Unanswered Questions on Single Payer

This month’s Democratic presidential debate will likely see a continued focus on the single-payer health care proposal endorsed by Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. But for all the general discussion — and pointed controversy — over single payer at prior debates, many unanswered questions remain. The moderators should ask Sanders and Warren about the specific details of their legislation, such as:

►Section 901(A) of the bill states that “no benefits shall be available under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act” — i.e., Medicare. And an analyst with the liberal Urban Institute has said that “you can call (the bill) many things — from ambitious to unrealistic. But please don’t call it Medicare.” Why do you insist on calling your proposal “Medicare for All” when it would bear little resemblance to the Medicare program and, in fact, would abolish it outright?

►You have claimed that single payer will make health care a human right. But the bill itself does not guarantee access to a doctor — it only guarantees that patients will have their care paid for if they can find a doctor or hospital willing to treat them. In fact, in 2005, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that “access to a waiting list is not access to health care,” because patients in that country’s single-payer system could not access care in a timely fashion. Why are you promising the American people access to care when your bill falls short of that promise?

►The Urban Institute estimated that a similar single-payer plan would raise national health care spending by $719.7 billion a year, because abolishing cost-sharing (e.g., deductibles, copayments, etc.) will increase demand for care. But the People’s Policy Project called Urban’s estimates “ridiculous,” because “there is still a hard limit to just how much health care can be performed because there are only so many doctors.” Which position do you agree with — the Urban Institute’s belief that individuals consuming more “free” health care will cause spending to rise, or the position that spending will not increase because at least some people who demand care will not be able to obtain it?

►Countries like Canada and Great Britain, both of which have single-payer health care systems, permit individuals to purchase private insurance if they wish — and many Canadians and Brits choose to do so. Why would you go beyond Canada, Britain and other countries to make private health insurance “unlawful” — and do you believe taking away individuals’ private insurance can pass constitutional muster with the Supreme Court?

►Four years ago, your Senate colleague Robert Menendez, D-N.J., was indicted for accepting nearly $1 million in gifts and favors from a Florida ophthalmologist. Menendez had tried to help that ophthalmologist — who was eventually convicted on 67 counts of defrauding Medicare — in a billing dispute with federal officials. Given this ethically questionable conduct by one of your own colleagues regarding the Medicare program, why does your legislation include no new provisions fighting fraud or corruption, even as it vastly expands the federal government’s power and scope?

►You have criticized President Donald Trump for his supposed attempts to “sabotage” the exchanges created under President Barack Obama’s health care law. How, then, would you stop a future Republican president from sabotaging a single-payer system when your legislation would vest more authority in the federal government than President Trump has?

Once Warren and Sanders finish answering these questions, the American people will likely recognize that, the senators’ claims to the contrary notwithstanding, single payer doesn’t represent a good answer for our health care system at all.

This post was originally published at USA Today.

“Cadillac Tax” Repeal “Deal” Is What’s Wrong with Washington

News articles over the weekend reported that Congress later this week may repeal would Obamacare taxes—the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health plans, and the medical device tax—as part of a larger spending bill. In reality, however, Democrats eventually agreed to repeal not one but two Obamacare industry taxes—the health insurer tax, which costs approximately $150 billion over a decade, along with the medical device tax—in exchange for repeal of the Cadillac tax, which labor unions want because of their cushy health insurance offerings.

According to The Hill:

On a separate front on ObamaCare, the spending deal repeals three major taxes that had helped fund the law’s coverage expansion. The deal will repeal a 40 percent tax on generous “Cadillac” health plans, the 2.3 percent medical device tax and the health insurance tax.

Those are major wins for the health insurance and medical device industries, which had long lobbied to lift those taxes. The Cadillac tax, in addition to providing about $200 billion in funding over 10 years, had been intended to help lower health care spending by incentivizing employers to lower costs to avoid hitting the tax.

On its face, the news sounds like a win for conservatives. Far from it. The way Congress has addressed these issues illustrates all the problems with politics, both procedural and substantive, in the nation’s capital.

Problem 1: Awful Process

Obvious considerations first: Congressional leaders in both parties want to enact the annual spending bills—which run thousands of pages, and spend trillions of dollars—before breaking for the Christmas holidays at week’s end. But congressional leaders only released text of the two bills publicly on Monday night, so there’s no way American citizens, let alone rank-and-file lawmakers, can digest it before Congress decides. As one lawmaker famously said:

The spending bills are 1,773 pages and 540 pages, respectively. (The health care provisions are in the larger of the two bills.) According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the repeal of the three health care taxes will cost the federal government $387 billion over ten years.

Nearly ten years after a Democratic-controlled Senate passed the massive Obamacare statute on Christmas Eve—laden with pork-barrel provisions like the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the “Louisiana Purchase,” and the “Gator Aid”—a Senate run by Republicans wants to pass a similarly pork-laden spending bill. It brings to mind the old adage attributed to former House Speaker Sam Rayburn: “There is no education in the second kick of a mule.”

President Trump has likewise confronted the problem of Congress passing huge spending bills on short notice before. When presented with a similarly massive—and pork-laden—omnibus bill in March 2018, he famously proclaimed “I will never sign another bill like this again.” Time will tell if he follows through on his promise, but Congress sure isn’t acting like they think he will.

Problem 2: Raising Health Care Costs

The “Cadillac tax” in particular represents one way to address the problem of ever-increasing health costs. Current law allows employers to offer tax-free health benefits to their workers without limit. This dynamic encourages firms to provide overly generous benefits to their employees, leading to the over-consumption of health care.

By encouraging employers and employees to consume health insurance, and thus health care, more wisely, the “Cadillac tax,” despite its flaws, should work to moderate the growth in health care costs. That is, if Congress ever allows it to take effect as scheduled.

As I noted earlier this year, the left has an easy “solution” to the problem of rising health care costs: Regulations and price controls designed to bring down costs through government fiat. These price controls will lead to consequences for our health system, of course—rationing of care most notably—but they do “work,” insofar as they will arbitrarily reduce health spending.

Conservatives who oppose government price controls should embrace solutions like the “Cadillac tax” (or something like it) as one way to slow the growth in health care spending—not least because Democrats enacted the tax as part of Obamacare. Instead, many conservative lawmakers appear poised to endorse its repeal, without an alternative strategy to control health costs instead, because they find it easier to pursue the path of least resistance.

Problem 3: Lack of Discipline

The Congressional Budget Office previously estimated that repealing the “Cadillac tax” would cost the government nearly $200 billion in revenue over a decade, and larger sums in the decades after that. How does Congress propose to replace that revenue? By repealing the medical device and health insurer taxes, of course!

Therein lies the problem in Congress: The current definition of a bipartisan “deal” occurs when both sides get what they want—at the expense of taxpayers, or more specifically future generations. One article notes that “in general medical device tax repeal is more of a priority of Republicans and ‘Cadillac tax’ repeal for Democrats.” That makes this agreement combining repeal of both taxes like an episode of “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” where everyone wins a car.

Except for one minor detail: Our country already faces $23 trillion in debt, and trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. The “deal” on these two taxes alone will increase that debt by another quarter-trillion dollars (give or take). That number doesn’t include the increased spending arising from Congress’ agreement to bust its spending caps, or all the other ancillary provisions (like a bailout for coal miners) hitching a ride on the “Christmas tree” omnibus.

At some point soon, Congress’ lack of discipline—its inability to say no to spending pledges our country cannot afford—will harm our economic growth and fiscal stability. At that point, the American people will realize that, by constantly trying to play Santa Claus, lawmakers have left a multi-trillion-dollar lump of coal to the next generation, in the form of our rapidly skyrocketing debt.

UPDATE: This post was edited after publication to reflect late-breaking developments concerning the omnibus spending bills.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Pete Buttigieg’s Plan to Tax the Middle Class

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg claimed last month that “everything that we have proposed has been paid for, and we have proposed no tax increase on the middle class.” The South Bend, Indiana mayor is incorrect on both counts: He hasn’t said how he’d pay for all his proposed spending. He has endorsed one explicit tax increase on the middle class, and his recent retirement plan provides an outline for another. Add it up, and middle-class workers could face a trillion dollars in new taxes.

To support family caregivers, Mr. Buttigieg’s retirement plan restated his prior commitment to enact “an enhanced version of the Family Act,” which would provide 12 weeks of subsidized family leave. The candidate has yet to specify how exactly he would “enhance” the Family Act. But that legislation, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), pays for its new benefit by raising payroll taxes by 0.2% of income.

Mr. Buttigieg’s retirement plan also contains several new spending proposals, including a long-term care entitlement. He says the program would make benefits available to people over 65 and would “kick in after an income-related waiting period.” His plan cites two white papers as examples of “similar programs” proposed by scholars.

Mr. Buttigieg fails to note how both white papers propose to pay for the new benefits. In the first paper, the Long-Term Care Financing Collaborative envisions a program “fully financed by a dedicated revenue source,” including a payroll tax, “an explicit income tax surcharge, or other dedicated tax.”

The second paper, written by researchers affiliated with the Urban Institute, contains several policy details Mr. Buttigieg adopted, including waiting periods for wealthier people to qualify. That paper also proposes a specific funding source: “an additional tax of about 1.0 percent of earned Medicare-covered income.” In other words, an increase in the payroll tax—a tax increase on the middle class.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated last December that a one percentage point increase in the Medicare tax rate would raise $898.3 billion over a decade. If Mr. Buttigieg intends to fund his new long-term care program via the payroll tax, that tax increase, coupled with the 0.2% payroll tax hike in the Family Act he has already endorsed, would bring total payroll-tax increases to more than $1 trillion.

If Mr. Buttigieg doesn’t want to fund his long-term-care entitlement with the payroll-tax increase proposed in a paper his campaign cited, he should explain where that money will come from. His own claims notwithstanding, Mr. Buttigieg’s candidacy has lacked fiscal candor. His campaign told the Indianapolis Star last month that it had proposed $5.7 trillion in spending to that point, but cited a total of only $5.1 trillion in tax increases and savings.

Mr. Buttigieg’s retirement-security plan has since added other spending proposals with no mention of a funding source. There’s his plan to make those receiving Social Security disability benefits immediately eligible for Medicare, which will likely cost more than $100 billion. There’s his new requirement for state Medicaid programs to cover community-based services as a mandatory benefit, along with mandates on nursing homes—including a $15 minimum wage and higher staffing ratios—which will raise Medicaid spending.

Mr. Buttigieg called Elizabeth Warren “extremely evasive” for her answers on single-payer health care, saying, “I think that if you are proud of your plan and it’s the right plan, you should defend it in straightforward terms. And I think it’s puzzling that when everybody knows the answer to that question of whether her plan . . . will raise middle class taxes is ‘Yes.’ Why wouldn’t you just say so, and then explain why you think that’s the better way forward?” He should follow his own advice.

This post was originally published at The Wall Street Journal.

Warren’s Prescription the Wrong One

In an October analysis the Urban Institute concluded that a single-payer plan, similar to Sen. Warren’s, which eliminates virtually all patient cost-sharing, would raise national health spending by more than 20%, or $719.7 billion a year. In the researchers’ view, the additional demand stimulated by making health care “free” to consumers would overwhelm any potential savings from paying doctors and hospitals government-dictated rates. This higher demand would also raise the cost of single-payer well beyond Sen. Warren’s estimates, meaning middle-class families would face massive tax increases to pay for this spending.

That Prof. Johnson would cite the Urban Institute to argue that Sen. Warren’s plan would lower health-care costs, while ignoring the fact that the institute itself reached the opposite conclusion, speaks to the cherry-picked nature of the proposal, which has drawn derision from liberals and conservatives alike.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal.

The Costs of “Free” Health Care

Libertarian columnist P.J. O’Rourke once famously claimed that “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.” A left-of-center think-tank recently confirmed O’Rourke’s assertion. In analyzing several health care proposals, the Urban Institute demonstrated how eliminating patient cost-sharing from a single-payer system would raise total health care spending by nearly $1 trillion per year.

Those estimates have particular resonance given the recent release of a health care “plan” (such as it is) by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Warren’s policy proposals contain myriad gimmicks and rosy scenarios, all designed to hide the obvious fact that one cannot impose a $30 trillion-plus program on the federal government without asking middle-class families to paya lot—for its cost.

The Urban Institute estimates show that a single-payer plan maintaining some forms of patient cost-sharing (i.e., deductibles, co-payments, etc.) seems far more feasible—or less unfeasible—than the approach of Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who promise unlimited “free” health care for everyone. Mind you, I would still oppose such a plan—for its limits on patient choice, economically damaging tax increases, and likelihood of government rationing—but at least it would have the advantage of being mathematically possible. Not so with Sanders’ and Warren’s current approach.

Option 1: An Obamacare-Like Single-Payer Plan

In the October policy paper, several Urban researchers examined the financial effects of various health coverage proposals, including two hypothetical single-payer systems. The first single-payer system would cover all individuals legally present in the United States. Urban modeled this system to cover all benefits required under Obamacare, and fund 80 percent of Americans’ expected health costs per year, equivalent to a Gold plan on the Obamacare exchanges. Americans would still pay the other 20 percent of health spending out-of-pocket.

This proposed “lite” single-payer system would still require massive tax increases—from $1.4-$1.5 trillion per year. But it would actually reduce total health spending by an estimated $209.5 billion compared to the status quo.

This single-payer system generates calculated savings because Urban assumed the plan would pay doctors current rates under the Medicare program, and pay hospitals 115 percent of current Medicare rates. Because Medicare pays medical providers less than private insurers, moving all patients to these lower rates would reduce doctors’ and hospitals’ pay—which could lead to pay and job cuts for health professionals. But in the Urban researchers’ estimates, it would lower health spending overall.

Option 2: ‘Free’ Health Care Costs a Lot of Money

Compare these outcomes to a proposal closely modeled on the single-payer legislation supported by Sanders and Warren. Unlike the first proposal, this “enhanced” single-payer system would cover “all medically necessary care,” with “no premiums or cost-sharing requirements.” It would also enroll all U.S. residents, including an estimated 10.8 million illegally present foreign citizens.

The Urban researchers found that the single-payer plan with no cost-sharing would raise total health spending by $719.7 billion compared to the status quo. Compared to the “single-payer lite” plan, which provides benefits roughly equivalent to Obamacare, eliminating cost-sharing and covering foreign citizens would raise total health spending by $929.2 billion. Moreover, the plan with no cost-sharing requires a tax increase nearly double that of the “single-payer lite” plan—a whopping $2.7-$2.8 trillion per year.

The Urban Institute estimates confirm that making all health care “free,” as Sanders and Warren propose, would cause an enormous increase in the demand for care. This would overwhelm any potential savings from lower payments to doctors and hospitals, meaning the health sector would face a double-whammy, of getting paid less to do more work. These estimates also could underestimate the growth in health spending, because Urban’s researchers did not assume a rise in medical tourism or immigration when calculating the increase in demand for “free” health care.

Socialists’ ‘Solution’: Hold Costs Down by Rationing

Socialist supporters of Sanders’ plan attacked these estimates, claiming that the Urban Institute failed to consider that a single-payer system would ration access to “free” health care. The People’s Policy Project called Urban’s estimates of increased demand “ridiculous,” in part because “there is still a hard limit to just how much health care can be performed because there are only so many doctors and only so many facilities.”

Its position echoes that of the socialist magazine Jacobin, which in response to a single-payer study by the Mercatus Center last year admitted that “aggregate health service utilization is ultimately dependent on the capacity to provide services, meaning utilization could hit a hard limit.”

An increase in health spending of nearly $1 trillion per year, and increased waiting times and rationed access to care: either or both of those scenarios represent the costs of “free” health care, based on the words of leftists themselves. The prospect of either scenario should make Americans reject this socialist approach.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Warren Advisor Admits Her Health Plan Raises Middle Class Taxes

That didn’t last long. Five days after Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a health plan (chock full of gimmicks) that she claimed would not raise taxes on the middle class, one of the authors of that plan contradicted her claims.

In an interview with Axios published on Wednesday, but which took place before the plan’s release, Warren advisor and former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Donald Berwick said the following:

Q: Many people may not know their employers cover 70% or more of their entire premium — money that otherwise would go to their pay. Is this the main problem when talking about reforms?

DB: The basics are not that complicated. Every single dollar — every nickel spent on health care in this country — is coming from workers. There’s no other source. [Emphasis mine.]

Compare that phraseology to what Joe Biden’s campaign spokesperson said on Friday about Warren’s plan and its effects:

For months, Elizabeth Warren has refused to say if her health care plan would raise taxes on the middle class, and now we know why: Because it does….Senator Warren would place a new tax of nearly $9 trillion that will fall on American workers. [Emphasis mine.]

In response to the Biden campaign’s criticism, Warren said last Friday that her health plan’s projections “were authenticated by President Obama’s head of Medicare”—meaning Berwick. Unfortunately for Warren, Berwick, by virtue of his comments in his interview with Axios, also “authenticated” Biden’s attack that her required employer contribution will hit workers, and thus middle-class families.

Warren also tried to defend her plan on Friday by claiming that “the employer contribution is already part of” Obamacare. Obamacare does include an employer contribution requirement, but that requirement:

  • Is capped at no more than $3,000 per worker, far less than the average employer contribution for workers’ health coverage—$14,561 for family coverage as of 2019— which will form the initial basis of Warren’s required employer contribution;
  • Does not apply to employers at all if the firm offers “affordable” coverage—an option not available under Warren’s plan, which would make private insurance coverage “unlawful;” and
  • Will raise an estimated $74 billion in the coming decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office—less than 1 percent of the $8.8 trillion Warren claims her required employer contribution would raise.

While Obamacare and Warrencare both have employer contributions, the similarities pretty much end there. Calling the two equal would equate a log cabin to Buckingham Palace. Sure, they’re both houses, but differ greatly in size. Warren’s “contribution”—which Berwick, her advisor, admits will fall on middle-class workers—stands orders of magnitude greater than anything in Obamacare.

Public Accountability?

In the same Axios interview, Berwick highlighted what he termed a tradeoff “between public accountability and private accountability.” He continued: “By not having a publicly accountable system, we are paying an enormous price in lack of transparency.”

His comments echo prior justification of his infamous “rationing with our eyes open” quote in a 2009 interview. As he explained to The New York Times as he departed CMS in late 2011, “Someone, like your health insurance company, is going to limit what you can get….The government, unlike many private health insurance plans, is working in the daylight. That’s a strength.”

Except that Berwick, as CMS administrator, went to absurd lengths to hide from public scrutiny after his series of remarks. He would gladly meet with health-care lobbyists behind closed doors, but refused to answer questions from reporters, going so far as to duck behind curtains and request security escorts to avoid doing so.

Warren apparently has taken a lesson in opacity from Berwick’s time as CMS administrator. At first, she avoided releasing a specific health care proposal at all, only to follow up by issuing a “plan” containing so many absurd assumptions as to render it irrelevant as a serious blueprint for legislating.

Unfortunately for her, however, Berwick committed the unforgivable sin of speaking an inconvenient truth about the effects of her proposal. Eight years after leaving office as CMS administrator, Berwick, however belated and however unwittingly, delivered some much-needed public accountability for Warren’s health plan.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Analyzing the Gimmicks in Warren’s Health Care Plan

Six weeks ago, this publication published “Elizabeth Warren Has a Plan…For Avoiding Your Health Care Questions.” That plan came to fruition last Friday, when Warren released a paper (and two accompanying analyses) claiming that she can fund her single-payer health care program without raising taxes on the middle class.

Both her opponents in the Democratic presidential primary and conservative commentators immediately criticized Warren’s plan for the gimmicks and assumptions used to arrive at her estimate. Her paper claims she can reduce the 10-year cost of single payer—the amount of new federal revenues needed to fund the program, over and above the dollars already spent on health care (e.g., existing federal spending on Medicare, Medicaid, etc.)—from $34 trillion in an October Urban Institute estimate to only $20.5 trillion. On top of this 40 percent reduction in the cost of single payer, Warren claims she can raise the $20.5 trillion without a middle-class tax increase.

In Fourth Dem Debate, Warren Maintains Her Health Care Evasion

On Tuesday, Sen. Sherrod Brown—a notable leftist who has said he supports a single-payer health care system in theory—said in a CNN story that “it’s a terrible mistake if the Democratic nominee would publicly support ‘Medicare for All.’” On Tuesday evening, two of the party’s leading contenders for that nomination, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, redoubled their commitment to such a policy, with Warren drawing fire from all sides about her lack of detail surrounding the issue.

As she had in previous debates, Warren refused to get into specifics about how she would pay for the single-payer plan that Sanders has introduced as legislation, and which Warren has endorsed. Sanders has previously admitted that taxes on the middle class would go up under his plan.

Warren would not admit that taxes on the middle class would go up under single payer. She claimed that costs for the middle class would go down on net under her plan, and that she would not sign any legislation that raised costs on the middle class.

However, even this supposed promise raised additional questions:

  1. Who qualifies as middle class in Warren’s estimation? A family making under $50,000, a family making under $250,000, or somewhere in between?
  2. Does Warren’s promise mean that no middle-class families will see their costs go up on net? If so, that seems like an impossibly high bar to clear, as virtually every major law creates both winners and losers. Even though the left tries to turn the federal government into another version of “Oprah’s Finest Things”—“You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!”—it rarely works out that way in practice.
  3. In September 2008, Barack Obama made a “firm pledge” that he would not raise taxes on families making under $250,000 per year—“not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.” That promise lasted for less than a month of his administration. On February 4, 2009, two weeks after taking office, Obama signed a children’s health insurance reauthorization that included a large increase in tobacco taxes—taxes that hit working class families hardest. Given how quickly Obama did an about-face on his campaign promise, why should the American people take Warren’s word any more seriously than they did Obama’s “firm pledge?”

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also chimed in on the funding discussion. He had previously characterized Warren as “extremely evasive” on the issue during the last debate, and released ads prior to this debate questioning Warren’s and Sanders’ proposals to prohibit private health insurance. During the CNN debate, he pressed both issues, noting (as this commentator has) that Warren has “a plan for everything, except this.” With that, Warren derided Pete’s plan as “Medicare for all who can afford it.”

It seems particularly noteworthy that Warren wants to enact a major expansion of the federal government’s role—the largest expansion of government’s role ever, in both its financial scope and massive reach into every American’s life—yet cannot find a sufficient justification to admit the middle class will pay even a little bit more in taxes to fund this socialist utopia. The former speaks volumes about the left’s ultimate objective—full, unfettered power over the economy—and the latter speaks to the deception they are using to obtain it.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

The Broken Promises of Louisiana’s Medicaid Expansion

Some in Louisiana want to claim that the state’s expansion of Medicaid to able-bodied adults represents a success story. The facts indicate otherwise. Medicaid expansion has resulted in large costs to taxpayers, significant amounts of waste, fraud, and abuse, and tens of thousands of able-bodied adults shifting from private coverage to government insurance—even while individuals with disabilities continue to wait for care. On issue after issue, Medicaid expansion has massively under-performed its sponsors’ own promises:

The Issue: Enrollment

The Claim: “The Department [of Health] had originally based its projections based on U.S. Census data that counted about 306,000 people as uninsured.” – New Orleans Times-Picayune[1]

The Facts:

  • Even though the Department of Health tried to increase its projected enrollment numbers as soon as it made its first estimate, the expansion population has soared well past even these higher claims.[2]
  • As of April 2019, 505,503 individuals had enrolled in Medicaid expansion—65.2% higher than the Department’s original estimate, and 12.3% higher than the Department’s revised enrollment estimate of 450,000 individuals.[3]
  • Medicaid enrollment has declined slightly since April 2019, but only because the Department of Health removed tens of thousands of ineligible individuals from the rolls that were receiving benefits they likely did not deserve.[4]
  • In the spring of 2019, the Department of Health commissioned several LSU researchers to project Medicaid enrollment in future years. The researchers concluded that participation in Medicaid expansion would bounce back from recent enrollment declines to reach an all-time high this year of 512,142 individuals. The researchers also concluded that Medicaid expansion enrollment would continue to increase in future years. Despite spending a total of $71,120 of federal and state taxpayer dollars on this report, the Department of Health has yet to release it publicly.[5]
  • The fact that the Department of Health cited Louisiana’s uninsured population as only 306,000, and yet enrollment has far exceeded that number, further demonstrates that Medicaid expansion has led residents to drop their private insurance to go on to the government rolls—and encouraged people who do not qualify for subsidized coverage to apply anyway.[6]

The Issue: Costs and Spending

The Claim: “In Fiscal Year 2017, Medicaid expansion saved Louisiana $199 million. Beginning July 1, 2017, these savings are expected to surpass $350 million.” – John Bel Edwards[7]

The Facts:

  • Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion has cost far more than expected, placing a higher burden on taxpayers.
  • In 2015, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that expansion would cost around $7.1 billion-$8 billion over five years, or approximately $1.2 billion-$1.4 billion per year.[8]
  • For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019, Medicaid expansion cost taxpayers an estimated $3.1 billion—more than twice the Legislative Fiscal Office’s original estimates.[9]
  • Because most Louisiana residents also pay federal taxes, shifting spending from the state to the federal government does not “save” Louisianans money. Rather, it means Louisiana taxpayers will continue to pay for this skyrocketing spending, just through their federal tax payments instead of their state tax bills.

The Issue: Fraud

The Claim: “Louisiana Medicaid is tough on fraud….When it comes to getting tough on Medicaid fraud, Louisiana is among an elite group of states leading the way by doing the right thing.” – John Bel Edwards[10]

The Facts:

  • Because Louisiana rushed its way into Medicaid expansion without first building a proper eligibility system, the state has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars providing subsidized health insurance to ineligible individuals.
  • More than a year after Gov. Edwards made his claim about Medicaid fraud, the Legislative Auditor found that numerous individuals with incomes well above the maximum eligibility thresholds had applied for, and received, subsidized Medicaid benefits.[11] One household sampled in the audit claimed income of $145,146—more than Gov. Edwards’ annual salary of $130,000.[12]
  • Belatedly, the Department of Health finally removed approximately 30,000 ineligible individuals from the Medicaid rolls, including 1,672 individuals with incomes of over $100,000.[13]
  • The Medicaid program spent approximately $400 million less in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019, in large part due to the disenrollments—suggesting that in prior years, Louisiana taxpayers had spent hundreds of millions per year providing subsidized health coverage to ineligible individuals.[14]

The Issue: Efficient Use of Taxpayer Dollars

The Claim: “I know that any misspent dollar is one that could have paid for health care services for those truly in need. My top priority is to ensure every dollar spent goes toward providing health care to people who need it most.” – Health Secretary Rebekah Gee[15]

The Facts:

  • Internal records indicate that Secretary Gee’s own Department knew that tens of thousands of individuals were dropping private coverage to enroll in government-run Medicaid—yet did little about it.
  • For much of 2016 and 2017, the Louisiana Department of Health compiled data indicating that several thousand individuals per month dropped their existing health coverage to enroll in Medicaid expansion.[16]
  • At the end of 2017, the Department of Health stopped compiling data on the number of people dropping private coverage, claiming the data were inaccurate. However, the Department’s stated reasoning for its action suggests that, to the extent the data were inaccurate, they likely under-estimated the number of people dropping private coverage to enroll in Medicaid.[17]
  • Based on the program’s average cost per enrollee, Medicaid has paid hundreds of millions of dollars per year subsidizing the coverage of people who previously had health insurance.[18] This spending comes over and above taxpayer dollars paid to cover individuals ineligible for benefits, as outlined above.

The Issue: Uncompensated Care

The Claim: “Disproportionate share payments to hospitals have decreased as the uninsured population decreased.” – Louisiana Department of Health[19]

The Facts:

  • Uncompensated care payments to hospitals have remained broadly flat since expansion took effect, and by some measures have actually increased.
  • During the three fiscal years prior to expansion, the state paid an average of $1,039,444,880 to Medicaid providers for uncompensated care—$1,011,324,118 in Fiscal Year 2014, $1,000,502,910 in Fiscal Year 2015, and $1,106,507,612 in Fiscal Year 2016.[20]
  • In the fiscal year ended on June 30, 2019, Medicaid spent an estimated $1,056,458,352 on uncompensated care payments—greater than the average spent on uncompensated care in the three years prior to expansion.[21]
  • The meager $50 million in uncompensated care savings between Fiscal Year 2016 and Fiscal Year 2019 does not even begin to match the more than $3.1 billion annual cost to taxpayers of expansion.[22]
  • Even if the Department of Health wants to claim the modest reduction in uncompensated care from Fiscal Year 2016 to Fiscal Year 2019 as “savings,” that means the Medicaid program is spending approximately $62.03 for every dollar it “saves” in uncompensated care payments.

The Issue: Jobs

The Claim: “An analysis by LSU estimates that Medicaid expansion created more than 19,000 jobs and generated $3.5 billion in economic activity in 2017 alone.” – Health Secretary Rebekah Gee[23]

The Facts:

  • Since Medicaid expansion took effect in July 2016, Louisiana’s economy has created only 2,700 jobs—less than one-seventh of the jobs the LSU study claimed expansion would create.
  • In June 2016, the month before expansion took effect, Louisiana’s non-farm payrolls totaled 1,979,100.[24] According to federal data, as of July 2019 Louisiana’s non-farm payrolls now stand at 1,981,800—a meager increase over more than three years.[25]
  • One year before expansion took effect, in July 2015, Louisiana had nearly 10,000 more jobs (1,991,500) than it does today (1,981,800).[26]
  • Since Medicaid expansion took effect, the total labor force within the state has declined by more than 65,000 individuals, or more than 3%—from 2,161,299 in June 2016 to 2,095,844 today.[27]
  • Within days of the LSU report’s release in April 2018, the Pelican Institute published a rebuttal demonstrating that the LSU researchers likely omitted key facts in their calculations, which meant the study made inaccurate and inflated claims about the fiscal impact of Medicaid expansion.[28]
  • Following an exhaustive series of public records requests with LSU, the university finally admitted that the researchers did indeed omit a key data source from their calculations, leading to inflated claims in their study.[29] While the researchers conceded in one document that their 2018 report “overstate[d] the economic impact of” Medicaid expansion, they have yet to admit this error publicly, and the Department of Health has refused to release the document in which they admitted their error.[30]

The Issue: Vulnerable Individuals Waiting for Care

The Claim: “It’s inconvenient that the facts don’t follow this story. [The Department of Health] ended the wait list for disabilities last year in partnership with the disability community. #Fakenews.” – Health Secretary Rebekah Gee[31]

The Facts:

  • While the Department of Health may have changed the name from a “waiting list” to a “Request for Services Registry,” nearly 15,000 vulnerable individuals continue to wait for access to care.
  • The Department of Health’s own website regarding waiver services includes the following passage: “Waiver services are dependent upon funding, and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis through the Request for Services Registry.”[32] The reference to “first-come, first-served” consideration for waiver applicants clearly indicates that vulnerable individuals continue to wait for care.
  • According to information provided by the Department of Health in response to a public records request, as of May 2019 a total of 14,984 individuals were on the “Request for Services Registry.”[33]
  • Since Medicaid expansion took effect in Louisiana, at least 5,534 individuals with disabilities have died while on waiting lists to access care—more than one-quarter of the at least 21,904 individuals with disabilities nationwide who have died while waiting for services under Medicaid expansion.[34]
  • By giving states a greater federal matching rate to cover able-bodied adults than individuals with disabilities, Obamacare has encouraged state Medicaid programs to discriminate against the most vulnerable individuals in our society.[35]

Medicaid expansion has singularly failed to its advocates’ own promises of success. Louisiana should begin the process of unwinding this failed experiment, and put into practice reforms that can reduce the cost of care for beneficiaries, while focusing Medicaid on the vulnerable populations for which it was originally designed.[36]

 

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Healthy Louisiana Dashboard, http://www.ldh.la.gov/HealthyLaDashboard/; Kevin Litten, “Louisiana’s Medicaid Expansion Enrollment.”

[4] Sheridan Wall, “GOP Legislators Renew Attacks on Medicaid Management as Data Emerges on Misspending,” Daily Advertiser April 9, 2019, https://www.theadvertiser.com/story/news/local/louisiana/2019/04/09/gop-legislators-renew-attacks-medicaid-management-data-emerges-misspending/3418133002/.

[5] Chris Jacobs, “The Report the Department of Health Doesn’t Want You to Read,” Pelican Institute, September 26, 2019, https://pelicaninstitute.org/blog/the-report-the-department-of-health-doesnt-want-you-to-read/.

[6] Chris Jacobs, “What You Need to Know about Medicaid Crowd-Out,” Pelican Institute, May 20, 2019, https://pelicaninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/PEL_MedicaidCrowdOut_WEB-2.pdf.

[7] Louisiana Department of Health, “Louisiana Medicaid Expansion 2016-2017 Annual Report,” http://ldh.la.gov/assets/HealthyLa/Resources/MdcdExpnAnnlRprt_2017_WEB.pdf, p. 2.

[8] Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office, Fiscal Note on HCR 3 (2015 Regular Session), http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=942163.

[9] Louisiana Department of Health, “Medicaid Forecast Report: May 2019,” June 10, 2019, http://www.ldh.la.gov/assets/medicaid/forecast/FY19MedicaidForecast-may2019.pdf, Table 3, Expenditure Forecast by Category of Service, p. 2.

[10] Louisiana Department of Health, “Louisiana Medicaid Expansion 2016-2017 Annual Report,” p. 7.

[11] Louisiana Legislative Auditor, “Medicaid Eligibility: Wage Verification Process of the Expansion Population,” November 8, 2018, https://lla.la.gov/PublicReports.nsf/1CDD30D9C8286082862583400065E5F6/$FILE/0001ABC3.pdf.

[12] Ibid., Appendix E, Targeted Selection Individual Medicaid Recipient Cases, pp. 27-29.

[13] Sheridan Wall, “GOP Legislators Renew Attacks on Medicaid Management.”

[14] Melinda Deslatte, “Louisiana Medicaid Spending $400M Less Than Expected,” Associated Press June 12, 2019, https://www.nola.com/news/2019/06/louisiana-medicaid-spending-400m-less-than-expected.html.

[15] Rebekah Gee, “Medicaid Expansion, Fighting Fraud, Equally Important,” Daily Advertiser April 21, 2019, https://www.theadvertiser.com/story/opinion/editorial/2019/04/21/medicaid-expansion-fighting-fraud-equally-imoportant/3534502002/.

[16] Chris Jacobs, “What You Need to Know about Medicaid Crowd-Out.”

[17] Chris Jacobs, “Medicaid Expansion Has Louisianans Dropping Their Private Plans,” Wall Street Journal June 8, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/medicaid-expansion-has-louisianans-dropping-their-private-plans-11559944048.

[18] Chris Jacobs, “What You Need to Know about Medicaid Crowd-Out.”

[19] Louisiana Department of Health, “Louisiana Medicaid Expansion 2016-2017 Annual Report,” p. 7.

[20] Louisiana Department of Health, “Louisiana Medicaid 2016 Annual Report,” http://ldh.la.gov/assets/medicaid/AnnualReports/2016AnnualReport.pdf, Table 3, Medicaid Vendor Payments for Budget Programs by State Fiscal Year, p. 5.

[21] Louisiana Department of Health, “Medicaid Forecast Report: May 2019,” Table 2, Expenditure Forecast by Budget Program, p. 1.

[22] Ibid, Table 3, Expenditure Forecast by Budget Category of Service, p. 2.

[23] Rebekah Gee, “Medicaid Expansion, Fighting Fraud, Equally Important.”

[24] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Regional and State Employment and Unemployment—July 2016,” August 19, 2016, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/laus_08192016.pdf, Table 5: Employees on Non-Farm Payrolls by State and Selected Industry Sector, Seasonally Adjusted, p. 13. The report for July 2016 reflects final (as opposed to preliminary) data for the June 2016 period.

[25] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Regional and State Employment and Unemployment—August 2019,” September 20, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/laus_09202019.pdf, Table 3: Employees on Non-Farm Payrolls by State and Selected Industry Sector, Seasonally Adjusted, p. 10. The report for August 2019 reflects final (as opposed to preliminary) data for July 2019.

[26] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Regional and State Employment and Unemployment—July 2016,” Table 5, p. 13.

[27] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Regional and State Employment and Unemployment—July 2016,” Table 3, Civilian Labor Force and Unemployment by State and Selected Area, Seasonally Adjusted, p. 11; Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Regional and State Employment and Unemployment—August 2019,” Table 1, Civilian Labor Force and Unemployment by State and Selected Area, Seasonally Adjusted, p. 8.

[28] Chris Jacobs, “Why Expanding Louisiana’s Program to Able-Bodied Adults Hurts the Economy,” Pelican Institute, April 17, 2018, https://pelicaninstitute.org/policy-brief-debunking-pro-medicaid-report/.

[29] Chris Jacobs, “LSU, Department of Health Inflate Claims in Medicaid Expansion Studies,” Houma Today July 27, 2019, https://www.houmatoday.com/news/20190727/opinion-lsu-department-of-health-inflate-claims-in-medicaid-expansion-studies.

[30] Louisiana State University response to Pelican Institute Public Records Act request, September 23, 2019.

[31] @rebekahgeemd, May 20, 2019, https://twitter.com/rebekahgeemd/status/1130459486307667968.

[32] Louisiana Department of Health Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, “Waiver Services,” http://www.ldh.la.gov/index.cfm/page/142, accessed June 15, 2019.

[33] Louisiana Department of Health, response to Pelican Institute Public Records Act request, May 21, 2019.

[34] Nicholas Horton, “Waiting for Help: The Medicaid Waiting List Crisis,” Foundation for Government Accountability, March 6, 2018, https://thefga.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/WAITING-FOR-HELP-The-Medicaid-Waiting-List-Crisis-07302018.pdf.

[35] 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.

[36] Chris Jacobs, “Reforming Medicaid in Louisiana,” Pelican Institute, January 30, 2018, https://pelicaninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/PEL_MedicaidPaper_FINAL_WEB.pdf.

Third Dem Debate Leaves Major Health Care Questions Unanswered

For more than two hours Thursday night in Houston, 10 presidential candidates responded to questions in the latest Democratic debate. On health care, however, most of those responses didn’t include actual answers.

As in the past several contests, health care led off the debate discussion, and took a familiar theme: former vice president Joe Biden attacked his more liberal opponents for proposing costly policies, and they took turns bashing insurance companies to avoid explaining the details behind their proposals. Among the topics discussed during the health care portion of the debate are the following.

How Much—and Who Pays?

The problems, as Biden and other Democratic critics pointed out: First, it’s virtually impossible to pay for a single-payer health care system costing $30-plus trillion without raising taxes on the middle class. Second, even though Sanders has proposed some tax increases on middle class Americans, he hasn’t proposed nearly enough to pay for the full cost of his plan.

Third, a 2016 analysis by a former Clinton administration official found that, if Sanders did use tax increases to pay for his entire plan, 71 percent of households would become worse off under his plan compared to the status quo. All of this might explain why Sanders has yet to ask the Congressional Budget Office for a score of his single-payer legislation: He knows the truth about the cost of his bill—but doesn’t want the public to find out.

Keep Your Insurance, or Your Doctor?

Believe it or not, Biden once again repeated the mantra that got his former boss Barack Obama in trouble, claiming that if people liked their current insurance, they could keep it under his plan. In reality, however, Biden’s plan would likely lead millions to lose their current coverage; one 2009 estimate concluded that a proposal similar to Biden’s would see a reduction in private coverage of 119.1 million Americans.

For his part, Sanders and Warren claimed that while private insurance would go away under a single-payer plan, people would still have the right to retain their current doctors and medical providers. Unfortunately, however, they can no more promise that than Biden can promise people can keep their insurance. Doctors would have many reasons to drop out of a government-run health plan, or leave medicine altogether, including more work, less pay, and more burdensome government regulations.

Supporting Obamacare (Sometimes)

While attacking Sanders’ plan as costly and unrealistic, Biden also threw shade in Warren’s direction. Alluding to the fact that the Massachusetts senator has yet to come up with a health plan of her own, Biden noted that “I know that the senator says she’s for Bernie. Well, I’m for Barack.”

Biden’s big problem: He wasn’t for Obamacare—at least not for paying for it. As I have previously noted, Biden and his wife Jill specifically structured their business dealings to avoid paying nearly $500,000 in self-employment taxes—taxes that fund both Obamacare and Medicare.

A March to Government-Run Care

I’ll give the last word to my former boss, who summed up the “contrasts” among Democrats on health care.

As I have previously noted, even the “moderate” proposals would ultimately sabotage private coverage, driving everyone into a government-run system. And the many unanswered questions that Democratic candidates refuse to answer about that government-run health system provide reason enough for the American people to reject all the proposals on offer.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.