New LSU “Jobs” Study Raises More Questions Than It Answers

The release by the Louisiana Department of Health late Friday afternoon of an updated study showing the jobs benefit of Medicaid expansion concedes an important point pointed out by the Pelican Institute over 16 months ago. This year’s study admits that the 2018 paper over-counted the federal dollars and jobs associated with Medicaid expansion, because it failed to subtract for the many people who forfeited federal subsidies when they transitioned from Exchange coverage to Medicaid after expansion.

However, the researchers have yet to offer an explanation—or a retraction—of their inflated claims in last year’s paper. Nor have the Department of Health and LSU begun to answer the many questions about the circumstances surrounding these flawed studies.

While correcting one error, this year’s study also contains other questionable claims and assumptions:

  • The 2019 study discusses substitution effects, whereby federal Medicaid dollars merely replace other forms of health care spending. However, unlike a Montana study in which the researchers cite in their work, the Louisiana paper apparently does not quantify instances where federal dollars substituted for dollars previously spent by individuals or employers—thereby inflating the supposed impact of Medicaid expansion. That apparent omission also means the researchers did not quantify the number of people who dropped private coverage to join Medicaid expansion—which internal Department of Health records suggest is larger than the Department has publicly admitted.
  • The 2019 study claims that the federal dollars attributable to Medicaid expansion declined by only 4.4% from Fiscal Year 2017 ($1.85 billion) to Fiscal Year 2018 ($1,768 billion). Yet, the number of jobs attributed to these federal dollars decreased by 25.5%, from 19,195 in 2017 to 14,263 in 2018. This drop in the jobs impact suggests significant changes to the economic modeling used in the 2018 study when compared to this year’s paper. Yet, the researchers provide no explanation for this decline, or any changes in their methodology.
  • While not explaining the decline in the jobs outcomes compared to last year’s paper, the 2019 study also does not explain many other figures cited in the paper. For instance, the paper discusses—but does not include a specific dollar figure for—the federal dollars forfeited by individuals who switched from Exchange coverage to Medicaid expansion. Particularly given the errors in last year’s paper, the researchers had an obligation to “show their work,” and provide clear and transparent calculations explaining their conclusions. They did not do so.

The researchers also fail to note that, their study’s claims to the contrary, Louisiana has barely created any jobs since Medicaid expansion took effect. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June 2016, the month before expansion took effect, Louisiana had 1,979,100 jobs. According to the most recent federal data, Louisiana’s non-farm payrolls now stand at 1,981,000 jobs—a meager gain of 1,900 jobs in over three years. With Louisiana having over 10,000 more jobs one year before expansion took effect than it does today, the real-life data show that greater dependence on the federal government has not provided the economic boom that the study’s authors claim.

Rather than relying on an expansion of the welfare state to generate jobs—an agenda that has not worked, as the past three years have demonstrated—Louisiana should instead reform its Medicaid program as part of a broader agenda to create jobs and opportunity for the state. The people of Louisiana deserve real change in their lives, not flawed, taxpayer-funded studies attempting to defend the failed status quo.

This post was originally published by the Pelican Institute.

Two Factors Behind the Medicaid Enrollment Explosion

While enrollment in Obamacare’s exchanges has fallen below original projections, largely due to unaffordable premiums for health insurance coverage, enrollment in its Medicaid expansion has exploded. By the end of 2016, enrollment in 24 states that expanded Medicaid enrollment to able-bodied adults exceeded the states’ original projections by an average of 110 percent.

New studies and data suggest two related reasons why: Ineligible individuals getting on (or staying on) the Medicaid rolls, and people dropping private coverage to enroll in Medicaid expansion.

Ineligible Enrollees

The study caused a political firestorm in Louisiana. Eventually, the state dropped approximately 30,000 individuals from the Medicaid expansion rolls. Ironically enough, the Medicaid program came in approximately $400 million under budget in the fiscal year ended June 30—due in large part to the enrollment purge. To put it another way, Louisiana taxpayers had spent $400 million in the prior fiscal year on ineligible Medicaid enrollees.

A study released this month provides new evidence that the phenomenon of ineligible enrollees may go far beyond Louisiana. The study examined Census data in states that expanded Medicaid when Obamacare’s expansion took effect in 2014 and compared it to states that have not expanded. Upon analyzing the data by income, the authors found that

There is strong evidence that Medicaid participation increased for groups for whom Medicaid was not intended to be the source of insurance coverage. Neither excluding those who might be categorically eligible [e.g., individuals with disabilities already eligible for Medicaid], nor focusing on those whose income was far from the threshold alters the fundamental results. The estimated program effect grows over time.

For instance, the authors found that for individuals making more than 250 percent of the federal poverty level—nearly double the eligibility threshold for Medicaid expansion—fully 65 percent of the gains in insurance coverage after Obamacare took effect came not from people enrolling in employer coverage or other insurance (e.g., exchange plans), but from increased Medicaid enrollment.

However, the scope of this phenomenon and the fact that it occurred comparatively high up the income scale suggests widespread problems with rooting out ineligible Medicaid enrollees. People could fail to report income increases to state authorities, improperly estimate their income when applying for coverage, or—as the authors suggest—friendly social workers could decide to cast potential enrollees’ circumstances in the best possible light when filling out application forms on their behalf.

Government Programs ‘Crowding Out’ Private Coverage

In other cases, Medicaid expansion appears to have accelerated the phenomenon of “crowd out,” whereby people drop their private coverage to enroll in government-funded benefits. Crowd out enrollees are not necessarily ineligible for benefits—that is, they meet income limits and other criteria for Medicaid—but every dollar spent on covering people who already had health insurance prior to expansion arguably represents a sub-optimal use of scarce taxpayer dollars.

As part of my work with the Pelican Institute, I recently reported that the Louisiana Department of Health compiled internal data showing that, once Medicaid expansion went into effect in the state in July 2016, several thousand individuals each month dropped their private coverage to go on Medicaid. The Department of Health, claiming the data inaccurate, stopped compiling it altogether late in 2017—even though their stated explanation for the inaccuracy meant their data arguably under-stated the number of individuals dropping coverage.

The data raise the obvious question of why states would want to follow Louisiana’s lead and spend hundreds of millions of dollars (at minimum) subsidizing individuals who previously had private insurance.

Will Congress Act?

The twin developments suggest a major role for Congress, to say nothing of the states, in combating these sizable expenditures on Medicaid waste, fraud, and abuse. More rigorous eligibility checks would help, for starters, as would the widespread adoption of a new Medicaid waiver program approved in Utah.

Beginning in January, the Utah waiver will require individuals with an offer of employer coverage to remain enrolled in that employer plan, with Medicaid reimbursing premiums—a change designed to avoid the crowd-out seen in Louisiana.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

LSU, Department of Health Inflate Claims in Medicaid Expansion Studies

In the coming days, the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) will release a study conducted by LSU researchers claiming that Medicaid expansion created tens of thousands of jobs in Louisiana. The study’s underlying premise, that higher taxes and government spending will create economic growth, has rightfully raised questions among free market and conservative circles in the state. But before they release this year’s study, both the Department and LSU face an even more fundamental problem: Last year’s version of this report made inflated claims.

Last month, a similar study covering the potential impacts of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina highlighted the problems with the LSU report. In calculating the federal dollars attributable to Medicaid expansion, the North Carolina researchers “subtract[ed] the federal tax credits that otherwise would have been paid for individuals with incomes between 100% and 138% of poverty for” coverage on the health insurance Exchange.

After months of public records requests by the Pelican Institute, the LSU researchers acknowledged that—unlike their counterparts on the North Carolina study—they did not subtract these foregone Exchange subsidies when calculating the “net new federal dollars” attributable to Medicaid expansion. The university stated that while the researchers “indicated the desire to analyze other data” regarding Exchange subsidies, they ultimately “did not do so.”

Because the researchers did not subtract the federal Exchange subsidies forfeited by new Medicaid recipients, they inflated the “net new federal dollars” attributable to expansion. Additionally, the study inflated the jobs supposedly associated with Medicaid expansion by a sizable amount.

According to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), subsidized enrollment on Louisiana’s Exchange fell by nearly half, from 170,806 in March 2016 to 93,865 in March 2018. Fully, 96.5 percent of that decline came from the narrow sliver of the population that now qualifies for expansion, because these individuals moved from the Exchange to Medicaid. Multiplying these tens of thousands of individuals by the average Exchange subsidy provided to them means last year’s study overstated the “net new federal dollars” attributable to expansion by hundreds of millions of dollars, and thousands of jobs.

Taken at face value, LSU’s response means the researchers inflated the study’s claims—they intended to examine the CMS data but did not do so, ignoring a data source that would reduce their study’s results. Even a more benign interpretation, in which the researchers did not know about the CMS data when they originally drafted their report, does not explain the professors’ continued silence on this matter.

On three separate occasions, the Pelican Institute specifically asked the researchers to retract the flawed study. On each occasion, the researchers failed to acknowledge the request.

The Pelican Institute also pointed out the flaws in last year’s study to LDH. According to the public records requests, the lead LSU researcher sent Secretary Rebekah Gee and Medicaid Director Jen Steele a copy of the Pelican Institute’s rebuttal—which prominently noted its inaccuracy—on April 25, 2018.

As individuals responsible for a $12 billion Medicaid program, both Secretary Gee and Ms. Steele undoubtedly know that federal law made individuals who qualified for Medicaid expansion ineligible for Exchange subsidies once expansion took effect. Therefore, they should also know that, by failing to subtract the foregone Exchange subsidies in its calculations, the study inflated the impact of Medicaid expansion. Despite these facts, LDH is spending even more taxpayer dollars to produce a predictably flawed follow-up report.

With so much conflicting information circulating around Medicaid expansion, the people of Louisiana deserve the truth, not more inflated claims from flawed studies. Coming on the heels of stories about Medicaid recipients with six-figure incomes and tens of thousands of individuals dropping private insurance to enroll in expansion, this study is the latest instance of LDH failing to disclose important facts to the public. Lawmakers should increase their oversight of the Medicaid program, and taking a close look at this study is a good place to start.

This post was originally published at Houma Today.

Medicaid Expansion Has Louisianans Dropping Their Private Plans

If any state can serve as the poster child for the problems associated with ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, it’s Louisiana, which joined the expansion in 2016, after Democrat John Bel Edwards became governor. An audit released last year exposed ineligible Medicaid beneficiaries, including at least 1,672 people who made more than $100,000. But Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion has revealed another waste of taxpayer funds, both in the Pelican State and nationwide: the money spent providing coverage to people who already had health insurance.

Via a public-records request, the Pelican Institute obtained data demonstrating that thousands of Louisiana residents dropped their private coverage to enroll in Medicaid under the expansion. A spreadsheet compiled by the Louisiana Department of Health put the count between 3,000 and 5,000 people a month, and that doesn’t count those who enrolled in Medicaid first, then dropped private coverage.

When asked about the spreadsheet, Medicaid officials stated in an email that the Health Department “stopped producing” the data in late 2017 when it discovered its vendor’s information “was limited to [third-party liability] during the period of Medicaid enrollment.” Because the vendor couldn’t track beneficiaries before or after their Medicaid enrollment, the spreadsheet arguably underestimated the number of people dropping private coverage to enroll in Medicaid.

The Health Department’s internal spreadsheet information comports with other coverage estimates. A survey by Louisiana State University researchers found that, from 2015-17, enrollment in private insurance fell precipitously among low-income Louisiana residents eligible for Medicaid under the expansion. The number of people covered by private health insurance declined by tens of thousands, even as Medicaid enrollment skyrocketed by more than 141,000.

That masses of Louisiana residents canceled their private coverage to enroll in “free” Medicaid should surprise no one. In 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber, who later became an architect of ObamaCare, concluded that some coverage expansions would see rates of “crowd-out”—government programs squeezing out private insurance—approaching 60%. Eight years later, Louisiana’s Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that crowd-out would cost taxpayers between $900 million and $1.3 billion over five years. Because enrollment in Medicaid expansion vastly exceeded initial projections, the true cost may rise far higher.

Federal budget analysts have yet to quantify the effect of crowd-out on Medicaid expansion—but they should, because estimates suggest that Washington is spending billions annually funding Medicaid for people with prior health coverage. Montana officials recently released a study boasting of 8,700 workers who would have employer-sponsored coverage but for Medicaid expansion, claiming that expansion provided “cost savings to businesses” of up to $114 million. Only in a bureaucrat’s mind would more government spending, taxes and government dependency represent “cost savings.”

In response to the Louisiana audit, the state recently purged more than 30,000 ineligible people from the rolls. Health Secretary Rebekah Gee claimed the action demonstrated how she and Gov. Edwards “want to make sure that only those that need Medicaid have Medicaid.” But good stewards of taxpayer dollars, upon receiving preliminary reports of people dropping coverage to enroll in Medicaid, would have demanded better data and fashioned policy solutions to address the problem. The Louisiana Department of Health did neither and stopped compiling the data.

Generations of Louisiana politicians, since Gov. Huey Long in the 1930s, have claimed that fostering an economy rooted in government dependence will lead to prosperity. But the more than 67,000 residents who have left the state in the past three years alone see a stagnant economy and a slowly sinking state. Louisiana can do better, and other states thinking about Medicaid expansion should think again.

This post was originally published at The Wall Street Journal.

What You Need to Know About Medicaid Crowd Out

A PDF version of this document is available on the Pelican Institute’s website

In recent weeks, lawmakers have focused on the tens of thousands of ineligible individuals who improperly received benefits under Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion. But fighting waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicaid should also include reforms to address another important issue—crowd out. The term refers to Louisiana residents who have dropped their existing coverage to enroll in Medicaid expansion—in other words, government programs “crowding out” private insurance. Here’s what you need to know about crowd out and Medicaid expansion:

Tens of Thousands of People Have Dropped Private Coverage to Enroll in Medicaid

Recently, the Pelican Institute filed a public records request to obtain internal Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) data showing that for much of 2016 and 2017, several thousand individuals dropped their existing health coverage to enroll in Medicaid expansion. With enrollment in Medicaid expansion averaging approximately 15,000 individuals per month in 2017, the data indicates a significant percentage of enrollees dropped their prior coverage to join Medicaid expansion.

Funding Benefits for People Who Previously Had Health Insurance Consumes Scarce Medicaid Resources

Crowd out populations pose big potential costs for Louisiana taxpayers. In 2015, the Legislative Fiscal Office assumed that if Louisiana expanded Medicaid, the state would spend between $900 million and $1.3 billion over five years providing Medicaid coverage to individuals with prior health coverage.

When testifying before the House Appropriations Committee on April 23, LDH staff indicated that, during the fiscal year ending this June 30, the average expansion enrollee cost Medicaid $523.85 per month, or $6,286.20 per year. Multiplying this average cost per enrollee by the number of individuals who dropped private coverage, according to last year’s LSU Health Insurance Survey, yields a potential cost to state and federal taxpayers of $461.6 million this fiscal year:

  • Dropped coverage from a current employer: 40,147; Potential cost to taxpayers: $252.4 million
  • Dropped coverage from a former employer: 23,086; Potential cost to taxpayers: $145.1 million
  • Dropped privately purchased coverage: 10,201; Potential cost to taxpayers: $64.1 million

Because the LSU researchers extrapolated the coverage numbers from survey responses, and because the survey responses varied only slightly from 2015 to 2017, the results for privately purchased coverage, and coverage from a former employer, might have occurred due to random chance, rather than any actual drop in coverage rates. Regardless, the decline in coverage from a former employer DID meet the tests of statistical significance; this crowd out is costing the Medicaid program on the order of $145.1 million per year. Moreover, the potential fiscal impact of the crowd out problem demonstrates the need for more accurate data on the issue.

Crowd Out Metrics

The March 2019 LSU report cites a seminal 1996 work from MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber to define crowd out—the decrease in private insurance divided by the change in public insurance. To put it simply, crowd out should quantify the percentage of Medicaid enrollees who dropped their private coverage to enroll in expansion. Unfortunately, LDH has used different—and inaccurate—metrics to define crowd out on several occasions in attempts to minimize its impact.

For instance, in August 2017, the Department counted 5,659 “Medicaid expansion members who have private insurance whose private insurance policies ended 0-60 days prior to Medicaid expansion enrollment”—4,957 whose coverage ended 0-30 days prior to enrollment in expansion, and another 702 whose coverage ended 31-60 days prior to enrollment. The Department’s internal spreadsheets calculated one crowd out rate of 1.3%, based on a total enrollment in expansion of 442,674.

But this calculation creates an inherently inaccurate result, because it divides the number of new enrollees who dropped coverage by the number of total enrollees in the program. An accurate crowd out rate would compare like with like—dividing the number of new enrollees who dropped private coverage in a given month by the overall number of new enrollees in that month. This metric would accurately determine what percentage of new enrollees are dropping coverage.

Using that rubric, Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion suffers from far higher crowd out rates. According to data provided by LDH in response to the Pelican Institute’s public records request, in August 2017 a total of 13,955 individuals enrolled in expansion—8,783 who had previously enrolled in Medicaid, and 5,172 who had never done so before. Dividing the number of new enrollees who dropped private coverage in the prior 30 days (4,957) by the number of new enrollees overall (13,955) yields a potential crowd out rate of 35.5%—far higher than the 1-2% figure cited in the internal LDH spreadsheets.

At the April 23 House Appropriations Committee hearing, Medicaid director Jen Steele cited data from the LSU Health Insurance Survey to estimate a crowd out rate of 2.4%. But that survey data expressed coverage changes as a percentage of the overall low-income population, not based as a percentage of Medicaid enrollees—making it another inaccurate metric.

Based on LDH’s own internal data, that rate more likely approaches 30-40%.

Need for Better Program Integrity

The debate regarding crowd out comes on the heels of the Medicaid eligibility situation, in which LDH acknowledged that 1,672 individuals with six-figure incomes—including at least one individual reporting a higher income than Gov. John Bel Edwards’ annual salary—enrolled in Medicaid expansion. LDH’s failure to address the crowd out problem, and at the same time, the expansion enrollment of individuals with six-figure incomes suggests the need for fundamental reform to Louisiana’s Medicaid program. Government officials at all levels must serve as smart stewards of scarce taxpayer dollars, and a growing number of signs raise questions about LDH’s fulfillment of this critical role.

Conclusion

Solutions to mitigate crowd out should focus on using scarce government resources wisely, while promoting independence and self-sufficiency amongst beneficiaries. For instance, Indiana recently proposed a waiver that would allow beneficiaries transitioning off of Medicaid to keep a portion of their Medicaid dollars. Those retained dollars could fund co-payments on their new private insurance, whether purchased through an employer or individually. These and similar innovative concepts would encourage beneficiaries to transition off of government assistance and into private coverage.

The Inconvenient Truths of Louisiana’s Medicaid Expansion

In the wake of a wave of stories about the tens of thousands of ineligible individuals who received Medicaid benefits, supporters keep trying to defend Louisiana’s expansion of Medicaid to the able-bodied. But their defenses ignore several inconvenient truths.

First, money doesn’t grow on trees. Health Secretary Rebekah Gee recently claimed that Louisiana’s “Medicaid expansion comes at no additional cost to taxpayers.” Because she believes the federal government will pay all the cost of Medicaid expansion, she thinks Louisiana taxpayers are “off the hook” for the program’s spending. But anyone who had to mail a check to the Internal Revenue Service on April 15 would disagree. By definition, any new government spending imposes a cost to taxpayers, because Louisiana residents pay taxes to Washington just like everyone else.

And Louisiana has seen a ton of new government spending due to Medicaid expansion. In 2015, the Legislative Fiscal Office projected spending on expansion to total $1.2 billion-$1.4 billion per year. In the last fiscal year, Louisiana spent nearly $3.1 billion on expansion—or more than double the Fiscal Office’s original estimates.

Second, the truly vulnerable continue to get overlooked due to Medicaid expansion. Secretary Gee claimed that her “top priority is to ensure every dollar spent [on Medicaid] goes towards providing health care to people who need it most.” But Louisiana still has tens of thousands of individuals with disabilities on waiting lists for home and community-based services—who are not getting the care they need, because Louisiana has focused on expanding Medicaid to the able-bodied.

Since Louisiana expanded Medicaid in July 2016, at least 5,534 Louisiana residents with disabilities have died—yes, died—while on waiting lists for Medicaid to care for their personal needs. Louisiana should have placed the needs of these vulnerable patients ahead of expanding coverage to able-bodied adults—tens of thousands of whom already had private health insurance and dropped that insurance to enroll in Medicaid expansion.

This skewed sense of priorities pervades supporters of Medicaid expansion. One recently claimed that most of the individuals improperly enrolled in expansion “are poor, but not poor enough to qualify for coverage” under Medicaid.

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report suggests otherwise. The 100 Medicaid recipients studied by the auditor, 93 of whom did not qualify for benefits for at least one month they received them, had an average—repeat, average—household income of $67,742. Fourteen of the recipients reported income of over $100,000. One recipient reported income of $145,146—well above Governor John Bel Edwards’ annual salary of $130,000.

The Louisiana Department of Health recently acknowledged that at least 1,672 individuals receiving over $100,000 qualified for Medicaid benefits. Supporters of Medicaid expansion can claim that these six-figure Medicaid beneficiaries classify as “poor,” but hardworking taxpayers forced to foot the bill for these recipients would likely disagree.

Louisiana taxpayers deserve policies that prioritize the most vulnerable in society—individuals with disabilities currently dying on waiting lists—rather than funding benefits for enrollees with six-figure incomes, or able-bodied adults who dropped their private coverage to enroll in Medicaid. They deserve more than claims that money grows on trees, or that expanding dependency will lead to growth and prosperity. They deserve better than Medicaid expansion’s failed status quo.

This post was originally published in the Daily Advertiser.

High Risk Designation Reinforces Problems in Louisiana’s Medicaid Expansion

That the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently designated Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion to the able-bodied as “high risk,” following the release of a “deeply troubling” report by the state’s Legislative Auditor late last year, should surprise no one. As the Pelican Institute first reported last year, enrollment in Medicaid expansion has exploded, with state officials only now scrambling to detect waste and fraud in the program.

At the time of Medicaid expansion, officials first stated that enrollment could reach 306,000, only to up its projections later. By the time Pelican released its report last January, enrollment had exceeded 466,000—well above the state’s highest estimates. As of this March, enrollment now stands at 502,647, nearly a 10% increase compared to January 2018.

With enrollment nearly two-thirds higher than original projections, it should not have come as a shock to the state that ineligible individuals had enrolled in Medicaid expansion. As enrollment in expansion grew and grew, seemingly without limit, the state’s Department of Health should have spent more time scrutinizing enrollees, to make sure only eligible individuals receive program benefits.

Yet the auditor’s report last November found that out of 100 randomly selected applicants, fully 93 of them did not qualify for Medicaid benefits at some point during their coverage. Nearly two-thirds (66.3%) of the dollars given to insurers on these individuals’ behalf was improperly paid. Based on this sample, the auditor estimated that the Medicaid program spent up to $85.5 million providing benefits to ineligible individuals.

The applicants selected by the legislative auditor reported incomes to the state well beyond the threshold where they would qualify for Medicaid expansion. One Medicaid enrollee reported an income of $145,146—this for a one-person household. By comparison, Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, earns only $130,000 per year. So why did an individual making more than the state’s governor spend a full 12 months on a program for “low-income” individuals?

The Department of Health now claims that it has updated its enrollment systems to allow for more frequent eligibility checks, in the hopes of reducing the types of abuses uncovered by the legislative auditor. But if the Department of Health really wants to serve as a good steward of taxpayer dollars, it should go much farther, and propose solutions to the problem of Medicaid expansion crowding out private coverage.

In 2015, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that approximately 30-40% of Medicaid expansion enrollees would drop their private coverage to enroll in Medicaid. In other words, taxpayers would spend between $900 million and $1.3 billion over a five-year period providing insurance to individuals who already had coverage prior to expansion.

The dramatic increase in program enrollment, well beyond original projections, indicates that Medicaid expansion is indeed crowding out private coverage. An LSU survey released last year provided further confirmation, suggesting that approximately 75,000 individuals dropped employer-based or private coverage to enroll in Medicaid during the expansion’s first year alone. Yet the Department of Health has failed to acknowledge this problem, let alone propose solutions to fix it.

As the Pelican Institute report last year noted, Medicaid expansion has led to an explosion of government spending, taking the program away from the vulnerable populations for whom it was originally designed. Policy-makers should develop a way to phase out the expansion over time, while applying for a state-based waiver to reform—and transform—the Medicaid program.

This post was originally published at the Pelican Institute.

Do Coverage Expansions Save Lives? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A few weeks after two studies called into question whether one particular element of Obamacare—its hospital readmissions program—may have increased mortality rates nationwide, another study released by several economists expressed doubt about whether the law’s more than $1 trillion in spending on coverage expansions actually reduced mortality. Moreover, the latest study also raises fundamental questions about whether any coverage expansion will generate measurable reductions in mortality rates.

Coming in a week when Democrats prepare to release the latest version of their single-payer legislation, which estimates suggest could cost at least $30 trillion, the study raises an obvious question: What exactly will Americans receive for all the trillions of dollars in new government spending the left proposes? The study basically shrugs.

Effects of Medicaid Expansion

The analysis showed the problems inherent with attributing changes in mortality rates to expansions in insurance coverage. The study noted that “if one simply compares the…difference in mortality rates for non-expansion versus full-expansion states…it would appear that Medicaid expansion has a large, immediate effect in reducing mortality.” But in reality, mortality rates among those two groups of states had begun to move in opposite directions before the main provisions of Obamacare took effect in 2014. “There is little additional divergence during 2014-2016.”

The researchers’ work highlights the inherent flaws in this field of study. Because mortality is by definition a rare event (particularly for younger populations), and because so many different factors affect mortality, it becomes exceedingly difficult to attribute any change in mortality rates to changes in insurance coverage.

For instance, the opioid crisis, which has led to a decrease in life expectancy, hit just before Obamacare’s coverage expansions took effect, and in many cases affected the same populations. This and other similar factors introduce statistical “noise” that make it difficult to conclude with any certainty that expanded coverage (as opposed to some other factor) impacted mortality rates.

Simulations Expose Flaws

In most cases, the “power analysis” simulations concluded that, to find a statistically significant reduction in mortality rates at least 80 percent of the time, the coverage expansions would have to reduce mortality by more than 100 percent—a statistically impossible result. Because Obamacare reduced the uninsured rate by only a few percentage points, and because most available data sets lack corresponding income and insurance information—to prove, for instance, that X person had Y type of insurance and Z income over a certain number of years—the researchers could not make conclusive assertions about coverage expansions’ effects on mortality.

As it is, the uninsured already receive significant amounts of health care. One 2017 study found they consume nearly 80 percent of the care used by Americans with health insurance. Therefore, to test the effects of coverage expansions on mortality, researchers either need an incredibly large increase in the number of insured individuals—tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of Americans—or much more precise data about the income and coverage sources of those who gain insurance.

Liberals’ Alarmist Rhetoric

The authors caution that “our analysis should not be interpreted as evidence that health insurance does not affect mortality or health, either overall or for particular diseases or subgroups.” (Emphasis original.) However, the analysis does demonstrate that health insurance likely has a small and difficult to quantify effect on mortality rates. The study therefore proves how liberal claims two years ago that Republican “repeal-and-replace” legislation would kill tens of thousands of individuals annually had little bearing in reality.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Kamala Harris Discovers Liberals’ New Health Care Motto

More than a decade ago, Barack Obama ran for president repeatedly pledging that under his health care platform, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” Of course, that promise turned out not to be true—millions of Americans received cancellation notices as Obamacare took effect, and PolitiFact named Obama’s campaign pledge its “Lie of the Year.”

Given that tortured history, liberals appear to have come up with a simple and succinct slogan to explain their next round of health “reform:”: “If you like your current plan, go f— yourself.”

Medicare for None

Moderator Jake Tapper claimed during the discussion that Harris supports “Medicare for All,” but in reality, the legislation she co-sponsored during the last Congress would eliminate Medicare, along with every other existing form of health insurance save two: the Indian Health Service and Veterans Administration coverage. In short, Harris supports nearly 300 million Americans losing their current form of health coverage.

Patronizing Paternalism

Just as telling: Harris’ blithe dismissal of Americans who might prefer to keep their existing insurance. She claimed that, under single payer, “You don’t have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork.” Never mind that single payer systems have long waiting lists, which bring paperwork of their own. Harris then brushed away Americans’ concerns about losing their health coverage with a flick of the wrist: “Let’s move on.”

There are a number of Americans—fewer than 5 percent of Americans—who’ve got cut-rate plans that don’t offer real financial protection in the event of a serious illness or an accident. Remember, before the Affordable Care Act, these bad-apple insurers had free rein every single year to limit the care that you received, or use minor preexisting conditions to jack up your premiums or bill you into bankruptcy. So a lot of people thought they were buying coverage, and it turned out not to be so good.

Obama minimized both the number of people with cancelled plans—“only” a few million—and the quality of the coverage they held. The message was clear: You may think you had good health coverage, but I know better.

It’s Not About Health Care

Some people wonder why I continue to write about the well-heeled Obamacare supporters—including heads of exchanges—who refuse to buy Obamacare coverage for themselves. For a very simple reason: Those individuals, and Harris, and Obama’s remarks all get at the very same point. Obamacare, and single-payer coverage, aren’t really about health care—they’re about power.

Liberal elites consider themselves intellectually superior to the great unwashed masses, whom they must protect from themselves. That reasoning motivates Obamacare’s “consumer protections,” which act to prevent people from becoming consumers, because liberals don’t want individuals to buy health plans lacking all the features they consider “essential.”

An Ironic Campaign Start

The day before her CNN town hall, Harris launched her campaign in Oakland. At the event, which included her campaign slogan, “For the People,” Harris claimed she will “treat all people with dignity and respect.” In making those comments, Harris likely wanted to contrast herself with President Trump’s tone—his temperament, tweets, and so forth.

But one can make an equally compelling argument that Harris’ platform, and her comments one day later, belied her own rhetoric. Pledging to terminate the health coverage of nearly 300 million people might strike some as treating the American people with a distinct lack of respect.

While Democrats may want to make the 2020 campaign a referendum on Trump, elections also present voters with choices. If their party nominates a candidate who reprises liberals’ past mistakes of talking down to voters—“deplorables,” anyone?—they might face a second straight election night shocker.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Exclusive: Inside the Trump Administration’s Debate over Expanding Obamacare

Last August, I responded to a New York Times article indicating that some within the Trump administration wanted to give states additional flexibility to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Since then, those proposals have advanced, such that staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) believe that they have official sign-off from the president to put those proposals into place.

My conversations with half a dozen sources on Capitol Hill and across the administration in recent weeks suggest that the proposal continues to move through the regulatory process. However, my sources also described significant policy pitfalls that could spark a buzz-saw of opposition from both the left and the right.

The Times reported that some within the administration—including CMS Administrator Seema Verma and White House Domestic Policy Council Chairman Andrew Bremberg—have embraced the proposal. But if the plan overcomes what the Times characterized as a “furious” internal debate, it may face an even tougher reception outside the White House.

How It Would Work

After the Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion optional for states as part of its 2012 ruling upholding Obamacare’s individual mandate, the Obama administration issued guidance interpreting that ruling. While the court made expansion optional for states, the Obama administration made it an “all-or-nothing” proposition for them.

Under the 2012 guidance—which remains in effect—if states want to receive the enhanced 90 percent federal match associated with expansion, they must cover the entire expansion population—all able-bodied adults with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level (just under $35,000 for a family of four). If states expand only to some portion of the eligible population, they would only receive their regular Medicaid match of 50-76 percent, not the enhanced 90 percent match.

The Internal Debate

The August Times article indicated that, after considering partial expansion, the administration postponed any decision until after November’s midterm elections. Since that time, multiple sources disclosed to me a further meeting that took place on the topic in the Oval Office late last year. While the meeting was originally intended to provide an update for the president, CMS staff left that meeting thinking they had received the president’s sign-off to implement partial expansion.

Just before Christmas, during a meeting on an unrelated matter, a CMS staffer sounded me out on the proposal. The individual said CMS was looking for ways to help give states additional flexibility, particularly states hamstrung by initiatives forcing them to expand Medicaid. However, based on my other reporting, I believe that the conversation also represented an attempt to determine the level of conservative opposition to the public announcement of a decision CMS believes the president has already made.

Why Liberals Will Object

During my meeting, I asked the CMS staffer about the fiscal impacts of partial expansion. The staffer admitted that, as I had noted in my August article, exchange plans generally have higher costs than Medicaid coverage. Therefore, moving individuals from Medicaid to exchange coverage—and the federal government paying 100 percent of subsidy costs for exchange coverage, as opposed to 90 percent of Medicaid costs—will raise federal costs for every beneficiary who shifts coverage under partial expansion.

The Medicare actuary believes that the higher cost-sharing associated with exchange coverage will lead 30 percent of the target population—that is, individuals with incomes from 100-138 percent of poverty—to drop their exchange plan. Either beneficiaries will not be able to afford the premiums and cost-sharing, or they will not consider the coverage worth the money. And because 30 percent of the target population will drop coverage, the partial expansion change will save money in a given state—despite the fact that exchange coverage costs more than Medicaid on a per-beneficiary basis.

Why Conservatives Will Object

I immediately asked the CMS staffer an obvious follow-up question: Did the actuary consider whether partial expansion, by shifting the costs of expansion from the states to the federal government, would encourage more states to expand Medicaid? The staffer demurred, saying the actuary’s analysis focused on only one hypothetical state.

However, the CMS staffer did not tell me the entire story. Subsequent to my “official” meeting with that staffer, other sources privately confirmed that the actuary does believe that roughly 30 percent of the target population will drop coverage.

But these sources and others added that both the Medicare actuary and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agree that, notwithstanding the savings from current expansion states—savings associated with individuals dropping exchange coverage, as explained above—the partial expansion proposal will cost the federal government overall, because it will encourage more states to expand Medicaid.

For instance, the Council of Economic Advisers believes that spending on non-expansion states who use partial expansion as a reason to extend Medicaid to the able-bodied will have three times the deficit impact as the savings associated with states shifting from full to partial expansion.

Because the spending on new partial expansion states will overcome any potential savings from states shifting from full to partial expansion, the proposal, if adopted, would appreciably increase the deficit. While neither CBO nor the Medicare actuary have conducted an updated analysis since the election, multiple sources cited an approximate cost to the federal government on the order of $100-120 billion over the next decade.

One source indicated that the Medicare actuary’s analysis early last summer arrived at an overall deficit increase of $111 billion. The results of November’s elections—in which three non-expansion states voted to accept expansion due to ballot initiatives—might have reduced the cost of the administration’s proposal slightly, but likely did not change the estimate of a sizable deficit increase.

A net cost of upwards of $100 billion, notwithstanding potential coverage losses from individuals dropping exchange coverage in current expansion states, can only mean one thing. CBO and the Medicare actuary both believe that, by lowering the cost for states to expand, partial expansion will prompt major non-expansion states—such as Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina—to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Who Will Support This Proposal?

Based on the description of the scoring dynamic my sources described, partial expansion, if it goes forward, seems to have no natural political constituency. Red-state governors will support it, no doubt, for it allows them to offload much of their state costs associated with Medicaid expansion onto the federal government’s debt-laden dime. Once CMS approves one state’s partial expansion, the agency will likely have a line of Republican governors out its door looking to implement waivers of their own.

But it seems unlikely that Democratic-led states will follow suit. Indeed, the news that partial expansion would cause about 30 percent of the target population to drop their new exchange coverage could well prompt recriminations, investigations, and denunciations from Democrats in Congress and elsewhere. Because at least 3.1 million expansion beneficiaries live in states with Republican governors, liberals likely would object to the sizable number of these enrollees who could decide to drop coverage under partial expansion.

Conversely, conservatives will likely object to the high net cost associated with the proposal, notwithstanding the potential coverage losses in states that have already expanded. Some within the administration view Medicaid expansion, when coupled with proposals like work requirements, as a “conservative” policy. Other administration officials view expansion in all states as something approaching a fait accompli, and view partial expansion and similar proposals as a way to make the best of a bad policy outcome.

But Medicaid expansion by its very nature encourages states to discriminate against the most vulnerable in society, because it gives states a higher match for covering able-bodied adults than individuals with disabilities. In addition to objecting to a way partial expansion would increase government spending by approximately $100 billion, some conservatives would also raise fundamental objections to any policy changes that would encourage states to embrace Obamacare—and add even more able-bodied adults to the welfare rolls in the process.

Particularly given the Democratic takeover of the House last week, the multi-pronged opposition to this plan could prove its undoing. Democrats will have multiple venues available—from oversight through letters and subpoenae, to congressional hearings, to use of the Congressional Review Act to overturn any administration decisions outright—to express their opposition to this proposal.

A “strange bedfellows” coalition of liberals and conservatives outraged over the policy, but for entirely different reasons, could nix it outright. While some officials may not realize it at present, the administration may not only make a decision that conservatives will object to on policy grounds, they may end up in a political quagmire in the process.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.