The impact of ObamaCare on doctors and patients, companies inside and outside the health sector, and American workers and taxpayers
Presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and yet still “take care of everybody.” He has said repeatedly that he is different from other Republicans in this regard, implying that other GOP politicians don’t want Americans to get needed health services. Of course, Trump has never bothered to back up this slander with any evidence (and the media haven’t bothered to ask him for it).
Trump is apparently unaware of the plans to replace Obamacare sponsored by Rep. Tom Price and by Sen. Richard Burr, Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Rep. Fred Upton. These plans would insure as many Americans as are enrolled today under the ACA at a fraction of the cost.
The Affordable Care Act is now six years old. Perhaps more important for Massachusetts, this month marks the 10th anniversary of “Romneycare,” making it a good time to review that law’s impact.
Governor Mitt Romney’s original proposal was simple: Stop subsidizing hospital care and redirect the money to ensure that all residents have “minimum coverage”—in his mind, catastrophic insurance. Individuals could choose and pay for anything beyond that. The premise was that taxpayers should not have to cover the cost of care for those unwilling to pay for it.
A Health Connector was to serve as an exchange where individuals could buy insurance directly and which would test-drive market reforms. Unlike President Obama, Romney did not implement his creation.
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Supporters of the Affordable Care Act have declared victory on health care reform: they proudly note the decline in America’s uninsured rate, as well as the sizable enrollment of lower-income adults on the new individual-insurance exchanges (“ACA exchanges”). Yet after a brief rise, the number of insured Americans is now plateauing well below the ACA’s goal of universal coverage—rather than pay the ACA exchanges’ exorbitant premiums, middle-income adults are overwhelmingly opting to forgo health insurance and pay the individual-mandate tax instead.
Key Findings of this report from the Manhattan Institute:
- Nearly 30 million American adults remain uninsured.
- After an initial surge, enrollment on the ACA exchanges has slowed dramatically: since March 2015, only 1 million additional individuals have signed up for coverage.
- By February 15, 2015—the end of the ACA exchanges’ second enrollment period—fewer than half of eligible middle-income adults had signed up for coverage.
Before the passage of ObamaCare’s 2,400 pages of coercive mandates and profligate spending, the federal government had already largely wrecked the market for individually purchased insurance, in three interconnected ways.
First, it had effectively established two different health insurance markets—employer-based and individually purchased—by treating them differently in the tax code. Second, it had given an attractive tax break for employer-based insurance while denying it for individually purchased insurance (except for the self-employed). Third, having effectively split the market in two while favoring the employer-based side, it had made it hard for people to move from the employer-based market to the individual market, as it had allowed insurers to treat previously covered conditions as “preexisting.”
A popular conservative alternative, then, would repeal every word of ObamaCare while fixing this longstanding inequity in the tax code.
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As part of an ObamaCare initiative meant to reward quality care, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is allocating some $1.5 billion in Medicare payments to hospitals based on criteria that include patient-satisfaction surveys. Among the questions: “During this hospital stay, how often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?” And: “How often was your pain well controlled?”
To many physicians and lawmakers struggling to contain the nation’s opioid crisis, tying a patient’s feelings about pain management to a hospital’s bottom line is deeply misguided––if not downright dangerous. “The government is telling us we need to make sure a patient’s pain is under control,” says Dr. Nick Sawyer, a health-policy fellow at the UC Davis department of emergency medicine. “It’s hard to make them happy without a narcotic. This policy is leading to ongoing opioid abuse.”
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The CEA presentation is notable in reflecting the core components of ACA advocates’ case for the law. It is fourteen slides long, and I find that its points break down into five main themes (in my own words):
- The ACA represents a historic expansion of health insurance coverage.
- The ACA is achieving policy goals such as reducing patient harm and hospital readmissions.
- The ACA is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.
- The ACA has been good for job creation.
- The ACA is improving the federal fiscal outlook.
Health plans will be required to dock hospitals at least 6 percent of their payments if they do not meet certain quality standards, or give them bonuses of an equal amount if they exceed the standards.
The plan, to be implemented over seven years, is based on a similar strategy pursued by the federal agency that oversees the government-run Medicaid and Medicare health insurance programs.
Donald Trump’s healthcare plan is a “whipsaw of ideas” and an “incoherent mishmash that could jeopardize coverage for millions of newly insured people,” according to conservative health policy experts. Mr. Trump’s health care platform “resembles the efforts of a foreign student trying to learn health policy as a second language,” according to AEI’s Tom Miller. AEI’s Jim Capretta adds that replacing the ACA would require a “herculean effort, with clear direction and a clear vision of what would come next. I just don’t see that in Trump’s vague plans to repeal the law and replace it with something beautiful and great.” Trump must “discard some of his ideas, like the importation of prescription drugs, because they would be damaging and unworkable,” according to Grace-Marie Turner. “And he has to flesh out his other proposals with much more detail if he hopes to persuade voters that he has a credible plan to replace Obamacare.” Robert Laszewski, a former insurance executive, called Mr. Trump’s health care proposals “a jumbled hodgepodge of old Republican ideas, randomly selected, that don’t fit together.”
Health jobs grew more than two thirds faster than non-health jobs in March, they comprised 37,000 (17 percent) of nonfarm civilian jobs added (215,000).
There is significant increase in health services jobs under Obamacare. It is unlikely we will bend the curve of health spending as long as we keep adding relatively unproductive health services jobs.
The Affordable Care Act’s tax increases are many, two are front and center this month: the individual and employer mandates. They were both supposed to increase coverage, but in reality they’re limiting career opportunities and taking more out of families’ and individuals’ wallets.