Reforming Medicaid in Louisiana

A PDF of this document is available at the Pelican Institute website.

Two years ago, the incoming administration of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) pledged that expanding Medicaid to able-bodied adults, as permitted under Obamacare, would help solve Louisiana’s ongoing structural budget shortfalls. Unfortunately, the Governor’s promises have not come to fruition. Enrollment in the Medicaid expansion has exceeded projections—as have the costs associated with that expansion. As a result, Louisiana faces a scenario plaguing many states that expanded Medicaid: Rising spending on expansion crowding out other important budgetary priorities like education, transportation, and law enforcement.

Democrats have already proposed a series of tax increases to “solve” the state’s fiscal crisis.[1] But that “solution” misses the point—and won’t actually solve the problem. Rather than raising taxes yet again, to pay for more unaffordable health care spending, Louisiana should both right-size and reform its Medicaid program. Right-sizing the program would involve unwinding the massive expansion to the able-bodied—working-age adults without dependent children—to return Medicaid to serving the populations for which it was originally designed—pregnant women, children, senior citizens, and individuals with disabilities.

After right-sizing the Medicaid program, state leaders should then work to reform and modernize Medicaid for the 21st century. Specifically, Louisiana should work with the Trump Administration to enact a comprehensive Medicaid reform waiver. This waiver could include components to improve coordination of beneficiary care, introduce consumer choice elements into Medicaid, provide a smoother transition to work and employer-based coverage for those who are able to work, and improve program integrity to use scarce taxpayer dollars most effectively.

Individually and collectively, the policy solutions outlined in this paper—unwinding Medicaid expansion and embracing a comprehensive waiver to enact additional reforms—would help put Louisiana on a more sustainable fiscal trajectory, eliminating the need for the tax-and-spend battles of the past several years. By so doing, the state could focus more on enacting reforms necessary for the economy to thrive, bringing jobs back to Louisiana.

 

Massive Expansion

Fewer than two years since Louisiana first expanded Medicaid under Obamacare to able-bodied adults, enrollment in the expansion has already shattered expectations. While officials first projected about 306,000 previously uninsured individuals would gain coverage through expansion, within days of Gov. Edwards signing the executive order authorizing Medicaid expansion, state officials revised their estimates dramatically upward. At that time, officials claimed that as many as 450,000 Louisianans could be added to the Medicaid rolls by expansion.[2] However, even this projection turned out to be an under-estimate, as by December 2017 enrollment reached 456,004, exceeding the higher projection.[3] Louisiana officials admit that, as enrollment exceeds the original 306,000 projection, costs to the state will increase, reducing the state’s supposed fiscal savings.[4]

The fact that Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion has exceeded enrollment projections should come as no surprise. In fact, virtually every state that expanded Medicaid to the able-bodied under Obamacare has seen vastly more enrollees than they had originally planned for. A November 2016 study by the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) showed that 24 states’ Medicaid expansion had within two years exceeded projections for the maximum number of individuals that would ever enroll in the Obamacare expansion by an average of 110%.[5]

An earlier report by FGA, issued in April 2015, found that enrollment had exceeded estimates in 17 states. Collectively, those 17 states exceeded their maximum enrollment projections by an average of “only” 61%.[6] By comparison, just eighteen months later, a total of 24 states had exceeded their maximum enrollment projections by more than 110%—amounting to over 6 million enrollees more than projected.[7] More states continue to enroll many more individuals than projected in Medicaid expansion, even after many states already exceeded projections in the expansion’s first year.

The enrollment explosion in “free” Medicaid contrasts with more limited enrollment in Obamacare’s other venue for coverage expansion—health insurance Exchanges. While Medicaid enrollment vastly exceeded projections, as of the 2017 open enrollment period, effectuated Exchange enrollment stood at only 10.3 million individuals.[8] This enrollment figure represents less than half the 23 million individuals the Congressional Budget Office estimated at the time of Obamacare’s enactment would sign up for Exchange coverage in 2017.[9]

Moreover, studies suggest that only individuals who qualify for the most generous subsidies have joined insurance Exchanges in significant numbers. The consulting firm Avalere Health concluded that more than four in five (81%) eligible individuals with incomes of under 150% of the federal poverty level—who qualify for both the richest premiums subsidies and reduced deductibles and co-payments—have signed up for Exchange coverage.[10] By comparison, only about one-sixth (16%) of those with incomes between three and four times the poverty level—who qualify for much smaller premium subsidies, and receive no help with cost-sharing—purchased Exchange coverage.[11] Put simply, while individuals quickly sign up for “free,” or nearly free, health insurance coverage, including through Medicaid, they have signed up much more slowly for health plans for which they must make a financial contribution.

 

Massive—and Rising—Costs

Even prior to Obamacare, Medicaid had grown exponentially over the past several decades to become a larger and larger share of Louisiana’s state budget. In fiscal year 1985, Medicaid represented 8.9% of Louisiana’s total budgetary expenditures.[12] Thirty years later, in fiscal year 2015, Medicaid had more than tripled as a share of the state budget, rising to 27.6% of total expenditures.[13]

The rising tide of Medicaid spending in Louisiana echoes national trends. In fiscal year 1985, Medicaid consumed an average of 9.7% of total state expenditures across all 50 states.[14] By comparison, in fiscal year 2013, the last year before Obamacare’s expansion took effect, Medicaid represented an average of 24.4% of state spending.[15] Over a quarter-century, then, Medicaid spending more than doubled as a share of state spending—before most of Obamacare’s effects kicked in.

However, even when compared to other states, Louisiana suffered from skyrocketing Medicaid spending prior to Obamacare expansion taking effect. The Pew Charitable Trusts noted that, during the years 2000-2015, Medicaid grew the fastest in Louisiana when measured as a share of the state’s own spending. During that time, Medicaid grew by 12.8 percentage points—from 10.5% of the state’s spending to 23.3% of state dollars.[16] As a result of that growth in Medicaid spending, Louisiana was the state most dependent on federal funds in fiscal year 2015, using money from Washington to comprise 42.2% of its budget—again, before Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion ever took effect in Louisiana.[17]

States like Louisiana that chose to expand Medicaid to the able-bodied face additional rising costs, due to both higher than expected enrollment in Medicaid expansion and higher than expected per-beneficiary spending for those expansion enrollees. In late 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Office of the Actuary released its annual report on the state of the Medicaid program. The report found that, contrary to projections that expansion enrollees would have per-beneficiary costs lower than previously eligible Medicaid beneficiaries, states actually faced higher per-beneficiary costs for the expansion population than their prior enrollees.[18] In 2016, expansion enrollees cost the Medicaid program an average of $5,926, compared to average spending of $5,215 for non-expansion adults.[19]

The higher spending on Medicaid expansion enrollees has now persisted for several years, contrary to predictions before the coverage expansion took effect. At first, the CMS actuary thought that the higher spending came from pent-up demand for health care—previously uninsured enrollees using their newfound Medicaid coverage to cover heretofore-neglected health conditions.[20] However, the 2014, 2015, and 2016 annual reports on Medicaid all demonstrated higher per-beneficiary spending for expansion populations than those eligible prior to Obamacare.[21]

Echoing the national trends, Medicaid per-beneficiary spending in Louisiana remains higher for expansion enrollees than previously eligible beneficiaries. State officials admit that in fiscal year 2017, spending for expansion enrollees totaled $6,712 per adult—more than 20% higher than the $5,575 spent on non-expansion enrollees.[22] Liberal supporters of the expansion claim that the disparity arises from pent-up demand by new enrollees—the same assumption federal actuaries made.[23] However, the higher spending by expansion enrollees over several years at the federal level suggests that higher spending by expansion enrollees may persist in Louisiana as well.

With enrollment higher than initial projections, and spending on those new enrollees averaging more than anticipated, many states now face fiscal crises brought on by their Medicaid expansions. Under the Obamacare statute, states began to pay a share of the costs for the Medicaid expansion in calendar year 2017. Moreover, states’ 5% share of expansion enrollees’ health costs in 2017 will double over the next few years, rising to 6% in calendar year 2018, 7% in calendar year 2019, and 10% in calendar year 2020.[24] Given the vast sums that states already devote to their Medicaid programs, paying five percent—let alone ten percent—of expansion costs will add significant new stresses to state budgets.

Even as Louisiana expanded Medicaid to the able-bodied, other states began facing expansion’s negative effects, with budget shortfalls looming because the expansion exceeded projected costs. Kentucky’s estimated costs of expansion in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 rose from $107 million to $257 million—a more than doubling of costs that will take money away from other state priorities like education, transportation, or law enforcement.[25] Likewise, Ohio’s budget for Medicaid expansion more than doubled compared to the state’s prior projections, leaving legislators scrambling to cut money from other programs to stem the shortfall.[26]

With Medicaid expansion squeezing state budgets, even Democratic state legislators across the country have contemplated what some liberals might consider apostasy—scaling back and right-sizing the Medicaid program to reflect competing fiscal priorities. Consider comments from New Mexico state senator Howie Morales, a Democrat:

When you’re looking at a state budget and there are only so many dollars to go around, obviously it’s a concern. The most vulnerable of our citizens—the children, our senior citizens, our veterans, individuals with disabilities—I get concerned that those could be areas that get hit.[27]

Other legislators agree, with an Oregon Democratic State Senator reflecting on his state’s $500 million budget shortfall by stating that “the only way to keep this [budget situation] manageable is to keep those costs under control, get people off Medicaid.”[28]

The growth in Medicaid spending has resulted in cascading effects across states—including in Louisiana. As the state’s budget history demonstrates, a dollar of spending on Medicaid results in fewer dollars for other programs. For instance, as the share of Louisiana’s budget devoted to Medicaid more than tripled from 1985 through 2015, the share of the budget dedicated to primary and secondary education fell from 23.5% to 18.8%, the share dedicated to higher education fell from 10.9% to 9.9%, and the share dedicated to transportation fell by half, from 11.2% to 5.6%.[29] If Louisiana continues down its current path, schools, universities, and roads will face a continued squeeze as Medicaid consumes more and more state resources.

Moreover, the current Medicaid-imposed woes that states face assume that the enhanced federal match remains static—a far from safe assumption. With the federal debt recently topping $20 trillion, the belief that Washington will continue to pay 90 percent of states’ expansion costs in 2020 and every year thereafter may strike some as an overly rosy scenario.[30] Indeed, President Obama himself once proposed reducing the federal Medicaid match by $100 billion over ten years through a so-called “blended rate” policy.[31] Only an outcry from liberals, combined with the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that made Medicaid expansion optional for states, eventually persuaded President Obama to abandon the proposal.[32] However,  given Washington’s own dire fiscal situation, the concept could well return in future years.

More recently, Congress has begun taking action to rein in another enhanced match provided to states as part of Obamacare. Specifically, Section 2101 of the law provided a 23 percent increase in the federal match to State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP) across the country.[33] As a result of the increase, Louisiana’s SCHIP match rate in the current fiscal year ending September 30 stands at 97.58%, instead of the usual 74.58%.[34] A total of 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, currently receive a 100% match for their SCHIP programs, meaning the federal government effectively funds all of the health costs of these states’ SCHIP enrollees.[35]

However, the costs of the enhanced federal SCHIP match on Washington’s budget have led Congress to eliminate that enhanced match within the next few years.  SCHIP legislation signed into law earlier this month will phase out the enhanced match—lowering the 23 percent match to 11.5 percent in fiscal year 2020, while eliminating it altogether in fiscal 2021.[36] With bipartisan agreement within Congress on eliminating Obamacare’s enhanced SCHIP match rate, state lawmakers would do well to consider whether and when Congress will likewise eliminate the enhanced match for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion to the able-bodied.

 

Difficulties for the Most Vulnerable

In addition to skyrocketing enrollment and costs, the Medicaid expansion has hurt some of the most vulnerable Americans in society, because Obamacare effectively gives state programs financial incentives to discriminate against individuals with disabilities.[37] Traditionally, the federal government provides states with a Medicaid match through a statutory formula comparing a state’s average income to the national average. For their traditional beneficiaries—that is, pregnant women, children, the aged, medically frail, and individuals with disabilities—states receive a federal Medicaid match ranging from 50% to 83%. For the current fiscal year, Louisiana will receive a 63.69% match rate for these populations.[38]

However, as noted above, Obamacare gives states a much greater federal match to cover its expansion population—individuals with incomes of under 138 percent of the poverty level ($34,638 for a family of four in 2017). For calendar year 2017, states received a 95% federal match, which will fall slightly to 94% in 2018, 93% in 2019, and 90% in 2020.[39] Put another way, Louisiana will receive over 30 cents more on the dollar from the federal government to cover the expansion population this year than it will to cover traditional beneficiaries eligible for Medicaid prior to Obamacare.

This yawning disparity in the federal match favoring expansion enrollees over traditional beneficiaries comes despite noteworthy characteristics of the individuals who qualify for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Specifically, the liberal Urban Institute found that nationwide, 82.4% of the expansion population consisted of able-bodied adults of working age.[40] In Louisiana, nearly three-quarters (74.9%) of projected expansion enrollees represented adults without dependent children.[41]

In other words, the federal government offers—and under the current governor, Louisiana accepted—an arrangement whereby states receive a significantly greater federal match to provide services to able-bodied adults of working age than to provide services to the individuals for whom Medicaid was traditionally designed: The medically frail, aged, and individuals with disabilities. Moreover, this disparity comes as many of the latter need critically important services, which they cannot currently obtain from Louisiana’s Medicaid program.

While the federal Medicaid statute requires state programs to provide medical coverage to individuals with disabilities, it does not require them to provide personal care services outside a nursing home setting. Because the law makes such home and community-based services (HCBS) optional, states can utilize waiting lists to control access to such services—and many, including Louisiana, do just that. Overall, more than 640,000 individuals with disabilities remain on lists waiting to access HCBS nationwide—including 62,828 in Louisiana.[42]

Prior to Louisiana accepting Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion to the able-bodied, the state prioritized coverage for individuals with disabilities. Instead of pushing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, efforts instead focused on providing funds necessary to reduce the state’s HCBS waiting list for individuals with disabilities.[43] However, the current administration has taken the exact opposite tack—prioritizing an expansion of coverage for the able-bodied over the personal care needs of the most vulnerable Louisianans. As a result, able-bodied adults with low incomes can qualify for Medicaid immediately, while individuals with developmental disabilities must wait an average of seven years just to be evaluated for home-based care for their personal needs.[44]

Several states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare before Louisiana provide evidence of the damage that expansion has caused for society’s most vulnerable. In Arkansas, while Gov. Asa Hutchinson pledged to reduce his state’s HCBS waiting lists in half under his administration, the rolls have risen 25 percent—even as the state continues its Medicaid expansion to the able-bodied.[45] Since the state expanded Medicaid to the able-bodied, at least 79 individuals with disabilities have died while on waiting lists seeking access to home-based care.[46]

Vulnerable residents in other states have likewise suffered as a result of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. In Ohio, the administration of Gov. John Kasich reduced eligibility for 34,000 individuals with disabilities, even while expanding Medicaid to the able-bodied.[47] In Illinois, lawmakers voted to allow Cook County to expand Medicaid early on the same day in which they also voted to reduce medication access for individuals with disabilities.[48] In that state, at least 752 residents with disabilities have died awaiting access to home-based care since the state embraced Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.[49]

The claims of its proponents to the contrary, any policy that prioritizes able-bodied adults over the most vulnerable in society represents the antithesis of compassion. As more and more individuals crowd on to the Medicaid rolls, literally hundreds of thousands of individuals with disabilities wait for access to care—and in some cases, die well before they receive it. Any compassionate society should focus its greatest efforts on protecting the most vulnerable, meaning no state should expand Medicaid to the able-bodied without first having eliminated entirely its waiting list of individuals with disabilities seeking home-based care.

While disadvantaging the most vulnerable in society, who literally wait for years for access to personal care paid for by Medicaid, expansion of the Medicaid entitlement also disadvantages the expansion’s purported beneficiaries—able-bodied adults within working age—in several respects. Medicaid generally provides poorer health outcomes than most other forms of coverage, such that some analysts have questioned whether its patients fare worse than the uninsured.[50]

In general, states provide low reimbursement levels to doctors and hospitals treating Medicaid patients, in large part due to the fiscal pressures discussed above. However, these low reimbursement rates mean many medical providers do not accept Medicaid patients. One study found that specialty physicians denied appointments for two-thirds of Medicaid patients, compared to only an 11% denial rate for patients with private insurance. Moreover, “the average wait time for Medicaid” enrollees who did obtain an appointment “was 22 days longer than that for privately insured children.”[51] Through their “secret shopper” survey, the authors “found a disparity in access to outpatient specialty care between children with public insurance and those with private insurance.”

Louisiana does not deviate from the general pattern of state Medicaid programs providing poor reimbursements to physicians, as the state’s reimbursement levels stand slightly below the already low national average. Overall, the state pays physicians 70% of Medicare reimbursement levels, below the national Medicaid average of 72% of Medicare levels.[52] In primary care, Louisiana reimburses doctors at 67% of Medicare rates, one percentage point above the national average of 66%.[53] And in obstetrics, Louisiana reimburses doctors 70% of Medicare rates, eleven points below the national Medicaid average of 81%.[54] The comparatively paltry rates that Louisiana pays obstetricians come despite the fact that nearly two-thirds (65%) of babies born in the state in 2015 (i.e., before Medicaid expansion took effect) were paid for by Medicaid—the third highest rate of births paid for by Medicaid nationwide.[55]

The lack of access to physician care helps explain Medicaid’s middling performance in improving health outcomes. Most notably, the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment—which compared the health of individuals randomly selected to enroll in Medicaid with those who remained uninsured—found no measurable improvement in physical outcomes for the former group when compared to the latter.[56] The Oregon study also found that Medicaid beneficiaries utilized the emergency room 40 percent more than uninsured patients, a difference which persisted over time. These data suggest that patients lack a usual access to primary care that could alleviate medical conditions before necessitating emergency treatment—a further indication that Medicaid leaves much to be desired as a form of health coverage.[57]

Both Medicaid administrators and beneficiaries acknowledge the program’s shortcomings in providing access to care. One former program head called a Medicaid card a “hunting license”—a government-granted permission slip allowing beneficiaries to try to find a physician who will treat them.[58] With beneficiaries not even considering Medicaid “real insurance,” some would question the wisdom of consigning such a large—and growing—number of individuals to a program that provides such an uneven quality of care.[59]

 

Discouraging Work

In addition to providing beneficiaries with poor quality care, Medicaid expansion includes an in-built “poverty trap” that discourages entrepreneurship and social advancement. Specifically, the law includes numerous effects that will discourage work, and ultimately keep low-income individuals trapped in poverty for longer periods, while also stunting economic growth. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Medicaid expansion represents one part of a larger Obamacare scheme that will reduce the labor supply nationally by the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time jobs by 2024.[60]

CBO believes that Medicaid expansion will reduce overall incentives to work. Most notably, Medicaid expansion creates an “income cliff,” whereby one additional dollar of income will cause a family to lose Medicaid eligibility entirely—subjecting them to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in health insurance premiums, deductibles, and co-payments as a result. As a result, CBO believes that the expansion will reduce beneficiaries’ labor force participation by about 4 percent by “creat[ing] a tax on additional earnings for those considering job changes.”[61] In other words, individuals will specifically avoid seeking a promotion, additional hours, or a bonus, because it will cause them to lose eligibility for Medicaid—the definition of a “poverty trap” that discourages low-income individuals from advancing their social strata.

Data from the liberal Urban Institute released prior to Obamacare taking effect suggest that most beneficiaries who qualify for Medicaid expansion represent individuals who could be in work, or preparing for work. In Louisiana, more than seven in eight adults who qualify for the expansion are of prime working age—either ages 19-24 (24.5%), 25-34 (25.7%), or 35-54 (37.4%).[62] With nearly three-quarters of Louisianans who qualify for expansion adults without dependent children, as noted above, many of these individuals should be able to work, or prepare for work.

Unfortunately, national data suggest that most beneficiaries enrolled in Medicaid are not working. Specifically, 2015 Census Bureau data indicate that more than half (52%) of non-disabled, working-age Medicaid beneficiaries are not working.[63] Only about one in six (16%) non-disabled Medicaid beneficiaries work full-time year-round, while about one in three (32%) work part-time, or for part of the year.[64]

If able-bodied individuals who currently qualify for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion pursued full-time employment, many of them would no longer qualify for the expansion. The expansion applies to individuals with household income below 138 percent of the federal poverty level—which in 2018 equals $16,753 for a single individual, $22,715 for a couple, and $34,638 for a family of four.[65] At these levels, a couple each working 35 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, or an individual working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, making $8.50 per hour, would earn enough income to exceed the Medicaid eligibility thresholds.

While CBO believes Medicaid expansion will discourage work, evidence suggests that unwinding the expansion would increase employment, and employment-related search activity. A study of the Medicaid program in Tennessee, where the state scaled back the program in 2005 due to significant cost overruns, found that the reduction in Medicaid eligibility encouraged beneficiaries to look for work, and ultimately increased employment, as individuals looked for employment-based coverage.[66] Whereas Obamacare’s skewed incentives discourage work, scaling back Medicaid expansion could have salutary economic effects, by expanding the labor force in ways that could grow the economy.

 

What Lawmakers Should Do

The evidence shows the damage caused by Medicaid expansion, both in Louisiana and across the country. Soaring enrollment and higher-than-expected costs have led to fiscal crises in many states—crises that will only grow as states’ share of expansion costs increase in the coming years. Meanwhile, the urgent needs of many vulnerable citizens have taken a back seat, as Obamacare gives states more incentives to cover able-bodied adults than individuals with disabilities.

As the legislature considers its policy options, it should focus on both short-term and long-term solutions. In the short term, Louisiana should begin the process of winding down the Medicaid expansion to able-bodied adults, as one way of alleviating immediate budgetary pressures. In the longer term, the state should take advantage of the flexibility promised by the Trump Administration to consider more innovative reforms to the Medicaid program.

Enrollment Freeze:              The best way to end the high costs associated with the Medicaid expansion would involve freezing enrollment to new entrants.[67] Such a policy would allow individuals who already qualified for the expansion to remain as long as they maintain eligibility for the program. This proposal, passed by legislators in places like Ohio and Arkansas, would provide an orderly wind-down of the expansion, reducing costs to the state over time, while allowing people to transition into employer-sponsored insurance or other coverage as they lose Medicaid eligibility. [68]

One study released in early 2017 calculated the savings from a nationwide Medicaid freeze beginning in fiscal year 2018. Over a decade, this Medicaid freeze would generate approximately $56-64 billion in savings to state Medicaid programs, along with more than half a trillion dollars in savings to the federal government.[69] These savings would come without terminating Medicaid participation for a single beneficiary currently eligible for the program. The sizable savings provided to both the states and the federal government under a potential Medicaid freeze illustrates the need to wind down Medicaid’s expansion to the able-bodied in an orderly way, to restore the program’s focus to the populations for which it was originally intended.

Comprehensive Waiver:     Last March, then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and CMS Administrator Seema Verma sent a letter to the nation’s governors indicating their desire to expand state flexibility within the Medicaid program.[70] Since then, several organizations have published reports highlighting elements and policies that states could use to reform their Medicaid programs.[71] A bold waiver incorporating many of these policies could transform Medicaid programs across the country.

Louisiana should consider submitting a comprehensive waiver request to CMS. Such a waiver could include:

Consumer-Oriented Options:              Using Health Savings Account-like mechanisms would encourage beneficiaries to serve as smart shoppers of health care—generating savings that they could use once they leave the Medicaid program. Whether through Health Opportunity Accounts—an innovation passed by Congress in 2005, but effectively repealed under the Obama Administration—“right-to-shop” programs that give beneficiaries a chance to share in the savings from obtaining lower costs for non-emergency medical procedures, or other programs, giving beneficiaries financial incentives to act as smart health care consumers could benefit them as well as the Medicaid program.[72]

Wellness Incentives:                As with the consumer options above, providing incentives for healthy behaviors would encourage beneficiaries to improve their health, while giving them a potential source of financial savings. During the debate on Obamacare in 2009-10, wellness incentives proved one of the few sources of bipartisan agreement, thanks to the way in which Safeway and other firms reduced health costs through such reforms.[73] Particularly given the state’s high rates of obesity, Louisiana should consider bringing the “Safeway model” to the state’s Medicaid program.[74]

Premium Assistance:               Providing more flexible benefits to individuals with an offer of employer-sponsored coverage would allow Medicaid to supplement that coverage, thereby reducing costs and giving individuals access to higher-quality private insurance. Other policies in this vein might include a beneficiary waiting period designed to prevent “crowd-out”—individuals dropping private coverage to enroll in government programs—and Health Savings Account coverage, currently prohibited under two separate premium assistance programs.[75] These changes would help beneficiaries make a smoother transition off of the Medicaid rolls and into a life of work.

Home and Community-Based Services:             Focusing on ways to deliver care to beneficiaries outside of nursing homes could reduce costly Medicaid spending in institutional settings. Most importantly, it would enable patients to stay in their homes—most beneficiaries’ desired outcome. For instance, a state waiver could cap the number of nursing home slots available, or require beneficiaries to try receiving care at home prior to entering a nursing facility.[76] Collectively, these policies should create an affirmative bias in favor of care at home, rather than care at a nursing institution.

Work Requirements:               Unlike the Obama Administration, the Trump Administration has indicated a willingness to accept work requirements as part of a Medicaid waiver request.[77] Earlier this month, CMS issued a letter to state Medicaid directors indicating parameters to guide states as they prepare community engagement requirements—a document that reiterated the positive effects that work can have on beneficiaries’ economic success, self-sufficiency, and overall health.[78] Requiring that appropriate adult populations either work, look for work, or prepare for work, while exempting individuals with disabilities and other medically frail individuals, would further promote a transition from welfare into work.

Program Integrity:     Verifying eligibility on a regular basis would ensure that state and federal resources remain targeted to those most in need—an important priority given the way in which scam artists in Louisiana have sought to abuse the Medicaid program.[79] Increasing penalties for fraud would halt scam artists, and could lower Medicaid’s rate of improper payments.[80] More robust asset recovery measures—ensuring Medicaid remains the payer of last resort, not that of first instance—would help preserve scarce state and federal resources for those who need them most.[81]

The state of Rhode Island demonstrates the power of a comprehensive waiver to transform a Medicaid program. Its global compact waiver, approved in the waning days of President George W. Bush’s Administration in January 2009, allowed that state to improve Medicaid by providing more, better, and more timely care to beneficiaries. Thanks to the global compact waiver, Rhode Island actually reduced its per beneficiary Medicaid costs in absolute (i.e., before-inflation) terms over a four-year period[82]—and did so not by cutting access to care, but by improving it.[83] The success of the Rhode Island experiment illustrates the way in which Medicaid reform, done right, can simultaneously save money and improve health—a lesson the legislature should look to bring to Louisiana.

 

Conclusion

Given the state’s structural budget shortfall, and the significant costs associated with Medicaid expansion, Louisiana stands at a turning point. The legislature could continue down their current path, and hope that yet another series of tax increases will sate the growing health care costs that threaten to consume the state’s entire budget.

Thankfully, legislators have another option. Unwinding the Medicaid expansion gradually, while laying the groundwork to submit a comprehensive Medicaid waiver request to CMS, would in combination help turn the fiscal tide. Freezing Medicaid enrollment for able-bodied adults would re-direct the program towards the most vulnerable in society—those for whom Medicaid was originally designed. Likewise, a comprehensive waiver would re-orient and update Medicaid for a 21st century health care system, saving money by providing better care.

Given the two options, the choice for Louisiana seems clear. The state should use the flexibility promised by Washington to unwind Medicaid expansion for the able-bodied, and modernize and re-orient the program toward the program’s original intended beneficiaries. By so doing, the state can go a long way towards resolving its structural fiscal shortfalls, while also improving the care provided to some of Louisiana’s most vulnerable residents.

 

[1] Melinda Deslatte, “Louisiana Governor Offers Tax Ideas to Close $1 Billion Budget Gap,” Associated Press December 18, 2017, https://apnews.com/58833e0c265f4de6b26e465004c01c25/Louisiana-governor-offer.

[2] Kevin Litten, “Louisiana’s Medicaid Expansion Enrollment Could Grow to 450,000,” Times-Picayune January 20, 2016, http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/01/medicaid_expansion_500000.html.

[3] Louisiana Department of Health, “Louisiana Medicaid Expansion Dashboard,” http://www.ldh.la.gov/HealthyLaDashboard.

[4] Litten, “Louisiana’s Medicaid Expansion Enrollment Could Grow.”

[5] Jonathan Ingram and Nicholas Horton, “Obamacare Expansion Enrollment Is Shattering Projections,” Foundation for Government Accountability, November 16, 2016, https://thefga.org/download/ObamaCare-Expansion-is-Shattering-Projections.PDF, p. 5.

[6] Jonathan Ingram and Nicholas Horton, “The Obamacare Expansion Enrollment Explosion,” Foundation for Government Accountability,” April 20, 2015, https://thefga.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ExpansionEnrollmentExplosion-Final3.pdf.

[7] Ingram and Horton, “Obamacare Expansion Enrollment Is Shattering Projections.”

[8] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “2017 Effectuated Enrollment Snapshot,” June 12, 2017, https://downloads.cms.gov/files/effectuated-enrollment-snapshot-report-06-12-17.pdf. Effectuated enrollment represents coverage for which individuals have both selected an insurance plan and paid at least one month’s premium.

[9] Congressional Budget Office, estimate of H.R. 4872, Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, in concert with H.R. 3590, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, March 20, 2010, https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/111th-congress-2009-2010/costestimate/amendreconprop.pdf, Table 4, p. 21.

[10] Avalere Health, “The State of Exchanges: A Review of Trends and Opportunities to Grow and Stabilize the Market,” report for Aetna, October 2016, http://go.avalere.com/acton/attachment/12909/f-0352/1/-/-/-/-/20161005_Avalere_State%20of%20Exchanges_Final_.pdf, Figure 3, p. 6.

[11] Ibid.

[12] National Association of State Budget Officers, “The State Expenditure Report,” July 1987, https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/NASBO/9d2d2db1-c943-4f1b-b750-0fca152d64c2/UploadedImages/SER%20Archive/ER_1987.PDF, Medicaid Expenditures as a Percentage of Total Expenditures, p. 30.

[13] National Association of State Budget Officers, “State Expenditure Report,” November 2016, https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/NASBO/9d2d2db1-c943-4f1b-b750-0fca152d64c2/UploadedImages/SER%20Archive/State%20Expenditure%20Report%20(Fiscal%202014-2016)%20-%20S.pdf, Table 5: State Spending by Function as a Percentage of Total State Expenditures, p. 13.

[14] National Association of State Budget Officers, “The State Expenditure Report.”

[15] National Association of State Budget Officers, “Fiscal Survey of States: Spring 2014,” https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/NASBO/9d2d2db1-c943-4f1b-b750-0fca152d64c2/UploadedImages/Fiscal%20Survey/NASBO%20Spring%202014%20Fiscal%20Survey%20(security).pdf, p. xi.

[16] Pew Charitable Trusts, “Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis,” http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/multimedia/data-visualizations/2014/fiscal-50#ind7, Change in State Medicaid Spending as a Share of Own-Source Revenue, 2000 and 2015.

[17] Ibid., http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/multimedia/data-visualizations/2014/fiscal-50#ind1, Percentage of State Revenue from Federal Funds, Fiscal Year 2015.

[18] For an analysis of the ways that the CMS actuary and the Congressional Budget Office have changed their baseline projections of Medicaid spending over time, see Brian Blase, “Evidence Is Mounting: The Affordable Care Act Has Worsened Medicaid’s Structural Problems,” Mercatus Center, September 2016, https://www.mercatus.org/system/files/mercatus-blase-medicaid-structural-problems-v1.pdf, pp. 15-20.

[19] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary, “2016 Actuarial Report on the Financial Outlook for Medicaid,” report to Congress, 2016, https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/financing-and-reimbursement/downloads/medicaid-actuarial-report-2016.pdf, p. 22.

[20] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary, “2014 Actuarial Report on the Financial Outlook for Medicaid,” report to Congress, 2014, https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/financing-and-reimbursement/downloads/medicaid-actuarial-report-2014.pdf, pp. 36-38.

[21] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary, “2015 Actuarial Report on the Financial Outlook for Medicaid,” report to Congress, 2015, https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/financing-and-reimbursement/downloads/medicaid-actuarial-report-2015.pdf, p. 27.

[22] Cited in Jeanie Donovan, “Setting the Record Straight on Medicaid,” Louisiana Budget Project, August 4, 2017, http://www.labudget.org/lbp/2017/08/setting-the-record-straight-on-medicaid/.

[23] Ibid.

[24] 42 U.S.C. 1396d(y)(1), as codified by Section 2001(a) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, P.L. 111-148.

[25] Christina Cassidy, “Rising Cost of Medicaid Expansion is Unnerving Some States,” Associated Press October 5, 2016, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/4219bc875f114b938d38766c5321331a/rising-cost-medicaid-expansion-unnerving-some-states.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Christina Cassidy, “Medicaid Enrollment Surges, Stirs Worry about State Budgets,” Associated Press July 19, 2015, http://www.bigstory.ap.org/article/c158e3b3ad50458b8d6f8f9228d02948/medicaid-enrollment-surges-stirs-worry-about-state-budgets.

[28] Ibid.

[29] “The State Expenditure Report,” Primary and Secondary Education Expenditures as a Percentage of Total Expenditures, Higher Education Expenditures as a Percentage of Total State Expenditures, and Transportation Expenditures as a Percentage of Total State Expenditures; “State Expenditure Report,” Table 5: State Spending by Function.

[30] United States Treasury, “The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It,” total public debt outstanding as of October 26, 2017, https://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/debt/current.

[31] White House Office of the Press Secretary, “Fact Sheet: The President’s Framework for Shared Prosperity and Shared Fiscal Responsibility,” April 13, 2011, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2011/04/13/fact-sheet-presidents-framework-shared-prosperity-and-shared-fiscal-resp.

[32] NFIB v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519 (2012), https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-393c3a2.pdf; Sam Baker, “White House Drops Support for Major Medicaid Cut,” The Hill December 10, 2012, http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/272041-white-house-drops-support-for-major-medicaid-cut; Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Frequently Asked Questions on Exchanges, Market Reforms, and Medicaid,” December 10, 2012, https://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Resources/Files/Downloads/exchanges-faqs-12-10-2012.pdf.

[33] 42 U.S.C. 1397ee(b), as amended by Section 2101(a) of PPACA.

[34] Department of Health and Human Services, “Federal Financial Participation in State Assistance Expenditures,” Federal Register November 15, 2016, pp. 80078-80080, Table 1, https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-11-15/pdf/2016-27424.pdf.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Section 3005 of the HEALTHY KIDS Act, P.L. 115-120.

[37] See also Chris Jacobs, “How Obamacare Undermines American Values: Penalizing Work, Citizenship, Marriage, and the Disabled,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2862, November 21, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/11/how-obamacare-undermines-american-values-penalizing-work-marriage-citizenship-and-the-disabled.

[38] “Federal Financial Participation in State Assistance Expenditures.”

[39] 42 U.S.C. 1396d(y)(1), as codified by Section 2001(a) of PPACA.

[40] Genevieve M. Kenney et al., “Opting in to the Medicaid Expansion Under the ACA: Who Are the Uninsured Adults Who Could Gain Health Insurance Coverage?” Urban Institute, August 2012, http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/412630-Opting-in-to-the-Medicaid-Expansion-under-the-ACA.PDF, p. 9, Appendix Table 2.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Kaiser Family Foundation, “Waiting List Enrollment for Medicaid Section 1915(c) Home- and Community-Based Services Waivers,” Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured 2015 survey, http://kff.org/health-reform/state-indicator/waiting-lists-for-hcbs-waivers/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D.

[43] Bobby Jindal, “Obamacare Is Anything But Compassionate,” Politico February 9, 2014, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/02/obamacare-costs-jobs-hurts-most-vulnerable-103299?paginate=false.

[44] Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, “Medicaid Waiver Services,” http://www.dhh.la.gov/index.cfm/page/1555.

[45] Jason Pederson, “Waiver Commitment Wavering,” KATV June 15, 2016, http://katv.com/community/7-on-your-side/waiver-commitment-wavering.

[46] Chris Jacobs, “Obamacare Takes Care from Disabled People to Subsidize Able-Bodied, Working-Age Men,” The Federalist November 18, 2016, http://thefederalist.com/2016/11/18/obamacare-takes-care-disabled-people-subsidize-able-bodied-working-age-men/.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Nicholas Horton, “Illinois’ Medicaid Expansion Enrollment Continues to Climb, Putting Vulnerable at Risk,” Illinois Policy Institute, November 1, 2016, https://www.illinoispolicy.org/illinois-medicaid-expansion-enrollment-continues-to-climb-putting-vulnerable-at-risk/.

[49] Nicholas Horton, “Hundreds on Medicaid Waiting List in Illinois Die While Waiting for Care,” Illinois Policy Institute, November 23, 2016, https://www.illinoispolicy.org/hundreds-on-medicaid-waiting-list-in-illinois-die-while-waiting-for-care-2/.

[50] Scott Gottlieb, “Medicaid Is Worse than No Coverage at All,” Wall Street Journal March 10, 2011, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704758904576188280858303612.

[51] Joanna Bisgaier and Karin Rhodes, “Auditing Access to Specialty Care for Children with Public Insurance,” New England Journal of Medicine June 16, 2011, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1013285.

[52] Stephen Zuckerman, et al., “Medicaid Physician Fees after the ACA Primary Care Fee Bump,” Urban Institute March 2017, https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/88836/2001180-medicaid-physician-fees-after-the-aca-primary-care-fee-bump_0.pdf, Table 1, p. 5.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Kaiser Family Foundation, “Births Financed by Medicaid,” State Health Facts, https://www.kff.org/medicaid/state-indicator/births-financed-by-medicaid/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22%25%20Births%20Financed%20by%20Medicaid%22,%22sort%22:%22desc%22%7D.

[56] Katherine Baicker, et al., “The Oregon Experiment—Effects of Medicaid on Clinical Outcomes,” New England Journal of Medicine May 2, 2013, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1212321.

[57] Amy Finklestein et al., “Effect of Medicaid Coverage on ED Use—Further Evidence from Oregon’s Experiment,” New England Journal of Medicine October 20, 2016, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1609533.

[58] Statement by DeAnn Friedholm, Consumers Union, at Alliance for Health Reform Briefing on “Affordability and Health Reform: If We Mandate, Will They (and Can They) Pay?” November 20, 2009, http://www.allhealthpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/TranscriptFINAL-1685.pdf, p. 40.

[59] Vanessa Fuhrmans, “Note to Medicaid Patients: The Doctor Won’t See You,” Wall Street Journal July 19, 2007, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118480165648770935.

[60] Congressional Budget Office, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” February 2014, http://cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/45010-Outlook2014_Feb.pdf, Appendix C: Labor Market Effects of the Affordable Care Act: Updated Estimates, pp. 117-27.

[61] Edward Harris and Shannon Mok, “How CBO Estimates Effects of the Affordable Care Act on the Labor Market,” Congressional Budget Office Working Paper 2015-09, December 2015, https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/workingpaper/51065-ACA_Labor_Market_Effects_WP.pdf, p. 12.

[62] Kenney, “Opting in to the Medicaid Expansion,” Appendix Table 1, p. 8.

[63] Cited in Nic Horton and Jonathan Ingram, “The Future of Medicaid Reform: Empowering Individuals Through Work,” Foundation for Government Accountability, November 14, 2017, https://thefga.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/The-Future-of-Medicaid-Reform-Empowering-Individuals-Through-Work.pdf, p. 4.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Department of Health and Human Services, notice regarding “Annual Update of the HHS Poverty Guidelines,” Federal Register January 18, 2018, https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-01-18/pdf/2018-00814.pdf, , pp. 2642-44.

[66] Craig Garthwaite, Tal Gross, and Matthew Notowidigdo, “Public Health Insurance, Labor Supply, and Employment Lock,” National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper 19220, July 2013, http://www.nber.org/papers/w19220.

[67] Chris Jacobs, “Putting Obamacare in a Deep Freeze,” National Review December 7, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/442820/obamacare-repeal-replace-enrollment-freeze-first-step.

[68] Kim Palmer, “Ohio Lawmakers Vote to Freeze Medicaid Expansion,” Reuters June 28, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ohio-budget/ohio-lawmakers-vote-to-freeze-medicaid-expansion-idUSKBN19K0B8; Caleb Taylor, “House Passes Medicaid Expansion Freeze,” The Arkansas Project March 1, 2017, http://www.thearkansasproject.com/house-passes-medicaid-expansion-freeze/.

[69] Foundation for Government Accountability, “Freezing Medicaid Expansion Enrollment Will Save Taxpayers More Than Half a Trillion,” February 2017, https://thefga.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/MedEx-Freeze-Savings-Table.pdf.

[70] Letter by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma to state governors regarding Medicaid reform, March 14, 2017, https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/sec-price-admin-verma-ltr.pdf.

[71] See for instance Chris Jacobs, “Reforming Medicaid to Serve Wyoming Better,” Wyoming Liberty Group Wyoming Policy Review Issue 101, June 2017, https://wyliberty.org/images/PDFs/Wyoming_Policy_Review-Jacobs-Reforming_Medicaid-101.pdf, and Naomi Lopez Bauman and Lindsay Boyd, “Medicaid Waiver Toolkit,” State Policy Network, August 2017.

[72] 42 U.S.C. 1396u-8, as codified by Section 6082 of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, P.L. 109-171; Section 613 of the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, P.L. 111-3; Josh Archambault and Nic Horton, “Right to Shop: The Next Big Thing in Health Care,” Forbes August 5, 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2016/08/05/right-to-shop-the-next-big-thing-in-health-care/#6f0ebcd91f75.

[73] Steven Burd, “How Safeway is Cutting Health Care Costs,” Wall Street Journal June 12, 2009, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB124476804026308603.

[74] Louisiana currently ranks fifth in the nation for adult obesity, with an obesity rate of 35.5%. See Trust for America’s Health, “The State of Obesity,” https://stateofobesity.org/states/la/.

[75] 42 U.S.C. 1397ee(c)(10)(B)(ii)(II) and 42 U.S.C. 1396e-1(b)(2)(B), as codified by Section 301 of CHIPRA.

[76] See for instance testimony of Patti Killingsworth, TennCare Chief of Long-Term Supports and Services, before the Commission on Long-Term Care on “What Would Strengthen Medicaid LTSS?” August 1, 2013, http://ltccommission.org/ltccommission/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Patti-Killingsworth-Testimony.pdf. The author served as a member of the Commission.

[77] Mattie Quinn, “On Medicaid, States Won’t Take Feds’ No for an Answer,” Governing October 11, 2016, http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/gov-medicaid-waivers-arizona-ohio-cms.html.

[78] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Opportunities to Promote Work and Community Engagement Among Medicaid Beneficiaries,” State Medicaid Director letter SMD-18-002, January 11, 2018, https://www.medicaid.gov/federal-policy-guidance/downloads/smd18002.pdf

[79] Louisiana Office of the Attorney General, “Over $2 Million in Medicaid Fraud Uncovered in New Orleans,” October 16, 2017, https://www.ag.state.la.us/Article/3470/5.

[80] Jonathan Ingram, “Stop the Scam: How to Prevent Welfare Fraud in Your State,” Foundation for Government Accountability, April 2, 2015, https://thefga.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Stop-The-Scam-research-paper.pdf.

[81] See for instance Government Accountability Office, “Medicaid: Additional Federal Action Needed to Further Improve Third Party Liability Efforts,” GAO Report GAO-15-208, January 2015, http://gao.gov/assets/670/668134.pdf.

[82] Testimony of Gary Alexander, former Rhode Island Secretary of Health and Human Services, on “Strengthening Medicaid Long-Term Supports and Services” before the Commission on Long Term Care, August 1, 2013, http://ltccommission.org/ltccommission/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Garo-Alexander.pdf.

[83] Lewin Group, “An Independent Evaluation of Rhode Island’s Global Waiver,” December 6, 2011, http://www.ohhs.ri.gov/documents/documents11/Lewin_report_12_6_11.pdf.

Paul Ryan’s Secret, Illegal Plan to Bail Out Obamacare

While most of Washington remains consumed on the drama surrounding immigration negotiations, leaders in the House have quietly pursued other policy objectives. According to multiple sources on Capitol Hill, House leaders, particularly Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), have concocted a plan that would 1) use a budget gimmick that arguably violates the law to 2) bail out Obamacare and 3) provide taxpayer funding to plans that cover abortion.

As a certain congressman from Wisconsin said back in 2012: “With allies like that, who needs the Left?”

Budgetary Smoke and Mirrors

In a nutshell, the gimmick under consideration would have the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) raise the budgetary baseline so Congress can lower the baseline and spend the artificial “savings.” It’s a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing Bernie Madoff would have been proud of. Here’s how it would work.

Congress would direct CBO to assume that Obamacare’s cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) would not be paid. While the Trump administration did cut those subsidies off last October, due to the lack of a constitutional appropriation for them, the budget scorekeeping conventions (discussed in detail below) indicate that CBO should still assume the subsidies would continue. However, Congress would instruct CBO to override that precedent.

CBO would then increase the spending baseline for Obamacare, because of the interactions between CSRs and the law’s insurance premium subsidies. Essentially, eliminating the former would cause spending on the latter to rise, as insurers raise premiums to reflect the lack of CSR payments. (Under the law, insurers must reduce cost-sharing for low-income individuals regardless, so they would adjust premiums upward—as they did in most states for 2018—to reflect the cost of this regulatory mandate.) Higher premiums will lead to higher federal subsidies for those premiums, at $194 billion over a decade, according to an estimate CBO released last August.

Congress would then take the “savings” from appropriating funds for CSRs—which, as explained above, consists not of legitimate deficit reduction so much as a phony gimmick derived from playing budgetary games—and spend that money on reinsurance and other corporate welfare payments to health insurers.

There you have it: A fiscal Ponzi scheme that would give health insurers their two major desires—cost-sharing reductions and reinsurance—in one big bailout. If it passes once for a two- or three-year period, you can bet your life this scheme would turn into an Obamacare perpetual bailout machine, with insurers coming back time and time again for more crony capitalist cash.

Violates Budgeting Principles

This plan not only violates the pretense that Republicans care about repealing—as opposed to bailing out—Obamacare, but it also violates budget scorekeeping principles laid out in statute. Specifically, Section 257(b)(1) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings statute) includes the following direction when developing the budgetary baseline: “Laws providing or creating direct spending and receipts are assumed to operate in the manner specified in those laws for each year and funding for entitlement authority is assumed to be adequate to make all payments required by those laws” (emphasis mine).

Granted, the law does not include an appropriation for HHS to make those payments. That lack of appropriation prompted the House of Representatives to sue the Obama administration for exceeding its constitutional authority, and caused the Trump administration to stop the payments last fall.

But whether an appropriation actually exists is immaterial to the separate and distinct question of whether the law requires the secretary to make payments. Obamacare includes such entitlement authority over CSRs. Therefore, under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, the budget baseline should assume that those cost-sharing reductions will be paid.

In its August 2017 report on CSRs, CBO agreed. In a section regarding the budgetary treatment of the cost-sharing payments, the budget analysts noted that “the agencies have recorded the CSR payments as direct spending (that is, spending that does not require appropriation action)—a conclusion reached because the cost-sharing subsidies were viewed as a form of entitlement authority” (parentheses in original; italics mine).

All budgetary scorekeepers—both CBO and the Office of Management and Budget—have never disputed the validity of the entitlement, as opposed to the separate and distinct legal question of whether a valid appropriation exists. That entitlement language remains unchanged; therefore, the budgetary treatment of CSRs should remain unchanged—unless Republican leaders attempt to strong-arm CBO as an accomplice to their scheme for bailing out Obamacare.

Dropping Principles and Promises to Win An Election

After reading all this, some may wonder why Republican congressional leaders have taken the time to concoct such a scheme. In part because Congress (wrongly) repealed only the individual mandate as part of the tax reform bill, members worry about big premium spikes as a result of their actions, which will hit right around the time of the midterm elections this fall. Just as Senate staff talked openly last summer about how they structured their “stability funds” to yield premium reductions in November 2018, House leaders now want to “stabilize” the insurance markets this fall.

Or, to put it more cynically, they value preserving power more than they do their principles. Make no mistake, this plot would violate just about every principle conservatives hold dear. It makes no attempt to repeal Obamacare. Instead, it strengthens and entrenches it. It relies on budgetary smoke-and-mirrors to raise federal spending—a gimmick so laughable that it would destroy any credible claim Ryan could make toward fiscal responsibility and honest budgeting. It would also increase taxpayer funding of plans that cover abortion, because Democrats will never agree to this scheme if it includes robust pro-life protections in law, as doing so would effectively prohibit exchange plans from covering abortion.

Back in 2012, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attacked conservative proposals to reform Medicare, Ryan famously asked, “With allies like that, who needs the Left?” Six years later, given the shady nature of the Republican leadership scheme to bail out Obamacare, some may be saying the same thing about him.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Biden Precedent Provides Roadmap for Repealing Obamacare with 51 Votes

With Congress having effectively repealed its individual mandate in the tax relief bill, what should Republicans do about Obamacare now?

While eliminating a penalty for Americans who cannot afford government-approved health insurance removes a financial burden on low-income families, it does not give people the freedom to purchase the coverage they do want to buy. Doubtless the president’s October executive order, when implemented, will provide more affordable options through regulatory relief. But ensuring that relief remains intact through future administrations will require legislative action.

How Joe Biden Used His Senate Presidency

While Democrats did not use budget reconciliation—a Senate procedure allowing bills to pass with a simple 51-vote majority, instead of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster—to pass Obamacare, they did use a reconciliation bill to “fix” the law they passed. In March 2010, the Senate considered, and President Obama eventually signed, a reconciliation bill that removed the odious “Cornhusker Kickback” for Nebraska, and made other amendments to the health law.

That reconciliation bill also changed Obamacare’s regulatory regime. Specifically, Section 2301(a) of the reconciliation measure applied four insurance requirements—limiting waiting periods to join employer plans, banning lifetime limits, ending rescissions by insurers, and extending coverage to “dependents” under age 26—to “grandfathered” health plans established before the law’s enactment. In addition, Section 2301(b) of the bill amended Obamacare itself, removing language that limited under-26 “dependent” coverage to unmarried individuals.

During consideration of the reconciliation bill on the Senate floor, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley objected to including these provisions. He argued that Section 2301 of the bill violated the Senate’s “Byrd rule,” designed to prevent the inclusion of matters with a merely incidental fiscal component on a budget reconciliation bill. In a colloquy memorialized in the Congressional Record, Vice President Biden, acting in his capacity as president of the Senate, overruled Grassley, and said the provisions in question did in fact comply with the “Byrd rule.”

“Grandfathered” plans do not qualify for Obamacare subsidies, and many do not qualify for any tax preference. Yet Biden held that the new requirements on “grandfathered” plans held enough of a fiscal nexus to comply with the “Byrd rule” for budget reconciliation. As a result, the “Biden precedent” allows the Senate to enact—or to repeal outright—health insurance rules through the reconciliation process.

Democrats Paved the Way for Obamacare Repeal

Moreover, the particular insurance requirements included in Section 2301(a)—especially the restrictions on employer waiting periods and the ban on rescissions—carry a relatively small fiscal impact. Because Vice President Biden ruled that Democrats could enact these comparatively small requirements in a reconciliation bill, Senate Republicans should have every right to repeal more costly restrictions, such as those on essential health benefits and actuarial value, outright through budget reconciliation, rather than relying upon the cumbersome state waiver processes included in last year’s bills.

Senate sources indicate that, recognizing the “Biden precedent” would allow for a robust Obamacare repeal, Democratic staffers tried to limit its impact last year. They argued to Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, that changes covered by that precedent were targeted in scope, technical in nature, and limited only to plans that qualify for subsidies.

But a textual analysis of the 2010 reconciliation bill shows that it changed requirements for all types of health insurance, not just “grandfathered” plans, and not just those that qualified for subsidies. And because Biden overruled Republican objections that these changes to insurance rules exceeded the scope of budget reconciliation in 2010, Republicans can and should use that precedent to undo Obamacare’s regulatory regime.

Obamacare’s insurance rules represent the beating heart of the law, necessitating a massive system of subsidies and tax increases to make this newly expensive coverage “affordable.” Because Democrats used the “Biden precedent” to impose some of those rules through budget reconciliation, Republicans have every opportunity to repeal these requirements outright through a reconciliation bill. They should take that opportunity, for removing the regulatory regime would effectively repeal Obamacare—and permanently restore health care freedom to the American people.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Another Report Details Fraud on Obamacare Exchanges

What do Obamacare and Haley Joel Osment have in common? They both see dead people.

On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released another report into eligibility verification checks on the federally run Obamacare insurance exchange used by more than three dozen states. As with prior studies, GAO concluded that regulators still need to improve integrity efforts to ensure the federal government spends taxpayer funds wisely.

GAO previously recommended that the federal exchange verify eligibility periodically, checking changes in circumstances that would affect the status of federal subsidies, such as death. However, to the best of auditors’ knowledge, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has not implemented this recommendation, one of 18 relating to exchange integrity that remain open (i.e., not completed) from two prior GAO reports.

In part, the lack of strong program integrity provisions represents a continued legacy of the healthcare.gov “debacle” in 2013. While CMS managed to get the public segments of the website up and running by December of that year, just prior to Obamacare’s January 2014 launch, the “back-end” portions of the tech infrastructure remained a work in progress for far longer.

For instance, this week’s GAO report notes that only in March 2017 did CMS finally upgrade the system such that the exchange could modify or change Social Security numbers (SSNs)—whether due to a name change, or a typo when filling out the initial application for coverage. Before then, exchange officials “did not actively take steps to resolve SSN inconsistencies in plan year 2015 primarily because [they] could not update SSNs in the data system at the time.” Because the poorly designed system could not distinguish between actual fraud and changed circumstances, CMS didn’t investigate either one.

The GAO report claims that the approximately 1 percent of applicants with potential inconsistencies related to citizenship, Social Security numbers or identity, or death represent a small portion of 8 million subsidized applicants overall. However, the study likely understates the incidence of potentially improper applicants, as it omits other potential sources of fraud relating to Obamacare subsidies: understating income, discrepancies in residency, or incarceration status (incarcerated individuals do not qualify for subsidies).

Moreover, given the amount of spending on health insurance subsidies, even the “small” sums at issue matter. For instance, GAO identified a total of $23 million in premium subsidies associated with the 17,000 applicants covered after their reported date of death. GAO could not determine whether or to what extent federal authorities recovered those subsidies during the reconciliation process (which occurs on an individual’s tax return the following year).

However, if even a fraction of that $23 million remained in insurers’ hands—insurers receive direct subsidies on behalf of beneficiaries in most cases—it represents a waste to taxpayers. Particularly given that the $23 million figure only reflects subsidy spending in 2015—not 2014, or the three years since 2015—it seems an incredible waste to put tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of taxpayer dollars at risk, for want of a technological infrastructure likely costing far less.

In other words, while former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius has long since left government, the Obamacare exchange “debacle” lives on—as do, it would appear, federal insurance subsidies provided to long-since-deceased individuals.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Who Really Caved on the “Shutdown Showdown?”

While conventional wisdom over the past 18 or so hours, both at The Federalist and elsewhere, holds that Democrats “lost” the shutdown showdown, this contrarian takes the position of noted college football analyst Lee Corso: “Not so fast, my friend!”

While not conceding on the substance of immigration legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made an important concession on process—one he has not made to conservatives. According to press reports, McConnell pledged that, if lawmakers cannot agree on an immigration package addressing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by February 8, the expiration date of the continuing resolution that passed Monday, he would begin a freewheeling and open debate on a stand-alone immigration measure—provided the federal government remains open.

No Budget—No Problem!

Compare McConnell’s comments on an immigration bill with this Politico report not two weeks ago: “Republican leaders are considering skipping passage of a GOP budget this year—a blow to the party’s weakened fiscal hawks that would squash all 2018 efforts to revamp entitlements or repeal Obamacare….McConnell has argued that he cannot pass deficit-reduction legislation using powerful budget procedures with his new 51-vote majority—and wasn’t even sure he could find the votes for a fiscal blueprint in the first place.”

While liberals’ priority—immigration policy—will get prime floor time thanks to the commitment McConnell made in exchange for Democrats’ votes to reopen the government, conservative priorities like reforming entitlements and repealing Obamacare won’t see the light of day, because McConnell doesn’t even want to try to pass a budget.

All of this gives conservatives an obvious lesson: For the next appropriations bill, they should withhold their votes unless and until McConnell publicly commits to passing a budget through the Senate, with reconciliation instructions allowing for entitlement reform and Obamacare repeal efforts.

Could Have Been (and Might Get) Worse

Contrast that response to this article from just last month, about bailing out Obamacare through a “stabilization” bill:

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she is confident President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will ensure passage of two bills aimed at shoring up the insurance markets.…

Collins remains confident that Trump and McConnell, fellow Republicans, will keep their word and make sure the health care bills get approved, said Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for the senator.…McConnell committed in writing to support passage of the bills either before adoption of a final tax bill or before the end of the year, Clark said.

If McConnell didn’t want to bind the House to an Obamacare bailout measure, he sure did a much less convincing job making that clear to Collins than he did to Democrats regarding immigration in the past week. Granted, the Obamacare bailout hasn’t happened—yet. But rest assured that McConnell and Collins, among others, are already looking to the next appropriations bill as a vehicle to pass the “stabilization” measure.

The disparate treatment between immigration and an Obamacare bailout gives conservatives the “consolation” that McConnell could have made far worse concessions to Democrats. But conversely, if McConnell wants to respect the House’s prerogatives, why does Collins believe he made a commitment to her to do the exact opposite?

Given that daunting landscape ahead, conservatives shouldn’t focus their energies celebrating how they “won” this weekend’s battle, as doing so would guarantee they end up losing the larger war.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Lamar Alexander Wants to Bail Out Regulators Who Misjudged Billions

When a state’s insurance market stands on the verge of collapse, as Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak claimed in 2016, why would she and her colleagues fail to consider another potential change that could precipitate a full-on implosion? Congress should analyze this question as it examines Obamacare’s health insurance markets.

Unfortunately, however, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander seems more interested in stuffing the coffers of the insurance industry than in conducting robust oversight of McPeak’s regulatory debacle.

A recent public records request confirms that when health insurers filed their 2017 rates in the summer of 2016, Tennessee’s Department of Insurance failed to contemplate that the incoming presidential administration could cancel the cost-sharing payments. As a result, Tennessee insurers will incur their share of the $1.75 billion in losses insurers face nationally this year. The department’s lack of planning and preparation left Tennessee consumers—to say nothing of health insurers themselves—exposed.

Tennessee Should Have Seen This Coming

McPeak cannot say she was not warned about the vulnerability of insurers’ cost-sharing subsidies. In May 2016, federal court Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled the payments unconstitutional, because Obamacare did not include an explicit appropriation for them. While Collyer stayed her ruling as the Obama administration appealed, I noted that month that the incoming president could easily concede the lawsuit and halt the payments unilaterally—exactly what President Trump did in October.

As one insurance expert noted recently, the “hand grenade” of stopping the cost-sharing reduction payments, “if it was thrown in January or February of this year, would have forced a lot of carriers to do midyear exits and it would have destroyed the exchanges in some states.” Yet the recent public records request revealed that Tennessee regulators did not send so much as a single e-mail considering whether this “hand grenade” would explode—taking the state’s exchange down with it—before approving insurance rates for 2017 last fall.

Senators Seem to Prefer Bailouts to Accountability

Tennessee’s Alexander has played a leading role in ignoring insurance commissioners’ questionable behavior. In September, Alexander convened a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee he chairs to take testimony from insurance commissioners, including McPeak, about state insurance markets. At no point did Alexander or any other senator ask McPeak or her fellow commissioners why they failed to consider, let alone predict, the withdrawal of the cost-sharing payments last year.

Instead of examining the regulatory failures of commissioners like McPeak, Alexander has dedicated his energies toward solving the problem McPeak’s ignorance helped to create. His legislation would appropriate approximately $25 billion in taxpayer funds for the cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers.

Unfortunately, Alexander’s legislation would result in a major windfall for health insurers, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Because insurers have already raised their premiums for 2018 to compensate for the loss of the cost-sharing reduction payments, Alexander’s bill would effectively pay them twice. While the CBO believes insurers will rebate some—not all, but only some—of these “extra” payments back to the government, insurers could pocket between $4-6 billion in additional windfall profits thanks to Alexander’s legislation.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Bernie Sanders Proposes Medicare for None

Sen. Bernie Sanders will hold an online town-hall meeting next Tuesday regarding his single-payer health-care legislation. Mr. Sanders calls it “Medicare for All.” But the text of the bill itself reveals a more accurate name: Medicare for None. The Orwellian way in which Mr. Sanders characterizes his plan speaks to the larger problem facing the left, whose plans for health care remain so radical that speaking of them honestly would prompt instant repulsion from most voters.

Last September, the socialist Mr. Sanders and 16 Democratic colleagues introduced what they style the Medicare for All Act. Section 901(a) of the bill explicitly states that “no benefits shall be available under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act”—that is, Medicare—“for any item or service furnished beginning on or after the effective date” of the new single-payer program.

While Mr. Sanders claims that his bill would extend Medicare to all, it would instead create an entirely new program while borrowing the Medicare name. Case in point: Section 701(d) of the Sanders bill would liquidate the existing Medicare trust funds, transferring their entire proceeds into a new “Universal Medicare Trust Fund.”

If the roughly 59 million Medicare enrollees have qualms about giving up their current coverage, at least they’ll have company. The bill would also end Medicaid (except for long-term care), the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, federal employee coverage, and Tricare for the military. And it would prohibit any insurer, including any employer, from covering benefits and services provided through the government system.

Out of nearly 330 million Americans, the only ones who would retain their current coverage are the 2.2 million who receive services from the Indian Health Service and the 9.3 million who get it from the Veterans Administration. Is Mr. Sanders’s decision to preserve VA coverage—in which, as we learned in 2014, veterans died while waiting months for treatment—suggestive of the type of care he has in mind for all Americans?

Selling a bill that would abolish Medicare as “Medicare for All” takes some chutzpah—akin to the promise that if you like your health-care plan, you can keep it. Here’s hoping that the American people, having been subjected once to the disastrous consequences of the left’s reassuring but deceitful rhetoric on health care, don’t get fooled again.

This post was originally published at The Wall Street Journal.

Republicans’ Plan to Raise Health Care Costs

Who would purposefully design a legislative strategy whereby whoever wins actually loses? Congressional Republicans, that’s who.

On Tuesday evening, Republican leaders in the House introduced another continuing resolution to fund the federal government for four more weeks (through February 16). In an attempt to win Democratic votes, the bill includes a six-year extension of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, without any of the conservative reforms congressional leaders said they would fight for back in 2015.

Inane Tax Treatment of Health Insurance

Since an Internal Revenue Service ruling (later codified) during World War II, the federal government has excluded health insurance and other fringe employment benefits from both payroll and income taxes. Economists on all sides of the political spectrum agree that this exclusion encourages workers to over-consume health insurance, and thus health care.

Taxing wages but not health benefits encourages firms to offer more generous benefits—with lower deductibles, co-payments, and so forth—and that lower cost-sharing encourages people to consume extra health care. (“I’m not sure how sick I really am, but because I only have a $10 co-pay, I might as well go to the doctor and find out.”)

Obamacare attempted to change that dynamic through its “Cadillac tax” on “high-cost” employer plans. The tax applied for every dollar of benefits provided over a defined amount, encouraging firms to make their benefits less rich, to avoid exceeding the threshold that would trigger the tax.

As for the Bad Strategy

However, Republicans could easily remedy the “Cadillac tax’s” flaws with another alternative. The alternative could limit the tax preference for employer-provided health insurance—without a punitive 40 percent tax rate, and while not raising any additional revenue over a decade. President George W. Bush proposed this concept more than a decade ago, and the Republican Study Committee and others have since endorsed it.

However, repealing the “Cadillac tax” outright would effectively sabotage any ability to reform or replace it. As with Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), removing a constraint on health spending now with the intent of replacing it later would almost certainly mean that “later” will never arrive. That of course means Republicans, consistent with their insatiable desire to postpone difficult decisions, want to repeal both the “Cadillac tax” and IPAB without constructing replacements.

Tuesday evening’s spending bill would postpone the “Cadillac tax”—already delayed once, until 2020—for another two years, until 2022. It would likewise suspend Obamacare’s medical device tax for two years, and its health insurer tax for one year. It would also exempt these changes from the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act, which requires offsetting spending cuts to fund this tax relief—because heaven forbid Congress be forced to reduce spending.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Just the Facts on Drug Negotiation

Congressional hearings often serve as elaborate theatrical productions. Members ask pre-written questions, receive formulaic answers, and in many cases use witnesses as props to engage in rhetorical grandstanding. The grandstanding element was on full display Tuesday during the confirmation hearing for Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services Secretary-designee. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) wanted to beat up on “evil” drug companies, and she wasn’t going to let facts get in her way.

McCaskill spent two minutes attacking pharmaceutical advertisements, including a reference to “the one for erectile dysfunction where they have them in two bathtubs,” before she tackled the issue of Medicare “negotiating” prices with drug companies. At this point she demonstrated ignorance on several issues.

Second, McCaskill failed to grasp that Medicare drug plans already negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, and that the discounts they obtain have helped keep overall premiums for the prescription drug Part D plan low. It may sound radical to McCaskill, who has spent practically her entire adult life working in government, but the private sector can negotiate just like the government, and probably do so more effectively than a government entity.

Third, McCaskill refused to believe that getting the government involved in “negotiating” drug prices would not save money. When Azar explained that removing a provision prohibiting federal bureaucrats from “negotiating” prices wouldn’t save money, McCaskill called his explanation “just crazy” and “nuts.”

It isn’t nuts, it’s economics. Even though McCaskill tried to lecture Azar on economics and markets at the beginning of her questioning, her queries themselves showed very little understanding of either concept. In a negotiation, the ability to drive a hard bargain ultimately derives from the ability to seek out other options. If Medicare must cover all or most prescription drugs, such that it can’t walk away from the proverbial bargaining table, it will by definition be limited in its ability to put downward pressure on prices.

But don’t take my word for it. As Azar pointed out to McCaskill, none other than Peter Orszag, who directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under President Obama — said as much in an April 2007 Congressional Budget Office letter:

By itself, giving the Secretary broad authority to negotiate drug prices would not provide the leverage necessary to generate lower prices than those obtained by PDPs and thus would have a negligible effect on Medicare drug spending. Negotiation is likely to be effective only if it is accompanied by some source of pressure on drug manufacturers to secure price concessions. The authority to establish a formulary, set prices administratively, or take other regulatory actions against firms failing to offer price reductions could give the Secretary the ability to obtain significant discounts in negotiations with drug manufacturers.

Only the ability to limit access to drugs by setting a formulary or imposing  administrative prices, i.e. “negotiating” by dictating prices to drug companies, would have any meaningful impact on pricing levels. But this truth proved inconvenient to McCaskill, who admitted she “refuse[d] to acknowledge it.”

Instead, McCaskill continued haranguing him about the evils of drug companies. She pointed out that one congressman who helped negotiate the prescription drug benefit, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), “went to run PhRMA after he finished getting it through.”

Indeed he did. And as the head of PhRMA, he bragged about the “rock-solid deal” he cut with the Obama administration to help his industry. Big Pharma’s “deal” as part of Obamacare encouraged seniors to purchase costlier brand-name drugs instead of cheaper generics, which the CBO concluded would raise Part D premiums by nearly 10 percent. And who voted for that “rock-solid deal?” None other than Claire McCaskill.

As the old saying goes: If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. But if you don’t, pound the table.

The facts indicate that McCaskill voted for a “rock-solid deal” with Big Pharma that raised premiums on millions of seniors, which actually makes her part of the problem, not part of the solution. Of course, that also makes her willingness to grandstand at Tuesday’s hearing, and her unwillingness to face facts she now finds politically inconvenient, less “crazy” than it first seemed.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Liberals’ “Alternative Facts” on Capping Entitlement Spending

Here’s a policy riddle for you: When is a spending cap not a spending cap? The answer: When a liberal finds it politically inconvenient.

During the confirmation hearing for Health and Human Services Secretary-designee Alex Azar, a staffer for the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities tweeted that Azar supported capping Medicaid. I noted that meant he supported capping Medicaid spending like the caps Democrats enacted as part of Obamacare—and that’s when the fun began.

Then I pointed out that Section 3403 of Obamacare charges the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) with enforcing a cap on per-beneficiary spending in Medicare. She responded by saying that IPAB contains restrictions on “rationing health care, raising Medicare’s premiums or cost sharing, cutting benefits, or restricting eligibility.”

That response, while accurate, misses the point. First of all, while the law prohibits Medicare from “rationing” benefits, neither Obamacare nor any other law “defines” rationing. Former Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified to Congress in 2011 that HHS would need to undertake rulemaking to define “rationing.” However, as I noted this summer, “the Obama Administration never even proposed rules ‘protecting’ Medicare beneficiaries from rationing under the IPAB per capita caps—so how meaningful can those protections actually be?”

Capping Spending Does Indeed Reduce It

Second, a cap on spending, by definition, will reduce spending. The implication that one form of cap on spending in Medicare will have no ramifications whatsoever for beneficiaries, while another form of cap on spending in Medicaid will lead to proverbial death and destruction, strains credulity.

But putting those distinctions aside for a second, I asked whether Obamacare capped Medicare spending. I sent links to the portions of Section 3403 that 1) establish a target growth rate for Medicare and 2) instruct IPAB to develop recommendations to reduce spending to meet that target—the definition of a cap in my book, and probably anyone else’s as well.

I asked a simple yes-no question: While they might be implemented in different ways than the caps in Republicans’ “repeal-and-replace” bills, doesn’t IPAB limit the growth rate of Medicare spending to meet a cap?

Answer came there none.

Politically Inconvenient Truths

The political hack—erm, I mean, “analyst”—in question, from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, has more than enough health policy experience to recognize a spending cap. According to the center’s website, she served in senior roles in California’s Medicaid program, worked as the primary health staffer for former U.S. senator Al Franken (D-MN), and holds a master’s degree in health policy. She knows better—she just chose not to.

As I have written previously, Democrats don’t want to admit that they imposed per capita spending caps in Medicare as part of Obamacare. They may still fear the political consequences of capping Medicare spending—and more importantly, do not want to give Republicans political “cover” to impose similar caps in Medicaid.

So rather than admit the obvious—yes, Democrats did impose spending caps in Medicare (albeit in a slightly different form than Republicans’ Medicaid proposals last year) as part of Obamacare—this person chose to obfuscate, deflect, deny, and ultimately join Twitter’s version of the Witness Protection Program rather than admit the politically inconvenient truth. And beclowned herself in the process.

After the “repeal-and-replace” process of 2017, I know full well what it means to tell politically inconvenient truths. Going out on a limb to point out flaws in alternatives to Obamacare won me no small amount of flack from others on the Right, and may have cost me business to boot.

But at bottom, I consider myself a conservative health policy analyst, not a Republican one. As such, I feel an obligation to call “balls-and-strikes” based solely on policy, regardless of party. Doing otherwise would harm my reputation and integrity. And in policy circles in this town, one’s good name is the only thing you’ve got.

People can propose “alternative facts” all they like, but not without cost. After our Twitter tete-a-tete, I think less of the analyst in question, and of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities for employing her. While liberals can talk all they like about a “wonk gap,” or about Republican “science deniers,” they appear to have some in their own midst as well. Just ask liberal health analysts about IPAB’s per capita caps.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.