushes Forward on Government-Run Insurance Option

The Colorado Senate moved closer to the creation of a state public-option health insurance plan by endorsing a study that will examine the impact of such a plan.

The proposed bill asks state agencies to present recommendations for a healthcare plan in November that could compete with plans available on Colorado’s Affordable Care Act exchange in 2021.

Supporters of the measure say the public-option plan would reduce premiums in areas that have some of the highest costs in the nation.

Republican Senator Jim Smallwood, an opponent of the bill, suggests that instead of creating competition, a public healthcare option would cause private insurers to abandon the Colorado market.

Connecticut House Passes Pre-Existing Condition Protections for Short-Term Plans

A bill to protect consumers with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage or charged more for short-term health insurance plans was passed by the Connecticut House of Representatives.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately 522,000 Connecticut citizens under 65 have a pre-existing condition.

The bill is opposed by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, which stated that the measure would raise insurance premiums for municipal employers. However, analysts with the Office of Fiscal Analysis say the bill has no financial impact on the state.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 11, 2019

Bernie Sanders Debuts Revamped Medicare for All Bill

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) debuted an updated version of his Medicare for All bill on Wednesday with the support of 14 Democratic cosponsors.

In his proposal, Sanders calls for replacing private insurance with a single-payer, government-run system with no premiums or deductibles. Certain services would come with small copays, and copays for brand-name prescription would be capped at $200. This new version of the proposal adds coverage for long-term care.

“The American people are increasingly clear: They want a health care system which guarantees healthcare to all Americans as a right,” said Sanders.

Sanders did not outline how the program would be funded, but did offer general suggestions.

In response, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the plan a “total government takeover of health care that would actually hurt seniors, eliminate private health insurance for 180 million Americans, and cripple our economy and future generations with unprecedented debt.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 10, 2019

House Democrats Seek Justification for ACA Lawsuit Strategy

Democratic House committee chairmen are insisting that the Trump administration reveal documents and information that explain why the Department of Justice came to the decision to not defend the Affordable Care Act in the lawsuit against it.

The five committees involved have sent letters to the White House, the Justice Department, and Health and Human Services, requesting the legal justification for the administration’s decision to seek the elimination of the healthcare law. They also request that the DOJ allow four of its attorneys to testify.

Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) told reporters on Tuesday that “The Judiciary committee will hold those responsible for this complete abdication of the department’s legal duty. They are in contempt of the law in the way they are carrying out their intentions.”

During testimony in front of a House appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr defended the administration’s strategy. “When we face a legal question, we try to base our answer on the law. If you think it’s such an outrageous position, you have nothing to worry about. Let the courts do their job,” he said.

Wisconsin Allowed to Withdraw From Remaining ACA Lawsuit

The 5th District Court of Appeals has agreed to dismiss Wisconsin from the appeal of the Affordable Care Act ruling that declared the healthcare law unconstitutional.

Last week, the court allowed the state to withdraw from two related cases. This latest court decision removes Wisconsin from all the federal lawsuits filed against the ACA.

ACA Medicaid Expansion Approved in Idaho

Idaho Governor Brad Little signed voter-approved legislation to expand Medicaid to approximately 90,000 residents by covering those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The bill also includes requests for two federal waivers. One requires Medicaid recipients to be employed in order to receive benefits. The other will allow Medicaid-eligible residents to stay on the state’s health insurance exchange instead of moving to the government plan.

Expanded Medicaid coverage is created via provisions of the ACA. Idaho is the 37th state to adopt the expansion.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 9, 2019

ACA Lawsuit Timeline May Be Accelerated

The Department of Justice filed a motion to begin oral arguments in the appeal of a lower-court ruling against the Affordable Care Act the week of July 8. The Democrat-led opposition defending the law did not oppose the DOJ’s request.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 8, 2019

Kansas Lawmakers Approve Bill That Permits Farm Bureau Health Plan

Both the Kansas House and Senate passed a Republican-backed bill that allows the Farm Bureau to offer health coverage that doesn’t meet Affordable Care Act provisions.

Because the plans would not be considered insurance, people with pre-existing conditions could be refused coverage or have to pay more than other enrollees.

The Farm Bureau estimates that 42,000 Kansas residents who currently have no healthcare or who have problems affording an ACA plan would enroll in the new lower-cost option.

Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has not announced if she will sign the legislation.

Trump Administration Plans Future Healthcare Policy at Camp David Meeting

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney met with White House aides and administration officials at Camp David on Saturday to discuss President Trump’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with a Republican option.

Attendees included Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.

Mulvaney stressed that he’d like to see a proposal in place to put in front of voters prior to the 2020 elections. “I do think you’ll see a plan here fairly shortly,” he said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 3, 2019

Plan to Postpone ACA Replacement Came From Senate Majority Leader

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that it was his consultation that prompted President Trump to announce that a Republican replacement to the Affordable Care Act would not occur until after the 2020 elections.

“We had a good conversation yesterday afternoon and I pointed out to him the Senate Republicans’ view on dealing with comprehensive healthcare reform with a Democratic House of Representatives,” said McConnell on Monday.

Instead of attempting to repeal and replace the ACA, McConnell said that Republican senators would focus on trying to lower prescription drug prices and other less comprehensive measures.

Wisconsin Withdraws From Two ACA Lawsuits

A federal judge granted permission for Wisconsin to drop out of two lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act at the request of Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

The first lawsuit argues that the entirety of the ACA is unconstitutional. A federal Judge’s ruling that declared the ACA unconstitutional is currently being heard in a U.S. Appeals court, where Wisconsin is still party to the case. The state has also requested to be removed from the appeal and is awaiting a decision.

The second lawsuit challenges the ACA’s protections for transgender individuals and women seeking abortion. Arizona, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Mississippi continue to be listed as plaintiffs in that case.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 2, 2019

President Moves Republican ACA Replacement Plan to After 2020

In a series of three tweets, President Trump said that a Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act would be put up for a vote after the 2020 elections.

“The Republicans…are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare. In other words it will be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare,” said Trump on Monday night. “Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win…back the House.”

GOP Attorneys General in Two States Ask Court to Uphold ACA

Republican attorneys general in Ohio and Montana filed a brief in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that the federal judge that ruled that the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional was incorrect.

Dave Yost of Ohio and Timothy Fox of Montana say they support the elimination of the mandate, but believe that “…the District Court’s ruling is wrong, and its errors threaten harm to millions of people.”

As part of the appeal process, the court will review the ruling that declared that the elimination of the ACA’s individual mandate means the entire law should be struck down.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 1, 2019

Senators to Debut Revised “Medicare X” Plan

Democratic Senators Tim Kaine (VA) and Michael Bennet (CO) will introduce a new “Medicare X” healthcare plan next week, which would create a public health insurance option.

The proposal retains employer health plans, but also allows consumers to purchase Medicare plans through the individual or small-business ACA exchanges.

“180 million people in America get their insurance through an employer-based plan and Medicare X gives people the opportunity to decide whether they want to stay on that plan,” said Bennet.

Features of the Medicare X plan include:

  • access to the Medicare network of doctors,
  • the ACA’s essential benefits, such as maternity and newborn care,
  • the establishment of a federal reinsurance program to keep premiums down, and
  • tax credits for higher-income Americans.

The plan would be gradually phased in over a five-year period, beginning in rural areas, then nationwide, and lastly to small businesses.

The proposal has no Republican cosponsors, although Bennet and Kaine are optimistic about the idea catching on.

House Resolution Criticizes President’s Position on ACA Lawsuit

The House will vote this week on a resolution that denounces President Trump’s decision to support a lawsuit that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act in its entirety.

The effort is led by Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX). According to the resolution, Trump has publicly claimed to support protections for those with pre-existing conditions while ordering the Department of Justice to “actively pursue the destruction” of the ACA and its protections in federal court.

Mick Mulvaney, the president’s acting chief of staff, said on Sunday that no Americans would lose healthcare coverage, even if the ACA is struck down. Currently, no replacement healthcare law has been proposed.

Republican Senator Asks Attorney General to Reverse ACA Decision

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr asking that he reverse the Department of Justice’s decision to support the removal of the Affordable Care Act.

“Rather than seeking to have the courts invalidate the ACA, the proper route for the administration to pursue would be to propose changes to the ACA or to once again seek its repeal,” Collins writes in the letter. “The administration should not attempt to use the courts to bypass Congress.”

In addition, Collins criticizes the DOJ’s refusal to defend the healthcare law in court. “The administration should reconsider its decision and defend the remainder of the ACA,” wrote Collins.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 29, 2019

Federal Judge Rejects Association Health Plan Expansion

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates on Thursday blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to expand access to association health plans (AHPs).

The new rule enabled groups of employers, including the self-employed, to create associations to form health plans that are not required to meet all Affordable Care Act requirements.

Bates said the Trump administration’s final rule was an “end-run around the ACA” and “stretches the definition of ‘employer’” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Since expanding AHPs, around 30 associations have formed and are scheduled to begin on Jan. 1, 2020. An appeal of Bates’ ruling is expected. If successful, the appeal could allow the plans to continue.

Insurers Request Change to Out-of-Pocket Limits for Grandfathered ACA Plans

Insurance groups have asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to allow them to increase out-of-pocket charges for grandfathered ACA plans.

The change would take into account the increase in prescription drug prices. The new methodology is needed because “prescription drug inflation exceeds medical inflation,” according to The American Benefits Council.

Instead of calculating out-of-pocket charges based on the Consumer Price Index’s medical inflation numbers, insurers would like to base them on CMS’ “average per enrollee private health insurance premiums for the National Health Expenditure Accounts.”

An increase in deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket limits would affect approximately 1 million people who are enrolled in lower-cost grandfathered ACA plans, which don’t provide the law’s 10 essential health benefits.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 28, 2019

Republican Lawmakers Pressed to Create an ACA Replacement Plan

Following the Department of Justice’s decision to argue for the elimination of the Affordable Care Act, President Trump has put pressure on Republicans to create replacement legislation.

“If the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we’ll have a plan that is far better than Obamacare,” President Trump said during an event on Wednesday.

The DOJ’s decision took some lawmakers by surprise and created some concern about its timing. “Repealing the entire law — or knocking it down in the court system with no plan to address the impasse — leaves millions of Americans in harm’s way, and they didn’t do anything. We owe it to the American people to have a solid plan in place before that occurs,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY).

According to Marc Short, Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, “the president will be putting forward plans this year that we hope to introduce into Congress.”

A few Republican members of Congress spoke to the president about creating new legislation, including. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY). “He wants to preserve people being able to get their insurance through work . . . and focused on people with preexisting conditions. He is 100 percent committed to ensuring that people with pre-existing conditions get covered, and I understand that . . . and the president is also focused on lowering the cost of drugs,” said Barrasso.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is drafting a letter to the Trump administration, arguing against the DOJ’s decision. “I believe that he’s sort of got the cart before the horse, that you need to have a plan for what a replacement would be that would improve upon the ACA,” she said. “There are some very important, good provisions of the ACA that have helped expand health insurance for low-income Americans . . . I would not want to see those abandoned.”

Republicans believe that the legal battle at the center of the issue could take up to a year to go through the court system, so they have some time to consolidate disparate ideas into a single GOP plan. 

Senate Democrats Move to Block DOJ Funds for ACA Lawsuit

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said on Wednesday that he will try to force a vote on a measure that would block the Department of Justice from using federal funds in the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. The measure would be part of an amendment to the disaster aid bill currently being considered in the Senate.

The move would force Republicans to go on record regarding their support of DOJ’s declaration that the ACA should be struck down in its entirety, including its protections of people with pre-existing conditions.

“It will very simply prohibit the Department of Justice from using any funding to litigate the downfall of the ACA in the Circuit Court,” said Schumer. “Let’s see if all of our Republican colleagues who have said they don’t want to take away protections for pre-existing conditions. Let’s see how our Republican colleagues will vote on this.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 27, 2019

House Dems Reveal New Healthcare Package to Expand Coverage

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday presented a legislation package designed to stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The package will “strengthen protections for pre-existing conditions, reverse the GOP’s healthcare sabotage, and lower Americans’ health costs,” according to Pelosi.

Some of the legislation’s proposals include:

  • Rolling back the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term health plans
  • Tightening state innovation waiver guidelines
  • Expanding tax subsidy eligibility rules
  • Re-establishing a federal reinsurance program
  • Restoring outreach and funding for the Annual Enrollment Period

House Democrats expect to begin putting sections of the package up for votes individually beginning in May.

Centene’s Purchase of WellCare to Create Large Share of ACA Enrollees

Health insurer Centene announced today that it will buy WellCare Health Plans, which also provides government and ACA health insurance, for $17.3 billion.

If approved, the merger will cover almost 9 million people with ACA plans and 13 million Medicare Advantage and Medicaid enrollees.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 26, 2019

Department of Justice Agrees With Ruling to Nullify ACA

In a two-sentence legal filing to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday affirmed a district court judge’s December ruling to eliminate the Affordable Care Act.

The agency says it agrees with U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s decision that the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate invalidated the entire law. The DOJ’s brief stated: “With the amount of the tax set at zero, the remaining minimum coverage provision becomes simply precatory—precisely as the amending Congress intended. It is no more constitutionally objectionable than the ‘sense of the Congress’ resolutions that Congress often adopts.”

Prior to this position, the Trump administration showed support for some ACA provisions, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions and Medicaid expansion.

Shortly after O’Connor’s ruling, a coalition of Democratic attorneys general appealed it. The law remains in place while the case moves through the court system.

The DOJ must file a full brief within 30 days.

CMS: State ACA Enrollment Rises, Federal Enrollment Dips Slightly

States running their own healthcare exchanges are maintaining enrollment levels better than the federal exchange, according to 2019 enrollment data released Tuesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

In 2019, 11.4 million Americans enrolled in ACA plans. That is a 2.6 percent overall decrease from 2018. States that run their own exchanges saw a 1 percent increase in enrollment, while states on the federal exchange dropped 3.8 percent.

Regarding the report, CMS Administrator Seema Verma tweeted: “Steady enrollment through (the) exchanges, confirming another successful enrollment period at a time when premiums are stabilizing after years of substantial increases.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 25, 2019

New Jersey Will Operate a State ACA Exchange Starting in 2021

New Jersey will establish its own health insurance marketplace beginning in 2021. Governor Phil Murphy sent a letter to the Trump administration on Friday declaring that the state would no longer be using the federal exchange to enroll participants in Affordable Care Act insurance.

The move away from the federal exchange will allow the state to extend its open enrollment period. The break from the marketplace is a continuation of Murphy’s efforts to support several provisions of the law, including the creation of a state reinsurance program and a state individual mandate.

Murphy said funding for the state exchange would come from redirecting its current federal exchange user fee, which is a 3.5 percent assessment on insurance premiums.

New Study Confirms $30 Billion Cost for Federal Reinsurance Program

A national reinsurance program would cost $30.1 billion over three years, according to a new study published in the Journal of Health Care Organization, Provision and Financing last week. The findings align closely with the $10 billion per year supporters of the program are asking from Congress.

A reinsurance program helps protect insurers from its highest-use enrollees, and would cost the federal government $9.5 billion in 2020, or $30.1 billion from 2020-2022.

The study reviewed data from the 2007-2016 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and state demographic and health insurance coverage data from the 2015-2017 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

A recent report conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms found that state reinsurance programs in Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon have helped stabilize the states’ ACA insurance marketplaces.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 12, 2019

Trump’s Budget Proposal Slashes Spending for Medicaid and other HHS Programs

The White House proposed a $4.7 trillion budget for 2020 on Monday. Included in the budget request is a 12 percent cut to Health and Human Services funding.

The “Budget for a Better America” proposal endorses repealing the Affordable Care Act and converting the law’s funding into state block grants. The proposal also calls for a ban on exchange plans that do not require customer to pay a premium.

The new budget would cut Medicaid funding by almost $1.5 trillion over nine years and repeal the ACA’s expansion of the program. Medicare spending would be reduced by roughly $845 billion over 10 years.

The president’s budget is expected to be rejected by Congress.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 7, 2019

CMS Requests Recommendations for Selling Health Insurance Across State Lines

 The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has asked the public for suggestions on  how to facilitate the sale of health insurance plans across state lines.

The Affordable Care Act includes a provision that allows such sales through state agreements called “healthcare choice compacts.” However, few states have passed legislation that would take advantage of the opportunity.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement that “Americans are in desperate need of more affordable health insurance options. Eliminating the barriers to selling health insurance coverage across state lines could help provide access to a more competitive and affordable health insurance market.”

While campaigning, President Trump said that interstate sales could be one way to help improve the ACA. However, the American Academy of Actuaries reported that premiums are determined by the cost of local care, not where the policies are sold, so savings would be limited.

CMS will accept public comments on the issue for the next 60 days.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 5, 2019

Kaiser Study: ACA Affordability Most Challenging for Middle-Income Earners

A new study of ACA premiums released by the Kaiser Family Foundation highlights the financial burden placed on middle-class, older consumers who earn too much to receive tax subsidies.

The report speaks to the “subsidy cliff,” the point where people earning over 400 percent of the federal poverty level no longer qualify for tax credits. The cliff is especially hard on people over 50, whose premiums are allowed to be up to three times higher than younger enrollees.

On average, a subsidized ACA premium for a 40-year-old who makes $45,000 per year is $227. For a 50-year-old who makes $50,000, the same plan without a subsidy is $340. Plan premiums vary widely based on location.

“For older people living in very high-premium counties, the affordability gap is much more stark,”  according to the report. “In the 28 Nebraska counties with the highest premiums, a 60-year-old making $45,000 would pay nothing in monthly premiums and the same person making $50,000 would pay $1,314 (32% of income) for the lowest-cost plan.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 1, 2019

BCBS Association Asks Congress to Stabilize ACA Markets

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association submitted a legislative proposal on Thursday designed to stabilize the Affordable Care Act exchanges. The suggestions focus on expanding eligibility for tax subsidies and encouraging younger consumers to sign up for coverage.

“We think this is a pragmatic, incremental step,” said Justine Handelman, the association’s senior vice president in the Office of Policy and Representation. “We believe it’s important to build on what’s working.

The proposal asks Congress to:

  • Add age as a factor for determining eligibility for premium tax subsidies.
  • Ensure that higher-income enrollees do not pay more than 12% of their income on premiums.
  • Resume cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers.
  • Allow people who earn between 200 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level to have 80 percent of their healthcare costs paid from CSR funds.
  • Delay the resumption of the health insurance tax scheduled for next year.
  • Increase outreach funding for the open enrollment period from $10 million per year to $160 per year.

The association says that the plan would lower premiums by an average of 33 percent and increase enrollment by 4.2 million consumers, but cost more than $10 billion annually.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 28, 2019

Centrist Democrats Ask for Revival of ACA Stabilization Talks

A group of 101 moderate House Democrats has called for a bipartisan effort to help stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

On Wednesday, two hours after progressives in the party held a press conference announcing a new Medicare for all proposal, the centrist New Democrat Coalition unveiled its plans to revive last year’s talks to lower ACA premiums and stop the Trump administration’s proposals that “sabotage” the law.

In a letter to key committee leaders, the group wrote to urge those committees  “to deliver on the promises made to our constituents by prioritizing strengthening the ACA and continuing the path toward universal affordable coverage.”

The coalition said it promotes:

  • reducing ACA premiums via a national reinsurance program,
  • increasing premium assistance,
  • reinstituting insurer subsidies that were canceled in 2017, and
  • discussing a public option where consumers could buy in to Medicare coverage.

HHS Secretary Azar Pushes Plan for ACA Subsidies to Fund HSAs

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar promoted the concept of depositing Affordable Care Act tax subsidies into health savings accounts (HSAs) to pay for insurance premiums and other out-of-pocket expenses.

“This is just one possible way to help use insurance design to drive value by empowering patients as consumers of healthcare,” Azar said during a meeting of the National Association of Health Underwriters. “Plans with HSAs, especially funded HSAs, can protect Americans from the risk of catastrophic healthcare costs while encouraging them to be price-conscious consumers.”

The Trump administration is also considering a proposal that would redefine preventive services. The change would allow those on high-deductible health plans use HSA funds to pay for items like insulin.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 27, 2019

Progressive Democrats Unveil Far-reaching Medicare for All Bill

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) introduced an ambitious Medicare for All proposal today that would move all Americans to Medicare plans, entrusting private insurers only with supplemental coverage.

The Medicare for All Act of 2019 has over 100 House cosponsors, most of whom are progressive Democrats. It would transition consumers to a government-run plan over two years, revise how healthcare providers are reimbursed, and eliminate the requirement for premiums, deductibles, or copays in order to receive care.

“Americans are literally dying because they can’t afford insulin or they can’t get the cancer treatment they need,” said Jayapal. “There are some things that should not be provided through the for-profit market.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not endorsed the health-care plan. Without support from centrist House Democrats, the bill may not come up for a vote.

Insurance industry lobbying groups have come out against Medicare for All proposals. “The vast majority of Americans are satisfied with the coverage they have today. They have choice and control over their coverage, options, and treatment,” said America’s Health Insurance Plans in a statement.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 21, 2019

CMS Projects 5.5% Annual Rise in Healthcare Spending Over the Next Decade

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services projects that government spending on healthcare will increase an average of 5.5 percent annually over the next 10 years.

The department’s Office of the Actuary projected that healthcare spending will exceed $5.9 trillion in 2027, representing 19.4 percent of the gross national product, according to a CMS report released Wednesday.

The CMS analysis also projected the following:

  • In 2027, 47 percent of healthcare costs will be paid by federal, state, and local governments—an increase from the current 45 percent.
  • Nearly half of the increase in personal healthcare spending will be from price increases for outpatient drugs, hospitals, and physicians. Another cause is the transition of baby boomers from private insurance plans to Medicare.
  • Spending increases over the next decade will include 4.8 percent for private insurance, 5.5 percent for Medicaid, and 7.4 percent for Medicare.

The report also projects that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate will increase the uninsured population from 29.9 million in 2018 to 31.2 million this year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 15, 2019

House Democrats Allowed to Defend ACA in Federal Lawsuit

A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday to allow House Democrats to join 16 Democratic states and the District of Columbia in defending the Affordable Care Act in a lawsuit filed by 20 Republican attorneys general.

The Trump administration has declined to defend the healthcare law in the case. In his ruling, Circuit Judge Leslie Southwick said, “In the absence of any other federal governmental party in the case presenting a complete defense to the Congressional enactment at issue, this court may benefit from the participation by the House.”

The case has been in appeal since a federal district judge in Texas ruled the ACA unconstitutional. Southwick declined the Democrats’ request to expedite the appeal.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 14, 2019

New Bill Proposes Selling Medicare to People Age 50 to 65 on ACA Exchanges

Congressional Democrats introduced a new bill on Wednesday that would allow anyone over 50 to buy Medicare plans on the health insurance marketplace. Plans would include Medicare Part A, Part B, Part D prescription plans and Medicare Advantage plans.

Sponsors of the “Medicare at 50” bill said that the premiums from the new enrollees will pay for the plan, and those premiums would cost an estimated 40% less than gold plans on the exchanges. Enrollees would also be eligible for Affordable Care Act tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies.

Supporters say that the plan will lower ACA plan premiums by removing the older enrollees from the risk pool, and also lower Medicare premiums through the addition of younger, healthier enrollees.

The Federation of American Hospitals criticized the bill, saying low Medicare margins makes the higher reimbursements they receive from private insurers necessary in order to provide quality care.

House Committee Proposes Four Bills to Combat Recent Changes to ACA

The House Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings on four separate bills on Wednesday that would reverse or revise some of the recent changes by the Trump administration to the Affordable Care Act.

  1. A bill by Anna Eshoo (D-CA) would require insurers to put consumer warnings on their short term health plans, bringing attention to the fact they offer limited benefits and provide no protections for pre-existing conditions.
  2. A bill by Kathy Castor (D-FL) would completely cancel the recent expansion of short-term health plans, which extended their duration up to 12 months and allowed renewal for up to three years.
  3. A bill by Ann Kuster (D-NH) would revoke the ability for states to seek waivers that would allow customers to use the ACA’s tax subsidies to pay for plans that do not meet ACA requirements.
  4. A bill by Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) would restore ACA navigator and marketing program funds that the Trump administration cut by 90 percent.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 12, 2019

Utah Lawmakers Decrease Voter-Backed ACA Medicaid Expansion

On Monday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed legislation that shrinks an Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion measure approved by voters in November.

The voter-passed expansion would have covered 150,000 residents with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. The new legislation cuts the eligibility number nearly in half, covering an estimated 90,000 residents with incomes of up to 100% of the poverty level and adds employment conditions.

Before implementation, the state must file waivers with the Trump administration to approve the partial Medicaid expansion. If the waivers are rejected, the measure would revert back to one resembling the voter-approved version.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 8, 2019

White House Report Says ACA Changes Don’t ‘Sabotage’ Law

A new report from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors claims that the Trump administration’s changes to the Affordable Care Act help increase effectiveness and don’t damage the overall law.

The report reviews the administration’s extension of short-term health plans, increased availability of association plans, and the repeal of the individual mandate.

“These reforms do not ‘sabotage’ the ACA but rather provide a more efficient focus of tax-funded care to those in need,” says the report.

The report acknowledges that some consumers may drop their ACA coverage due to the newly available alternatives, but argues that the federal exchange will continue to stay afloat due to premium subsidies received by nearly 90 percent of enrollees.

The Republican-lead lawsuit against the ACA is not addressed. However, the report’s analysis concerning the individual mandate repeal could have some bearing on case, as it contradicts the plaintiffs’ arguments that the penalty is central to the law.

The report says that “removing the tax penalty and opening up more affordable options was able to save taxpayer dollars, give families more choice, without destabilizing the exchanges.”

New Poll Shows Majority Want Private Insurance Option in ‘Medicare for All’ Plans

A new Hill-HarrisX survey on universal healthcare coverage found that 87 percent of respondents preferred a healthcare system that includes private plans.

When registered voters were asked about the government’s role in healthcare:

  • 32 percent said they preferred a government-run system that included an option to purchase private, supplemental coverage.
  • 26 percent said they preferred the “public option” system, where government insurance is available to all, but there is still the option to use private insurance instead.
  • 15 percent said they preferred that the government remove itself from paying for healthcare.
  • 14 percent said they preferred to keep the current system.
  • 13 percent said they preferred a totally government-run system with no private plans available.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 7, 2019

House Democrats Plan Hearings on Proposals to Overturn Recent Healthcare Changes

In a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Wednesday, House Democrats announced they will hold hearings next week concerning proposals that address Trump administration changes that affect the Affordable Care Act.

The subcommittee plans to review legislation that would:

  • Overturn new rules that expand short-term health plans
  • Restore funding for outreach efforts during the open enrollment period
  • Invalidate guidance that makes it easier for states to receive exemption waivers

Any legislation of this nature initiated and passed by the House will face tough battle in the Republican-led Senate.

Bipartisan Senators Question Medical Industry on ‘Surprise Billing’ Practices

A bipartisan group of six senators sent letters to insurance industry and medical groups on Tuesday asking about their balanced billing practices, which can lead to surprise out-of-pocket costs for consumers.

The letter requested information from hospitals regarding:

  • the percentage of specialists they outsource,
  • the percentage of patients who receive specialty treatment at an in-network hospital that is billed as out-of-network, and
  • the increase of patient spending on emergency care.

Insurers were asked to disclose what they pay for out-of-network care compared to average in-network rates and Medicare rates.

“We want to protect patients from costly surprise bills while preventing undue disruption in the health care system,” said the senators in the letter. “To meet this goal, it is critical that we receive additional data and more complete feedback in order to refine and inform our legislative proposal.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 4, 2019

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Maryland Filed to Protect the ACA

Late last week, a Maryland federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from the state that demanded the Trump administration cease its perceived “sabotage” of the Affordable Care Act and declare it constitutional.

The plaintiffs in the case used the administration’s halting of cost-sharing reduction payments, the Department of Justice’s decision to not defend the law in a current lawsuit, and President Trump’s own comments as evidence that law was in danger of not being enforced.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander called the lawsuit speculative and a “request for an advisory opinion.”

“The president’s profound disdain for the ACA cannot be seriously disputed,” wrote Hollander. “But, the state’s allegations do not create a plausible inference of a substantial or certainly impending risk that the Trump administration will cease enforcement of part or all of the ACA. Neither the president’s zealous attempts to repeal the statute, nor his derisive comments about it, support an inference that he will fail to enforce the law.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 31, 2019

Consumers Searching for Coverage Directed to Short-Term Plans That Lack ACA Protections

A new study by Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms found that the those searching for health insurance online last fall were often directed to websites and brokers that sell short-term plans that do not meet Affordable Care Act consumer protection requirements.

In their report, the researchers noted that “lead-generating sites that point consumers to short-term plans or other non–ACA compliant insurance products were the most common search result in every state, representing more than half of all search results before and during open enrollment.”

The search results and the lead-generation led the researchers to two web brokers: and only sells non-ACA compliant plans. sells short-term plans, ACA-compliant plans and other coverage, but appeared in the search results half as often as

The research team analyzed the top four results, including paid ads, for the search terms “cheap health insurance,” “Obamacare,” “ACA enroll,” and “short-term health insurance.” The study investigated online marketing practices in Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas and Virginia in the weeks before and during the ACA’s open enrollment period in November and December.

Researchers also created a profile of a subsidy-eligible 29-year-old female and interacted with six brokers. Half of the brokers recommended ACA-compliant plans, while the remaining three recommended non-ACA compliant coverage, even after learning the consumer was eligible for tax credits.

Sabrina Corlette, the lead author of the study said that “it was disturbing, but not unexpected, to find such a high proportion of misleading ads and come-ons. That raises the risk that consumers could be duped into buying health insurance that they think offers comprehensive and secure coverage, but does not.”

Late last year, the Trump administration extended the term limits of short-term plans from three to 12 months. The low-cost plans are not required to cover consumers with preexisting conditions and do not have to cover services such as maternity care, prescription drugs, or mental health care. Tax subsidies are not available for these plans.

“These plans are different, and consumers do need to know what they are purchasing, which is why we now require more robust warnings about the limits of these plans than before,” said Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

New Study Shows ACA Did Not Reduce Employer Health Insurance

A new study from the University of Minnesota found that launch of the Affordable Care Act did not cause a reduction in employer-sponsored health insurance plans. Researchers reviewed federal data before and after the law’s implementation and found that employer coverage was mostly unaffected.

The study found “no evidence that employer offers, takeup rates, or out-of-pocket premiums paid by workers changed significantly” due to the launch of the ACA or Medicaid expansions.

Jean Abraham, a professor of health care administration at the University of Minnesota, said that company coverage may not have changed for several reasons, including the desire to attract higher-income employees who aren’t eligible for subsidies or Medicaid, the ACA’s employer mandate, and the uncertain future of the individual insurance marketplace.

New California ACA Sign-ups Drop Significantly

Covered California, the state’s Affordable Care Act insurance exchange, announced that the number of consumers who renewed their ACA plans in 2019 increased by 7.5 percent, but new enrollees dropped by 23.7 percent.

For 2019, there were 295,980 new enrollees, compared to 388,344 last year. Total ACA enrollment in California dipped slightly to 8.4 million, down from roughly 8.7 million last year.

Covered California officials say that the drop in new enrollments is due primarily to the Trump administration’s repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate, which required individuals to have health insurance coverage or pay a fine.

California’s recently elected governor has called for a state individual mandate, which will have to be approved by the state’s legislature.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 25, 2019

Wisconsin Governor’s Attempt to Withdraw From ACA Lawsuit Denied

Newly elected Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ request to leave the 20-state lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act was rejected by the state’s attorney general.

Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a letter to Evers that the state’s department of justice “does not have statutory authority to withdraw the State from the ACA litigation absent approval from the Joint Committee on Finance.”

The ability to withdraw the state from lawsuits was taken from the governor and given to the Joint Finance Committee last month in legislation signed by the previous governor, Scott Walker. Kaul has asked this committee to withdraw from the lawsuit.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 24, 2019

Uninsured Rate at Highest Level Since ACA Implementation

In the fourth quarter of 2018, the number of uninsured Americans was at its highest point since the Affordable Care Act went into effect four years prior, according to a new survey from Gallup.

The overall uninsured rate was at 13.7 percent, compared to 13.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Groups with the fastest-growing uninsured rates were women, young adults, and those with a lower-income. The data shows that in the fourth quarter of 2018:

  • 21.6 percent of adults under the age of 35 were uninsured.
  • 19.6 percent of Americans in the South were uninsured
  • 19.1 percent of adults in households making between $24,000 and $48,000 per year were uninsured.

The uninsured rate is still lower than the peak rate of 18 percent, which occurred in 2013 before the ACA was launched.

Gallup cited several factors that could have contributed to the rise in the uninsured rate, including higher premiums, slashed advertising funds, the elimination of cost-sharing reduction subsidies, negative political rhetoric and the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate.

Colorado to Have New State Office Devoted to Healthcare Costs

Jared Polis, the newly elected governor of Colorado, signed an executive order on Wednesday to create The Office of Saving People Money on Health Care.

The office will focus on lowering the costs of insurance, hospital stays, and prescription drugs. It will also tackle price transparency and efficiency improvements.

“So right now, cost is a barrier to access. By reducing costs we’ll help businesses, we’ll help the state, we’ll help the health care system, and, most importantly, we’ll help the patients,” said Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, who will oversee the office.

President Trump Addresses His Concern Over Surprise Medical Bills

On Wednesday, President Trump asked administration officials to investigate how to eliminate surprise medical bills.

In a White House round-table discussion with Health Secretary Alex Azar, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, and guests who have been hit with exorbitant out-of-network costs, President Trump vowed to tackle the issue.

“The healthcare system too often harms people with some unfair surprises … medical bills and the like. We’re going to stop all of it, and it’s very important to me,” he said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 23, 2019

Kaiser Poll Shows Fluctuating Support for Medicare for All Plans

A new poll released by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows mixed support for Medicare for All plans, with approval varying depending on the information provided.

The poll showed that 56 percent of respondents indicated they supported a national health plan like Medicare for All when initially asked. However, support increased when respondents were told that the program would:

  • Guarantee health insurance as a right. (71 percent)
  • Eliminate premiums and out-of-pocket costs. (67 percent)

Support for a Medicare for All plan decreased when respondents were told that the plan could:

  • Require more taxes. (37 percent)
  • Lead to delays in treatment. (26 percent)

The poll also found that 77 percent of Americans support Medicare buy-in plans for people aged 50-64, and 74 percent support optional Medicare buy-in plans for people of any age.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 22, 2019

Trump Administration Proposes Changes to Out-of-Pocket Limit Calculations

Patients on Affordable Care Act plans could face higher costs if they use brand-name prescription drugs when generics are available, if the proposed changes from the Trump Administration go into effect.

The proposal would allow insurers to only credit the price of a generic drug in a patient’s annual cost-sharing limits, even if the patient purchased the brand-name version. For example, if a patient pays a $30 co-pay to fill a prescription for a brand-name drug when a $10 generic is available, only $10 will be applied toward the patient’s annual out-of-pocket limit.

Similarly, the value of coupons or other cost-lowering assistance from drug manufacturers for brand-name drugs would not count toward the out-of-pocket limit if generics are available.

“The availability of a coupon may cause physicians and beneficiaries to choose an expensive brand-name drug when a less expensive and equally effective generic or other alternative is available,” said the Trump administration.

Critics, including representatives from the AIDS Institute, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalistion (DPAC), say that the proposal harms patients with conditions that require expensive treatments. These patients often rely on coupons and copay assistance for both brand-name and generic drugs.

“In theory, copay coupons could encourage people to take higher-priced drugs. In reality, people use them to get the medicines that their doctors prescribe, despite astronomically high deductibles,” said Leyla Mansour-Cole, the policy director of DPAC.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 18, 2019

Trump Administration Proposes Raising ACA Premiums, Cutting Exchange Fees

On Thursday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued proposed rule changes to the Affordable Care Act that would slightly increase premiums and reduce fees for insurers using the exchange.

CMS says that the proposed rule changes detailed in the 331 page document reflect the Trump Administration’s aim to lower premiums for enrollees and reduce the regulatory burden on insurance companies.

Some of the proposals include:

  • Increasing premiums by approximately 1 percent to improve the formula that calculates ACA tax subsidies.
  • Lowering insurers’ ACA exchange user fees by .5 percent beginning in 2020 to help them reduce premiums.
  • Possibly ending the practice of “silver-loading,” where insurers hike premiums only on silver-level plans in order to increase the ACA tax subsidy amounts available to enrollees.
  • Requiring insurance companies that offer plans with abortion coverage to offer “mirror” plans that don’t cover those services.
  • Allowing Congress to create a way to fund cost-sharing reduction payments, which the Trump administration halted in 2017.
  • Increasing the annual cost-sharing limit by 3.8 percent for individuals and families.
  • Allowing higher-income consumers to qualify for a special enrollment period if their income level decreases and becomes low enough to be eligible for a premium tax subsidy.

The document says that the proposals would save an estimated $900 million per year on tax subsidies, but also estimates an enrollment decrease of 100,000. The proposal is currently open for public comment.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 15, 2019

Judge Issues National Block on New Contraception Rules

Pennsylvania District Court Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued a nationwide block on a Trump administration rule that would allow more companies to opt out of providing free birth control coverage to employees.

The ruling came one day after a California judge made a similar ruling that applied to 13 states and the District of Columbia.

Beetlestone said that the new rules went beyond the scope of the Affordable Care Act, which she said specifically prohibits the U.S. Department of Health Human Services from allowing these kind of exceptions. Beetlestone also said the rules would put the burden on states to pay for birth control and could result in 70,500 women losing contraception coverage.

It’s likely that the Department of Justice will appeal the ruling. “Religious organizations should not be forced to violate their mission and deeply held beliefs,” it said in a statement.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 14, 2019

Judge Blocks Changes to ACA Contraception Rules in 13 States

The Trump administration’s decision to expand employer exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control rules has been blocked from taking effect in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

The new policy, scheduled to go into effect today, allows more companies to opt out of providing no-cost birth control on religious or moral grounds.

Washington D.C., California and 12 other plaintiffs requested an injunction to keep the new rules from going into place while a lawsuit against them moves through the courts. U.S. Judge Haywood Gilliam sided with the plaintiffs, saying that the new rules could cause a “substantial number” of women to lose birth control coverage. However, his decision applies only to the plaintiffs who filed the suit, not nationwide.

Gilliam’s ruling applies to California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

ACA Lawsuit Appeal Suspended Due to Government Shutdown

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Leslie Southwick has temporarily halted the appeal of the Affordable Care Act lawsuit due to the partial government shutdown.

Attorneys for the Department of Justice are unable to work until the government is reopened. They requested that the proceedings be paused so upcoming deadlines would not be missed.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 11, 2019

Bipartisan Bill Filed to Eliminate ACA Health Insurance Tax on Insurers

Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), John Barrasso (R-WY), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) filed legislation on Thursday to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance tax, saying that its implementation would raise premiums.

The tax, which is levied on health insurers, has been delayed numerous times but is currently scheduled to go into effect next year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 10, 2019

House Passes Measure to Intervene in ACA Lawsuit

The House passed a measure 235-192 to legally intervene in the lawsuit aiming to strike down the Affordable Care Act. All Democrats and three Republicans voted their support on Wednesday.

Last week, a similar intervention measure was passed as part of a broad rules package. Yesterday’s vote isolated the issue so that the Democratic majority could put Republicans on record as voting against the ACA and its protections for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. During the midterm campaigns, many Republicans promised to protect insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

“A campaign is part of forming a government, and no issue resonated with the American people in the last election like the issue of pre-existing conditions,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA).

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 9, 2019

Democratic Lawmakers in CA, WA & NYC Announce New Health Insurance Programs

The Democratic governors of California and Washington and the mayor of New York City have all started their 2019 terms with proposals for major health insurance initiatives.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom began his first day in office with proposals that would:  create a state individual mandate that requires residents to purchase insurance or pay a penalty; expand Affordable Care Act tax subsidy eligibility to people above the 400% poverty limit; and allow undocumented young adults up to age 26 to be covered by Medicaid.

In Washington, Governor Jay Inslee said that he will introduce a bill for a state public health insurance option for all residents on its state healthcare exchange. “Under the Obama administration and the Affordable Care Act, Washington was able to make tremendous progress in expanding coverage and start bringing down costs in our health care system. Under the Trump administration, all that progress is at risk,” said Inslee.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he will expand the city’s low-income healthcare program to an additional 600,000 uninsured, including undocumented immigrants. The “NYC Care” plan will provide residents access to physicians and hospitals at reduced cost or no cost, depending on ability to pay. The program will begin the Bronx this summer and roll out citywide by 2021.

Democratic Congress Members Seek Answers Regarding New Short-term Insurance Rules

Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate have sent a letter to the Trump administration about its decision to expand the length of short-term insurance plans from three to 12 months and allow renewals for up to three-year renewability. This is the third letter sent to the administration asking for additional information about the short-term plans’ economic analysis.

“We believe allowing for renewal or extension of short-term policies for up to 36 months is contrary to law, and that the creation of an entirely unregulated parallel market competing against the market for Qualified Health Plans goes against Congressional intent in enacting the comprehensive consumer protections embodied in the Affordable Care Act,” they said in the letter.

The administration believes that the short-term plans are a good alternative for healthy individuals looking for lower-cost insurance. The plans do not follow the Affordable Care Act restrictions, which means they can omit some health services and deny coverage of pre-existing conditions.

Committee Chairman Asks for Single-Payer Healthcare Budget Report

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) has requested Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of single-payer healthcare proposals.

“The House Budget Committee will soon schedule hearings to review potential ways to achieve affordable, high-quality health care coverage for everyone, including Medicare for All. To begin that work, I have requested that the Congressional Budget Office provide a report on the design considerations that policymakers should consider in developing proposals to establish a single-payer system in the United States,” said Yarmuth in a statement.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 8, 2019

ACA Individual Mandate Repeal Could Set Back Insurance Coverage Gains

A new study found that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s penalty for not having insurance could reverse the recent increases in coverage for Hispanics, younger Americans, the healthy, those with a lower income.

The study, published earlier this week in the journal Health Affairs, is based on a 2017 survey of 3,000 California residents. Nineteen percent of respondents said that they would not have purchased health insurance in 2017 if there was no penalty.

Findings in the study include:

  • 31 percent of Hispanics said they would not buy a health plan if there was no mandate.
  • 22 percent of people with no chronic conditions would not have purchased a plan if there was no tax penalty.
  • Men age 18 – 30 were twice as likely to drop health coverage than those over 50 in absence of a penalty.
  • Premiums would have increased by an estimated 4 to 7 percent if all those who said they would not keep health insurance without the tax penalty dropped their coverage.

The elimination of the individual mandate went into effect on January 1. The penalty still applies to those who went without health coverage in 2018.

“Especially for lower-income consumers who are potentially eligible for subsidies, it’s really important to try to understand how eliminating the penalty might affect their choices,” said Vicki Fung, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study.

Poll Shows Strong Democratic Support for Public-Option Healthcare Plans

A new Harvard/Politico poll shows that 71 percent of Americans support a Medicare buy-in option for people under 65. Of these respondents, 83 percent are Democrats and 60 percent are Republicans.

A public health insurance option that would compete with private insurance companies is supported by 65 percent of respondents (70 percent Democrats and 51 percent Republicans).

Other findings from the poll:

  • 91 percent support protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
  • 68 percent support providing health insurance through a taxpayer-funded, national plan
  • 36 percent were not aware of the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate.
  • 92 percent ranked addressing the high prices of prescription drugs as extremely important.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 4, 2019

2019 Federal ACA Exchange Enrollment Falls Slightly

Final data from CMS shows that 8.4 million people signed up on the site during the 2019 Open Enrollment Period, a 3.8 percent decrease from last year.

Additional data from the report:

  • There were 6.3 million returning enrollees, an increase of 0.9 percent from 2018.
  • There were a little less than 2.1 million new enrollees, which is about a 15.8 percent decrease from 2018.
  • Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming increased their number of enrollees.
  • Virginia had the largest decrease in enrollees at 18 percent, presumably due to the state’s expansion of Medicaid to 400,000 residents.

CMS says it will release a report that includes state exchange enrollment figures in March.

Democratic Attorneys General Appeal ACA Decision

A coalition of 17 Democratic states on Thursday filed to appeal a federal judge’s decision declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The lawsuit will now go to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana.

Led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the attorneys general expect a decision within a year. Last week, Judge Reed O’Conner ruled that the ACA will remain in place during the court process.

Medicare for All to Get Hearings from House Democrats

House Democrats plan to hold hearings on universal healthcare legislation after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gave her support.

Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the sponsor of the Medicare for All proposal, expects to release a bill this month and hold hearings in a number of committees.

“It’s a huge step forward to have the speaker’s support,” she said.

Maine’s new Governor Orders ACA Medicaid Expansion

Janet Mills, the newly installed governor of Maine, called on state health officials to move ahead with implementing Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion that was approved by voters over a year ago.

The state’s previous governor, Paul LePage, blocked expansion efforts, saying the program was not adequately funded. Mills has asked the state Department of Health and Human Services to work with lawmakers to find a method of “sustainable” funding.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 3, 2019

New Democratic House to Vote Next Week on Defending ACA in Lawsuit

The House of Representatives plans to hold a vote next week on whether to defend the Affordable Care Act in the federal lawsuit that’s set to be heard in the appellate court.

Last week, the federal judge who ruled that the ACA as invalid allowed the appeals process to proceed. The law continues to be in effect while it moves through the appeal process.

The new House Democratic majority intends for the vote to put pressure on Republicans, who campaigned on their support of pre-existing conditions protections as currently outlined in the ACA. “Republicans who survived the election on their tardy promises to protect pre-existing conditions will have to explain why they have once again been complicit in trying to strike down those life-saving protections,” said a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Though legal experts on both sides do not expect the ruling against the ACA to be upheld, President Trump predicted yesterday that the Supreme Court will side with the decision. “We should win at the Supreme Court, where this case will go. When we do, we will sit down with the Democrats and we will come up with great healthcare,” he said.

Insurance Lobbying Groups Ask for Changes to Proposed HRA Rule

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association warned the Trump administration that allowing the use of HRA funds to purchase short-term insurance plans could weaken the individual market and raise premium rates.

In October, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a proposed rule that would allow employees to use money in HRA accounts to buy insurance from the individual marketplace beginning in 2020.

The Blues Cross and Blue Shield association cautioned that also allowing employees to use the HRA funds for short-term plan insurance plans that do not adhere to the ACA requirements “runs the risk of upending the individual market and dramatically increasing costs.”

Both groups also recommended that implementation of the rule be delayed until at least 2021 to help ensure effective administration.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 2, 2019

ACA Remains in Effect While Appeal Efforts Move Forward

U.S. Judge Reed O’Connor finalized his decision against the Affordable Care Act and allowed the case to go the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The law continues to remain in place as it goes through the appeal process.

In his order, O’Connor said that his stay of the law will prevent Americans from facing “great uncertainty” and that he was confident that the appellate court will side with his ruling.

Colorado Legislators to Propose State Public Health Insurance Option

Two lawmakers in Colorado will propose bills that would establish the country’s first state-run, public health insurance option.

Rep. Dylan Roberts will introduce a bill that will create the infrastructure to create the program and gain approval from the federal government. Sen. Kerry Donovan’s bill will set up a pilot program to offer the option to counties with limited insurance choices and high premiums.

The program would offer Colorado residents the option to purchase an insurance plan from the state. “This is not free insurance. You’re still going to pay a monthly premium,” said Roberts.

The lawmakers believe that the program could increase competition and reduce overall premiums for residents.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 26, 2018

Republicans Urge Judge to Allow Appeal on ACA Ruling

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional on December 14, and the Democratic attorneys general defending the law vowed to immediately appeal the decision. On Friday, the Republican attorneys general who originally filed the lawsuit asked O’Connor to move forward with the appeal process.

The Republicans said that they hoped the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and potentially the Supreme Court, will uphold O’Connor’s ruling so that states would be able to regulate their own individual insurance marketplaces.

“When that happens, the states will be able to enact policies and regulations accomplishing what the ACA promised but could never provide: affordable health insurance for all Americans,” they wrote.

Currently, the ACA remains the rule of the land while the appeal process continues.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 20, 2018

ACA Enrollment Stays Relatively Steady

Total enrollment for 2019 health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act federal exchange is currently 8.5 million, which is 4 percent lower than last year. The data does not yet include enrollees who signed up within three hours before the deadline or those who were put on a waitlist. The final tally is due next week.

During the final week of open enrollment, 4.3 million people signed up for insurance, which is 318,000 more than the final week in 2017.

States that run their own healthcare exchanges have mostly seen an increase in enrollees:

  • New York has already exceeded last year’s numbers with over 1 million enrollees. Sign-up continues until January 31.
  • Maryland has seen a 2 percent increase in enrollment.
  • Colorado and Minnesota have seen a 5 percent increase in enrollment.
  • Washington has seen a 10 percent decrease in enrollment.

Senate Democrats’ ACA Resolution Blocked

A resolution drafted by Senate Democrats to intervene in the federal lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act was blocked by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY).

The resolution requested unanimous consent for the Senate’s legal counsel to defend the ACA in court. Last week, a federal judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional, but this decision is in the process of being appealed.

Barrasso claims that the resolution was a political ploy. “Regardless of what happens in this legal process, we look to protect people with pre-existing conditions,” Barrasso said.

Democrats argued that the best way to protect those with pre-existing conditions is to defend the law and its provisions.

“If people say we all have sympathy and empathy for people with pre-existing conditions, if you want to protect then … at least allow us to move forward on a unanimous consent so we can fight and have a fighting chance, as this thing will be appealed to the higher courts,” said Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 18, 2018

State AGs Ask Federal Judge for Clarification on ACA Ruling

A coalition of 17 Democratic attorneys general have asked Judge Reed O’Connor to clarify ambiguities surrounding his ruling that declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. They’ve requested that O’Connor either issue a stay on the motion pending appeal or an order that declares that the law is still in effect.

Lead by California’s Xavier Becerra, the coalition said that the ruling caused confusion about the current state of the law. It is unclear what will occur on January 1, which is when the repeal of the individual mandate goes into effect. They also requested that O’Connor certify his opinion so that it can be appealed.

“The district court’s ruling poses a dangerous threat to the healthcare of millions of Americans. We’re asking the court to make clear that the ACA is still the law and ensure that all Americans can continue to access affordable healthcare under it,” Becerra said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said on Monday that it “will continue administering and enforcing all aspects of the ACA as it had before the court issued its decision.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 17, 2018

Judge Rules ACA Unconstitutional, 2019 Enrollment Unaffected

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, siding with 20 Republican lawmakers who said that the repeal of the individual mandate, which imposed a penalty on the uninsured, invalidated the entire law.

The 17 Democrat attorneys general who defended the law plan to appeal the ruling, and the case is expected to ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

O’Connor’s decision does not impact 2019 health insurance policies, nor does it immediately affect areas that are guided by the law, such as Medicare, Medicaid, prescription drugs, and public health policies.

“There is no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan,” said Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in a tweet.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also confirmed the law’s continued enforcement. “We expect this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Pending the appeal process, the law remains in place,” she said in a statement.

House Democrats, who will be the majority party beginning in 2019, promised to fight the ruling. “We will take immediate action in the new Congress to intervene in this case and appeal this decision. House Democrats will do whatever it takes to make sure the protections enshrined in the Affordable Care Act endure,” the House Ways and Means Committee Democrats said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also promised to take action. In an interview, Schumer said he plans to push for a vote to have the Senate to intervene in the case.

California Extends Insurance Enrollment Deadline

Covered California, the state’s Affordable Care Act healthcare exchange, announced that it has extended the deadline to purchase an insurance policy that will start on January 1.

The new enrollment schedule:

  • Residents who enroll by Friday, December 21 will have coverage that begins January 1.
  • Residents who enroll between December 22 and January 15 will have coverage that begins February.

“We have seen tens of thousands of people flood into Covered California over the past week, and we want to make sure everyone can start the new year off right by being covered,” said Covered California’s Executive Director Peter Lee in a statement.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 14, 2018

Vox Analyzes 8 Democrat Universal Health Care Proposals

The idea of creating a “Medicare-for-all” healthcare system has become a major issue for many in Congress, especially with Democrats taking over the House in 2019. However, lawmakers differ on the solution. There are currently six different universal health care bills in Congress and two proposals from Democratic think-tanks.

Vox reporters researched these eight plans, spoke to their authors, and published their analysis yesterday. Here are the plans and some of Vox’s findings about them:

  1. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) Medicare-for-all bill: This Senate bill guarantees that every American has health coverage with no premiums. Employer-sponsored insurance would be eliminated. Income taxes would have to increase. All expenses would be covered, but prescriptions might have copayments.
  2. Rep. Premila Jayapal (D-WA) and the House Progressive Caucus’ Medicare-for-all bill: This House bill is similar to Sanders’ proposal. Some of the provisions may be  currently under revision to more align with Sanders’ version.
  3. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI) CHOICE Act: This bill would make enrollment into a Medicare expansion plan optional. Enrollees would pay premiums. Employer-sponsored plans would still be available, but small businesses could opt-in to the Medicare plan. Income taxes would not need to be increased. Plans would cover between 60 and 80 percent of expected medical expenses.
  4. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Brian Higgins (D-NY) and Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) Medicare X: This is similar to the CHOICE Act, but plans would be available in two tiers: one covers 70 percent of medical expenses, the other covers 80 percent.
  5. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) Choose Medicare Act: This is also similar to the CHOICE Act, but employees could only opt-in if their employers allow it. Plans would cover 80 percent of medical expenses.
  6. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan’s (D-NM) Medicaid Buy-in bill: This plan would give residents in all 50 states the option to buy-in to a Medicaid program. States would determine the premiums, copayments, and deductibles. Employer-sponsored plans would still be available. Income taxes would not be increased.
  7. The Center for American Progress’ Medicare Extra for All proposal: The proposal guarantees that every American has health coverage, with higher-income enrollees paying premiums. Employer-sponsored plans would still be available, but employers will have the option to stop offering coverage and instead pay a payroll tax roughly equivalent to what they currently spend on health insurance. Income taxes would be increased.
  8. The Urban Institute’s Healthy America proposal: This plan doesn’t set universal coverage standards, but hopes to reduce the number of uninsured by 16 million in its first year. A new market would be established that combines Medicaid and ACA enrollees. Employer-sponsored plans would be available and untouched. Premiums would be a maximum of 8.5 percent of income. Plans would cover 80 percent of medical expenses.

All plans include government regulation of healthcare prices. While the Democrats do not believe they will pass Medicare-for-all with this Congress, they do believe that now is the time for working out the plans and building support.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 13, 2018

Sign-ups For ACA Plans Down by 11.7%

Around 930,000 people enrolled in an Affordable Care Act health insurance plan on the federal exchange during the sixth week of open enrollment. It was the busiest week yet, but enrollments continue to lag behind last year.

So far, around 4.1 million people have signed up for 2019 ACA plans, which is down 11.7 percent from the same time period in 2018.

Florida continues to have the highest enrollment numbers, with over 999,000 people signed up for coverage to date.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 12, 2018

New Study Show 4.2 Million Could Purchase ACA Health Plans for $0

A new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 4.2 million people without insurance are eligible for $0 premium bronze plans on the Affordable Care Act exchange.

Bronze plans with a $0 premium are available to enrollees who qualify for subsidies that equal or exceed the price of the plan. The study finds that of the 15.9 million Americans without insurance, 27 percent are eligible for the plans.

Availability of $0 plans varies by location. Only 5 percent of uninsured consumers in Washington and Indiana have access to the plans; however, more than 45 percent have access in Delaware, Iowa, Nebraska, and Utah.

The study also suggests that premiums are not the only expense enrollees should take into account. The average deductible for 2019 bronze plans is $6,258, while silver plan deductibles range from $239 to $3,169. Those who qualify for subsidies can purchase silver plans for $20 to $130 per month, depending on income.

ACA Signups Spiked on Monday

With the enrollment period in its last week, the Affordable Care Act’s site received its highest traffic on Monday.

Due to the high volume, some users were placed into a “waiting room” to help the website adjust.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, enrollees who call to enroll may be asked to leave their contact information and wait for a callback. Those that do may not be contacted before the December 15, but they will still be eligible for coverage that begins on January 1.

Judge Upholds Religious Groups’ Position Against ACA Birth Control Mandate

A federal judge issued an order this week that blocks the federal government from forcing religious groups to cover contraception-related drugs, devices, and related counseling as required in the Affordable Care Act.

Judge Philip Brimmer sided with the plaintiffs, six religious colleges and organizations that requested a permanent injunction against the mandate. The government did not fight against the lawsuit.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 11, 2018

Groups Call for Legislation Tackling Surprise Medical Bills

Nine organizations sent a joint letter to Congress on Monday that called for federal legislation to protect consumers from surprise medical bills issued by to out-of-network providers.

Although several states have passed laws to prevent patients from receiving unexpected charges while inadvertently visiting an out-of-network doctor or facility, there are no federal protections.

The nine organizations represent health insurance, employers, and consumer groups. They asked lawmakers to stop providers from billing a patient for medical costs not covered by insurance when the choice of provider is not the patient’s fault. However, they also stressed that any new laws should not cause a rise in insurance premiums or deter providers from joining a health plan’s network.

The groups include Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the National Business Group on Health, Consumers Union, American Benefits Council, The ERISA Industry Committee, Families USA, the National Association of Health Underwriters, and the National Retail Federation.

CEOs from the American Hospital Association responded, blaming inadequate provider networks as a major cause of surprise medical bills.

Obama Urges Americans to Enroll in ACA Plans

Former President Barack Obama posted a video on Twitter Monday in which he encourages the uninsured to enroll in Affordable Care Act plans.

The post received over 500,000 views within the first hour it was released.

As he has in past years, Obama stressed the importance of health insurance and signing up before Saturday’s deadline.

Blue Shield of California to Limit Out-of-State Coverage

Beginning January 1, Blue Shield of California will cut back on its out-of-state coverage for members with  individual health plans.

The plans will continue to cover out-of-state emergency services, urgent care, and some limited primary care. The company said it will work with member who currently use out-of-state providers and will allow telephone consultations with out-of-state physicians.

“We’re trying to focus on affordability and part of that is focusing on our provider network in California. We’re able to manage our costs better,” said Blue Cross Spokesperson Amanda Wardell.

The change will only affect members in California with individual health plans, not those with employer or Medicare plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 10, 2018

ACA Risk-adjustment Program to Continue Normal Operations

A final rule was issued by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) that allows normal operation of the Affordable Care Act’s risk-adjustment program to continue for the 2018 benefit year.

The risk-adjustment program moves money from health insurance plans with healthier enrollees to plans with sicker, more expensive enrollees. The rule comes during ongoing litigation regarding the formula the CMS uses to determine insurance companies’ payment responsibilities. Currently, the CMS uses a statewide average premium in the methodology instead of an insurer’s own premium.

“Today’s final rule continues our commitment to provide certainty regarding this important program, to give insurers the confidence they need to continue participating in the markets, and, ultimately, to guarantee that consumers have access to better coverage options,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.

House Reps Ask for Details on Administration’s Pre-existing Conditions Stance

Four Democratic House Representatives have sent a letter to President Trump’s administration looking for explanations concerning its decision to not defend Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing condition protections in court.

Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Richard Neal (D-MA), Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) addressed the letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.

The lawmakers requested any analysis the administration may have performed to determine its position, and details of how the administration will respond if the protections are eliminated.

“In declining to defend these provisions, the Trump Administration is seeking to invalidate these critical patient protections, and once again subject millions of Americans with preexisting conditions to the discrimination they faced before the ACA,” the letter said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 7, 2018

Enrollment for 2019 ACA Plans Fall Behind Last Year By 11%

With one week left in the Affordable Care Act’s 2019 open enrollment period, the total number sign-ups continue to trail behind to last year.

The first five weeks of enrollment saw 3.2 million enrollments, compared to 3.6 million last year—a drop of 11 percent. New customer sign-ups are down 17 percent.

Industry experts cite several reason for the drop, including:

  • the repeal of the individual mandate,
  • funding cuts for advertising and enrollment assistance, and
  • a shorter first week of enrollment.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 6, 2018

Majority of 2019 ACA Plans Have Narrow Provider Networks

New analysis from consulting firm Avalere shows that 72 percent of 2019 Affordable Care Act plans sold on the federal exchange have narrow provider networks. A plan with a narrow provider network only covers the care members receive from a small list of approved providers.

The number of narrow-network plans remained steady compared to last year. In 2018, 73 percent of plans had a narrow network.

Of all plans on the 2019 ACA exchange:

  • 53 percent are narrow-network HMO plans
  • 19 percent are narrow-network EPO plans
  • 21 percent are broad-network PPO plans
  • 6 percent are broad-network point-of-service plans

Chris Sloan, a director at Avalere, said that the trend toward lower-cost narrow networks is expected to continue. “Narrow network doesn’t mean it’s bad, or that patients in the network are getting sub-quality care. You can have a narrow network that’s great and that’s high quality,” he said.

Insurers prefer the narrow-network plans because they help control enrollee spending and keep premiums lower. Critics argue that provider directory inaccuracies could leave patients with unexpectedly large medical bills and that the lack of choice may also require members to drive long distances to receive care.

Reinsurance Plan in Minnesota Could Lose $100M in Funding

Minnesota lawmakers will debate the future of its reinsurance program after the estimate for federal funding was reduced from $183.9 million to $84 million. The estimate is based on the amount of premium tax credits the federal government would have paid out to residents if this waiver-based program was not in place.

The program helps insurers cover the costs of residents with the highest medical bills, and has helped the state lower the growth rate of premiums over the last two years.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 30, 2018

New CMS State Waiver Concepts Expand Use of ACA Tax Subsidies

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently issued four state Affordable Care Act waiver concepts to “promote more affordable, flexible health insurance coverage options.”

The concepts allow states to bypass current ACA regulations and suggest alternate uses of tax credit subsidy programs. Any state programs developed using the waivers must be approved by the CMS and are are required to meet the law’s “guardrails” of comprehensiveness, affordability, coverage, and federal deficit neutrality.

The state concepts suggested include:

  1. Setting up “account-based subsidies.” States could use federal ACA subsidies to create accounts that work much like health savings accounts. Residents could then use the funds in the account to pay for health insurance premiums or out-of-pocket expenses.
  2. Adopting “state-specific premium assistance.” These state-administered plans could adjust the way subsidies are distributed in an attempt to attract young, healthy consumers and help individuals whose higher income makes them ineligible for federal tax credits.
  3. Creating “adjusted plan options” that  allow tax subsidies to be used for non-ACA marketplace plans, short-term plans, association health plans or catastrophic plans.
  4. Forming “risk stabilization strategies” to help insurers pay medical bills for patients with high healthcare costs. Suggestions from CMS include reinsurance programs and high-risk pools.

CMS also encouraged states to “couple waiver concepts with other ideas” to meet the needs of their residents.

Critics of the concepts point out that the measures: might fall under legislative rule and need to go through Congress before being implemented; could create rules that vary widely by state; and could harm consumers with “skimpy” coverage that’s not required to include pre-existing condition protections.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 29, 2018

ACA Enrollment Continues to Trail Last Year’s Numbers

About 350,000 fewer people have signed up for healthcare on the federal exchange compared the same period last year.

In the first four weeks of open enrollment, over 2.4 million people have signed up for ACA plans, a drop from nearly 2.8 million in 2017. The numbers only include enrollments through the national federal exchange and do not yet include automatic renewals.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll suggests that one reason for the drop could be lack of awareness. According to the survey:

  • About 69 percent of Americans who purchase individual plans did not know that enrollment ends on December 15 for most states.
  • Only 25 percent of respondents are aware of seeing any ACA-related advertising.

Some state exchanges are seeing an increase in ACA signups. For example, New York is currently 10 percent above last year’s enrollment figures, with 36,000 new enrollees and 870,000 renewals.

Number of Uninsured Children Increased for First Time Since 2008

A new report by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families shows that the number of uninsured children in the country rose by 276,000 in 2017. This increase follows almost a decade of steady decline.

In 2017, there were 3.9 million uninsured children in the U.S., compared to 3.6 million in 2016. Some findings from the study include:

  • Texas leads in the nation in the number of uninsured children with 835,000, or 1 in 5, going without coverage.
  • Other marked increases occurred in South Dakota (from 4.7 percent to 6.2 percent), Utah (from 6 percent to 7.3 percent), and Florida (from 6.6 percent to 7.3 percent).
  • States that have not implemented ACA Medicare expansion increased the uninsured rate by triple the rates of states that have.
  • The rate of uninsured children among Hispanics was 7.8 percent, 4.9 percent among whites and 4.6 percent among blacks overall.

The study suggests that one reason for the increase could be that 25 percent of minors in the country have a parent who is an immigrant; these parents might avoid enrollment for fear of deportation.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 28, 2018

State ACA Reinsurance Programs Successful in Lowering Premiums

The first three states to implement Affordable Care Act reinsurance programs were able to stabilize their markets and boost enrollment, according to a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon implemented the programs last year, which reimburse insurers for eligible high-cost claims. The study found that in 2018:

  • Alaska lowered average rates 26 percent compared to 2017.
  • Minnesota reduced its rates by 11.3 percent.
  • Oregon rates fluctuated, but are an estimated 6 percent lower than what they would have been if the program had not been implemented.

The study also found that the programs did not attract additional insurers to the state ACA exchanges. Alaska and Minnesota retained the same number of insurers; Oregon saw a decrease.

Illinois Limits Short-Term Health Insurance to Six Months

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that limited short-term health insurance to six months, but the state legislature overrode his decision on Tuesday.

The bill was drafted in response to new rules from the Trump administration, which allow customers to stay on short-term plans for up to twelve months and renew them for up to three years. However, consumer advocates say these cheaper plans provide less comprehensive coverage, don’t include pre-existing condition protections, and expose consumers to higher out-of-pocket costs than insurance plans covered by ACA regulations.

Illinois joins several states, such as California, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, that have limited or banned the new, expanded short-term plans.

California Uninsured Projected to Increase Drastically Without State Intervention

The number of uninsured Californians could increase by 800,000 in five years if the state fails to expand coverage, according to a report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center and UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The report projects there will be 4.4 million uninsured Californians in 2023, which would represent 12.9 percent of the population.

The number of uninsured residents is projected to increase primarily due to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which levied a penalty against people without coverage.

The report says that policies such as a state individual mandate, state-funded financial assistance, and expansion of the Medi-Cal program could help keep people from dropping their coverage.

“Unless the state takes action, the number of uninsured will start creeping back up. Our uninsured rate did go down significantly because of the ACA, and we’re estimating it could climb up. But the state does have some policy options and policy levers it could pull to try to get to universal coverage,” said Miranda Dietz, the lead author of the report.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 26, 2018

ACA 2019 Benchmark Plan Premiums Decrease, Choices Increase

Nineteen states are seeing lower premiums for 2019 Affordable Care Act benchmark silver plans compared to last year, with many areas also experiencing an increase in the number of insurers.

Premiums for the cheapest available plans have been reduced by 10 percent on average for more than half of the counties that use the federal health exchange. Nationally, premiums for the average benchmark silver plan decreased about one percent.

Tennessee leads the country in reducing benchmark premiums, with an average 26 percent decrease. In 2018, a 40-year-old Tennessee resident paid $743 on average for a benchmark plan; this year it’s $548. Competition has also increased; over 82 percent of Tennessee counties had only one insurer selling ACA plans in 2018. For 2019, it’s under 52 percent.

Arizona is another newly competitive market. In 2018, the Phoenix area had a single insurer selling ACA plans. For 2019, that insurer has lowered its most affordable silver plan by 12 percent and is joined by three competitors.

ACA Enrollment Down on Federal Exchange, Up on Some State Exchanges

In the first three weeks of the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period, over 1.9 million people have signed up for 2019 coverage on the federal exchange. That is down from 2.3 million last year.

Though enrollment has lagged on the federal exchange, several state exchanges have seen increases compared to 2018 sign ups. Minnesota is up 6.9 percent with almost 98,000 enrollments during the first two weeks of open enrollment. Colorado is up 13.1 percent with around 25,600 enrollees during the first two weeks of open enrollment.

Other details on Week 3 of the federal exchange enrollment:

  • 748,244 total households selected plans (down 6.3 percent from last year)
  • 566,250 households renewed coverage (down 2.1 percent from last year)
  • 181,994 households purchased plans for the first time (down 17.4 percent from last year)

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 20, 2018

House Democrats Plan to Investigate DOJ’s Decision Over ACA Lawsuit

When Democrats take over the House in January, they plan to investigate why the Department of Justice Department declined to defend the Affordable Care Act in federal court, according to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

Twenty Republican-governed states have sued the federal government in an attempt to end the ACA. In June, the DOJ refused to defend the healthcare law in the suit.

Nadler, the expected upcoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, asking him to respond  to letters previously sent to former attorney general Jeff Sessions about the decision.

“This committee expects to examine the department’s refusal to defend a duly enacted federal statute, the abrupt resignation of veteran department employees and an apparent determination by this administration to undermine affordable healthcare coverage for millions,” Nadler wrote.

Maryland Lawmakers to Propose State Individual Mandate

Some legislators in Maryland are backing a plan that would require state residents to be covered by health insurance or pay a fine.

Unlike the federal individual mandate that was repealed earlier this year, the state proposal would enable the uninsured to use the fine amount as down payment on a health insurance policy sold on the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange.

“Our ‘down-payment plan’ helps get the uninsured to contribute. They get the care they need while we shrink uncompensated care, holding down insurance costs for everyone,” said state Democratic representative Joseline Peña-Melnyk in a radio ad.

Passage of the bill is uncertain, as Governor Larry Hogan has expressed his disapproval. “While we are always open to ideas to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for Marylanders, the governor favors incentives over penalties,” said Amelia Chassé, a spokeswoman for Hogan.

Connecticut ACA Exchange to Oppose New Abortion Billing Proposal

The Trump administration’s proposal to require separate billing for abortion coverage is being challenged by Connecticut’s Affordable Care Act exchange.

Access Health CT will submit public comment to protest, with lawmakers arguing that the regulation would be a burden on insurance companies. “This proposed rule will impact our carriers…and we are committed to helping our carriers in any way we can,” said James Michel, CEO of Access Health CT.

The proposal was introduced earlier this month by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, who said that separate billing would ensure that no federal funds would be used to pay for abortion services.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 16, 2018

Over 20 Million More Americans Insured Since Passage of the ACA

There are now 20.1 million fewer Americans without health insurance than when the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Findings in the data include:

  • In the first half of 2018, there were 28.5 million uninsured Americans, compared to 48.6 in 2010.
  • About 70 percent of adults age 18-64 are currently covered by private health insurance. Four percent of the insured (almost 8 million people) purchased plans on an ACA exchange.
  • Most likely to be insured are adults aged 25-34; only 16.5 percent do not have coverage.
  • States that have expanded Medicaid coverage have an average uninsured rate of 9.1 percent, compared to 18.1 percent for states that have not.

House Democrats Split on Medicare for All

Democrats, soon to be the majority in the House of Representatives, are debating whether to vote on legislation regarding single-payer insurance coverage.

Progressives, such as Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Pramila Jayapal of Washington, are pushing to introduce a revised bill in January.

Centrists, including Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, believe that a vote is not realistic since a bill would not get through the Republican-controlled Senate.

“I’ve always been an advocate for Medicare for all or single-payer, but I just don’t think that the votes would be there for that, so I think our priority has to be stabilizing the Affordable Care Act, preventing the sabotage that the Trump administration has initiated,” said Pallone.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 15, 2018

Insurance Company Participation in ACA Marketplace is Rising

New analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that more insurance companies are participating in the Affordable Care Act’s 2019 Health Insurance Marketplace than in 2018.

After reviewing data by state and county, their findings show that:

  • For 2019, 608 counties are gaining at least one insurance company, while only five counties are losing an insurer.
  • Approximately 17% of enrollees have only one insurer in their county for 2019; dropping from 26% in 2018.
  • There are four insurers per state on average in 2019, compared to 3.5 in 2018. The highest average was six per state in 2015.
  • Alaska, Delaware, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Wyoming each have only one insurer for 2019.
  • California, New York, and Wisconsin have over ten insurers for 2019.

ACA Signups Continue Slow Start

Signups for Affordable Care Act plans during the early weeks of open enrollment trail last year by about 300,000 people.

During the first ten days of enrollment, about 1.2 million people have signed up for ACA plans, compared to the estimated 1.5 million who signed up during a similar period last year.

An industry analyst from the Kaiser Family Foundation says it’s too soon to predict whether the slow start indicates an overall reduction in ACA enrollment.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 14, 2018

Expansion of Short-term Health Plans Getting Push-back From States

Delaware is the latest state to initiate new rules on short-term health insurance policies in response to new federal government regulations. State officials announced that the coverage period will be limited to three months.

The new regulations from the Trump administration increase the maximum duration of short-term plans from three months to 364 days and allow consumers to renew plans for up to 36 months. Worried about the plans’ exemption from ACA minimum standards and their potential to create marketplace instability, state regulators have begun responding with rules of their own.

Other recent state responses to short-term plans:

  • Vermont requires that the plans cover all ten ACA essential benefits.
  • California has banned their sale.
  • Washington limits the coverage period to three months, prohibits renewals, and bans their sale during the ACA open enrollment period if coverage will begin in the upcoming year.

Some states, including New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Carolina, Hawaii, and Michigan have existing regulations that limit or ban the sale of the plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 13, 2018

New Association Health Plans Provide Comprehensive Coverage

New association health plans (AHPs) offered by farmer-owned cooperative Land O’Lakes in Nebraska, several Nevada chambers of commerce, and the National Restaurant Association are offering benefits comparable to Affordable Care Act plans for premiums up to 35 percent lower.

The plans are able to offer lower premiums because of several factors, including their ability to set premiums based on gender and industry, which is not allowed with ACA plans. The current plans are not charging people with pre-existing conditions higher rates or denying them coverage.

“AHPs can offer comprehensive coverage and still be cheaper than marketplace plans if they either serve a population that is less costly than the average of the marketplace and/or they somehow are able to pay less for services,” said Katherine Hempstead, a health insurance coverage director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Those who qualify for tax subsidies may still be able to purchase comparable plans for less on the ACA exchange than with the AHPs. However, Bruce Ramge, insurance director for Nebraska, claims the plans “will offer another really good choice for individuals who either don’t receive a subsidy and cannot afford coverage on the exchange, or for some reason prefer not to purchase that coverage.”

Some states, fearing that the expansion of AHPs will destabilize the market or lead to increased fraud, have issued new rules and guidance limiting their scope. Democratic attorneys general in 11 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit to block the new Trump Administration rule that allows the expansion of AHPs; the case is still pending.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 9, 2018

New Democratic House Majority Could Quickly Move to Defend ACA Protections

House Democrats could soon intervene in a lawsuit that attacks the Affordable Care Act and its protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Using its power as the soon-to-be majority, Democrats may have the House vote on a measure to step in and defend the ACA’s constitutionality. If passed, the measure would not require approval by the Senate or President Trump.

A spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that “the new Democratic House Majority will move swiftly to defend the vital protections for people with people with pre-existing conditions still under legal assault by the GOP.”

The lawsuit was brought by GOP-led states arguing the legality of the ACA. The Trump administration declined to defend the law. The judge’s ruling is expected soon, though the decision is likely to be appealed.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 8, 2018

Democratic House Majority Will Change Congress’ Healthcare Agenda

The results of the midterm elections last Tuesday will give Democrats the majority in the House of Representatives in 2019, which dramatically alters political healthcare priorities.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remarked that Affordable Care Act repeal and replace efforts are over. “I think it is very obvious that a Democratic House is not going to be interested in that,” he said. Instead, McConnell believes that addressing drug prices will be on the agenda.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi also said that they “will take real, very strong legislative action” on drug prices. Democrats had made healthcare a primary issue in their campaigns. “Healthcare was on the ballot, and healthcare won,” said Pelosi.

President Trump also weighed in, saying he thinks that bipartisan efforts to improve healthcare is possible. “We want to do something on healthcare; they want to do something on healthcare. There are a lot of great things that we can do together.”

With repeal and replace efforts tabled, the next healthcare clash between Democrats and Republicans— and a certain topic in the 2020 presidential election—will be the issue of Medicare for All. Progressive Democrats have increasingly supported the idea of expanding Medicare to all working-age Americans, but Republicans claim it will harm Medicare for seniors.

First Week of ACA Open Enrollment Lags Behind Last Year’s

During the first three days of the open enrollment period, about 371,700 signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act federal exchange. That’s a slower start compared to the first four days of last year’s enrollment period, which saw 601,500 signups.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, approximately 75 percent of the enrollees had previously purchased an ACA policy, and the remaining were new consumers.

The enrollment period for 2019 ACA plans this year is November 1 through December 15.

New Rules for Employer Contraception Coverage Issued by Trump Administration

On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services issued two new rules that will expand the types of businesses that are allowed to deny birth control coverage to employees due to religious or moral objections.

HHS officials said in a statement that the Affordable Care Act does not include a contraception requirement and that it does “not require the government to violate religious or moral objections to providing or purchasing such coverage.”

Currently, only churches, religious orders, and organizations that received financial support from religious organizations could be exempted from contraception coverage. The new rules add nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and individuals that morally object to providing contraceptive services.

Publicly-traded companies and government entities will not be allowed to claim the exemption.

HMS estimates that the new exemption rules will affect around 200 employers and potentially 6,400 women. However, civil liberty groups and women’s rights advocates have argued that the number is higher.

CMS Proposes Separate, Add-on Billing for ACA Plans That Cover Abortion

The Trump administration has proposed a rule that would require insurers to identify and issue a separate surcharge to enrollees on any Affordable Care Act plan that covers abortion.

The ACA requires that plans on the exchange charge an additional surcharge if elective abortions were covered. Insurers are currently allowed to include the surcharge in monthly premiums—a provision granted under the Obama administration.

The new proposed rule states that “individual market exchange issuers must determine the amount of, and collect, from each enrollee, a ‘separate payment’ for an amount equal to the actuarial value of the coverage for abortions for which public funding is prohibited, which must be no less than $1 per enrollee per month.”

The rule would affect individual market insurers operating in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 7, 2018

Insurers Lose Appeal Over ACA Risk-Corridor Program Payments

Insurers looking to collect part of $12.3 billion in risk-corridor payments faced a serious setback when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit declined to rehear a petition in a 9-2 ruling. The petition was filed by Moda Health Plan and Illinois’ Land of Lincoln Mutual Health Insurance Co., who are looking to collect Affordable Care Act program subsidy payments from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The risk-corridor program was created for the early years of the ACA. The intent was for insurance companies who were successful on the ACA exchange to help cover the losses of companies who were not.

In 2017, Moda initially won its case seeking $214 million in payments, but the judgement was overturned by an appellate court earlier this year. That ruling stated that the government doesn’t have to make the $12.3 billion in payments because of budget-neutrality requirements, which means that the government cannot pay out more than it made through the program.

Any future recourse will have to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Medicaid Expansion Approved in Three States

Voters in Utah, Nebraska, and Idaho have voted to expand their Medicaid programs in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. The measures will extend coverage for low-income residents, which could include 150,000 people in Utah, 90,000 people in Nebraska, and 62,000 in Idaho.

Judge Shuts Down Insurer Selling Deceptive Plans

A federal judge ordered a Florida insurance company to temporarily shut down after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) discovered that it allegedly made more than $100 million selling “TrumpCare” plans. The plans were marketed as comprehensive, government-sponsored insurance, but in reality did not provide many of the benefits promised.

According to the FTC, Simple Health Plans enrolled tens of thousands of people through deceptive websites that falsely claimed their plans covered pre-existing conditions and prescription drugs. The sites also featured logos for insurance companies that were not affiliated with the plans. Customers were charged an enrollment fee and premiums that ranged from $40 to $500 per month for what amounted to a medical discount program.

“Many consumers were misled into thinking they had purchased comprehensive health insurance, but when they needed to rely on that insurance, they learned they had none of the promised benefits,” said the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith.

In actuality, the plans sold by the Simple Health provided $50 per visit to a physician (capped at three per year); a $100 maximum per day benefit for hospitalization; and a maximum total benefit of $3,200 per person, per year, and only if the beneficiary was hospitalized for 30 days.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 29, 2018

ACA Navigator Cuts Cause Some Areas to Go Without Them

Funding for Affordable Care Act Navigator programs has been cut by more than 70 percent this year, which has left almost one-third of the counties who participate in the federal exchange without insurance counselors, reported the New York Times.

Last year, the Trump administration cut the funding for the program from $63 million to $36 million. This year, the budget is $10 million. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said the cutbacks were appropriate since consumers are now more aware of the program and other sources of help are available.

Effects of the cuts include:

  • 797 counties out of 2,400 do not have navigators available.
  • Some cities, including Cleveland and Dallas, will have no navigators.
  • All of Michigan outside the Detroit metro area is without navigators.
  • Only 45 of 254 Texas counties have navigator coverage.

Iowa, Montana, and New Hampshire will have no navigator programs because they did not apply for funding.

Judge Requests That Insurers Drop Short-Term Plan Challenge

Federal Judge Richard Leon of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia asked the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP) to withdraw its request to block the rule that allows the expansion of short-term health insurance policies.

The ACAP claims that the low-cost plans, which don’t include the ACA’s consumer protection provisions, could cause the loss of at least 10,000 enrollees and a financial loss of up to $100 million for insurance companies selling ACA-compliant plans on the individual market exchanges. Leon was skeptical of the estimates, noting that there is currently no data to support the ACAP’s claim.

Charles Rothfeld, counsel for ACAP, argued that “the purpose of this rule is to create an alternative insurance market to compete with the ACA. The more you draw out young and healthy people, the more it becomes economically impossible to cover people with pre-existing conditions.”

Leon disagreed, saying that the short-term plans help consumers “fill in a gap, as opposed to forcing them to choose between no insurance and the ACA.”

Leon said that the group’s request came too late to make a ruling prior to the start of the open enrollment period on November 1. He said he could have an opinion early next year if ACAP backs out of its request for a preliminary injunction and instead seeks a trial.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 25, 2018

Report: Millions Could Lose Coverage if ACA is Deemed Unconstitutional

More than 15 million people could lose their health insurance or face rate hikes due to pre-existing conditions, age, or gender if a federal judge rules in favor of a Trump administration-backed lawsuit to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, according to a report from Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.

The lawsuit was filed by 20 GOP state attorneys general and seeks to overturn the ACA, including its protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Attorney General Jeff Sessions chose not to defend the law “with the approval of the President of the United States.”

The report examined Americans who receive their coverage from the individual insurance market. The findings showed that, if the lawsuit succeeds:

  • More than 10 million people could lose their insurance or face rate hikes due to lack of consumer protections. Of this group, more than 4.8 million could be denied coverage due to the severity of their pre-existing condition.
  • More than 9 million women who rely on the individual market for insurance could face gender discrimination.

Poll Shows Majority of Young Americans Support Single-Payer Healthcare

Sixty-nine percent of U.S. residents between the ages of 15 and 34 support a single-payer healthcare system, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV.

Eighty-eight percent of Democratic respondents and 40 percent of Republican respondents said they support the government-run system.

In addition, 62 percent of voting-age respondents said that healthcare is a very important issue for the midterm elections next month, making it the most popular issue for young Americans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 23, 2018

CMS Expands ACA Subsidies to Cover Short-Term & AHP Plans

States will soon be able to use federal funding to subsidize premiums for short-term health insurance plans and association health plans, the Trump administration announced on Monday. Affordable Care Act restrictions previously prevented the use of waivers for these plans as they do not include the law’s consumer protections.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said that the change gives states more flexibility and give consumers more choices. Consumers will still be able to purchase ACA plans with the subsidies, which do not deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions or charge them higher premiums.

The approach allows states “to provide consumers plan options that best meet their needs, while at the same time ensuring that those with pre-existing conditions retain access to the same coverage as today,” Verma said.

Verma also said that states could apply for waivers that would increase subsidy amounts for young adults to encourage them to sign up for health insurance. Additional waivers will be announced in the near future, she said.

States must first apply for the waivers, so the expanded subsidies won’t be available to consumers until 2020.

Critics of the change say that drawing the younger, healthy customers away to the cheaper, less-comprehensive plans may increase the premiums for individuals who need the protections provided in the ACA marketplace insurance plans.

Trump Administration Expands Employer HRA Rules

Proposed expanded options for health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) used by small-to-midsized companies were announced by the Trump administration.

The new regulations will allow employees to use funds in their HRAs to purchase their own individual health coverage. Companies could also allow workers to use HRAs to pay for optional benefits, such as dental insurance. The new rules would allow workers to be reimbursed up to $1,800 in premiums, as long as the company also offers traditional employer-sponsored coverage.

Trump administration officials say the move will increase the number of Americans who have insurance. Opponents say it would shift less-healthy, higher-risk workers off employer plans and into the public marketplace and undermine traditional employer-provided coverage.

ACA “Family Glitch” Solution Could be Midterm Issue

The outcome of next month’s elections could determine how the “family glitch” of the Affordable Healthcare Act is addressed, according to Kaiser Health News.

The issue relates to how eligibility for insurance premium subsidies is calculated. In order to be eligible, individuals must not have access to “affordable” coverage through their employer or their spouse’s employer. The ACA calculates “affordable coverage” based on the rates for a single family member rather than the whole family, which can result in a denial of subsidies. This means some families can’t afford to cover spouses or children using an employer plan or an ACA Marketplace plan.

If Democrats overtake Republicans in the midterms, analysts believe they may try to revise the calculations, though doing so could increase federal spending by as much as $10 billion. Republicans are more likely to suggest the use of lower-cost, lower-coverage options, such as short-term or association plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 18, 2018

Senate Majority Leader May Restart ACA Repeal and Replace Efforts

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Republicans might try to rekindle their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act if they prevail in next month’s midterm elections.

Attempts to dismantle the healthcare law failed to pass last year, which McConnell called “the one disappointment of this Congress from a Republican point of view.” McConnell said that if Senate Republicans “had the votes to completely start over, we’d do it. But that depends on what happens in a couple weeks … We’re not satisfied with the way Obamacare is working.”

In the interview with Reuters, McConnell also said that he believes that the long-term drivers of national debt are social programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Democratic lawmakers such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer shot back at McConnell’s statements. “If Republicans retain the Senate they will do everything they can to take away families’ health care and raise their costs. Americans should take Senator McConnell at his word,” said Schumer.

Healthcare Tops Midterm Election Concerns

A new Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows that healthcare continues to be the main issue for voters in the upcoming midterm elections.

Over seventy percent of respondents said that healthcare was “very important” in their election decisions, with nearly 40 percent of Democrats and 15 percent of Republicans saying it was their most important issue.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 17, 2018

CMS Chief Says ‘Medicare For All” Would Harm Physician Networks

In a speech to insurers on Tuesday, Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma warned that Democratic “Medicare for all” proposals “would decimate physician networks, creating a permanent physician shortage.”

Verma pointed out that Medicare covers only 80 percent of physicians’ expenses on average, which could cause doctors to exit the program and leave patients struggling to find care. Without private insurance patients to offset Medicare patients, “there is no relief valve for physicians facing up to 40 percent payment cuts,” she said.

Creating a single-payer healthcare system has become a campaign issue during the midterm elections. However, Verma says that she will deny waivers to any state that tries to implement such a program.

2019 ACA Plans in Virginia to Increase 9%

State regulators in Virginia announced on Tuesday that 2019 premiums for individual plans sold on the Affordable Care Act marketplace will rise about 9 percent on average, somewhat less than the 13 percent predicted earlier this year.

The increase is significantly less than last year, which saw an average spike in premiums of 69 percent, creating some of the highest rates in the country. For 2019, fewer counties have only a single provider, which contributed to more competitive rates.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 12, 2018

Premiums for 2019 ACA Silver Plans Will Drop for the First Time

For the first time since the Affordable Care Act has been in effect, average premiums for benchmark silver plans will decrease by 1.5 percent in 2019.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma credits the Trump administration for the rate drop. She says measures taken, such as the repeal of the individual mandate and the expansion of short-term plans, have helped stabilize the market.

Other insurance experts say that the decrease is a price correction. Average premiums increased 37 percent last year, which helped increase profits for insurance companies.

Only ACA silver plans will see an average premium decrease. Overall, average rates will increase slightly for 2019 ACA policies.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 11, 2018

President Trump Criticizes ‘Medicare for All’ in Controversial Op-Ed

In an Oct. 10 opinion article for USA Today, President Trump attacked Democrats for proposing to expand Medicare to all Americans.

The president wrote that an expansion of the healthcare program “means that after a life of hard work and sacrifice, seniors would no longer be able to depend on the benefits they were promised,” and that “the Democrats’ plan also would mean the end of choice for seniors over their own healthcare decisions.”

The article was criticized for a number of inaccurate claims, including health insurance premium rates, Medicare revenue numbers, and inaccess to physicians.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stated that the op-ed piece was dishonest. “Bottom line is he’s trying to frighten seniors and suggest that Medicare for all would cut back the benefits they have. The truth is it would expand the benefits that they have,” said Sanders to reporters.

Centene Expands ACA Offerings for 2019

Centene Corporation announced on Wednesday that it will expand the reach of its health plans sold on the Health Insurance Marketplace under its Ambetter brand.

The company will enter four new markets in 2019: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. It will also expand the number of counties it sells to in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 10, 2018

Maintenance Schedule for ACA Website Unchanged From Last Year’s

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is planning to shut down the website for maintenance a maximum of 60 hours during the 2019 Affordable Care Act open enrollment period.

The maintenance schedule is the same as last year’s. The site may not be available for sign-ups from midnight to noon ET each Sunday during the enrollment period, except for Dec. 9, the final Sunday. Last year, the website’s actual maintenance downtime totaled 21.5 hours.

For most states, the open enrollment period is Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.

Senate Vote Fails to Overturn New Short-Term Health Plans

A resolution presented by Senate Democrats to prevent the expansion of short-term health insurance plans narrowly lost by a 50-50 vote. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to vote in favor of the measure.

The Democrats oppose new rules that allow these plans to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and do not require them to cover the Affordable Care Act’s ten essential benefits, including maternity care, prescription drugs, and mental health care. They believe the plans hurt consumers and provide sub-par coverage.

Republicans say the plans provide consumers with more choices and lower-cost alternatives to ACA plans.

The legislation was sponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and was supported by all 49 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 8, 2018

2019 ACA Premiums in Illinois & Ohio See Modest Increases

Finalized insurance rates for 2019 Affordable Care Act plans in Illinois and Ohio will rise by single digits.

In Illinois, premiums for silver plans will increase by 4 percent on average. Bronze and gold plans will rise by 6 percent. Jennifer Hammer, director of the Illinois Department of Insurance says that rates for many plans will decrease.

In Ohio, overall premiums will increase by 6.3 percent on average. In addition, residents will have more choices. The number of insurers offering plans in the state has risen from eight to 10. Only 16 counties will have a single insurer, down from 42 this year.

ACA Rate Increases for 2018 Plans Drove Record Insurer Profitability

A new Kaiser Family Foundation study of Affordable Care Act financial performance shows that insurance companies in the individual market experienced their highest levels of profitability in the first six months of 2018 since passage of the health law.

Policy changes from the Trump administration, including the cancelation of cost-sharing subsidy payments, contributed to significant premium increases in 2018. Some of these rate hikes resulted in overpricing and larger profits. Subsequently, rates for 2019 plans are projected to increase modestly and, in some cases, even decrease.

The study results showed that “despite significant challenges, the individual market remains stable and insurers are generally profitable.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 5, 2018

New Iowa Farm Bureau Health Benefit Plans Will Not Protect Pre-Existing Conditions

People with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage or pay higher premiums under the new “health benefit plans” available on November 1 from Iowa’s Farm Bureau.

The plans do not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. As such, the plans are not considered insurance and will not be regulated by the Iowa Insurance Division.

Applicants will be questioned about 16 conditions, including blood pressure, mental health, reproductive and pulmonary disorders, and others. Positive responses will require the submission of detailed explanations about treatments, medications, and current status.

Farm Bureau Vice President Steve Kammeyer confirmed that some people could be charged more or declined coverage, but did not say which conditions would trigger those outcomes.

The plans lack the ACA’s consumer protections, but will cover maternity services, mental health care, addiction treatment, and prescription drugs. Because the plans don’t meet federal requirements, they are expected to cost less than plans sold on the ACA exchange.

Senators Ask CBO to Test Health Insurance Simulation Model

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has received a request from Republican members of the Senate Budget Committee to test its health insurance simulation model using outside validation. The lawmakers want to ensure that the model correctly estimates Affordable Care Act spending and enrollment.

The senators argue that the CBO used faulty data last year and overestimated the number of ACA enrollees who would lose coverage if the health law was repealed. They believe that a test could help “determine whether the agency’s estimate would have been closer to the actual, observed amounts since (the ACA’s) enactment,” according to a letter written by the committee, led by Chair Mike Enzi (R-WY).

“This type of real-world testing not only could serve to validate the model, but would help further the goal of developing a new model that is capable of producing more accurate estimates for Members of Congress and the public,” the letter states.

Colorado 2019 ACA Plans Rise 5.6 Percent for Individuals

The Colorado Division of Insurance announced that 2019 ACA premiums will increase 5.6 percent on average for individuals.

Specifically, individual gold plans will increase 3.8 percent, silver plans will increase nearly 12 percent, and bronze plans will increase by less than 1 percent.

Coloradans who qualify for premium tax credits will see a premium decrease of 24 percent on average if they continue with their current plan, but have the potential to reduce their rates up to 50 percent if they switch to the lowest-cost plan in the same tier.

For small businesses, the market rates will increase 7.28 percent on average.

Employee Healthcare Deductibles Double Over Past Decade

The Kaiser Family Foundation annual employer health benefits survey shows that deductibles for employer health plans have more than doubled since 2008.

The average deductible for an employer plan in 2018 is $1,573, compared to $735 in 2008. In addition, more employer plans include a deductible. In 2018, 85 percent of plans include deductibles, compared to 59 percent a decade ago.

Other findings from the employer-plan survey:

  • 2018 premiums rose 3 percent for individuals
  • 2018 premiums rose 5 percent for families

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 3, 2018

2019 ACA Individual Premiums in Minnesota Drop Dramatically

State officials in Minnesota announced that premiums for 2019 Affordable Care Act benchmark plans for individuals will decrease by as much as 22 percent, one of the largest drops in the country.

“On average, rates are going down in the individual market because of lower utilization rates, lower costs per service, Minnesota’s reinsurance program, and a strong Minnesota economy,” said Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Jessica Looman.

For the small group market in Minnesota, rates are expected to increase between 3 and 12 percent.

House Republicans Vow to Uphold Protections for Pre-existing Conditions

On Tuesday, Representative Pete Sessions (R-Texas) introduced a nonbinding resolution with several Republican cosponsors that supports insurance protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“To cement these protections, I proudly introduced this resolution to ensure that patients with pre-existing conditions are protected from the erroneously high costs and the limited options they are experiencing now,” said Sessions.

Sessions and other House Republicans have been criticized by Democratic counterparts for their past support of repealing the Affordable Care Act, including the law’s pre-existing condition protections. The issue has become a frequent midterm election talking point.

Covered California Begins its ACA Renewal Period

On Monday, California began its annual renewal period for residents who currently have coverage under the state’s ACA health exchange, Covered California.

Those looking to renew can reduce their premiums up to 6.9 percent by choosing the lowest-cost health plan in their tier, according to Covered California. “Healthcare is local, and the price of coverage varies by health plan and region, so consumers will be encouraged to shop when they renew this fall,” said Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee.

The renewal period for Covered California continues through January 15. The enrollment period for new enrollees begins October 15.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 2, 2018

Michigan Business Groups Form Association Health Plan

The Small Business Association of Michigan and MichBusiness have joined forces to TranscendAHP, a new association health plan (AHP).

The nonprofit Transcend AHP is expected to offer 10 plans from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network to its combined membership of around 52,000 small-business owners. Other associations and chambers of commerce will also be eligible to join.

AHPs are not required to meet Affordable Care Act standards, including protections for people with preexisting conditions and essential health benefits such as maternity care, mental health care, and prescription drugs. Critics say the plans leave enrollees underinsured.

The Trump administration defends its new AHP rules, saying the lower-cost plans help keep businesses competitive. “Many of our laws make healthcare coverage more expensive for small businesses than large companies. Association Health Plans are about more choice, more access, and more coverage,” said Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in a statement.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 28, 2018

HHS Secretary Touts 2% Drop in 2019 ACA Silver Plan Premiums

Premiums for benchmark silver plans sold on the national Affordable Care Act exchange will decrease by 2 percent in most states next year, said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

The number of insurers selling ACA plans will increase for the first time since 2015, he said.

Azar credited President Donald Trump for the news, saying that he “has proven better at managing it than the president who wrote the law.” As examples, he referred to the expansion of consumer healthcare choices and increased marketplace efficiency.

In addition, Azar criticized single-payer health plans as too expensive for taxpayers and unfair to seniors. “The main thrust of ‘Medicare for All’ is giving you a new government plan and taking away your other choices.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 27, 2018

Democrats Hope for ACA Battle With Trump Administration

Congressional Democrats say that if they overpower Republicans in the midterm elections this November, they will work to defend the Affordable Care Act and “undo” some changes to the law made by the Trump administration.

“I think healthcare will be one of the very first things that we address,” said Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky. “There’s a lot of fear out there, and we need to calm people who are so afraid they’re going to lose their healthcare or not be able to afford their healthcare. I think that will be a big agenda item.” Schakowsky said she would like to make the efforts bipartisan.

“What they’ve done is try to dismantle [the ACA] through the regulatory process,” said Massachusetts Representative Richard Neal. “I think if we were so lucky as to be the majority, I think we would certainly be in the position to stop that.”

If Democrats become the majority party in power, they would be able to:

  • conduct investigations.
  • issue subpoenas.
  • inquire officials over measures such as the expansion of short-term health plans and association health plans.
  • question the cutting of funds for navigator programs.

2019 Healthcare Premiums for Federal Employees to Increase 1.5%

Federal employees and retirees will pay 1.5 percent more on average for their health insurance premiums in 2019. It’s the smallest increase for the program since 1995.

Considered the largest employer-sponsored health insurance program in the nation, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program comprises 265 local health maintenance organizations and 16 nationwide plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 25, 2018

California Challenges Trump Administration’s ACA-exempt Insurance Options

Jerry Brown, governor of California, has signed a healthcare package that includes bills banning the Trump administration’s new healthcare options that don’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

The bills in the package include:

  • A ban on the Trump administration’s short-term insurance plans that can be extended up to 36 months and do not include essential benefits coverage such as maternity care, mental health, and prescription drugs.
  • A ban on association health plans, which can exempt people with pre-existing conditions.
  • The creation of a council that will conduct a feasibility study on a state public option healthcare plan.
  • Prohibiting the state from applying for a waiver that would require Medicaid enrollees to show proof of employment.
  • Requiring that health plans spend at least 80 percent of premium revenue on healthcare.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 24, 2018

Maryland 2019 ACA Premiums Will Decrease by 13.2%

State insurance regulators in Maryland finalized dramatically lower rates for 2019 plans sold on the Affordable Care Act than originally requested by insurance companies. The new premiums will be lower by 13.2 percent on average due to a recently approved state reinsurance program.

In May, CareFirst Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, Maryland’s two ACA insurers, requested rate increases that averaged 30.2 percent. Instead, the reinsurance program enabled the state to “lessen the significant burden” of rising costs, said Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer.

Finalized rates for 2019 ACA plans in Maryland include:

  • A 17 percent decrease for CareFirst HMO plans.
  • An 11.1 percent decrease for CareFirst’s two PPO plans.
  • An average 7.4 percent decrease for Kaiser’s HMO plans.

State officials also project that the lower rates will increase 2019 ACA enrollment by 5 percent.

Bipartisan Senators Move to Eliminate Surprise Out-of-Network Costs

Last week, a group of six bipartisan senators created draft legislation to protect patients with insurance from extra charges from doctors and hospitals that are not in the insurance company’s network.

Often called “surprise bills,” the charges stem from non-network emergency room doctors who work in network facilities. Patients receive bills from the non-network provider that are over their deductible or co-pay limits.

The proposed bill tackles three areas:

  • Patients would pay only the out-of-pocket amount required on their plan for out-of-network emergency room doctors who work in out-of-network hospitals. Any additional “balance billing” payments would come from the insurance company.
  • Patients would pay only what is required for out-of-network doctors who work at in-network emergency rooms.
  • Emergency room patients in non-network facilities would be notified in writing that any follow-up treatments could include non-network charges unless they go to an in-network hospital.

“No American should have to file bankruptcy or fall into poverty as a result of a serious ailment or unexpected medical emergency,” said Tom Carper (D-DE), one of the sponsors of the bill. “The Affordable Care Act made great progress in reducing rates of medical bankruptcies, and this bipartisan discussion draft will build on that progress by protecting patients from surprise medical bills after they are treated in emergency situations or receive care from an out-of-network provider.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 17, 2018

Trump Administration Sued Over New Short-Term Health Plan Rules

A group of seven healthcare organizations filed a lawsuit Friday against the Trump administration, seeking to block implementation of short-term health insurance plans that do not meet Affordable Care Act requirements.

The short-term plans, scheduled to be available October 2, are not required to cover people with existing conditions or the 10 essential health benefits available with ACA plans.

The lawsuit argues that the extension of the plans from three months to 12 months with the ability to renew up to three years does not meet the definition of “short term” and that the agencies did not disclose the extension in its proposed rule.

The suit also alleges the plans are harmful to those with pre-existing conditions and puts them “into a loophole that would permit the creation of a parallel individual insurance market consisting of plans that are not subject to the ACA’s consumer protection standards. This result cannot be reconciled with the text, structure, or purpose of the ACA.”

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defended its position in a statement from a spokesperson: “Short-Term Limited Duration plans are an important option for people in certain circumstances, and the Trump administration is committed to delivering greater access to more affordable choices to the men and women left out by Obamacare.”

Plaintiffs in the suit include: the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Psychiatric Association, Little Lobbyists, Association for Community Affiliated Plans, Mental Health America, AIDS United, and National Partnership for Women & Families.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 14, 2018

Maryland Attorney General Sues Trump Administration Over ACA

Brian Frosh, Maryland’s attorney general, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Trump administration, asserting that it is attempting to “sabotage” the Affordable Care Act and move people away from its health coverage.

Frosh is looking for a declaratory judgment that the ACA is constitutional and that further measures to dismantle the law must stop. The lawsuit says repealing the ACA would cause “immediate and long-term harm” to Maryland.

“We are taking action to protect and ensure healthcare coverage for every Marylander and all Americans,” Frosh said in a statement.

2019 ACA Premiums in CA, MA & CT Could Rise an Average of 4%

Proposed premiums for 2019 Affordable Care Act plans in California, Massachusetts and Connecticut will rise an average of 4 percent.

Covered California says small businesses will receive rate increases that average 4.6 percent.

Premiums for Massachusetts’ Connector plans will increase an average of 4.7 percent.

Connecticut premiums will rise an average of 2.72 percent for individuals and 3.14 percent for small-group coverage.

Rates will be finalized before the Open Enrollment Period later this fall.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 13, 2018

ACA Navigators Asked to Do More With Less Funding

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Wednesday the 39 navigator programs that will share $10 million in funding to promote and enroll consumers into healthcare plans.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said the 2019 program kicks off a “new direction.” Instead of exclusively enrolling uninsured residents in ACA plans, grantees are encouraged to enroll them in association health plans, short-term plans, Medicaid, and CHIP.

“This new direction will increase accountability and ensure the grants are effective in helping consumers find health coverage that meets their needs,” she said. Verma also encourages navigators to rely more heavily on volunteers and partnerships with other organizations.

These are drastic cuts compared to last year’s grants of $36 million to 90 organizations. Overall, navigators have been cut 84 percent since 2016.

2018 Tax Returns Won’t Require Proof to Claim ACA Hardship Exemption

Individuals who have opted out of healthcare coverage in 2018 will not have to provide documentation or a written explanation on their 2018 tax return to claim a hardship exemption.

Late last year, Congress repealed the individual mandate that required uninsured Americans to pay a fine. However, the change does not go into effect until 2019. For this year, the penalty is $695 or 2.5 percent of overall income, whichever is higher.

Taxpayers can avoid the penalty via the hardship exemption under some circumstances, including bankruptcy, homelessness, or a natural disaster. CMS’ new guidance requests that people who are eligible for the exemption retain all paperwork as proof in the event of an audit, but it does not need to be included with their tax form.

Census: Uninsured Rate Steady Between 2016 to 2017

The number of uninsured Americans in 2017 was 28.5 million people or 8.8 percent, the same as in 2016, according to new data from the Census Bureau.

The numbers have remained steady after the Affordable Care Act significantly reduced the uninsured rate in 2014.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 12, 2018

CBO: House Bill Revising ACA Employer Regulations Would Cost Over $51 Billion

A bill proposed by House Republicans to change provisions of the Affordable Care Act as it relates to employers will cost the federal government $51.6 billion over the next 10 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report.

The bill, titled the Save America’s Workers Act, seeks to postpone or repeal several portions of the ACA. Lawmakers will meet tomorrow to prepare the package for a vote.

Some of the bill’s proposals and the CBO’s estimated costs include:

  • Retroactively suspending the employer mandate penalty from 2015 to 2019. The CBO estimates this will cost $25.9 billion over the next decade.
  • Increasing the full-time hours per week required for workers to receive mandatory employer-paid health coverage from the current 30 hours to 40 hours. The CBO estimates this measure will cost $9.8 billion through 2028.
  • Postpone the start date of the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health benefits packages to 2023. The CBO estimates this to cost $15.5 billion.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 10, 2018

New Jersey 2019 ACA Premiums Could Decrease by 9.3%

Rates for 2019 Affordable Care Act health plans in New Jersey are expected to fall by an average of 9.3 percent, Governor Phil Murphy announced Friday.

Murphy attributed the decrease to a reinsurance program approved last month and the passage of a state individual mandate requiring all residents to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Final rates will be announced prior to the Open Enrollment Period this fall.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 6, 2018

Montana Health Prevails in $5.3 Million CSR Payment Lawsuit

Montana Health Co-op won its case in the first lawsuit against the Trump administration’s decision to cut off cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Elaine Kaplan decided the government was in violation of an Affordable Care Act provision. Through the provision, the government must reimburse insurance companies for decreasing low-income enrollees’ out-of-pocket medical expenses associated with ACA plans.

The government argued it had a right to eliminate the payments because funds were never set aside specifically for CSR reimbursement.

“The statutory language clearly and unambiguously imposes an obligation on the Secretary of HHS to make payments to health insurers that have implemented cost-sharing reductions on their covered plans as required by the ACA,” Kaplan said in her order.

Montana Health was seeking $5.3 million in unpaid CSR payments. Several similar lawsuits by other healthcare organizations are currently in progress.

Federal Judge Hears Arguments on Overturning ACA

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor said he would make a ruling as soon as possible in the lawsuit filed by 20 Republican attorneys general to strike down the Affordable Care Act. The plaintiffs argued Wednesday that last year’s repeal of the individual mandate nullified the entire healthcare law.

The Trump administration chose not to defend the ACA, so a group of Democratic attorneys general have stepped in to argue for the law. They say overturning the ACA would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their health coverage.

Lawyers representing the Justice Department asked O’Connor to postpone a decision until after the Open Enrollment Period to prevent confusion. “The last thing we want is for chaos in the market,” said Brett Shumate, an attorney for the Justice Department.

2019 ACA Premium Rates to Drop Slightly in New Mexico

Premiums for 2019 health plans sold on New Mexico’s Affordable Care Act exchange are expected to decrease an average of 1 percent.

Requested rates for Molina Health Care could decrease an average of 6 percent, Blue Cross and Blue Shield requested that rates remain unchanged from this year, and Christus Health Plan has asked for rates 4 percent higher than in 2018.

Final rates will be announced by state regulators before the Open Enrollment Period begins November 1.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 5, 2018

Poll Shows Most Americans Favor Pre-Existing Conditions Protections
A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 72 percent of respondents believe that it’s “very important” that insurance companies do not charge higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions, and 75 percent do not want people denied coverage due to their medical history.
Other findings in the poll:

  • 41% are “very worried” that they or a relative could lose coverage if pre-existing conditions protections are overturned.
  • 52% of respondents are “very worried” that they or a relative would have to pay more because of a pre-existing condition.
  • 60% of respondents say they or a family member have a pre-existing condition.
  • 67% are either “somewhat worried” or “very worried” about unexpected medical bills.
  • 50% of overall respondents have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act. (77% of Democrats are favorable; 22% of Republicans are favorable.)

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 4, 2018

Analysis: Overall 2019 ACA Premiums Could Increase up to 4%

Premiums for 2019 healthcare plans sold on the Affordable Care Act marketplace are expected to increase by less than 4 percent nationwide, according to an analysis by Charles Gaba of

While a few states such as Kentucky and Connecticut will experience increases of 12 percent, other states such as Tennessee and New Hampshire will see declines, according to the findings.

Gaba also found that the Trump administration’s actions prevented additional drops in premium costs. Eliminating the individual mandate penalty, dropping cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, and offering “skimpy” short-term insurance have contributed to weakening the marketplace.

Katherine Hempstead, a senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, agrees that rates will rise modestly. She also points out that insurance companies selling ACA policies are expanding into new markets.

“The news about the marketplace this year is very good, both in terms of the premium increase and extent of carrier participation,” Hempstead said.

Court Fight Over Legality of ACA Begins Wednesday

A group of Republican state attorneys general will present their oral arguments September 5 for a preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of the Affordable Care Act. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor will determine if the law should be put on hold while their case proceeds.

The Republicans, led by Texas’ Ken Paxton, claim the ACA became unconstitutional last year when Congress eliminated the individual mandate penalty. Democratic attorneys general led by Xavier Becerra of California disagree.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 30, 2018

Senate Democrats Move to Overturn New Short-Term Health Insurance Rule

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced legislation to force a vote to block a Trump administration rule that expands short-term health insurance plans from three months to one year.

The plans fall short of Affordable Care Act protections for people with pre-existing conditions and don’t require essential benefits such as prescription drugs, maternity care, and mental health coverage.

In a statement, Baldwin called the plans “junk insurance” and said that they “could increase costs and reduce access to quality coverage for millions, force premium increases on older Americans, and harm people with pre-existing conditions.”

The bill would require the support of two Republicans to pass in the Senate. Passage in the House is unlikely, as the Republican majority has shown strong support for the extension, saying that the plans are a cost-effective alternative for consumers who aren’t able to afford comprehensive health coverage.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 29, 2018

ACA Has Helped Reduce Number of Uninsured by 58%

The number of uninsured dropped from 29.3 million in 2017 to 28.3 million the first quarter of 2018, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

That compares to 48.6 million uninsured in 2010, prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act—a 58.2 percent reduction.

Other findings in the data show:

  • There are 12.5 percent Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 who remain uninsured.
  • In Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, almost 25 percent of adults are uninsured.
  • Twenty percent of insured adults are covered by public plans, while 70 percent are covered by private plans.
  • More than 95 percent of children are insured by either public or private plans.
  • The number of people under age 65 covered by ACA plans in 2018 is 9.7 million, about 1 million fewer people than last year.

NY & MN to Receive $465.5 Million in Lost Low-Income ACA Funds

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will pay New York and Minnesota a combined $468.5 million in response to funding losses for Affordable Care Act programs to 822,000 low-income residents.

The two states created Basic Health Programs under the ACA for people who earned too much for Medicaid but not enough to receive federal subsidies to purchase plans on the healthcare exchange. After the Trump administration cut off funding for cost-sharing payments, the programs lost funds.

The states prevailed in a lawsuit against the administration earlier this year and received a combined $168.2 million as an interim payment. The finalized payment of $422,206,235 to New York and $46,276,090 to Minnesota compensates for the cost-sharing payment losses.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 28, 2018

CMS Approves Opioid Addiction Treatments for 2020 Illinois ACA Plans

Beginning in 2020, Affordable Care Act plans sold in Illinois must cover the treatment and prevention of opioid addiction.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Monday approved the state’s request to expand the required medical services for Illinois ACA plans.

Plans will cover prescriptions for the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, telepsychiatry services for addiction and mental health issues, and alternative therapies for chronic pain.

New CA Coalition Will Fight Single-Payer Healthcare

California-based business and healthcare organizations have joined forces as a coalition to oppose single-payer healthcare initiatives.

The coalition, Californians Against the Costly Disruption of Our Health Care, believes the estimated $400 billion per year needed to pay for a single-payer system would be too costly to maintain.

The group will urge state legislators to propose alternative bills, including the expansion of health insurance subsidies, opening Medi-Cal to undocumented adult residents, and requiring all Californians to have health coverage.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 27, 2018

GOP-Backed Bill Offers ACA Pre-Existing Condition Protections; Critics Call It a ‘Mirage’

In response to a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Affordable Care Act, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and 10 Senate Republican co-signers have introduced a bill to preserve the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

The lawsuit was filed by 20 Republican state attorneys general and will be heard by a federal judge next month.

The proposed bill would require insurance companies to cover all individuals regardless of health status and ensure that premiums are not revised based on health.

But some critics believe the bill creates a loophole that enables insurance companies to revive the kinds of activities that prompted ACA talks in the first place. The bill holds insurers to guaranteeing access to coverage on the individual market; however, insurance companies could still use exclusions to limit coverage for pre-existing conditions and related ailments.

“If the goal is to protect people with pre-existing conditions, the bill is a bit of a mirage,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president for health reform at the bipartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 24, 2018

Georgia Sees First-Time Decrease in ACA Premiums

Two of Georgia’s Affordable Care Act plan providers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia and Alliant Health Plans, are proposing 2019 rate decreases that together average 5.15 percent. This is the first time since the implementation of the health law that the state has seen a rate reduction.

Georgia’s two other ACA carriers, Ambetter and Kaiser Permanente, have proposed rate increases that together average around 12 percent. The increases are significantly lower than 2018 plans, which saw rates rise 50 percent, one of the nation’s steepest premium hikes.

Finalized rates will be announced prior to the Open Enrollment Period, which begins in November.

Maine Court Orders Implementation of ACA Medicaid Expansion

Maine’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Republican Governor Paul LePage’s administration must implement the state’s voter-mandated Medicaid expansion—even if they continue fighting the plan in court.

LePage, who is opposed to the expansion, has attempted to block the measure. Thursday’s ruling denied LePage’s latest request to delay implementation. The ruling also lifted a temporary stay and sent the case back to Superior Court.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 23, 2018

Report Critiques Trump Administration’s First ACA Signup Year

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has released a report that examines how the Trump administration managed the 2018 Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment Period and makes recommendations for improvements.

The report credits Health and Human Services (HHS) for improving the reliability of the federal enrollment site and reducing call center wait times.

However, the following areas are lacking and need addressing, according to the watchdog group:

  • HHS did not set enrollment targets as it had during the Obama administration.
  • HHS used “unreliable” data to justify a 40 percent cut to the Navigator programs.
  • Television advertising was proven to be the most effective method to help enroll consumers. However, the Trump administration slashed the entire budget.

The report also found that states using the government site for enrollments had a 5 percent reduction, while states that run their own exchanges maintained enrollment levels. It also confirmed that the Trump administration’s discontinuation of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments contributed to “substantial increases” in premiums.

Tennessee 2019 ACA Premiums Get Decreases

Most premiums for Affordable Care Act plans in Tennessee will be noticeably lower for 2019.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has requested decreasing its rates an average of 14.8 percent, and Cigna has requested decreasing its rates an average of 12.9 percent. Oscar Health has requested increases that average between 7.2 percent and 10.84 percent. Rates will be finalized by September 25.

In addition, the state will have two new insurers selling ACA plans, Bright Health and Celtic Insurance.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 22, 2018

Maryland Reinsurance Program Gains Approval

The Trump administration has consented to a federal waiver for a state reinsurance program, Maryland lawmakers said.

The bipartisan-supported plan will take tax revenue imposed on insurance companies and use it to subsidize the most expensive claims sold on Maryland’s Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The reinsurance program will eliminate the predicted 40 percent increase in 2019 ACA premiums for more than 200,000 enrollees and ensure that CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield continues to sell ACA plans in the state.

Delaware ACA Premiums to Rise 3%, Small Groups Get Rebates

Affordable Care Act plans for individuals in Delaware will see premium increases of 3 percent on average in 2019. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware, the only insurer offering ACA plans in the state, asked regulators for a 5.7 percent increase.

State regulators also announced that, due to an excess of administrative fees, Highmark will provide $5 million in rebates to small group market members.

Study: Ohio ACA Medicaid Expansion Reduced Uninsured by 50%

Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act has cut the number of uninsured by half since the program began four years ago, according to an independent study conducted by Ohio’s Department of Medicaid.

The study also found that:

  • Emergency room visits were reduced by 17 percent.
  • Enrollees seeking primary care physicians increased by 10 percent.
  • Ninety-six percent of enrollees with opioid addiction sought treatment.
  • Thirty-seven percent of smokers kicked the habit.

The expansion has enabled 653,000 residents to gain health coverage, though some state lawmakers believe the costs are not sustainable.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 21, 2018

Trump Administration Will Distribute $8.6 Million to States for Healthcare Initiatives

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will award $8.6 million in unspent Affordable Care Act funding to 30 states and the District of Columbia to help stabilize their insurance exchanges.

The two-year grants range from $225,000 to $290,000 and can be used to expand consumers’ healthcare options. All states that applied for the funds received them.

The grant funds come from money set aside as part of the Affordable Care Act for states to review health insurance proposals.

In a statement, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said, “These grants build on CMS’s ongoing efforts to give states the tools and flexibility they need to help people struggling to afford the year-over-year premium increases caused by Obamacare regulations. We recognize that states are in the best position to assess the needs of their consumers and develop innovative measures to ensure access to affordable health coverage. These grants make yet another down payment on our work to enhance states’ ability to stabilize and improve their respective health insurance markets.”

California Bill Would Ban Short-Term Health Insurance

California’s Legislature has approved a bill that bans short-term health insurance from being sold in the state.

Governor Jerry Brown must sign off on the bill for it to become law. If signed, the law will become effective January 1, 2019.

The Trump Administration expanded short-term insurance availability rules earlier this month, allowing consumers to maintain policies for up to three years. The plans cost less than comprehensive Affordable Care Act plans. However, the plans fail to cover essential benefits and can limit or deny policies to people with pre-existing conditions. States have the flexibility to alter the new regulations.

New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York have also restricted or banned short-term health plans.

Three Groups in Nevada to Offer Association Health Plans

Three chambers of commerce in Clark County, Nevada, are the first small business groups in the country to take advantage of the Trump administration’s new rules for association health plans.

The groups will offer plans beginning September 1 to 2,000 small businesses that have 10 or fewer employees.

The plans are not required to meet the Affordable Care Act’s essential health benefit requirements or other consumer protections, such as accepting people with pre-existing conditions.

ACA Medicaid Expansion Fought in 3 States, Helps LA Cut Uninsured Rate by 50%

Maine, Nebraska, and Kentucky are working to sort out how, or if, they will expand Medicaid availability though the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s expansion lowered the number of uninsured in the state by half.

  • Though Maine voters have approved ACA Medicaid expansion in the state, Governor Paul LePage’s administration has not been clear on whether it intends to enforce it. The state’s high court will decide whether the state will accept Medicaid applications.
  • In Nebraska, a petition to put ACA Medicaid expansion on the November ballot has collected enough signatures. However, the proposal is being challenged in court. The hearing is set for early next week.
  • Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin lost his legal battle over the requirement that Medicaid recipients be employed to receive benefits. Ultimately, the legality of the plan is likely to be determined in a separate case filed in Washington, D.C.
  • Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion program dropped the uninsured rate from 22.7 percent in 2015 to 11.4 percent in 2017, according to a new survey.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 17, 2018

Nevada Will Switch to a State-Run ACA Healthcare Exchange

Nevada Health Link, the state’s insurance marketplace, will open its own state exchange in 2020 to sell Affordable Care Act plans.

Nevada Health Link cited lowering costs as the main consideration. For example, the state exchange will cost about $5.1 million to run in 2020 compared to $13.2 million to lease the federal exchange website.

In a statement, Nevada Health Link Executive Director Heather Korbulic said, “This transition will save Nevada more than $18 million for the duration of the contract, offer a better consumer experience and provide the Marketplace with timely and efficient access to data that will improve marketing efforts.”

Trump Administration Approves NJ Reinsurance Program

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved New Jersey’s reinsurance plan.

The program will help insurance companies pay for their sickest enrollees. Partial funding will be provided through revenue from the state’s new law that fines residents without health insurance.

The state estimates that the program will lower 2019 ACA premiums by up to 15 percent.

Massachusetts ACA Premiums to Rise 4.2%

Rates for 2019 Affordable Care Act plans in Massachusetts are expected to rise an average of 4.2 percent. Some premiums will decrease, while others will increase from about 2 percent to 13 percent, depending on the plan.

Massachusetts Health Connector, the state’s insurance exchange, will finalize the rates next month.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 8, 2018

2019 ACA Premiums in New Hampshire Could Drop an Average of 6.7%

The three health insurers in New Hampshire that sell Affordable Care Act coverage have proposed an average 6.75 percent premium reduction for 2019 plans.

Several factors are responsible for the rate drop, including the expansion of Medicaid, which moved low-income New Hampshire residents from ACA plans into the Medicaid program.

Rates for the Ambetter, Anthem, and Harvard Pilgrim ACA plans will be finalized by state regulators before the Open Enrollment Period begins in November.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 7, 2018

Nevada 2019 ACA Premiums Could Increase an Average of 1.9%

Health insurance companies in Nevada have proposed increasing premiums for 2019 Affordable Care Act plans an average of 1.9 percent, the lowest rate increase in the history of the law.

Both SilverSummit and Health Plan of Nevada will continue to sell ACA plans in the state, with SilverSummit increasing its offerings from four to six plans in every county.

Final rates will be approved by state regulators in October.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 3, 2018

Senate Democrats Try to Block Short-Term Health Plans

In response to the Trump administration’s new final rule on short-term healthcare plans, Senate Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution to upend it. However, the measure to overturn the rule is unlikely to pass since the legislation would need to be signed by President Donald Trump.

The lawmakers say that, since the plans are not required to cover people with pre-existing conditions or adhere to the Affordable Care Act’s essential benefits, the plans are “nothing short of junk insurance.”

“We cannot let the Trump administration rewrite the rules on the guaranteed healthcare protections that people depend on because no family should be forced to choose between helping a loved one get better or going bankrupt,” said Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), one of the senators leading the measure.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) will force a vote under the Congressional Review Act, which means Republicans will be unable to block it.

“This is an issue the American people should know where everyone stands,” Schumer said. “Let them, instead of saying they’re for it, actually do something to preserve pre-existing conditions.”

Study: NY Single-Payer Bill Could Lower Costs for Most Residents

A New York bill to create a state single-payer health plan could lower out-of-pocket medical costs for residents earning less than $290,000 but would significantly raise taxes on those who earn more, according to an analysis from the Rand Corporation and the New York State Health Foundation.

The bill proposes expanding healthcare to all New York residents with no copays or deductibles.

The plan would need to raise $139 billion in additional taxes to fund the program, which could be funded with a three-tiered tax income bracket ranging from low-earning families paying 6.1 percent and high-earners paying 18.3 percent, according to the study.

Though taxes would be increased, those earning less than $290,000 would have reduced medical costs. For example, a person who earns up to $185,200 would pay about $3,000 less per year.

To be enacted, the bill would need to be approved by a Republican-controlled state Senate and receive a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), neither of which is likely.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 2, 2018

Four Cities Sue Trump for Undermining the ACA

The cities of Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Baltimore filed a lawsuit today in Maryland federal court against President Donald Trump, claiming he has not faithfully executed the Affordable Care Act, which is in violation of the Constitution.

The complaint charges that Trump “waged a relentless effort to use executive action alone to undermine and, ultimately, eliminate the law,” according to a draft of the lawsuit obtained by NBC News.

The suit cites measures such as the expansion of association plans, attempt to eliminate cost-sharing reduction payments, reduction of funds for navigator programs, reducing the Open Enrollment Period, and urging the court to remove pre-existing condition protections.

The lawsuit seeks to stop practices that allow ACA exchanges to strip tax credits from enrollees with no notification, increase oversight of brokers, and strengthen oversight of the law.

“The overall picture here is one of sabotage that drives up the rates of uninsured and underinsured and leaves cities and counties holding the bag,” said Adam Grogg, senior counsel at Democracy Forward and the lead litigator in the lawsuit.

2019 ACA Premiums in Missouri to Rise Less Than 6%

Insurance companies in Missouri have requested premium increases for small group and individual plans that average just under 6 percent for 2019 ACA plans.

Ambetter, Centene, Cigna and Medica will all return to the Missouri ACA marketplace. There will be coverage available in every county.

Final rates are expected to be approved by state regulators next month.

Molina May Re-Enter Utah, Wisconsin ACA Marketplaces

Health insurance company Molina is weighing a return to selling Affordable Care Act plans in Utah and Wisconsin. The company left both states this year and is currently studying the profitability of coming back.

Company CEO Joseph Zubretsky said a decision would be made by the end of the summer.

Senate Fails to Stop DC Individual Mandate Funding

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) failed in his attempt to include an amendment to a funding bill that would have barred the District of Columbia from using money to impose an individual health insurance mandate. The senate voted 54-44 to table the provision.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 1, 2018

Trump Administration Allows 12-Month Short-Term Plans

The Trump administration released a final rule today on new short-term health insurance policies, which will go into effect in October.

The rule extends the current 90 days of coverage up to 12 months, and policies have the option to be renewable for a maximum of three years.

Premiums for the short-term policies could cost half as much as comprehensive coverage. However, these policies have the choice to skirt many Affordable Care Act provisions, such as coverage for maternity care, prescription drugs, or mental health care. These plans can also set annual and lifetime caps on benefits, deny coverage, or charge more for people with pre-existing conditions.

“We make no representation that it’s equivalent coverage,” said James Parker, a senior adviser to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “These policies will not necessarily cover the same benefits or extend coverage to the same degree, but what we do know is that there are individuals today who have been priced out of coverage because of the way the ACA has been implemented and the effects that it’s had on the market.”

Critics fear the availability of the plans could cause ACA premiums to rise due to lower enrollment. An analysis by lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans estimates a 1.7 percent increase next year due to the short-term plan expansion.

The administration estimates that about 600,000 people will enroll in a short-term plan next year. Of that 600,000, officials estimate between 100,000 and 200,000 people will switch from ACA plans to enroll in short-term options.

Plans could be available in about 60 days but first must be approved by insurance regulators.

Report: Individual Insurance Enrollment Dropped by 12%

Enrollment in individual health insurance policies declined by 12 percent to 14.4 million in the first quarter of 2018 as compared to 2017, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The study indicates that Affordable Care Act premium increases for unsubsidized enrollees was a key factor in the decrease, with 38 percent of people who were not eligible for subsidies dropping their coverage.

Even with the drop-off, overall enrollment in plans sold on the ACA exchanges continues to be stable, with 10.6 million enrolled compared to 10.3 million this time last year.

North Carolina Insurer to Reduce 2019 ACA Premiums by 4.1%

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina has proposed lowering its premium rates for 2019 Affordable Care Act plans by 4.1 percent.

The company cited several factors in its decision, including a $120 million reduction in healthcare costs from newly negotiated hospital and doctor agreements, the suspension of the health insurance tax, and proceeds from last year’s federal income tax cut.

There are about 475,000 North Carolina residents enrolled in the company’s ACA plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 31, 2018

NY Governor Requests Denial of Some ACA Premium Increases

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked the state’s Department of Financial Services to reject any portion of Affordable Care Act premium increases attributed to the repeal of the individual mandate.

Premium increase requests for 2019 plans in New York average 24 percent, of which half is credited to the elimination of the ACA provision that required individuals to have health coverage or face a penalty.

“If we allowed that rate increase to go through, it would be hundreds of millions of dollars as a bonanza to the private insurance companies. It would increase the cost to normal hardworking families. We’re not going to let it happen,” Cuomo said at a rally on Monday. He added that “insurance premiums must be based on actual cost, and not political manipulations.”

Cuomo said the current proposed rates would raise premiums an average of $1,500 for each enrollee.

Maine Gains OK for Reinsurance Program

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved Maine’s request to establish a reinsurance program to help stabilize Affordable Care Act insurers in the state.

CMS’ decision comes one day after approving a similar request from Wisconsin. The two states join Minnesota, Alaska, Oregon, and Hawaii with approved reinsurance programs.

New Jersey 2019 ACA Premiums to Rise 5.8%

Premiums for 2019 ACA plans in New Jersey are expected to rise an average of 5.8 percent.

Insurance requests in the state ranged from an increase of 0.8 percent to 9.2 percent. Governor Phil Murphy said the state’s individual mandate law prevented much higher price hikes.

Rates will be finalized prior to the open enrollment period this fall.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 30, 2018

Analysis: Sanders’ Single-Payer Plan Could Cost $32.6 Trillion

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” healthcare plan would increase government spending by $32.6 trillion over a decade, according to an analysis by the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia.

Sanders’ plan would cover all Americans with no copays or deductibles. Tax increases would be required to replace premium costs that are currently paid by consumers and employers.

The plan could lower prescription costs by $846 billion over 10 years and administration costs by $1.6 trillion, according to the report. However, spending would rise due to:

  • Covering almost 30 million people who are currently uninsured,
  • Requiring no out-of-pocket costs, and
  • Including dental, vision and hearing coverage.

If corporate and individual income taxes were doubled, it would still not be enough to pay for the plan, according to the analysis.

Sanders calls the report a “misleading and biased” response to the growing popularity of a single-payer system. “If every major country on earth can guarantee health care to all, and achieve better health outcomes, while spending substantially less per capita than we do, it is absurd for anyone to suggest that the United States cannot do the same,” he said in a statement.

Trump Administration Approves Wisconsin Reinsurance Program

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on Sunday approved Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s reinsurance program.

Called the Health Care Stability Plan, the $200 million program will lower insurance rates for Affordable Care Act plans by providing government funds to insurance companies for their most expensive enrollees.

The plan is expected to lower 2019 ACA premiums by 3.5 percent.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 27, 2018

Trump Administration Sued Over Association Health Plans

Attorneys general for 11 states and the District of Columbia have sued to block the Trump Administration’s regulation that expands access to association health plans (AHPs).

AHPs enable small businesses and groups to join together to purchase health insurance. The coverage does not have to meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, so the premiums are lower, but the plans do not cover essential benefits such as prescription drugs, maternity care, or mental health.

According to the complaint, the rule “upends a decades-old understanding of a foundational employee benefits law for the purpose of exempting a significant portion of the health insurance market from the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections.”

The complaint also contends that the rule “increases the risk of fraud and harm to consumers, requires states to redirect significant enforcement resources to curb those risks, and jeopardizes state efforts to protect their residents through stronger regulation.”

The lawsuit is signed by the attorneys general of California, Delaware, District of Columbia Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

HHS Secretary Criticizes ACA in Speech to Conservative Organization

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar spoke out against the Affordable Care Act on Thursday in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Azar said the healthcare law was an example of government overreach that caused consumers to pay higher prices and “imposed a new tax or regulation, or sometimes both, on just about every moving part in our healthcare system.”

Azar believes the healthcare exchanges, in particular, have failed to attract younger enrollees, placing a financial burden on the older people left behind.

“The only factor keeping the individual markets alive is the tens of billions in subsidies supplied directly to insurers each year. The fundamental flaw of the Affordable Care Act is that it narrowed the competition for insurance options and laid down heavy-handed controls on the prices that could be charged,” he said.

Azar also shared his disapproval of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, saying the federal government now pays more for the expansion population than it does for those who traditionally qualified for benefits. He said the Trump administration will support work requirements for beneficiaries who are neither disabled nor have children.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 26, 2018

CMS Administrator Rejects Single-Payer Healthcare System

In a speech delivered Wednesday, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said that a government-run, “Medicare for all” healthcare system would not work and she would likely deny states seeking waivers for single-payer programs.

Verma believes expanding Medicare would drain funding and put seniors at risk. “Ideas like ‘Medicare for all’ would only serve to hurt and divert focus from seniors,” she said.

Kaiser Poll: Pre-Existing Condition Protections Top Healthcare Concerns

A candidate’s position on continuing protections for people with pre-existing conditions is the leading healthcare concern for the majority of voters, with 63 percent of respondents ranking it their “most important” or “very important” healthcare issue, according to a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The topic ranked high with both Democrats and Republicans.

Other healthcare findings in the poll:

  • 64 percent would oppose the Supreme Court overturning pre-existing condition protections.
  • 51 percent of residents in states that have not expanded Medicaid would support expansion efforts.
  • 56 percent of respondents believe President Donald Trump and his administration are trying to make the Affordable Care Act fail (with 47 percent saying it is a bad thing).
  • 58 percent hold Trump and Republicans in Congress responsible for any future problems with the ACA.

House Passes Bill to Delay ACA Health Insurance Tax

The House on Wednesday passed a bill to extend the delay of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance tax for 2020 and 2021. The tax was previously suspended for 2019.

The bill also expands eligibility for ACA catastrophic plans and expands eligibility and use of health savings accounts (HSAs).

 Healthcare Reform News Update for July 25, 2018

Trump Administration Will Resume ACA Risk-Adjustment Payments

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final rule Tuesday to restart the Affordable Care Act’s risk-adjustment payments to insurance companies.

Risk-adjustment payments are made by insurance companies with healthier enrollees to help offset companies with sicker enrollees. This process helps stabilize the marketplace. Earlier this month, the department halted the $10.4 billion program due to a federal judge’s ruling.

Halting the payments set off fears that the move would increase 2019 premiums or cause some insurance companies to leave the ACA exchanges.

“This rule will restore operation of the risk-adjustment program and mitigate some of the uncertainty caused by the New Mexico litigation,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a statement. “Issuers that had expressed concerns about having to withdraw from markets or becoming insolvent should be assured by our actions today. Alleviating concerns in the market helps to protect consumer choices.”

ACA Critic Paul Mango to Serve Trump Administration in CMS Role

Paul Mango, a strong critic of the Affordable Care Act, has been appointed chief principal deputy administrator and chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Mango, a former Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate, previously worked on healthcare issues for consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

“I have known Paul for more than 10 years and look forward to having his support as we deliver on President Trump’s agenda and execute on our strategy on behalf of the American people,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a statement.

House Passes Bill to Repeal ACA Medical Device Tax

The house voted Tuesday to repeal a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. The vote garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans.

The tax has been delayed twice, but the current bill would make the repeal permanent. It is uncertain whether or not the bill will be taken up in the Senate.

GOP Senators Push to Repeal DC’s Individual Mandate Penalty

Six Republican senators, led by Ted Cruz (R-TX), have introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would prevent the District of Columbia from using federal funds to impose a penalty on residents who don’t have health insurance. Last week, the House passed the amendment in a spending bill.

 Healthcare Reform News Update for July 24, 2018

House to Vote on ACA Revisions, HSA Expansion

The House will vote this week on several Republican-backed healthcare measures, including:

  • Allowing ACA premium tax subsidies to fund off-exchange health plans, including catastrophic coverage.
  • Permanently repealing the Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax.
  • Delaying the ACA health insurance tax.
  • Expanding eligibility and use of health savings accounts (HSAs).

If approved, the measure would cost $92 billion over 10 years, according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates.

PA Insurers Lower 2019 ACA Rate Proposals

Pennsylvania insurance companies have reduced their rate requests for 2019 Affordable Care Act plans from an average increase of 4.9 percent to an average increase of 1 percent.

The state cited several factors for the change, “including lower insurer expenses for cost-sharing reduction payments covering deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance for lower income customers, the department lowered the amount of a standardized factor.”

The state will finalize the rates prior to the Open Enrollment Period later this year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 23, 2018

Payment Structure for Medicare Office Visits Could Change

The Trump administration would like to change the way doctors charge Medicare patients for office visits beginning in 2019 by establishing one set rate for new patients and a lower set rate for established patients.

Medicare patients are currently billed between $76 and $211 for new patients and between $45 and $148 for established patients, depending on the complexity of the service. The Trump administration has proposed a set rate of about $135 for new patients and about $93 for established patients.

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), says the change would help lessen doctors’ paperwork, giving them more time with patients. She says the change would help fulfill the president’s promise to “cut the red tape of regulation.”

Critics of the proposal say it could increase the risk of fraud and would result in a patient with a cold being charged the same as a patient with Stage 4 cancer. In addition, they fear that physicians in more specialized fields, such as dermatology and rheumatology, would be underpaid and that many could stop taking Medicare patients.

The proposal has the potential to affect the broader healthcare community, as private insurance companies often mirror Medicare rules.

The administration’s proposal is expected to be published in the Federal Register on Friday with a public comment period scheduled through September 10.

Connecticut 2019 ACA Premiums Could Rise 12.3%

Proposed health insurance premiums for 2019 Affordable Care Act plans in Connecticut will rise an average of 12.3 percent, with requests ranging from a 10.9 percent reduction from CTCare Benefits Inc. to an increase of 31 percent from Anthem Health Plans.

Final rates will be announced this fall after a review by state insurance regulators.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 20, 2018

CMS May Restart of Risk-Adjustment Payments

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sent an interim final rule to the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday that is likely to enable the agency to resume billions in Affordable Care Act risk-adjustment payments.

The rule, titled “Ratification and Reissuance of the Methodology for the HHS-operated Permanent Risk Adjustment Program under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” could go into effect immediately. The contents of the rule will not be disclosed until it has been reviewed.

CMS stopped payments to the program last week due to conflicting legal rulings. The payments, which totaled $10.4 billion in 2017, go from insurance companies with heathier enrollees to those with sicker enrollees. This process helps balance the marketplace. Insurance companies feared that halting the payments could trigger premium increases.

Removing Pre-Existing Condition Protections Will Hurt States Challenging ACA the Most

Almost half of the states that have launched a legal challenge against the Affordable Care Act would be negatively impacted the most if protections for people with pre-existing conditions were eliminated, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A coalition of 20 Republican-led states filed a lawsuit in February challenging the legality of the ACA and its provision that people with pre-existing conditions can get health coverage without being charged higher premiums.

The study found that nine of the states in the lawsuit have residents with the country’s highest rates of pre-existing conditions among adults under 65. For example, West Virginia has the country’s highest rates with 36 percent of its population — or 1 in 3 adults under 65 — who would qualify as having a pre-existing condition.

“These states have been opposed to the ACA from the beginning. They’re hurting their most vulnerable citizens,” said Gerald Kominski, a senior fellow at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Studies have shown that, prior to the Affordable Care Act, between 27 percent and 50 percent of adults under 65 had at least one pre-existing condition.

Poll: Half of Americans Believe Healthcare is More Expensive in 2018

Nearly half the country finds that healthcare is more difficult to afford than last year, according to a new poll by Democratic messaging firm Navigator Research.

Respondent opinions mostly transcended party affiliation with 54 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans saying it’s more difficult to afford prescription drugs, insurance premiums, and doctor visits this year as compared to last year.

The poll also showed that 78 percent of respondents believe the government should do more to make healthcare more affordable.

California 2019 ACA Premiums to Increase 8.7%

Affordable Care Act health plans sold on California’s healthcare exchange, Covered California, will rise an average of 8.7 percent in 2019, ending the double-digit increases seen in the state the previous two years. Covered California singled out the repeal of the individual mandate penalty as the reason for the increases.

All 11 insurance companies that sell ACA plans in the state will return next year. Rates are subject to review by state regulators before becoming final this fall.

House Passes Two Measures Blocking D.C.’s Individual Mandate

House Republicans passed measures on Thursday that would repeal the District of Columbia’s requirement that all residents have health insurance coverage.

Democratic Mayor Muriel E. Bowser was against the decision, saying the House ignored the wishes of residents.

The measure was introduced by Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL) who said in a statement that “individuals should be allowed to make their own decisions about the type of insurance they want to purchase without being subjected to punishment from the government. The D.C. individual mandate would restrict patient choice and force people to purchase insurance that they may not need, desire, or be able to afford.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 19, 2018

Association Health Plans Get Tepid Reception From Key Business Group

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which has lobbied for almost 20 years for association health plans, says the new insurance initiative allowing them is impractical for its membership.

The Trump administration will allow the plans to be sold beginning September 1. The NFIB objects to the rule that businesses can join together to purchase health insurance only if they share an industry or are within the same state.

“We can’t set up an AHP under the new rules any more than [we] could under the old rules,” said NFIB Spokesman Adam Temple.

Other trade groups such as the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Realtors have also voiced concerns about the new rules and have no intentions of setting up AHPs in the near future.

House Democrats Form New Medicare for All Caucus

Democrats in the House are launching a new caucus today that will focus on endorsing single-payer healthcare.

The Medicare for All Caucus will comprise approximately 60 Democratic members led by Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA), Debbie Dingell (MI), and Keith Ellison (MN).

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 18, 2018

States: ‘Silver Loading’ ACA Plans Helped Subsidized Consumers

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have asked a judge to put their lawsuit concerning the Trump administration’s cuts to Affordable Care Act subsidies on hold.

The states filed suit last year after President Donald Trump ended government payments to insurance companies that provided discounts to low-income consumers. As a workaround to counter the payment cutoffs, insurance companies raised premiums on silver plans. That move helped trigger increased tax credits for subsidized enrollees.

The states say that the workaround was successful in protecting lower-income consumers from premium increases. According to the filing, the decision “provided some stability to help ensure a functioning insurance market.”

The states are requesting a hold instead of dropping the suit entirely in the event the administration disallows the “silver loading” workaround.

Idaho Voters Will Decide on ACA Medicaid Expansion in November

Idaho residents will vote on expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act in November, after a petition included enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

If approved, the expansion will enable 62,000 additional residents to qualify for coverage.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 17, 2018

Lawmakers Press HHS to Restart ACA Risk Adjustment Payments

Congressional Democrats and a House GOP chairman on Monday addressed reinstating the $10.4 billion in risk adjustment program payments that Health and Human Services (HHS) recently suspended.

In a letter to HHS, Democrats on Congress’s healthcare committee asked the department to reconsider. “We ask that you take immediate action to reverse this destructive decision that will further destabilize the individual and small group markets that millions of Americans rely on for health insurance,” according to the letter.

The letter was signed by Democratic Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. (NJ), Richard Neal (MA), Bobby Scott (VA), and Senators Patty Murray (WA) and Ron Wyden (OR).

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said he is working with HHS officials to restart the payments. “The administration wants to restore those payments, so we’re looking at ways that we can help them do that,” he said.

Risk insurance payments are collected from insurance companies with healthier enrollees to help companies with sicker enrollees cover costs. Last week, the Trump administration suspended the payments citing a court ruling.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 16, 2018

Colorado’s 2019 ACA Premiums Could See Average Increase of 5.94%

In Colorado, health insurance companies have requested to raise rates on 2019 Affordable Care Act plans by an average of 5.94 percent.

Broken down by plan type, the state filings reflected an average increase of:

  • 6.85 percent for gold plans.
  • 12.3 percent for silver plans.
  • 0.9 percent for bronze plans.

All seven insurance companies that sell ACA plans in Colorado will remain on the exchange in 2019, and every county will have at least one insurer. Final rates will be announced prior to this fall’s open enrollment period.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 13, 2018

House Committee Approves ACA Employer Mandate, Tax Credit Bills

Two bills advanced by the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday address several provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The first bill suspends ACA employee mandate penalties through 2019 and delays implementation of the “Cadillac tax” on high-deductible employee-sponsored health plans until 2022. The bill is sponsored by representatives Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Mike Kelly (R-PA).

The second bill would allow individuals to use ACA tax credits to purchase health plans not sold on the ACA exchanges. It will also allow people over the age of 30 to purchase catastrophic plans. The bill is sponsored by Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Michael Burgess (R-TX).

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 12, 2018

Bright Health Increases ACA Reach Into 9 New Markets

Startup insurer Bright Health announced that it will sell Affordable Care Act plans in nine additional markets in 2019, upping its reach to 12 markets in six states.

The company’s health plans are currently available in Colorado, Phoenix, and Birmingham, Alabama. New markets include:

  • New York City
  • Tucson, Arizona
  • Cincinnati, Springfield, Toledo, and Youngstown, Ohio
  • Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis, Tennessee

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 11, 2018

ACA Navigator Program Funding Reduced to $10 Million

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Tuesday that it will cut funding for the Affordable Care Act navigator program reducing it to $10 million.

Last year, the Trump administration slashed the federal grants for the program from $62.5 million to $36 million.

Each of the 34 states that use the federal ACA exchange will be awarded a minimum of $100,000 to help residents sign up for health coverage. In addition to promoting the government’s healthcare website, CMS says that it wants navigators to raise awareness of the association health plans and short-term plans that provide coverage for up to 12 months.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said, “it’s time for the navigator program to evolve, which is why we are announcing a new direction for the program today.”

The agency says that the program’s sign-up performance in the past has been disappointing. After the 84 percent funding cut since 2016, navigators enrolled less than 1 percent of all ACA enrollees. Insurance agents and brokers signed up 42 percent.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 10, 2018

Analysis: Insurance Companies Could Expand Into More ACA Exchanges

More insurance companies might sell Affordable Care Act plans in 2019, according to projections from a new analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The analysis points to several factors that could increase the number of companies selling health plans on the exchanges:

  • No insurers have announced that they are exiting any ACA markets.
  • Profits are improving for plans sold on the ACA exchanges.
  • Insurers have announced ACA expansions in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
  • More insurers have announced expansions compared to last year. Oscar, Bright Health, Medica, and Wellmark have announced expansions. Anthem is also expected to enter new markets.

The analysis was prepared prior to last weekend’s announcement by the Trump administration that it will suspend risk-adjustment payments to insurance companies. That decision, plus a lawsuit that questions the validity of the ACA, could potentially upset market stability, raise premiums, and affect insurers’ confidence to enter new markets.

Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute, addressed the issue. “There seems to be a little more confidence in the sustainability of the ACA market. It remains to be seen whether underserved rural areas will get more competition and choice next year. But with the administration’s risk-adjustment decision and the Texas lawsuit, we’re not out of the woods yet,” she said.

Maine ACA Medicaid Expansion Blocked by State House Lawmakers

The Maine House was unable to get the votes necessary to override Republican Governor Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that funded a voter-approved expansion of Medicaid. The bill would have garnered more than $500 million in federal funds and $60 million in state funds to more than 70,000 low-income residents.

A hearing next week before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will determine how and if the state can implement the voter-approved expansion without funding approved by the Legislature.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 9, 2018

Trump Administration Suspends ACA Risk Adjustment Payments

Citing conflicting court rulings, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Saturday that it will halt $10.4 billion in risk adjustment payments to insurers until legal issues are resolved.

The Affordable Care Act’s risk adjustment program takes payments from insurers with healthier customers and redistributes that money to companies with sicker enrollees. A court in Massachusetts upheld the risk adjustment payments; however, a New Mexico court decided in February that the rules were unfair.

A statement from CMS Administrator Seema Verma said that the “ruling prevents CMS from making further collections or payments under the risk adjustment program. As a result of this litigation, billions of dollars in risk adjustment payments and collections are now on hold.”

Verma’s statement also noted that the agency is “seeking a quick resolution to the legal issues raised and will inform stakeholders of any update to the status of collections or payments at an appropriate future date.”

Insurance trade groups say that halting the payments will cause premiums to increase this fall.

Insurance trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans said the following in a statement: “This decision comes at a critical time when insurance providers are developing premiums for 2019 and states are reviewing rates. This decision will have serious consequences for millions of consumers who get their coverage through small businesses or buy coverage on their own.”

“Risk adjustment is a mandatory program under federal law. Without a quick resolution … this action will significantly increase 2019 premiums for millions of individuals and small business owners. … It will undermine Americans’ access to affordable coverage, particularly for those who need medical care the most,” said Blue Cross Blue Shield Association President Scott Serota.

Democratic lawmakers and ACA advocates, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), say the decision is one more step in the Trump administration’s plan to sabotage the healthcare law.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 6, 2018

Nebraska Voters Could Have ACA Medicaid Expansion on Fall Ballot

Advocacy group Insure the Good Life garnered more than 135,000 signatures to allow Nebraskans the chance to vote for expanding Medicaid through provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The petition included about 60 percent more signatures than required to qualify for the ballot. If enacted, the measure would insure approximately 90,000 people in Nebraska who earn up to $16,753 for a single person or $34,638 for a family of four.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts opposes Medicaid expansion, and previous proposals have failed in the state’s predominately Republican legislature over the past six years.

Election officials have until mid-August to review the signatures collected and certify the ballot initiative.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 5, 2018

Number of Brokers, Agents Selling ACA Coverage Drops Almost 25%

Insurance agent and broker participation in Affordable Care Act enrollment decreased by 24.8 percent in 2018, according to a report released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) earlier this week.

Currently, 42 percent of ACA enrollees receive help through insurance agents or brokers. Last year, 65,300 agents and brokers helped Americans sign up for coverage. This year, the number dropped to 49,100.

According to CMS, the drop is due to several factors, including fewer insurance companies offering ACA plans, high premiums for people without subsidies, and limited commissions.

In 2016, the agency issued guidance to insurance companies to be consistent in their commission structures by the first of this year to help encourage agent and broker participation. Groups representing agents and brokers claim that it has not happened.

“Without a viable compensation structure for agents and brokers, it may be difficult for CMS to improve or stabilize agent and broker retention and achieve significant enrollment gains, leaving consumers with diminished access to insurance specialists willing to help them in their local communities,” according to the CMS report.

Vermont Prepares to Regulate Association Plans

Vermont will regulate association health plans that could be available in the state as soon as September, said Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

Last month the Department of Labor announced the expansion of the plans to the self-employed and a larger swath of small businesses. The plans are able to skirt many of the Affordable Care Act essential benefits, including mental health services, maternity care, and prescription drugs.

Pieciak said Monday that his department “aims to craft regulations that ensure Vermonters are protected and well-served by these health plans. In the past, similar plans that operated in other states were poorly run, and many were fraudulent.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 3, 2018

Percentage of 2018 ACA Enrollees Who Keep Plans Rises Slightly

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released enrollment data Monday for 2018 Affordable Care Act Plans.

According to the report, 10.6 million of the 11.8 million who signed up for ACA plans paid their first month’s premium.

Almost 1.1 million, or about 9 percent, dropped their coverage as of February 2018. That percentage is lower than in 2017, when 1.9 million of 12.2 million enrollees—about 15.5 percent—dropped their coverage.

Enrollees without subsidized coverage dropped their coverage at a much higher rate than those with subsidies. From 2016 to 2017, only 3 percent of subsidized enrollees dropped coverage. In that same time frame, 20 percent of those without subsidized coverage dropped their plans.

Other findings in the study:

  • The percentage of people who receive tax subsidies rose from 84 percent in 2017 to 87 percent in 2018.
  • Cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies were provided to 53 percent of enrollees.
  • The average monthly premium before subsidies is $597, which is 27 percent higher than in 2017.
  • The average tax credit is $520 per month, which is 39 percent higher than in 2017.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 2, 2018

Trump Administration Could Slash Funding for ACA Outreach Groups

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made an initial proposal to cut funding for Affordable Care Act navigator groups from $36 million to $10 million, though the final funding amount has not been announced.

Navigators help consumers, especially those with limited English skills and citizens in rural areas, understand and find ACA plans. The groups have yet to receive any information from HHS on their funding levels for the upcoming open enrollment period.

Last year, the Trump administration reduced funding for navigators from $63 million to the current $36 million, asserting that the outreach programs were ineffective. Democratic lawmakers said the reduction was designed to sabotage the healthcare law.

Oregon 2019 ACA Premiums to Increase up to 10%

In Oregon, individual premiums will increase between 5 and 10 percent next year, according to preliminary rate decisions for 2019 Affordable Care Act plans issued Friday by state insurance regulators. Small group insurance plans will experience rate changes from a 4 percent drop to a 9.4 percent increase.

The relatively small increases are credited to the state’s reinsurance program. Final rates are expected to be announced by the end of the month.

Kentucky’s Medicaid Work Requirement Struck Down

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg on Friday blocked Kentucky’s new requirement that all Medicaid recipients have jobs. The decision, which is likely to be appealed, could reduce the number of states that expand their Medicaid programs through the Affordable Care Act.

Kentucky’s work requirement was the first of its kind in the country. It required 80 hours of work, job training, education, or volunteer service per month for nondisabled enrollees. Exemptions included pregnant women, full-time students, primary caregivers, and those considered medically frail.

Arkansas, Indiana, and New Hampshire have also passed Medicaid work requirements, and seven additional states have federal approvals pending. It’s unclear if Boasberg’s ruling applies to them as well.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 27, 2018

Poll: Most Americans Back Pre-Existing Condition Protections

Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents say it’s “very important” to retain the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released today.

The poll asked 1,492 adults whether insurance companies should deny coverage based on someone’s medical history and whether those with pre-existing conditions should pay higher premiums. Currently, the ACA prohibits these practices. However, the Trump administration, in a legal challenge, recently said it would not defend these provisions.

Eighty-eight percent of Democrats, 58 percent of Republicans, and 77 percent of independents responded that it is “very important” that insurance companies cannot deny coverage because of a person’s medical history.

Similarly, 85 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of Republicans, and 70 percent of independents, responded that it is “very important” that health insurance companies cannot charge sick people more.

Medica Expands ACA Coverage to Oklahoma and Kansas City

Health insurer Medica announced that it will sell 2019 Affordable Care Act coverage in all 77 counties in Oklahoma and add four additional counties in the Kansas City, Missouri, area.

In Missouri, the company will expand into Cass, Clay, Jackson and Platte counties. This year, the company sold policies only in Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

Proposed pricing for Medica’s ACA plans in both states will be available at a later date.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 26, 2018

Smaller Insurers Expanding ACA Marketplace Coverage

Some smaller health insurance companies are planning to increase their presence on the Affordable Care Act marketplace for 2019, despite a decline in ACA carriers across the country in recent years.

Last week, Oscar Health announced its growth into three states and three new markets in existing states. Now, Bright Health has determined it will expand into Tennessee, and Presbyterian Healthcare is returning to the ACA marketplace to sell plans in New Mexico.

“It’s still early, but we haven’t seen any exits, and we are certainly seeing new insurers enter markets and expand where they are doing business,” said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “If not for the still significant political and legal uncertainty, we’d be seeing a very robust market right now.”

Seven states will gain ACA plan choices next year, but premiums will be higher. Rates will increase from an average of $642 per month this year to $740 in 2019.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 25, 2018

2019 ACA Premiums Could Rise by 8.2% in Ohio

Insurance companies in Ohio have submitted proposed rates for 2019 health plans sold on the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

If approved by state regulators, premiums will rise an average of 8.2 percent. Last year, premium increases averaged 20 percent.

Ohio’s Department of Insurance also noted that residents in every county will have access to ACA coverage from at least one insurance company.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 21, 2018

NY, MA Will Fight Trump Administration Over AHPs

The Democratic attorneys general for New York and Massachusetts will file a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its recent rule to expand access to lower-cost association health plans (AHPs).

The rule, finalized Tuesday, will allow self-employed individuals to join AHPs. In addition, the plans will not have to provide the 10 essential health benefits required under the Affordable Care Act, including emergency care, prescription drugs, and maternity care.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey say that the decision will “invite fraud, mismanagement, and deception.”

“We believe the rule, as proposed, is unlawful and would lead to fewer critical consumer health protections,” they said in a statement.

Kaiser Estimates ACA Eligibility Among the Uninsured

The Kaiser Family Foundation released an analysis that provides national and state-by-state estimates of how many uninsured Americans are eligible for Affordable Care Act healthcare coverage.

Of the 27.5 million nonelderly uninsured people in the country in 2016, the analysis found that:

  • 54 percent are eligible for coverage via Medicaid or subsidized ACA coverage
  • 28 percent are eligible for premium tax credits for ACA plans
  • 16 percent are adults eligible for Medicaid
  • 10 percent are children either eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Oscar Health ACA Plans Expand Into 3 New States

Oscar Health is expanding its coverage area and will sell Affordable Care Act plans in Florida, Arizona, and Michigan in 2019. The company will also serve three new metropolitan areas in Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas, where it already offers insurance. In total, the company will sell 2019 ACA coverage in nine states.

Currently, there are 240,000 people signed up for Oscar plans, which is more than double last year’s enrollment.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 20, 2018

Trump Administration Releases Final Rule on Association Health Plans

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced its finalized rules on expanding access to association health plans (AHPs).

AHPs allow small businesses to purchase health insurance across state lines at a lower cost. The new rules permit self-employed individuals to join AHPs, which will not be required to offer some essential health benefits outlined in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The plans can’t set premium rates based on pre-existing conditions, but they can vary rates based on age, occupation, or place of business.

“You’re going to save massive amounts of money and have much better health care. It’s going to cost you much less,” Trump said in a speech to the National Federation of Independent Business.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said the plans could be available to millions of new enrollees as soon as September 1.

“As the cost of insurance for small businesses has been increasing, the percentage of small businesses offering health care coverage has been dropping substantially,” Acosta said. “Today, the Trump administration helps level the playing field between large companies and small businesses.”

Critics believe AHPs are “junk health insurance” and will cause healthy people to leave ACA plans, destabilizing the ACA marketplace. Some point out that, in the past, similar plans committed insurance fraud; therefore, more protections should be put in place.

As a reaction to the expected decrease in enrollment, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects 2019 ACA premiums to rise by 2 to 3 percent.

Conservative Policymakers Release New ACA Repeal and Replace Plan

A coalition of conservative groups, led by the Heritage Foundation, the Galen Institute, and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), unveiled a new plan Tuesday to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The plan states: “After efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare fell short last year, many in Congress seem resigned to accepting the status quo or even willing to bail out and prop up the program. But Obamacare is broken, can’t be fixed, and continues to do great harm.”

Proposals in the plan include eliminating the ACA’s essential health benefits and providing block grants to states instead of the current use of insurance subsidies and Medicaid expansion.

The plan is not expected to pass in Congress this year, as lawmakers have other priorities.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 19, 2018

Report: ACA Helped Reduce Number of Uninsured Children

Uninsured children in the U.S. dropped by 2.2 million after the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, according to a study from the State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC).

The study compared insurance coverage from 2013 to 2016 overall and by individual factors such as income, race/ethnicity, and education levels.

The largest reduction of children without insurance was from families that were low-income, Hispanic, and non-white. Children in families with low education levels also benefitted.

The study examined coverage at the national and state levels, and the results include individual data for each state. For example, Georgia saw a decrease of more than 85,000 uninsured children, and Texas lowered the rate of uninsured children by 23.1 percent during the study period.

Bipartisan Governors Pledge Support for ACA Consumer Protections

A bipartisan group of nine governors issued a joint statement Monday speaking out against a Trump administration decision that could jeopardize access to healthcare for people with a history of medical problems.

In a recent legal brief, the Justice Department said it will no longer defend the portion of the Affordable Care Act that relates to pre-existing conditions.

“We’re asking the Administration to reverse their decision and instead work with Congress and Governors on bipartisan solutions to protect coverage and lower health care costs for all Americans, all while protecting those with preexisting conditions,” according to the statement.

Governors from the following states signed the statement: Colorado, Ohio, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Montana, Maryland, Washington, and North Carolina.

Younger People Willing to Trade Privacy for Lower Premiums

The majority of people between 18 and 34 would be willing to share their social media information in exchange for lower health insurance premiums, according to a recent poll by software company MuleSoft Inc.

When 8,000 global respondents were asked if they’d be “happy for insurers to use third-party data” from sources such as Facebook, Fitbits, and smart-home devices to lower insurance costs, here’s how the age groups answered:

  • 18–34: 62 percent said yes
  • 35–54: 45 percent said yes
  • 55-plus: 27 percent said yes

The survey also found spit opinions on digital offerings from insurance companies with 58 percent saying the systems don’t work adequately, and 56 percent saying they would drop their provider if the digital service was poor.

Maine Governor Continues to Fight ACA Medicaid Expansion

A Maine judge denied a motion filed by Republican Governor Paul LePage to delay the voter-approved expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy said LePage’s administration must file the paperwork to begin the process. The governor said he would also fight this latest order.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 18, 2018

2019 ACA Premiums to Rise in Washington DC, Fall in Minnesota

Health insurance companies in the District of Columbia and Minnesota have filed their premium rate requests for 2019 Affordable Care Act plans.

In D.C., the average request increases premiums about 15 percent compared to 2018 plans. In Minnesota, the rates are reduced about 12 percent on average.

Minnesota’s rate reductions are due to the state’s new reinsurance program, which offsets 80 percent of annual medical claim costs between $50,000 and $250,000 for individuals.

Actual rates will be finalized by insurance regulators before the annual enrollment period this fall.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 15, 2018

Federal Court: Government Doesn’t Have to Pay ACA Risk Corridor Payments

A federal appellate court ruled Thursday that that the U.S. government does not owe health insurers over $12 billion sought in unpaid Affordable Care Act risk corridor funds.

Because Congress made the risk corridor payments budget neutral, the three-judge court agreed that the government could not tap other sources of money to pay for insurers’ losses.

The temporary risk corridor program was set up in the early years of the ACA for insurance companies that were making a profit to help companies that were struggling. However, too many insurers requested risk corridor money, and too few paid into the fund.

Healthcare Groups Oppose Justice Department’s ACA Decision

Eleven friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed by a variety of interested parties regarding the Justice Department’s decision not to defend some Affordable Care Act provisions, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions. All but one brief is against the decision.

Groups opposed to the decision represent insurance companies, medical schools, hospitals, and patient advocacy. The one brief filed in favor of the Trump administration’s position was from a coalition of gun-owner’s groups and the conservative organization Citizens United.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 14, 2018

Actuary Group: Government Policies Are Driving ACA Premium Increases

Affordable Care Act premium hikes are being caused primarily from the increase of healthcare costs and policy changes from the Trump administration, according to a report released by the American Academy of Actuaries on Wednesday.

“The individual market, which had shown signs of stabilizing, now faces a potential deterioration of the risk pool due to policy changes that reduce incentives for healthy individuals to enroll in ACA marketplace plans. This deterioration and other factors could drive premiums higher for 2019,” said Cori Uccello, the group’s senior health fellow.

According to the report, national policy changes driving the increases include the:

  • Repeal of the individual mandate.
  • Extension of short-term insurance plans.
  • Wider availability of association plans.

Healthcare actions by individual states are also a factor in the expected premium increases. In addition, policy changes are affecting insurance company assumptions for 2019 plans.

The group found that healthcare costs for 2019 are projected to rise between 5 to 8 percent.

House Democrats Question HHS & CMS Leaders About ACA Protections

A letter from House Democratic lawmakers to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma asks if they were involved in the Justice Department’s decision to not defend central protections of the Affordable Care Act, including those for people with pre-existing conditions.

Signed by several ranking members of House committees, the letter asks about the existence of any analysis that may have been conducted that could have affected the decision and if they had plans to address any confusion the decision may cause.

“In declining to defend these protections in the Texas v. United States lawsuit, the Trump Administration is seeking to invalidate these critical patient protections, and once again subject tens of millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions to the discrimination they faced before the ACA,” the lawmakers wrote.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 13, 2018

Azar, McConnell Affirm Support of Pre-Existing Condition Safeguards

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee he believes that the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions should be maintained.

Azar said the Justice Department’s position that the law’s protections should be nullified is “a constitutional position … not a policy position.” When asked if he would urge the administration to revise its opinion, Azar said, “we do believe in finding solutions on the matter of pre-existing conditions and the matter of affordability, regardless of the litigation.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday also expressed his support of the protections. “Everybody I know in the Senate — everybody — is in favor of maintaining coverage for pre-existing conditions. There is no difference in opinion about that whatsoever,” he said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 11, 2018

California AG & AHIP to Fight Government’s ACA Case

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the insurance company lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) have separately made statements that they will defend the Affordable Care Act against measures taken by the Trump administration.

The Justice Department on Thursday requested that a federal court invalidate some provisions of the law, including the individual mandate and protections for pre-existing conditions. Becerra is leading an effort by several Democratic attorneys general to defend the ACA in the case.

“It’s, simply put, an attack on the healthcare that millions of Americans have come to count on […],” Becerra said about the Justice Department’s decision.

AHIP announced Friday that it would file an amicus brief to provide specifics on the damage that could come from invalidating the ACA measures.

“Removing those provisions will result in renewed uncertainty in the individual market, create a patchwork of requirements in the states, cause rates to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients, and make it challenging to introduce products and rates for 2019,” AHIP said in a statement.

KFF Tracks 2019 ACA Premium Changes

As it’s done since 2014, the Kaiser Family Foundation is monitoring and compiling insurance company filing information for next year’s Affordable Care Act plan premiums.

The analysis displays 2019 proposed premium rates for a major city in each state. The charts provide rates for a 40-year-old nonsmoker for the lowest-cost bronze plan and the second-lowest cost silver plan, which is used to determine subsidy rates. In addition, a tracker shows the number of insurance companies offering ACA plans in each state and the average difference in rates compared to 2018.

KFF will update the information as it becomes publicly available.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 8, 2018

Trump Administration Reviewing ACA Consumer Protections, Individual Mandate

The Justice Department told a federal court Thursday that it would no longer defend key parts of the Affordable Care Act, including provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions, saying they are part of an unconstitutional scheme.

In a brief filed in a Texas federal court, the department said the individual mandate was unconstitutional. It also said that the protections for people with pre-existing conditions should be eliminated.

The brief said that other portions of the law, including Medicaid expansion, health insurance marketplaces, and premium subsidies could remain as-is.

If a federal court agrees with the Justice Department, ACA consumer protections could be abolished. Any court rulings regarding the brief could take months to decide.

NC Farm Bureau Requests Association Health Plan

Following the lead of groups in Tennessee and Iowa, the North Carolina Farm Bureau has asked the state Senate to approve an association health plan that does not meet Affordable Care Act consumer protections.

Details of the plan have not been released, but the president of the bureau said premiums would vary based on an enrollee’s pre-existing conditions or medical history.

VA Governor Signs Medicaid Expansion Bill

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed a bill into law Thursday allowing about 400,000 low-income residents to enroll in Medicaid, making it the 33rd state to do so under the Affordable Care Act.

“As a doctor and a public servant, I believe making sure all Virginians have the access to the care they need to be healthy and productive is both a moral and economic imperative,” said Northam.

Medicare Advantage Plans Could Skirt Chronic Care Act Benefits

Insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans may not offer new benefits outlined in the Chronic Care Act to avoid enrolling seniors with fragile health conditions, according to a new analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The new law expands nonmedical services that MA plans can cover, such as scooters, grab bars, hearing aids, and personal care services. The analysis warns that insurance companies may fail to offer these extra benefits to keep costlier, severely ill seniors from joining the plans.

Representatives from insurance companies dispute the analysis. For example, they say the authors did not take into consideration Medicare Advantage Dual Eligible Special Need Plans (D-SNPs), which enroll chronically ill beneficiaries.

“The argument being made by these authors is speculative and does not recognize some of the important realities of the Medicare Advantage program,” said AHIP spokesperson Cathryn Donaldson.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 7, 2018

HHS to Allow Insurance Companies to Practice ‘Silver Loading’

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday that his department will continue to allow insurance companies to practice “silver loading” for 2019 Affordable Care Act policies.

During a hearing before the House Education and Workforce Committee, Azar said banning silver loading was not possible for 2019 because it would “require regulations, which simply couldn’t be done in time.”

Silver loading raises the premiums of midlevel silver plans, which causes subsidy rates to rise accordingly. The practice can lower the out-of-pocket costs for enrollees eligible for tax subsidies, in some cases making low-level bronze plan premiums $0 per month. However, the practice increases the amount the government pays and can make premium prices for higher-income enrollees a burden.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 6, 2018

Medicare Financials Worsening Due Partly to ACA Mandate Repeal

Medicare program trustees said Tuesday that Medicare Part A, which covers inpatient hospital stays, could run out of money by 2026, three years sooner than estimated a year ago.

In their annual report, trustees said Medicare’s insurance trust fund for hospital expenses is not sufficiently financed because of lower payroll taxes, Social Security tax cuts, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalties, and the repeal of an ACA board responsible for overseeing spending.

The repeal of the individual mandate is expected to increase the number of uninsured Americans, which could leave hospitals with increased rates of uncompensated care. A Medicare fund helps hospitals with high numbers of uninsured patients cover those costs.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says that efforts by the Trump administration will help reduce the financial outlook for both Medicare and Social Security. “Robust economic growth will help to ensure their lasting stability,” he said.

Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient care, is expected to remain solvent.

ACA’s Risk Adjustment Program Affects Plan Rates for Low-, High-Risk Insurers

Because of the way the Affordable Care Act’s risk adjustment program is structured, insurance companies that don’t anticipate a large drop in ACA plan enrollment for 2019 are proposing premium increases.

The risk adjustment program requires plans with low-risk younger, healthier enrollment to help offset plans with older, sicker members.

The Trump administration’s repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate is expected to cause low-risk people to drop their coverage. With fewer enrollees in the plan, insurance companies that pay into the risk adjustment plan will either have to increase their risk adjustment dollars or pay less into the system, which in turn affects high-risk plans.

“Even if any given insurer doesn’t actually expect their members to dis-enroll, they still have to raise premiums because this is a community-rated market,” said Erin Trish, a health policy professor at the University of Southern California.

Senate Democrat Vows to Force Healthcare Votes in August

After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) canceled a scheduled August recess, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he wants to use that time to put five Democratic-backed healthcare proposals up for a vote.

In a letter to McConnell, Schumer wrote, “We believe this previously unscheduled session time can be put to good use to finally help Americans secure the affordable health care the President and Congressional Republicans have thus far failed to deliver.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 5, 2018

New York, Washington Propose 2019 Double-Digit ACA Premium Hikes

Health insurance companies in New York and Washington have submitted double-digit rate hike requests for 2019 plans sold on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Fourteen insurers in New York have asked state regulators to raise rates an average of 24 percent due to the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate. State regulators estimate that premium requests would have increased 12 percent without the repeal.

In Washington, rate hikes averaged 19.08 percent, citing the Trump administration’s recent proposals for short-term insurance and association plans as the cause.

The rate requests must be approved by the states prior to being implemented.

Judge Orders Maine Governor to Implement ACA Medicaid Expansion

In November, Maine voters approved the expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, but Republican Governor Paul LePage has delayed implementation. A state judge on Monday gave LaPage a deadline of June 11 to submit details to the federal government.

The expansion would provide 70,000 low-income residents with health coverage.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 4, 2018

Business Coalition Objects to IRS’s Handling of ACA Employer Mandate

Business trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Association, have sent a letter to the Trump administration objecting to the Internal Revenue Service’s tactics in collecting assessments for the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate.

The coalition believes the IRS has not followed due process requirements in collecting approximately $4.3 billion in 2015 taxes. The letter states that the assessments should be suspended due to the “cost, complexity and confusion surrounding compliance with the employer mandate.”

More than 30,000 employers owe taxes due to the ACA regulation mandating that companies with 50 or more full-time employees provide health insurance, according to the IRS.

Texas Insurance Company Delays New ER Payment Policy

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas will delay its new emergency room payment policy for 60 days while the state’s insurance department seeks clarification on how the company’s process will be implemented.

The company plans to charge its 500,000 HMO plan members 100 percent of ER costs if it’s determined that the visit was not related to a serious or life-threatening condition.

Texas Insurance Commissioner Kent Sullivan requested information on the company’s denial process, patient appeal rights, and communication methods to new members.

Medicare Beneficiaries Paying More for Brand-Name Drugs

Throughout a five-year period, Medicare beneficiaries decreased their Part D brand-name prescriptions by 17 percent but spent 40 percent more in out-of-pocket costs due to rising prices, according to a new report released today by the Health and Human Services inspector general’s office.

Between 2011 and 2015, the annual cost of brand-name drugs rose on average from $161 to $225. These costs will continue to rise, according to the report.

Other findings include:

  • Costs for the top 200 most-prescribed medications increased more than double the rate of other drugs.
  • From 2011 to 2015, Medicare beneficiaries with out-of-pocket drug expenses of more than $2,000 doubled to 7.3 percent.
  • During the five-year period studied, spending for brand-name drugs rose from $58 billion to $102 billion, an increase of 77 percent.
  • Manufacturer rebates had little impact in slowing the increase in costs.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 31, 2018

NJ Governor Signs State Individual Health Insurance Mandate

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has enacted an individual mandate law that requires all state residents to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Similar to the recently repealed Affordable Care Act individual mandate, the state’s penalty is 2.5 percent of household income or $2,085 per person, whichever is higher. The maximum penalty will be the average annual cost of a bronze plan. Residents who cannot afford health coverage could receive a hardship exemption determined by the state treasurer.

The law goes into effect January 1, 2019. The expected $90 to $100 million collected in penalties from the law will be used to fund a state reinsurance program.

The new law is the second state individual mandate in the country. Massachusetts enacted its law in 2006.

Virginia to Enact ACA Medicaid Expansion

The Virginia legislature voted Wednesday to expand Medicaid to as many as 400,000 residents under the Affordable Care Act. The state becomes the 33rd to adopt the program.

Virginia’s program includes a work requirement and a mandate that enrollees who earn wages over the federal poverty line must pay more out-of-pocket for medical services.

Majority of Healthcare Groups Critical of President’s Insurance Proposals

More than 95 percent of healthcare groups oppose two recent proposals from the Trump administration, according to a Los Angeles Times’ analysis of comments submitted to federal agencies.

More than 300 groups representing patients, consumers, physicians, nurses, hospitals, clinics, and insurance companies have left public comments in letters filed with federal agencies about proposed rules to expand short-term coverage plans and loosen association health plan regulations.

The review found that:

  • 95% of healthcare groups left comments critical of the association health plan proposal.
  • 98% of groups left comments critical of the short-term health plan extension.
  • 25 state officials submitted critical comments about one or both of the proposals.
  • Six state insurance officials submitted positive comments about one or both of the proposals.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 25, 2018

Bipartisan Bill Proposes Delay of ACA’s Health Insurance Tax Until 2021

A bill introduced Thursday by bipartisan House members proposes to delay the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance tax until 2021.

The tax was enacted in 2014, but it was suspended last year and for 2019. Insurance companies are required to pay the tax for this year.

A delay of the tax could help prevent premium increases of up to 2.8 percent; however, it could also lead to a decrease in federal revenue by $144.7 billion over 10 years.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 24, 2018

CBO Report: ACA Premiums, Number of Uninsured to Rise Through 2028

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report Wednesday projecting a 15 percent rise in silver plan premiums and an additional 3 million uninsured people next year. The report projects continued increases through 2028, with premiums rising about 7 percent each year and the number of uninsured rising to 35 million people.

The increases are due to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and other alterations of the law by the Trump administration, according to the report.

The CBO also estimates the total cost of subsidies for ACA health plans and other individual health coverage will be $55 billion this year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 22, 2018

CDC Survey: 2017 Uninsured Rate Remained Steady at 9.1%

In 2017, the uninsured rate remained flat at 9.1 percent, which is just over 29 million people, according to a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Although the overall numbers were statistically unchanged from the end of the Obama administration into the beginning of President Donald Trump’s presidency, some groups are seeing a rise in not having insurance coverage. The CDC’s data show that:

  • The middle-class uninsured rate rose to 8.2 percent possibly due to rising premiums and no subsidized coverage.
  • Uninsured rates rose to an average of 19 percent in states that did not expand Medicaid coverage per the Affordable Care Act.

The survey also found a rise in the use of high-deductible health plans with almost 44 percent of insured Americans with deductibles that are at least $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for families.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 21, 2018

Four Healthcare Bills in Virginia Rejected by Governor

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) on Friday vetoed four separate pieces of healthcare legislation that he said would destabilize the marketplace.

The vetoed bills sought to establish association plans, create nonprofit “benefits consortiums,” allow the purchase of short-term policies for up to a year, and allow more people to purchase catastrophic health plans.

In each of his veto statements, Northam said, “this legislation would place consumers at risk of being underinsured and would fragment Virginia’s federal marketplace risk pool, leading to rapidly increasing premiums.”

Northam would prefer to lower healthcare costs by expanding Medicaid to the state’s low-income adults. In each veto statement, he said, “we are fortunate to have a better opportunity to expand healthcare to people who need it and make it more affordable for all Virginians.”

Maryland Reinsurance Program Delayed

A $462 million reinsurance program proposal created by Maryland has been delayed, and acceptance is uncertain due to a disagreement from the two insurance companies that sell plans on the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange.

Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States claims that the reinsurance plan would favor CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield through “double dipping” the reinsurance program and a separate federal risk adjustment plan.

The state’s ACA marketplace, The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, has asked for an independent analysis, which will not be complete until June 30. This poses a problem for the state as the deadline to file an application with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is May 31.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 18, 2018

Insurance Companies Selling ACA Plans Received Highest Profits in 2017

Companies selling individual health plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace posted their strongest financial year in 2017, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation report.

The findings are based on two different financial indicators:

  • The average share of health premiums paid out in claims fell to 82 percent in 2017. In 2016, it was 96 percent. In 2015, it was 103 percent.
  • Average premiums collected in excess of claims were $79 in 2017 per member per month, compared to $14 in 2016 and $9 in 2015.

The analysis indicates that future profitability is unclear. “These new data from 2017 offer further evidence that insurers in the individual market are regaining profitability, even as political and policy uncertainty, repeal of the individual mandate penalty as part of tax reform legislation, and proposed regulations to expand loosely-regulated short-term insurance plans cloud expectations for the future,” according to the analysis.

CMS Rejects Ohio’s Plan to Nullify ACA Individual Mandate

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has denied Ohio’s request to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s provision that all residents have health care coverage.

In a letter to the state’s Department of Insurance, CMS said the state failed to provide an alternate program that was equivalent to ACA coverage and did not provide a reason for the request.

Congress repealed the tax penalty for not having tax coverage in December, but the requirement for having insurance still remains part of the law.

The state is reviewing CMS’ position and is working to develop potential responses.

California ACA Premiums Expected to Rise 11%

Covered California, the state’s ACA marketplace, released estimates Thursday projecting that 2019 individual plan premiums will rise 11 percent and enrollment will drop 12 percent. Actual premium increase amounts will be announced in July.

The state has the largest ACA enrollment in the country with 2.4 million people, including 1.3 million who receive subsidies.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 17, 2018

Federal Judge Allows Democratic States to Proceed in ACA Lawsuit

A federal judge has granted California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and 16 other attorneys general from Democratic states the right to intervene in a lawsuit filed in Texas that seeks to eliminate the Affordable Care Act.

“Today’s ruling allows us to protect the health and wellbeing of these Americans by defending affordable access to healthcare,” Becerra said. “Before the Affordable Care Act, Americans had shorter lives and paid twice as much for their healthcare as other developed countries. The passage of the ACA was the first step toward fixing that problem. We must continue to move forward, not backward.”

The lawsuit was filed in February by Republican attorneys general who argue that the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate made the law unconstitutional.

Graham Continues ACA Repeal and Replace Efforts

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Wednesday that he is continuing his efforts to put together a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Graham’s new bill is expected to contain components from his failed effort last year that gives block grant money to states instead of subsidies or Medicaid expansion.

“I haven’t given up. Will there be another effort to replace Obamacare with a state-centric plan? I hope so,” he said.

VT Governor Signs Bill to Allow Drugs From Canada

Republican Governor Phil Scott of Vermont signed first-of-its-kind legislation on Wednesday to allow importing prescription drugs from Canada.

The law allows Canadian drug wholesalers to sell their products to wholesalers in Vermont. Other states permit individuals, but not wholesalers, to import prescription drugs. Before being enacted, the law must first be certified by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Both President Donald Trump’s administration and drug companies have voiced their opposition to the legislation.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 16, 2018

Expanded Short-Term Health Plans Could Cost Government $1.2 Billion

President Donald Trump’s proposal to increase short-term health plans to 12 months would attract more consumers and cost up to seven times more than previously estimated, according to an independent study conducted by Medicare’s chief actuary Paul Spitalnic.

Originally, the Trump administration estimated that the plans would enroll a few hundred thousand consumers and cost between $96 million and $168 million a year. However, the plan could increase federal spending by $1.2 billion next year, Spitalnic believes.

Spitalnic estimated that premiums for the short-term plans would average $340 per month compared to $600 for unsubsidized silver plans sold on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. The lower cost of the plans would attract people who don’t need all the essential benefits, which would lead to “relatively less healthy” people in the ACA marketplaces.

The study also found that “skimpy” short-term plans would cover 50 percent of enrollee costs, compared to 70 percent for ACA silver plans.

Oregon ACA Plans Request 8% Average Increase

Oregon’s seven insurance companies that sell Affordable Care Act plans have requested premium changes for 2019 that would raise costs an average of 8 percent.

The increases range from Regence BlueCross and BlueShield’s 5 percent hike to HealthNet’s request of 16.3 percent. PacificSource is the only company asking for a decrease, requesting 10 percent lower premiums due to lower-than-expected costs.

Oscar ACA Plans to Expand Into More States

Oscar Insurance Corp. announced that it will begin to sell Affordable Care Act plans in Arizona and at least three additional states for 2019 enrollment. Due to incomplete state filings, Oscar CEO Mario Schlosser was not able to name the other markets it will enter.

“We feel comfortable that the risk pool will remain comfortable, and that we can roll out the blueprint for expansion that we have in more areas,” Schlosser said.

This year, Oscar enrolled 240,000 people in ACA plans, up from 90,000 in 2017.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 15, 2018

Survey: Number of Uninsured Americans Rises to 15.5%

About 15.5 percent of Americans between 19 and 64 are uninsured in 2018, up from 12.7 percent in 2016, according to a new Commonwealth Fund tracking survey. That’s 4 million people who have dropped coverage between the two years.

Specific findings in the survey include:

  • Texas leads the nation in uninsured residents with 4.5 million without insurance. That number includes nearly 700,000 uninsured children.
  • States that have not implemented the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion have seen a rise in uninsured residents from 16.1 percent in 2016 to 21.9 percent this year.
  • About 20 percent of people in the South are currently uninsured.
  • About 5 percent of adults are expected to drop coverage in 2019 due to the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate.

HHS Considers Plans to Reduce Medicare Drug Prices

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that he is studying a plan to help lower the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries.

Azar wants to simplify the way Medicare pays for some expensive drugs by having them paid through Part D instead of Part B.

“We believe there are more private sector entities equipped to negotiate these better deals in Part B, and we want to let them do it. More broadly, the President has called for me to merge Medicare Part B drug payments into Part D, where negotiation has been so successful,” Azar said.

A pilot program could be used to roll out the new plan, but no details have been released.

Medica Doubles ACA Enrollment Numbers

Health insurance company Medica increased the number of people enrolled in plans it sells on the Affordable Care Act marketplace from 91,000 in 2017 to 196,479 in 2018. Most of the increase came from Iowa and Nebraska, where it is currently the only choice on the state exchange.

Maryland’s Expanded Medicare All-Payer Model Approved

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) approved Maryland’s requests to expand its unique all-payer model.

The state requires Medicare payers to charge the same rate for all hospitals. The new model will include nonhospital community providers such as long-term care and mental health facilities.

The new model is expected to save Medicare $1 billion by 2023.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 14, 2018

Up to 10% of ACA Enrollees Could Switch to Association Health Plans

Enrollment in Affordable Care Act plans could drop anywhere from 3 to 10 percent due to people switching to less-expensive association health plans (AHPs), according to a new study released Friday by The Actuary magazine.

The study analyzed two scenarios based on how association plans could be implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor. In both scenarios, the analysis showed that:

  • healthier people are more likely to switch to association health plans.
  • the cost of ACA premiums would rise as a result.

The first scenario projects a 3 percent drop in ACA enrollment if self-employed individuals are allowed to opt in to AHPs. In this instance, enrollees would be subject to strict verification requirements and could not be excluded due to health status.

The second scenario projects a 10 percent drop in ACA enrollment if self-employed AHP enrollees could be excluded based on health status and the regulations preempt some state regulatory authority.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 11, 2018

HHS Secretary Defends 12-Month Short-Term Insurance Plans

During a Senate budget hearing Thursday, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar reiterated his support of short-term insurance plans that can be purchased for up to 12 months.

The lower-cost plans do not require the Affordable Care Act’s 10 essential benefits nor are they required to cover pre-existing conditions.

Azar said that the plans “may not be the right option for everybody” but are better than being uninsured. “If we start making them the equivalent of the Affordable Care Act, we’ll end up with the same pricing regime [and the problem of unaffordable insurance won’t be solved],” he said.

NY and MN Settle Lawsuit Over ACA’s Basic Health Programs

Officials in New York and Minnesota have settled a lawsuit against Health and Human Services (HHS) over its decision to cut funding for the states’ Basic Health Programs, which insure residents whose income is above the Medicaid threshold, but below 200 percent of the poverty level.

HHS will pay $151.9 million to New York and $17.3 million to Minnesota by May 14.

“We are gratified that the federal government has agreed to make this interim payment,” Acting New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “We hope and expect that, in the coming weeks, we’ll reach agreement with the federal government on a payment formula for the program, so that we can resolve this matter fairly and appropriately for all New Yorkers.”

HHS stopped funding the programs in December 2017 as part of the decision to stop cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies. Funding for the Basic Health Programs is partially determined by CSR subsidy amounts.

The Basic Health Programs were established by the Affordable Care Act and cover 800,000 low-income people in New York and Minnesota, the only states that operate the programs.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 10, 2018

CMS to Update Online Medicare Plan Finder Tool

At the urging of patient advocates, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will update its Medicare Plan Finder tool to make it easier for consumers to navigate.

“CMS is undertaking several consumer-friendly improvements for Medicare Open Enrollment so that people with Medicare can make an informed choice between original Medicare and Medicare Advantage,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

Some of the new features will include:

  • A mobile out-of-pocket cost calculator for prescription drugs
  • A simplified login process
  • A webchat option

The improvements will be ready by the 2019 enrollment period, which begins October 15, Verma said.

GOP Senators Try to Accelerate ACA State Waiver Process

Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (TN) and Susan Collins (ME) are in discussions with CMS Administrator Seema Verma about expediting the process for states to obtain Affordable Care Act innovation waivers to establish reinsurance programs.

Insurance companies are beginning to request premium increases for 2019 plans, and reinsurance programs can help balance the increases, but getting approval in time is a factor.

“Obviously most of what we proposed to do has to be done with legislation, but [Verma] might have some flexibility to change things,” Alexander said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 9, 2018

CMS Hopes to Improve Services in Rural Areas

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled a new rural healthcare strategy Tuesday that addresses how its policies affect rural providers and communities.

The department wants to alleviate disparities by:

  • Loosening telehealth regulations
  • Reaching out to rural providers to increase awareness of CMS programs
  • Pinpointing the policies that work best for the 60 million people who live in rural areas

“This administration clearly understands that one of the keys to ensuring that those who call rural America home are able to achieve their highest level of health is to advance policies and programs that address their unique healthcare needs,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

The document did not contain any specific policy measures.

Senator Working With Trump Administration on ACA Flexibility

After failing in a bipartisan effort with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to help stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplace and lower premiums, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is now in talks with the Trump administration for solutions.

In a recent letter to supporters, Alexander said that he is working with the president’s officials to find “other administrative actions they can take to give states more flexibility to help lower health insurance premiums, especially for the 9 million working Americans in the individual market who do not receive a federal subsidy.”

In a separate statement, Murray expressed her disappointment with Alexander’s partisan efforts.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 8, 2018

CMS Hires Contractor to Validate Medicare Beneficiary Addresses

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has signed an emergency $5.5 million contract with a vendor to help ensure that the new Medicare ID cards are mailed to the correct beneficiaries.

A data vulnerability revealed that some addresses may not be accurate. West Publishing Corp. has been tapped to track down beneficiaries and ensure that the cards are not misdirected.

CMS has planned to mail new cards to approximately 60 million Medicare enrollees by April 2019.

Maryland Insurers Request 2019 ACA Rate Hikes of up to 91%

Two health insurance companies in Maryland have sent requests to the state for double-digit premium increases on 2019 plans sold on the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield has asked for an increase of 18.5 percent for its HMO plans and a hike of 91.4 percent for its PPO plans. Kaiser Permanente has proposed an overall 37.4 percent increase.

The companies cite several Trump administration policies that may cause healthy people to drop their coverage, including the repeal of the individual mandate, intentions to allow short-term plans to extend the maximum period to 12 months, and the approval of “skimpier” health plans that do not meet all ACA regulations.

State regulators must approve the increases by the annual enrollment period in November before they can go into effect.

House Farm Bill Includes Establishment of Association Health Plan

The House version of a massive farm bill includes $65 million in loans and grants to help organizations create association health plans for ranchers, farmers, and other agribusiness.

The bill proposes that, beginning in 2019, the secretary of Agriculture could issue up to 10 loans of no more than $15 million each to existing agricultural associations. Due to changes from the Trump administration, the plans would not have to offer the Affordable Care Act’s 10 essential health benefits.

The bill was approved by the House Committee on Agriculture last month but is currently waiting consideration on the House floor.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 7, 2018

Virginia Insurance Companies Ask for Double-Digit Premium Increases

Two insurance companies in Virginia have requested significant premium rate hikes for their 2019 Affordable Care Act health plans, citing the repeal of the individual mandate as the primary reason.

Cigna has asked for an average premium increase of 15 percent for its 103,264 Virginia enrollees. CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield is seeking a 64 percent hike for its 4,500 enrollees.

However, Optima Health has asked for a 5 percent decrease for 2019 ACA premiums. The remaining four state insurers participating in ACA exchanges have yet to file rate requests.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 3, 2018

Price Explains Support for ACA Individual Mandate Repeal

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that comments he made at Tuesday’s World Health Care Congress were taken out of context. At the event, Price said the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate would increase insurance premiums and destabilize the marketplace.

“Repealing the individual mandate was exactly the right thing to do. Forcing Americans to buy something they don’t want undermines individual liberty as well as free markets. The only fair and effective way to bring down health-care costs is to allow markets to create more choices for consumers and small businesses,” Price said in a statement on Wednesday.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 2, 2018

Former HHS Secretary Criticizes ACA Individual Mandate Repeal

Tom Price, former secretary of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate will drive up premiums and damage marketplace stability.

“[…] There are many, and I’m one of them, who believes that that actually will harm the pool in the exchange market, because you’ll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market, and consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks within that market,” he said.

Price’s remarks during the World Health Care Congress are a reversal from his previous position during his time in the Trump administration, where he pushed for a repeal of the law and its individual mandate.

CMS Concerned About Medicaid Work Requirements in Non-Expansion States

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said Tuesday that she’s worried about some people losing coverage if Medicaid work requirements are approved in states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Verma is concerned about a “subsidy cliff.” This would happen if a person earns enough to make them ineligible for Medicaid but not enough to receive a subsidy for a marketplace plan, causing them to be uninsured.

“Because there is no tax credit for them to move on to the exchanges, what happens to those individuals? We need to figure out a pathway, a bridge to self-sufficiency,” Verma said.

Work permit waivers in Arkansas, Indiana, and Kentucky have been approved. Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Utah, and Wisconsin are currently seeking waivers, with other states expected to follow soon.

Healthcare Reform News Update for May 1, 2018

ACA Medicaid Expansion an Issue in Maine, Idaho, and Virginia

Several of the 18 states that have not expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act are now either putting the measure up for ballot votes or creating legislation. Under the ACA, Medicaid expansion provides insurance coverage to adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $16,800 for an individual and $34,600 for a family of four.

The topic has been raised this week in Maine, Idaho, and Virginia:

  • In Maine, supporters of the Affordable Care Act filed a lawsuit against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to force it to implement a law that was approved by voters in November. Republican Governor Paul LePage refuses to expand Medicaid services to the 80,000 residents that qualify, despite 59 percent of voters approving the measure.
  • An activist group in Idaho has collected enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot in this fall’s election. Similar efforts are underway in Nebraska and Utah.
  • In Virginia, the state legislature is working on an expansion bill that includes a work requirement for eligible enrollees. Arkansas, Indiana, and Kentucky have previously been granted approval to require that Medicaid beneficiaries be employed.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 30, 2018

House Democrat Proposes Changes to ACA Enrollment

Representative Ami Bera (D-CA) has unveiled two healthcare bills that would change how and when people sign up for individual insurance.

Bera’s first bill proposes reducing uninsured rates by providing states with grants to test a system that would automatically enroll consumers into Affordable Care Act health plans or Medicaid. Enrollees would have 60 days to opt out.

“Reducing complexity and making non-enrollment the onerous choice has been found to be both popular and effective. Opt-out enrollment in retirement plans boosted participation rates to 90 percent from just 33 percent using traditional enrollment,” according to Bera’s office.

His second bill moves the end of the open enrollment period to April 15, lining up with the deadline to file taxes. Bera thinks consumers would be more willing to sign up in spring rather than the busy holiday season.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 27, 2018

CMS Extends Renewal of Transitional Health Plans

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has allowed an extension for transitional health plans through December 31, 2019.

Transitional plans were available to individuals and small groups prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and do not comply with all of the law’s regulations. These “grandmothered” lower-cost plans were initially allowed to continue coverage in 2014 and have received three prior extensions.

There are currently about 1 million enrollees in transitional plans, and moving these consumers to ACA plans would help lower premiums, experts say. Since transitional plans base their premium costs on health status, they often attract healthier Americans, which increases the premiums of plans sold on the ACA marketplace.

States are allowed to discontinue the transitional plans, but many lawmakers fear that doing so would cause consumers to cancel their health coverage.

20 States Ask Court to Invalidate the Affordable Care Act

A coalition of 20 states, led by the attorneys general of Texas and Wisconsin, has asked a federal court to temporarily overturn Affordable Care Act regulations.

The coalition filed its original suit in February. The suit argues that, when Congress repealed the penalty for being uninsured, it invalidated the overall law. That lawsuit has been challenged by 16 Democratic governors.

This latest filing asks the court to grant a preliminary injunction while the larger suit proceeds.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 26, 2018

California Marketplace Director Calls on HHS to Restore ACA Outreach Funds

Peter Lee, the executive director of California’s state-run Affordable Care Act marketplace, has requested that Health and Human Services (HHS) reinstate the previous funding levels for advertising and outreach for the ACA’s open enrollment period.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday, Lee warned that the 90 percent cut to funding by the department last year will be a factor in higher health insurance premiums for ACA plans.

“The reality is clear: If the federal government maintains the current cuts in marketing and outreach, premiums will be higher than necessary, consumers will be hurt as a result, and taxpayers will pay the price by supporting higher [than] necessary subsidies,” Lee wrote.

Throughout the past two years, enrollment for ACA plans on the national marketplace declined by 9 percent overall, and first-time enrollees decreased by 40 percent. For state-run ACA marketplaces, which maintained their outreach funding levels, enrollment remained steady.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 24, 2018

Insurance, Hospital Groups Weigh in on Short-Term Health Plans

Associations representing insurance companies and hospitals have sent comments to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar about the department’s plan to extend short-term health insurance plans to 12 months.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, a leading industry lobbying group, warned that the extension would curtail access to affordable comprehensive coverage and raise premiums for those with pre-existing conditions. “Policies that disproportionately draw healthy consumers away from the individual market, like expanding access to short-term plans, will likely have an even more devastating effect on affordability, choice, and competition,” the organization said.

Alliance of Community Health Plans believes short-term plans should remain capped at their existing 90-day limit and an extension would destabilize the individual health insurance marketplace. Association for Community Affiliated Plans also expressed concern that the plans would harm consumers and warned that, in the past, coverage has been rescinded for some beneficiaries who try to file substantial claims.

Some insurance companies, such as Aetna, Agile Health Insurance, and The IHC Group, are generally in favor of the proposal but request some consumer protections, including:

  • Allowing plans to be in effect until the next open enrollment period
  • Prohibiting the practice of denying claims based on pre-existing conditions more than a year old
  • Limiting policy rescissions to occurrences when enrollees omit information on applications
  • Creating a minimum coverage guarantee
  • Allowing state insurance departments to create a standardized policy that would be effective in several states

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 23, 2018

Judge Grants Class-Action Status to Insurance Companies in CSR Lawsuit

Judge Margaret Sweeney of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has allowed insurance companies to sue the federal government as a class concerning its failure to pay cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments.

The request for class-action status came from Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative. If the group is successful in court, the government could be responsible for billions in back payments of CSR bills.

The government argued that a class-action suit was not appropriate because damages to individual companies would vary since many insurers raised premiums to offset the CSR payment cutoff.

It’s expected that the government will appeal the decision.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 20, 2018

Wisconsin Seeks a Federal Waiver for Reinsurance Program

Wisconsin has requested a waiver from the federal government for a state reinsurance program, which will help insurance companies pay for the most expensive claims.

The $200 million program is expected to help lower premiums for the state’s Affordable Care Act health plans by 5 percent in 2019, which is a significant reversal from this year’s increase of 44 percent.

Currently, Wisconsin has more than 202,000 residents enrolled in ACA plans with premiums averaging $751 a month. With the reinsurance program, premiums are projected to average $710.

“We feel very, very positive about our ability to get an approval and do so on a timely basis,” said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 19, 2018

Senate Democrats Propose New Healthcare Option

Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with eight Democratic cosponsors, introduced an expanded public option healthcare proposal on Wednesday.

The Choose Medicare Act is a compromise idea that borrows measures from “Medicare for all” proposals and builds on existing measures of the Affordable Care Act.

The proposal gives consumers and businesses the choice to use private health insurance coverage or Medicare-based coverage. It also increases ACA subsidy amounts and includes people with higher income levels than current requirements allow.

CA Hospitals Must Continue ACA Charity Care Obligations

Three hospitals in California have been ordered to pay millions of dollars in lump-sum payments to local nonprofit organizations after state Attorney General Xavier Becerra declined their requests to be relieved from Affordable Care Act charity obligations.

The hospitals argued that insurance gains under the ACA last year overrode the law’s requirement to provide free or discounted care (or other charity donations) in exchange for tax breaks.

Senators Request Justification for Risk Corridor Decisions

The ranking Democrats of the Senate finance and health committees have asked Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to explain the department’s sudden decision to stop making risk-corridor payments to insurance companies on the ACA marketplace.

Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have requested the disclosure of:

  • The accounting practices used to rationalize the decision.
  • Why the department believes it no longer has “unfunded obligations” to the insurance companies.
  • Whether federal accounting standards or Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance was used as justification.

“The Trump administration’s approach to funding the risk-corridors program amounts to budgetary whiplash, leaving many unanswered questions about its ability to be good financial stewards of taxpayer funds,” Wyden and Murray wrote.

An HHS spokesperson responded that the department “has updated its accounting of the risk-corridor program to reflect the fact that there is no obligation to make payments beyond the amounts collected from insurers under the program.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 17, 2018

Utah Likely to Include ACA Medicaid Expansion on Ballot

Organizers in Utah have collected enough signatures to put an Affordable Care Act expansion of Medicaid initiative on the state’s election ballot this fall. The advocacy group Utah Decides Healthcare needed more than 113,000 signatures; it gathered more than 165,000.

If passed by voters, the measure will allow 150,000 Utah residents who make 138 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll in Medicaid with no enrollment caps.

Utah lawmakers are also working on a “partial expansion” proposal that would include a work requirement and limit enrollment to residents who make up to 100 percent of the poverty level, which is about $25,000 for a four-person family. The proposal would cover 60,000 people. CMS’ approval of the measure is unclear, since the ACA requires the full 138 percent.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 16, 2018

New Jersey Legislature Approves 3 State Healthcare Stabilization Initiatives

Late last week, New Jersey lawmakers passed three healthcare bills to address rising costs and consumer protections, including a state individual mandate penalty.

The bills awaiting Governor Phil Murphy’s signature include:

  1. A requirement that most New Jersey residents have health insurance, or pay a fine of either 2.5 percent of their household income or $695 per adult and $347.50 per child, whichever is greater. This law would be the first of its kind since President Donald Trump signed the tax bill late last year that included a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.
  2. A reinsurance plan that helps insurance companies cover the most expensive healthcare claims.
  3. An out-of-network consumer protection measure that requires healthcare providers to disclose whether they are in a patient’s insurance network and discuss the patient’s out-of-pocket costs prior to an appointment. It also includes extensive reporting and transparency requirements for insurance companies.

Congressional Lawmakers Decry Short-Term Insurance Proposal

The top Democrats of five House and Senate committees have asked the Trump administration to scrap its proposed rule to increase the availability of short-term health insurance plans from three months to 12 months.

The short-term plans do not include consumer protections currently included in plans sold on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, including equal premiums for those with pre-existing conditions, as well as coverage for mental health care and prescription drugs.

“This proposed rule would expand the availability of discriminatory, deceptive, and insufficient plans … that deceive consumers into thinking they are covered for major medical expenses and is yet another attempt to sabotage the health care markets on which millions rely for coverage,” wrote Democratic Representatives Richard Neal (MA) and Bobby Scott (VA) and Senators Ron Wyden (OR) and Patty Murray (WA).

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 13, 2018

Poll: Slim Majority Favors a Single-Payer Government Program

A new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that 51 percent of Americans are in favor of the government creating a single-payer national health plan.

Democrats are more strongly in favor of a single-payer program, with 74 percent supporting it, compared to nearly 20 percent of Republicans. A majority of Independents support the program, with 54 percent saying they favor the program.

This latest poll mirrors a similar one last year that showed a 53 percent majority supporting a single-payer program.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 10, 2018

ACA Rules for States Relaxed, New Individual Mandate Exemptions Added

President Donald Trump’s administration has taken steps to weaken Affordable Care Act rules on state insurance standards and provide exemptions to the law’s individual mandate.

Under the final rule issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS), states will have more control over individual health plan coverage. States will be allowed to:

  • Have more flexibility in how they choose their essential health benefits (EHB)-benchmark plan. From CMS’s press release: “Instead of being limited to 10 options, states will now be able to choose from the 50 EHB-benchmark plans used for the 2017 plan year in other states or select specific EHB categories, such as drug coverage or hospitalization, from among the categories used for the 2017 plan year in other states.”
  • Request “reasonable adjustments” to the medical loss ratio formula (MLR) if it could help stabilize the state’s healthcare exchange. The MLR is the amount an insurance company spends on medical claims compared with income from premiums.
  • Require state regulators to review premium increases of 15 percent or more. Previously, the threshold was 10 percent.

The administration also added two retroactive exemptions to the rule that requires all Americans to have health insurance coverage. The mandate was repealed late last year, but the penalty is in effect until 2019.

Exemptions will be available to people living in areas where only one insurer is selling ACA health plans. They will also extend to those who oppose abortion but live in places where the only available plan covers abortion services.

Sixteen Attorneys General File to Defend ACA from Texas Lawsuit

A group of attorneys from 15 states and the District of Columbia have filed a motion to intervene in a Texas lawsuit that claims the Affordable Care Act has become invalid since the individual mandate’s repeal.

Led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the motion states that eliminating the law would cause “immediate and irreparable harm” to residents of their states.

“We’re taking this action to protect the health and financial security of millions of people in our country, as well as billions of dollars of federal funds that go to our states to make sure that we can afford the healthcare that our families need,” Becerra said.

CBO Predicts Rise in Some ACA Premiums

The premiums for ACA silver plans will increase by 34 percent for 2019 plans, due mostly to the repeal of the individual mandate and the cutoff of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies, according to a new estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO also expects federal subsidies to rise 21 percent in response to the premium increases. It projects that, after 2019, subsidies will rise by 5 percent per year for the next decade.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 6, 2018

Maryland Tackles Measures to Stabilize State ACA Exchange

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) has expressed his support for legislation that will establish a reinsurance program and keep premiums down for plans on the Maryland Health Care Exchange.

Hogan signed the bipartisan reinsurance bill Thursday, which will require a federal waiver before being enacted.

A separate bill, passed by the legislature Thursday, will enable the state to use $380 million that insurance companies no longer pay in federal taxes to help keep insurance premiums from rising on the state’s healthcare exchange throughout the next year. Hogan is expected to sign the bill next week.

Insurance Companies May Lose Profitability Due to CSR Elimination

Due to the way the Affordable Care Act calculates risk adjustment, smaller health insurance companies that sell plans on the marketplace could hit a profitability snag. The problem stems from the Trump administration’s elimination of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments late last year.

The lack of CSRs caused those costs to be placed into the middle-tier silver plans, creating higher premiums for those plans, a process called “silver-loading.” It also made smaller companies take on a larger share of risk.

Since tax credits are based on the price of silver plans, enrollees who qualified for subsidies were able to purchase bronze plans for a low or even $0 premium. These higher-risk enrollees could cause insurance companies to lose money when it comes time for risk-adjustment payment transfers.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 4, 2018

Signups for 2018 ACA Plans Take a Dip

CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced Tuesday that 11.8 million people signed up for 2018 plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. The total is roughly 400,000 fewer than last year, a much smaller number than predicted before the enrollment period began in November.

Other enrollment information released by the department includes:

  • Of all signups, 27 percent were new enrollees.
  • The average premium for those signing up on the federal exchange before tax subsidies were applied was $621 compared to $476 for 2017.
  • Of all enrollees, 7 percent chose gold plans, 29 percent chose bronze plans, and 63 percent chose silver plans.
  • A majority, 83 percent, of enrollees qualified for tax subsidies.

The federal exchange saw a reduction in signups, and states with their own marketplaces remained equal to last year’s, according to the report.

Ohio Asks for ACA Individual Mandate Waiver

Ohio is the first state to seek a waiver for the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

Even though Congress repealed the penalty for not having insurance late last year, the requirement that all Americans have health coverage is still in effect, the state’s insurance director said.

Approval of the waiver has the potential to reduce health insurance premiums for residents.

CMS Expands Medicare Advantage Coverage

This week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced its plan to expand products and services covered by Medicare Advantage plans.

The department has revised its definition of “primarily health-related” benefits to help Medicare Advantage enrollees lead more independent lives. Some of the new services could include minor home modifications such as grab bars, transportation to and from medical appointments, and home-delivered meals.

A prescription is not needed for the new covered services, but they must be “medically appropriate” and recommended by a healthcare provider. Coverage will vary depending on the plan.

Healthcare Reform News Update for April 3, 2018

Poll: Most ACA Enrollees Are Satisfied With Their Plan

Most people who have purchased their health plan on the Affordable Care Act exchange like their insurance coverage but fear that the marketplace is “collapsing,” according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Tuesday.

Findings from the poll include:

  • 61 percent of marketplace enrollees are satisfied with their insurance choice
  • 53 percent think the ACA marketplace is collapsing
  • 19 percent are aware that the individual mandate was repealed but is currently still in effect
  • 34 percent said the mandate was the main reason for purchasing health insurance
  • 90 percent of those with a nongroup plan said they would still purchase insurance without the mandate
  • 58 percent of ACA enrollees say they are worried about a lack of available insurance coverage in the future

Georgia Bill Mandates Commissions for Health Plans

A new law in Georgia makes it mandatory for all insurance companies to pay commissions to agents and brokers for virtually all health insurance plans, including those sold on the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The law does not provide specific amounts for commissions or require commissions for individual plans sold during ACA special enrollment periods.

The law was created in response to the falling number of agents and brokers selling ACA plans. The number of brokers registered for the federal ACA exchange is down 31 percent from last year and 50 percent from 2015.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 29, 2018

Iowa Governor to Sign Legislation for Alternatives to ACA Health Plans

On Tuesday, Iowa lawmakers approved a bill that will allow the state to sell two new types of cheaper health plans that do not meet some requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Governor Kim Reynolds (R) is expected to sign it.

The legislation includes:

  1. Association health plans for small businesses and the self-employed.
  2. Benefit plans sold through a partnership between the Iowa Farm Bureau and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. These plans are not health insurance and will not be required to comply with state or federal insurance regulations.

Neither of the plans will include the ACA’s essential health benefits such as maternity care, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, or equal premium charges for those with pre-existing conditions.

The Trump administration has not indicated whether it will challenge the state’s law.

Premiums for Minnesota State Exchange Plans Reduced by 15 Percent

New research from the Urban Institute found that 2018 insurance premiums on MNsure, Minnesota’s state healthcare exchange, are 15 percent lower than last year’s.

Researchers found that the average silver plan on the MNsure marketplace for a 40-year-old nonsmoker was $365 for 2018 compared to $429 in 2017. The reduction was primarily due to the state’s enactment of a reinsurance program in 2017.

“Last year, [Minnesota] premiums were significantly above the national average,” said Erik Wengle, an Urban Institute researcher. “With the addition of reinsurance payments, that has come down to significantly below the national average.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 27, 2018

Poll: Healthcare Remains Primary Concern for Majority of Americans

For the fifth continuous year, healthcare is a top concern for a majority of Americans, according to a new Gallup poll conducted March 1-8.

When asked about the cost and availability of healthcare:

  • 55 percent worry about the topic “a great deal.”
  • 23 percent worry “a fair amount.”
  • 23 percent worry “only a little” or “not at all.”

The poll included 14 additional issues. Other top-ranking worries include crime and violence, government spending, and the availability of firearms.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 23, 2018

Majority Whip Plans to Put ACA Stabilization Bill Up for Vote

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said Thursday that “there will be a vote” on an Affordable Care Act stabilization bill that was removed from the omnibus spending package.

Lawmakers are at odds over abortion language within the legislation. Republications support new ACA funding aimed at lowering premiums that would add abortion restrictions, which Democrats oppose.

It’s not clear whether the bill would be added to the spending package as an amendment or if it would be presented as a stand-alone measure.

Washington State Expands Reproductive Health Coverage

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the state’s Reproductive Parity Act into law, which expands Affordable Care Act provisions for maternity, contraception, and abortion access.

The new law requires insurance companies to provide abortion coverage if they also cover maternity care. It also ensures that there are no out-of-pocket costs for any form of contraception.

The law will “make sure that women have access to the full spectrum of healthcare they need without cost barriers or stigma,” Inslee said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 22, 2018

ACA Stabilization Left Out of Spending Package

The bipartisan plan to help stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplace was dropped from Congress’ $1.3 trillion spending package. The effort stalled due to disagreements between lawmakers over abortion language and auto-renewal of short-term health plans.

Advocacy group America’s Health Insurance Plans was disappointed by the decision. “In every other market, state and federal leaders have supported healthy markets that deliver better affordability and care,” the group said in a statement. “Through employer-provided coverage, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid-managed care, nearly 300 million Americans see the value that insurance providers bring to improve health, access, and financial security. Americans who rely on the individual market deserve the same access to stable and affordable comprehensive coverage.”

The package includes new ACA oversight provisions:

  1. Congressional committees must be notified by CMS before any ACA-related data or grants are released.
  2. The president’s administration must “publish ACA-related spending by category since its inception” and publicly release the personnel and processes required to execute, manage, or enforce ACA rules.

Also included was the provision that continues the ban on risk corridor payments to insurance companies.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 21, 2018

Warren Proposes New Bill to Increase ACA Affordability, Reliability

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) submitted a new bill Wednesday that intends to help healthcare plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace be more affordable and reliable.

The legislation, titled the Consumer Health Insurance Protection Act, would work with the current healthcare system to improve the efficiency of both individual and employer-sponsored coverage. Some provisions in the bill include:

  • Enabling more people to qualify for premium subsidies.
  • Capping premiums at 8.5 percent of income.
  • Basing premium subsidies on the cost of gold plans.
  • Capping out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions at $250 per month for private plans.
  • Requiring private insurance companies to spend 85 percent of premium dollars on insurance claims.
  • Barring insurance companies from dropping enrollee coverage during their course of treatment.
  • Increasing funding for ACA outreach and education.
  • Requiring that insurance companies cover the 10 essential benefits as outlined in the ACA.
  • Reinstating cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments.
  • Requiring insurance companies that bid on public healthcare plans in areas of the country with limited competition to also offer plans on the ACA marketplace.

The bill is co-sponsored by senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), (Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). It has also been endorsed by liberal groups Families USA, Public Citizen, Consumers Union, and Community Catalyst.

The Congressional Budget Office has not yet estimated how much the bill would cost.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 20, 2018

Chances Dwindle for ACA Stabilization Inclusion in Funding Bill

The inclusion of restored cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments in Congress’ $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package, which would keep the government from another shutdown, is uncertain due to last-minute negations.

Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) hoped to include the measure, which will help stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplace, in the spending package. President Donald Trump on Monday voiced his support for the provision.

Lawmakers are at odds over abortion language. Republicans want to include expanded Hyde Amendment restrictions to prohibit federal funding for abortions. Democrats say that doing so would restrict access for many low-income women.

“One of the regrets we have about the negotiation is that we thought there’d be a chance to have a health piece, like ‘reinsurance,’” Pelosi said on Thursday.

The spending bill needs to be finalized by Friday to avoid a government shutdown. Without the stabilization measures, ACA health insurance premiums are expected to rise significantly for 2019 plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 19, 2018

Virginia Debating ACA Expansion of Medicaid

Virginia may include a proposal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act during a special session for a budget agreement that begins April 11. The state is one of 18 that has not enacted the expansion.

The issue became possible after November’s election of Democratic Governor Ralph Northam and the flipping of 15 state House seats to Democrats. However, Republicans who are against the expansion continue to be a slim majority of 51 to 49.

Second Liberal Group Comes Out Against CSR Funding

Liberal advocacy group Families USA has said it opposes the proposal in Congress to fund the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies. The announcement comes after last week’s analysis from liberal group The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed the funding would raise premium subsidies.

“Enacting the new proposal from Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will be worse for consumers than if Congress does nothing at all to stabilize the individual insurance market. If this is the best package members can produce, we encourage Congress to reject it,” Families USA wrote.

Report: Most Blue Cross Plans Saw ACA Profitability in 2017

For the first time in four years, most Blue Cross Blue Shield plans saw profitability on the Affordable Care Act marketplace, according to a new Politico analysis of financial filings.

The study showed that:

  • Of 29 regional Blue plans, all but eight earned money from ACA plans.
  • On average, the plans spent 80 percent of premium revenue on medical costs, down 12 from the previous year.
  • Health Care Service Corporation improved its premium revenue versus medical cost percentage 18.5 percent; Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina improved by 10 percent.
  • The 29 regional plans had 4.5 million ACA enrollees in 2017, which comprised one-fifth of the total marketplace enrollment.

Insurance companies caution that analyzing financial performance of a single year can be misleading and that a variety of factors can upend the statistics for 2018, including the repeal of the individual mandate and the possible expansion of non-compliant short-term plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 16, 2018

Idaho Lawmakers Discuss State Health Plans with Washington Officials

Idaho Insurance Commissioner Dean Cameron and Idaho Senator Jim Risch met with officials from the Trump administration on Wednesday to discuss the state’s plan to sell lower-cost health insurance plans that do not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma denied the state’s proposal last week on legal grounds, suggesting that the plans be sold instead as short-term health insurance plans. Cameron has opposed the idea.

Cameron said he will “see what areas we can further adjust and decide how and when to submit that to Ms. Verma.” One possibility, he said, is providing discounts to healthy enrollees because charging people with preexisting conditions higher premiums goes against ACA rules.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 15, 2018

Senators’ Revamped Stabilization Bill Will Lower Premiums by 10 Percent

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Susan Collins (D-ME) have revised their Affordable Care Act stabilization package in hopes that it will be included in next week’s omnibus funding bill. If enacted, it will reduce premiums by 10 percent in 2019 and 20 percent in 2020 and 2021, according to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

The new stabilization package includes:

  • Three years of funding for ACA cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies
  • $30 billion for three years of federal reinsurance and invisible high-risk programs
  • Expansion of catastrophic plans to people 30 years old and older
  • Increased ability for states to design their own health plans
  • Streamlining the process for states to implement their own plans
  • A “requirement that funds not be used for plans that cover abortions”

It’s unclear whether the new package has enough support to pass.

New Poll Shows Americans Shifting ACA Responsibility

A new Morning Consult/Politico poll of nearly 2,000 registered voters, shows that 44 percent of Americans hold former President Obama responsible for the state of the Affordable Care Act, which is down from 50 percent compared with a poll conducted in October. Twenty-eight percent of respondents held President Trump accountable, which is comparable to the October poll.

Other findings from the poll:

  • 49 percent of respondents support the concept of single-payer healthcare
  • 50 percent of respondents believe “that the nation spends too little on healthcare”


Healthcare Reform News Update for March 13, 2018

Conservative Coalition Asks Congress to Deny ACA Stabilization Efforts

A group of 15 conservative organizations asked Congress on Monday to reject a “bailout” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the upcomng omnibus spending bill.

The group is against including cost-sharing reduction (CSR) and reinsurance payments in the government funding bill that needs to be passed by March 23 to avoid a government shutdown.

“Lawmakers should fulfill their longstanding promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare, not setting the dangerous precedent of bailing it out,” wrote the coalition that includes Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, and Heritage Action

Premera Blue Cross Commits to Washington State and Alaska

Citing a refund made possible by the new tax law, health insurance company Premera Blue Cross announced that it will continue to provide coverage on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace in Washington state and Alaska in 2019.

The company committed to offering health insurance to any counties in Washington that lack an insurance company on the state’s ACA marketplace. It also pledged to “ensure continued stability” in Alaska where it is the only health insurance company on the ACA marketplace.

“This refund has given us an unexpected opportunity to reach beyond our own company to further address the critical health care needs of the communities where we live and work. I am especially pleased to continue our commitment to the individual market and build stability for families in Washington and Alaska,” said Premera Blue Cross CEO Jeff Roe in a statement.

Judge Strikes Down Challenge to ACA Birth Control Exemptions

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton rejected a lawsuit that challenged the Trump administration’s easing of Affordable Care Act (ACA) contraception rules.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy filed the suit, hoping to overturn rules that allow businesses and nonprofits to claim religious or moral objections in providing birth control.

In his decision, Gorton cited a new Massachusetts law that requires all employer health plans to cover contraception with no co-pays, saying that it prevents companies from taking advantage of the exemptions and that women in the state were less likely to be affected by the federal law.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 12, 2018

Liberal Group Says Funding CSRs Would Hurt Subsidized ACA Enrollees

A new analysis from the liberal group The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that funding the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies in Congress’s upcoming omnibus spending bill would “do more harm than good.”

When President Trump cut off the CSR funding late last year, insurance companies raised premiums on ACA health insurance plans to make up for the loss of funding. Because of a “quirk” in the law’s structure, the increased premiums made the plans more affordable for lower-income Americans by increasing premium subsidy amounts (premium tax credits). According to the analysis, resuming CSR funding would reduce the premium subsidies and increase costs for subsidized enrollees.

The group believes that lower-income enrollees would be better served by blocking the Trump administration’s call to create “skimpier, cheaper” short-term health plans, which could draw people away from ACA-compliant plans.

Idaho Governor to Continue Talks About Non-Compliant Health Plans

Idaho Governor Butch Otter said on Friday that the Trump administration’s rebuke of the state’s plan to provide health insurance that does not meet Affordable Care Act requirements was not a rejection.

“In fact, we consider the letter an invitation from CMS to continue discussing the specifics of what can and cannot be included in state-based plans,” said Otter in a statement with the

lieutenant governor and state insurance commissioner.

“Idaho’s proposal would allow [insurance companies] to sell plans that charge people with pre-existing conditions more, which is barred by ObamaCare, and not cover all of the health services required under the health law.” However, in her letter, CMS Administrator Seema Verma offered the state another way to do this: short-term health plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 9, 2018

Trump Administration Rejects Idaho’s State-Based Health Plans

Idaho’s plan to allow stripped-down, low-cost health insurance that does not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act is unlawful, said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma in a letter to the state’s Republican Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter.

In the letter sent Thursday, Verma said that, since the health plans do not meet the minimum ACA standards, the federal agency would have to enforce the law, which would pull regulatory authority away from the state and fine insurance companies up to $100 per day for every resident enrolled in a noncompliant plan.

Verma listed eight areas where the plans did not meet legal standards, such as failing to cover the 10 essential health benefits; charging customers more based on age, location, or history; and discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

With some modifications, the proposed plans could be legally issued as short-term plans.

Study: ACA Premiums Could Increase Up to 94%in 3 Years

Insurance premiums could rise for individual plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace between 35 and 94 percent by 2021, according to a new study from Covered California, the state’s healthcare exchange.

The study found that the primary factor in the increase was the repeal of the individual mandate, which imposed a penalty on Americans without health coverage. Other causes include a shorter open enrollment period and the president’s recent plan to extend “skimpy” short-term plans.

“The effect is going to be: The individual market will be poor people who get subsidies and sick people who buy no matter what. And the middle class will be priced out of insurance in about a third of America,” said Covered California’s Executive Director Peter V. Lee.”

Florida Bill Would Broaden Eligibility for Healthcare Ministries

The Florida Legislature passed a bill Wednesday aimed at increasing enrollment in healthcare sharing ministries.

Participation in the ACA-exempt programs is currently limited to people who share the same religious beliefs. The new bill, if signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott, would expand eligibility to include people who hold the same ethical beliefs.

Trump Proposes Eliminating CSR Reimbursements for 2017

The White House urged Congress on Thursday to pass legislation that doesn’t authorize cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments and reinsurance for 2017—even though insurers contributed to the program.

The request states that insurers should pay back any excess money paid out by the government before President Donald Trump cut off the payments late last year.

The proposed legislation asserts that “… there is no obligation under this act or any other act, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to make payments on or after October 1, 2017 for purposes of reconciling any such cost-sharing reduction payments made for benefit years 2016 or 2017.”

The proposal also makes clear that insurers are still obligated to make CSR payments to their low-income enrollees.

HHS Secretary Touts Healthcare Options

The Trump administration would do what it can “within the law” to allow insurers to sell health plans that don’t meet Affordable Care Act rules, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday.

Speaking at a conference sponsored by America’s Health Insurance Plans, Azar said he wants to ensure that consumers have choices in their healthcare decisions.

“More broadly, we are committed to using the flexibilities we have within the law to allow insurers to offer competitive products that work for consumers. We know the layers of regulation imposed by the Affordable Care Act have made this almost impossible. Consistent with the law, we want to work with you to open up new affordable and flexible options,” he said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 8, 2018

GOP Senator Proposes Splitting ACA Individual Marketplace

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) has authored a new bill that would essentially divide the individual Affordable Care Act marketplace into two separate exchanges.

Barrasso’s plan would create non-ACA compliant, short-term plans that last as long as 364 days and give enrollees the option of guaranteed renewability. Premiums would be allowed to go up if the enrollee became more expensive to insure.

Critics of the plan say it would create a parallel marketplace, with healthier people moving to the cheaper, “skimpier” short-term plans and sicker people staying with ACA policies. Since the ACA plans are not allowed to discriminate based on risk, the premiums on ACA plans could then go up significantly.

New Analysis Charts Outperformance of State-Run ACA Marketplaces

The 17 states that run their own Affordable Care Act marketplaces perform better than the federal marketplace, according to a new analysis from The Commonwealth Fund. The data review found that state-run marketplaces have:

  • Lower projected premiums ($633 per month vs. $526 per month) for the individual market.
  • Lower projected medical claims ($478 per month vs. $419 per month).
  • A lower portion of premiums going to medical claims rather than overhead (20.2 percent vs. 24.7 percent).
  • A lower percentage of cost increases in 2018 compared to 2017.
  • A lower percentage of rate increases year over year.

State Attorneys General Demand Hearing on Association Plans

A coalition of 17 Democratic state attorneys general has sent a formal comment letter to the Labor Department asking for public hearings on the Trump administration’s plans to expand association health plans.

The administration’s proposal would allow groups to purchase cheaper health plans that don’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, including coverage of essential health benefits such as maternity care, prescription drugs, and mental health care.

The coalition, led by attorneys general Eric Schneiderman of New York and Maura Healey of Massachusetts, said the measure undermines protections in the ACA.

The proposal “is nothing more than an unlawful end run around the consumer protections enshrined in the Affordable Care Act, part of President Trump’s continued efforts to sabotage the ACA,” Schneiderman said.

Changes to Dodd-Frank Could Affect Medicare Insurance Agents

Three sections of a proposed change to the Dodd-Frank Act, called the “Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act” bill, could change some reporting requirements for Medicare insurance agents.

The three sections of the bill would:

  1. Possibly provide federal legal protection if the agent reports suspicious financial abuse of seniors to authorities.
  2. Require insurers to provide training and credential tracking if they want their agents to report suspicions of elder abuse.
  3. Make available annual reports from the federal government about international insurance regulatory developments.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 7, 2018

White House Would Back ACA Stabilization With Conservative Changes

The Trump administration would support efforts to stabilize the Affordable Care Act, but only if measures backed by conservatives are included, according to a memo issued by the White House.

The memo includes support for renewing cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments and states that all efforts need to be “life-protected,” which prevents government funds from being used for abortions.

“Although congressional efforts to provide taxpayer money to prop up the exchanges is understandable, any such efforts must also provide relief to middle-class families harmed by the law and protect life,” the memo states.

The document specified three policies that the administration wants to pursue, including:

  1. Extending “skimpier” short-term health plans, which Trump previously proposed, and allowing them to be renewed with no health underwriting.
  2. Expanding access to health savings accounts.
  3. Allowing insurers to charge older people as much as five times more than younger people (the current ratio is three to one).

OMB Analysis: CSR Funding Would Lower Premiums Up to 20%

Funding Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies would lower premiums by 15 to 20 percent, significantly more than a reinsurance program, according to an analysis by the Office of Management and Budget.

The analysis found that reinsurance would reduce premiums by 1 percent for every $1 billion spent on the program.

“We project funding CSRs would have a greater impact on reducing premiums than any of the reinsurance funding levels that have been proposed, and would have more bang for the buck in terms of federal spending,” according to the analysis.

Health Coalition Urges Congress to Include ACA Stabilization in Funding Bill

A group made up of healthcare providers and insurers has asked congressional lawmakers to include funds for stabilizing the Affordable Care Act in an omnibus spending package scheduled for later this month.

“Congress has an important opportunity to act and reduce premiums for consumers for 2019, but time is running short. We urge you to take immediate action to advance bipartisan legislation that includes both premium reduction/reinsurance and funding for CSR benefits as part of the March 23rd omnibus appropriations,” the group said.

The coalition includes America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Hospital Association, and the American Medical Association.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 6, 2018

Federal Appeals Court Revisits Cost-Sharing Reduction Settlement

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is calling into question a settlement deal over cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidy payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act.

The settlement agreement said that House Republicans, the Trump administration, and liberal states would not cite a previous ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer in any future case. Collyer ruled in 2016 that the Obama administration did not have the authority to make the CSR payments because Congress did not properly fund them.

On Monday, the federal court panel issued an order to pursue further briefing in the case. The order questioned the legality of overturning part of the lower-court order.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 5, 2018

Congressman Wants Immediate Repeal of ACA Individual Mandate

Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is calling for the immediate repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

Currently, the penalty for not having health insurance is in effect until 2019. Meadows would like to eliminate the penalty for 2017 and 2018 tax returns.

“Unfortunately, many Americans believe the mandate to be immediately repealed and no longer in effect, but will be surprised to learn that it still applies for both 2017 and 2018 tax returns. Congress must resolve this,” Meadows wrote in a letter to a House Appropriations Committee subpanel.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 2, 2018

California Could Lose 18% of ACA Marketplace Enrollees Next Year

Without the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, 18 percent of California residents with Covered California marketplace health plans could drop their coverage, according to a new survey by Harvard Medical School researchers.

Without a penalty for being uninsured, healthier residents are more likely to go without coverage. The loss of these enrollees could raise premiums by 12 to 16 percent next year.

“While California would continue to have a stable individual market, and we have the reserves and flexibility to adjust for this impact, the impacts would be real and significant for California’s consumers,” said Peter Lee, Covered California’s executive director.

Healthcare Reform News Update for March 1, 2018

Association Plans Could Bump 4.3 Million Off ACA Coverage

The Trump administration’s plan to expand association health plans could cause between 2.4 million and 4.3 million people to switch from ACA marketplace plans to association plans by 2022, according to a study by Avalere Health.

The study also found that the association plans would cause:

  • A premium increase for ACA marketplace plans by as much as 4 percent.
  • Between 130,000 to 140,000 people to become uninsured by 2022 due to high premiums.
  • Between 1.7 million and 3.2 million people to exit the small group market.
  • 700,000 to 1.2 million people to leave the individual market.

Premiums for the association plans could be up to $10,800 lower than the individual market and up to $4,100 lower than the small group market.

“Changes that allow or incentivize healthier individuals to exit the individual and small group market to pursue other, sometimes non-ACA-compliant coverage offerings, could lead to higher costs for those sicker, less healthy individuals and groups who remain behind in the ACA-regulated markets,” the study states.

Wisconsin Governor Signs Reinsurance Bill

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) signed a bill Tuesday that will allow the state to apply for a federal waiver to help stabilize its health insurance marketplace though a reinsurance program.

The program would cover 80 percent of medical claims between $50,000 and $250,000, which would help lower premiums for healthier residents by 13 percent in 2019 and 12 percent in 2020.

“Our Health Care Stability Plan is our solution to Washington’s failure; we want to provide health care stability and lower premiums for Wisconsin,” Walker said.

GOP Lawmakers Consider Budget Procedure for ACA Funds

Republican leaders in the House are considering a complex budget maneuver to help pay for Affordable Care Act funds—a controversial move as many conservatives see the action as a “bailout.”

The two-step plan would direct the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to take cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments out of its baseline for projected federal spending. It would then use the savings from the first step to pay for reinsurance programs. The move would help lower premiums and, subsequently, reduce the cost of government subsidies for health insurance.

Supporters of the plan say it would fund reinsurance programs without having to create a budget for it. But conservative lawmakers call the move a budgetary “gimmick.”

ACA Popularity Reaches Record High

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 54 percent of Americans approve of the Affordable Care Act, the highest rating since the group began its monthly poll in 2010.

In addition, only 13 percent of respondents were aware that the repeal of the individual mandate goes into effect in 2019. Others were either unaware of the repeal or unclear on when it will be implemented.

Health Agents Meet With Washington Legislators

Over 700 members of the National Association of Health Underwriters are attending a conference in Washington, D.C., this week. The group plans to lobby lawmakers on a number of topics including stabilizing subsidy programs, protecting the group health premium tax exclusion, and addressing Affordable Care Act agent compensation rules.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 27, 2018

20 States Sue to End Affordable Care Act

A lawsuit filed against the federal government by 20 states claims that the Affordable Care Act is now unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, led by the attorneys general of Texas and Wisconsin, states that the ACA is invalid without the individual mandate tax penalty for not having coverage, which was repealed last year.

“The U.S. Supreme Court already admitted that an individual mandate without a tax penalty is unconstitutional. With no remaining legitimate basis for the law, it is time that Americans are finally free from the stranglehold of Obamacare, once and for all,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 26, 2018

Report: Short-Term Policy Expansion Will Raise Premiums

The Trump administration’s proposal to extend short-term health plans that fall short of Affordable Care Act regulations will increase premiums for traditional plans, according to analysis by the Urban Institute.

Rates would rise by 18 percent in in the 43 states that allow less-comprehensive short-term plans, according to the study. It also projects that 2.5 million Americans would drop their marketplace plans to switch to the short-term plans, compared to the 100,000 to 200,000 predicted by the Trump administration.

Iowa Group Plans to Offer Non-ACA Compliant Plans

A bill currently under review in Iowa would allow the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to offer low-cost health insurance that doesn’t meet ACA requirements.

The Farm Bureau would partner with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield to provide members a with a plan that could charge higher premiums for those with pre-existing conditions.

The plan would be available to any Iowa resident who pays the Farm Bureau’s $55 annual dues. The group says that around 28,000 current members would be eligible to enroll.

Trump Touts Efforts to ‘Wipe Out’ ACA

President Donald Trump said his administration’s actions on healthcare, such as eliminating the individual mandate and allowing skimpy “short-term plans,” are gradually chipping away at the Affordable Care Act.

Trump made these comments at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.

“I think we may be better off the way we’re doing it, piece by piece, Obamacare is just being wiped out. The individual mandate essentially wipes it out, so I think we may be better off. And people are getting great healthcare plans, and we’re not finished yet,” Trump said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 23, 2018

State Leaders Propose Plan for Healthcare Improvements

A bipartisan group of governors will unveil a plan to help improve the nation’s healthcare system today at a National Press Club event.

Their plan includes a variety of suggestions to improve affordability, stability, and flexibility for states, including:

  • Restoring insurer subsidies.
  • Increasing outreach for the Affordable Care Act marketplace’s open enrollment period.
  • Implementing reinsurance programs.
  • Streamlining regulations.
  • Cutting Medicaid costs.

The governors included in the event are John Kasich (R-OH), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and Bill Walker (I-AK).

Democratic Lawmakers Question Idaho Insurance Commissioner

Four democratic members of the congressional committee that oversees healthcare have sent a letter to Idaho Insurance Commissioner Dean Cameron about the state’s intention to sell health plans that fall short of Affordable Care Act regulations.

Senators Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. of New Jersey and Richard Neal of Massachusetts requested a staff briefing on the state’s plan.

The letter states: “We strongly oppose efforts that result in higher costs and undermine consumer protections that are guaranteed by federal law that protect women, people with pre-existing conditions, and others facing discrimination in access to health care, and therefore request an explanation of how the Idaho Department of Insurance will regulate insurance plans being sold in the individual market that are not compliant with federal law.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 22, 2018

Policy Group Releases Plan for New Type of Universal Health Coverage

Liberal think tank Center for American Progress has proposed a new government health plan called Medicare Extra for All that would allow individuals and employers to enroll but would also preserve employer and insurer coverage.

Medicare Extra would be based on the existing Medicare payment system. Companies and individuals could choose to continue with their current health coverage or enroll in the proposed plan.

Here’s a look at some of Medicare Extra’s features:

  • Open to all U.S. citizens and lawful residents
  • Free services would include preventive care, treatment for chronic disease, and generic prescription drugs
  • Dental, vision, hearing, and long-term care would be covered
  • Premiums would be determined based on income
  • Current Medicare Advantage enrollees would continue to have similar coverage, renamed Medicare Choice

Center for American Progress did not include cost estimates for the program but recognized that implementation would require tax increases.

States Consider Reinsurance Plans

Wisconsin and Maryland are making efforts to set up reinsurance plans to help stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplace in their respective states.

This week, Wisconsin lawmakers approved a plan that would allow the state to apply for a federal waiver to obtain reinsurance funds to help insurers with their most expensive claims. Governor Scott Walker called the action a “market-driven solution that will lower premiums.”

In Maryland, lawmakers held hearings this week to discuss their own bill to apply for reinsurance funds. “We’re looking this year at stabilizing the exchange, because, as you know, if we don’t do something, it’s going to blow completely up,” said State Senator Thomas Middleton.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 21, 2018

Companies Receiving Penalty Notices for ACA Violations

For the first time, the Internal Revenue Service is sending notices to hundreds of companies that have violated the Affordable Care Act’s provision requiring they provide health coverage for their employees.

Companies with more than 50 full-time employees face fines for failing to comply with the law in 2015, the first year the mandate was applied. The penalty can reach between $2,000 to $3,000 per employee, depending on a variety of factors.

Some affected companies are fighting back against the penalty, saying that it is invalid because they never received a legally required warning.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 20, 2018

Trump Proposal Expands ‘Skimpy’ Short-Term Plans to 12 Months

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it wants to extend the limits of lower-cost short-term plans that do not include the consumer protections built in to the Affordable Care Act.

The proposal expands the availability of so-called “skimpy” plans from three months to 12. Unlike ACA marketplace plans, these short-term options can refuse coverage due to pre-existing conditions and cap payout amounts, which could leave those covered with large out-of-pocket costs.

Opponents of the plans say consumers may not be aware of their limited benefits. Supporters say the plans offer the uninsured more affordable coverage options to people who don’t qualify for ACA subsidies.

“The status quo is failing too many Americans who face skyrocketing costs and fewer and fewer choices,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “The Trump Administration is taking action so individuals and families have access to quality, affordable healthcare that works for them.”

The proposal will be open for comments from the public until April 23.

Trump Administration Appeals Judge’s Birth Control Decision

Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice have appealed a decision that blocked Trump administration changes to the Affordable Care Act, which allowed more employers to opt-out of offering no-cost birth control to women.

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam blocked the ACA changes in December. On Friday, lawyers filed a notice of appeal saying that it was unclear if the law would cause women to lose no-cost contraception coverage.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 16, 2018

Lawmakers Closer to Drafting an ACA Stabilization Bill

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) met with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) on Thursday to try to reconcile Affordable Care Act stabilization proposals.

The lawmakers compared a reinsurance bill by Alexander and Collins to one proposed by Representative Ryan Costello (R-PA). They hope to include the resulting ACA stabilization measure in an omnibus funding bill due next month.

HHS Secretary to Review Idaho State-Based Health Plans

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday that he would examine Idaho’s acceptance of health plans that do not meet the standards set in the Affordable Care Act.

“We’ll be looking at that very carefully and measure it up against the standards of the law,” he said. Azar also said he believes that the plans are a “cry for help” for more affordable coverage.

Azar added that it was too early for him to know what actions he might take.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 15, 2018

Alex Azar Asserts Compliance With ACA Regulations

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told a congressional panel Wednesday that he will comply with the Affordable Care Act as long as it remains federal law.

Azar’s comment was in response to a question about Idaho’s divisive decision to allow insurers to sell plans that don’t meet ACA requirements. Critics of the state’s proposal say the measure goes against consumer protections built into the law and that the plans should be scrapped.

“I’m not aware that our opinions or views have been solicited,” Azar said. “There are rules, and there’s a rule of law that we need to enforce.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 14, 2018

Idaho’s First Non-ACA-Compliant Healthcare Plans Filed

Blue Cross of Idaho is the first insurer to file health plans under a controversial Idaho executive order allowing insurance companies to sell plans that don’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

On Tuesday, the insurer submitted five non-ACA-compliant plans that it expects to sell this spring. Called “state-based” plans, they could be approved next month. The plans are geared toward the state’s 110,000 uninsured middle-class residents, many of whom earn too much to qualify for subsidies to purchase ACA plans.

Once approved, the plans will be sold on the state’s exchange, Your Health Idaho. The plans include:

  • Coverage of all the essential health benefits outlined by the ACA.
  • Deductibles from $2,000 to $10,000.
  • Maternity care in four of the plans.
  • $0 copay for preventative care.
  • Narrow networks with heavy penalties for non-network services.
  • Large out-of-pocket maximums.
  • $1 million limit on claims per year.

Proposed premiums for the state-based plans for a 21-year-old on a $4,000 deductible plan would range from $89.91 to $242.79, compared to $237.60 for an ACA plan. A family of four could pay from $435.58 to $1,176.24, compared to $933.05 for an ACA plan.

Budget Deal Includes Medicare Advantage Reforms

The Bipartisan Budget Act approved by President Donald Trump last week includes multiple reforms to Medicare Advantage (MA) plans. Some of the provisions include:

  • Permanent reauthorization of Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans (D-SNPs).
  • The availability of telehealth services.
  • Expansion of supplemental benefits such as grab bars and wheelchair ramps.
  • Giving all 50 states the ability to reduce or eliminate copayments or waive the deductible for high-value services for patients with certain chronic conditions.

The legislation has fewer reforms for traditional Medicare but did provide a two-year extension of the Independence at Home program and added telehealth availability.

House Speaker Wants ‘Incremental’ Healthcare Reform

Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Tuesday that “incremental entitlement reform” would be a more effective way of passing healthcare legislation than the sweeping repeal-and-replace measures of past years.

Ryan did not specify what actions he’d like to address but noted the recent repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and last week’s budget deal that raised premiums for high-earning Medicare beneficiaries.

One healthcare reform measure currently under discussion by House Republicans is repealing or delaying the ACA’s employer mandate. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said he wants to ensure that businesses with 50 employees or more are not imposed fines or punitive measures retroactively for not offering health coverage throughout the past three years.

Trump’s Budget Proposal Funds ACA Program

Even though President Donald Trump’s budget request includes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, it provides more than $800 million in mandatory appropriations to fund its risk corridor program.

The risk corridor plan is a fund that was established in 2014 to pay insurers for heavy losses during the first years of the ACA’s implementation.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a long-time critic of the risk corridor plan, demonstrated his disapproval of the proposal Tuesday in a series of tweets. “It’s unacceptable that programs that matter to #Florida could see cuts while the gov’t continues to bail out private insurers to protect them from consequences of #Obamacare,” he tweeted.

Oregon Bill Makes Healthcare a Right

Oregon’s House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday to create a constitutional amendment, stating “it is the obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, medically appropriate and affordable healthcare as a fundamental right.”

If passed by the state’s Senate and then approved by voters, the legislation would be the first of its kind in the country.

Critics of the bill say there are no funds to support such a measure, and it could make the state vulnerable to lawsuits.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 13, 2018

White House Pushes Elimination of ACA in Budget Proposal

The budget request, released by the White House on Monday, proposes replacing the Affordable Care Act with a series of block grants to states.

The request says that the budget “supports a two-part approach to repealing and replacing Obamacare,” based on the failed Graham-Cassidy bill from 2017. Repealing the ACA could save more than $90 billion over 10 years, according to the proposal.

Most lawmakers in Congress have not been supportive of continued efforts this year to eliminate the law.

Other healthcare-related cuts in the president’s budget include:

  • $69.5 billion in Medicare payments over 10 years to hospitals for “uncompensated care”
  • $22 billion from Medicare Advantage plans
  • $48 billion in Medicare payments over 10 years to teaching hospitals

The budget also includes a proposal to create a limit on Medicare out-of-pocket drug costs.

Budget Act Will Raise Medicare Premiums for High-Income Earners

The Bipartisan Budget Act passed late last week includes a provision that will raise Medicare premiums for the wealthiest beneficiaries by 5 percent.

Beginning in 2019, individuals who earn $500,000 or more and couples who earn $750,000 or more will pay 85 percent of Part B and Part D premiums. The income threshold will be frozen until 2028.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 12, 2018

Medicare Part D Coverage Gap to Close in 2019

President Donald Trump signed a budget deal February 9 including a provision that will close the Medicare “donut hole” in 2019, a year earlier than previously scheduled.

Beginning next year, Medicare Part D beneficiaries will pay 25 percent of the cost of prescription drugs after they reach the coverage gap, which is currently $3,750. This year, enrollees will pay 35 percent of brand-name drugs’ overall cost and 44 percent for generic drugs.

Since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the law has gradually reduced the financial responsibility for Medicare beneficiaries who have reached the Part D coverage gap.

Under the new law, drug manufacturers will pay 70 percent of drug costs for beneficiaries in the coverage gap beginning in 2019 compared to the current 50 percent.

Once out-of-pocket costs reach $5,000, beneficiaries are eligible for catastrophic coverage and won’t pay more than 5 percent of prescription drug costs.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 8, 2018

Murray Asks for Additions to ACA Stabilization Bill

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) is advocating for renegotiations on an Affordable Care Act stabilization bill that would significantly expand subsidies, helping more people afford health insurance.

Currently, the bill Murray drafted with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) restores cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments that President Donald Trump canceled last year. Murray wants to continue to restore CSR payments, but she also wants to make subsidies more generous and expand eligibility requirements to offset expected premium increases due to the repeal of the individual mandate.

Also, Murray is asking to restore outreach and funding for ACA enrollment and to prevent the sale of “skinny” insurance plans.

2018 ACA Signups Show ‘Remarkable Stability’

Almost 11.8 million Americans enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans during this year’s Open Enrollment Period, which is a 3.7 percent drop from 2017, according to a new report released by the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP).

“For the first time we now have the full national picture of how the individual marketplaces did this year, and it is a picture of remarkable stability,” said NASHP Executive Director Trish Riley.

Although states on the federal health exchange saw enrollment drop by 5.3 percent, eight of the 12 states that run their own health exchanges showed an increase in enrollment. Some state findings from the NASHP report include:

  • Florida and California continue to have the most enrollees with 1.7 million and 1.5 million, respectively.
  • Rhode Island had the highest increase in enrollment at 12.1 percent.
  • Arizona had the largest decline in enrollment at 15.6 percent.
  • California enrollment fell 2.3 percent overall but saw an increase in new enrollees.

“Despite all the uncertainty and challenges we have seen, particularly for consumers living in states supported by state-based marketplaces, we see millions of Americans continuing to benefit from the coverage they get in the individual market,” Riley said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 7, 2018

House Bill Cuts $2.85 Billion From ACA Public Health Fund

The House’s proposed short-term funding bill cuts $2.85 billion over 10 years from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund to help pay for other healthcare programs.

The cut is opposed by public health groups who say it could hamper the activities of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including vaccination, anti-smoking, and lead-poisoning prevention efforts.

A spokesperson for Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans said the funds will be used for public health efforts such as special diabetes programs and community health centers. In addition, the spokesperson said that funding for the Prevention and Public Health Fund will remain at the current levels of around $1 billion per year as the cuts only affect planned future increases.

More Than 1.6 Million Enroll in Centene ACA Plans

Health insurer Centene Corporation had more than 1.6 million people enroll in plans it sells on the Affordable Care Act marketplace for 2018, making it the leading ACA carrier. The company increased its enrollments from last year by more than 640,000.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 6, 2018

Blue Cross Blue Shield Backs Reinsurance Efforts

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said Monday that there is an “urgent need” for lawmakers to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace, especially by dedicating funding to reinsurance.

Citing data from consulting firm Oliver Wyman, the health insurance group said that $15 billion in reinsurance funding, combined with cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, could lower next year’s silver plan premiums by 17 percent.

Association officials said these measures would more than offset expected premium increases caused by the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate late last year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 5, 2018

New York Health Exchange Reaches 4.3 Million Signups

New York’s state-run Affordable Care Act marketplace signed up a record number of enrollees during this year’s Open Enrollment Period, which ended January 31 for the state.

More than 4.3 million New Yorkers signed up for coverage, an increase of 700,000 from 2017.

Healthcare Reform News Update for February 1, 2018

House GOP Softens Position on Reinsurance Proposal

Some key Republicans in the House have expressed interest in supporting reinsurance, which represents a shift from the party’s previous resistance to Affordable Care Act (ACA) stabilization efforts.

A proposal from Representative Ryan Costello (R-PA) to provide funding in 2019 and 2020 has been gaining support from other Republican colleagues, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (OR) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA).

“If it lowers premiums, I’m willing to listen to any ideas,” said Mark Meadows (R-NC), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.

The measure is expected to be discussed during this week’s GOP retreat in West Virginia.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 30, 2018

Pro-ACA Group Launches Ads Targeting GOP Lawmakers

The Affordable Care Act advocacy group Save My Care is releasing television ads this week that are critical of Republican efforts to repeal the law.

The ads claim that the failed bills GOP lawmakers proposed would have increased health insurance premiums and left millions of people without coverage. They will run in West Virginia, where Congressional Republicans are holding a retreat, in addition to Washington D.C., Maine, and Alaska.

Leslie Dach, Save My Care’s campaign chairman, hopes the ads will remind lawmakers to act. “It’s time to listen to what Americans demand, move on from repeal and sabotage, and work on bipartisan solutions that keep and improve on the Affordable Care Act,” he said in a press release.

Azar Sworn in as HHS Secretary

Alex Azar was sworn in Monday to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

“As our new secretary, Alex will continue to implement the administrative and regulatory changes needed to ensure that our citizens get the affordable high-quality care that they deserve,” President Donald Trump said at a White House ceremony honoring Azar.

Azar was confirmed last week in a 55-43 Senate vote.

Open Enrollment Period Ends Tomorrow for 3 Exchanges

California, New York, and Washington D.C. will end their Open Enrollment Periods at midnight January 31.

California’s state exchange has signed up about 1.2 million residents renewing their policies and 342,000 new enrollees. New York will enroll 2.1 million people. And the Washington D.C. exchange says its poised to match last year’s numbers.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 29, 2018

Trump Administration Sued Over Cuts to ACA Plans

The attorneys general for New York and Minnesota have sued the Trump administration for cutting off more than $1 billion in annual federal funding for state Affordable Care Act plans that cover almost 1 million low-income residents.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced December 21 that it would not pay the $266 million to New York or $32 million to Minnesota for their Basic Health Program plans in the first quarter. The cuts represent more than 25 percent of the overall funding to the programs and $1.2 billion over one year.

The states are the only two that participate in the Basic Health Program, which provides low out-of-pocket plans with premiums of $0 to $80 per month. New York has 700,000 enrollees.

“The abrupt decision to cut these vital funds is a cruel and reckless assault on New York’s families,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 26, 2018

Two Reinsurance Bills Vie for Congressional Support

Two rival reinsurance bills — one with only GOP support in the House, the other with bipartisan support in the Senate — are complicating ACA stabilization efforts.

The House version, sponsored by Representatives Ryan Costello (R-PA) and Collin Peterson (D-MN), will cost $30 billion over three years at the discretion of the secretary of Health and Human Services. It consolidates a federal reinsurance program and includes retroactive funding of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments for 2017 and funding for 2019.

The Senate bipartisan version, sponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), uses 1332 wavers to give states a $2.25 billion pool every two years to fund their own reinsurance programs.

Costello says his approach has the advantage of “speed, efficiency, and certainty,” because obtaining waivers can be uncertain. Collins says the waivers will ultimately benefit states more.

Costello and Collins have discussed the proposals, and talks are ongoing. It’s unclear which proposal has more support from lawmakers.

Warren Calls for ACA Supporters to ‘Go on Offense’

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in a Thursday speech called for supporters of the Affordable Care Act to be more aggressive over healthcare issues in response to Republican efforts to repeal the law.

“We need to do more than play defense,” she said at a conference held by Families USA, a liberal healthcare advocacy group. “I believe it is time for us to go on offense.”

Warren spoke about building on the ACA’s fundamentals, including creating a public health insurance option and expanding Medicare eligibility. She also criticized insurance carriers and said the government needs to “hold America’s insurance companies accountable.”

Healthcare Not Priority for Battleground Voters

Even though healthcare is a top issue for voters nationwide, it lags behind the economy, North Korea, and immigration as a priority for voters in states with competitive political races, according to a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Nationwide, healthcare is the top issue for 29 percent of voters, followed by the economy and immigration. For the 13 states with congressional or gubernatorial races, 21 percent of voters choose healthcare as the priority.

The poll also found that 50 percent of voters were not aware that the ACA’s individual mandate had been repealed. The same percentage said they supported the ACA.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 25, 2018

Azar Confirmed as Health & Human Services Secretary

Former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar was confirmed Wednesday as the new secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in a 55-43 Senate vote.

Azar previously served the department as general counsel and then as deputy secretary under former President George W. Bush. “He understands the process, and he knows the levers and how you make it work and where the potential roadblocks are,” said former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt.

Azar has four main objectives for the department:

  • help contain prescription drug prices
  • make health insurance more affordable and accessible
  • continue working to make Medicare payments based on quality—not quantity
  • tackle the opioid addiction epidemic

Idaho to Allow Sale of Non-ACA-Compliant Health Insurance

Idaho revealed a plan Wednesday that would allow the sale of health insurance that does not meet the consumer protections established under the Affordable Care Act. It’s the first state to do so without prior federal approval.

The director of the Idaho Department of Insurance says the plan is necessary to make cheaper insurance available to more people. But the legality of the measure is being questioned by healthcare experts.

Under Idaho’s guidelines, the new, cheaper plans could:

  • Deny coverage for pre-existing conditions for up to 12 months
  • Exclude pediatric dental coverage and vision care
  • Charge people more based on where they live, health history, and age
  • Charge consumers separate out-of-pocket maximums for different services

Insurers in the state would continue to have ACA-compliant marketplace plans available.

Trump Administration Seeks to Expand Individual Mandate Exemptions

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was repealed last month, but it doesn’t go into effect until 2019. In response, the Trump administration is exploring ways for more consumers to qualify for exemptions on 2018 tax returns.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is creating guidance to expand hardship exemptions but has yet to finalize or publish the details.

Ted Cruz Continues Fight to Repeal ACA

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Wednesday said he is still working to repeal the Affordable Care Act this year.

Cruz said he has been “speaking with a wide number of senators” about repeal efforts and is trying to get enough support for an effort to pass.

“I don’t think leadership is interested in going down this road again until we can get 50 votes, and so we need to do the hard work of bringing the rest of the conference together. I think we’re still quite close,” he said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 24, 2018

ACA Tax Delays Will Cost $31.3 Billion

The postponement of three Affordable Care Act taxes in the stopgap spending bill, which ended the three-day government shutdown, will reduce federal revenue by $31.3 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

  • Delaying the medical device tax will cost $3.8 billion.
  • Postponing the Cadillac tax will cost $14.8 billion.
  • Deferring the health insurance tax will cost $12.7 billion.

HHS Nominee Advanced by Senate

Alex Azar, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), won Senate approval Tuesday in a 54-43 vote. Final confirmation is expected today. Azar is a former Eli Lilly executive.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 23, 2018

Stopgap Bill Includes 3 ACA Tax Delay Extensions

The bill that reopened the federal government today includes three measures that affect the Affordable Care Act.

The “Extension of Continuing Appropriations Act, 2018″ (ECAA) bill will delay:

  • the start date of the ACA’s Cadillac tax through 2022.
  • the health insurance tax through 2019.
  • the medical device tax through 2019.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the three taxes represent $12.7 billion in federal revenue.

California Marketplace Enrollment Up 7 Percent

Covered California, the state’s ACA marketplace, has signed up about 342,000 healthcare enrollees since Open Enrollment began November 1. That’s a 7 percent increase compared to the same time last year.

“The demand — as well as the need — for health insurance is as strong today as it was when we first began offering coverage five years ago,” said Peter V. Lee, Covered California’s executive director, in a statement.

Enrollment will continue for the state through January 31.

ACA Stabilization Bills Still Alive in Congress

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) remains optimistic about bipartisan legislation created to help lower premiums and stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Collins expects the measures to be included in an omnibus bill due for a vote within the next few weeks.

“Our negotiations with the House are going very, very well. The deadline slipped but the policy is what is important,” she said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 18, 2018

Azar Moves to Full Confirmation for HHS Secretary

The Senate Finance Committee voted 15-12 to advance Alex Azar’s nomination to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). All committee Republicans voted for Azar; Tom Carper (DE) was the only Democrat voting in support of the nominee.

Azar was an HHS official during the George W. Bush administration and is a former executive for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. Azar has said he intends to cut back the Affordable Care Act through new regulations and help stem the rise of drug prices.

A confirmation date has not been scheduled, but lawmakers expect a vote by the end of the month.

GOP Plans for ACA Taxes Unveiled

Republican lawmakers introduced measures Tuesday to suspend or delay some ACA taxes as part of the efforts to avoid a government shutdown.

The proposals include delaying the health insurance tax (HIT) for one year and a two-year delay on the medical device tax and the Cadillac tax on high-cost insurance plans. It also included a six-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Opponents have asked to suspend the HIT tax retroactively for 2018, saying it would lower premium costs. “While we welcome the suspension of the health insurance tax (HIT) in 2019, small businesses need help now. It’s critical that policymakers provide urgent relief and much-needed certainty by suspending the tax immediately for 2018 and 2019,” said Elena Tompkins, executive director of Stop the HIT, a coalition representing small-business owners.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 16, 2018

Uninsured Americans Grew to 12.2 Percent Last Year

After years of decline due to the Affordable Care Act, the number of Americans who do not have health insurance rose to 12.2 percent in 2017, compared to 10.9 percent at the end of 2016, according to a new national survey from Gallup.

This is the first time in nine years where there was not a year-over-year decrease in the number of uninsured.

About 3.2 million Americans lost coverage in 2017. Especially affected were young adults, blacks, Latinos, and households making less than $36,000 a year. The majority of the newly uninsured had previously purchased individual insurance, rather than receiving group coverage from an employer, Medicare, or Medicaid.

It’s expected that the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken portions of the Affordable Care Act, such as repealing the individual mandate, could continue to impact the number of uninsured. “It seems likely that the uninsured rate will rise further in the years ahead,” according to the report.

Republican Leaders Hope to Eliminate ACA Employer Mandate

House Republicans Devin Nunes (CA) and Mike Kelly (PA) have introduced a bill that would suspend the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers offer healthcare to employees, canceling penalties that would be imposed for any year from 2015 to 2018.

“The employer mandate is a job-killer, a wage-killer, and a business-killer,” said Representative Kelly.

Currently, if an employer does not offer minimum essential coverage to full-time employees, the business is subject to a penalty of $2,260 per year for each employee in excess of 30. It’s estimated that businesses will pay $12 billion in penalties in 2018.

Democrats oppose repealing the employer mandate saying that the measure has not harmed businesses since the law’s implementation in 2010.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 12, 2018

ACA Exchange Carrier Faces Lawsuit

A class-action lawsuit claiming inadequate access to doctors was filed Thursday in a federal court against Centene, one of the largest insurance carriers on the federal healthcare exchange.

Centene sells Ambetter plans in more than 15 states and insures 1.4 million people. In some areas of the country, the company is the only provider available on the exchange.

The lawsuit alleges that Centene falsified its network of doctors and that patients have trouble finding providers who accept the plans. “Centene misrepresents the number, location and existence of purported providers by listing physicians, medical groups and other providers — some of whom have specifically asked to be removed — as participants in their networks and by listing nurses and other non-physicians as primary care providers.”

The company said it was not aware of the lawsuit until Thursday. According to a spokesperson, “We believe our networks are adequate. We work in partnership with our states to ensure our networks are adequate and our members have access to high quality healthcare.”

House Chairman Hopes ACA Cadillac Tax Will Be Eliminated

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said there is a chance that a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac tax” could be included as part of the government funding measure under negotiation in Congress. Currently, the tax will not go into effect until 2020.

The Cadillac tax imposes a 40 percent excise tax on employer-funded health insurance plans that cost more than $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 11, 2018

Internal Document Discloses Trump Administration’s ACA Strategy

An internal Trump administration document recently obtained by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) outlines 10 actions that Health and Human Services (HHS) planned to implement via executive authority to make changes to the Affordable Care Act.

The March 23, 2017, document says the measures would “improve the individual and small group markets most harmed by Obamacare.”

Casey called the list “sabotage” of the ACA. “The primary problem here is government officials, government agencies, were taking steps that would lead to fewer people having coverage and erecting barriers to people having coverage,” Casey said.

The document was used during a meeting with House GOP lawmakers in March, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Most of the proposals have since been implemented. The suggested actions include:

  1. Require 100 percent verification for Special Enrollment Periods.
  2. Tighten rules on payment grace periods.
  3. Shorten the Open Enrollment Period to six weeks.
  4. Give oversight authority for network adequacy back to the states.
  5. Give states the authority to select essential health benefit benchmarks.
  6. Set up expedited review and approval of Section 1332 state innovation waivers. (These apply to the individual and small group markets.)
  7. Prevent providers from steering patients to ACA plans instead of Medicaid and Medicare.
  8. Allow alternative enrollment pathways.
  9. Give states the authority to review plan designs and formularies.
  10. Promote states to create “skinny” state exchanges, which cost less and rely on innovation from the private sector.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 10, 2018

Maryland Lawmakers Propose Replacement for ACA Individual Mandate

Two Maryland Democratic state lawmakers proposed a program Tuesday that will impose a penalty on Maryland residents who don’t buy health insurance. The money would be used as a down payment for a plan on the state exchange.

The measure is the nation’s first response to the recent repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which imposed a penalty on Americans who did not have health insurance.

Stat Senator Brian J. Feldman and Delegate Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk introduced the proposal, which would start in 2020.

The law would charge uninsured residents a penalty that could be used to help pay for a plan on the state exchange. If the cost of the penalty is equal to or more than the cost of an available plan, the resident can receive coverage at no additional charge. Residents would also have the option of simply paying the penalty.

Supporters of the measure are optimistic that Governor Larry Hogan (R) will support it, but he has not commented.

Alexander: President Supports Stabilization Bill

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told reporters Tuesday that President Donald Trump voiced his approval of the bipartisan Alexander-Murray bill, which was created to help stabilize the ACA marketplace.

The measure extends cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers for two years. Proponents hope to include the bill as part of an upcoming funding package.

Repeal of ACA Takes a Backseat for GOP Leaders

After a meeting with the president last weekend, leading Republicans say that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act is no longer a primary issue.

“There’s some work we need to do on the healthcare front, but I would hope we’re in a position to do things on a bipartisan basis,” said Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). He said they did not discuss ACA repeal during the meeting.

Some lawmakers, including Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), want to keep up the effort, but Trump and other GOP leaders have prioritized other issues, such as job training.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 9, 2018

HHS Nominee Gets Pushback From Pro-ACA Group

As Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary nominee Alex Azar begins his confirmation hearing today, pro-Affordable Care Act group Protect Our Care has released a digital ad urging senators to oppose his nomination.

“President Trump and Republicans in Congress are in search of a new leader for their war effort to captain their repeal and sabotage campaign, and in a former pharmaceutical executive they have found their man,” the ad states.

Despite opposition from the group and several Democratic lawmakers, Azar’s appointment to the position is expected to be confirmed.

HHS Sued by Insurer for Failure to Reimburse CSR Payments

Nonprofit insurer Maine Community Health Options (MCHO) has filed suit against the Trump administration for its failure to pay cost-sharing reduction (CSR) reimbursements of $5.6 million last year.

In October, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that stopped the payments.

In its lawsuit, MCHO says that the failure to provide the CSR payments violated an Affordable Care Act contract between HHS and insurers.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 8, 2018

Idaho Opens the Door to Skimpier Health Plans

Governor Butch Otter (R) of Idaho signed an executive order Friday allowing state health insurers to sell policies that do not meet Affordable Care Act requirements.

In an attempt to provide lower-cost options for consumers, the new plans would not cover all of the ACA’s 10 essential benefits, which include prescription drugs, emergency care, maternity care, and mental health services. The plans would also not be eligible for government subsidies.

Some officials have questioned the legality of the plans, but Otter said recent actions in Washington helped make way for his order.

“Congress and President Trump have eliminated the individual mandate requiring all Americans to buy Obamacare plans or face financial penalties. That means we will no longer be penalized for buying coverage that doesn’t meet all the Obamacare rules,” Otter said in a statement.

The state will still be required to sell ACA-compliant plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 5, 2018

Labor Department Issues Association Health Plan Proposal

The Trump administration on Thursday proposed new rules allowing small employers and self-employed individuals to form associations to purchase health insurance.

The Department of Labor issued the proposal, which would expand the definition of eligible members and provide health coverage that’s exempt from many of the Affordable Care Act’s essential benefits, including prescription drugs, hospitalization, maternity care, and emergency care.

The proposal also allows associations to form specifically to provide healthcare for its members. “A plan could serve employers in a state, city, county, or a multi-state metro area, or it could serve all the businesses in a particular industry nationwide,” according to the release.

Poponents of the new rules say that it will provide lower-cost health insurance alternatives and give businesses more choices. Critics fear they could increase consumers’ out-of-pocket costs and cause healthier people to drop from ACA individual plans, which could lead to instability.

The proposal is now open for comment from the public for the next 60 days.

Senator Hopes ACA Stabilization Bills Pass This Year

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) continues to push for passage of both bipartisan ACA stabilization bills despite pushback from the House. She now believes it can happen before 2019.

Collins voted in favor of the tax overhaul legislation that repealed the ACA’s individual mandate under the condition that the stabilization measures become law to prevent rising premium costs.

One of the stabilization bills restores cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers for two years; the other allows states to set up reinsurance programs.

“When the mandate is repealed in 2019, we must have other health care reforms in place in order to prevent further increases in the cost of health insurance. Senator Collins believes that averting these price spikes, particularly for low-income families, should be a goal that members of both parties can embrace,” said a statement from the senator’s office.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 4, 2018

Analysts Predict Stable 2018 ACA Marketplace

Global credit rating organization A.M. Best believes that insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be relatively stable this year.

According to a briefing released Wednesday: “Negative factors continue to impact the industry, but A.M. Best believes that insurers overall have been able to adapt and as a result, does not expect any significant deterioration in market conditions over the next year.”

However, the firm’s analysts said the forecast could change if Congress succeeds in repealing and replacing the ACA.

Healthcare Reform News Update for January 3, 2018

Conservative Groups Urge President to Promote ACA Repeal

Forty-three conservative advocacy groups sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking for his administration and Congress to prioritize repealing the Affordable Care Act this year.

Signers included Independent Women’s Voice, Heritage Action, Americans for Tax Reform, and Susan B. Anthony List.

An excerpt from the letter: “Health reform must be the focus of the 2019 budget reconciliation instructions. And your administration’s leadership can help the Senate and the House design a bill that can muster the votes needed for passage of true health reform to give Americans more choices of more affordable health coverage and care that meet their needs.”

The White House made no commitments, but a spokesman said that healthcare will be one of the topics discussed in meetings with Congress this week.

Confirmation Hearing for HHS Secretary Scheduled for Next Week

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will face his confirmation hearing with the Senate Finance Committee on January 9.

Alex Azar was previously a deputy secretary for HHS and an executive at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.

If confirmed by the full Senate, Azar would replace Tom Price, who resigned from the position in September.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 29, 2017

Vermont to Consider State Individual Mandate

With last week’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, Vermont is the latest state to explore its own version of the provision.

If the number of uninsured Vermont residents rises, Governor Phil Scott will review a state mandate that requires all citizens to have health coverage or pay a penalty, said Al Gobeille, Vermont’s secretary of the Agency of Human Services.

ACA Signups Drop to 8.7 Million

The latest enrollment figure for the federal healthcare exchange has dipped to 8.7 million, about 80,000 fewer enrollees than announced last week. The drop in signups was mostly due to late cancellations.

The latest count also includes 66,000 new last-minute signups. Enrollment has reached almost 95 percent of last year’s numbers, even with the enrollment period cut in half.

The final ACA enrollment number will not be available until March due to the longer enrollment period for some states, including California and New York.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 27, 2017

4 in 5 ACA Plan Enrollees Live in Trump-Backed States

Eighty percent of people who recently enrolled in health plans on the federal exchange live in states that President Donald Trump won in the 2016 election, according to an Associated Press analysis. The analysis also found:

  • The president won the four states with the largest number of enrollees—Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia.
  • Of the 11 states that increased enrollment from last year, eight were states that Trump won. Those states include: Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Final enrollment numbers for all 2018 ACA enrollments are still incomplete, as some state exchanges continue their enrollment periods through January 31.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 26, 2017

ACA’s Individual Mandate Overturned as Tax Bill Becomes Law

President Donald Trump signed the GOP-backed tax overhaul bill into law December 22, eliminating the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that all individuals have health insurance or pay a penalty.

As he signed the bill, Trump expressed his disapproval with the mandate. “The individual mandate was very unfair, because you’re basically saying, pay for something in order to not have to get healthcare. So you’re paying—you’re paying not to have healthcare. It was very unfair. Many people thought it should have been overturned at the Supreme Court,” he said.

Proponents of the repeal claimed it would save the government $338 billion, but the action could allow 13 million people to become uninsured.

GOP Continues Strategy to Repeal, Replace ACA

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Friday that if Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) can draw enough support for legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, he’d encourage the Senate to vote on the bill.

Noting that the repealed individual mandate was “one of the pillars” of the ACA, McConnell said he would “love to make more substantial changes to Obamacare than we have.”

McConnell’s comments come a day after he said in an interview that, next year, the Senate will probably focus on other issues besides repealing the law.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 22, 2017

ACA Signups Nearly Equal Last Year’s Numbers

The federal healthcare exchange saw a surprising surge of enrollments in its final week, reaching a total of 8.8 million signups. That nearly matches last year’s total, despite working with an enrollment period that was half as long.

More than one million new enrollees signed up in the week of December 10. This brings the total number of new enrollees to 2.4 million—almost 30 percent of all enrollees.

The numbers are likely to rise in a final count, as some areas affected by hurricanes and other natural disasters have been given enrollment extensions.

State-run exchanges have enrolled 2.5 million Americans so far. Since 10 states and Washington, D.C., have longer enrollment periods than the federal marketplace, this number will increase.

Congress Retains Medical Expense Deduction

This week’s tax overhaul package not only kept the medical expense deduction but temporarily lowered the threshold for some people.

Taxpayers can subtract some out-of-pocket medical expenses from their taxes that exceed 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income for 2017 and 2018. For 2019, the threshold increases to 10 percent.

The deduction will apply to all taxpayers, regardless of age. Currently, the deduction is 10 percent for those under 65 and 7.5 percent for those 65 and older.

Majority Leader Ready to ‘Move On’ From ACA Repeal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he wants to focus on stabilizing the insurance marketplace next year rather than try to repeal and replace the law.

“Well, we obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with a 52-48 Senate. We’ll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate. But I think we’ll probably move on to other issues,” McConnell said.

McConnell said he wants to focus on keeping insurance premiums from rising. “We want to steady the insurance markets if we can … and I think we’ll probably be addressing that part of healthcare sometime next year,” he said.

Poll: Healthcare a Top Concern for Americans

A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that 48 percent of Americans named healthcare as the most important topic for lawmakers. That is an increase of 17 points over the past two years.

Of the respondents who named healthcare as a priority, 7 in 10 said they didn’t have confidence that government would be able to help. Some of those polled said their skepticism was due to costs not being manageable any more.

Healthcare was the top issue for Democrats and Independents; for Republicans, top issues were immigration, health care, and taxes.

Second Judge Blocks Contraception Executive Order

A second federal judge blocked the Trump administration from enforcing new rules that allow businesses to obtain exemptions on moral or religious grounds for an ACA requirement to provide insurance that covers birth control. The action by California U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr. comes after a similar ruling from a federal judge in Philadelphia last week.

A Trump administration official hinted that the Department of Justice may appeal the ruling. “We disagree with the court’s ruling and are evaluating next steps,” she said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 21, 2017

ACA Stabilization Bills Not Included in End-of-Year Funding Package

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have scrapped plans to include two bipartisan Affordable Care Act stabilization bills in an end-of-year funding measure.

The senators hope to instead have the bills be part of an omnibus spending bill in January, they said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

“There is every reason to believe that these important provisions can and will be delivered as part of a bipartisan agreement. And Majority Leader McConnell has told us that he will uphold his commitment to schedule and support the legislation,” the statement said.

The two bills would fund:

  • cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers to help offset expected premium increases as a result of the individual mandate repeal.
  • reinsurance funding to offset insurers’ most expensive customers.

The president supports both bills, a White House spokesperson said Wednesday. “We believe we will work with the House to get those passed. We think that we’ll be in a more comfortable place in January to get that passed,” the official said.

Passage of the bills became uncertain last week when House and Senate Republicans clashed on including language to ensure that funds would not be used on plans that covered abortions. Negotiations on a resolution are ongoing.

Medical Device Firms Ask Trump to Delay ACA Tax

Trade firms representing medical device manufacturers have asked President Donald Trump to repeal or delay an ACA tax that’s set to be reinstated at the first of the year.

The device makers had hoped that a repeal of the 2.3 percent tax on medical device sales would be included in the tax overhaul package approved yesterday. There is proposed legislation in the House that would extend the tax delay for an additional five years.

“Unfortunately, while Congress worked with you to advance this major legislative undertaking, they have failed to address a punitive tax that singles out the American medical technology industry, threatening jobs in the U.S. and future innovations for patients, and washing away the benefits of tax reform for our companies,” said Advanced Medical Technology Association CEO Scott Whitaker in a letter.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 20, 2017

Congress Repeals ACA Individual Mandate

The Republican tax overhaul bill that included the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was approved by Congress today after a House vote of 224-201. No Democrats backed the bill, and 12 Republicans voted against it.

The ACA provision stipulated that all Americans must have health insurance coverage or pay a penalty. After President Donald Trump signs the bill into law, the repeal will go into effect in 2019.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that repealing the mandate will reduce government spending by $300 billion over 10 years; however, it will increase premiums by 10 percent and raise the number of uninsured people to 13 million in that same timeframe.

Some GOP lawmakers and Trump believe that the elimination of the mandate is the beginning of dismantling the ACA, a measure they were unable to pass in a repeal-and-replace bill a few months ago.

Senate Majority Whip: Mandate Repeal Makes ACA ‘Unworkable’

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the Senate’s Majority Whip, said the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate could push Democrats into negotiations to replace the law.

“Arguably, doing away with the individual mandate makes the Affordable Care Act unworkable—not that it was particularly great beforehand. Hopefully this will precipitate the bipartisan negotiation on what we need to do as an alternative,” Cornyn said.

House and Senate Clash Over ACA Stabilization Bills

House Republicans are pushing back against a Senate plan to attach the Alexander-Murray stabilization bill that funds cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments in a year-end spending package.

The clash between House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could cause a government shutdown if not resolved by the end of the week.

McConnell made a promise to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) that the Alexander-Murray bill would be included in the spending package. Conservative Republican House members want to add abortion prohibition language into the CSR-funding bill, which Senate Democrats oppose.

It’s unclear how Ryan intends to negotiate a solution. Negotiations are ongoing.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 18, 2017

Some States Weighing Whether to Implement Individual Mandates

With congressional Republicans prepared to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in their tax reform legislation, some states are weighing state-level measures.

Democratic-leaning states such as California, Connecticut, and Maryland are beginning to create strategies to preserve the law that all Americans have health coverage or face a penalty.

  • In California, the chief executive of Covered California recently floated the idea of a state mandate as one of several possibilities to help stabilize the state’s marketplace.
  • In Connecticut, Democratic officials considered the option during a recent meeting with four state legislators.
  • Maryland Senator Brian Feldman said, “I’m fairly confident there will be a bill if the tax plan results in a repeal of the individual mandate.”
  • Officials in Washington and New Jersey are exploring whether their states would implement individual mandates.
  • Massachusetts is the only state that has an individual mandate already in place.

Federal Judge Blocks Order Against Contraception Coverage

A U.S. judge in Pennsylvania on Friday ordered the Trump administration not to enforce a new rule that would expand the types of employers that could claim a religious or moral objection to providing birth control for employees.

Judge Wendy Beetlestone temporarily halted the law, which overrode an Affordable Care Act provision that most employers provide contraception at no cost. The judge’s injunction said that the new rule puts employers’ religious beliefs over women’s constitutional rights.

Her ruling is in effect while the case brought by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro moves forward in the courts.

Medical Device Trade Group Pushes Lifting ACA Tax

The CEO of a medical device trade group wrote Congress last week asking that the Affordable Care Act’s device tax be delayed.

The 2.3 percent tax is scheduled to go into effect January 1, unless Congress includes the delay in its end-of-year spending package. The House Ways and Means Committee has proposed a five-year delay.

“Addressing the device tax now will provide medical technology innovators with the certainty necessary to support future job growth and sustainable, cutting-edge R&D that will ultimately lead to the next generation of breakthroughs in patient care and treatment,” wrote Scott Whitaker, CEO of AdvaMed.

Prolife Groups Urge Congress to Amend Stabilization Bills

Anti-abortion groups, including Susan B. Anthony List and National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), are asking lawmakers to revise the language in the two bipartisan healthcare stabilization bills that are expected to be in the end-of-the-year spending deal.

The groups want assurance that the bills specifically stipulate that funds will not be used on health plans that cover abortion. The requests primarily refer to the Alexander-Murray bill, which extends cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments. The NRLC also would like to add the restrictions to the Collins-Nelson reinsurance bill.

CSRs already include the provision that the funds can’t be used to cover abortions, but the prolife groups don’t believe the language is adequate.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 15, 2017

ACA Enrollees Who Receive Hold Messages Can Still Get Coverage

Some consumers who call the federal exchange phone line to sign up for coverage by today’s deadline may receive a message that says a representative will return the call.

The last-minute surge of consumers has caused hold times to grow. Today’s enrollees who need to wait for a callback will still be able to receive coverage that goes into effect January 1.

Health Groups Ask States to Override Trump’s ACA Executive Order

Several healthcare groups have written a letter to state insurance commissioners urging them to override an executive order from President Donald Trump that seeks to expand short-term insurance plans.

The letter warns that extending cheaper, short-term plans from three months to one year would lead to “higher premiums for consumers, particularly those with pre-existing conditions.”

Members of the coalition who wrote the letter include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and America’s Health Insurance Plans.

California State Exchange Extends Deadline for ACA Plans

Covered California announced Thursday that healthcare enrollees now have until December 22 to sign up for coverage that starts January 1. Formerly, the deadline was today.

Enrollment in the state exchange continues through January 31. California consumers who sign up after December 22 will receive coverage that starts February 1 at the earliest.

Healthcare Enrollment for Florida Residents Extended

Due to damage caused by Hurricane Irma, most residents of Florida have been given an extended deadline of December 31 to sign up on the federal healthcare exchange.

To receive the extension, Florida residents must call the exchange to request it. Enrollment counselors in the state recommend using navigators, also called enrollment counselors, to help streamline the process.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 14, 2017

Study: ACA Helped Millions Gain Access

The Affordable Care Act has had a direct impact in increasing access to medical care, particularly in states that expanded Medicaid eligibility, according to a new report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund.

Some of the findings in the report include:

  • The uninsured rate for adults declined in all states between 2013 and 2016, with 47 states seeing at least a 5 percent drop.
  • The largest reduction of people who delayed care due to cost concerns was most pronounced in states that expanded Medicaid and launched significant enrollment efforts.
  • In Oregon, the percentage of people who delayed care due to costs was cut in half from 35 percent to 17 percent.
  • The percentage of those at risk of being in poor health who had not seen a doctor in at least two years was reduced in 37 states.
  • The largest coverage gains were seen in California, with uninsured working-age adults dropping from 24 percent to 10 percent.
  • Children’s uninsured rates declined by at least two percentage points in 33 states.

GOP Compromise Tax Bill Retains Repeal of ACA Individual Mandate

A compromise tax bill from Senate and House negotiators would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that all Americans have health coverage or pay a penalty.

Also, the bill would lower the amount consumers need to spend on health-related costs before deducting those costs. Under the bill, the amount would be 7.5 percent of the consumer’s income, instead of the current 10 percent.

The new bill now moves to both houses of Congress for approval.

More Than 1 Million Sign Up in Week 6 of ACA Enrollment

During the sixth week of the Open Enrollment Period, the federal healthcare exchange signed up more than 1 million people, including 389,000 new enrollees. That surpasses the 823,000 signups from the previous week.

Overall, more than 4.7 million people have signed up for 2018 plans on the federal healthcare exchange.

Maryland Extends ACA Enrollment to December 22

Maryland’s state-run healthcare marketplace has extended its enrollment deadline from December 15 to December 22.

“While enrollments have been very strong so far this year, we want to ensure that everyone in Maryland in need of 2018 health coverage has additional time to shop and enroll,” Howard Haft, interim executive director for the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, said in a statement.

Alabama Senate Election Result May Curtail ACA Repeal Efforts

The election of Alabama Democrat Doug Jones to the Senate this week might have hindered the GOP’s plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2018.

Jones reduced the Republican majority in the Senate to a slim 51-49. With the failure to pass a repeal effort over the summer due to the opposing votes of three GOP senators, the chances of future success have been greatly reduced.

Even with the smaller margin, the Trump administration said on Wednesday that it would like Congress to continue with ACA repeal efforts next year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 13, 2017

Senate Democrats Ask for ACA Enrollment Deadline Extension

Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have asked the Trump administration to extend the healthcare enrollment deadline to January 31.

The senators argue that the administration’s decision to cut the Open Enrollment Period in half compared to previous years is not enough time for people to enroll.

“The Administration’s decision to depart from years of agency policy by ending Open Enrollment on December 15th is compounded by the many other efforts by this Administration to destabilize the insurance market, making it likely that many consumers miss this deadline and forgo insurance next year — all despite clear indications that consumers are highly interested in seeking coverage for 2018,” the senators wrote.

Neither the Trump administration or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) gave any indication whether an extension would be granted.

“The deadline for people to shop and pick a plan for the upcoming year is December 15. We continue to encourage people to make plan selections by that deadline so that their coverage can begin on January 1,” a CMS spokesman said.

Actuaries: Mandate Repeal Would Damage the Marketplace

The American Academy of Actuaries sent a letter to Congress saying that a repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate will raise premiums and cause people with individual insurance to lose coverage.

The tax overhaul bill currently being reconciled by House and Senate leaders includes the repeal of the provision that levies a fine to individuals who do not have health coverage.

The group says the two proposed stabilization measures would not be able to offset the damage that a repeal would trigger in the health insurance market.

“Insurers would likely reconsider their future participation in the market. This could lead to severe market disruption and loss of coverage among individual market enrollees,” according to the letter.

House Committee Unveils Bills to Delay ACA Taxes

Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee released several bills on Tuesday that delay or halt some Affordable Care Act taxes and lift the employer mandate. The proposed rollbacks are separate from the tax overhaul bill currently being reconciled.

The bills’ recommendations include:

  • Delaying the medical device tax for five years.
  • Halting the 2018 health insurance tax (HIT) to insurers that provide premium rebates.
  • Halting HIT for all insurers in 2019.
  • Lifting the employer mandate retroactively for the past three years and for 2018.
  • Delaying the “Cadillac” tax for one year.
  • Temporarily lifting the ban on paying for over-the-counter drugs from health savings account funds.

Credit Report Freeze Can Cause a Holdup in ACA Enrollment Process

Consumers who put security freezes on their credit reports this year may experience a delay in the enrollment process on the federal healthcare exchange.

During enrollment on the website, users are asked to confirm their identities via questions that are tied to their credit histories. If there is a freeze on their credit data, applicants may have to call a marketplace help desk or call center before being able to continue with enrollment.

Instead of suspending the freeze on their credit reports, consumers can upload or mail in documents to the exchange.

In the event of an identity glitch, consumers should be able to complete the enrollment process as long as they start their applications before the December 15 enrollment deadline.

Lawmakers Ask to End ACA Program Operating in Only One State

Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) have called for the elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s Multi-State Plan program.

The program requires that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) contract with two national health plans to compete with existing state plans. Only Arkansas is scheduled to participate in 2018.

Johnson said in a statement: “The program has failed to meet statutory requirements and is diverting necessary resources from what should be the OPM’s priorities, such as retirement and security backlogs. Congress needs to let the OPM focus on its job, eliminate this failed program and work to ensure healthcare is more affordable for all Americans.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 12, 2017

ACA Funding for Community Health Centers Extended by HRSA

Several community health centers that received funding through a provision of the Affordable Care Act have had their funding extended by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Funding for the centers expired September 30 and has yet to be renewed by Congress. To help cover the shortfall, the HRSA will provide funding from fiscal 2018 discretionary appropriations and remaining mandatory funds. This will continue on a month-to-month basis until the program is reauthorized or the funds run out.

HRSA sent funds for January and February to the 25 percent of community health centers that have grant periods beginning January 1. The agency plans to soon send out one month of funding to the 17 percent of community health centers that have grant periods beginning February 1.

Healthcare Enrollment Sees Small Glitch in Illinois, Final Push From Obama

Some consumers in Illinois received an erroneous message Monday when they tried to sign up on the website in the final week of Open Enrollment.

The website incorrectly generated a message that said health plans were not available in the area. The computer glitch occurred after enrollees completed their application for government subsidies.

Despite the error, the federal exchange website has operated efficiently for users throughout the Open Enrollment Period.

To help draw more people to the federal exchange, former President Barack Obama joined healthcare navigators and volunteers on a conference call to help encourage their efforts.

“So far, we’ve gotten more people covered this year than in past years, which is incredible given that there’s been so little advertising or outreach from some official quarters to remind people when and how they should get covered,” Obama said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 11, 2017

ACA Enrollment Enters Final Week

The last day for consumers to sign up for healthcare coverage on the federal exchange ends Friday. Those seeking coverage must be enrolled by midnight (Pacific time) December 15.

Due to disruption from recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida, people in affected areas can get a deadline extension to December 31.

Typically, the final week is one of the busiest, but the Trump administration has said little about any contingency plans.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has not announced if it will continue an Obama administration policy of creating a grace period for people who started an application prior to the deadline but didn’t complete it in time. In prior years, this extension enabled hundreds of thousands to receive coverage.

Heavy traffic could lead to delays on the website, but so far there have been no reported problems.

Government Shutdown Could Hinge on Extending CSR Payments

The Alexander-Murray stabilization bill, which extends cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers for two years, has become an issue in avoiding a government shutdown.

Congress is negotiating a spending package to keep the government funded past December 22. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants to include Alexander-Murray in the spending bill as part of a promise made to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) for her vote on the tax overhaul bill.

But Republicans in the House aren’t interested in including the Alexander-Murray bill in the measure. “None of us voted in favor of Obamacare, so supporting it, sustaining it’s not exactly a high objective,” said Representative Tom Cole (R-OK.).

If the Senate includes Alexander-Murray in the spending package, it could cause a legislative stalemate that would trigger a shutdown.

ACA’s ‘Cadillac Tax’ Slowing Bipartisan Healthcare Negotiations

The ACA’s so-called Cadillac tax has become an obstacle in Congress’ attempt to delay certain healthcare taxes before the end of the year.

The Cadillac tax is a 40 percent excise tax on employer plans exceeding $10,200 in premiums per year for individuals and $27,500 for families. It’s currently scheduled to begin in 2020.

Democrats want to include delaying the Cadillac tax into the year-end spending package. Republicans prefer the delay of only the healthcare insurance tax and medical device tax, which go into effect in 2018. Negotiations are ongoing.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 8, 2017

House Lawmakers Consider the Fate of ACA Taxes

Republican tax writers in the House are in discussions about delaying or suspending the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance tax (HIT), medical device tax, and the “Cadillac” tax as part of a year-end government funding bill.

Lawmakers are considering suspending HIT for all markets in 2019 but delaying it in limited markets next year. However, small businesses and private Medicare plans would still be subject to HIT in 2018.

HIT charges a 4-to-6 percent tax on every insurance plan sold. It can raise premium rates by up to 2.6 percent.

House lawmakers would also like to delay the ACA’s medical tax device tax for two years and the ACA’s Cadillac tax, which is a 40 percent excise tax on employer-funded health insurance plans that cost more than $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 7, 2017

Bipartisan ACA Bills Reduce Health Plan Premiums

If two bipartisan ACA stabilization bills are enacted, health insurance premiums for 2019 would be reduced by 18 percent, according to an analysis by Avalere Health.

The Alexander-Murray bill, which would fund cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers for two years and increase flexibility for states to change ACA rules, would reduce premiums by 14 percent. The Collins-Nelson bill, which would provide funding for reinsurance, would reduce premiums by 4 percent.

If the ACA individual mandate is repealed in the tax overhaul bill, these reductions would help offset an expected 10 percent premium increase.

The bills may be included in an end-of-year government spending package, but support for the measures is not clear.

On Wednesday, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) said he’d be open to supporting the Alexander-Murray bill if Senate Democrats would agree to back increased defense spending.

ACA Plans Showing Profitability

Many insurers will see a profit on ACA plans for the first time, according to a Politico analysis of 31 regional Blue Cross Blue Shield plans.

On average, insurance companies spent 78 percent of their premium revenue on medical claims through September 2017, which is seven points over the break-even threshold.

The turnaround comes after three years of losses. In 2015 and 2016, carriers lost more than $12 billion, which resulted in many leaving the federal exchange marketplace.

ACA Enrollments Increase in Week 5

Healthcare sign-ups on the federal exchange during the fifth week of Open Enrollment outpaced the previous week, but overall numbers may be down from last year.

For the week of November 26, there were 823,180 sign-ups compared to 504,181 for the week of November 19. There were 271,207 new enrollees compared to 152,243 in the prior week.

Overall enrollment during this year’s Open Enrollment Period totals about 3.6 million people. That is about half the number of sign-ups during a comparable point from last year, according to Avalere Health.

With only one week left to enroll, experts expect this year’s final numbers to decrease 20 percent from last year’s 9.2 million sign-ups.

California State Exchange Enrollment Increases 28%

Covered California has currently signed up more than 102,000 new enrollees, which is a 28 percent increase over last year. In addition, almost 400,000 existing California consumers have switched coverage for 2018. The state’s Open Enrollment Period ends January 31.

Consumers Using Supplemental Coverage as Health Insurance

With rising premium costs making plans unaffordable to some consumers, many brokers are selling a combination of supplemental packages as an alternative.

Even though the mix-and-match supplemental approach does not give full coverage and is not exempt from the ACA’s individual mandate penalty, some consumers find it an affordable option.

Brokers are typically combining fixed-benefit indemnity, critical illness, and drug discount cards to help families have a minimum amount of health coverage for around $900 to $1,000 a month.

Though consumers may find the option attractive, in many cases purchasing a marketplace plan would have a lower premium, fewer out-of-pocket expenses, and provide full coverage.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 6, 2017

Repeal of Individual Mandate Sees Strong Push in House

As the tax overhaul bills from the Senate and House are being reconciled, the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) are pushing to assure inclusion of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

The Senate version of the bill includes the repeal, the House version does not. A committee will reconcile the differences in the two bills and merge them into a single bill.

On Tuesday, the RSC sent a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee urging for the repeal. “Including language to repeal this harmful policy will return personal decisions about health care choices to patients, fulfilling a key promise we have made to the American people,” the group wrote.

Also on Tuesday, Brady said the repeal is popular in the House. “We’ll be asking our members where do they want us to be on that position. I suspect there will be strong support,” he said.

Support of Stabilization Bills Not Guaranteed in House Vote

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on Monday that he has not entered into an agreement to support two bipartisan bills that could help stabilize the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) that the two measures would be included in an end-of-month government funding bill. Support in the House is now unclear.

One stabilization bill extends cost-sharing reduction subsidy payments to insurers for two years and gives states flexibility to change ACA rules. The other provides two years of funding for reinsurance, which “helps pay for the costs of sick ObamaCare enrollees with the intent of bringing down premiums.”

Adding to doubts about passage, the House Freedom Caucus expressed its opposition to the bills last week, and Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) said Monday that there were not enough votes in the House to pass the measures.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 5, 2017

Funding for Reinsurance Bill Grows by $5.5 Billion

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) announced that she has increased the amount of funding for the reinsurance bill she authored with Bill Nelson (D-FL) from $4.5 billion to $10 billion over two years.

The bill sets aside funds to reimburse insurance companies for customers with the biggest medical problems.

“We know from experiences in the states of Maine and Alaska that high-risk pools can help to lower premiums substantially — by an average of 20 percent,” Collins said in a statement.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised Collins that he would add the reinsurance measure to an end-of-year spending bill in exchange for her vote for the tax overhaul bill.

Collins raised the funding amount in response the tax bill, which repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the repeal would cause 4 million people not to have insurance in 2019 and would raise premiums 10 percent.

Poll: ACA Individual Mandate Supported by Majority of Well-Informed Voters

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that even though the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is the least popular part of the law, a majority of voters support it once they understand how the provision works.

Previous polling showed that 42 percent of voters supported the mandate that requires all Americans to have health coverage. But opinions rose when told of the impact from a repeal.

  • When told that people with insurance from employers, Medicare, or Medicaid already have coverage required by the mandate, support rose to 62 percent.
  • When told that repeal would increase premiums by 10 percent, support rose to 60 percent.
  • When told that 13 million Americans would lose coverage, support rose to 59 percent.
  • When told that low-income people who can’t afford coverage do not have to pay the penalty, support rose to 59 percent.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 4, 2017

Senate Passes Elimination of Individual Mandate

Republicans in the Senate narrowly passed a tax overhaul bill early Saturday that includes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all Americans have health coverage or pay a penalty.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the repeal of the individual mandate would cause insurance premiums to rise. It would leave about 13 million people without health insurance coverage.

The bill will go through a reconcile process with the House, which is expected to be completed sometime next week.

Healthcare Reform News Update for December 1, 2017

Health Plans for 2018 More Restrictive, Have Higher Deductibles

Seventy-three percent of 2018 health plans sold on the federal exchange have more restrictive networks and an average deductible of almost $4,000, according to a new analysis from Avalere.

The percentage of health plans on the marketplace that use restrictive Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) or Exclusive Provider Organizations (EPOs) has risen significantly over the past three years. In 2015, 54 percent of plans were HMOs or EPOs; in 2017, it was 68 percent.

HMOs and EPOs limit coverage to exclusive in-network providers and specialists, whereas Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO) and Point of Service (POS) plans offer broader coverage.

Deductibles for silver plans have also risen. In 2015, the average deductible was $3,703; for 2018, it’s $3,937. Deductibles for bronze plans have dropped over the past three years, mostly as a consequence of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments for lower-income consumers. Platinum plan deductibles have also lowered.

“For the most popular exchange plans, we see an increase in deductibles for 2018. This trend helps reduce premium costs but may increase what consumers must pay out-of-pocket for their care,” said Avalere Senior Vice President Elizabeth Carpenter.

House Conservatives Against Marketplace Stabilization Bills

Some conservative Republican members of the House said they probably would not support a short-term spending bill if it contains provisions to stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

In a deal reached this week between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), bipartisan bills that extend cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments for insurers and provide funds for state reinsurance programs would be included in the spending bill in exchange for Collins’ vote for the tax overhaul bill.

House conservatives believe the stabilization efforts are bailouts to insurance companies and the measure wouldn’t pass in a House vote. “For me, I think probably largely for many of our members, that doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t be supportive of that,” said Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH).

Enrollment for CT State Exchange Equals Last Year’s

Connecticut’s state-run health exchange program, Access Health CT, estimates that it will have about the same number of enrollees as last year.

CEO Jim Wadleigh estimates that final enrollment numbers will be between 105,000 and 110,000. Currently, about 101,000 people have signed up for 2018 coverage.

Open enrollment for Access Health CT ends December 22.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 30, 2017

Obamacare Enrollments Decrease in Week 4

The rate of people who have signed up for health insurance on the federal exchange slowed last week to 504,181, down from 798,829 in the previous week. However, overall numbers are up from last year’s Open Enrollment Period.

Nearly 2.8 million people have enrolled on the federal exchange since November 1, which outpaces last year’s 2.1 million during the first four weeks.

New enrollments during the week of November 20 fell to 152,243 compared to 220,323 in the third week.

Stabilization Bill Ineffective if ACA Individual Mandate is Repealed

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bipartisan Alexander-Murray stabilization bill would have little impact on reducing an increase in the number of uninsured Americans if the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is repealed.

Previously, the CBO estimated that if the individual mandate were repealed, it would cause 4 million people not have insurance and raise premiums 10 percent.

The stabilization bill seeks to restore cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers that President Donald Trump recently cut. Several Republican senators have cited the legislation as a necessary measure should the individual mandate be repealed in their tax overhaul bill.

Senate Leader Agrees to Include Stabilization Bill in Upcoming Legislation

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) that he will include the Alexander-Murray bipartisan stabilization measure in legislation this year.

Collins has said that her vote for the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate in the tax overhaul bill hinged on passing the stabilization effort, which extends cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers for two years and provides states with more flexibility in defining their health plans.

Republican Disapproval of Individual Mandate Grows

Republican voters’ opposition to the ACA’s individual mandate has increased 14 percent since September, according to a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll. Sixty-five percent of GOP respondents said they opposed the regulation compared to 51 percent previously.

Other findings from the poll:

  • Disapproval of the mandate from all voters increased from 49 percent to 54 percent, mostly driven by Republican opinions.
  • Democrats disapproval remained stable at 41 percent.
  • Independents’ opposition increased one point to 57 percent.
  • Support for the Affordable Care Act is at 80 percent for Democrats and 23 percent for Republicans. Overall support is at 51 percent.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 29, 2017

Trump Supports Marketplace Stabilization Bills

President Donald Trump told Senate Republicans that he would support two bipartisan measures to help stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace if they pass the tax overhaul bill that includes the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate.

The first bill, from Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), would extend cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers for two years and give states more flexibility to define their plans. The second bill, from Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bill Nelson (R-FL), would provide states with $4.5 billion over two years for reinsurance programs.

“[President Trump] said that he understood the need to have something to offset the premium increases and appeared very open” to enacting the two bills, Murray said.

Senate Democrats are against repealing the individual mandate that requires all Americans to have health insurance coverage or pay a fine. They have also disapproved of the GOPs efforts to tie the tax bill to ACA stabilization. Posts Draft Proposals for 2019 Health Plans

The Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO), which runs the Obamacare federal exchange, posted on Monday an informational letter draft to plan issuers of 2019 marketplace health plans. The draft included filing deadlines and a proposed filing deadline summary sheet.

According to the draft, plan rates will be due July 25, 2018, and will be available to the public on the federal exchange website August 1. The Open Enrollment Period will begin November 1.

Proposed marketplace changes include:

  • Elimination of the requirement that new marketplace plans be meaningfully different from existing plans.
  • Changing the threshold on when a health plan needs to explain premium increases from 10 percent to 15 percent.
  • Allowing web brokers to choose which outside entity will decide whether they are qualified to use the direct enrollment process.

NYT Provides Snapshot of People Who Pay Insurance Penalty

The upcoming tax bill currently includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which levies a penalty for most Americans who don’t have health insurance coverage. The New York Times published a study on Tuesday that provided an overview of the people who paid the penalty in 2015.

Some of the findings include:

  • The penalty was paid by 4.5% of taxpayers, which was about 6.7 million filers.
  • People earning between $25,000 and $50,000 were the most likely to pay the penalty.
  • The average penalty was $462 (for 2017, the average was $708).
  • In general, states with the highest rates of uninsured residents have the highest share of people who pay the penalty.

Patient Groups Ask Senate to Drop Repeal of Individual Mandate

A letter from a coalition of 19 patient groups to Republican lawmakers urged them to remove the repeal of the individual mandate from the senate tax bill.

The letter to senators says that the repeal would cause “coverage losses and higher premiums,” and would cause many people with chronic or major health conditions to lose coverage. It’s signed by groups including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and the American Diabetes Association.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 28, 2017

Republican Senators Push Reinsurance Funding

Several Senate Republicans appear open to adding funds for a reinsurance program as a way to offset the impact of repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate in their tax overhaul bill.

Susan Collins (R-ME), a key swing vote, implied she would vote for a tax bill that repeals the mandate only if Congress also passes a separate measure to establish a new reinsurance fund. She wants to add the funding measure to the stabilization bill proposed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) that extends cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments.

Collins’ amendment would provide states with $4.5 billion over two years for reinsurance programs. The funds help compensate insurance companies for their most expensive policyholders and could help lower premiums for consumers.

Senators including Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Mike Rounds (R-ND) applaud the idea of reinsurance funding but are skeptical of the proposal passing.

President Donald Trump is against the measure. His administration has been receptive to state-run reinsurance programs but not to federal funding.

California Marketplace Outspending Federal Exchange Advertising

The state-run Covered California health exchange has dedicated $45 million in marketing efforts to its Open Enrollment Period (OEP), which runs through January 31. That is significantly above the federal Obamacare exchange, which slashed its advertising budget from last year’s $100 million to $10 million this year.

“California’s budget reflects a different approach to the ACA, which is that it is an important source of insurance,” said Gerald Kominski, director at the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research.

The OEP marketing efforts in California include television, radio, digital, social media, and billboard advertisements.

Approximately 1.4 million people are currently insured through Covered California. As of November 14, 48,000 new consumers had enrolled, which is up from 39,000 during the same period last year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 27, 2017

States Prepare for Possible Children’s Health Insurance Shutdown

Almost 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women who depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are at risk of losing their insurance. A September deadline for Congress to extend funding for the program was missed, leaving nearly a dozen states scrambling for alternatives.

A November 9 notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) directed state health officials to determine whether the affected lower-income families are eligible for Medicaid or if they need to enroll in Obamacare plans. As soon as next week, enrollees will receive state notices letting them know that their insurance may be eliminated.

Lawmakers have not come to an agreement on how to continue CHIP funding. Earlier this month, the House passed a bill that extends payments for five years while raising Medicare premiums and eliminating an Obamacare prevention fund. The Senate is still working on a bipartisan solution.

New Obamacare Enrollees Increase in Week Three of OEP

The third week of Obamacare’s open enrollment period saw a surge of first-time consumers with 220,323 signing up compared to 208,397 the previous week.

About 800,000 people signed up the week of November 13, which is about 75,000 fewer than the week of November 6. So far, overall signups on the federal exchange total 2.28 million.

The states with the highest enrollment numbers in week three were Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

High Premiums Attract Individual ‘Skinny’ Plan Offerings

The rising costs of health insurance has generated new “skinny” plans that tout low costs, come with limited benefits, and are being sold without approval from state regulators.

Dozens of brokers are offering the individual plans that assert to be low-cost alternatives to the marketplace’s bronze, gold, and silver offerings. Previously, the plans were only available to groups.

Premiums start at $93 for individuals and $516 for families. They cover preventative care, limited doctor visits per year, lab tests, and some prescription drugs. They provide little-to-no coverage for hospitals, emergency rooms, and high-cost prescription drugs.

The plans concern insurance experts and regulators who fear these limited plans take advantage of buyer confusion and may cause policyholders to think they are exempt from the Obamacare individual mandate penalty. A regulator in California has requested an investigation.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 22, 2017

Massachusetts Governor Signs State Contraception Bill

Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed a new law that requires health insurance plans in Massachusetts to cover most types of birth control pills without copays.

The legislation overrides President Donald Trump’s recent executive order that allows most employers to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate on religious or moral grounds.

The law includes most types of oral contraception and over-the-counter emergency contraception. It exempts plans purchased by church or church-owned entities and self-insured businesses. It also allows copays for brand-name contraceptives if generics are available.

“This is exactly the sort of opportunity where Massachusetts has a chance to send a message to the rest of the country about how we think and how we feel about this issue, and I’m proud to be part of the team,” Baker said.

Murkowski Backs Repealing Obamacare Individual Mandate

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a key swing vote, says she supports Republican efforts to include the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate in the tax overhaul bill.

“While I support repealing the individual mandate, I strongly support enacting the bipartisan compromise Alexander/Murray legislation into law as fast as possible to stabilize our markets, provide more control to states and more choices to individuals,” she wrote in an op-ed for the Daily News-Miner.

A spokesman for the senator said the comments should not be construed as support for the overall tax bill.

Actuaries: Repeal of Mandate Could Increase Health Insurance Premiums

The American Academy of Actuaries cautioned Senate leaders that repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in the tax overhaul bill could lead to higher health insurance premiums and prompt some insurers to leave the market.

In a letter sent to Congress, the organization’s vice president, Shari Westerfield, said without the regulation that all Americans have health insurance, “insurers would likely reconsider their future participation in the market. This could lead to severe market disruption and loss of coverage among individual market enrollees.” The letter also requested that Congress consider “the adverse consequences of eliminating the individual mandate.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 21, 2017

Obamacare Funds for Community Health Centers May Lapse

Community health centers that provide care for 26 million medically underserved patients may have their funding cut off.

Funding for the health centers was established by the Affordable Care Act, which makes up 70 percent of their budgets. The funds were renewed in 2015 for $7.2 billion over two years and expired on September 30.

Community health centers are anxious about the fate of the funds, as 25 percent of them have new grant periods that start January 1. Another 17 percent have grant periods that begin February 1. The Health Resources and Services Administration says it may provide short-term grants to the centers but not at the current funding levels.

If the funding is not renewed, 41 percent of community health centers would have to lay off employees, 47 percent would reduce hours, and more than 50 percent would cancel or delay facility expansions.

The House has passed a bill to extend funding for two years. The Senate has not yet passed any legislation, but a bill has been proposed to provide five years of funding.

Hurricane Victims Struggling with Healthcare Decisions

Some Puerto Rico residents who were displaced to the mainland by recent hurricanes have had difficulty navigating their healthcare coverage.

The federal government has extended the Obamacare enrollment period for hurricane victims to December 31, but people who sign up after the standard December 15 cutoff won’t receive coverage until February 1. The deadline extension has caused enough confusion that congressional leaders from Florida have asked for clarification from CMS.

In addition, Puerto Ricans who receive Medicaid or Medicare aren’t sure if their coverage will continue due to differences in eligibility standards.

CMS released a memo in September that says that hurricane victims may be eligible for a special enrollment period and directs them to call the federal exchange hotline with any questions.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 20, 2017

White House Could OK Removal of ACA’s Individual Mandate Repeal

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said that the Trump administration would be willing to accept the removal of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in the Senate tax overhaul bill.

“If it becomes an impediment to getting the best tax bill we can, then we are OK with taking it out,” Mulvaney said.

The House version of the tax bill approved last week did not include a repeal of the mandate that requires all Americans to have health coverage or pay a fine. The Senate version is expected to go to a vote next week.

Many on Medicare Will See Higher Part B Premiums in 2018

Due to increases in Social Security, many enrollees will see higher 2018 premiums for Medicare Part B. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Friday announced the out-of-pocket costs for 2018 Medicare Part A and Part B.

2018 Part A premium and deductible:

  • For Americans who pay Part A premiums, the cost will rise from $413 to $422 per month.
  • For Americans who have used up transitional Medicare benefits, Part A will rise from $232 to $227 per month.
  • The deductible for Part A will rise from $1,316 to $1,340.

2018 Part B premium and deductible:

  • The standard Part B premium will remain the same as 2017. (The premium will be either $134 or $428.60 per month, depending on income.)
  • For people with low to moderate incomes who currently pay $109 per month, premiums will rise an average of $25 per month due to an increase in Social Security cost-of-living adjustments. This change will affect 70 percent of enrollees.
  • The deductible for Part B remains the same as 2017 at $183.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 17, 2017

Kaiser Survey: One-Third Unaware of Open Enrollment Period

Nearly a third of Americans are not aware of the Obamacare Open Enrollment Period (OEP), according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study.

The poll of 1,201 adults showed that:

  • 31 percent of those surveyed have not heard about OEP.
  • 30 percent have heard a little about OEP.
  • 21 percent have heard some about OEP.
  • 18 percent have heard a lot about OEP.

Forty-five percent said they have heard less about OEP compared to previous years, and 38 percent said they have heard about the same amount.

Even though the Trump administration cut funding for Obamacare enrollment advertising, the survey showed that awareness of ads selling health plans increased from 34 percent last month to 41 percent this month. People who saw ads that provided information on how to get insurance on one of the Obamacare exchanges increased from 20 percent to 32 percent.

Insurance Enrollments Rise in California and Colorado

Two states that run their own insurance exchanges have seen a jump in enrollments compared to last year.

The Covered California exchange saw an increase of 23 percent over last year for the first two weeks of open enrollment. About 48,000 new customers signed up, compared to 39,000 in 2016.

In Colorado, enrollment rose 33 percent with 22,000 people signing onto its state exchange.

ACA Premiums Most Expensive in Charlottesville, VA

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation has pinpointed Charlottesville, Virginia, and its surrounding county as having the highest health premiums on the federal Obamacare exchange.

Prices for some plans in the city have gone up as much as three times the price of 2017 plans. The average price of a benchmark silver plan in the Charlottesville area is $1,011 for a 40-year-old individual.

After insurance companies Aetna and Anthem pulled out of the area, a single insurer, Optima, took over. Consumers now have only five health plans to choose from, compared to 19 previously.

Virginia has more than 350,000 people who purchase health insurance through the federal exchange. Almost 80 percent qualify for tax credits that lower premium prices.

Pope Asks for Healthcare Laws to Protect Underprivileged

Pope Francis addressed a medical association at the Vatican on Thursday and said that politicians need to ensure that healthcare law “promotes the common good” to protect the most vulnerable.

“Increasingly, sophisticated and costly treatment are available to ever more limited and privileged segments of the population, and this raises questions about the sustainability of healthcare delivery and about what might be called a systemic tendency toward growing inequality in health care,” he said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 16, 2017

IRS to Enforce Obamacare Employer Mandate

For the first time, the Internal Revenue Service is enforcing the Affordable Care Act regulation that requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide qualifying health insurance to their full-time employees.

Since last month, the IRS has been sending compliance notices to companies that disregarded the law in 2015 when the mandate took effect.

President Donald Trump’s first executive order requested that the department waive, defer, or delay the regulation. However, the IRS stated that it is required to enforce the mandate. Previously, fines were not collected due to a lack of funds and time needed to update the department’s compliance systems.

In general, the law states that companies will incur fines of around $2,000 per employee (excluding the first 30) for noncompliance. The penalty goes into effect if at least one employee purchases health insurance on the federal exchange and receives a tax credit.

A company with 100 workers that ignored the law this year would owe a penalty of more than $158,000, according to The New York Times.

Bipartisan Stabilization Bill May Be in Year-End Spending Package

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said Wednesday that bipartisan legislation proposed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) to extend cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies for insurers could be included in an end-of-year funding bill.

Earlier this week, Republican senators introduced a provision to their tax overhaul bill that would repeal the Obamacare individual mandate. Approving the repeal, which would extend CSR payments by two years, “probably makes more sense,” Cornyn said.

In response, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, if proposed, the Democrats would not vote for the measure. “The Republicans cannot expect to pass their own separate ideological healthcare provision and then turn around and ask Democrats to vote to pass Alexander-Murray,” he said.

Kaiser Study Shows Marketplace Premium Changes for 2018

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis outlining health insurance premium increases on the federal exchange for 2018 found that the lowest-cost bronze plans rose 18 percent. The lowest-cost silver plans rose 32 percent, and the lowest-cost gold plans rose 18 percent, according to the study.

The large increase in silver plans boosted the tax credit amounts, which have made bronze and gold plans more affordable. For example, a 40-year-old with an income of $25,000 will have a tax credit high enough to purchase the lowest-cost bronze plan at a $0 premium in 1,679 counties across the country.

Obamacare Enrollments Continue to Outpace 2016

The first 12 days of the Open Enrollment Period is running 47 percent ahead of last year’s numbers. The first 11 days saw almost 1.5 million people apply for health coverage, compared to 1 million in 2016. New customers have accounted for 23 percent of the enrollees, which is almost comparable to last year’s 24 percent.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 15, 2017

Senate Adds ACA Individual Mandate Repeal to Tax Bill

Senate Republicans released a new version of their tax reform legislation that includes a provision to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that every individual have health insurance or pay a penalty. The move comes one day after President Donald Trump’s latest push for the inclusion.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said the measure would “help provide additional relief to low- and middle-income families.” Repealing the mandate would save an estimated $338 billion over 10 years, but it would also create an additional 4 million more uninsured people by 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

It’s unclear if the Senate has enough votes to pass this latest version of the tax bill. But leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Thune (R-SD), are confident.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (NY) was not pleased with the provision. “Rather than learning the lessons from their failure to repeal healthcare, Republicans are doubling down on the same partisan strategy that would throw our healthcare system into chaos,” Schumer said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 14, 2017

Alex Azar Nominated for Health and Human Services Secretary

President Donald Trump has chosen former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In a tweet Monday, Trump said Azar would be “a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!”

Prior to working as president of Eli Lilly and Company, Azar served as deputy secretary of HHS under President George W. Bush. Azar is replacing Tom Price, who left the role in September

Former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said that Azar would work to alter the Affordable Care Act to be more in line with Republican beliefs and will “change the ideology under which the existing law is implemented.”

Trump Again Appeals for Repeal of ACA Individual Mandate

In a tweet sent Monday, President Donald Trump urged lawmakers to include a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate in their tax overhaul bill.

Trump’s tweet, which came hours prior to a Senate Finance Committee meeting, asked “Now, how about ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further?”

The individual mandate requires all Americans to have health coverage or face a penalty. Neither the House nor Senate versions of the tax bill currently include a measure to repeal the regulation.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 13, 2017

Fewer Insurance Options Available for Marketplace Shoppers

The number of insurance companies on the federal marketplace has declined, but no counties are without carriers offering coverage, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The study determined that 75 percent of enrollees have a choice of two or more insurers, and 48 percent have three or more. However, the number of people with only one insurance company in their county has increased by 24 percent since 2016.

In comparisons over the last three years, the analysis showed:

Number of insurers per state5.64.33.5
Percentage of enrollees with one insurer2%21%26%


States Sue Trump Administration Over Contraception Mandate

The attorneys general of California, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia filed a motion Thursday night to stall implementation of President Donald Trump’s order that exempts most employers from Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage mandate if they state a religious or moral objection.

The filing is part of a lawsuit the states filed in October that argues the order is unconstitutional.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 10, 2017

Senate Tax Bill Retains ACA Individual Mandate, Medical Deductions

Republican leaders in the Senate released their version of a tax overhaul bill Thursday. Like the House version, the bill does not include a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. But the senators did not rule out adding the provision at a later date.

Earlier this week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that repealing the regulation requiring all Americans have health coverage would cause 13 million people to become uninsured over 10 years.

The Senate tax bill does differ from the House version over medical expense deductions. The Senate version continues to allow people with qualified medical expenses to deduct them from their federal taxes. The House bill repeals the deduction.

ACA Enrollments Continue to Outpace Last Year

More than 600,000 people signed up last week for health insurance under the federal healthcare exchange, which continues to outperform 2016 enrollments.

Overall, total daily signups were up 79 percent compared to 2016 for the first few days of the Open Enrollment Period, which began November 1.

The first four days of enrollment saw a daily average of 150,00 enrollees, compared to 84,000 in the first 12 days of 2016. Of these signups, more than 34,000 people a day were new to the marketplace compared to 26,000 last year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 9, 2017

Healthcare a Top Issue at the Polls

Tuesday’s election results showed that voters put healthcare as a leading issue in their decisions with especially strong support for the Affordable Care Act in Maine and Virginia.

In Maine, voters approved a referendum that would expand Medicaid under the ACA to insure an estimated 70,000 to 90,000 individuals who earn $16,600 or less per year. Republican Governor Paul LePage campaigned against the measure and said he would not implement it until funding details could be worked out by the legislature.

In Virginia, 40 percent of those polled said that healthcare was the most important issue for them. Democrat Ralph Northam won the state’s governor’s race and received support from 77 percent of the voters who put healthcare as their top concern, making the issue his biggest strength.

The voting results confirm a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which showed that Obamacare has a small favorability lead with 52 percent of respondents who approve of the ACA and 39 percent who disapprove.

CBO: Repealing Obamacare Mandate Would Leave Millions Uninsured

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a new analysis on the effects of repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate, as some Republicans push to include the provision in their tax reform bill.

According to the CBO, removing the requirement that all Americans be insured or pay a fine would reduce the federal budget deficit by $338 billion. However, this would also mean that 13 million people would be uninsured by 2027. The analysis also predicted that a repeal would cause health insurance premiums to increase about 10 percent most years over the next decade.

President Donald Trump and many Republican leaders have shown support for including a repeal of the mandate in the tax overhaul. However, House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has been against the idea.

Senators Propose Changes to Obamacare State Waiver Program

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Michael Crapo (R-ID) have introduced a bill that would change how Obamacare state waivers are executed.

The legislation would:

  • Allow governors to implement waivers under the Affordable Care Act without approval from their state legislators.
  • Give governors the power to end the waiver program.
  • Require that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary make a decision on waivers within 100 days.
  • Prevent insurance companies from limiting access for people with pre-existing conditions.

The waiver program enables states to alter portions of the Affordable Care Act as long as it doesn’t lower the quality of care or make care more expensive.

Hatch said: “While fully repealing and replacing Obamacare remains a priority, this approach would remove some of the current hurdles facing states across the country and provide concrete options to assist states in caring for their low-income populations in creative and fiscally responsible ways.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 7, 2017

Obamacare Enrollment Off to Strong Start

The first day of the Obamacare Open Enrollment Period saw twice the number of enrollees as last year. More than 200,000 people signed up for healthcare on the federal exchange on November 1 compared to 100,000 in 2016.

Traffic on the website was up on the first day of OEP, receiving 1 million visitors compared to 750,000 in 2016.

A government spokesperson said the first few days of enrollment have gone well. “The website performed optimally and consumers easily accessed enrollment tools to compare plans and prices.”

Executive Order Would Weaken Individual Mandate

The Trump administration has prepared an executive order that would weaken the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all Americans have healthcare coverage. This executive order could be released if congressional Republicans do not address it in a new tax reform bill.

If President Donald Trump issues the executive order, it would expand the “hardship exemption” so that more people could avoid paying a fine for a lack of insurance. Currently, an exemption is granted in the instance of the death of a family member, bankruptcy, a natural disaster, or poverty.

Congressional Republicans have been split on whether to include a repeal of the individual mandate within the tax bill.

If the regulation is eliminated, it would cause 15 million people to be uninsured by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Health Care Voter Coalition Set to Mobilize Constituents

A group of 30 Democratic progressive organizations has joined to rally a million voters against Republican candidates who are against Obamacare.

The Health Care Voter campaign is focusing on the 2018 midterm elections to highlight healthcare reform issues. The effort kicked off this week with a video that features prominent Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and DNC Chairman Tom Perez.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 3, 2017

Tax Bill Drops Medical Deductions, Keeps Individual Mandate

House Republicans released tax reform legislation Thursday that would eliminate a deduction for qualified medical expenses.

The medical deduction covers out-of-pocket expenses that exceed 10 percent of a person’s adjusted gross income. In 2015, it was used by 8.8 million people who claimed an estimated $87 billion in healthcare expenses. The majority of people who claimed the deduction were 50 or older with incomes under $75,000.

The bill does not include the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, which President Donald Trump and some Republican leaders wanted eliminated. The issue is not addressed in the proposal.

Study: Zero-Premium Bronze Plans Available for Low-Income Citizens

Older, lower-income Americans can purchase a bronze plan with no monthly premium in 98 percent of counties on the federal exchange, according to a study released Thursday by Avalere Heath.

The analysis was based on 50-year-olds who had a single income of $18,090 or were the head of a four-person household with an income of $36,900.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 2, 2017

Millions Cut From OEP Email Notices

The Trump administration sent initial healthcare enrollment notices to millions fewer Americans as compared to previous years.

Emails that went out prior to the start of the Open Enrollment Period (OEP) on Wednesday were only sent to people who currently are enrolled in a plan from the federal exchange. Recipients did not include the 20 million Americans who previously had an Obamacare plan.

In a change from emails sent in previous years, the notices did not include encouragement to sign up, the benefits of shopping for a new plan, or potential cost savings.

Emails to people who previously had a plan will be sent, although the communications will not mention the availability of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments that lower healthcare costs for low-income consumers, a spokesman told The Washington Post.

CMS says it will send out three to five emails to consumers throughout OEP. “The emails encourage potential consumers to shop around for the plan that best meets their needs,” said an agency spokesperson.

Trump Wants Obamacare Mandate in Tax Bill

President Donald Trump called on Congressional leaders to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in tweets posted Wednesday morning. “Wouldn’t it be great to Repeal the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate in ObamaCare and use those savings for further Tax Cuts for the Middle Class,” Trump tweeted.

The idea to eliminate the ACA’s requirement that everyone have health coverage as part of the year-end tax reform package was suggested by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR). Many Congressional GOP leaders are opposed to the idea. “I think tax reform is complicated enough without adding another layer of complexity,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX).

The president’s tweets seemed to contradict statements made Tuesday to reporters from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders when she told reporters that she didn’t think that eliminating the mandate needed to be included in the tax bill.

Bipartisan Stabilization Bill Backed by 200 Groups

The bipartisan healthcare stabilization bill proposed by the Senate Health Committee has been endorsed by more than 200 health and business organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association.

The bill would extend cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidy payments to insurers for two years and give states more flexibility to change some Affordable Care Act rules.

The bill may have the votes needed to pass, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will not call for a vote without presidential approval.

Obama Touts Obamacare in Promotional Video

Former President Barack Obama took to social media Wednesday in a short video to boost the first day of the Open Enrollment Period for Obamacare.

Obama encouraged his Twitter and Facebook followers to sign up for coverage on the healthcare exchange as part of the promotional efforts of nonprofit Get America Covered.

Healthcare Reform News Update for November 1, 2017

Federal Officials Propose Changes to ACA State Rules

The Department of Health and Human Services has released proposals to revise Affordable Care Act rules that allow states to change health plan benefit requirements and limit navigator programs. The changes would become effective in 2019.

Proposed changes include:

  • The ability for states to change their benefit standards or use the standards enacted by other states.
  • Reducing the number of navigator organizations per geographic area from two to one.
  • Removing the requirement that the navigator groups must be physically in the area they represent.
  • Allow states to decide if plans provide patients with a sufficient number of providers in its network to guarantee “reasonable access.”
  • Removing restrictions that require insurance companies to allocate 80 percent of premium funds to customer care.

House Leader Opposes Adding ACA Mandate Repeal in Tax Bill

Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX), chairman of the House’s Committee on Ways and Means, said he is against a proposal from Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) that would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in tax reform legislation.

“Look, I want to see that individual mandate repealed. I just haven’t seen, no one has seen 50 votes in the Senate to do it,” Brady said.

Groups File Lawsuit Against New Birth Control Rule

The National Women’s Law Center and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against a recent rule change from the Trump administration that allows more employers to be exempt from covering birth control for moral or religious reasons.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 31, 2017

Availability of Free Bronze Plans Increases

Consumers in more than half of U.S. counties will be able to get an Obamacare bronze plan with no premium cost, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis released Monday.

The study evaluated the 39 states that use the federal healthcare exchange and found that a consumer who is 40 years old with an income of $25,000 could find a zero-premium bronze plan in 1,540 counties throughout the nation.

“The availability of zero-dollar or ultra low-cost plans has a huge impact on consumer decision making. The chief question is whether consumers will know that they exist,” said Joshua Peck, a former Obama administration official. Peck is involved with an independent campaign to promote exchange enrollment.

HHS Confirms 37% Premium Increase for Silver Plans

Premiums for benchmark silver plans will rise 37 percent for 2018, according to a Department of Health and Human Services report released Monday.

The report also noted that tax credits would also rise, enabling 80 percent of enrollees on the federal exchange to be able to find plans for less than $75 per month after tax credits.

Congressman Wants Repeal of Individual Mandate in Tax Reform Bill

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) wants tax-reform legislation to include the repeal of Obamacare regulations that require individuals to have healthcare coverage.

Cotton said Sunday that the repeal would be “a tax cut for working families” and referred to data from the Congressional Budget Office that said the measure could save $300 billion over 10 years.

Bipartisan Group Urges Reauthorization of Community Health Center Funds

More than 150 bipartisan lawmakers have asked Congress to renew funding for community health centers, which serve about 25 million people, regardless of their ability to pay for treatment. The funding for the program expired September 30.

The department of Health and Human Services estimates that 2,800 community health centers, created from funds established by the Affordable Care Act, will be forced to close if the funding is not reauthorized.

“We understand that community health centers across the country are already facing disruptions as a result of going over the so-called ‘funding cliff’ at the end of September, and we urge you to work with Republicans and Democrats in a bipartisan manner to reauthorize this critical program for five years,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 30, 2017

Expectations for the Upcoming Enrollment Period: Options, Costs, and Subsidies

Axios was given an early look at a Department of Health and Human Service’s report about this year’s open enrollment period. Here are some highlights:

  • The average marketplace enrollee has 25 insurance plans to choose from.
    • 45 percent of marketplace enrollees will have three or more competing insurance options
    • 26 percent will have two insurance options
    • 30 percent will have one insurance option
  • The benchmark plan available to 27-year-olds is increasing its premiums by 37 percent on average.
  • Premium tax credits (or subsidies) are increasing by 45 percent on average due to rising benchmark plan prices.

Trump Administration Proposes Changes to Essential Health Benefits

On Friday, the Trump administration proposed a new plan that would give states the option to alter essential health benefits on insurance plans. “Starting in 2019, states could select from coverage levels in another state, which could be less generous. Ten broad categories of services required by the health law would still have to be covered, but the fine print could change.” For example, insurers could choose to only cover specific prescription drugs.

The proposal also makes changes to subsidy eligibility, insurance company reimbursement, and small business health insurance markets.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 27, 2017

Poll: A Majority of Americans Support Obamacare

Most U.S. citizens approve of the Affordable Care Act, and support for it has grown, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted October 14-23.

The poll found that 62 percent now want the law to be maintained, compared to 54 percent in January.

The poll also showed that 51 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans prefer that a bipartisan group work together to improve the law, instead of a single party.

As in other recent polls, this latest one exposed the continued consumer confusion on the state of the law with 11 percent believing that Obamacare had ended and 67 percent who believe it is “still operating.” Additional results from the poll are below.

On President Donald Trump’s decision to halt cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies:

  • 56 percent were opposed to it
  • 29 percent supported it

On who would do a better job at fixing Obamacare:

  • Most Democrats said the federal government
  • Most Republicans said individual U.S. states

On whether the law has been successful:

  • Most Democrats said yes
  • Most Republicans said no

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 26, 2017

ACA Silver Plan Premiums Will Rise 34 Percent

Premium increases for silver plans from will go up an average of 34 percent for 2018, according to a study released Wednesday by consulting firm Avalere Health.

Premium changes will vary by state. For example, Iowa will raise premiums by 69 percent; Alaska is lowering premiums by 22 percent.

The rate hike is due to “market uncertainty and the federal government’s failure to pay for cost-sharing reductions,” said Avalere Senior Vice President Caroline Pearson.

It’s not just silver plans that are affected. The study also found that bronze plans will rise an average of 18 percent, and gold plans will increase an average of 16 percent.

Due to the Trump administration’s halting of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, some states are adding a surcharge to their silver plans, which will help eligible consumers take advantage of tax credits to lower costs. Low-income consumers who receive subsidies won’t be affected by the increases if they choose a silver plan with the lowest or second-lowest cost in their region.

Federal Judge Denies Bid to Resume Cost-Sharing Reduction Subsidies

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria denied a request from 19 attorneys general across the country that would force the Trump administration to immediately resume funding cost-sharing reduction payments under the Affordable Care Act.

Chhabria noted that states had devised workarounds to the lost subsidies, which totaled $7 billion this year, and that “emergency relief sought by the states would be counterproductive.”

The judge’s decision concerned only the emergency restraining order; lawsuits remain in effect over halting the payments.

Bipartisan Stabilization Bill Would Lower Deficit by $3.8 Billion

The bipartisan healthcare stabilization bill, authored by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), would lower the federal deficit by $3.8 billion over 10 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate.

The CBO report also noted that the bill would not affect the number of people with health insurance.

Conservative Republicans have not shown support for the bill, but Democrats and at least 12 Republicans are backing it.

Maryland to Raise Premiums as Much as 76 Percent

On Wednesday, regulators in Maryland gave two insurance companies permission to raise health premiums on some plans by as much as 76 percent for 2018.

CareFirst Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente said that recent orders from the Trump administration made the increases necessary. CareFirst will raise premiums 58.2 percent for silver HMO plans and 76 percent for silver PPOs. Kaiser premiums will go up 43.4 percent for silver HMO plans.

The increases will affect approximately 25,000 consumers in the state.

Maryland Insurance Administration Commissioner Al Redmer explained the approvals, which come less than two weeks before the open enrollment period. “We didn’t want to arbitrarily increase rates a month or so ago without having to. We erred on the side of the consumer to keep prices as low as possible for as long as we could.”

Democrats Propose Public Option Bill

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) proposed a healthcare bill with 17 cosponsors on Wednesday that lets states set up a public option that expands Medicaid eligibility to anyone.

Even with backing by Congressional Democratic healthcare advocates such as Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Coy Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA), the bill is not expected to pass in the House.

House Will Not Vote on Healthcare This Year

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday that he has no plans to address the Alexander-Murray bipartisan stabilization bill or attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act until next year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 25, 2017

GOP Lawmakers Offer Alternative Healthcare Bill

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) on Tuesday proposed new legislation to help stabilize the healthcare marketplace. The bill includes restoring cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies for two years like the current bill approved by a bipartisan committee, but adds some conservative measures.

The new bill includes delaying enforcement of the individual mandate, retroactively exempting businesses from offering healthcare, and allowing individuals to contribute more to health savings accounts. It also includes “pro-life protections,” details of which were not available.

President Donald Trump praised the work of representatives but gave no indication on whether he approves of the bill.

Poll: Voters Prefer to Keep Cost-Sharing Payments

A plurality of voters are against Trump’s move to cut off cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies to insurance companies that help pay healthcare costs for low-income consumers, according to a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll.

It also showed that even with a Republican majority in both houses and the White House, most voters blame Democrats and former President Barack Obama for the current state of the Affordable Care Act.

On ending the subsidies:

  • 46 percent disapprove
  • 39 percent approve
  • 16 percent had no opinion

When asked who is responsible for the current state of the healthcare law:

  • 67 percent said Obama
  • 20 percent said Trump

The poll also showed considerable voter confusion on stabilization efforts:

  • 45 percent correctly answered that the law has not been repealed or replaced
  • 24 percent thought the law has been partially repealed
  • 15 percent thought the law has been entirely repealed or replaced

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 24, 2017

Analyst Predicts 1.1 Million Fewer Healthcare Enrollees

At least 1.1 million fewer people will sign up for healthcare coverage on the exchanges this year, according to an analysis released Monday.

Joshua Peck, the former chief marketing officer for, said that, due to President Donald Trump’s cuts to advertising budgets, fewer consumers will be aware that this healthcare option is still available.

Peck’s predictions are based on studies that showed how much previous advertising efforts cost the government per person.

The Trump administration disputes Peck’s findings. “Last year, fewer Americans bought Obamacare coverage despite the previous administration nearly doubling the advertising budget. More marketing will not convince Americans to sign up for failed coverage they cannot afford or that does not meet their needs,” said Health and Human Services spokesperson Matt Lloyd.

U.S. Judge Hears Subsidy-Payment Lawsuit

A lawsuit filed by 19 states and the District of Columbia against Trump’s recent order to discontinue cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies was heard in a San Francisco federal court on Monday.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria appeared unconvinced by arguments, noting that some states, anticipating the subsidies would end, devised a workaround to ensure consumers would not pay more for health insurance.

He is expected to issue a ruling Tuesday.

Iowa Withdraws ACA Proposal

Iowa has halted its efforts to overhaul the Affordable Care Act by offering an alternative individual health insurance system. The state wanted to offer just one type of insurance plan in the individual market for 2018 and reshape the subsidies that help people buy coverage.

The state’s only insurer, Medica, recently raised its premiums an average of 57 percent, which may cause up to 22,000 people to lose coverage, according to the state’s insurance commissioner.

Iowa officials said Obamacare’s waiver rules prevented the Trump administration from approving the request, but two months ago Trump reportedly told a top federal health official to reject it.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 23, 2017

Schumer Asks for Floor Vote on ACA Stabilization Bill

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Sunday that the Alexander-Murray bipartisan healthcare stabilization bill has support from a majority of senators and asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for a floor vote this week.

In defense of the bill, Schumer said: “It will pass. It will pass by a large number of votes. That’ll put pressure on the House because let’s not forget what this bill does is prevent premiums from going up.”

McConnell said he will be “happy to bring a bill to the floor” only if he knows that President Donald Trump is willing to sign it.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 20, 2017

Study: ACA Helped Increase Insurance Coverage for Cancer Patients

New research published in JAMA Oncology showed that the passage of the Affordable Care Act helped increase health insurance coverage for people diagnosed with cancer, especially in states that expanded Medicaid.

Compared to the years prior to the ACA becoming law, the study found that:

  • The law reduced newly diagnosed uninsured cancer patients overall by one-third.
  • States that expanded Medicaid reduced the number of uninsured cancer patients by 50 percent.
  • The percentage of uninsured patients fell for each type of cancer reported.
    • Breast cancer: 26 percent
    • Prostate cancer: 29 percent
    • Lung, bronchial, or thyroid cancer: almost 33 percent
  • Uninsured white patients fell 37 percent, blacks fell by 18 percent, and Latinos fell by 40 percent.

Bipartisan Stabilization Bill Formally Introduced

Twelve Republicans and 12 Democrats helped formally announced the Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act of 2017, the bill put together by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to stabilize the Obamacare marketplace.

The bill will extend cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers for two years and allow states to waive some ACA regulations.

Republicans aren’t expected to bring the bill up for a vote without approval from President Donald Trump, whose support has been unclear.

On Thursday, Marc Short, a senior White House aide, said that Trump wouldn’t sign off on the bill unless mandates and taxes were rolled back and more emphasis was put on health-savings accounts. “We’re willing to work on this but we need to make sure that we’re getting something that will actually reduce healthcare costs,” Short said.

GOP Senators Ask for Conservative Changes to Healthcare Bill

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (SC) and Bill Cassidy (LA) said Thursday they were working to add more “flexibility provisions” to the Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act.

The pair hope to add some of the conservative changes they had included in their own healthcare bill that failed last month, including waiving the individual mandate penalty, increasing the duration of short-term health plans, and not requiring employers to provide health coverage.

Senate Democrats Challenge Contraception Executive Order

Nineteen Democrats in the Senate have endorsed a bill that that would overturn President Trump’s recent executive order that expands the rules that exempt employers from providing birth control coverage if they cite a religious or moral objection. Four Democrats in the House will present a similar bill.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) was one of the signers. “President Trump wants to make birth control about ideology, but let’s be clear: for women and their families in the 21st century, birth control is about being healthy and financially secure—and that’s why Democrats are going to keep fighting back against his shameful attacks on women with this bill and any other way we can,” she said.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 19, 2017

ACA Stabilization Effort Falters, Could Appear in Year-End Spending Package

The Senate’s latest bipartisan healthcare deal, which would continue cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, has lost its chances of approval—a day after it was announced by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA).

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) says he won’t support the measure. President Donald Trump opposes the bill but has not specified if he would veto it. Their opposition could force the issue to be addressed in an end-of-year spending package.

Many GOP lawmakers contend that they will have to address instability on the exchanges, which was exacerbated last week by Trump’s move to end the subsidies that help insurers pay low-income individuals’ out-of-pocket costs.

18 States, D.C. File Emergency Order to Reinstate Subsidies

A week after filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration for cutting off cost-sharing reduction subsidies, the same 18 states and the District of Columbia issued an emergency temporary order on Wednesday to try to immediately continue the payments. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said he expects to hold a hearing early next week.

Governors Ask for Healthcare Vote

Ten bipartisan governors sent a joint letter to Congress voicing their approval of funding cost-sharing reduction payments through 2019. “We urge Congress to quickly pass legislation to stabilize our private health insurance markets and make quality health insurance more available and affordable,” the governors wrote.

The governors include: John Kasich (R-OH), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Steve Bullock (D-MT), Bill Walker (I-AK), Tom Wolf (D-PA), Brian Sandoval (R-NV), Terry McAuliffe (D-VA), John Bel Edwards (D-LA), Charlie Baker (R-MA), and Phil Scott (R-VT).

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 18, 2017

Bipartisan ACA Deal Announced; President’s Approval Unclear

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) unveiled their long-negotiated measure to help stabilize the Obamacare marketplace. It reinstates the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies to insurers that President Donald Trump halted last week.

Under the bipartisan agreement, the CSRs would continue for two years while states are given more leeway in coverage requirements, including revising regulations for state waiver applications and allowing insurers to offer catastrophic copper plans to people over 30, while maintaining a single risk pool.

Trump appeared to show his support for the measure Tuesday morning, calling the deal “a very good solution.” However, he grew skeptical later in the day, saying “I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.”

Republican Senators John McCain (AZ) and Lisa Murkowski (AK)—who were integral in the failure of the two repeal-and-replace bills earlier this year—praised the agreement. Other Republican leaders have not shown that they would back the bill, and approval is not assured.

GOP Senators Propose Relaxing ACA Individual Mandate Requirements

Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced legislation that would exempt some people from Obamacare’s mandate that requires most Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a financial penalty.

In a joint statement, the senators said they wanted to help working-class individuals. “Nearly 80 percent of the Americans who paid the individual-mandate penalty in 2016 earned less than $50,000.”

The measure would exempt:

  • People who earn less than the national median household income.
  • People who live in states where the insurance premiums increased an average of more than 10 percent.
  • People in counties with a single insurer on the exchange.

Poll Shows Support for Healthcare Executive Order

A new Morning Consult/Politico poll showed that more than half of voters expressed approval of Trump’s executive order to allow businesses to form groups to offer low-cost health insurance but are divided on its impact. Poll findings include:

  • 52 percent approve of association health plans (AHPs)
  • 39 percent think AHPs will lower premiums
  • 46 percent would be unlikely to switch to a lower cost, less generous plan
  • 36 percent think costs for health insurance will likely rise

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 17, 2017

Trump Backs Bipartisan ACA Fix, Predicts Solution by April

President Donald Trump on Monday backed a bipartisan Obamacare fix, after speaking with Health Committee Chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). He also said there would be a long-term fix by April of next year.

The president urged Alexander to get a bipartisan deal that will continue cost-sharing reduction payments for up to two years, according to an aide.

On his future plans, Trump said: “I think we’ll have a short-term fix, and then we’ll have a long-term fix, and that will take place probably in March or April. We will have a very solid vote. It’ll be probably 100 percent Republican, no Democrats, but most people know that’s gonna be a very good form of health insurance.”

Two Senators to Propose New Healthcare Option

Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) plan to unveil legislation this week that would allow non-elderly workers to enroll in Medicare-style plans.

The proposal is considered a public option called “Medicare-X” that would allow consumers to purchase healthcare plans that use the network of Medicare providers and physicians at similar rates. Low-income workers would receive tax credits. The plan would be rolled out in two phases. At first, Medicare-X would only be available in counties that have one or no providers on the Obamacare exchange. Phase two would roll the plan out to all counties.

A similar plan was proposed in 2009 and 2010 during the Obama administration but was dropped.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 16, 2017

18 States Sue Over Trump’s ACA Subsidy Decision

President Donald Trump’s move to eliminate cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies has brought about a multistate lawsuit filed in federal court October 13. Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., filed a complaint to try to ensure that scheduled payments to insurers resume.

The Trump administration says that the subsidies are illegal. In a statement, the White House commented: “Based on guidance from the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that there is no appropriation for cost-sharing reduction payments to insurance companies under Obamacare. In light of this analysis, the Government cannot lawfully make the cost-sharing reduction payments.”

One of the complainants, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says the subsidies must be paid as long as the Affordable Care Act remains in force. He said that eliminating the subsidies is “… breathtakingly reckless. This move is unacceptable, it’s cruel, and it is unlawful.”

Pro-Trump States Most Affected by Subsidy Cutoff

States that helped elect Trump benefited the most from insurance cost-sharing reduction payments. An analysis by The Associated Press found that:

  • 70 percent of beneficiaries live in states that Trump won last November.
  • In the 30 states he won, nearly 4 million people benefited from the subsidies.
  • Of the 10 states with the highest percentage of consumers benefiting from CSR payments, all but one favored Trump.

Key Republican Urges Trump to Resume Payments

Senator Susan Collins of Maine has called on Trump to support a bipartisan effort to reinstate insurer payments. Collins said: “What the president is doing is affecting people’s access and the cost of health care right now. This is not a bailout of the insurers. What this money is used for is to help low-income people afford their deductibles and their co-pays.”

A bipartisan attempt by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) would fund the subsidies for up to two years to help to stabilize Obamacare. The subsidies help insurers lower out-of-pocket costs for about 6 million people enrolled in Obamacare plans.

The insurer payments have stopped just two weeks prior to the open enrollment period.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 13, 2017

Trump to End Subsidies to Health Insurers

The federal government will discontinue cost-sharing subsidies that help health insurance companies defer costs for low-income citizens, the Trump administration announced Thursday. The payments will stop immediately, with no transition period.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “based on guidance from the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that there is no appropriation for cost-sharing reduction payments to insurance companies under Obamacare.”

Many insurance companies predicted the move and raised premiums for 2018 plans accordingly; some left the marketplace. It’s too soon to know if additional insurers will follow suit.

Cutting the subsidies is seen as a blow to the Affordable Care Act. Critics call the move “sabotage.” In reaction, attorneys general from California and New York announced their intentions to sue the Trump administration in an attempt to protect the payments.

Anthem Reduces Planned Premium Hikes in California

Anthem Blue Cross in California will reduce its 2018 planned premium increases to individuals by 3 percent and small business by 2.5 percent after questioning by state regulators. The company will now increase rates approximately 37 percent.

It’s anticipated that the new rates will save roughly $21 million for individuals and $93 million for small businesses.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 12, 2017

Navigator Groups to Severely Reduce Services After Funding Cuts

The majority of Obamacare Navigator groups are limiting their services due to budget cuts by the Trump administration, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey conducted between September 22 and October 4.

Funding for the Navigator groups, which provide outreach, education, and enrollment assistance, was cut an average of 41 percent for the 2018 budget year, though the amount of cuts for each state vary widely from none to 82 percent.

Findings from respondents who answered the survey as “very likely” or “somewhat likely” include:

  • 55 percent of statewide programs and 72 percent of regional programs will limit services to rural residents.
  • 89 percent expect to lay off staff due to the cuts.
  • 89 percent will spend less on advertising.
  • 81 percent will reduce the number of their outreach activities and events.
  • 57 percent will reduce the number of months that they provide enrollment assistance.
  • 57 percent will reduce the time they devote to assisting consumers with complex cases.

California Imposes Surcharge on Silver Plans

California’s state health exchange said it plans to impose a surcharge of 12.4 percent to silver-level health plans in 2018. The surcharge is a result of the Trump administration’s refusal to commit to making key insurer payments known as cost-sharing reductions. With the surcharge, average rates for silver-level plans will be about 25 percent higher next year, according to Covered California.

About 78 percent of the consumers who have been using cost-sharing reductions will face little or no increase in their actual out-of-pocket coverage payments as a result of the change, officials said. Of the remaining consumers, about half will see increases of less than $25 per month.

West Virginia Approves Double-Digit Exchange Increases

West Virginia officials approved double-digit rate increases for health plans offered in the state through the federal Obamacare exchange. Highmark West Virginia will increase premiums by 25.6 percent for 2018, while CareSource Insurance will increase 19.6 percent.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 11, 2017

Iowa Seeks to Leave Federal Health Insurance Marketplace

Iowa is seeking to move out of the federal marketplace system and set up a state-run exchange instead. If approved, the state would be allowed to eliminate key Obamacare features, including its federally run exchange, subsidy structure, and providing affordable coverage for low-income individuals.

Iowa’s proposed plan creates a single healthcare option for customers with a deductible of $7,350 for a single person and $14,700 for families. It would redirect federal money dedicated to people with lower incomes and use it for premium assistance for all customers, regardless of income.

President Donald Trump has requested that the plan be rejected. It currently remains under review.

Acting HHS Secretary Appointed

Eric Hargen has been appointed the acting secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He fills the position after the resignation of Tom Price last month.

Hargen, a former corporate lawyer, served under former President George W. Bush and was part of President Donald Trump’s HHS transition team.

Trump Executive Healthcare Order to Come This Week

President Donald Trump will sign his healthcare executive order by the end of the week, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

On Tuesday, the president tweeted that “Since Congress can’t get its act together on HealthCare, I will be using the power of the pen to give great HealthCare to many people — FAST.” The order is expected to allow more businesses and individuals to buy association health plans that can cross state lines, extend short-term health plans, and encourage health savings accounts.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 10, 2017

California Governor Signs Drug Transparency Bill

California Governor Jerry Brown on Monday signed the country’s most comprehensive legislation that addresses rising drug prices. The new law will require drug companies to give 60 days’ notice to state agencies and health insurers anytime they plan to raise the price of a drug by 16 percent over a 2-year period. The legislation also ramps up annual disclosure requirements on overall pricing.

“The essence of this bill is pretty simple,” Brown said. “Californians have a right to know why their medical costs are out of control, especially when the pharmaceutical profits are soaring.”

Trump Could Sign Healthcare Executive Order This Week

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order later this week that would allow small businesses or other groups to join together to purchase health insurance across state lines. The order would change existing association health plan (AHP) regulations, including loosening Obamacare protections to consumers with pre-existing conditions.

Proponents of AHPs say the order could help lower prices and grow the free market. Others say that it would cause insurance companies to leave the exchanges and increase instability in the marketplace.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 9, 2017

Call Center for ACA Enrollment Will Stay Fully Staffed

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will not cut the number of employees at a call center that helps individuals enroll for Obamacare health coverage.

Last year, the center staffed 11,000 phone representatives during the open enrollment period; CMS anticipates having a similar number this year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 6, 2017

Trump Administration to Dismantle Contraception Mandate

President Donald Trump issued new rules Friday that will allow more employers be exempt from covering birth control for moral or religious reasons. The move could affect hundreds of thousands of women who currently receive contraception coverage at no charge under the Affordable Care Act.

“Application of the mandate to entities with sincerely held religious objections to it does not serve a compelling governmental interest,” according to the new rules administered by the Trump administration.

The new rules would take effect immediately, according to the Trump administration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the roll back. Several women’s advocacy and public health groups have promised to file lawsuits against the action.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 5, 2017

California Strengthens State Marketplace With 2 Laws

Two measures signed by California Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday will help ensure extended enrollment and care for citizens who participate in Covered California, the state’s Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The first bill continues the state’s 3-month enrollment period. The second bill enables people with certain serious conditions and those needing maternity or infant care to remain with their established doctors for up to 1 year, even if those physicians are not in the network of their new insurance plan.

“Providing these continuity-of-care protections and keeping a 12-week open enrollment period are simple but important steps to ensure access to care,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 4, 2017

Obamacare Proponents Launch Enrollment Campaign

A new group started by former Obama administration officials is spearheading an ad campaign called Get America Covered to encourage Americans to buy health insurance during this year’s open enrollment period (OEP), which runs from November 1 to December 15.

Lori Lordes and Joshua Peck, who oversaw enrollment efforts within the Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama, have joined with political figures and celebrities to create digital advertising to encourage people to sign up.

Get America Covered has formed partnerships with employers, community organizations, and other existing avenues for outreach to try to help offset some of the recent cuts made to the OEP advertising budget by the Trump administration.

Marketplace Stabilization Talks Bring Compromise on Subsidies

On Tuesday, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) announced a bipartisan market stabilization bill, which will continue to fund Obamacare subsidies for 2 more years. Initially, Republicans pushed for 1 year of payments, but Democrats said 2 years would better shore up the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Healthcare Reform News Update for October 2, 2017

Healthcare Ranks as Top Voter Issue

A Morning Consult/Politico survey shows that healthcare is now tied with the economy as the top issue for voters. This is the highest ranking it’s had in more than 3 years. Twenty-four percent of survey respondents said healthcare is the most important voting issue. Liz Hamel, director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Public Opinion and Survey Research team, said: “It has to do with attention being brought to the issue from both sides of the political spectrum.”

HHS Secretary Tom Price Resigns

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price resigned Friday amid controversy over his use of private jets for personal travel. President Donald Trump appointed Deputy Assistant Health Secretary Don Wright to serve as acting secretary until Price is replaced.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 29, 2017

Bipartisan Healthcare Deal Nears Finalization

On Wednesday, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) moved toward a plan to stabilize Obamacare in the short term.

The deal would help individuals who buy health insurance plans on federal and state exchanges by stabilizing the market. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the action was nearly complete. “They both inform me that they’re on the verge of an agreement, a bipartisan healthcare agreement to stabilize markets and lower premiums,” Schumer said.

GOP Vows Continued Fight for Repeal

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said Thursday that they would continue their efforts to pass legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

After their healthcare bill failed to get enough votes to pass this week, the pair met with President Donald Trump to discuss healthcare and stated that they were “… committed to holding congressional hearings and working with our nation’s governors who believe returning power to states is a vast improvement over Obamacare.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 28, 2017

Trump Plans Executive Action on Interstate Healthcare Sales

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he could sign an executive order as soon as next week to allow insurers to sell health plans across state lines and make it easier for individual consumers to buy coverage as a group.

Republicans have sought to give insurers leeway to sell policies to consumers in a state where they aren’t licensed; such policies would only need to meet the insurer’s home-state regulations.

Mike Consedine, CEO of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, said his group won’t comment on Trump’s order until it sees details, but, “as a general matter, health insurers already have the ability to sell insurance in multiple states as long as they comply with state consumer protection and licensing laws, which many already do. The NAIC has long been opposed to any attempt to reduce or preempt state authority or weaken consumer protections.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 27, 2017

Marketplace Instability Will Impact Insurance Premiums

Insurers must decide by today whether to sign contracts to sell coverage in the Obamacare marketplace for 2018. But the failure of the Graham-Cassidy repeal bill and slowdown on bipartisan attempts to stabilize the market will most likely cause insurers to raise premiums by an average of 15 percent, with some states seeing even higher increases.

Medicare Reform Bill Passes in Senate

On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed the CHRONIC Care Act, a bill that would make changes to Medicare payment policies aiming to lower overall costs and improve care for people with chronic health conditions.

Some of the proposals in the bill include:

  • Expanding and extending the Independence at Home (IAH) program.
  • Improving the flexibility of Medicare Advantage through value-based insurance design, special needs plans, and expanded supplemental benefits.
  • Improving efficiencies of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).
  • Expanding access to telehealth services.

The bipartisan bill was introduced last year from a group led by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

Bipartisan Healthcare Stabilization Talks May Resume

Last week, Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) suspended bipartisan negotiations on stabilizing the healthcare marketplace. But on Tuesday, he said he would work to revive the effort.

Alexander said: “I will consult with Senator [Patty] Murray [D-Wash.] and with other senators … to see if senators can find consensus on a limited bipartisan plan that could be enacted into law to help lower premiums and make insurance available to the 18 million Americans in the individual market in 2018 and 2019.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 26, 2017

GOP Lacks Votes to Pass Obamacare Repeal Bill

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) announced Monday that she would oppose the GOP’s last attempt to repeal Obamacare. The move ensured that Republicans would not have the votes they need to pass the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Also on Monday, the Congressional Budget Office said its preliminary analysis of the bill showed that it would reduce the number of insured by millions.

Senate Republicans are set to meet today on whether to try to open debate on healthcare again.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 25, 2017

Obamacare Website to Go Dark Most Sundays During Enrollment

The Trump administration plans to shut down the Affordable Care Act’s website for 12 hours nearly every Sunday of the upcoming enrollment season. This will affect more than 30 states that use the federal website for their marketplaces.

The site will go down for maintenance every Sunday, except December 10, from midnight until noon. It will also shut down overnight November 1, the first day of open enrollment.

CMS Asks for Public’s Opinion on Healthcare Revamp

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has put out an informal request to hear from the general public about ways to revamp government healthcare programs.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), an idea development lab based inside CMS, has put out an informal request for information and seeks feedback on a new direction that “will promote patient-centered care and test market-driven reforms that empower beneficiaries as consumers, provide price transparency, increase choices and competition to drive quality, reduce costs, and improve outcomes.”

CMMI is interested in testing models in 8 focus areas:

  • Increased participation in advanced alternative payment models (APMs)
  • Consumer-directed care and market-based innovation models
  • Physician specialty models
  • Prescription drug models
  • Medicare Advantage (MA) innovation models
  • State-based and local innovation (includes Medicaid-focused models)
  • Mental and behavioral health models
  • Program integrity

There are 2 ways to submit responses:

  1. Fill out the RFI online submission form.
  2. Send an email to

All comments are due by November 20.

Hurricanes Prompt Request to Extend ACA & Medicare Enrollment Dates

Due to the impacts of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, 2 top House Democrats have asked the Trump administration to extend the upcoming open enrollment season for both Obamacare and Medicare Advantage plans through January 2018.

Representatives Richard Neal (D-MA) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) argued in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price that residents affected by the storms should be given more time due to rebuilding efforts.

Healthcare Study: Most Americans in Agreement About Insurance

A majority of Americans agree on major points of health insurance decisions, according to a new study from the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute. The findings show:

  • 98 percent consider health insurance important.
  • 28 percent think health insurance systems should include basic coverage for everyone. (This was the most popular answer to the question).
  • 49 percent said they’ve had to cut expenses to pay for healthcare.
  • 55 percent said that cost was the primary reason for their lack of health insurance.

The survey, taken earlier this summer, was given to more than 450 physicians and 9,200 people across 15 states.

Deadline for Waiving Medicare Late Enrollment Penalty Ends This Week

A temporary rule change that enabled people to enroll in Medicare late without paying a lifetime of penalties ends on September 30.

Last week, several health and insurance groups asked Medicare chief Seema Verma to extend the waiver, saying many people were not aware of the waiver.

Typically, if people over 65 do not sign up for Medicare Part B as soon as they are eligible, their monthly premium may go up 10 percent for each year that they could have had Part B.

Health, Insurance Groups Oppose GOP Healthcare Bill

The Graham-Cassidy Obamacare replacement bill has garnered strong opposition from dozens of national health and medical advocacy groups, including the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association, American Hospital Association, American Diabetes Association, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In addition, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans have also come out against the bill.

Bipartisan Healthcare Bill Halted

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) says there’s not a path forward for the bipartisan work he and Patty Murray (D-WA) have recently completed in an effort to stabilize the healthcare marketplace.

Democrats call the move a political strategy to bolster the Graham-Cassidy replacement bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Trump Administration announced their opposition to the bipartisan plan last week.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 20, 2017

Insurance Premiums for Job-Based Coverage Show Modest Rise

Annual premiums for employer-based family plans continued to increase this year, while the share of employers who provide insurance for their workers continued to decline, according to an annual poll of employers by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • There was a 3 percent increase for people getting family health insurance through their employers.
  • On average, the total cost of family premiums was $18,764 for this year.
  • Workers are paying, on average, about a third of the total cost for family coverage.
  • Individuals are paying an average of $1,213 for employer-provided coverage. This is a 4 percent increase.
  • Employees at small firms (companies with fewer than 200 workers) pay about $1,550 more each year for family premiums than those at larger firms.

Feds Make September Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments

Health insurers will receive key Obamacare payments this month that help them reduce out-of-pocket costs for millions of low-income enrollees. An effort in Congress to extend the payments, known as cost-sharing reductions (CSR), has failed as the White House and GOP leaders push for another vote to repeal Obamacare.

Ryan, White House Reject Senate Committee ACA Fix

House Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House informed Senate GOP leaders that they oppose a bipartisan push from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to stabilize the Affordable Care Act exchanges. This move potentially halts negotiations as GOP senators try to build momentum for the Graham-Cassidy repeal bill.

Governors, Healthcare Groups Oppose Graham-Cassidy ACA Repeal Bill

The GOP Senate’s new Obamacare repeal bill, drafted by Senators Lindsey Graham (SC) and Bill Cassidy (LA), was strongly rejected by 11 bipartisan governors on Tuesday. Opposition also came from the AARP and the American Hospital Association, the nation’s largest lobbying group for hospitals and doctors.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 19, 2017

CBO to Release Limited Analysis of ACA Repeal Bill Next Week

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is aiming to provide a “preliminary assessment” of an Obamacare repeal bill sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) by early next week.

The analysis will only include basic budgetary estimates. Details on how the bill will affect healthcare coverage or insurance premiums won’t be available for several more weeks, which would be after the September 30 deadline Republicans have to pass the bill using only party-line support.

Private Insurer Launches OEP Ad Campaign

After federal funds for ACA advertising were cut by 90 percent, startup insurance company Oscar Health decided to launch a multimillion dollar ad campaign this week. The campaign is aimed at millennials, in hopes of getting them to sign up on the ACA exchanges during the open enrollment period (OEP).

Oscar Health is the first private company to run its own campaign in lieu of the cuts. “Particularly in this year of uncertainty, it’s really important for us to be in market early and reassure the 22 million folks that are insured that it is really important to get covered,” said Sara Rowghani, the company’s vice president.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 18, 2017

Anthem Decides to Remain in Virginia ACA Exchange

Anthem, Inc. announced Friday that, in 2018, it will sell Affordable Care Act health plans in 68 Virginia cities and counties that had been at risk of having no individual coverage options. This act is a reversal of the company’s previous decision to not sell insurance in the state.

This move eliminates the risk of bare counties, meaning there are no longer any U.S. counties without at least 1 insurer willing to sell individual market health plans in 2018.

Anthem is still working with other state regulators concerning its market participation for next year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 15, 2017

ACA Stabilization Committee to Craft Bill Next Week

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Thursday held its fourth and final hearing on stabilizing the insurance market. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) says the panel intends to produce a new bipartisan bill by early next week that would stabilize the market. The panel hopes to pass it by the end of the month.

Alexander summarized the ideas that were heard in the 3 previous hearings:

  • Funding cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments
  • Expanding copper plans to those 30 and over
  • Granting states more flexibility to approve health insurance plans and prices

The committee has posted a package of hearing materials, including a video recording and written versions of the witnesses’ testimony.

ACA Navigator Enrollment Programs Face 92% Cut

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials have informed navigators, groups who assist with Affordable Care Act enrollment, that their funding will be reduced by up to 92 percent.

The groups have braced for the cuts since the Trump administration announced two weeks ago that it would shrink overall program funding from $62.5 million to $36.8 million for the 2017 enrollment season and cut the ACA advertising budget by $90 million.

Grant funds for the navigator programs ran out at the beginning of September, and the groups will not be paid retroactively for the first 2 weeks of September.

CBO Projects 15 Percent Hike in 2018 Premiums

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that individual health insurance premiums will rise around 15 percent next year. The projected increase is due to marketplace anxiety about whether the Trump administration will block federal subsidies. Also, more people are living in regions with only one insurer, which creates less competition for companies.

According to the CBO report, the amount of Americans buying insurance on the ACA exchange is expected to rise by 1 million in 2018; however, the increase would be constrained by rising premiums, dissolved outreach programs, and a shortened enrollment period.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 14, 2017

Trump Meets With House Bipartisan Committee on ACA Stabilization

President Donald Trump met with the House’s bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus on Wednesday to discuss an Affordable Care Act stabilization plan that is similar to what is being considered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Trump appeared “open” to the idea of a stabilization bill but did not make any commitments. He also did not commit to proposed cost-sharing reductions.

“He was clearly listening but he was not committal about what he was going to do,” Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) said of Trump.

GOP Rolls Out Latest Obamacare Repeal Bill

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Ron Johnson (R-WI) released an Obamacare repeal bill on Wednesday. With only 17 days left to get the bill passed, it’s a last-shot effort to repeal and replace Obamacare before the expiration of fast-track procedural powers, which Republicans hope to use to bypass the threat of a Democratic filibuster.

Highlights of the bill:

  • Block grants that will allow each state to define its own rules for health plans.
  • An elimination of the ACA tax on medical devices.
  • Americans won’t be required to carry insurance.
  • Large employers won’t be required to offer health coverage.
  • People with preexisting medical conditions will continue to be covered by insurers.

“It should have been our first bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, but it is now our last,” Graham said. “To those in the Republican Party who feel like we have not fought as hard as we could, you’re right.”

Trump Administration Working to Revamp Healthcare Regulations

The Trump administration is moving forward with plans to overturn major Obama-era healthcare rules and relax federal oversight over parts of the healthcare industry.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and CMS Administrator Seema Verma have indicated their intentions, which include:

  • Ending mandatory programs to make hospitals more accountable for their patients’ health.
  • Slowing the transition to a system that pays doctors based on quality rather than quantity.
  • Restoring nursing homes’ ability to require that patients pre-emptively give up their right to sue for negligence.
  • Stopping Medicare’s move to a new medical equipment bidding program that would cut government payments to the industry.

Anthem, ConnectiCare Will Continue on Access Health CT Exchange

Anthem and ConnectiCare announced they will continue to sell policies on Connecticut’s Access Health CT exchange in 2018. However, the company will charge more for most policies. Anthem has been approved for a 31.7 percent increase on individual policies both on and off the exchange; ConnectiCare was approved for a 27.8 percent rate hike for individuals. Actual increases will vary.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 13, 2017

Uninsured Rate Falls to Record Low

The share of people in the U.S. who lacked health insurance for 2016 declined to a record low of 8.8 percent, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Tuesday. This is down from 9.1 percent in 2015. The number of uninsured Americans fell to 28.1 million in 2016, down from 29 million in 2015. Both the overall percentage and number of uninsured are record lows.

Other findings in the report:

  • Massachusetts had the lowest uninsured rate at 2.5 percent.
  • Texas had the highest rate with 16.6 percent.
  • States that expanded Medicaid had an average uninsured rate of 6.5 percent.
  • States that did not expand Medicaid had an average uninsured rate of 11.7 percent.

Bernie Sanders Unveils ‘Medicare for All’ Bill

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Wednesday rolled out details of his healthcare bill, Medicare for All Act of 2017. The bill has support from several Democratic senators; however, the measure has little chance of passing in a Republican-led Congress. The legislation would expand Medicare to cover all Americans, and people and businesses would no longer owe premiums to insurers.

Highlights of the bill include:

  • Americans under 18 would be immediately covered.
  • Those over 18 who are not currently eligible for Medicare would be phased in over 4 years.
  • Employer-provided insurance would be replaced, with businesses paying higher taxes.
  • Private insurers would remain to cover elective treatments.
  • Doctors would be reimbursed by the government.
  • Providers would sign a yearly participation agreement with Medicare to remain with the system.

Sanders’ description of the legislation omitted specifics about how much it would cost and final decisions about how he would pay for it.

At least 15 Senate Democrats had signed onto Sanders’ bill by late Tuesday. Those senators include California’s Kamala Harris, Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, and New Jersey’s Cory Booker.

Latest GOP ACA Replacement Bill to be Announced

Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday to discuss their Obamacare repeal bill. McConnell encouraged the senators to find the 50 votes needed to pass the legislation.

The bill would end funding for Obamacare subsidies and Medicaid expansion and instead provide money for state block grants.

Considered a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, the bill faces odds. Graham and Cassidy will introduce the legislation Wednesday along with Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Ron Johnson (R-WI).

House Democrats Request Funding for Obamacare Navigators

A group of 31 House Democrats sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking the administration to release funding for Obamacare navigator groups. Led by Representative Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, the letter pressed the president to reinstate grant money for the education and outreach services.

An excerpt from the letter: “Destabilizing the Navigator program could further compound the challenges consumers will face in understanding when and how to enroll. [D]iscouraging enrollment could weaken the market and drive up premiums.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Leaving Obamacare Small Business Exchange

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois announced that it will no longer provide group plans for small businesses through the ACA health insurance exchange. However, the company will continue to offer individual plans through the exchange.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 12, 2017

Several ACA Marketplace Navigator Groups Halt Operations

Navigator groups that help educate and enroll consumers in the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges are shutting down because they are not being paid by the federal government.

Last month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced plans to cut funding for the groups by 40 percent. However, CMS did not indicate how navigators would be affected. The University of South Florida, one of the country’s largest navigation services, is among the groups suspending activities.

Navigator contracts for the 2018 enrollment period from Health and Human Services (HHS) were to begin September 2, but navigators say they have yet to receive notice from the agency regarding funding.

Senate’s Bipartisan ACA Talks Hit a Speed Bump

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has reportedly suggested substantial changes to the Affordable Care Act in private negotiations with Senate Democrats. These changes would make it easier for states to waive some consumer protections and benefits. However, the proposals are opposed by Democrats and could stall a last-minute effort to stabilize health insurance marketplaces.

Rand Paul Objects Cassidy-Graham Healthcare Proposal

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) opposed the new Republican effort to replace Obamacare on Monday. Paul does not think the bill goes far enough to repeal the law. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I haven’t heard anybody talking about it,” Paul said.

The bill, authored by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is expected to fund key Obamacare payments known as cost-sharing reductions (CSR).

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 11, 2017

Senate Committee to Review ACA’s Innovation Waivers

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s push to stabilize the Affordable Care Act exchanges could include changes that make it easier for states to obtain innovation waivers, such as letting states essentially copy each other’s applications and letting governors submit applications without approval from the state legislature.

The committee scheduled 2 more hearings for this week—one on state flexibility and another with healthcare stakeholders.

Conservative Leader Offers Support for New ACA Repeal Bill

Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC), who leads the conservative Freedom Caucus of lawmakers, said the ACA bill being promoted by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) is the “most promising” option for replacing the federal healthcare law.

But the effort faces uphill odds. On Friday, President Donald Trump expressed doubt through a tweet: “Republicans, sorry, but I’ve been hearing about Repeal & Replace for 7 years, didn’t happen!”

Bernie Sanders to Release his ‘Medicare for all’ Bill

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will reveal his single-payer healthcare bill on Wednesday. He will be joined by cosponsors, medical professionals, business leaders, and patients.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 8, 2017

Five Governors Urge Congress to Aid Markets for 2018

In the second day of bipartisan ACA hearings with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, five governors agreed that guaranteeing payments to ACA insurers to help defray certain coverage expenses for consumers ranks as the most urgent step Congress should take.

Republican and Democratic governors from Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana, Tennessee, and Utah endorsed proposals to stabilize health insurance markets by providing federal money for continued payment of subsidies to insurance companies, offsetting the cost of discounts provided to low-income consumers.

The governors urged the committee to extend these payments for longer than the 1-year window favored by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert (R) said: “It would be irresponsible to allow these markets to collapse simply because of [federal] inaction.”

The group also requested simplification of the ACA federal waiver process and more flexibility over the benefits ACA health plans must cover.

Senate GOP Accepts Defeat on ACA Repeal

Senior Senate Republicans have given up on trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration and Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) tried to muster support for a plan to keep most Obamacare taxes and convert federal funding into block grants to the states.

“We’ve seen that we don’t have 51 votes to do it, so we’re going to have to do it bipartisan,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.

Optima Cuts Virginia Coverage in Half

Optima Health Plan announced its plans to exit about half the Virginia counties it served in 2017. The company will enter only the Charlottesville area, Halifax County, and Mecklenburg County, leaving 63 counties without a coverage option.

Anthem Reduces ACA Offerings in Kentucky

Healthcare insurer Anthem will now offer individual market plans in only 59 of the 120 counties in Kentucky. Initially, the company had planned to cover every county in the state. However, Anthem cited mounting policy uncertainty and a deteriorating market as its reason for the decision.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 7, 2017

Senate Committee Holds First ACA Hearing

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held the first of 4 bipartisan hearings on ways to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. Five state insurance regulators were questioned on a variety of ACA topics, including:

  • Reinsurance programs,
  • Cost-sharing subsidies,
  • Expanded regulatory waivers for states, and
  • Allowing people younger than 30 to buy only catastrophic care (also known as copper plans).

Trump’s $15 Billion Cut to HHS Rejected

A Senate appropriations subcommittee rejected a proposed multibillion-dollar cut to Health and Human Services (HHS) funding over concerns that it could hinder medical innovation.

In the president’s 2018 budget proposal, HHS received a $15.1 billion cut, a 17.9 percent decrease from the 2017 budget. The group released a summary of a forthcoming appropriations bill, recommending that HHS receive $79.4 billion in discretionary funding in 2018. This is an increase of $1.7 billion from what HHS received in 2017.

Impending Renewal of Children’s Health Plan Causes Concern

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which covers millions of children from lower- and middle-income families. The program is up for renewal Sept. 30. CHIP advocates are concerned that the busy legislative agenda facing Congress could complicate the reauthorization. Bruce Lesley, president of the advocacy group First Focus, voiced his concern: “With all that is on Congress’ plate, I am very worried that a strong, wildly successful program with strong public support will get lost in the shuffle and force states to begin the process of winding down CHIP.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 6, 2017

Several States Extend Obamacare Sign-Up Beyond Federal Limit

The District of Columbia and five states that run their own healthcare exchanges will extend their healthcare enrollment period beyond the new Trump administration deadline of December 15. California, Colorado, Minnesota, Washington, Massachusetts, and D.C. now have sign-up dates that run as far as mid-January.

State Insurance Commissioners in Center of Obamacare Debates

Several state insurance commissioners, who negotiate health insurance premiums and rates, will testify Wednesday before the Senate health committee. The hearings will last four days, allowing insurance commissioners to discuss how to achieve market stability and ensure affordable healthcare.

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 5, 2017

GOP Ability to Dismantle ACA Expires Sept. 30

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough has decided that the rules governing the effort to eliminate the Affordable Care Act will expire September 30. If Republicans don’t repeal the measure before this deadline, they must work together with Democrats to revise the law.

Tennessee Senator Sets Brief Timetable for Obamacare Fixes

Senate Health CommitteeCchairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) hopes to pass a bipartisan Obamacare repair bill in only three weeks to help stabilize health insurance markets. Alexander’s bill would not fix everything; however, the senator anticipates a narrow bill that would give insurers selling coverage for next year some assurances.

States Offer Bipartisan Obamacare Model

State bipartisan efforts to fix and modify Obamacare have inspired members of Congress to focus more on how the law can be made to work better rather than simply repealing it. Representative Ed Clere (R-IN) said, “The fact is, Obamacare isn’t all good or all bad. It’s sweeping legislation that requires major ongoing work. … I hope someday there will be more appreciation for that.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for September 1, 2017

Feds to Cut 90% of Obamacare Advertising Funding

The federal government is decreasing the Obamacare advertising budget for the upcoming 2018 enrollment season by $90 million, senior officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced late Thursday. The budget will drop from $100 million to $10 million. Additionally, funding for navigator organizations, which help individuals enroll in coverage, will be cut nearly in half, going from $63 million to $37 million.

The funding cuts are drawing the ire of many Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) replied to the decision in a statement: “The Trump administration is deliberately attempting to sabotage our healthcare system. When the number of people with health insurance declines and costs skyrocket, the American people will know who’s to blame.”

Governors Release Proposal to Stabilize Marketplace

Led by John Kasich (R-OH) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO), a bipartisan group of governors released a proposal Thursday that aims to stabilize the individual marketplace. The proposal recommends that Congress do the following.

  • Take immediate federal action to stabilize markets by:
    • Funding cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments,
    • Creating a temporary stability fund,
    • Offering choices in underserved counties, and
    • Keeping the individual mandate (for now).
  • Create reforms that preserve recent coverage gains and control costs by:
    • Maximizing market participation,
    • Promoting appropriate enrollment,
    • Stabilizing risk pools, and
    • Reducing cost through coverage redesign.
  • Have an active federal/state partnership that is based on innovation and a shared commitment to improve overall health system performance by:
    • Improving the regulatory environment,
    • Supporting state innovation waivers, and
    • Controlling cost through payment innovation.

Senate Health Committee Adds Two More ACA Hearings

In addition to hearing from governors (Sept. 6) and state insurance officials (Sept. 6), the Senate Health Committee will also hear from health policy experts (Sept. 13) and stakeholders (Sept. 14). The goal of the hearings is to create a bipartisan healthcare reform bill.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 29, 2017

Several House Dems Back This Single-Payer Healthcare Plan

Representative John Conyers (D-MI) has authored a single-payer healthcare plan that currently has support from 60 percent of House Democrats. The plan only has an outline of how to raise the funding needed for a single-payer system, which has caused Conyers to suggest the plan isn’t yet ready for a vote in Congress. Read more on Conyers’ plan here.

Governors Reach Agreement on Marketplace Stabilization Proposal

Governors John Kasich (R-OH) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO) announced Monday “that they have reached an agreement on a bipartisan proposal to stabilize Obamacare markets.” However, the proposal and its details have not been released.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 28, 2017

All U.S. Counties Now Have at Least One Marketplace Option

The last county without a health insurance company in the individual marketplace is now covered. CareSource has agreed to offer marketplace plans in Paulding County, Ohio. CareSource CEO and President Pamela Morris said this about the company’s decision: “We want to be a resource to consumers left without options. Our decision to offer coverage in the bare counties speaks to our mission and commitment to the marketplace and serving those who are in need of healthcare coverage.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 23, 2017

Ohio, Colorado Governors Plot ACA Fixes

Ohio Governor John Kasich and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper are creating their own proposals to fix the individual marketplace. The governors’ plans are expected to be released as soon as next week and could include:

  • Ensuring cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments
  • Creating a reinsurance program
  • Increasing the threshold for the employer mandate

State Insurance Commissioners, Governors to Weigh in on Healthcare

The Senate Health Committee will start September with hearings from state insurance commissioners and governors. The committee is conducting these hearings to create legislation that will stabilize the individual marketplace. The state insurance commissioners are scheduled to testify September 6, and the governors are scheduled for September 7.

On Tuesday, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) explained, “At these hearings, we will hear testimony from state insurance commissioners and governors—those closest to the problem—on steps Congress can take to help make insurance available at affordable prices. Any solution that Congress passes for a 2018 stabilization package will have to be small, bipartisan, and balanced.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 21, 2017

Iowa, Oklahoma Aim to Reform ACA Via Healthcare Waivers

Officials in Iowa are planning to submit a vast state healthcare waiver request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) next week. The waiver would alter the “ACA premium tax credit model and use some of the federal subsidy money to set up a reinsurance program to protect insurers that sign up high-cost enrollees.”

Oklahoma officials filed a state waiver request to CMS last Wednesday. The waiver would “use federal subsidy money to fund a new reinsurance program, as the first step in a broader reform of the ACA coverage system.” The waiver also wants to change the ACA’s essential benefit requirements for individual coverage.

Both state waiver requests include replacing federal marketplaces with state-based platforms and changing the income eligibility for premium subsidies. They also share a main goal of lowering premiums and stabilizing the individual marketplace.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 17, 2017

Iowa’s Single Remaining ACA Insurer Seeks Rate Hike

Medica, the only insurance company offering Obamacare marketplace plans in Iowa, has filed a revised premium rate increase of almost 57 percent. Medica cited uncertainty over cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments as the reason for steep premium rate increases.

Geoff Bartsh, Medica’s vice president of individual and family business, said in a statement: “We remain hopeful the federal government will fund the cost-sharing reductions, but we are working with the Iowa Insurance Division to help consumers understand the implications of lack of this funding. We regret the disruption this creates for consumers.”

Trump Will Make August CSR Payments

August’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments will be made to insurers, according to a White House spokesperson. However, no guarantee was made for future payments. An update on the CSR case (on whether or not the payments are constitutional) is expected Sunday, though it could get delayed again.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 16, 2017

CBO Analysis Shows Impact of Ending CSR Payments

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an analysis Tuesday titled “The Effects of Terminating Payments for Cost-Sharing Reductions.” Here are the overall effects noted in the analysis:

  • Ending CSRs would increase the deficit by $194 billion over the next 10 years.
  • The number of areas with no marketplace options (5 percent of Americans) would increase during the next two years and be about the same as it is now in 2020.
  • The average premium for a marketplace silver plan will increase by 20 percent in 2018 and 25 percent in 2020.
    • The premium increases will also expand the amount of premium tax credits, raising spending on subsidies by $365 billion over the next 10 years.
    • The majority of people using premium tax credits (subsidies) will pay the same amount in premiums for the next 10 years.
  • The uninsured rate would increase in 2018 but decrease slightly in 2020.

Centene Expands in Nevada to Cover ‘Bare’ Counties

Centene announced Tuesday that it will expand its individual marketplace coverage in Nevada. The company’s coverage means that no counties in Nevada, including rural areas, will be without a marketplace option. After Centene’s expansion, only 2 counties in the nation are currently left without a 2018 marketplace option: one county in Ohio and one in Wisconsin.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 14, 2017

GOP Representatives Working on Marketplace Stabilization Bill

Representatives Mark Meadows (R-NC), chair of the Freedom Caucus, and Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), former chair of the Tuesday Group, are working together to create a marketplace stabilization bill. The bill is likely to fund cost-sharing reduction subsidies. Additionally, it may allow states to waive Obamacare regulations.

In relation to the bill, MacArthur said in a statement, “I’ve been working on a plan that will lower the cost of premiums, while stabilizing the individual marketplace, so that we can provide Americans with the high quality and affordable healthcare they deserve.”

CBO Analysis to Show Effects of Ending Insurer Payments

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced Friday that it will release an analysis this week “detailing the effects of ending key Obamacare insurer payments,” also known as cost-sharing reduction (CSRs) payments. The president recently threatened to discontinue these payments, which help insurance companies lower out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles and copays.

CMS Extends Deadline for 2018 Rate Requests

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Thursday that it would extend the Obamacare marketplace filing deadline. The deadline was extended by three weeks, making the new date September 5 and the final deadline September 20.

Anthem Exits Virginia’s Individual Marketplace

Health insurer Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield announced Friday that it will stop offering individual marketplace plans for Virginia in 2018. The insurer cites the uncertainty in Washington as the reason for its departure. This is the third insurance company to exit Virginia’s ACA marketplace.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 11, 2017

Freedom Caucus to Petition for ‘Clean Obamacare Repeal’ Bill

The conservative House Freedom Caucus is planning to file a petition Friday in order to influence House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to “bring up a so-called ‘clean Obamacare repeal’ bill.” The bill would repeal Obamacare after a transition of two years. However, the same bill failed in the Senate last month.

Kaiser Family Foundation Publishes 2018 Premium Preview

On Tuesday, the Kaiser Family Foundation published “An Early Look at 2018 Premium Changes and Insurer Participation on ACA Exchanges.” The study looks at initial premium rate charges and insurance companies’ participation in the marketplace for 2018 and makes comparisons to previous years. From the report: “In the past, requested premiums have been similar, if not equal to, the rates insurers ultimately charge. This year, because of the uncertainty insurers face over whether the individual mandate will be enforced or cost-sharing subsidy payments will be made, some companies have included an additional rate increase in their initial rate requests, while other companies have said they may revise their premiums late in the process.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 8, 2017

Anthem Exits More Marketplaces, BCBS Enters At-Risk Counties

Health insurer Anthem Inc announced Monday that it will no longer offer individual marketplace plans in Nevada and almost half of Georgia. However, the company’s Nevada exit does not create more counties without ACA options.

Meanwhile, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia will offer marketplace plans to 85 counties that would have had no ACA options in 2018 following Anthem’s exit. The insurance company will enter these counties after reaching an agreement with the state insurance commissioner.

A Look at Maine’s Medicaid Waiver

Maine has applied for a Medicaid waiver that includes:

  • Work requirements
  • Mandatory premiums ranging from $10-40
  • Asset Testing: The asset test would be $5,000, though some argue the tests are unlawful.

Within the application, Maine states it is attempting to “preserve limited financial resources…[and] promote financial independence and transitions to employer-sponsored or other commercial health insurance.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 7, 2017

Senate Republicans Open Up to Bipartisan Healthcare Reform Ideas

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Saturday that he is open to a bipartisan attempt to stabilize the individual marketplace. Other Republicans are also considering bipartisan ideas to reform Obamacare. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) said, “We have got a destabilized market where insurance rates are going to go up 20, 30, 40 percent next year. Anything that we can do to prevent that and the damage that that will have on people who need health care I think is something I have to look at.”

Molina Wins $52 Million in Obamacare Lawsuit

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled Friday that the government owes Molina $52 million for payments the health insurer should have received under the risk corridor program. This temporary program established under Obamacare “was intended to promote accurate premiums in the early years of the exchanges (2014 through 2016) by discouraging insurers from setting premiums high in response to uncertainty about who will enroll and what they will cost.” According to the court’s opinion, “The government is liable for its breach of a statutory and contractual obligation to make full annual payments to insurers who participated in the risk corridor program.”

This Insurance Company’s Failure May Cause a Spike in Premiums

Recently, Penn Treaty American Corp., of Allentown, Pa., and two of its subsidiaries were forced to liquidate. It’s estimated that the parent company had $4 billion in claims liabilities but only $700 million in assets. The long-term care company’s implosion means that other companies have to “help pay off the company’s claims and protect policyholders through groups known as state guarantee associations.”

These industry assessments are usually based on market share, meaning larger insurers pay more. Health insurance companies that have to foot the bill may pass costs onto consumers, charging premium surcharges.

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 3, 2017 

Six GOP Governors Move to Alter Medicaid

Republican governors in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, and Wisconsin have drafted plans that would modify the eligibility requirements for Medicaid enrollees in their states. Under some plans, employment requirements and drug testing for recipients would be introduced.

Molina Exits 2 Marketplaces, Eliminates Jobs

After significant second-quarter losses, Molina is exiting ACA marketplaces in Utah and Wisconsin. Molina’s exit in Wisconsin could leave one county without marketplace coverage options. Additionally, the company will increase premium rates in its remaining service areas in 2018 and eliminate around 1,500 jobs in an effort to save $300-$400 million by late next year.

BCBS of North Carolina Lowers Requested Rate Increase for ACA Plans

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced Wednesday that it has lowered its requested rate increase for 2018 ACA plans from 22.9 percent to 14.1 percent. The company is the only healthcare insurer that offers ACA plans in the state. Brian Tajlili, director of actuarial and pricing services for BCBS of North Carolina, wrote this on the company’s website blog yesterday: “The individual market in North Carolina has become less volatile. […]We have gotten a better handle on the anticipated medical costs of people covered in this group which has made it easier for us to estimate the necessary price of our ACA health plans.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 2, 2017

Senate Will Hold Bipartisan Hearings to Stabilize Insurance Marketplace

The Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will hold bipartisan hearings on ways to stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplaces for 2018, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) announced Tuesday. Hearings are scheduled to start the first week of September. The committee will hear from ACA customers, governors, healthcare experts, insurance commissioners, and insurance companies.

The goal is to act by September 27, when health insurance companies must sign contracts to sell plans within the marketplace for 2018.

Democratic State Attorneys General Gain Right to Defend CSR Payments

A U.S. appeals court granted 16 attorneys general’s motion Tuesday to defend cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidy payments. Now, Democrats who want to uphold CSR payments have “the power to block a settlement or appeal a ruling blocking the payments.”

The court approved the motion because the attorneys general had displayed “a substantial risk that an injunction requiring termination of the payments at issue here…would lead directly and imminently to an increase in insurance prices, which in turn will increase the number of uninsured individuals for whom the states will have to provide health care. In addition, state-funded hospitals will suffer financially when they are unable to recoup costs from uninsured, indigent patients for whom federal law requires them to provide medical care.”

Sanders Begins ‘Medicare for All’ Campaign

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has started his campaign for “Medicare for All”, a single-payer healthcare plan, with digital ads to gather voters’ support. The ads will direct supporters to Sanders’ website, where they can sign on to his bill. Sanders is currently finalizing the bill and creating a campaign strategy.

Sanders is also proposing a new rule for pricing on federally funded prescriptions. Sanders’ proposal would force “pharmaceutical companies to set reasonable prices for drugs developed using research funded by federal research dollars.”

States Expecting Premium Rate Increases, Decreases, and Coverage Changes

Increases: Insurance companies across the nation are raising premium rates as a result of the continued marketplace uncertainty. Covered California, for example, is expected to see an average rate increase of 12.5 percent. However, California’s increase is dwarfed by other states’ average increases. Premium rate increase requests of 20 percent, 30 percent, and even 50 percent for marketplace plans are being submitted to state insurance commissions.

Decreases: Going against the curve toward high rate increases, Alaska’s individual marketplace filed for a premium rate decrease of about 22 percent for 2018.

Coverage Changes: Anthem is exiting 16 regions in California’s Affordable Care Act marketplace for 2018. Anthem Blue Cross of California President Brian Ternan said in a statement, “The market for these plans has become unstable. And with federal rules and guidance changing, it’s no longer possible for us to offer some of those plans.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for August 1, 2017

If Trump Ends CSR Payments, Congress May Appropriate Funding

President Donald Trump is expected to decide early this week whether or not the administration will continue making cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments. If he decides to end the payments, members of Congress have suggested that they might appropriate the funds.

  • Senator John Thune (R-SD): “I hope the president will use his authority to extend those payments. He can do that. If he doesn’t, then Congress will have to look at what our options are.”
  • Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT): “I think we’re going to have to [appropriate funds]…I’m for helping the poor, always have been. And I don’t think they should be bereft of healthcare.”

Republicans Rally Support for Graham-Cassidy Plan

A healthcare reform proposal suggested by senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) would give annual block grants to states, allowing each state to regulate healthcare as they see fit. States that expanded Medicaid are expected to be disadvantaged in the block grant proposal. The proposal would also:

  • Force severe healthcare spending decreases
  • Set new limits on Medicaid spending
  • Endanger subsidies

Senators Cassidy, Graham, and Dean Heller (R-NV) met with Trump’s top aides Monday to discuss the proposal. The senators are trying to get the support of conservative colleagues Mike Lee (R-UT) and Mark Meadows (R-NC).

Senior GOP Senators Ready to Move Past Healthcare

Some Senate Republicans seem ready to move on to tax reform. During an interview with Reuters, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said, “There’s just too much animosity, and we’re too divided on healthcare. I think we ought to acknowledge that we can come back to healthcare afterward, but we need to move ahead on tax reform.”

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) echoed Hatch’s sentiment during an interview with CNN: “If the question is, ‘should we stay on healthcare until we get it done,’ I think it’s time to move on to something else. Come back to healthcare when we have more time to get beyond the moment we are in. See if we can put some wins on the board.”

Additionally, Senator John Thune (R-SD) told reporters, “Until someone shows us how to get that elusive 50th vote, I think it’s over.”

Five Insurers Will Cover 19 ACA Counties in Ohio

Buckeye Health Plan, CareSource, Medical Mutual of Ohio, Molina Healthcare Inc., and Paramount Health Care have all agreed to expand into the Ohio marketplace. The expansions will cover 19 of the 20 counties (about 11,000 people) that were at risk of having no Affordable Care Act marketplace options in 2018. Ohio is still working to cover the remaining county with no coverage options.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 31, 2017

Bipartisan Leaders Unite to Fix Obamacare

The Problem Solvers caucus, a group of about 40 House Republicans and Democrats, have created a set of Obamacare fixes. The caucus plans to announce its potential solutions Monday and hope the suggestions will gain support after the recent failures to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The Obamacare fixes focus on:

  • Stabilizing the marketplace as quickly as possible
  • Funding cost-sharing reduction subsidies (CSRs)
  • Altering the employer mandate to include only companies with more than 500 employees (rather than the current 50)
  • Creating a federal stability fund to help states reduce healthcare costs for those with extremely high medical charges
  • Eliminating the medical-device tax
  • Creating greater flexibility for state innovation with stricter guidance on how states can use waivers

The Problem Solvers caucus is led by Tom Reed (R-NY) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ). Legislators from the New Democrat Coalition and the Republican moderate Tuesday Group are also involved with the caucus.

Trump Threatens to End CSR Payments if Reform Bill Fails

President Donald Trump threatened Saturday over Twitter to end cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments if Congress doesn’t pass a healthcare reform bill. He also threatened to end funding for Congress’ healthcare. Trump’s tweet reads, “If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”

What Could Happen if CSR Payments Are Eliminated?

If cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments are no longer funded by the government, here are some likely effects.

Assuming states remain in ACA marketplaces:

  • The cost of a silver plan’s premium will increase by 19 percent.
    • 15 percent in states that expanded Medicaid
    • 21 percent in states that did not expand Medicaid
  • The increase in the benchmark silver plan would increase the amount of premium tax credits.
  • The expense of increased tax credits would cost the federal government 23 percent more than it would save from eliminating CSRs.
    • That is a cost of $2.3 billion for fiscal year 2018 and $31 billion over the next decade.

The change in price of silver plans may influence consumers to look for lower-cost plans, and enrollment could shift to other metal level plans. Some consumers might be encouraged to use subsidies they have not previously applied for.

Lawsuits Could Push Government to Pay ACA Insurers

Health insurance companies have filed almost two dozen lawsuits against the government over risk corridor funding. The companies claim that the government owes them $8 billion in payments from a program meant “to blunt their losses in the Obamacare marketplaces.”

Minuteman Health CEO Tom Policelli said, “[The Obama administration] repeatedly assured us it was there, and it would be a clear obligation of the government. Even the federal government is subject to the rules.”

HHS Secretary Promises to Uphold Obamacare

During an interview on “Meet the Press,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told NBC he would implement Obamacare as it was intended. “Our job is to follow the law of the land,” Price said, despite the fact he believes “the law … is failing the American people.”

Continued Marketplace Uncertainty Puts Hundreds at Risk

The four top health insurance companies that provide ACA coverage—Anthem Inc, Cigna Corp, Health Care Service Corp, and Molina Healthcare—continue to weigh whether or not to pull out of 2018 marketplaces.

There are currently 40 counties that could be left without a marketplace insurance option, but that could increase to hundreds of counties if insurance companies continue leaving the marketplace. Presently, more than 1,300 counties—primarily in 15 states—have only one insurer participating in 2018. Anthem and HCSC are the remaining insurers in one-third of those counties and states, leaving those areas at risk.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 28, 2017

Senate Votes Down ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal

A Republican Senate bill (nicknamed the “skinny repeal”) that would repeal the individual mandate, the employer mandate, and the medical excise tax was voted down Thursday night. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined their Democratic colleagues in voting against the measure.

Following to vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said it was time for the Senate to move on from healthcare reform. Other senators suggested attempting a bipartisan approach to stabilizing health insurance marketplaces, but the next steps in healthcare reform are unclear.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 27, 2017

Senate Votes Down Two Healthcare Reform Proposals

Two healthcare reform proposals were put to a vote Wednesday on the Senate floor. First, the repeal and delay bill was voted down 45-55. The proposed legislation included an amendment from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) that would ban the use of subsidies to buy plans that cover abortion. Seven Republicans and all Democrats voted against the measure. Next, a vote to return healthcare reform to a committee process was voted down 48-52. All Republicans voted against the measure, and all Democrats voted for it.

Senate Republicans Unite Behind ‘Skinny Repeal;’ House Is Wary

After a full repeal bill was rejected Wednesday, Senate Republicans are moving on to their back-up plan: a “skinny repeal.” The proposal would eliminate the individual mandate, the employer mandate, and one ACA tax. It would also allow Republicans to succeed in passing a healthcare reform bill.

However, House conservatives seem to disagree with a small repeal. On Wednesday, Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) told reporters that a skinny repeal delivered to the House would be “dead on arrival.” Speaking on the idea of a scaled-back repeal, Representative Mark Walker (R-NC) said, “I don’t think it’s going to be very well received.”

What Could a ‘Skinny Repeal’ Mean for Individual Marketplaces?

Health insurance companies have warned that a “skinny repeal” of the ACA’s mandates could hurt the individual health insurance market. CareFirst BlueCross and BlueShield President and CEO Chet Burrell said that eliminating the individual mandate would dismantle the individual market. “It is hard to think of anything more devastating, especially if nothing else is done to stabilize the health insurance market,” Burrell said. “The significant coverage gains we have made for Americans in recent years would be wiped away with this damaging blow.”

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) determined that a “skinny repeal” would cause 16 million more Americans to become uninsured by 2021. Additionally, premiums would increase by around 20 percent annually.

Anthem May Exit More Marketplaces

Anthem CEO Joe Swedish said Wednesday that the company needs “certainty quickly” on whether Congress will move to fund cost-sharing subsidies, which low-income Americans who buy ACA plans use to pay their out-of-pocket costs. Swedish said, “There are still many areas of marketplace uncertainty—principally, cost-sharing reduction subsidy funding—that make it challenging to be comfortable with the level of predictability of a sustainable marketplace. If we aren’t able to gain certainty on some of these items quickly, we do expect that we will need to revise our rate filings to further narrow our level of participation.”

The company has already announced its intentions to stop selling individual coverage on public exchanges in three states next year.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 26, 2017

Senate Votes Against First ACA Repeal, Replacement Proposal

In a 43-57 vote, the Senate opposed an initial repeal-and-replacement proposal for Obamacare on Tuesday night. The vote rejected the Senate’s healthcare bill (the Better Care Reconciliation Act) and proposals from Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rob Portman (R-OH). This was the first amendment to get a vote after the Senate picked up the American Health Care Act, the House-passed bill that is being used as a vehicle for any Senate action.

Which Bills Will the Senate Vote on Next?

Wednesday afternoon: The Senate will vote on a repeal-and-delay bill with the Paul amendment, which would ban the use of subsidies to buy plans that cover abortion. If that bill does not pass, the Senate will vote on whether or not to return healthcare reform bills to a bipartisan process.

Later: If senators cannot agree on a comprehensive repeal or replacement for Obamacare, Republicans may move forward with a “skinny” repeal. The smaller repeal would eliminate the individual mandate, the employer mandate, and the medical device tax. The scaled-down bill would allow the Senate to succeed in passing a bill and start negotiations with the House.

The Senate may also vote on a Graham-Cassidy amendment, which keeps the ACA’s taxes and allows states to administer health insurance. As a note, Senate members still have time to propose new healthcare bills.

Senate Parliamentarian Advises Against Two Additional Senate Bill Provisions

Two more provisions from the Republican healthcare bill may not meet reconciliation standards, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough said Tuesday. If the provisions are argued against and found to fall outside of reconciliation standards, they will need 60 votes (rather than 51) to be included in a healthcare bill. The two provisions advised against: 1) allowing insurance companies to increase the amount they charge older individuals in comparison to younger ones and 2) allowing small businesses to create association health plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 25, 2017

Senate Healthcare Bill Advances With 51-50 Vote

Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote to move the legislation to repeal Obamacare to floor debate. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, returned to Washington on Tuesday to participate in the Republican-led healthcare vote. He voted in favor of the legislation—a critical move after fellow senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) expressed their opposition. Here’s a closer look at how each senator voted.

President Donald Trump praised the Senate and thanked McCain for advancing the legislation: “I’m extremely happy that we got this vote. This is the tough vote to get. Now we’re all going to sit together, and we’re going to try and come up with something that’s really spectacular. We have a lot of options and a lot of great options. And the Republican senators really went out there—it’s not easy.” Trump criticized Collins and Murkowski’s opposition, saying the result is “very, very sad for them.”

The legislation will move to floor debate; however, it’s not guaranteed what the final bill will look like or if there will be enough votes to pass it.

Democrats Lay Out a 3-Tier Approach to Lowering Prescription Costs

Congressional Democrats included a 3-tier approach to combatting drug prices in a proposal called A Better Deal.

  • The proposal would “create an independent, Senate-confirmed ‘price gouging’ enforcer to identify medicines with ‘unconscionable’ price increases and impose fines on manufacturers that are proportional to the size of the price hike. Money paid will be given to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further its work on new drug development.”
  • Drug makers would also be required to publicly justify extreme pricing increases to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at least 30 days before the cost change will begin
  • The government would be allowed to negotiate prescription drug prices for medications covered by Medicare Part D.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 24, 2017

Senate Parliamentarian: Parts of Updated Bill Don’t Meet Reconciliation Rules

Abortion provisions in the Senate bill would need a super-majority vote, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough said Friday. Provisions eliminating Medicaid coverage requirements, altering medical loss ratios for insurance companies, and pertaining directly to New York would require a super-majority vote, MacDonough said. That means these provisions would need 60 favorable votes to pass and follow Senate rules (rather than the 50 Republicans anticipated) because they do not follow reconciliation rules.

Senate Republicans Determined to Hold Healthcare Vote This Week

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is pressing forward to hold a vote this week on healthcare reform. Two key factors remain unclear: which legislation will be voted on and whether or not Republicans have the necessary support to move the bill forward.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) told “Face the Nation” that Senators “don’t know whether we’re going to be voting on the House bill, the first version of the Senate bill, the second version of the Senate bill, a new version of the Senate bill, or a 2015 bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act now and then said that somehow we’ll figure out a replacement over the next two years.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) echoed Collins’ confusion, telling CNN’s “State of the Union,” “The real question is, what are we moving to? What are we opening debate to?”

A Look at Premiums, Deductibles Under the ACA Versus the Senate Healthcare Bill

The Kaiser Family Foundation has published an interactive map comparing premiums and tax credits under the Affordable Care Act (current law) and the Better Care Reconciliation Act (Senate healthcare bill). The map includes estimates by county, age, and income.

The Hill has reported on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) analysis of the Senate healthcare bill, specifically on drastically increasing deductibles. The CBO found that “a standard benchmark plan under the GOP bill could face a deductible of $13,000 in 2026.” Under Obamacare, someone making around $57,000 would have a deductible of $5,000, and someone making around $27,000 would have a deductible of $800.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 21, 2017

GOP Plans a Healthcare Vote for Tuesday

Republican senators are pushing for a Tuesday vote on a healthcare reform bill. However, it’s not clear which legislation senators will be voting on or if Republicans have the necessary votes to move a bill forward.

This year, several different healthcare reform bills (and versions of those bills) have been introduced.

  • The American Health Care Act was passed by the House.
  • The Better Care Reconciliation Act, created by the Senate, was originally introduced June 22.
    • The first revision, introduced July 13, included the Cruz Amendment, additional funding for opioid treatment, and other small changes.
    • The second revision was introduced July 20. The Cruz Amendment was removed, some Obamacare taxes remained, and other small changes were made.
  • The Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, a repeal-only bill, has also been introduced by the Senate.

Even if Republicans can get enough votes to proceed, it isn’t clear which of the bills above will be presented. Also, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this week, is still recovering from surgery, lowering the GOP’s already slim majority in the Senate. However, Rand Paul (R-KY) said Thursday he will vote yes to proceed with the House-passed bill, but he has stipulations. He told reporters, “If they want my vote, they have to at least agree that we’re going to at least have a vote on clean repeal.”

CBO Analysis: 22 Million Would Lose Coverage Under Latest Healthcare Bill

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its examination of the Senate’s most recent healthcare bill. According to the report, the Senate healthcare bill will:

  • Reduce the federal deficit by $420 billion over the next 10 years
    • The initial Senate bill reduced the deficit by $321 billion.
  • Increase the number of uninsured people by 22 million in 2026
  • Decrease premiums by 30 percent after 2020
  • Create a standard-level plan deductible of $13,000

Trump Administration Ends ACA Help in 18 Cities

Last week, community groups were told that “Affordable Care Act contracts that brought assistance into libraries, businesses, and urban neighborhoods in 18 cities” would be terminated. The end of these contracts means that potential enrollees shopping on the individual marketplace “will have fewer places to turn for help signing up for coverage.”

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spokesperson Jane Norris said the contracts were never meant to last long term. “These contracts were intended to help CMS provide temporary, in-person enrollment support during the early years.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 20, 2017

Senate Republicans Resume Talks on Healthcare Bill

Rather than moving forward with a repeal-only bill, GOP senators are reopening negotiations on their healthcare reform legislation. This change in direction occurred after a Wednesday meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump.

During the meeting, Trump told senators they should cancel their August recess and stay until a healthcare reform bill is finalized. “We shouldn’t leave town until this is complete. We should hammer this out and get it done,” Trump said during the lunch meeting. Additionally, Trump suggested senators repeal and replace Obamacare at the same time: “We can repeal, but we should repeal and replace. Frankly, I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we can give people great health care.”

Senate Healthcare Bill Renegotiations May Include ‘Medicaid Wraparound’

Senate Republicans are rushing to settle their healthcare reform bill. In order to win over moderates, one change may include a “Medicaid wrap-around.” This would allow states to use additional Medicaid funding to cover healthcare costs for individuals who would lose coverage when Medicaid expansion ends. The additional funding, estimated around $200 billion, would primarily be given to states that expanded Medicaid.

CBO: 32 Million Would Lose Insurance By 2026 After a Straight ACA Repeal

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) released an analysis of the effects enacting the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act of 2017 would have on Americans. This amendment would revoke many provisions of Obamacare. Here are the main findings:

  • The bill will reduce the federal deficit by $473 billion over the next decade.
  • The bill will increase the number of uninsured people by 17 million in 2018.
    • 27 million in 2020
    • 32 million in 2026
  • The bill will increase the average individual premium by 25 percent in 2018.
    • 50 percent in 2020
    • 100 percent in 2026
  • By 2020, 50 percent of Americans will live in areas with no individual health insurance options.
    • 75% in 2026

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 19, 2017

Senate Will Hold Healthcare Repeal Vote Next Week

The Senate is expected to vote early next week on whether or not to pick up the House’s passed healthcare bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Tuesday night. If the vote passes, the Obamacare repeal proposal would be added as an amendment to the existing bill.

During his announcement, McConnell said, “For the information of all senators, at the request of the President [Trump] and Vice President [Pence] and after consulting with our members, we will have the vote on the motion to proceed to the Obamacare repeal bill early next week.”

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) are expected to vote “no” on the legislation.

Trump to Talk Healthcare With GOP Senators Over Lunch

President Donald Trump will host a lunch Wednesday for Republican senators where he will discuss the next steps on healthcare reform and other policy matters.

The meeting comes after Trump made several comments suggesting Republicans allow the marketplace to collapse. Trump said, “I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll let Obamacare fail. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us.”

Are There Enough Insurance Companies on the Individual Marketplace for 2018?

Bloomberg has collected data on the nation’s individual insurance marketplace. Although select areas will struggle to find individual coverage, the vast majority of Americans will have options.

  • 0.2 percent of enrollees will have no marketplace options.
    • Nevada will be heavily affected by the lack of marketplace options.
  • 20 percent of enrollees will have 1 marketplace option.
  • 22 percent of enrollees will have 2 marketplace options.
  • 23 percent of enrollees will have 3 marketplace options.
  • 34 percent of enrollees will have 4 or more marketplace options.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 18, 2017

GOP Senate Healthcare Bill Halted; Reform Talks Continue

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced late Monday that the Senate will drop its latest healthcare reform bill. The decision came after Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Mike Lee (R-UT) said they would not support the legislation. The senators joined colleagues Rand Paul (R-KY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) in their opposition, leaving the bill no chance of passing if put to a vote.

McConnell’s efforts are now focused on pushing senators to vote on a bill that will repeal Obamacare within two years.

In a statement, McConnell said: “Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful. So, in the coming days, the Senate will vote to take up the House bill with the first amendment in order being what a majority of the Senate has already supported in 2015 and that was vetoed by then-President Obama: a repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay to provide for a stable transition period to a patient-centered health care system that gives Americans access to quality, affordable care.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 17, 2017

Senate Healthcare Vote, CBO Score Delayed

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) recently announced a planned absence to undergo surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye. With the temporary loss of McCain’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided Saturday to delay the highly anticipated vote on the Senate healthcare bill. The postponement is expected to last for a week, allowing McCain to recover from surgery and return to Capitol Hill. The Senate is split 52-48 between Republicans and Democrats. (Here is where GOP senators stand on the updated bill.) In order for the legislation to pass, McConnell can’t lose more than two votes.

Adding to the Senate’s delay, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced Sunday that it was not prepared to release an analysis of the Senate’s updated bill. The CBO was expected to release an analysis on Monday.

Two Leading Health Insurance Organizations Oppose Cruz Amendment

America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, two influential health insurance groups, wrote the Senate a letter requesting the removal of the Cruz Amendment from the updated healthcare bill. The Cruz Amendment would allow insurance companies to sell plans that do not meet Affordable Care Act coverage requirements as long as at least one plan that does meet coverage requirements is offered.

In the letter, the organizations include these statements: “As healthy people move to the less-regulated plans, those with significant medical needs will have no choice but to stay in the comprehensive plans, and premiums will skyrocket for people with pre-existing conditions…Finally, this provision will lead to far fewer, if any, coverage options for consumers who purchase their plan in the individual market. As a result, millions of more individuals will become uninsured.”

Colorado’s Individual Market Will See Large Premium Hikes

Health insurance companies participating in Colorado’s individual market are requesting an average premium rate increase of 27 percent. Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar expressed her lack of surprise in the high rate requests. In an interview, Salazar said, “I believe that the dubious situation at the federal level has contributed to the premium increase requests we’ve seen from the companies.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 14, 2017

Where GOP Senators Stand on the Updated Healthcare Bill

Here is how Senate Republicans are leaning. Two Republican senators have said they will oppose the new piece of legislation:

  • Susan Collins (R-ME)
  • Rand Paul (R-KY)

Eight Republican senators have either currently or previously expressed concerns over the bill’s language and are likely to vote against it without change:

  • Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
  • Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
  • Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Dean Heller (R-NV)
  • John McCain (R-AZ)
  • Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Ben Sasse (R-NE)

Twenty-three Republican senators are unsure, and the remaining 19 are likely to vote yes on the bill in its current state.

Senator Lindsey Graham Introduces State-Focused Healthcare Proposal

In the event that the Senate GOP’s healthcare bill does not progress, Senator Lindsey Graham has introduced a separate proposal. In Graham’s plan, federal funding for healthcare would be sent directly to states to allocate as they see fit.

When talking about the bill, Graham explained: “Instead of having a one-size-fits-all solution from Washington, we should return dollars back to the states to address each individual state’s health care needs. Just like no two patients are the same, no two states’ health care needs are the same. A solution that works in California may not work in Virginia. These funds are already being spent on Obamacare, but instead of having Washington decide, we’ll empower each individual state to choose the path that works best for them.”

Graham has been working with colleague Bill Cassidy on the proposition.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 13, 2017

Senate Releases Updated Healthcare Reform Bill

The Senate on Thursday released an updated version of its healthcare reform bill. The majority of the bill has been left the same, but the following sections have been modified:

  • Obamacare taxes: For individuals making more than $200,000, a 3.8 percent investment tax would no longer be repealed. Additionally, taxes on health-insurance executives and a Medicare tax would no longer be repealed.
  • Opioid crisis funding: Financing to tackle the nation’s opioid dilemma would increase from $2 billion to about $45 billion.
  • The Cruz amendment: A modified version of Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s amendment, which allows health insurance companies to sell plans with less coverage if they also sell ACA-compliant plans, is included in the Senate’s healthcare bill.
  • Tax credits on catastrophic coverage: Under the updated Senate healthcare bill, individuals would be allowed to use tax credits to purchase these high-deductible plans.
  • State individual market stability fund: Funding to help states lower premiums and healthcare costs would increase by $70 billion. This is an addition to the $112 billion allotted in the Senate bill’s previous version.
  • Health savings accounts and premiums: A new provision in the Senate bill would allow individuals to use health savings accounts to pay for their premiums.

The revised bill does not address cuts to the Medicaid program that concern many moderate Republican senators. However, it would lift federal budget restraints “for areas of a state during a declared emergency.”

Senate Parliamentarian Agrees House’s Healthcare Bill Follows Reconciliation Rules

Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate Parliamentarian, has agreed with Republicans and decided that the House’s healthcare bill follows Senate reconciliation rules. This judgement will allow the Senate to make revisions without any procedural obstacles, although members are already modifying their own healthcare bill.

House Subcommittee Proposes $1.1 Billion Funding Increase for NIH

The House subcommittee proposed a $1.1 billion funding increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday. The White House previously suggested a $5.8 billion decrease in funding, though the proposal was met with opposition from members of both congressional parties.

President Trump Will Be ‘Very Angry’ If Obamacare Reform Bill Does Not Pass

During an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson, President Donald Trump said this about the possibility that the Senate won’t pass a healthcare bill: “Well, I don’t even want to talk about it, because I think it would be very bad. I will be very angry about it, and a lot of people will be very upset. But I’m sitting waiting for that bill to come to my desk. I hope that they do it. They’ve been promising it for years…He’s got to pull it off. [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)] has to pull it off. He’s working very hard. He’s got to pull it off.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 12, 2017

The Senate Is Looking Into a Possible Bipartisan Bill to Reform Healthcare

Since the GOP’s healthcare bill might not pass in the Senate, many lawmakers are considering a bipartisan effort to reform healthcare. Around a half-dozen Republicans are holding discussions with Democrats about coming together to prevent the possibility of a complete collapse of small-group and individual insurance markets throughout the country.

Many Democrats see this as an opportunity to prevent a complete repeal of a key accomplishment of the Obama years. Some Republican senators, under pressure from constituents who are worried about losing their healthcare, believe a bipartisan bill could alleviate many problems. The bill’s main ideas involve creating a reinsurance fund and authorizing cost-sharing payments for [insurance companies] so they don’t have to raise prices for covering a sicker pool of customers.

Senate Republicans Will Unveil a Revised Healthcare Bill on Thursday

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to unveil the details of the Senate’s healthcare reform bill tomorrow. The Senate is expected to reject this bill, according to key Republican senators such as Charles Grassley (R-IA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Susan Collins (R-ME).

GOP Drops Tax Cuts For Higher-Income Earners in Revised Health Bill

In a move designed to win over some moderate Republicans, the Senate Republican leadership is dropping its plans to remove the Affordable Care Act’s 3.8 percent tax on investment income for people who earn more than $200,000 and couples who earn more than $250,000. This could produce nearly $231 billion in revenue over a decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Some sources are suggesting that Senator Mitch McConnell, in closed-door talks, is negotiating with Republican holdouts about other components of healthcare spending as well. A GOP aide requesting anonymity suggested that increased Medicaid funding and increased funding to stabilize the cost of premiums for individuals might be under consideration.

Texas Senator’s Amendment Could Raise Premiums For 1.5 Million People With Pre-Existing Conditions

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is sponsoring an amendment that would give insurance companies the power to sell plans in the individual insurance market that don’t meet two major Affordable Care Act requirements (essential health benefits and community rating).  The stipulation is that insurance companies must also offer plans that do meet these ACA necessities. Many conservatives have expressed support for this amendment. They believe it would encourage insurance companies to offer cheaper insurance plans to some people.

The amendment’s critics, including Democrats and moderate Republicans, contend that the amendment would create two tiers of plans, which could allow insurance companies to entrap sick people into plans they’ll need but won’t be able to afford. Also, 1.5 million people with pre-existing conditions could face higher premiums with the amendment, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 7, 2017

If Senate’s Bill Doesn’t Pass, McConnell to Seek Stabilizing Legislation

According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, if a full repeal and replacement of Obamacare does not occur, the Senate will have to work on a limited bill to stabilize the individual marketplace. Because this type of limited bill would not fall under reconciliation, the GOP would have to work with Democrats to pass a stabilization bill.

In a response to questions about if the GOP will need bipartisanship for healthcare reform, Senator McConnell said, “If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur.”

Senate Not Expected to Vote on Bill Immediately After July 4 Recess

Several Republican senators have said that a healthcare vote won’t happen next week.

  • Senator Pat Toomey: “We’re still several weeks away from a vote, I think.”
  • Senator Ted Cruz said that a vote might occur “in the next several weeks.”
  • Senator Mitch McConnell also predicted that a healthcare vote would happen in a “couple weeks.”

Aetna Better Health of Illinois Threatens to Leave Illinois Medicaid Program

In a court filing last week, Aetna Better Health of Illinois said Illinois had not paid an owed amount of $698 million dollars. Company President Laurie Brubaker said last week that Aetna will pull out of Illinois’ Medicaid program if the state did not pass a budget by July 1 and pay Aetna the owed amount.

Georgia Expected to See Large Premium Hikes for 2018 Marketplace Plans

Many Georgia health insurance companies are increasing premiums as healthcare reform uncertainty continues, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, which is the only insurance company in all Georgia counties. Companies are seeking these average premium increases:

  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia: 40%
  • Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Georgia: 25%
  • Alliant: 18.6%
  • Ambetter of Peach State: 12.4%

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 5, 2017

The House Has Drafted a Provision That Would Prevent the IRS from Enforcing the Individual Mandate

The House Committee on Appropriations has written a provision that would prevent the IRS from enforcing the tax penalties associated with the individual mandate. The drafted provision is not part of the House’s nor the Senate’s healthcare reform bills. The provision would also prevent the IRS “from enforcing a requirement that employers and insurance companies inform the government of the name and Social Security number of anyone to whom they provide health insurance coverage.” The government currently uses this information to enforce the individual mandate and other requirements.

Insurance Companies on the Marketplace May Ask for Enrollment Caps

Insurance companies that have not left the marketplaces have seen their enrollment increase, but those increases haven’t translated to higher profits, as many of the new enrollees are unhealthy individuals who require expensive medical care. Because their risk pools are unequal (with more sick individuals than healthy ones), many companies worry that they will lose money. In order to stem their losses, some companies may ask the government to cap enrollment for their plans.

Centene’s Entrance Into Missouri’s Marketplace Will Cover Potentially Barren Counties

On Friday, Centene announced that it would enter the Missouri health insurance marketplace for 2018. The company states that it plans to cover 39 counties, including 25 counties that would have had no individual insurance options. In a statement, Centene’s chairman, president, and chief executive Michael Neidorff said, “We strive to be a responsible partner with the state and are committed to working closely with regulators and policymakers to collaborate on actions that stabilize the market and offer affordable coverage options.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for July 3, 2017

Conservative Republicans Bring Up an Old Idea: Repeal Now and Replace Later

Senator Ben Sasse brought up the “repeal now and replace later” idea in both a letter to the President and on Fox News. Senator Rand Paul and an advocacy group called Americans for Prosperity seem to support the idea. In a Tweet, President Trump also voiced support for the two-step approach.

Premier Health Plan and Memorial Hermann Health System Announce Market Exits

Premier Health Plan has announced that it will leave Ohio’s individual health insurance market. The company cited uncertainty over the individual Marketplace and difficulty pricing as its reason to exit the market.

Memorial Hermann Health System will completely exit the individual market at the end of 2017. A spokeswoman explained the company’s exit in an email: “After careful consideration, Memorial Hermann Health Plans has made the difficult decision to withdraw from the individual segments due to challenging market conditions and continued uncertainty in this segment of the health insurance industry.” The company will still sell Medicare Advantage plans.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 30, 2017

CBO Publishes Separate Analysis on Medicaid Spending and Its Effects

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has published a secondary Medicaid analysis titled the “Longer-Term Effects of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 on Medicaid Spending.” The analysis finds that under the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, Medicaid spending would decrease by 26% in 2026. That percentage increases to 35% in 2036.

Senator Ted Cruz Proposes Allowing Insurance Companies to Sell Cheap Plans with Fewer Benefits

In order to win over conservatives and introduce plans with lower premiums, Senator Ted Cruz has given the GOP a proposal to let insurance companies sell plans that have fewer benefits. The plans would be less expensive, but may take young and healthy individuals out of the same market pool as sick and older Americans. This could increase costs for the ill and elderly, and it may also lead to adverse selection in the individual marketplace.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 29, 2017

Changes to the Senate’s Healthcare Bill Underway

Two changes are already being added to the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (the Senate’s healthcare bill). The White House and Senate Republicans have agreed to add $45 billion in funding in order to address the opioid crisis. Additionally, Senators may soon agree to let Americans pay their premiums with their health savings accounts (HSAs).

Republican Senators Question Tax Eliminations in GOP’s Healthcare Bill

Some Republican senators have started questioning whether the GOP’s healthcare bill should repeal certain taxes on high-income earners while cutting back on subsidies and Medicaid. Susan Collins, Mike Rounds, and Bob Corker have publically criticized the tax repeal.

  • Senator Collins: “I do not see a justification for doing away with the 3.8 percent tax on investment income, because that is not something that increases the cost of health care.”

Senator Corker: “I want to make sure that we’re not in a situation where we’re cutting taxes for the wealthy and at the same time … passing a larger burden on to [lower-income citizens].”

Senators Reiterate Requests After GOP’s Healthcare Vote Postponed

With the GOP’s healthcare vote delayed until after the July 4 recess, Senators on both sides of the aisle are repeating their previous healthcare reform requests. Republican Senator Rand Paul “highlighted a letter he sent to President Donald Trump and Senate GOP leaders with a list of conservative proposals that would help resolve his issues with Senate Republicans’ health care legislation.” While the proposal would please conservatives, the requests detailed in it are likely to alienate moderates.On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also repeated his previous requests for bipartisan healthcare reform.

President Trump Accuses Democrats of Misstating Facts About Medicaid Spending

In a Tweet posted on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said, “Democrats purposely misstated Medicaid under new Senate bill – actually goes up.” While the total spending for Medicaid would indeed slowly increase, “the accounting he uses to show Medicaid spending is wildly divergent from the way budget analysts, policymakers and many lawmakers account for spending levels.” When accounting for inflation, Medicaid spending would not increase. Instead, there would be a decrease of around $772 billion in federal Medicaid outlays.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 28, 2017

Senate Healthcare Vote Won’t Happen Before July 4 Recess

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans announced they will delay a healthcare reform vote until after the July 4 recess. Although the GOP planned to have a vote by the end of this week, opposition within the Republican Party over the Senate bill’s current language remains unresolved.

After the announced delay, President Trump told senators at a White House meeting, “This will be great, if we get it done. And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s OK and I understand that very well. But I think we have a chance to do something very, very important for the public, very, very important for the people of our country that we love.”

Also after the announcement, 3 more Republican senators announced that they would not have supported a healthcare vote this week.

The GOP will revise its healthcare bill over the July 4 recess, which will need a new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. Republicans hope to vote after the recess.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 27, 2017

CBO Releases Analysis of Senate’s ‘Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017’

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released its analysis of the Senate’s healthcare reform bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA). Here are some of the main takeaways:

The Uninsured Rate

  • 15 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2018. This is mostly due to the elimination of the individual mandate.
  • 22 million more Americans would be uninsured (compared to the Affordable Care Act) in 2026.
    • This means that a total of around 49 million Americans would be uninsured by 2026. (Around 28 million would be uninsured in 2026 under the ACA.)
    • For comparison, the House’s bill increased the uninsured population to 23 million.

The Federal Deficit

The federal deficit would decrease by $321 billion by 2026. (The House’s bill decreased the deficit by $119 billion.)


  • Over the next 10 years, the government would decrease Medicaid spending by $772 billion (26%). (The House’s bill reduced Medicaid spending by $834 billion.)
  • By 2026, enrollment in Medicaid would decrease by 16% for those under the age of 65.

The Individual Market

  • In most parts of the United States, the individual health insurance market will remain stable in 2020.
  • Due to state waivers on essential health benefit requirements, some insurance plans that cover certain services will become more expensive in those areas.
    • Individuals who require waived essential health benefits will see substantial increases in their out-of-pocket costs or skip those services.
    • Individuals who live in states that have waived certain services could also see large increases in their out-of-pocket costs because annual and lifetime limits wouldn’t be capped.
  • The average premium will rise faster than the ACA’s average premium until 2020. Then, the increase in premium costs will slow.
  • By 2026, the average premium is expected to be 20% less.
    • This is mostly because 1) plans will cover fewer costs and services and 2) there’s federal funding aimed at lowering premium prices.
    • For example, let’s compare the costs for a 45-year-old male below 200% of the federal poverty level. For the ACA premium after tax credit, he would pay $67. For the Senate’s BCRA premium after tax credit, he would pay $215. See more premium comparisons here.

Tax Provisions

  • Over the next 10 years, the government will lose $541 billion in revenue by repealing the ACA’s tax provisions.
  • Because of the lower actuarial value for a benchmark plan (meaning a plan covers fewer costs) and higher deductibles, few low-income Americans will purchase Marketplace plans in 2020.

After CBO’s Analysis, Republican Senators to Oppose Procedural Vote

Shortly after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, several Republican senators “threatened to oppose beginning debate.”

  • Susan Collins said she would vote no to the Senate’s bill. In a tweet, she said she’d rather have a bipartisan fix to the ACA.
  • Rand Paul, Dean Heller, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee are expected to vote against the motion without further changes to the bill.
  • Ron Johnson said he would have a “hard time believing” he had the information he needed to vote for a motion this week.

With the additional savings estimated by the CBO, Republicans have some leeway to try and negotiate with Senators (by editing the healthcare reform bill) in order to win their support.

Senate Adds a Waiting Period to Its Bill

The Senate has revised the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA) to include a waiting-period penalty for individuals who let their coverage lapse. “Starting in 2019, people who try to buy a healthcare insurance policy during open enrollment, or because of a life-qualifying event, will not be able to do so for six months if they had a break in coverage of 63 days or longer during the prior year.”

California Won’t See a Single-Payer Healthcare System This Year

The leader of the state Assembly in California announced that he will not proceed with a single-payer healthcare system this year. Although a single-payer bill passed the state Senate, Speaker Anthony Rendon said the bill doesn’t properly detail “delivery of care and cost.”

Senators May Add Penalties for Lapses in Coverage to Healthcare Bill

The “discussion draft” of the Senate’s healthcare bill did not penalize individuals who let their coverage lapse. According to health insurance industry sources, Senators are planning to add a provision that could prevent people from using the individual market for six months if their coverage lapses. The provision may be included to keep healthy people on the market, which balances out the cost for sicker individuals.

President Trump Talks to Reporters About the Senate’s Healthcare Bill

During an interview on Sunday with “Fox & Friends,” President Donald Trump said that he doesn’t think the GOP is “that far off” from finalizing its healthcare reform bill. The Senate is pushing to vote on the bill by the end of this week, despite Senators expressing opposition or concern over the current language.

When referring to the now 5 Republican Senators that have confirmed an opposition to the current bill’s language, the President said, “We have a very good plan. They want to get some points, I think they’ll get some points.”

Trump also complained about the lack of bipartisan efforts on healthcare reform. “It would be so great if the Democrats and Republicans could get together, wrap their arms around it and come up with something that everybody’s happy with. And I’m open arms; but, I don’t see that happening. They fight each other. The level of hostility.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 26, 2017

Updates on the Senate’s Position with the Healthcare Bill

The New York Times continues to update Senators’ standings on the GOP’s healthcare reform bill. Here are the numbers as they currently stand:

  • 48—no
  • 8—no without changes, or concerned
  • 27—undecided
  • 17—yes

Kaiser Family Foundation Publishes a Topical Comparison of 3 Healthcare Reform Bills

The Kaiser Family Foundation has published an in-depth comparison of three healthcare reform bills: Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (the Senate’s healthcare bill), the American Health Care Act (AHCA, the House’s healthcare bill), and the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare). The comparison, starting with a summary and then making comparisons based on topic, can be viewed here.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 23, 2017

Senators’ Current Positions on the GOP’s Healthcare ‘Discussion Draft’

All Democratic Senators (48) are expected to vote against the Republican Senate’s healthcare reform bill. That leaves 52 Republican Senators to vote in favor of the bill. The bill needs 50 votes in favor in order to pass (which will leave a tie breaker that Republicans expect to win). Here are the current standings on the remaining 52 votes according to The New York Times.

  • 7 Senators are likely to vote against the bill if further changes are not made or if their concerns with the current bill’s language are not addressed.
    • Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, and Rand Paul have required further repeal of the Affordable Care Act in order to vote in favor of the bill.
    • Susan Collins, Dean Heller, and Rob Portman have expressed concerns over the cuts to Medicaid.
  • 28 Senators are undecided.
  • 17 Senators are in favor of the bill.

The Washing Post also counts Senators Shelley More Capito and Lisa Murkowski among those who are likely to vote against the bill over its current language. The site also only lists 16 Senators supporting the current bill.

President Trump Supports the Senate’s Healthcare Bill While Obama Denounces It

In a tweet posted on Thursday evening, President Donald Trump said, “I am very supportive of the Senate #HealthcareBill. Look forward to making it really special! Remember, Obamacare is dead.” He was even supportive of the four conservative Republican Senators who have already voiced their opposition to the bill’s current language, saying, “They’re four good guys and they’re friends of mine. We have four very good people, and it’s not that they’re opposed. They’d like to get certain changes, and we’ll see if we can take care of that.”

Former President Barack Obama had stronger, more negative words for the Senate bill. Obama wrote, “The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else. Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family — this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.”

Ways to Compare the Senate’s Healthcare Reform Bill to Previous Bills

There are several simple ways that you can compare the Senate’s healthcare bill to the House-approved American Health Care Act (AHCA) or the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare). These news sources have done so, using easy-to-review charts and comparisons.

What Are the Senate Bill’s Next Steps?

The Senate has finally produced a draft of its healthcare reform bill. Now, that draft will go through the following processes to become law or be voted down:

  1. The Congressional Budget Office will analyze the bill, which is expected to be finished early next week.
  2. The Senate will debate the bill. Senators will also have the opportunity to offer amendments to the bill.
  3. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can offer the final amendment to the healthcare bill.
  4. The Senate will vote on the bill and amendments.
    • If the bill passes, the House will either need to reconcile the bill with their own or approve the Senate version. If the bill is reconciled, both the Senate and the House will need to vote on the final bill again.
    • If the bill does not pass, the bill does not move forward.
  5. If a final bill passes both the Senate and the House, the bill will be sent to the President for his signature.

Humana Won’t Return to Individual Market, Even With Healthcare Reform

During an interview, Humana CEO Bruce Broussard announced that Humana will not return to the individual health insurance market. Broussard said, “This is just not a business that we will be good at. No matter what they do in Washington, we are not going to go back in. And we’ve had a lot of people ask us from Washington D.C. if we would go back in and we’ve said no, it’s not there.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 22, 2017

Senate Republicans Release ‘Discussion Draft’ of GOP’s Healthcare Reform Bill

This Morning, Senate Republicans released their healthcare reform bill’s “discussion draft”. The 142-page bill:

  • Makes deep cuts to Medicaid
  • Puts the Medicaid program on a closed budget
    • States would choose to receive funding as a block grant or per capita (a set amount per enrollee).
  • Phases out Medicaid expansion
    • The phase out would begin in 2020, gradually reducing the increased funding given for expansion over 4 years.
  • Ends the individual and employer mandates
    • Unlike the House-approved bill, individuals who let their coverage lapse will not be penalized with a surcharge
  • Creates a new system of tax credits to replace health insurance subsidies
    • Unlike the House-approved bill, tax credits will take into account income and geography in addition to age.
  • Allows states to opt-out of many benefit requirements in the Affordable Care Act (like emergency services, mental health treatment, and maternity care)
  • Repeals the tax increases created by the Affordable Care Act
  • Provides $50 billion (over 4 years) to states to stabilize health insurance markets
  • Provides funding (for 2 years) for cost-sharing reduction payments
  • Keeps the popular Affordable Care Act feature of allowing children to stay on a parent’s plan until the age of 26

The Senate’s bill maintains the structure of the House-approved healthcare bill, but it is more moderate that the House’s AHCA (increasing financial assistance). Even with these adjustments the bill is still relatively conservative.

A vote on the Senate’s bill is expected to happen next week (after 20 hours of debate), with a Congressional Budget Office analysis expected in the next few days.

Republican Senators Voice Skepticism About Short Healthcare Vote Timeline

During an interview Wednesday, Republican Senator Ron Johnson voiced his uncertainty about holding a healthcare vote next week. The senator said, “I have a hard time believing anybody will have enough time to have a true evaluation and get (public) input on this by next week. … I am going to need the information to justify a yes vote. I’ll need the information to vote on a very imperfect bill that doesn’t even come close to doing the things that I want to see done.”

On Wednesday, Republican Bill Cassidy told MSNBC, “If I don’t get to read it, I don’t vote for it. If I don’t get to study it, I don’t vote for it.”

Will Hundreds of Amendments Stall the Senate’s Healthcare Reform Vote?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that senators will have the opportunity to bring any amendment to the floor during a healthcare reform vote. Democrats could use hundreds of proposed amendments to stall a healthcare vote. McConnell has the equal opportunity to cut off the multiple amendment votes if he calls them a delay tactic.

Anthem and Farm Bureau Health Plans Will Exit Certain ACA Marketplaces

Wednesday, Anthem announced plans to exit the Indiana and Wisconsin marketplaces for 2018. In a statement, spokesperson Leslie Porras explained the company’s exit: “Today, planning and pricing for ACA-compliant health plans has become increasingly difficult due to a shrinking and deteriorating individual market, as well as continual changes and uncertainty in federal operations, rules and guidance, including cost-sharing reduction subsidies and the restoration of taxes on fully insured coverage.”

Farm Bureau Health Plans has also announced that it will not sell marketplace plans in 2018 due to projected losses of more than $15 million. The CEO, Anthony Kimbrough, put out this statement to explain the company’s exit from the marketplace: “Congress has yet to agree to new legislation and CMS Administrator Seema Verma acknowledges rule changes proposed by the department are only temporary corrections … not a long-term cure for the problems that the Affordable Care Act has created in our healthcare system. So our decision is not solely about the year 2017; it is about the lack of a clearly drawn long-term solution from where things are today.” Farm Bureau Health Plans covered more than 25,000 Tennessee residents.

FDA to Hold Public Hearings on Drug Manufacturers Potentially Gaming the System

In order to investigate ways that drug makers could be manipulating federal regulations, the Food and Drug Administration will hold a public hearing next month. “The hearing, scheduled for July 18, is the latest step taken by newly installed FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to have the agency take a more active role in policing drug prices.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 21, 2017

Senate’s Healthcare Bill to Be Released for Review Thursday

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters a “discussion draft” of the GOP’s healthcare reform bill would be sent out Thursday. McConnell said that reporters would also have access to the draft, and a Senate vote on the bill is likely to occur next week.

Thursday will be the first time many senators see the GOP’s bill, including those meant to be working on it.

  • Senator Mike Lee, who was part of the 13-member working group meant to create the Senate bill, said he hasn’t seen a draft. “It has become increasingly apparent in the past few days that even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing this bill within this working group, it’s not being written by us. So, if you’re frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration — I share it wholeheartedly,” Lee said.
  • Senator Rob Portman, another member of the 13-member working group, also told reporters that he hasn’t seen a draft.

Senators have voiced their reluctance to support a bill they’ve yet to review thoroughly, making it hard to tell if a vote held next week would pass.

CSR Payments Made in June, But There’s No Guarantee They’ll Continue

The Trump Administration has made cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidy payments for June. However, the administration has not clarified whether these payments will continue through the rest of the year (or into 2018). Press secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, Caitlin Oakley, put out this statement: “The June payment has been made. We are weighing our options and still evaluating the issues. Congress could resolve any uncertainty about the payments by passing the [American Health Care Act] AHCA and reforming Obamacare’s failed funding structure.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 20, 2017

Senate Expected to Vote on Healthcare Bill Next Week

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) told Fox News that Senate Republicans are planning to vote on a healthcare bill next week. “I believe we’re going to vote before the Fourth of July recess on a healthcare plan, a repeal and replacement of Obamacare,” Barrasso said.

Lawmakers, and the public, have yet to see the Senate’s bill. If the week goes smoothly, “Senators are expected to see the text of the bill as soon as the end of this week.”

Will the Senate’s Healthcare Bill Have Enough Support From All Republicans?

With much of the Senate’s policy focus on winning over moderates, the GOP risks alienating conservatives in the Senate and the House.

  • In the Senate: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has said that he will not support legislation that creates a new Republican entitlement program (specifically refundable tax credits). Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have been pressing the Senate to allow states to opt out of guaranteed issue and community rating provisions to win their support. “Guaranteed issue mandates that insurance companies sell insurance plans to people regardless of how sick they are, and … community rating prohibits insurance companies from pricing those plans to reflect the greater financial risk of insuring people with pre-existing medical conditions.”
  • In the House: The Republican Study Committee (RSC) is the largest conservative group in the House. The RSC warned GOP Senators that if the bill goes too far toward moderates, it will die in the House. The conservative group listed four provisions that it finds necessary in the Senate’s healthcare bill.

Democratic Senators Prepared to Slow Down Senate Over Closed-Door Healthcare Reform

Democrats are prepared to use procedural rules to slow down the Senate’s processes if Republicans continue creating healthcare reform behind closed doors. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “If Republicans won’t relent and debate their healthcare bill in the open for the American people to see, then they shouldn’t expect business as usual in the Senate.”

Senate’s Healthcare Bill Could Have Deeper Medicaid Cuts Than the AHCA

According to aides and lobbyists, the Senate has sent a Medicaid spending proposal — one that may “make even deeper cuts to Medicaid spending than the bill passed by the House” — to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for analysis. The Medicaid proposal “would start out the growth rate for a new cap on Medicaid spending at the same levels as the House bill, but then drop to a lower growth rate that would cut spending more, known as CPI-U, starting in 2025.”

Health Insurance Companies Work to Stay in State Marketplaces

While many health insurance companies have made the tough decision to exit the Marketplace, these companies are planning to stick around to provide coverage in these states.

  • Washington: Premera Blue Cross will continue selling plans in a county that may have been left without any options. Only one county in Washington state remains without a marketplace option.
  • Illinois: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the state’s largest health insurance company, has submitted rates for 2018. However, the company has not fully committed to selling plans in 2018.
  • Iowa: The only carrier left in the state, Medica, plans to keep selling plans in 2018. However, premium rates could increase by 43.5%.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 19, 2017

Senate’s Lack of Transparency With Healthcare Bill Raises Bipartisan Concerns

The lack of transparency and speedy process surrounding the Senate’s healthcare bill is raising concerns for both Republican and Democratic senators.

  • Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal is calling an “emergency healthcare hearing,” which is scheduled for Monday. The senator told the Hartford Courant that the committee writing the healthcare reform bill is “a small group of Republicans meeting in secret, [and] none of us on the Democratic side have a clue as to what they’re doing. … How do we vote in the next few weeks on a bill that has not been … reduced to writing, that has been done in secret without any kind of public hearing?”
  • On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer reached out to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Schumer asked that an all-senator meeting be held on Friday to discuss the bill.
  • Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed unhappiness with the secrecy of the healthcare bill’s deliberations. She told the Alaska Dispatch News, “I think that we do better as a body when we respect the process. And the process allows for committee involvement, debate and discussion. … If I’m not going to see a bill before we have a vote on it, that’s just not a good way to handle something that is as significant and important as healthcare.”
  • During an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio advised against rushing a secretive healthcare bill through the Senate. “The Senate is not a place where you can just cook up something behind closed doors and rush it for a vote on the floor,” Rubio said. “Every camera in the world’s going to have to see what’s in it.”

Senate Democrats Planning Late-Night Protest of GOP’s Healthcare Reform Plan

According to a Senate aide, Democratic Senators are planning to hold late-night speeches on the Senate floor Monday. The speeches are expected to last until at least midnight, with the main focus on protesting the GOP’s healthcare replacement plan.

Democratic Senators are also considering using other rules to halt Senate procedures, like preventing “any Senate committees from meeting after the Senate had been in session for two hours” and “objecting to routine requests on votes.”

7 Governors Write Bipartisan Healthcare Appeal Letter to Senate Leaders

On Friday, 7 governors sent letters to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. In the letter, the governors asked that Congress “focus on health care reform that cuts costs while promoting market stability and giving states more flexibility.” The letter also urges “Congress to scrap the GOP health care bill and work toward a bipartisan solution.”

Where Are 6 Major Healthcare Reform Policies Headed?

Speculation continues for what will end up in the Senate’s healthcare reform bill. According to the Hill, here is where these 6 controversial policies seem to be headed.

  1. Medicaid expansion will have a slower phase-out. Something between Senator Rob Portman’s proposed 7-year phase-out and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 3-year phase-out is expected to be in a final bill.
  2. Tax credits proposed in the House’s American Health Care Act (AHCA) will increase. Senator John Thune has been tasked with creating a tax credit structure that will provide more assistance to lower-income and older Americans. Thune’s tax credits are expected to be tied to age and income.
  3. Some Obamacare taxes will remain, at least for a while. These will help fund tax credits, among other healthcare allowances.
  4. More funding (than provided in the AHCA) will be provided to fight the opioid crisis. This is in part to assure senators worried that the phase-out of Medicaid expansion will hurt opioid addiction treatment.
  5. The bill will attempt to stabilize the individual health insurance Marketplace. This could be done by funding cost-sharing reductions.
  6. Funding to support those with pre-existing conditions will increase. After criticism that the AHCA underfunds high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions, the Senate’s bill is expected to increase this funding.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval Signs Strict Insulin Pricing Legislation into Law

Thursday, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed “the nation’s strictest requirements for pharmaceutical companies to reveal how they set certain prescription drug prices” into law. The law focuses on insulin, requiring “drugmakers to annually disclose the list prices they set, profits they make and discounts they give market middlemen on insulin.” Drugmakers must also “give state officials written explanations of any insulin price hikes that surpass the previous year’s inflation rate, or are higher than twice the inflation rate of the previous two years.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 16, 2017

Senator Lamar Alexander Calls for CSR Payments to Be Funded Through 2019

Senator Lamar Alexander is the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. At a hearing on Thursday, Alexander recommended that funding for cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments continue through 2019. Alexander said during the hearing, “The payments will help to avoid the real possibility that millions of Americans will literally have zero options for insurance in the individual market in 2018.”

Senator Rand Paul Criticizes “New Entitlements” in the Senate’s Healthcare Bill

Conservative Senator Rand Paul has denounced two important aspects of the Republican healthcare bill, each of which are seen in the House’s and the Senate’s healthcare bills. Refundable tax credits (which help people afford individual healthcare plans) and a “stabilization fund” (which helps lower premiums) are being called new entitlements by Paul.

Paul told reporters, “I think we shouldn’t have new entitlements that will go on forever in a Republican plan to fix healthcare. We can’t pay for what we already have: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”

Trump Administration to Address Drug Pricing With New Executive Orders

On Friday, President Trump is scheduled to meet with key officials to discuss an executive order aimed at lowering prescription drug pricing. The order “could be to direct federal agencies to pursue value-based purchasing contracts for drugs.” Another policy being discussed “would instruct agencies to pursue trade policies that would strengthen the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies.”

Neither of the executive orders under discussion would cause drastic changes to the pharmaceutical industry.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 15, 2017

Four Democrats Introduce a Reinsurance Bill

Four Democratic Senators (including Tim Kaine and Tom Carper) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would make reinsurance a permanent component of the Obamacare individual marketplace. Specifically, the bill “would provide federal funding to cover 80% of claims from $50,000 to $500,000, starting next year, with the same level of support through 2020.” The bill would also help states improve enrollment by dedicating $500 million in federal funding each year (for the next three years).

Marketplace Rate Hikes Continue as Senate Works Through Healthcare Reform 

Health insurance companies are filing proposed health insurance rates for individuals’ plans on and off the marketplace. In order to recoup losses, and prepare for funding provided through Obamacare to discontinue, many companies are filing double digit rate increases. These states are in recent news for their premium rate hikes:

  • Michigan: If cost-sharing reduction subsidies are defunded, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan could increase rates by up to 31%.
  • Connecticut: Anthem, one of Connecticut’s largest insurance companies, has requested a 33.8% rate increase for plans sold on and off the exchange. ConnectiCare has requested a 17.5% increase for its plans on the marketplace and a 28.3% increase for its plans off the marketplace.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 14, 2017

CMS Actuary Publishes AHCA Analysis That Differs Greatly From CBO’s

On Tuesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of the Actuary published an “Estimated Financial Effect of the ‘American Health Care Act of 2017’.” Here are the main takeaways from the CMS Office of the Actuary’s analysis:

  • The AHCA will cause 12.6 million more Americans to become uninsured in the next 10 years.
  • The AHCA will reduce federal spending by $328 billion in the next 10 years.
    • The CBO’s analysis estimated that federal funding would be reduced by $119 billion.*
  • Under the AHCA, the average premium will be 13% lower in 2026 for individuals without subsidies.
  • Taking subsidies into account, premiums will increase by 5% and out-of-pocket costs will increase by 61%.
  • The CMS analysis excludes the estimated effects of taxes repealed in the AHCA.
  • The CMS analysis does not “reflect the possibility that some states could obtain waivers under the AHCA that severely limit what benefits must be covered or allow insurers to charge higher premiums for people with expensive medical conditions.”
    • According to the CMS actuary, if states did receive such waivers “we would expect that the individual market in these areas would destabilize such that the premiums for comprehensive coverage for a significant proportion of the population would become unaffordable and the coverage would cease to be offered.”

*The estimates found in the CMS Office of the Actuary’s analysis and the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis vary due to “differing assumptions about whether cost-saving measures in the House bill will work.”

Centene to Enter 3 New States in 2018, Expand Its Presence in 6 More

On Tuesday, Centene announced plans to enter the Marketplace in Kansas, Missouri, and Nevada in 2018. The company will also expand its presence in 6 states that it currently participates in (Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, and Washington).

Michael F. Neidorff, chairman, president, and CEO of Centene, released this statement: “Centene recognizes there is uncertainty of new healthcare legislation, but we are well positioned to continue providing accessible, high-quality and culturally sensitive healthcare services to our members. Centene has demonstrated disciplined execution, agility and capacity to successfully navigate industry changes to the benefit of our members, customers and shareholders.”

Aetna May Offer Plans in Nevada After All

Despite sharing plans to exit the market, Aetna filed premium rates for the Nevada individual marketplace for 2018. Although it has filed rates, Aetna has not made a final decision on whether or not to participate in Nevada.

Trump Urges Senators to Draft a More “Generous” Healthcare Bill

President Trump met with Republican Senators on Tuesday during a White House lunch and discussed their in-progress healthcare bill. During the lunch, the President called the House’s AHCA “mean” and asked Senators to create a bill that was “more generous.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 9, 2017

Chairman of House Committee Calls for CSR Continuation

Kevin Brady, a Republican and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has called for the continuation of cost-sharing reduction subsidies (CSRs) in order to stabilize the individual market. “We should act within our constitutional authority now to temporarily and legally fund cost-sharing reduction payments as we move away from Obamacare. Insurers have made clear the lack of certainty is causing 2018 proposed premiums to rise significantly,” Brady stated.

Senate Parliamentarian Flags Language in AHCA That May Not Be Allowed

Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate Parliamentarian, has found language that she warns may not meet reconciliation. The Hyde Amendment is a part of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that disallows people from using refundable tax credits for private insurance plans that cover abortions. MacDonough has flagged this amendment, warning Republicans that it is “unlikely to be allowed.”

A precedent set in 1995 may support MacDonough’s warning. Robert Dove, the Senate Parliamentarian in 1995, “ruled that an abortion provision affecting a state block grant program failed to meet reconciliation requirements.”

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 8, 2017

What’s Going into the Senate’s Healthcare Bill?

As the Senate works to come to a consensus on dividing aspects of healthcare reform, there is an ongoing discussion over what will end up in the finalized bill. Here is a short breakdown of how the Senate is progressing through those aspects of healthcare reform.

Healthcare Reform News Update for June 7, 2017

McConnell Tells Trump: Expect Healthcare Vote by July 4

During a meeting held Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told President Donald Trump that the Senate may vote on healthcare reform by July 4. McConnell also said he expects the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to score the Senate’s healthcare bill soon, at least on portions that it has submitted for review.

In a joint statement, McConnell and Paul Ryan said this about the meeting: “We had a good, productive meeting with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and congressional leadership. The discussion focused on the continued progress of our shared legislative agenda and how we can accomplish our goals.”

Budget Committee Approves Senate’s Healthcare Bill

On Tuesday, the Senate Budget Committee announced that the American Health Care Act (AHCA) fulfills reconciliation rules and can officially move on to the Senate.

Some State Waive