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.

Analyzing the Trump Administration’s Proposed Insurer Bailout

The more things change, the more they stay the same. On a Friday, the Trump administration issued a little-noticed three paragraph statement that used seemingly innocuous language to outline a forthcoming bailout of health insurers—this one designed to avoid political controversy prior to the president’s re-election campaign.

Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) quite rightly criticized President Obama for wanting to bail out health insurers via a crony capitalist boondoggle. They should do the same now that Trump wants to waste billions more on a similar tactic that has all the stench of the typical Washington “Swamp.”

Explaining the President’s Drug Pricing Proposal

At present, drug manufacturers pay rebates to PBMs in exchange for preferred placement on an insurer’s pharmacy formulary. PBMs then share (most of) these rebates with insurers, who pass them on to beneficiaries. But historically, PBMs have passed those rebates on via lower premiums, rather than via lower drug prices to consumers.

For instance, Drug X may have a $100 list price (the “sticker” price that Manufacturer Y publicly advertises), but Manufacturer Y will pay a PBM a $60 rebate to get Drug X on the PBM’s formulary list. It sounds like a great deal, one in which patients get the drug for less than half price—except that’s not how it works at present.

Instead, the PBM uses the $60 rebate to lower premiums for everyone covered by Insurer A. And the patient’s cost-sharing is based on the list price (i.e., $100) rather than the lower price net of rebates (i.e., $40). This current policy hurts people whose insurance requires them to pay co-insurance, or who have yet to meet their annual deductible—because in both cases, their cost-sharing will be based on the (higher) list price.

The Policy and Political Problems

The administration’s proposed rule conceded that the proposed change could raise Medicare Part D premiums. The CMS Office of the Actuary estimated the rule would raise premiums anywhere from $3.20 to $5.64 per month. (Some administration officials have argued that premiums may stay flat, if greater pricing transparency prompts more competition among drug manufacturers.)

The rule presents intertwined practical and political problems. From a practical perspective, the administration wants the rule to take effect in 2020. But the comment period on the proposed rule just closed, and the review of those comments could last well beyond the June 3 date for plans to submit bids to offer Part D coverage next year.

The political implications seem obvious. The administration doesn’t want to anger seniors with Part D premium increases heading into the president’s re-election bid. And while the administration could have asked insurers to submit two sets of plan bids for 2020—one assuming the rebate rule goes into effect next year, and one assuming that it doesn’t—doing so would have made very explicit how much the change will raise premiums, handing Democrats a political cudgel on a hot-button issue.

Here Comes the Bailout

That dynamic led to the Friday announcement from CMS:

If there is a change in the safe harbor rules effective in 2020, CMS will conduct a demonstration that would test an efficient transition for beneficiaries and plans to such a change in the Part D program. The demonstration would consist of a modification to the Part D risk corridors for plans for which a bid is submitted. For CY2020, under the demonstration, the government would bear or retain 95% of the deviation between the target amount, as defined in section 1860D-15(e)(3)(B) of the Social Security Act (the Act) and the actual incurred costs, as defined in section 1860D-15(e)(1) of the Act, beyond the first 0.5%. Participation in the two-year demonstration would be voluntary and plans choosing to participate would do so for both years. Under the demonstration, further guidance regarding the application process would be provided at a later date.

To translate the jargon: Risk corridors are a program in which the federal government subsidizes insurers who incur large losses, and in exchange insurers agree to give back any large gains. I explained how they worked in the Obamacare context here. However, unlike Obamacare—which had a risk corridor program that lasted only from 2014-2016—Congress created a permanent risk corridor program for Medicare Part D.

It all sounds well and good—until you look more closely at the announcement. CMS says it will “bear or retain 95% of the deviation…beyond the first 0.5%.” That’s not a government agency sharing risk—that’s a government agency assuming virtually all of the risk associated with the higher premium costs due to the rebate rule. In other words, a bailout.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

The use of a supposed “demonstration project” to implement this bailout echoes back to the Obama administration. In November 2010, the Obama administration announced it would create a “demonstration project” regarding Medicare Advantage, and Republicans—rightfully—screamed bloody murder.

They had justifiable outrage, because the added spending from the project, which lasted from years 2012 through 2014, seemed purposefully designed to delay the effects of Obamacare’s cuts to Medicare Advantage. Put simply, the Obama administration didn’t want stories of angry seniors losing their coverage due to Obamacare during the president’s re-election campaign, so they used a “demonstration project” to buy everyone’s silence.

In response to requests from outraged Republicans, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted multiple reviews of the Medicare Advantage “demonstration project.” Not only did GAO note that the $8 billion cost of the project “dwarfs all other Medicare demonstrations…in its estimated budgetary impact and is larger in size and scope than many of them,” it also questioned “the agency’s legal authority to undertake the demonstration.” In other words, the Obama administration did not just undertake a massive insurer bailout, it undertook an illegal one as well.

The current administration has yet to release official details about what it proposes to study in its “demonstration project,” but, in some respects, those details matter little. The real points of inquiry are as follows: Whether buying off insurance companies and seniors will aid Trump’s re-election; and whether any enterprising journalists, fiscal conservatives, or other good government types will catch on, and raise enough objections to nix the bailout.

Congress Should Stop the Insanity

On the latter count, Congress has multiple options open to it. It can obtain request audits and rulings from GAO regarding the legality of the “demonstration,” once those details become public. It can explore passing a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, which would nullify Friday afternoon’s memo.

It can also use its appropriations power to defund the “demonstration project,” preventing the waste of taxpayer funds on slush funds and giveaways to insurers. Best of all, they can do all three.

Republicans objected to crony capitalism under Democrats—Rubio famously helped block a taxpayer bailout of Obamacare’s risk corridor program back in 2014. Here’s hoping they will do the same thing when it comes to the latest illegal insurer bailout proposed by CMS.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Is Donald Trump “Sabotaging” Obamacare?

Is Donald Trump “sabotaging” Obamacare? And are he and his administration violating the law to do so?

Democrats intend to make this issue a prime focus of their political messaging ahead of the November elections. And several developments over the month of August — a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, a New York Times op-ed by two legal scholars, and a lawsuit filed by several cities — all include specific points and charges related to that theme.

1. The GAO Report

The most recent data point comes from the GAO, which at the behest of several congressional Democrats analyzed the administration’s outreach efforts during the most recent open enrollment period last fall. Those efforts culminated in a report GAO released Thursday.

The report made a persuasive case that the administration’s decision to reduce and re-prioritize funding for enrollment navigators utilized flawed data and methods. While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) based navigators’ 2018 funding on their effectiveness in enrolling individuals in coverage in prior years, GAO noted that HHS lacked solid data on navigators’ enrollment on which to base 2018 funding, and that enrollment was but one of navigators’ stated goals in prior years. HHS agreed with GAO’s recommendation that it should provide clearer goals and performance metrics for navigators to meet.

GAO also recommended that the administration reinstitute an overall enrollment target, as one way to determine the adequate distribution of resources during open enrollment. However, a cynic might note that Obamacare advocates, including the Democratic lawmakers who requested the report, may want the Trump administration to publicize an enrollment target primarily so they can attack HHS if the department does not achieve its goals.

Even though reporters and liberals like Andy Slavitt cried foul last year when HHS announced planned maintenance time for healthcare.gov in advance, actual downtime for the site dropped precipitously in 2018 compared to 2017. Which could lead one to ask who is sabotaging whom.

2. The New York Times Article

In The New York Times piece, law professors Nicholas Bagley and Abbe Gluck provide an overview of the lawsuit filed against the Trump Administration (about which more below). As someone who has cited Bagley’s work in the past, I find the article unpersuasive, even disappointing.

Take for instance some of the article’s specific allegations:

Here’s one: “To make it harder for people to enroll in Obamacare plans, for example, the administration shortened the open enrollment period on the health care exchanges from three months to six weeks.”

This charge would have evaporated entirely had Bagley specified which Administration first proposed shortening the open enrollment period to six weeks. The Obama Administration did just that.

This rule also establishes dates for the individual market annual open enrollment period for future benefit years. For 2017 and 2018, we will maintain the same open enrollment period we adopted for 2016—that is, November 1 of the year preceding the benefit year through January 31 of the benefit year, and for 2019 and later benefit years, we are establishing an open enrollment period of November 1 through December 15 of the year preceding the benefit year.

The Trump administration merely took the shorter open enrollment period that the Obama team proposed for 2019 and accelerated it by one year. If shortening the enrollment period would make it so much “harder for people to enroll in Obamacare plans,” as Bagley and Gluck claim, then why did the Obama Administration propose this change?

Another allegation: “To sow chaos in the insurance markets, Mr. Trump toyed for nine months with the idea of eliminating a crucial funding stream for Obamacare known as cost-sharing payments. After he cut off those funds, he boasted that Obamacare was ‘being dismantled.’”

This charge seems particularly specious — because Bagley himself has admitted that Obamacare lacks a constitutional appropriation for the cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers. Bagley previously mentioned that he took no small amount of grief from the left for conceding that President Obama had exceeded his constitutional authority. For him to turn around and now claim that Trump violated his constitutional authority by ending unconstitutional payments represents a disingenuous argument.

Here and elsewhere, Bagley might argue that Trump’s rhetoric — talk of Obamacare “being dismantled,” for instance — suggests corrupt intent. I will gladly stipulate that presidential claims Obamacare is “dead” are both inaccurate and unhelpful. But regardless of what the President says, if the President does what Bagley himself thinks necessary to comport with the Constitution, how on earth can Bagley criticize him for violating his oath of office?

A third allegation:

This month, the Trump administration dealt what may be its biggest blow yet to the insurance markets. In a new rule, it announced that insurers will have more latitude to sell ‘short-term’ health plans that are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s rules. These plans … had previously been limited to three months.

Under Mr. Trump’s new rule, however, such plans can last for 364 days and can be renewed for up to three years. … In effect, these rules are creating a cheap form of ‘junk’ coverage that does not have to meet the higher standards of Obamacare. This sort of splintering of the insurance markets is not allowed under the Affordable Care Act as Congress drafted it.

This claim also fails on multiple levels. First, if Congress wanted to prohibit “short-term” health plans as part of Obamacare, it could have done so. Congress chose first to allow these plans to continue to exist, and second to exempt these plans from all of Obamacare’s regulatory regime. If Bagley and Gluck have an objection to the splintering of insurance markets, then they should take it up with Congress.

Second, the so-called “new rule” Bagley and Gluck refer to only reverts back to a definition of short-term coverage that existed under the Obama Administration. This definition existed for nearly two decades, from when Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) through 2016. The Obama administration published a rule intended to eliminate much of the market for this type of coverage — but it did so only in the fall of that year, more than two years after Obamacare’s major coverage provisions took effect.

As with the shortening of the open enrollment period discussed above, if Bagley and Gluck want to scream “Sabotage!” regarding the Trump administration’s actions, they also must point the finger at Barack Obama for similar actions. That they did not suggests the partisan, and ultimately flawed, nature of their analysis.

3. The Lawsuit

The 128-page complaint filed by the city plaintiffs earlier this month makes some of the same points as the New York Times op-ed. It also continues the same pattern of blaming the Trump administration for actions previously taken by the Obama administration.

The lawsuit criticizes numerous elements of the administration’s April rule setting out the payment parameters for the 2019 Exchange year. For instance, it criticizes the removal of language requiring Exchanges to provide a direct notification to individuals before discontinuing their eligibility for subsidies, if individuals fail to reconcile the subsidies they received in prior years with the amount they qualified for based on their income. (Estimated subsidies, which are based on projected income for a year, can vary significantly from the actual subsidy levels one qualifies for, based on changes in income due to a promotion, change in life status, etc.)

As part of this charge, the lawsuit includes an important nugget: The relevant regulation “was amended in 2016 to specify that an Exchange may not deny [subsidies] under this provision ‘unless direct notification is first sent to the tax filer.’” As with the New York Times op-ed outlined above, those claiming “sabotage” are doing so because the Trump administration decided to revert to a prior regulatory definition used by the Obama administration for the first several years of Obamacare implementation.

The lawsuit similarly complains that the Trump administration is “making it harder to compare insurance plans” by eliminating support for “standardized options” from the Exchange. Here again, the complaint notes that “prior rules supported ‘standardized options,’” while mentioning only in a footnote that the rules implementing the “standardized options” took effect for the 2017 plan year. In other words, the Obama administration did not establish “standardized options” for the 2014, 2015, or 2016 plan years. Were they “sabotaging” Obamacare by failing to do so?

The suit continues with these types of claims, which collectively amount to legalistic whining that the Trump administration has not implemented Obamacare in a manner the (liberal) plaintiffs would support. It even includes this noteworthy assertion:

Maryland has been cleared by state legislators to petition CMS to ‘establish a reinsurance program that would create a pot of money for insurers to cover the most expensive claims,’ but a health economist ‘said he would be shocked if the Trump administration approved such a request, given its efforts to weaken Obamacare’: ‘It just seems very unlikely to me that Trump would approve this. … Maryland is easily saying we want to help prop up Obamacare, which the Trump administration doesn’t want to have anything to do with.’

Fact: The Trump administration just approved Maryland’s insurance waiver this week. So much for that “sabotage.”

A review of its “prayer for relief” — the plaintiffs’ request for actions the court should take — shows the ridiculously sweeping nature of the lawsuit’s claims. Among other things, the plaintiffs want the court to order the defendants to “comply with their constitutional obligation to take care to faithfully execute the ACA,” including by doing the following:

  • “Expand, rather than suppress, the number of individuals and families obtaining health insurance through ACA exchanges;
  • “Reduce, rather than increase, premiums for health insurance in the ACA exchanges;
  • “Promote, rather than diminish, the availability of comprehensive, reasonably-priced health insurance for individuals and families with preexisting conditions;
  • “Encourage, rather than discourage, individuals and families to obtain health insurance that provides the coverage that Congress, in the ACA, determined is necessary to protect American families against the physical and economic devastation that results from lesser insurance, with limits on coverage that leaves them unable to cover the costs of an accident or unexpected illness…
  • “Order Defendants to fully fund advertising under the ACA;
  • “Enjoin Defendants from producing and disseminating advertisements that aim to undermine the ACA;
  • “Order Defendants to fully fund Navigators under the ACA;
  • “Enjoin Defendants from incentivizing Navigators to advertise non-ACA compliant plans;
  • “Order Defendants to lengthen the open enrollment period;
  • “Order Defendants to resume participation in enrollment events and other outreach activities under the ACA…
  • “Order Defendants to process states’ waiver applications under the ACA so as to faithfully implement the Act.”

In other words, the lawsuit asks a court to micro-manage every possible element of implementation of a 2,700-page law — tell HHS what it must say, what it must do, how much it must spend, and on and on. It would create de facto entitlements, by stating that HHS could never reduce funding for advertising and outreach, or lower spending on navigators, or reject states’ waiver applications — potentially even if those applications violate the law itself. And it asks for impossible actions — because HHS cannot unilaterally “expand, rather than suppress” the number of people with coverage, just as it cannot unilaterally “reduce, rather than increase, premiums.”

Despite its questionable claims, and the highly questionable remedies it seeks, the lawsuit may yet accomplish some of its goals. The complaint spends much of its time alleging violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, claiming that HHS did not “meaningfully” or “adequately” consider comments from individuals who objected to the regulatory changes in question. While I have not examined the relevant regulatory dockets in any level of detail, the (pardon the pun) trumped-up nature of elements of the complaint makes me skeptical of such assertions. That said, the administration has suffered several setbacks in court over complaints regarding the regulatory process, so the lawsuit may force HHS to ensure it has its proverbial “i”s dotted and “t”s crossed before proceeding with further changes.

Words Versus Actions

On many levels, the “sabotage” allegations try to use the president’s own words (and tweets) against him. Other lawsuits have done likewise, with varying degrees of success. As I noted above, the president’s rhetoric often does not reflect the actual reality that Obamacare remains much more entrenched than conservatives like myself would like.

But for all their complaints about the administration’s “sabotage,” liberals have no one to blame but themselves for the current situation. Obamacare gave a tremendous amount of authority to the federal bureaucracy to implement its myriad edicts. They should not be surprised when someone who disagrees with them uses that vast power to accomplish what they view as malign ends. Perhaps next time they should think again before proceeding down a road that gives government such significant authority. They won’t, but they should.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Republicans Were Against Reinsurance Before They Were For It

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) made comments in a January radio interview supporting a “bipartisan opportunity” to fund Obamacare’s Exchanges, specifically through mechanisms like reinsurance.

How quickly the speaker forgets — or wants others to forget. Obamacare already had a reinsurance program, one that ran from 2014 through 2016. During that time, non-partisan government auditors concluded that, while implementing that reinsurance program, the Obama administration violated the law, diverting billions of dollars to insurers that should have gone to the United States Treasury. After blasting the Obama administration’s actions as the “Great Obamacare Heist,” and saying taxpayers deserved their money back, Republican leaders have for the past eighteen months done … exactly nothing to make good on their promise.

Section 1341 of Obamacare imposed a series of “assessments” (some have called them taxes) to accomplish two objectives. Section 1341 required the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect $5 billion, to reimburse the Treasury for the cost of another Obamacare program that operated from 2010 through 2013. The assessments also intended to provide a total of $20 billion — $10 billion in 2014, $6 billion in 2015, and $4 billion in 2016 — in reinsurance funds to health insurers subsidizing their high-cost patients.

Unfortunately, however, the “assessments” on employers offering group health coverage did not achieve the desired revenue targets. The plain text of the law indicates that, under such circumstances, HHS must repay the Treasury before it paid health insurers. But the Obama Administration did no such thing — it paid all of the available funds to insurers, while giving taxpayers (i.e., the Treasury) nothing.

The non-partisan Congressional Research Service and other outside experts agreed that the Obama administration flouted the law to give taxpayers the shaft. In September 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) agreed: “We conclude that HHS lacks authority to ignore the statute’s directive to deposit amounts from collections under the transitional reinsurance program in the Treasury and instead make deposits to the Treasury only if its collections reach the amounts for reinsurance payments specified in section 1341. This prioritization of collections for payment to issuers over payments to the Treasury is not authorized.”

At the time GAO issued its ruling, Republicans denounced the Obama Administration’s actions, and pledged to fight for taxpayers’ interests: Multiple Chairmen — including the current Chairs of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Budget, HELP, and Finance Committees — said in a statement that, as a matter of “fairness and respect for the rule of law clearly anchored in the Constitution,” the Obama “Administration need to put an end to the Great Obamacare Heist immediately.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said that “the Administration should end this illegal scheme immediately.”

A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee said that, “We expect the Administration to comply with the independent watchdog’s opinion, halt the billions of dollars in illegal Obamacare payments to insurers, and pay back the American taxpayers what they are owed.”

Since all this (self-)righteous indignation back in the fall of 2016 — six weeks before the presidential election — what exactly have Republicans done to follow through on all their rhetoric?

In a word, nothing. No legislative actions, no hearings, no letters to the Trump Administration — nothing. Some experts have suggested that the Trump administration could file suit against insurers, seeking to reclaim taxpayers’ cash, but the administration has yet to do so.

In September 2016, outside analysts explained why the Obama administration prioritized insurers’ needs over taxpayers’ — and the rule of law: “I don’t think the Administration wants to do anything to upset insurers right now.” That same description just as easily applies to Republican congressional leaders today, making their promise to end the “Great Obamacare Heist” yet another one that has thus far gone unfulfilled — that is, if they ever intended to make good on their rhetoric in the first place.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

The White House’s Plan to Bail Out Obamacare AND Fund Abortion Coverage

The White House released its budget proposal this morning. Apart from the fact that the budget abandons any attempt to get to balance within ten years (or ever), a footnote buried deep in the document hides key proposals: Bailing out Obamacare health insurers to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, and taxpayer funding of abortion coverage.

On page 141, footnote 6 of Table S-6, showing the president’s policy proposals, includes the following admission: “The Budget requests mandatory appropriations for the risk corridors program and for cost-sharing reduction payments.”

There you have it: At least $11.5 billion in corporate welfare payments to insurers for risk corridors, and more for cost-sharing reductions.

About Risk Corridors

While risk corridors have faded in the public debate over the past two years, they remain a potent issue for health insurers. See a full explanation of the issue, but here’s a summary.

To prevent the Obama administration from using funds from elsewhere to subsidize corporate welfare to insurers, Congress enacted restrictions prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds to bail out risk corridors. Under these restrictions, insurers with losses could only receive as much money from the risk corridor program as insurers with gains paid into the program.

In Obamacare’s first few years, most insurers suffered massive losses, so the money coming in to the risk corridor program by no means equaled the requests for funds from the program. As a result, several insurers sued in the Court of Federal Claims, requesting payment from the Judgment Fund of the Treasury for their unpaid risk corridor obligations. Many of those cases remain on appeal.

While both the White House and HHS budgets include few details about this proposal, it appears that they would pre-emptively surrender the pending legal cases by paying insurers more than $11.5 billion in risk corridor obligations that insurers claim they are owed. The budget further proposes making these payments exempt from the budget sequester.

About Cost-Sharing Reductions

The White House’s proposal on CSRs looks downright conservative, however, compared to the budget gimmick being contemplated by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). The White House budget indicates that spending on CSRs would have no deficit effect, because the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings statute requires budgetary agencies to assume full funding of entitlements (including CSR payments) when developing their fiscal baselines.

Ryan, however, finds this legal requirement an inconvenient truth. He wants to direct the budget agencies to raise the spending baseline artificially, so Congress can then “lower” the spending baseline right back to where it is now—and spend the phony “savings” from this gimmick on more corporate welfare to insurers.

Forcing Taxpayers to Fund Abortion Coverage

Another point of note: Passing either one of these proposals would by definition result in taxpayer funding of plans that cover abortion. The administration did not include any language prohibiting the use of CSR or risk corridor funds for plans that cover abortion. Therefore the White House presumably endorses federal taxpayer funding of abortion coverage.

The budget proposal means Trump administration is now actively working to codify not one but two Obamacare bailouts that a Republican Congress denied to the Obama administration—doing liberals’ bidding for them. Moreover, the failure to include any pro-life protections on these bailouts represents at best a massive managerial oversight, and at worst an insult to the pro-life community. For those who thought that last week’s budget deal represented the nadir for conservative principles among this administration, think again.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Reforming Medicaid in Louisiana

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

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

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

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

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

 

Massive Expansion

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

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

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

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

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

 

Massive—and Rising—Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Difficulties for the Most Vulnerable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Discouraging Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What Lawmakers Should Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[23] Ibid.

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

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

[26] Ibid.

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

[28] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[35] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

[41] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

[47] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[64] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Report Details Fraud on Obamacare Exchanges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

John Kasich’s Obamacare Bailout Plan

On Thursday morning, governors John Kasich (R-OH) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO) released a plan to “stabilize” Obamacare insurance markets. Here’s what you need to know about the details of the proposal.

John Kasich Doesn’t Want to Repeal Obamacare

It’s worth repeating that, as recently as three years ago, Kasich said the following regarding the health care law: “From Day One, and up until today and into tomorrow, I do not support Obamacare. I never have, and I believe it should be repealed.”

Governors Want Trump to Violate the Constitution

The plan calls on the Trump administration to “commit to making cost-sharing reduction payments.” But as this space has previously described, the United States has an interesting document—you may have heard of it—called the Constitution. That Constitution places the “power of the purse” with Congress, not the executive.

If Congress does appropriate funds—for cost-sharing reductions or anything else—the executive cannot refuse to spend that money, per a prior Supreme Court ruling. But if Congress does not appropriate funds, the executive cannot spend money. To do otherwise would violate a criminal statute.

Asking the Trump administration to violate the Constitution may seem like a natural request to someone like Kasich, a big-government liberal who ran into legal trouble for expanding his state’s Medicaid program unilaterally. But our nation is a government of laws, not men, which makes obeying the law an obligation of all citizens, let alone the chief executive.

A Selective History on Reinsurance

The claims by the governors defy facts, particularly on reinsurance. The Government Accountability Office concluded last year that the Obama administration violated the law to give insurance companies billions more dollars in reinsurance funds than they deserved—prioritizing corporate welfare to insurers over statutorily required payments back to the U.S. Treasury.

But even after the Obama administration violated the law to give insurers billions more than they were due, the governors still feel the need to propose two separate “stability” (read: bailout) funds to prop up Obamacare. It demonstrates the massive “cash suck” that Obamacare has placed on the federal fisc.

An Impractical Proposal on Federal Employee Coverage

The plan also suggests that Congress should “allow residents in underserved counties”—defined as those with only one insurer on the exchange—“to buy into the federal employee benefit program, giving residents in rural counties access to the same health care as federal workers.”

FEHBP has such high premiums because it provides far richer benefits than the Obamacare exchanges. A 2009 Congressional Research Service report found that the Blue Cross Blue Shield standard option pays an average percentage of health expenses—in technical terms, the plan’s actuarial value—of 87 percent. By contrast, Obamacare links its insurance subsidies to the second-least-costly silver plan, which has an actuarial value of 70 percent.

Because the federal employee plan provides such generous coverage, opening it up to exchange customers would necessitate massive new increases in subsidies, which the governors’ plan also alludes to (“provide adequate and effective subsidies”). Combined with the reinsurance and cost-sharing reduction payments, it amounts to propping up Obamacare on taxpayers’ dime.

Millions of Americans found out in 2013 that when it comes to Obamacare, if you like your plan, you may not be able to keep it. But with respect to both Obamacare and the governors’ proposal, regardless of whether you like the plan, you’ll definitely be required to pay for it.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Three Ways Kathleen Sebelius Sabotaged the Rule of Law

Of all the people crying “sabotage” when it comes to Obamacare, Kathleen Sebelius might be the most qualified on the subject. Presiding over the disastrous “launch” of healthcare.gov in the fall of 2013, then-Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius famously testified before Congress: “Hold me accountable for the debacle—I’m responsible.”

Likewise, in her claims this week that the Trump administration “has consistently tried to undermine the law that is the law of the land,” Sebelius knows of which she speaks. She presided over numerous actions that violated the text of Obamacare, and the Constitution, to thwart the will of Congress and undermine “the law of the land”—Obamacare as it was actually written, not as Democrats wished it were written—and the rule of law in general.

1. Unconstitutional ‘Like Your Plan’ Fix

As Sebelius presided over the healthcare.gov “debacle,” the Obama administration faced a serious political crisis. While the federally run exchange melted down, millions of Americans received cancellation notices in the mail, learning that because their plans did not meet Obamacare’s myriad new regulations, they would lose their coverage effective January 1, 2014.

The notices demonstrated the emptiness of Obama’s repeated promises that individuals who liked their plans could keep them—PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year.” Moreover, the malfunctioning website created the possibility that millions of Americans could lose their existing coverage while having no way to purchase a replacement policy.

In response to the uproar, the Obama administration essentially decided to take the law into its own hands. Sebelius’ department issued a memo saying it would refuse to enforce the law for certain categories of insurance policies, allowing states and insurers the latitude to maintain individuals’ prior coverage. Even supporters of Obamacare like Nicholas Bagley said the administration’s actions violated the Constitution—the executive refusing to enforce provisions of a law it found politically inconvenient.

2. Illegal Reinsurance Subsidies

The Government Accountability Office last year ruled that the Obama administration “undermined the law that is the law of the land,” as Sebelius alleges of the Trump administration. Specifically, GAO found that the Obama administration illegally prioritized health insurance companies over American taxpayers, funneling billions of reinsurance dollars that should have remained in the U.S. Treasury (to pay for a separate Obamacare program) to corporate welfare payments to insurance companies. After this rebuke from nonpartisan auditors, the Obama administration still made no attempt to comply with the law as interpreted by GAO.

If Sebelius is as concerned about “undermin[ing] the law that is the law of the land” as she claims, she should have publicly demanded that the Obama administration comply with the law, and the GAO ruling. She did no such thing then, and is unlikely to ask the Trump administration to claw back the corporate welfare payments to insurers now.

3. Unconstitutional Payments to Insurers

The Obama administration did not just violate the law in making payments to health insurers, it violated the Constitution as well. The text of Obamacare—“the law that is the law of the land,” in Sebelius’ words—included no appropriation making payments to insurers to reimburse them for cost-sharing reductions provided to individuals. The Obama administration made the payments anyway.

Ends and Means

Sebelius’ comments show a fundamental disconnect between means and ends. The Obama administration’s actions suggest a concern largely, if not solely, about signing up as many individuals for taxpayer-funded coverage as possible. If achieving that object meant violating the law, or the Constitution, so be it—the ends justified the means.

Sebelius’ real disagreement therefore doesn’t lie with the Trump administration on “undermining the law.” She did plenty of that herself, likely with full knowledge she was doing so. Instead, her true objection lies in the fact that the Trump may have different policy ends than ones she supports.

If Sebelius wants to espouse different policy positions than the current administration, that is her right. But given the ways in which the last administration repeatedly violated Obamacare to suit its own purposes, conservatives should take no lessons from Sebelius on how to avoid “undermining the law.” Physician, heal thyself.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

CBO Report Shows Bogus Nature of “Sabotage” Charges

If you need any additional evidence as to the trumped-up (pardon the pun) charges of Obamacare “sabotage” leveled against the current president, look no further than the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report about cost-sharing subsides released yesterday. In the report, CBO concluded that ending subsidy payments—which the law never appropriated to begin with—would keep premiums roughly constant for most individuals, increase spending on insurance subsidies, and increase the number of insured Americans modestly.

Which one of those outcomes do Democrats oppose? Exactly none. Which illustrates why all the self-righteous indignation about President Trump “sabotaging” Obamacare is as much about the individual inhabiting the Oval Office as it is about health care policy.

Check the Cost-Sharing Analysis

The higher premiums for silver plans on exchanges would lead to higher spending on insurance subsidies, which Obamacare links to the second-lowest silver premium. And those richer subsidies would attract some more individuals to insurance markets, reducing the number of uninsured by about one million.

Democrats may seize upon CBO’s finding that this scenario would increase the deficit as reason to oppose it. But if Democrats cared about protecting taxpayers, they would have objected to the Obama administration’s actions—actions that the Government Accountability Office concluded last year violated the statute—placing insurance companies ahead of ordinary taxpayers in receiving reinsurance payments. They didn’t object on behalf of taxpayers then, so why object in this case? Is it really about policy, or is it just crass politics?

Liberal Hypocrisy on the Individual Mandate

Likewise, liberals charge that the president could refuse to enforce Obamacare’s individual mandate, encouraging healthy people to drop coverage and causing insurance markets to deteriorate further. In reality though, his room for maneuver is more limited. If the president decided to issue blanket exemptions to the mandate, or not enforce it, insurers likely would sue the administration for failing to execute its constitutional duties—and they could, and should, win. Under our Constitution, the president can, should, and must enforce all the laws, including the mandate, not just the ones he agrees with.

So is the issue with President Trump’s supposed non-enforcement of the mandate, or the fact that he’s the one making decisions on exactly how the mandate will be enforced?

Pester People into Enrolling

The Trump administration could certainly influence insurance markets through outreach efforts. Liberal groups have spent weeks complaining that the Department of Health and Human Services has not solicited them for this fall’s open enrollment season.

But put things into perspective. A Politico story in January noted that the Trump administration reduced television advertising by about $800,000 per day for the last four days of open enrollment—a few million dollars. If Obamacare—entering its fifth open enrollment period this fall—is so fragile that losing a few million dollars of advertising will tank insurance markets, what does that say about the stability, let alone the wisdom, of the law in the first place?

This post was originally published at The Federalist.