Much of the public discussion about health care and health insurance reform abounds with misinformation. Medicaid, in particular, has become a political tool, with daily posts and articles about reforms to the program that distort the record for political gain. But there is little mention of the need to empower governors to take ownership of the program.
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The government’s price tag for a single-payer health care system would be astonishing. When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposed a “Medicare for all” health plan in his presidential campaign, the nonpartisan Urban Institute figured that it would raise government spending by $32 trillion over 10 years, requiring a tax increase so huge that even the democratic socialist Mr. Sanders did not propose anything close to it.
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As the Republican Congress struggles to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the political landscape is steadily shifting.
Since the Democratic Congress enacted Obamacare in 2010 (without a single Republican vote), Democrats have increasingly been on the defensive about their creation. The individual mandate that Obamacare relied upon to corral healthy young people into insurance pools has failed to do the job – partly because the tax penalty was not severe enough, and partly because the Obama administration felt compelled to create 14 different types of “hardship exemptions” that exempted millions of young people from the penalty.
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Recall that under Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin Vermont committed to a single-payer for the state but had to abandon the effort in 2015. Why? The cost was staggering — $4.3 billion when Vermont’s entire fiscal 2015 budget, including both state and federal funds, was about $4.9 billion. That’s right: essentially doubling the size of the government.
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While Senate Republicans are drafting their healthcare plan behind closed doors, they’ve given reporters a general idea of what might be in it.
- It will slow down the phase-out of the Medicaid expansion
- Tax credits will be beefed up
- It will keep some ObamaCare taxes
- It will include more funding to combat the opioid crisis
- It will try to stabilize the ObamaCare exchanges
- It will include more funding to handle preexisting conditions
Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, who helped shepherd the party’s health-care overhaul bill through the House last month, sat down with Louise Radnofsky, The Wall Street Journal’s White House reporter, to offer his take on where the repeal and replace effort stands.
“The House has passed the American Health Care Act to try to do reforms, to get cost control on the Medicaid system, give states more flexibility to design plans that will work for them and move people into an insurance product they can afford. We know there’s more work to be done. We believe we gave the Senate some nice headroom and some dollars set aside in there to make other changes. So they’ve got some flexibility. We’ll see where this leads. But I think we’ll get a bill to the president’s desk before August.”
The chief obstacle to repealing and replacing Obamacare may no longer be congressional Democrats. It could be the GOP itself.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to hold a vote on the party’s repeal-and-replace plan by the end of June. But as he’s tacked his plan to the center as part of a bid to hold onto moderate Republicans, he’s raised the ire of conservatives who are pressing for a plan that more fully repeals Obamacare.
Senate Republicans must iron out their differences — and not let fear of the unknown derail their seven-year-long plan to repeal Obamacare. The law is collapsing. The GOP may not have made this mess, but the American people are counting on them to clean it up.
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A growing number of major insurers are seeking premium increases averaging 20% or more for next year on plans sold under the Affordable Care Act, according to rate proposals in more than 10 states that provide the broadest picture so far of the strains on the marketplaces.
As Republicans try to pass a health-care bill to overhaul the ACA, the attention has focused on insurers’ withdrawals from a few states that risk leaving some consumers with no exchange plans next year. But the rate requests by major insurers show stress on the marketplaces stretches beyond those trouble spots.
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Obamacare’s second biggest flaw is that even as it upended the half-century long consensus over who should be in Medicaid, the law inexplicably left intact a feature of Medicaid that we have known for decades fuels excess spending: its open-ended matching rate.
So long as states put up a dollar to fund Medicaid, Uncle Sam is obliged to match it with anywhere from $1 to $3 federal dollars depending on that state’s unique matching rate. It has been proven empirically that this formula fuels higher spending. An analysis by Thad Kousser at UC Berkeley showed that all other things being equal, shifting a state from the lowest to highest federal matching rate increases discretionary Medicaid expenditures by 22 percent.
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It’s been just over seven years since President Obama declared: “It is not sufficient for us simply to add more people to Medicare or Medicaid to increase the rolls, to increase coverage in the absence of cost controls and reform. Another way of putting it is we can’t simply put more people into a broken system that doesn’t work” [emphasis added].
Regrettably, the law he signed less than 10 months later fell far short of the president’s own benchmark as it relates to Medicaid. Not only did the ACA fail to impose any cost controls on Medicaid, it likewise contained no reforms to reverse or even corral the perverse incentives that for decades had simultaneously led to indefensible levels of Medicaid overspending even while creating enormous problems of access to the very people the program aimed to help. Instead, it amplified those incentives, making an already-bad situation even worse.
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