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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There is no precise headcount of how many people have gained coverage because of the Affordable Care Act. And it is downright impossible to reliably estimate the number of people who might lose coverage if Congress repeals and replaces it. The “20 million” figure appears to have originated in a March 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That report declared that “the provisions of the ACA have resulted in gains in health insurance coverage for 20.0 million adults through early 2016.”
Estimates by the Heritage Foundation find that 14 million people (including children) gained public or private coverage in 2014 and 2015. Unlike government surveys, Heritage examined data from insurance company regulatory filings and from the government’s own headcount of Medicaid enrollment.
They found that 84% of the newly insured gained coverage through Medicaid and a related government program for low-income children.
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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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In his first post, Conover argued that drawing inferences from observational studies about whether covering the uninsured will save lives is a fool’s errand . Quasi-experimental studies hypothetically provide a better tool for figuring out whether insurance coverage reduces mortality risks. Unfortunately, the two studies we have available are very unreliable instruments for figuring this out.
That said, based on the two studies reviewed, Conover cannot rule out the possibility of “excess deaths” in the event some people lost coverage as a result of repeal-and-replace efforts. Ironically, because the lion’s share of coverage gains under Obamacare has been through Medicaid, the New York study arguably is the most appropriate one to use to determine the effects of repeal. However, it is less credible than the Massachusetts study in terms of how much confidence anyone should have in its results.
In short, beware of anyone who claims we will lose 1 life for every 435 newly uninsured. 1 life for every 830 people is more believable, but even that is exaggerated and is far more likely to apply to those gaining private coverage than those enrolling in Medicaid. Unfortunately, the current state of science does not provide a very solid basis for guessing how much this estimate is inflated.
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Obamacare proponents have been increasingly shameless in trotting out scare statistics to convince people that the GOP wants to “make America sick again:”
Two Harvard professors–who, not uncoincidently, are diehard single payer advocates–are lamenting that “repealing the Affordable Care Act will kill more than 43,000 people annually”
False claims about the adverse effects of repealing Obamacare on mortality that are grounded in observational studies result from:
- Grossly exaggerating the number of people who would actually lose coverage. This exaggeration of lost coverage occurs even in the worst-case scenario that Obamacare is not replaced.
- “Excess” mortality estimates related to lack of coverage that are both upward-biased and unreliable by nature due to the inability of researchers to account for unmeasured influences.
- Inappropriate extrapolation of results to populations (e.g., Medicaid) not included in the original study.
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Many Obamacare supporters claim the law has expanded health coverage to upwards of 20 million Americans, but new data shows that isn’t accurate.
As part of Congress’ continued push to repeal Obamacare, the House Budget Committee held a hearing this week titled “The Failures of Obamacare: Harmful Effects and Broken Promises.”
Heritage Foundation expert Ed Haislmaier was one of four expert witnesses who testified.
Haislmaier presented new data regarding gains in health coverage since the full implementation of Obamacare began in 2014.
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While the final figures will be somewhat different once the more complete end of year data is available, at this point it is reasonable to expect that for the three-year period of 2014 through 2016, the net increase in health insurance enrollment was 16.5 million individuals. Of that figure, 13.8 million were added to Medicaid and 2.7 million were the net increase in private-sector coverage enrollment.
In general, enrollment data indicate that the implementation of the ACA appears to have had three effects on health insurance coverage: (1) a substantial increase in individual-market enrollment; (2) an offsetting decline in fully insured employer-group plan enrollment; and (3) a significant increase in Medicaid enrollment in states that adopted the ACA Medicaid expansion.
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The Trump administration may stop enforcing the Obamacare requirement that most Americans carry health insurance even before Congress repeals the law, Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to the new president, said in interviews broadcast on Sunday.
Such a move would take the teeth out of former President Barack Obama’s health-care law and could destabilize insurance markets, analysts say. It was not clear from Conway’s remarks whether President Donald Trump would try to use his executive authority to make the change, which would be much faster than writing new regulations or waiting on lawmakers.
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“What about the 20 million people who got coverage?”
Republicans are naturally concerned. Liberals have weaponized this number to stop repeal of the ACA. But should 20 million people keep a bad law on the books? To answer this question, Congress must ask two different questions.
First, is the number real? In March 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimated that 20 million uninsured adults gained coverage under the ACA: 17.7 million non-elderly adults (ages 18 to 64) since October 2013, and 2.3 million young adults (ages 19-25) between 2010 and 2013.
The estimates are based on data from the National Health Interview Survey and the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The estimates are “adjusted to account for changes in general economic conditions (via employment status), geographic location, demographics and other secular trends.” Thus, the 20 million is an estimate, not a rock-solid fact.
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While the average estimate shows nearly 21 million people have benefitted from Obamacare, it’s important to note that some people currently enrolled in Medicaid could have enrolled in Exchange coverage with nearly full subsidization had their state not expanded Medicaid, and would likely be eligible for whatever new subsidy structure might replace the current system. Regarding those in the Individual Market, not all of these individuals are receiving subsidies and would therefore not be financially impacted by the repeal. Making reasonable assumptions and accounting for those who lost insurance because of the ACA, and setting aside any assistance that would be provided by ACA replacement policies, the number of people who, on net, are potentially at risk of being negatively impacted is likely closer to 13-14 million.
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