The Broken Promises of Louisiana’s Medicaid Expansion

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

The Issue: Enrollment

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Costs and Spending

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Fraud

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Efficient Use of Taxpayer Dollars

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Uncompensated Care

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Jobs

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Vulnerable Individuals Waiting for Care

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

The Facts:

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Junk “Study” Demonstrates Liberal Think-Tank’s Bias

Why would an organization billed as a “respected source of health care data” publish an analysis with mutually contradictory conclusions? In the case of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the answer is simple: To defend Obamacare—even if the facts don’t align with one’s conclusions.

As conservatives have noted for years, Obamacare encourages states to discriminate against individuals with disabilities—a prime example of how government intervention in the health care system ultimately hurts those the left claims they want to help. Liberals, understanding the political power of such charges, feel compelled to push back on this narrative. While they don’t have many actual facts with which to do so, that hasn’t stood in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s way.

Obamacare’s Discrimination, Explained

If you could gain 50-76 cents for doing one thing, and 90 cents for doing another, which would you choose? I know which I would.

When I served on the Commission on Long-Term Care in 2013, it explored an area of health policy unknown to much of the public: Hundreds of thousands of individuals with disabilities remain on Medicaid waiting lists for home and community-based care. While federal law requires state taxpayers to pay nursing home benefits for all eligible Medicaid patients, coverage of community-based services remains optional, so states can—and do—establish waiting lists to control their Medicaid spending.

These waiting lists preceded Obamacare, so Obamacare didn’t cause the waiting lists per se. And individuals with disabilities on the waiting lists do have their health care needs paid for by Medicaid, even as they wait to become eligible for home-based care (e.g., help with bathing, dressing, etc.). But sheer common sense indicates that states will prioritize coverage of able-bodied adults—for which they get paid a higher match from the federal government—than eliminating their waiting list for individuals with disabilities.

The Flawed Premise

For the past several years, Kaiser has attempted to rebut charges that Medicaid expansion has affected waiting lists for individuals with disabilities. Their studies, including one released in April, claim that there is no relationship between whether a state has expanded Medicaid and increases or decreases in its waiting lists.

However, as I first noted two years ago, Kaiser’s over-simplistic analysis does not begin to consider the many other factors that affect decisions about their Medicaid programs and waiting lists. To use the most obvious example, the average state that has not expanded Medicaid is poorer than the average state that has. Connecticut, with a median income of $73,781 in 2017, has more resources to expand Medicaid to able-bodied adults and reduce its waiting lists than a state like Alabama, which had a median income of $46,472.

If Kaiser wanted to do a thorough analysis, it would control for this variable, and others. For instance, a good econometric analysis would factor in states’ morbidity rates—because states with sicker populations may have more individuals with disabilities needing care—along with the underlying cost of care, because states would have to spend more to reduce their waiting lists in areas with higher prices.

Contradictory Claims

How superficial are Kaiser’s conclusions? The section of its April paper right after the passage claiming no relationship between Obamacare and waiting lists includes this doozy:

Waiting lists are a function of the populations a state chooses to serve and how the state defines those populations; both of these factors vary among states, making waiting lists an incomplete measure of state capacity and demand for [home and community-based services] and not directly comparable among states. [Emphasis original.]

If waiting lists for individuals with disabilities are “not directly comparable among states,” then why did Kaiser in the preceding section claim Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion has nothing to do with waiting lists—a conclusion that by definition involves comparing waiting lists among states?

The question practically answers itself. Kaiser just hopes you won’t notice.

Talking Point versus Research

After more than two months, the researcher, Mary Beth Musumeci, would not deign to defend her “research” with a direct reply. Instead a Kaiser spokesman sent me what amounted to a polite brush-off, replicated in full below:

Thank you for your interest in our work. We appreciate people taking the time to consider our work and provide constructive feedback on it, and our team discussed your comments and ideas.

The data in the brief are presented as a simple, descriptive comparison of trends in wait lists stratified by expansion status, and we also tried to be clear about major limitations of the data, including caveats in state comparisons of wait lists. While we agree that further econometric analysis to assess causality could build on this work and contribute to policy understanding, the posted brief was not an attempt to undertake such analysis.

We appreciate your feedback and will consider it as we continue to develop our work in this area, and we hope our work serves as a useful basis for your own analysis and econometric research to undertake the type of work you suggest in your comments.

I responded with one simple question: Does the Kaiser Family Foundation have any plans to conduct an econometric study on Medicaid expansion and waiting lists? As I noted in my response:

You’ve admitted the limitations of your own analysis to date, but you’ve repeated these types of assertions for several years—without doing the type of in-depth research that you concede would be both warranted and more accurate. Why not?

Kaiser’s communications department responded that they don’t have that type of study planned. I won’t hold my breath for them to conduct this type of econometric study, either. As with the issue of pre-existing conditions, Kaiser won’t ask a question to which it doesn’t want to know the answer. Far better to use a crude and highly flawed “study” to claim that Obamacare hasn’t affected Medicaid waiting lists—the political conclusion the Kaiser analysts want to support.

A supposed “fact check” on the disability waiting list issue two years ago called the Kaiser Family Foundation a “respected source of health care data.” But by issuing mutually contradictory conclusions to maintain a political talking point, and not conducting the in-depth research that they admit the issue of Medicaid waiting lists warrants, Kaiser again reveals itself not so much as a respected source of health care data as a highly liberal one.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

The Inconvenient Truths of Louisiana’s Medicaid Expansion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was originally published in the Daily Advertiser.

One Way for Florida’s Legislature to Respond to a Medicaid Expansion Referendum

Last week, Politico reported on a burgeoning effort by unions and other groups to collect signatures on a ballot initiative designed to expand Medicaid in Florida. As the article notes, the effort comes after last fall’s approval of Medicaid ballot initiatives in Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska.

The effort comes as liberals try to extend “free” health care to more and more Americans. But that “free” health care comes with significant costs, and policymakers in Florida have opportunities to make those costs apparent to voters.

‘Free’ Money Isn’t Free

By contrast, the petition being circulated in Florida includes no source of funding for the state’s 10 percent share of Medicaid expansion funding under Obamacare. The failure to specify a funding source represents a typical liberal tactic. Advocates seeking to expand Medicaid have traditionally focused on the “free” money from Washington available for states that do expand. “Free” money from Washington and “free” health care for low-income individuals—what’s not to like?

Of course, Medicaid expansion has very real costs for states, without even considering the effects on their taxpayers of the federal tax increases needed to fund all that “free” money from Washington. Every dollar that states spend on providing health care to the able-bodied represents another dollar that they cannot spend elsewhere.

I have previously noted how spending on Medicaid has crowded out funding for higher education, thus limiting mobility among lower-income populations, and encourages states to prioritize the needs of able-bodied adults over individuals with disabilities, for whom states receive a lower federal Medicaid match.

Taxes Ahead? Oh Yeah, Baby

Proposing a state income tax to fund Medicaid expansion would certainly make the cost of expansion readily apparent to Florida voters, especially the retirees who moved to the Sunshine State due to its combination of warm weather and no individual income tax. Voters would likely think twice if Medicaid expansion came with an income tax—which of course lawmakers could raise in the future, to fund all manner of government spending.

Prior efforts suggest that making the costs of Medicaid expansion apparent to voters appreciably dampens support. Utah approved its ballot initiative, which included a sales tax increase, with a comparatively small (53.3 percent) approval margin. In Montana, a referendum proposing a tobacco tax increase to fund a continuation of that state’s Medicaid expansion (which began in 2016) went down to defeat in November.

New Taxes Are an Uphill Battle

Liberal groups already face challenges in getting a Medicaid ballot initiative approved in Florida. The state constitution requires 60 percent approval for all initiative measures intended to change that document, a higher bar than advocates for expansion have had to clear elsewhere. Of the four states where voters approved Medicaid expansion—Maine, Nebraska, Utah, and Idaho—only the margin in Idaho exceeded 60 percent, and then just barely (60.58 percent).

Disclosure: While the author served on the health care transition advisory committee of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the views expressed above represent his personal views only.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

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

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

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

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

How It Would Work

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

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

The Internal Debate

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

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

Why Liberals Will Object

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

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

Why Conservatives Will Object

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Will Support This Proposal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Three Elements of a Conservative Health Care Vision

Recently I wrote about how conservatives failed to articulate a coherent vision of health care, specifically issues related to pre-existing conditions, in the runup to the midterm elections. That article prompted a few Capitol Hill colleagues to ask an obvious question: What should a conservative vision for health care look like? It’s one thing to have answers on specific issues (i.e., alternatives to Obamacare’s pre-existing condition regulations), but what defines the vision of where conservatives should look to move the debate?

Henceforth, my attempt to outline that conservative health-care vision on a macro level with three relatively simple principles. Others may express these concepts slightly differently—and I take no particular pride of authorship in the principles as written—but hopefully they will help to advance thinking about where conservative health policy should lead.

Portable Insurance

Conversely, conservatives believe in insurance purchased by individuals—or, as my former boss Jim DeMint likes to describe it, an insurance policy you can buy, hold, and keep. With most Americans still obtaining health coverage from their employers, a move to individually owned coverage would mean individuals themselves would decide what kind of insurance to purchase, rather than a business’s HR executives.

Conservatives should also promote the concept of portable insurance that can move from job to job, and ideally from state to state as well. If individuals can buy an insurance policy while young, and take it with them for decades, then much of the problem of covering individuals with pre-existing conditions will simply disappear—people will have the same insurance before their diagnosis that they had for years beforehand.

I wrote approvingly about the Trump administration’s proposals regarding Health Reimbursement Arrangements precisely because I believe that, if implemented, they will advance both prongs of this principle. Allowing employees to receive an employer contribution for insurance they own will make coverage both individual and portable, in ways that could revolutionize the way Americans buy insurance.

A Sustainable Safety Net

As it is, the Medicare program became functionally insolvent more than a year ago. The year before Obamacare’s passage, the Medicare trustees asserted the program’s hospital insurance trust fund would become insolvent in 2017. Only the double-counting included in Obamacare—whereby the same Medicare savings were used both to “save Medicare” and fund Obamacare—has allowed the program to remain solvent, on paper if not in fact.

Reasonable people may disagree on precisely where and how to draw the line at the sustainability of our entitlements. For instance, I hold grave doubts that able-bodied adults belong on Medicaid, particularly given the way Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid has encouraged states to discriminate against individuals with disabilities and the most vulnerable.

But few could argue that the current system qualifies as sustainable. Far from it. With Medicare beneficiaries receiving more from the system in benefits than they paid in taxes—and the gap growing every year—policy-makers must make hard choices to right-size our entitlements. And they should do so sooner rather than later.

Appropriately Aligned Incentives

Four decades ago, Margaret Thatcher hinted at the primary problem in health care when she noted that socialists always run out of other people’s money. Because third-party insurers—in most cases selected by HR executives at individuals’ place of business rather than the individuals themselves—pay for a large share of health expenses, most Americans know little about the price of specific health care goods and services (and care even less).

To state the obvious: No, individuals shouldn’t try to find health care “deals” in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. But given that much health care spending occurs not for acute cases (e.g., a heart attack) but for chronic conditions (i.e., diabetes), policymakers do have levers to try to get the incentives moving in the right direction.

Reforming the tax treatment of health insurance—which both encourages individuals to over-consume care and ties most Americans to employer-based insurance—would help align incentives, while also encouraging more portable insurance. Price transparency might help, provided those prices are meaningful (i.e., they relate to what individuals will actually pay out-of-pocket). Giving individuals financial incentives to shop around for procedures like MRIs, or even surgical procedures, also would place downward pressure on prices.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

How AARP Made BILLIONS Denying Care to People with Pre-Existing Conditions

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted to maintain access to short-term health coverage. Senate Democrats offered a resolution disapproving of the Trump administration’s new rules regarding the more affordable plans, but the resolution did not advance on a 50-50 tie vote.

Because short-term plans need not comply with Obamacare’s restrictions on covering prior health ailments, Senate Democrats used the resolution to claim they will protect individuals with pre-existing conditions. But what if I told you that, in the years since Obamacare passed, one organization has made more than $4.5 billion in profits, largely from denying care to vulnerable individuals with pre-existing conditions?

You might feel surprised. After all, didn’t Obamacare supposedly prohibit “discrimination” against individuals with pre-existing conditions? But what if I told you that the organization raking in all those profits was none other than AARP, the organization that claims to represent seniors? Then the profits might make more sense.

Obamacare and Pre-Existing Conditions

Even though an article on AARP’s own website states that, as of 2014, “insurance companies [are] required to sell policies to anyone, regardless of their pre-existing medical conditions,” that claim isn’t quite accurate. Obamacare exempted Medigap supplemental insurance plans from all of its “reforms,” including the prohibition on “discriminating” against individuals with pre-existing conditions.

As a 2011 Washington Post article noted, individuals can apply for Medigap plans when they first turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare. “However, when Congress created this protection in 1992…it exempted disabled Medicare beneficiaries under age 65, a group that now totals 8 million people.”

In other words, the most vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries—those enrolled because they receive Social Security disability benefits—often cannot obtain Medigap coverage due to pre-existing conditions. And because traditional Medicare does not provide a catastrophic cap on patient cost-sharing (Medigap plans often provide that coverage instead), disabled beneficiaries who want to remain in traditional Medicare (as opposed to Medicare Advantage plans offered by private insurers) may face unlimited out-of-pocket spending.

The Post article conceded that Obamacare “does not address this issue. A provision to provide disabled Medicare beneficiaries better coverage was dropped from the legislation during congressional negotiations because it would have increased Medicare costs, according to a House Democratic congressional aide.” That’s where AARP comes in.

Why Didn’t AARP ‘Show Congress the Money’?

In July 2009, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed a House Democrat bill that, among other things, would have made Medigap coverage available to all individuals, regardless of pre-existing conditions. CBO stated that the Medigap provisions in Section 1234 of the bill would have raised federal spending by $4.1 billion over ten years—a sizable sum, but comparatively small in the context of Obamacare itself.

Contrary to the anonymous staffer’s claims to the Washington Post, if House Democrats truly wanted to end pre-existing condition “discrimination” against individuals with disabilities enrolling in Medicare, they had an easy source of revenue: AARP. As Democrats were drafting Obamacare, in November 2009, the organization wrote in a letter to Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) that AARP “would gladly forego every dime of revenue to fix the health care system.”

Since that time, AARP has made quite a few dimes—about 45,090,743,700, in fact—from keeping the health care system just the way it was.

Billions in Profits, But Few Principles

A review of AARP’s financial statements shows that since 2010, AARP has made more than $4.5 billion in income from selling health insurance plans, and generating investment income from plan premiums:

AARP makes its money several ways. As the chart demonstrates, a large and growing percentage of its “royalty” money comes from United Healthcare. United Healthcare sells AARP-branded Medigap plans, Part D prescription drug coverage, and Medicare Advantage insurance.

However, as a 2011 House Ways and Means Committee report made clear, in AARP receiving royalty revenues, not all forms of coverage are created equal. While the organization receives a flat fee for the branding of its Part D and Medicare Advantage plans, it receives a percentage (4.95 percent) of revenue with respect to its Medigap coverage. This dynamic means Medigap royalties make up the majority of AARP’s revenue from United Healthcare, giving AARP a decided bias in favor of the status quo, even if it means continuing to discriminate against individuals with disabilities.

AARP’s Deafening Silence

So if in the seven years since Obamacare’s enactment, AARP has earned more than enough in profits and investment income to offset the cost of changes to Medigap, and AARP publicly told Congress that it would gladly forego all its profits to achieve health care reform, why didn’t AARP make this change happen back in 2010?

AARP occasionally claims it supports reforming Medigap, normally in response to negative publicity about its shady business practices. But by and large, it avoids the subject entirely, preferring to cash in on its Medigap business by flying under the radar.

As I previously noted, in the fourth quarter of 2016 AARP lobbied on 77 separate bills, including such obscure topics as lifetime National Park Service passes, but took absolutely no action to support Medigap reform.

So the next time a liberal Democrat wants to get on his or her high horse and attack conservative policy on pre-existing conditions, ask why they support AARP making $4.5 billion in profits by denying care for individuals with disabilities. Then maybe—just maybe—one day someone could get AARP to put its money where its mouth is.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

The High Costs of Medicaid Expansion in Louisiana

The data indicates that as a result of Medicaid expansion, taxpayers face an ever-growing tab for benefits provided to able-bodied adults — many of whom already had health insurance prior to Obamacare — even as the most vulnerable wait and wait for care. Louisiana can — and should — do better.

This post was originally published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Will the Trump Administration Help Republicans Expand Obamacare?

For all the allegations by the Left about how the Trump administration is “sabotaging” Obamacare, a recent New York Times article revealed nothing of the sort. Instead it indicated how many senior officials within the administration want to entrench Obamacare, helping states to expand the reach of one of its costly entitlements.

Thankfully, a furious internal battle took the idea off the table—for now. But instead of trying to find ways to increase the reach of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which prioritizes able-bodied adults over individuals with disabilities, the Trump administration should instead pursue policies that slow the push towards expansion, by making the tough fiscal choices surrounding expansion plain for states to see.

What ‘Partial Expansion’ Means

Following the court’s decision, the Obama administration determined expansion an “all-or-nothing” proposition. If states wanted to receive the enhanced match rate for the expansion—which started at 100 percent in 2014, and is slowly falling to 90 percent for 2020 and future years—they must expand to all individuals below the 138 percent of poverty threshold.

However, some states wish to expand Medicaid only for adults with incomes below the poverty level. Whereas individuals with incomes above 100 percent of poverty qualify for premium and cost-sharing subsidies for plans on Obamacare’s exchanges, individuals with incomes below the poverty level do not. (In states that have not expanded Medicaid, individuals with incomes below poverty may fall into the so-called “coverage gap,” because they do not have enough income to qualify for subsidized exchange coverage.)

States that wish to cover only individuals with incomes below the poverty line may do so—however, under the Obama administration guidance, those states would receive only their regular federal match rate of between 50 and 74 percent, depending on a state’s income. (Wisconsin chose this option for its Medicaid program.)

How ‘Partial Expansion’ Actually Costs More Money

The Times article says several administration supporters of “partial expansion”—including Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator (CMS) Seema Verma, and Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg—believe that embracing the change would help to head off full-blown expansion efforts in states like Utah. An internal HHS memo obtained by the Times claims that “HHS believes allowing partial expansion would result in significant savings over the 10-year budget window compared to full Medicaid expansion by all.”

In reality, however, “partial expansion” would explode the budget, for at least three reasons. First, it will encourage states that have not embraced expansion to do so, by lowering the fiscal barrier to expansion. While states “only” have to fund up to 10 percent of the costs of Medicaid expansion, they pay not a dime for any individuals enrolled in exchange coverage. By shifting individuals with incomes of between 100-138 percent of poverty from Medicaid to the exchanges, “partial expansion” significantly reduces the population of individuals for whom states would have to share costs. This change could encourage even ruby red states like Texas to consider Medicaid expansion.

Second, for the same reason, such a move will encourage states that have already expanded Medicaid to switch to “partial expansion”—so they can fob some of their state costs onto federal taxpayers. The Times notes that Arkansas and Massachusetts already have such waiver applications pending with CMS. Once the administration approves a single one of these waivers, virtually every state (or at minimum, every red state with a Medicaid expansion) will run to CMS’s doorstep asking for the federal government to take these costs off their hands.

Medicaid expansion has already proved unsustainable, with exploding enrollment and costs. “Partial expansion” would make that fiscal burden even worse, through a triple whammy of more states expanding, existing states offloading costs to the federal government through “partial expansion,” and the conversion of millions of enrollees from less expensive Medicaid coverage to more costly exchange plans.

What Washington Should Do Instead

Rather than embracing the fiscally irresponsible “partial expansion,” the Trump administration and Congress should instead halt another budget gimmick that states have used to fund Medicaid expansion: The provider tax scam. As of last fall, eight states had used this gimmick to fund some or all of the state portion of expansion costs. Other states have taken heed: Virginia used a provider tax to fund its Medicaid expansion earlier this year, and Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME)—who heretofore has steadfastly opposed expansion—recently floated the idea of a provider tax to fund expansion in Maine.

The provider tax functions as a scam by laundering money to generate more federal revenue. Providers—whether hospitals, nursing homes, Medicaid managed-care plans, or others—agree to an “assessment” that goes into the state’s general fund. The state uses those dollars to draw down new Medicaid matching funds from the federal government, which the state promptly sends right back to the providers.

For this reason, politicians of all parties have called on Congress to halt the provider tax gimmick. Even former vice president Joe Biden called provider taxes a “scam,” and pressed for their abolition. The final report of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission called for “restricting and eventually eliminating” the “Medicaid tax gimmick.”

If Republicans in Congress really want to oppose Obamacare—the law they ran on repealing for four straight election cycles—they should start by imposing a moratorium on any new Medicaid provider taxes, whether to fund expansion or anything else. Such a move would force states to consider whether they can afford to fund their share of expansion costs—by diverting dollars from schools or transportation, for instance—rather than using a budget gimmick to avoid those tough choices. It would also save money, by stopping states from bilking the federal government out of billions in extra Medicaid funds through what amounts to a money-laundering scam.

Rhetoric vs. Reality, Take 5,000

But of course, whether Republicans actually want to dismantle Obamacare remains a very open question. Rather than opposing “partial expansion” on fiscal grounds, the Times quotes unnamed elected officials’ response:

Republican governors were generally supportive [of “partial expansion”], but they said the change must not be seen as an expansion of the Affordable Care Act and should not be announced before the midterm elections. Congressional Republican leaders, while supportive of the option, also cautioned against any high-profile public announcement before the midterm elections.

In other words, these officials want to expand and entrench Obamacare, but don’t want to be seen as expanding and entrenching Obamacare. What courage!

Just as with congressional Republicans’ desperate moves to bail out Obamacare’s exchanges earlier this year, the Times article demonstrates how a party that repeatedly ran on repealing Obamacare, once granted with the full levers of power in Washington, instead looks to reinforce it. Small wonder that the unnamed politicians in the Times article worry about conservative voters exacting a justifiable vengeance in November.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

How the Obama Administration Hid Facts to Pass Obamacare

Over the weekend, Politico ran a report about how a “Trump policy shop filters facts to fit his message.” The article cited several unnamed sources complaining about the office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and its allegedly politicized role within the current administration.

One of the article’s anonymous sources called ASPE’s conduct over the past 18 months “another example of how we’re moving to a post-fact era.” Richard Frank, a former Obama appointee and one of the few sources to speak on the record, said that he found the current administration’s “attack on the integrity and the culture of the office…disturbing.”

As a congressional staffer conducting oversight of the CLASS Act in 2011-12, I reviewed thousands of pages of e-mails and documents from the months leading up to Obamacare’s passage. Those records strongly suggest that ASPE officials, including Frank, withheld material facts from Congress and the public about CLASS’s unsustainability, because full and prompt disclosure could have jeopardized Obamacare’s chances of passage.

About the CLASS Act ‘Ponzi scheme’

The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program, or CLASS for short, intended to provide a voluntary insurance benefit for long-term care. Included as part of Obamacare, the program never got off the ground. In October 2011, HHS concluded it could not implement the program in an actuarially sound manner; Congress repealed the program entirely as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal enacted into law in the early days of 2013.

CLASS’s prime structural problem closely resembled that of the Obamacare exchanges—too many sick people, and not enough healthy ones. Disability lobbyists strongly supported the CLASS Act, hoping that it would provide financial support to individuals with disabilities. However, its voluntary nature meant that the more people already with disabilities enrolled and qualified for benefits, the higher premiums would rise, thereby discouraging healthy people from signing up.

Moreover, although actuarially questionable in the long-term, CLASS’s structure provided short-term fiscal benefits that aided Obamacare’s passage. Because CLASS required a five-year waiting period to collect benefits, the program would generate revenue early in its lifespan—and thus in the ten-year window budget analysts would use to score Obamacare—even if it could not maintain balance over a longer, 75-year timeframe.

This dynamic led the Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), to dub CLASS “a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing Bernie Madoff would have been proud of.”

Internal Concerns Minimized in Public

A report I helped draft, which several congressional offices released in September 2011—weeks before HHS concluded that program implementation would not go forward—highlighted concerns raised within the department during the debate on Obamacare about CLASS’ unsustainable nature. For instance, in September 2009, one set of talking points prepared by ASPE indicated that, even after changes made by Congress, CLASS “is still likely to create severe adverse selection problems”—i.e., too many sick people would enroll to make the program sustainable.

Frank told me that, during one public speech in October 2009, “I spent about half my time setting out the problems with CLASS that needed to be fixed.” He did indeed highlight some of the actuarial challenges the CLASS program faced. But Frank’s remarks, at a Kaiser Family Foundation event, closed thusly:

We’ve, in the department, have modeled this extensively, perhaps more extensively than anybody would want to hear about [laughter] and we’re entirely persuaded that reasonable premiums, solid participation rates, and financial solvency over the 75-year period can be maintained. So it is, on this basis, that the Administration supports it that the bill continues to sort of meet the standards of being able to stand on its own financial feet. Thanks.

Frank told me over the weekend that his comments “came at the end of my explaining that we were in the process of addressing those issues” (emphasis mine). But Frank actually said that the Obama administration was “entirely persuaded” of CLASS’ solvency, which gives the impression not that the department had begun a process of addressing those issues, but had already resolved them.

Frank’s public comments notwithstanding, ASPE had far from resolved the actuarial problems plaguing CLASS. Two days after his speech, one of Frank’s employees sent around an internal e-mail suggesting that the CLASS Act “seems like a recipe for disaster.”

But the ‘Fixes’ Fall Short

In response to these new analyses, HHS and ASPE came up with a package of technical fixes designed to make the CLASS program actuarially sound. One section of those fixes noted that “it is possible the authority in the bill to modify premiums will not be sufficient to ensure the program is sustainable.”

However, the proposed changes came too late:

  • No changes to the CLASS Act made it into the final version of Obamacare, which then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed in the Senate on December 19, 2009.
  • The election of Scott Brown (R-MA) to replace the late Kennedy in January 2010 prevented Democrats from fixing the CLASS Act through a House-Senate conference committee, as Brown had pledged to be the “41st Republican” in the Senate who would prevent a conference report from receiving a final vote.
  • While the House and Senate could (and did) pass some changes to Obamacare on a party-line vote through the budget reconciliation process, the Senate’s “Byrd rule” on inclusion of incidental matters in a budget reconciliation bill prevented them from addressing CLASS.

The White House’s own health care proposal, released in February 2010, discussed “a series of changes to the Senate bill to improve the CLASS program’s financial stability and ensure its long-run solvency.” But as HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius later testified before the Senate Finance Committee, the “Byrd rule” procedures for budget reconciliation meant that those changes never saw the light of day—and could not make it into law.

Kinda Looks Like a Conspiracy of Silence

By the early months of 2010, officials at ASPE knew they had a program that they could not fix legislatively, and could fail as a result. Yet at no point between January 2010, when ASPE proposed its package of technical changes, through Obamacare’s enactment, did anyone within the administration admit that the program could prove impossible to implement.

Over the weekend, I asked Frank about this silence. He responded that “when the reconciliation package was shelved”—which I take to mean that the CLASS changes did not make it into the reconciliation bill, which did pass—“we began working on regulatory remedies that might address the flaws in CLASS.” However, from the outset some of Frank’s own employees believed those changes might prove insufficient to make the program actuarially sound, as it later proved.

To put it another way: In February 2011, Sebelius testified before the Senate Finance Committee that “the snapshot [of CLASS] in the bill, I would absolutely agree, is totally unsustainable.” She, Frank, and others within the administration had known this fact one year previously: They just hoped they could arrive at a package of regulatory changes that would overcome the law’s structural flaws.

But did anyone within the administration disclose that CLASS was “totally unsustainable” as written back in February 2010? No, because doing so could have jeopardized Obamacare’s chances of passage. The law passed the House on a narrow 219-212 margin.

If HHS had publicly conceded that CLASS could become a “zombie” program—one that they could not fix, but could not remove—it would have caused a political firestorm, and raised broader questions about the bill’s fiscal integrity that could have prevented its enactment.

Was Obamacare Sold on a Lie?

Conservatives have pilloried Obamacare for the many false statements used to sell the law, from the infamous “Lie of the Year” that “If you like your plan, you can keep it” to the repeated promises about premium reductions, Barack Obama’s “firm pledge” to avoid middle-class tax increases, and on and on.

But there are sins of both commission and omission, and the CLASS Act falls into the latter category. Regardless of whether one uses the loaded term “lie” to characterize the sequence of events described above, the public statements by HHS officials surrounding the program prior to Obamacare’s enactment fell short of the full and unvarnished truth, both as they knew it at the time, and as events later proved.

Politico can write all it wants about ASPE under Trump “filter[ing] facts to fit his message.” But ASPE’s prior failure to disclose the full scope of problems the CLASS Act faced represents a textbook example of a bureaucracy hiding inconvenient truths to enact its agenda. If anonymous HHS bureaucrats now wish to attack a “post-fact era” under Trump, they should start by taking a hard look in the mirror at what they did under President Obama to enact Obamacare.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.