Through its regime of subsidies, penalties, and federal regulations, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made health insurance affordable to millions of people who were uninsured because they earned too little or had preexisting conditions. But it also made insurance more expensive for millions who used to be able to afford it. Between December 2013 and January 2017, average premiums more than doubled, and individual markets were in turmoil.

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The ACA instituted, for the first time in over half a century, a tax on the value of employer-sponsored health insurance, known as the Cadillac tax. This step represented a significant shift in policy that has the potential to affect more than 150 million Americans covered by such insurance. While there are strong justifications for either repealing or reforming the Cadillac tax, policymakers should be apprised of the potential benefits and pitfalls of each approach. In this paper, we review the history of employer-sponsored health insurance and offer three options for replacing the Cadillac tax without returning to the undesirable pre-ACA status quo: 1) Eliminate the Cadillac Tax and the ESI tax exclusion; 2) Eliminate the Cadillac Tax and cap the ESI tax exclusion; and 3) Replace the Cadillac Tax and the ESI tax exclusion with income-based subsidies.

Most people agree that Medicaid should help the poor, particularly those whose poverty is related to their age and disability. However, the Affordable Care Act requires the federal government to pay a much greater share of the medical bills for nondisabled, nonpregnant adults than it does for elderly individuals, people with disabilities, children, and pregnant women.

The share of state Medicaid spending paid for by the federal government—known as the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, or FMAP—had remained relatively unchanged throughout the program’s history until Congress and the executive branch changed that share, providing a strong incentive for states to expand Medicaid coverage to this new population of nondisabled, nonpregnant adults.

The new FMAP formula and expansions created two significant problems:

  • The federal government rewards states much more generously for providing services to individuals who fit the new criteria than to individuals who arguably are more in need of assistance
  • The Medicaid expansion overlooks differences among states in their capacity to fund services for this new population, benefiting states with high per capita income at the expense of low-income states.

As it considers repeal and replace legislation, Congress should reexamine this arrangement.  Congress should seek to devise a Medicaid financing structure that treats eligible populations equitably and recognizes the differences in fiscal capacity among states.

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Congressional Republicans have called for restructuring Medicaid, reviving a debate that has largely remained dormant for two decades. During the mid-1990s, Congress and President Clinton advanced competing Medicaid reform proposals. Republicans urged that the federal government issue Medicaid block grants to states. The White House and congressional Democrats proposed instead to place per capita limits on federal Medicaid payments to states. The most salient difference between these approaches is that per capita allotments retain the individual entitlement to Medicaid while block grants generally do not. Today, Republicans who once resisted Medicaid per capita allotments support them, and Democrats who backed such allotments oppose them. Given this legislative history, policymakers seeking common ground might look to Medicaid per capita allotments as a point of departure.

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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 a new study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Senior Research Fellow Brian Blase notes that successful, sustainable reform must simultaneously improve healthcare quality and put downward pressure on prices. The only surefire way to achieve this is by replacing the ACA’s government-centric approach with a consumer-centric approach that realigns incentives, unleashes market forces, and increases competition.

As Congress and the incoming Trump administration consider how to replace the ACA, they should aim to (1) reduce the government bias in favor of comprehensive insurance, (2) fundamentally reform Medicaid by better aligning incentives of states to be concerned about the value of spending, and (3) expand market-oriented reforms such as HSAs [Health Savings Accounts]. States should support these efforts by reducing insurance mandates and eliminating state rules that restrict competition and innovation.

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Proponents of the Affordable Care Act  made several promises before and since the law passed. The most notorious of these was President Barack Obama’s assurance that people could keep their insurance plan if they liked it. However, other important promises were made that have garnered less media coverage, including how many people would enroll for coverage in the new health insurance exchanges, the law’s effect on health insurance premiums, the amount of choice and competition in health insurance markets, and the law’s impact on overall costs and the deficit. These promises arguably helped ensure some of the votes necessary for the controversial legislation to pass Congress.

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One of the more controversial parts of the Affordable Care Act is its expansion of Medicaid. A new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University reviews Medicaid’s longstand­ing problems, discusses the incentives states face as a result of the elevated federal reim­bursement rate for the ACA Medicaid expansion population, and analyzes the impact of the expansion. Overall, the expansion significantly adds to Medicaid’s unsustainable spending trajectory, likely fails to produce outcomes worth the corresponding cost, and creates a large federal government bias toward nondisabled, working-age adults at the expense of traditional Medicaid enrollees.

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The implementation of major legislation such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) often results in fiscal outcomes that differ significantly from prior projections. Whenever this happens it leads to many questions, much confusion, and several claims and counter-claims. Rarely is it immediately clear whether the law is working differently than envisioned, or whether the unexpected outcomes are due to inevitable projection errors having nothing to do with the law.

On rare occasion, however, a prior projection proves so far off that its significance must be noted. Two weeks ago my colleague Brian Blase uncovered such a development with respect to the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. Recall that the ACA considerably expanded Medicaid eligibility – an expansion made optional for the states in a later Supreme Court ruling. It turns out that the 2015 per-capita cost of this Medicaid expansion is a whopping 49% higher than projections made just one year before.

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The Affordable Care Act (ACA) placed numerous requirements on insurance offered in both the individual and small group markets. This study presents data from the 174 insurers that offered qualified health plans (QHPs)—plans that satisfy the ACA requirements and are certified to be sold on exchanges—in both the individual and small group markets in 2014. QHPs in both markets are essentially the same and are governed by nearly identical regulations, making possible a better-controlled analysis of the performance of insurers participating in the two markets. Average medical claims for individual QHP enrollees were 24 percent higher than average medical claims for group QHP enrollees. Moreover, average medical claims for individual QHP enrollees were 93 percent higher than average medical claims for individual non-QHP enrollees. As a result, insurers made large losses on individual QHPs despite receiving premium income that was 45 percent higher for individual QHP enrollees than for individual non-QHP enrollees. These higher medical claims resulted in loss ratios for individual QHPs nearly 30 percentage points higher than loss ratios in other markets. Given that insurer performance selling individual QHPs worsened in 2015, these findings suggest that the ACA rules and regulations governing QHPs may be incompatible with a well-functioning insurance market even with subsidies to insurers and incentives for individuals to enroll in QHPs.

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