The most popular parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are the most expensive. Universal coverage is a top priority not only for Democrats but also for President Trump. Both Republicans and Democrats want to preserve many costly coverage features of the ACA, including those that prevent insurers from precluding people with preexisting conditions and those that eliminate lifetime or annual coverage limits. The challenge is how to preserve these features and make insurance affordable.
You cannot do health care reform if it frightens patients who believe they will lose access to the care they are already receiving. This is why the Congressional Budget Office estimates showing tens of millions of people losing insurance as a result of what Speaker Paul Ryan and company were trying to do was so devastating. It’s that kind of reality that killed Obamacare after it became law. Whatever Congress does must ensure stability and continuity of care, especially among the most vulnerable populations during the transition period between what we have now and what comes next. Congress’ first concern when it comes to health care reform should be about producing better health outcomes.
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One of the more interesting television commercials I see is an ad sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America. The message: if you have cancer, we want you.
Welcome to a small glimpse of how the market for health care might be different.
If we had a genuinely free market for health care, ads like this would not be rare and unusual. There would be centers of excellence for heart disease and diabetes and dozens of other afflictions. Through television, radio, the Internet and other means, these centers would be seeking out people with problems and offering to solve them – just like in other markets.
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A second major health-insurer has decided to quit selling individual policies in Iowa, raising fears that tens of thousands of Iowans will have no options for coverage next year.
Aetna informed Iowa regulators Thursday that it had decided to stop selling such policies, which cover people who lack access to employer-provided coverage or government plans. The move would affect 36,205 customers, the company told regulators.
Aetna’s move takes effect in January. It came three days after Iowa’s dominant health-insurer, Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield, announced that it would no longer sell individual health-insurance policies in Iowa.
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The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has substantially increased the number of Americans with public and private health insurance coverage. The Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) at the US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the ACA has resulted in 20 million additional nonelderly adults gaining coverage between the law’s enactment and February 2016. This estimate is likely overstated. Government surveys’ estimates of the number of people who gained coverage between December 2013 and December 2015 vary by 20 percent. Moreover, while the ASPE estimates that the ACA increased the number of young adult dependents with insurance coverage between 2010 and 2013 by 2.3 million, data from government surveys indicate that 1.2 million fewer dependent children had private coverage in 2013 than in 2010, offsetting half the gain in coverage among older dependents. Coverage gains have nonetheless been significant, with most of the increase coming from enrollment surges in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance programs. But a substantial proportion of those who have enrolled in these public programs since 2014 met eligibility standards that predated the ACA. This increase in public coverage may have crowded out private coverage, although further study is needed to determine the existence and magnitude of this effect.
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As Congress and the Trump administration move forward with plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they are looking for proven state-led reforms that maintain access for those with pre-existing conditions in the current exchange market while also lowering premiums for everyone buying insurance in the individual market.
Maine faced similar challenges in 2011 as it sought to unwind failed experiments that pushed its market into a long-term death spiral. But by creating an invisible high-risk pool and relaxing its premium rating bands, Maine policymakers were able to cut premiums in half while still guaranteeing those with pre-existing conditions access to plans.
As a result of these changes, individuals in their early 20s were able to see premium savings of nearly $5,000 per year, while individuals in their 60s saw savings of more than $7,000.
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As Republicans in Congress look to repeal and replace the ACA, they’re considering a return to high-risk pools like one in Wisconsin, which some considered a national model. The “Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan” — which ran from 1979 to 2014, when the federal health law’s exchanges started — was funded through premiums, insurance company assessments and reduced payments to providers. “Pooling the high-risk individuals together and managing their needs separately was a huge factor in the state’s success in offering a competitive insurance market,” J.P. Wieske, the state’s deputy insurance commissioner, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee this month.
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The new administration should issue two new rules for the 2018 enrollment season:
- It should let online brokers complete enrollments for people who qualify for subsidies. No need to redirect these applicants to HealthCare.gov.
- It should stop imposing user fees to prop up its unnecessary website and finance ad campaigns.
These two changes would set loose an army of insurance carriers, traditional brokers and private online exchanges, all competing to enroll people in subsidized coverage.
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While Republicans continue to grapple with plans to repeal and replace Obamacare and stabilize health insurance rates, Humana is the first major insurer to say it is dropping out of the individual market for 2018.
“Based on our initial analysis of data associated with the company’s health-care exchange membership following the 2017 open enrollment period, we continue to see further signs of an unbalanced risk pool,” said Humana CEO Bruce Broussard, on a conference call with analysts Tuesday. “Therefore, the company has decided that it cannot continue to offer this coverage for 2018.”
In the wake of the news, President Donald Trump tweeted that the insurer’s decision was another example of the failure of the Affordable Care Act, and he reiterated his plan to “repeal, replace & save healthcare for ALL Americans.”
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The conceit that the five major commercial health insurers will consolidate to three seems to be dissolving, as four of those insurers called off a pair of mega-mergers on Tuesday. After 18 months of courtship among the Big Five starting in 2015, the outgoing Obama Justice Department’s antitrust division sued to block the $34 billion Aetna- Humana tie-up as well as Anthem’s $48 billion acquisition of Cigna. Federal judges blocked both transactions earlier this year. Anthem had planned to appeal but on Tuesday Cigna pulled the plug after Aetna and Humana did the same.
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