The struggles faced by Presidents Obama and Trump since the passage of the Affordable Care Act have created the impression that it’s impossible to successfully reform American health care. On the non-group market, premiums have soared, networks have narrowed, individuals have refused to enroll, and insurers have fled the marketplace. But despite the dysfunction of the market that was the primary focus of the ACA’s reforms, employer-provided coverage and the Medicare program have never been in better shape. Under those arrangements, which cover the majority of Americans, spending growth has abated, quality of care is improving, and premiums are rising at the slowest rate in recent memory. President Obama tried to claim credit for these trends, but they actually date to 2003, when President Bush pushed his own signature legislative achievement, the Medicare Modernization Act, through Congress.

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The Senate is advancing Seema Verma, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Senators voted 54-44 Thursday on her nomination, which needed only a simple majority to overcome the initial procedural hurdle.

The Senate could take a final vote on Verma on Friday night, but her confirmation is expected to be kicked to Monday.

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President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday morning picked the founder and CEO of a health policy consulting firm, Seema Verma, to serve as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“I am pleased to nominate Seema Verma to serve as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” said President-elect Trump in a statement. “She has decades of experience advising on Medicare and Medicaid policy and helping states navigate our complicated systems. Together, Chairman Price and Seema Verma are the dream team that will transform our healthcare system for the benefit of all Americans.”

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Ever since the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces opened for business in 2014, the Obama administration has worked hard to get Americans to sign up. Yet officials now are telling some older people that they might have too much insurance and should cancel their marketplace policies.

Each month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is sending emails to about 15,000 people with subsidized marketplace coverage. The message arrives a few weeks before their 65th birthday, which is when most become eligible for Medicare.

The CMS says some Medicare beneficiaries are receiving tax credits to purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. The agency is warning them to cancel their exchange coverage immediately and pay back the credit they’ve received.

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Former Obama administration official Donald Berwick once called the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) “the jewel in the crown of health-care reform.” The metaphor is apt: CMMI, more than any other aspect of Obamacare, is an imperial enterprise.

Congress established CMMI in the Obamacare statute with the goal of finding ways to reduce federal spending on medical care without diminishing its quality. That, of course, is the responsibility of Congress, which created the Medicare program and which alone bears responsibility for making legislative changes to it.

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Our constitutional system was carefully designed to prevent any one branch from seizing too much control over the entire government. Only Congress can write legislation; only the President can execute the laws; only the courts can judge whether the laws are constitutional.

This balance of powers, however, does not maintain itself. It is a dynamic equilibrium requiring each branch of government to protect and fully exercise its rightful authorities. When one branch encroaches on another, that balance is endangered — and so are the freedoms the separation of powers were intended to protect.

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When Aetna decided last week to drop 70% of its health plans in the Affordable Care Act markets, CEO Mark Bertolini publicly blamed the exits on the poor risk pool, as well as “the current inadequate risk-adjustment mechanism.”

The federal government’s decision to block Aetna’s acquisition of Humana also factored heavily into Aetna’s exchange exodus, as Bertolini warned in a July letter that was obtained by the Huffington Post.

 

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The insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act face some similar challenges that public insurance programs have faced as they’ve gotten off the ground.

Steps that were taken to stabilize Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D could be a starting point to stabilize the ACA insurance exchanges, a policy brief released Tuesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests.

The report comes a day after Aetna announced it would not offer policies in most exchange markets in 2017 where it has offered plans this year, becoming the latest major insurer to do so. Scrutiny has increased around the exchanges since major insurers including UnitedHealth and Humana have announced they would pull back from from the exchanges for 2017.

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For six years, it has been abundantly clear that Americans want Obamacare to be repealed—but only if a well-conceived conservative alternative is positioned to take its place. That’s why the recent release of the House GOP health care plan is a big deal. The new plan would of course repeal Obamacare. But it would also fix what the federal government had already broken even before the law was passed and made things so much worse.

The proposal pairs an Obamacare alternative with Medicaid reforms and the crucial Medicare reforms (amounting to a kind of “Medicare Advantage Plus”) that Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans have long championed. As Ryan put it after the proposal’s release, “The way I see it, if we don’t like the direction the country is going in—and we do not—then we have an obligation to offer an alternative….And that’s what this is.” He called the plan not merely “a difference is policy” but “a difference in philosophy.”

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