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.

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.

Why Single-Payer Advocates Demonize Opponents of Government-Run Health Care

Earlier this summer, I wrote an article, based upon research for my forthcoming book, outlining the ways a single-payer health care system will lead to greater fraud and corruption. That afternoon, I received the following message—sent not just once, but four separate times—in my firm’s e-mail inbox:

Just finished reading the fear mongering article that Chris wrote for RCP. I am looking forward to reading and refuting his book on ‘single payer’. Id love to know which insurance companies own his arse via monetary payments. It’s obvious by Chris’ lack of salient facts regarding single payer that he is owned by some corporation. Since RCP only makes it look like others can comment you were spared from me systematically destroying your BS with the real facts of health care. In closing, go [f-ck] yourself you corporate [b-tch].

Whether in vulgar e-mails, Twitter rants, or blog posts, single payer supporters often start out by assuming that anyone opposed to socialized medicine must by definition have received some sort of payoff from drug companies or insurance companies. Even in my case, however, that claim has very little validity. More importantly, calling anyone opposed to single payer a corporate shill patronizes and insults the American people—the same people whose support they need to enact the proposal in the first place.

Take Me as an Example

If folks want to play “Gotcha” games with this nugget, they can—and some will—but there’s much less to this history than meets the eye. For starters, I took the lobbying job when I was aged 24, a little over a year out of grad school, and for the princely salary of…$39,000 per year. I never made six figures as a registered lobbyist—not even close, actually—and earned less in three and a half years as a registered lobbyist than most actual lobbyists make in one.

To be honest, I did little actual lobbying. My inclusion on the list of registered lobbyists represented more of an abundance of caution by my firm than anything else. (Under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act, individuals do not have to register as a lobbyist if fewer than 20 percent of their hours are spent in paid lobbying activities.)

I prepared memos ahead of lobbying meetings, and drafted letters following those meetings, but precious little beyond that. After three years, I left to go back to Capitol Hill in a more senior role, where I had wanted to work all along.

More to the point: I haven’t taken a dime of support from corporate interests to shill for their positions—and I won’t, period. My views and reputation are not for sale. They’re not even for rent.

Don’t Insult the American People

Even Ezra Klein, of all people, acknowledged Americans’ deep resistance to change regarding health care. In a July article analyzing whether individuals can keep their health insurance—an issue that has tripped up Kamala Harris, among others, during the Democratic presidential campaign—Klein asked some pertinent questions:

If the private insurance market is such a nightmare, why is the public so loath to abandon it? Why have past reformers so often been punished for trying to take away what people have and replace it with something better?…

Risk aversion [in health policy] is real, and it’s dangerous. Health reformers don’t tiptoe around it because they wouldn’t prefer to imagine bigger, more ambitious plans. They tiptoe around it because they have seen its power to destroy even modest plans. There may be a better strategy than that. I hope there is. But it starts with taking the public’s fear of dramatic change seriously, not trying to deny its power.

Yet, judging from the amount of times Bernie Sanders attacks “millionaires and billionaires” in his campaign speeches, he and others find it much easier to ignore the substance of Americans’ concerns, and instead blame corporations and “the rich” for deluding the public.

Even Slate admitted that “to the President’s critics, it sounds patronizing. I was doing the right thing, but the slow American people didn’t get it” (emphasis original). Single-payer supporters fall into this trap on health care: “We could enact our socialist paradise easily, if only the health insurers and drug companies hadn’t bought off so many people.”

Starting off by questioning motives—by assuming everyone with any objections to single payer automatically must be a shill of corporate interests, just trying to bilk the sick and dying out of more money to pad their wallets—doesn’t seem like the best way to win friends and influence people, let alone pass a massive bill like single payer. And it speaks volumes about the radical left that they seem more intent on the former than the latter.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

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.

How a Massive Medicare Regulation Illustrates the Problems of Single Payer

What do provisions in a federal regulation, released on a sleepy Friday in August, have to do with the raging debate regarding single-payer health care? As it turns out, plenty.

By definition, single-payer health care assumes that one payer will finance all the care provided by the nation’s doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers. But this premise comes with an important corollary: Funding all medical providers’ care through a single source means that source—the federal government—must pay those providers the right amount. Paying providers too much wastes taxpayer resources; paying them too little could cause them to close.

The Rural Wage Index and MRI Counting

Consider, for instance, the regulation governing Medicare inpatient hospital payments for 2020, which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released on Friday, August 2. That 2,273-page regulation—no, that’s not a typo—included major changes to Medicare payment policies.

Most notably, the final rule changed the Medicare hospital wage index. For years, hospitals in rural areas have complained that the current wage index exacerbates wage disparities, under-paying hospitals in low-wage and rural areas, while over-paying hospitals elsewhere. According to CMS, the final rule increased the wage index for many rural hospitals, while slightly reducing payment rates to other hospitals, because CMS must implement the change in a budget-neutral manner.

Consider also a comment made several years ago by Donald Berwick, former CMS administrator and a strong advocate of single-payer health care. In a 1993 interview, Berwick said that “I want to see that in the city of San Diego or Seattle there are exactly as many MRI units as needed when operating at full capacity. Not less and not more.”

‘Little Intellectual Elite’

I don’t know whether the wage index change represents a more accurate way of calculating hospital payments, although I suspect it will make some hospitals’ payments more accurate, and some less accurate. But I don’t presume to know the financial situations of each of the United States’ thousands of hospitals, let alone believe I can calculate the change’s effects for each of them.

Conversely, liberals have the arrogance, even hubris, to believe that a massive—not to mention costly—federal bureaucracy can track and micro-manage the health care system to near-perfection. Remember, this is the same federal government that but a few years ago couldn’t build a website for Obamacare. As Ronald Reagan famously said in his “A Time for Choosing” speech 45 years ago:

This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can govern ourselves.

Berwick, and his fellow single-payer supporters want to place our health care system in the care of that intellectual elite—although, given the size of our health care system, the bureaucracy needed to control it may prove far from “little.” (But hey, they’re from the government and they’re here to help.)

Invitation to Corruption

Four years ago, federal prosecutors obtained an indictment of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on bribery charges, for accepting campaign contributions and other gifts from Miami physician Salomon Melgen. Among other things, Menendez repeatedly contacted Medicare officials and asked them to stop seeking $9 million in repayments from Melgen, who was eventually convicted on 67 counts of Medicare fraud.

A U.S. senator receiving nearly $1 million in gifts from a Medicare fraudster seems shocking enough. But increasing the federal government’s influence over health policy will make scenarios like this even more likely—and will make things like hospitals’ yearslong lobbying over the wage index seem like small potatoes.

In “Federalist 51,” James Madison famously wrote that “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” Single-payer supporters’ obsession over the former, to the exclusion of the latter, bodes ill for any supposed “efficiency gains” resulting from single payer—to say nothing of the integrity of our government.

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.

Democrats Debate How Many Americans to Take Coverage Away From

The first segment of Wednesday evening’s Democratic presidential debate featured the ten candidates largely competing amongst themselves to see who could offer the most far-reaching proposals. In response to a question from the moderators, the candidates debated whether to allow individuals to keep the private insurance plans that most Americans have (and like) currently.

Of the candidates on stage, only New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said they wanted to do away with private insurance entirely. But as I explained on Wednesday, the other candidates’ plans for a so-called “public option” could result in two-thirds of those with employer-sponsored coverage losing their insurance. In reality, then, the debate centered not around whether to take away Americans’ current health coverage, but how many would lose their insurance—and how honest Democrats would be with the American people in doing so.

For better or for worse, by saying “I’m with [Sen.] Bernie [Sanders]” on eliminating private coverage, Warren admitted that she’s “got a plan” for taking away Americans’ current insurance. Having seen her fellow senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris flip-flop on her earlier comments about banning private coverage, Warren went all-in on embracing single-payer insurance, perhaps to siphon away Sanders’ socialist base.

Warren used flimsy reasoning to justify her support for single payer, talking repeatedly about insurers’ profits. As she noted, those profits totaled just over $20 billion last year. But during the last fiscal year, Medicare and Medicaid incurred a combined $84.7 billion in improper payments—payments made in the wrong amount, or outright fraud. With improper payments in government programs totaling nearly four times the amount of insurers’ earnings, a move to single payer would likely end up substituting private-sector profits for increased waste, fraud, and abuse in the government plan.

In rebuttal, Maryland Rep. John Delaney pointed out that Sanders’ bill would pay doctors and hospitals at Medicare reimbursement rates. Because government programs pay medical providers less than the cost of care in many cases—72 percent of hospitals lost money on their Medicare patients in 2017—Delaney persuasively argued that extending those payment rates to all patients could cause many hospitals to close.

Indeed, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year concluded that single payer would reduce hospital payments by more than $150 billion annually. To cope with losses that massive, hospitals could lay off up to 1.5 million workers alone. If extended to doctors’ offices and other medical providers, single payer could put millions of Americans out of work—job losses that would obviously affect access to care.

Ironically, the health care debate soon pivoted to talk about “reproductive health.” Commentators noted that the candidates seemed much more eager to talk about abortion issues—on which they almost all agree—than on single payer. But of course, the two remain linked, as Democrats not only want to have taxpayers fund abortions, but to force doctors and hospitals to perform them.

It says something about the current state of the Democratic Party that forcing doctors to perform abortions, and taking away the coverage of “only” 100 million or so Americans, now represent moderate positions within the party. If Democrats want to win over persuadable swing voters next November, they sure have a funny way of showing it.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Single-Payer Will Increase Fraud and Corruption

It seems fitting that the Democratic National Committee chose Miami to host the first debates of the 2020 presidential campaign. Given that many of the candidates appearing on stage have endorsed a single-payer health care plan, the debates’ location epitomizes how government-run care will lead to a massive increase in fraud and corruption.

In South Florida, defrauding government health care programs doesn’t just qualify as a cottage industry — it’s big business. In 2009, “60 Minutes” noted that Medicare fraud “has pushed aside cocaine as the major criminal enterprise.” One former fraudster admitted that likely thousands of businesses in the Miami area alone were defrauding Medicare. Eric Holder, then the attorney general, explained why: Medicare fraud is easier — and carries smaller penalties — than dealing drugs.

A 2009 Government Accountability Office report also highlighted pervasive fraud within Medicare. For instance, some South Florida home health agencies “have submitted claims for visits that were probably not provided, such as claims for visits that allegedly occurred when hurricanes were in the area.” Auditors also found that fraudsters paid off seniors to cooperate with their scams. Because some “beneficiaries purportedly received more income in illegal [kickbacks] than from their monthly disability checks,” they would not report fraud to government officials.

Lest anyone believe that much has changed in the past decade, the spring of 2019 saw not one but two billion-dollar — that’s billion with a B — fraud rings against Medicare exposed in a single week. On April 7, Philip Esformes, a South Florida businessman, was convicted for bilking Medicare and Medicaid out of $1.3 billion in fraudulent nursing home claims. Two days later, federal authorities charged dozens more individuals in a $1.2 billion Medicare scam regarding neck braces.

If you think that the single-payer bills promoted by Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others would stop this rampant fraud, think again. Both the House and Senate single-payer bills include not a single new provision designed to stop crooks from defrauding government health programs. The bills would apply some existing anti-fraud provisions to the new government-run health program. However, given the widespread fraud in Medicare and Medicaid, expanding the failed status quo would increase corruption rather than reducing it.

To give some sense of perspective, in the last fiscal year Medicare had a rate of improper payments — payments either made in the wrong amount, or made under fraudulent pretenses — of 8.12%. Medicaid had an even higher improper payment rate of 9.8%. Extrapolating those rates to all health spending nationwide yields estimated improper payments under a single-payer system of between $296.1 billion and $357.3 billion. These sums of potential improper payments under single payer exceed the entire economies of countries like Finland and Denmark.

If lawmakers like Bernie Sanders want to see the ways in which socialized medicine will increase fraud, they don’t have far to look. Sanders’ Senate colleague Robert Menendez received nearly $1 million in gifts and favors from Salomon Melgen, yet another South Florida medical provider convicted of defrauding Medicare. Yet over several years, Menendez repeatedly lobbied Medicare officials on his friend Melgen’s behalf — using his influence as a senator to try to protect Melgen from his crimes.

At next week’s debates, moderators should ask candidates supporting Sanders’ plan whether they condone the actions of their colleague Menendez — and whether they think concentrating all power in a government-run health plan will increase or decrease the incidence of fraud and corruption within our health care system. The American people deserve better than to pay massive tax increases for this $32 trillion scheme, only to see much of that money end up in the hands of criminal fraudsters.

This post was originally published at Real Clear Politics.

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.