“The Senate Republican health care bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, is on thin ice, with about ten Republican Senators expressing reservations about the bill. Can Mitch McConnell get 50 senators to yes? What are the implications for the future of health care in America if he can—or can’t?
To help answer these questions, we’re fortunate to be joined by Grace-Marie Turner, the most influential health care scholar in the conservative movement.”
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A new government report explains why Republicans, after nine years of opposing Obamacare, are having such a hard time repealing it.
The answer: It’s pretty much about the money. It’s not about providing Medicaid coverage to low-income adults. Some moderate Republicans who profess concern for the needy are actually trying to shift more of the cost of providing them Medicaid coverage from their states to the federal government. They’re holding out for more federal cash for their states. And they just might get it – from Senate Democrats.
Obamacare made an offer to states that agreed to extend Medicaid eligibility to childless, nondisabled, low-income adults: The federal government would pay 100 percent of the medical bills for this new category of “expansion adults.” That percentage would slowly decline, but never fall below 90 percent. The District of Columbia and 31 states jumped at the offer.
The federal government pays a much lower federal matching percentage for every other category of recipients, including children, blind and disabled adults, pregnant women, and the frail elderly. That matching rate varies from 50 percent in states with relatively high per capita incomes (California, for example) to nearly 75 percent in the poorest state (Mississippi).
The Senate bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare would leave the Medicaid expansion in place, but would ultimately eliminate the higher federal reimbursement for their care. The federal government would bear the same share of medical assistance for nondisabled, childless adults as it does for pregnant women and people with disabilities. It slowly phases out the current Medicaid reimbursement policy that discriminates on the basis of age, gender, pregnancy, and disability.
Some Senate Republicans are clinging to this inequitable arrangement that provides a sweet deal for their states.
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Republican senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are pushing for an amendment to the Senate GOP’s Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) that would substantially alter the current landscape of health-insurance regulation. They believe their amendment, which aims to give insurers much more freedom to offer any kind of product they want to customers, would go a long way toward restoring a free market to health care, and would result in lower premiums for millions of consumers.
The strong commitment of these senators to this particular amendment, and the insistence on its inclusion in the Senate bill by conservative groups, reveals a broad misunderstanding among conservatives of what is wrong with health care in the United States, and what is needed to build a market-driven system.
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The biggest problem with Obamacare is that it expanded health coverage through Medicaid, a program with notoriously poor access to doctors, because Medicaid pays doctors far less than private insurance. The Senate Republican health care bill aims to change that, by giving states the ability to offer an innovative new model to their poorest residents: direct primary care.
The fact that people enrolled in Medicaid have poor access to physicians is well-documented in the literature (see here and here and here). To take one example, kids with acute asthma attacks on Medicaid only had a 45 percent chance of securing a doctor’s appointment, compared to 100 percent of those with private insurance.
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For the better half of a decade, lawmakers in Washington have been experimenting with the nation’s healthcare policy in an attempt to bring coverage to all Americans, while controlling costs and sustaining quality. The Affordable Care Act was the climax of such attempts.
While the ACA did bring some positive ideas to the table—such as giving more Americans the ability to enjoy health insurance and protecting people with pre-existing conditions from predatory premiums—it fell short in many other aspects.
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Senate Republicans returning from a July 4 recess are so divided over a health-overhaul bill that they are also struggling to agree on what to do if they fail to pass their legislation.
Some conservative lawmakers say an implosion of the Republican legislation would give them a chance to return to their goal of fully repealing the Affordable Care Act, putting off until later a decision about what system to put in its place. Others, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), are considering the possibility of legislation to shore up the law’s marketplaces where individuals buy health coverage, action that would involve working with Democrats.
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According to widespread media reports, Senate Republicans are considering an amendment to the proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act from Texas Senator Ted Cruz under which, if a health insurer offered at least one Obamacare-like plan with community rating, it could also offer a plan in which healthier people would pay lower rates than the sick. Although this proposal might please conservatives otherwise worried that the BCRA is but “Obamacare-lite” and although it might mollify some moderates — if you like your Obamacare you can kind of keep it — it creates an “income cliff.” People who need expensive medical care will be far worse off if they make more money. Some additional modifications to the Republican bill could reduce this problem, but they are likely to be some combination of ineffective or expensive.
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The last man to pull out of the Republican race against Donald Trump was John Kasich, the Ohio governor, a long-shot contender for the presidential nomination whose chances had long since faded. But he has returned to the role of thorn in Mr Trump’s side as Republicans in Washington struggle to reform Obamacare, leading a group of governors trashing their own party’s plan.
The intra-party revolt is rooted in Republican proposals to gut Medicaid, a programme for the poor that provides insurance to 69m Americans. Republicans have long seen it as an emblem of mismanaged welfare programmes that distend government and discourage people from working. But Mr Kasich is showing change is afoot.
He was one of 16 governors from Republican-led states that took an option to expand Medicaid offered by Obamacare, adding 700,000 Ohioans to the programme, despite the broad distaste for Barack Obama’s reforms in his party. In recent weeks he has stressed its vital role in treating people ravaged by opioids and other drugs, which killedan average of 11 Ohioans each day last year, and those suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.
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If Republicans fail to pass a bill or weaken the Senate bill so much that it won’t make a difference, the result will be a calamity of a different kind. GOP Governors who declined to join ObamaCare’s new Medicaid will conclude that the expansion is permanent and the political pressure will rise to take the federal bribe. Medicaid costs will soar, and national Republicans will show that they’re incapable of doing what voters sent them to Washington to do.
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Republican efforts to pass health-care legislation are in jeopardy again, in part because of controversy over its potential impact on Medicaid. But the Republican reforms are more moderate, and more worthwhile, than they are getting credit for.
The CBO is exaggerating the effects of the Republican legislation on Medicaid enrollment, it’s worth putting Medicaid on a firmer footing, and any additional resources for health insurance for low earners should be directed toward enabling them to buy private coverage rather than pumped into Medicaid. On Medicaid, in short, the Republicans are on the right track.
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