The Better Solution for Our Health Insurance System: A Plan You Can Actually Keep

Sometimes, liberals and conservatives agree on a policy problem, but disagree strongly on the best solutions to that problem. Our health insurance system presents one case of such a disconnect between problems and solutions.

In the last Democratic presidential debate, hosted by CNN in March, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said that the coronavirus pandemic made the “dysfunctionality of the current health care system … obviously apparent.” He elaborated in an April op-ed in Politico, in which he noted that “already, an estimated 9.2 million workers have lost their employer-sponsored insurance, and as many as 35 million people might lose coverage by the end of the crisis.”

Sanders makes a valid point: The pandemic does illustrate the shortcomings of our system of health coverage. But his single-payer health care plan — or even Joe Biden’s proposal for a (purportedly) voluntary government-run “option” in which individuals could enroll — would take the system in the exact opposite direction.

The dysfunctionality of the system exists largely because employers control most Americans’ health insurance. Most conservatives would therefore support letting individuals control their health coverage, rather than liberals’ plan to replace employer control with government control. Thankfully, the Trump administration has moved health policy in that exact direction, laying the groundwork for a movement toward more personalized insurance options.

The Problem: Employer-Provided Health Insurance

Sanders cited a study from Health Management Associates stating that as many as 35 million individuals could lose access to employer-sponsored insurance due to coronavirus-related layoffs. A revised paper, released in late May, did not specifically update estimates for the number of people losing employer insurance, but still showed significant coverage losses. Other estimates have indicated similarly large numbers of Americans losing their employer coverage.

The sudden job losses sparked by coronavirus lockdowns have illustrated one of the three major problems with employer-provided health insurance. Individually and collectively, these flaws have represented a problem hidden in plain sight for decades.

Lack of choice: The largest survey of employer-provided health insurance found that in 2019, exactly three-quarters of firms (75%) offered only one type of health insurance plan. In general, large firms offer more choices than small businesses, but even among the largest firms — those with more than 5,000 workers.

Because the employer and not the employee owns the insurance policy, workers often end up stuck with whatever plan their employer chooses. An individual who doesn’t want to enroll in an HMO, or whose doctors lie outside his or her employer’s provider network, might have few choices but to switch jobs or accept a plan that does not meet his or her needs.

In its first season, the U.S. version of “The Office” satirized this dynamic, when resident megalomaniac Dwight Schrute got charged with picking the office health plan — and let the power go to his head. While Americans don’t have to worry about contracting “Count Choculitis,” one of the fictitious diseases Schrute’s co-workers invented to needle him in the episode, they do face the very real worry that their employer’s choices and wishes regarding health care might not align with their own.

Flawed incentives: A conversation with one of my friends several years ago illustrated this problem. My friend said he loved the insurance plan his employer provided: “I can go to the doctor and it only costs me a $5 co-pay.”

I posed a thought experiment: What if your health insurance suddenly became taxable, and you had to pay $1,500 or so in taxes on that coverage? (At the time, a top-of-the-line plan cost about $6,000 for an individual, and I assumed a 25% state and local tax rate.) He responded immediately: “I wouldn’t want the plan — I would tell them to raise my co-pays and deductibles.”

That response illustrates the policy problem of employer-sponsored insurance: Everyone thinks they’re spending everyone else’s money. Employees don’t pay taxes on employer coverage; an IRS ruling during World War II, later codified by Congress, exempts employer-provided benefits from both income and payroll taxes.

All the incentives regarding employer-provided health care point in the wrong direction. Exempting employer coverage from taxation encourages individuals to take more compensation in untaxed health insurance benefits rather than taxable wages. Many employees don’t even realize that the employer’s share of the contribution for their coverage — which averaged nearly $15,000 for a family policy in 2019 — comes out of their own wallets in the form of lost wages.

All the flawed and misaligned incentives mean that the co-pay of “only” $5 my friend talked about years ago costs far more than that — to workers, employers and the economy as a whole. It’s one major reason why our health care system represents such a large, and rising, share of our economy.

Lack of portability: This issue arises because employers and not individuals own their health plans. As a result, when individuals lose their jobs, they also lose their health coverage. That dynamic results in the double whammy Americans have experienced during the pandemic, when workers lose their coverage at the same time they have unexpectedly lost their job — compounding families’ financial distress.

Lack of portability also exacerbates the problem of pre-existing conditions. Upon entering the workforce in their teens or 20s, most individuals have yet to develop a pre-existing condition like cancer or diabetes. But every time individuals switch jobs, they lose their employer-provided health coverage — making them vulnerable if they have developed a condition in the intervening time.

The worst kinds of situations occur when individuals must leave their jobs because they have become too sick to work. These patients face not one but two potential sources of financial ruin: They have lost their source of income, and face the prospect of astronomical medical bills without a means to fund them.

Cure the Disease, Not the Symptoms

In the past several years, Democrats have spent lots of time talking about the need to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions. But in focusing on pre-existing conditions, the left focuses on the symptom, rather than the underlying problem.

Remember: When Obamacare went into effect in January 2014, at least 4.7 million individuals received cancellation notices, according to The Associated Press. These individuals had plans that they liked, and wanted to keep — but the Obama administration wouldn’t let them. Politifact called the promise that Americans could keep their plan the 2013 “Lie of the Year,” and that lie affected many individuals who had developed, or feared that they would develop, a pre-existing condition. Let’s spare the notion that Democrats want to “protect” people with pre-existing conditions, when they “protected” millions of people right out of their coverage.

Liberals don’t talk about the underlying policy issue that creates the pre-existing condition problem — that people don’t own their own health coverage — because they don’t want people to own their own insurance. They want Washington to control health care decisions, not individual patients. It’s the classic example of former President Ronald Reagan’s nine most terrifying words in the English language: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

But if individuals could buy an insurance policy upon joining the workforce — one that they owned, not their employer — and retain that policy from job to job for decades, most individuals could buy coverage well before they develop a pre-existing condition, and keep that coverage after they do so, the pre-existing condition problem would rapidly diminish. (Yes, a small percentage of Americans, most notably those born with congenital illnesses, develop pre-existing conditions very early in life, but other policy solutions can address this population.)

Trump Administration’s Solution

You wouldn’t know it, given all the carping and hostility from the left, but the Trump administration has put forward a very positive solution that answers the policy problems associated with employer-provided health coverage. It should increase portability in ways that help solve the pre-existing condition problem, while also providing additional choice and competition.

The administration’s policy, implemented through regulations finalized in 2019, allows employers to contribute funds to workers on a pre-tax basis through Health Reimbursement Arrangements. These HRAs allow individuals to purchase coverage that they own, not their employers — making the coverage portable from job to job.

The HRA concept provides wins for employers, employees and the economy as a whole:

• Employers get predictability when it comes to their health insurance offerings. By providing employees a fixed sum (say, $300 or $500 a month) into the HRA, they will not have to worry about changing plans from year to year, a sudden spike in costs because of a sick employee, or many of the other paperwork hassles associated with offering coverage.
• Employees get both choice and portability. They can select the insurance plan that best meets their needs — the doctors, deductibles and plan features that they want. Not only can they keep the plan when they switch jobs, the fact that they and not their employer chose the coverage in the first place will make them more likely to do so.
• The economy will benefit from individuals selecting the plans they want, rather than the plans employers select for them. Insurers will have to provide better, more customized plans that fit individuals’ needs, and employees will have incentives to make better choices to stretch the HRA dollars their employers provide them.

Ideally, Congress would amend the law regarding Health Savings Accounts, to allow individuals to use HSA dollars to fund health insurance premiums. Because HSA funds cannot pay insurance premiums in most cases under current law, the Trump administration had to use Health Reimbursement Arrangements (which are owned by employers) rather than Health Savings Accounts (which are always owned by individuals) to fund individual coverage.

Providing contributions via an HSA, as opposed to an HRA, would allow employees to control any unused employer contributions upon leaving a job. That way, individuals would not only have a source of coverage in the event of a layoff, they could develop a source of savings to pay for that coverage while unemployed. But until Congress acts, the Trump administration’s Health Reimbursement Arrangement regulations represent a tremendous step forward toward a more logical, patient-centered insurance system.

Empower Patients, Not Government

Coronavirus has made the problems with government control of health care apparent. As Joe Biden (of all people) noted in the March CNN debate, Italy has a single-payer system — and that nation had to ration access to ventilators, whereas the United States did not.

The pandemic has exposed the flaws in our health insurance system. But it comes just as the Trump administration has shown a better path forward. By empowering patients rather than government bureaucrats, Health Reimbursement Arrangements can help transform the coverage system into something that lowers costs and provides the care American patients prefer.

This post was originally published at the Daily Caller’s American Renewal blog.

How Government-Run Health Care Worsened the Coronavirus Crisis

Leftist politicians have spent a great amount of time over the past two months attacking President Trump for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. But instead of reflexively criticizing the administration, those liberals might want to examine how the left’s dream of government-run health care has exacerbated the crisis within the United States.

One of the major causes of the dearth of testing over the past several months: Low payments from Medicare, which led to low payment rates from private insurance plans. It may come as a shock to people like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), but guess what labs did when low payments meant they suffered a financial loss for every coronavirus patient tested? They performed fewer tests.

Low Reimbursements Equals Fewer Tests

A recent expose in USA Today highlighted how Medicare “lowballed payments” to labs for coronavirus tests, leading those labs to restrict the number of tests they performed. An executive at one lab, Aaron Domenico, told the paper that “I’m an American first, and if I could do it for cost, I’d be happy to do it for the people at cost.” But Medicare initially reimbursed laboratories only $51 for a coronavirus test, much less than Domenico’s costs of $67 per test.

Paying $51 for a diagnostic test sounds like a lot, but Medicare gives laboratories nearly twice that amount, or approximately $96, to test for the flu. And government bureaucrats setting unrealistically low prices meant that private insurers followed Medicare’s lead. Little wonder that the head of the National Independent Laboratory Association said “a number of labs are holding back” on performing additional tests “because they didn’t want to lose money.”

Thankfully, on April 14 Medicare raised its reimbursement for a coronavirus test from $51 to $100. Unsurprisingly, the number of tests performed daily has roughly doubled since that point. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said she “recognized that there may have been some issues with reimbursement” discouraging labs from performing coronavirus tests.

Bureaucrats Can’t Micromanage Health Care

Therein lies one of the major problems with government-run health care: The notion that federal bureaucrats can determine the correct price for every prescription drug, laboratory test, physician service, or hospital procedure across the country. Donald Berwick, a former CMS administrator who helped develop Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s single-payer proposal, once said, “I want to see that in the city of San Diego or Seattle there are exactly as many MRI units as needed when operating at full capacity. Not less and not more.”

Berwick’s comments suggest that the federal government can determine the “right” amount of MRI units in each city, and use policy levers to achieve that “correct” outcome. But the coronavirus testing fiasco demonstrates how federal bureaucrats often do a poor job of trying to micromanage health care from Washington. Paying doctors and laboratories too much will encourage over-consumption of care, while paying too little discourages providers from even offering the service.

Low Payments Lead to Job Losses, Too

The problems with coronavirus testing also preview the left’s efforts to expand government-run health care. For instance, Joe Biden’s campaign platform calls for a government-run health plan that “will reduce costs for patients by negotiating lower prices from hospitals and other health care providers.”

But all these proposals—whether they would abolish private insurance outright, as Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders support, or offer a government-run “option,” as in Biden’s platform—would have the government “negotiate” prices by forcing doctors, nurses, and hospitals to accept less money. By lowering payment levels, those plans would lead to massive job losses—as many as 1.5 million jobs in hospitals alone under a transition to single-payer, according to one estimate in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association.

The pay cuts and furloughs affecting many front-line health workers—the health-care sector lost 1.4 million jobs during the month of April—provide a preview of the future. Instead of suffering temporary revenue declines due to the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals and medical practices would face permanent reductions in revenue from lower-paying government programs.

Worse yet, care will suffer when people cannot access the care they need at the paltry prices government programs will pay. While the left lays the coronavirus testing flaws at the feet of President Trump, they should look instead at the government-run programs they support as a major source of the problem. Voters being asked to endorse the movement towards socialism in November should take note as well.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Hospitals’ Corona Cash Crunch Shows Problems of Government-Run Care

The coronavirus pandemic has inflicted such vast damage on the American economy that one damaged sector has gone relatively unnoticed. Despite incurring a massive influx of new patients, the hospital industry faces what one executive called a “seismic financial shock” from the virus.

The types of shocks hospitals currently face also illustrate the problems inherent in Democrats’ proposed expansions of government-run health care. Likewise, the pay and benefit cuts and furloughs that some hospitals have enacted in response to these financial shocks provide a potential preview of Democrats’ next government takeover of health care.

Massive Disruptions

The health-care sector faces two unique, virus-related problems. The lockdowns in many states have forced physician offices to close, or scale back services to emergencies only. The cancellation of routine procedures (e.g., dental cleanings, check-ups, etc.) has caused physician income to plummet, just like restaurants and other shuttered businesses.

While many physician practices have seen a dramatic drop-off in patients, hospitals face an influx of cases—but the wrong kind of cases. According data from the Health Care Cost Institute, in 2018 a hospital surgical stay generated an average $43,810 in revenue, while the average non-surgical stay generated only $19,672.

The pandemic has raised hospitals’ costs, as they work to increase bed capacity and obtain additional personal protective equipment for their employees. But as one Dallas-based hospital system noted, coronavirus’ true “seismic financial shock” has come from the cancellations of elective surgeries that “are the cornerstone of our hospital system’s operating model.”

This rapid change in hospitals’ case mix—the type of patient facilities treat—has inflicted great damage. Replacing millions of higher-paying patients with lower-paying ones will rapidly unbalance a hospital’s books. Changing patient demographics, in the form of additional uninsured patients and patients from lower-paying government programs, only compounds hospitals’ financial difficulties.

A Preview of Democrats’ Health Care Future

The shock hospitals face from the rapid change in their case mix previews an expansion of government-run health care. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission noted in a report released last month that in 2018, hospitals incurred a 9.3 percent loss on their Medicare inpatient admissions. To attempt to offset these losses as hospitals treat coronavirus patients, Section 3710 of the $2 trillion stimulus bill increased Medicare payments for COVID-related treatment by 20 percent.

With respect to the single-payer bill promoted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), neither the conservative Mercatus Center nor the liberal Urban Institute assumed the higher reimbursement rates included in the stimulus bill. Mercatus’ $32.6 trillion cost estimate assumed no increase in current Medicare hospital or physician payments, while Urban’s $32 trillion cost estimate assumed a 15 percent increase in hospital payments and no increase in physician payments. Raising Medicare reimbursements to match the 20 percent increase included in the stimulus bill would substantially hike the cost of Sanders’ plan.

Conversely, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden believes his “public option” proposal, by making enrollment in a government plan voluntary, represents much less radical change. But his plan increases the generosity of Obamacare subsidies and repeals current restrictions prohibiting workers with an offer of employer coverage from receiving those subsidies—both of which would siphon patients toward the government plan.

In 2009, the Lewin Group concluded that a government plan open to all workers would result in 119 million Americans dropping their private coverage. Such a massive influx of patients into a lower-paying government system would destabilize hospitals’ finances much the same way as coronavirus.

Economic Cutbacks and Job Losses

Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has allowed us to see what a rapid influx of lower-paying patients will do to the hospital sector. A few weeks into the crisis, many systems have already resorted to major cost-cutting measures. Tenet Healthcare, which runs 65 hospitals, has postponed 401(k) matches for employees. In Boston, Beth Israel Deaconess has withheld some of emergency room physicians’ accrued pay, a measure sure to harm morale as first responders face long hours and difficult working conditions.

This economic damage from a rapid change in hospitals’ payer mix echoes a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association last spring. That study concluded that a single-payer health care system paying at Medicare rates would reduce hospital revenues by $151 billion annually, resulting in up to 1.5 million job losses for hospitals alone. Robust enrollment in the government-run health plan Biden supports would have only marginally lower effects.

Hospitals, like the rest of our economy, will in time recover from the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. But they may not bounce back quickly, or at all, from another expansion of government-run health care—a fact that hospital workers facing cutbacks, and patients needing care, should take to heart in November.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

The Economy Won’t Recover Until Americans’ Coronavirus Fears Fade

If we reopen it, will they come? That paraphrase of the signature line from “Field of Dreams” illustrates a dilemma facing the Trump administration, along with state and local leaders, as they contemplate when and how to reopen elements of the economy shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Just because the Trump administration gives word that individuals and businesses can reopen doesn’t mean that most, or even any, of them will do so.

A dozen years ago, former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) caused a minor uproar during the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign when he characterized the nation as in a “mental recession.” His remarks drew outrage, but they accurately describe one of the two predicaments the American economy faces: Both the coronavirus and the fear caused by the virus.

Even as the nation’s leaders work to resolve the first problem, they also must work diligently to resolve the second. When restarting economic activity, all Americans have a voice: They can spend, or not spend, money as they please. If the American public stays home en masse even after public officials lift stay-at-home orders, the “re-opened” economy will look nearly as morose as the current one.

Big Support for Forcing People to Stay Home

Polling shows a surprising level of support for most of the actions taken to curb the virus, even at the expense of the nation’s economy. A Fox News poll taken last week showed that 80 percent of Americans support “a national stay-at-home order for everyone except essential workers.” That comes despite the fact that 50 percent of Americans said they, or someone in their household, had lost a job or had hours reduced because of the virus and related shutdowns.

Why do an overwhelming majority of Americans support such a drastic shutdown of the nation’s economy? The polling shows that, as of April 4-7, most Americans fear the virus:

  • A total of 94 percent are very or somewhat concerned about the spread of the virus in the United States;
  • More than three in four (76 percent) are very or somewhat concerned about catching the coronavirus;
  • Nearly four in five (79 percent) are very or somewhat concerned that they or someone in their family could die from the virus; and
  • Three-quarters (75 percent) believe the worst is yet to come regarding the pandemic.

The American people do worry about the virus’ potential to cause a recession (91 percent are very or somewhat concerned), and inflict economic hardship on their families (79 percent very or somewhat concerned). But the survey shows that, at least as of last week, they fear the virus more than they fear the economic consequences of the virus. Perhaps for this reason, a 47 percent plurality believe President Trump has not taken the virus seriously enough, whereas only 4 percent believe he has overreacted to the pandemic.

Don’t Just Tell Me, Show Me

Some might believe the American people have in fact overreacted to the coronavirus. They of course have their right to hold those beliefs. But trivializing people’s fears—as opposed to reasoning with them in a way that puts them at ease—won’t encourage people to begin resuming their normal lives, and will likely keep the economy stuck in neutral (or sliding further backwards).

Despite the lack of focus on the topic to date, the messaging component of reopening the economy seems critically important to its success—as important as getting the timing right of the reopening. The administration needs to approach the American people where they are—anxious about the virus’ spread—and offer clear explanations not just for what they are doing, but why:

  • Why reopen a given area, sector, or activity now? Why not two weeks ago, or two weeks (or two months) from now?
  • What will the federal government do (and what can it do) regarding interstate travel? What happens to the businessman who needs to fly for work—will a governor in another state attempt to stop him or her from traveling?
  • The administration’s initial proposal to classify areas as high, medium, or low risk makes a great deal of sense. But what metrics will go into those classifications—number of cases, growth in cases, number of deaths, health-care capacity, or something else? Will the criteria remain transparent and objective, and not subject to political manipulation or pressure?
  • What metrics will determine any potential need to reactivate shutdown orders?

This advice applies not just to President Trump, but to governors and other policy makers as well. For instance, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Friday that he envisioned a “real degree of normality” by around the time of this fall’s elections. His statement seemed somewhat surprising, given prior comments by Fauci and others about a possible “second wave” of coronavirus infections hitting this fall.

In an evolving response to a pandemic, facts and circumstances can change rapidly, as scientists learn more about the virus, and humans’ responses to it. But whenever scientists change their models, or political leaders alter their guidance and recommendations, both must explain to the public why they have done so. Only transparent data, communications, and explanations can ensure the public buy-in necessary to bring the economy back to life at the appropriate time.

Fix Both the Problems

Half a century ago this week, the Apollo 13 mission—where an on-board explosion turned a potential moon landing into a struggle for three astronauts to survive—captivated the nation. As staffers at NASA’s Mission Control worked feverishly to bring the space travelers safely home, Flight Director Gene Kranz instructed his employees to “Work the problem” (or words to that effect).

With the current pandemic, policymakers need to work the problem—both of them. They must break down the component parts associated with reopening our economic and civic institutions: the conditions that must be met prior to a reopening, the sequencing behind such an effort, and so forth.

But they also must explain openly, clearly, and repeatedly to the American people how and why they are doing so. Doing the former without the latter could result in more confusion, uncertainty, and continued economic stagnation.

The fact that Jim Lovell, the commander of the fateful Apollo 13 mission, survived to write about that experience 50 years on this past weekend speaks to the power of American ingenuity in solving problems, overcoming obstacles, and saving lives. Here’s hoping we see a reprise of that ingenuity for the coronavirus.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

The Tough Cost-Benefit Choices Facing Policymakers Regarding Coronavirus

Right now, the United States, like most of the rest of the world, faces two critical, yet diametrically opposed, priorities: Stopping a global pandemic without causing a global economic depression.

Balancing these two priorities presents tough choices—all else equal, revitalizing the economy will exacerbate the pandemic, and fighting the pandemic will worsen economic misery. Yet, as they navigate this Scylla and Charybdis, some policymakers have taken positions contrary to their prior instincts.

In his daily press briefing Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) discussed the false choice between the economy and public health. He made the following assertions:

My mother is not expendable, your mother is not expendable, and our brothers and sisters are not expendable, and we’re not going to accept the premise that human life is disposable, and we’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life. The first order of business is to save lives, period. Whatever it costs….

If you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy then it’s no contest. No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life because no American is going to say how much a life is worth.

On this count, Cuomo is flat wrong. Entities in both the United States and elsewhere—including within his own state government—put a dollar figure on human life on a regular basis.

Rationing on Cost Grounds Already Happens

Consider the below statement describing the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), a British institution that determines coverage guidelines for the country’s National Health Service (NHS). NICE uses the quality-adjusted life year (QALY) formula, which puts a value on human life and then judges whether a new treatment exceeds its “worth” to society:

As a treatment approaches a cost of £20,000 [about $24,000 at current exchange rates] per QALY gained over existing best practice, NICE will scrutinize it closely. It will consider how robust the analysis relating to its cost- and clinical-effectiveness is, how innovative the treatment is, and other factors. As the cost rises above £30,000 [about $36,000] per QALY, NICE states that ‘an increasingly stronger case for supporting the technology as an effective use of NHS resources’ is necessary.

Entities in the United States undertake similar research. The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) also performs cost-effectiveness research using the QALY metric. The organization’s website notes that “the state of New York has used [ICER] reports as an input into its Medicaid program of negotiating drug prices.” In other words, Cuomo’s own administration places a value on human life when determining what the state’s Medicaid program will and won’t pay for pharmaceuticals.

Cost-Effectiveness Thresholds

Cuomo represents but one example of the contradictions in the current coronavirus debate. Donald Berwick, an official in the Obama administration and recent advisor to the presidential campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), infamously discussed the need to “ration with our eyes open” While many liberals like him have traditionally endorsed rationing health care on cost grounds, few seem willing to prioritize economic growth over fighting the pandemic.

Conversely, conservatives often oppose rationing as an example of government harming the most vulnerable by placing an arbitrary value on human life. Nonetheless, the recent voices wanting to prioritize a return to economic activity over fighting the pandemic have come largely from the right.

The calls to reopen the economy came in part from an Imperial College London study examining outcomes from the pandemic. The paper concluded that an unmitigated epidemic (i.e., one where officials made no attempt to stop the virus’ spread) would cost approximately 2.2 million lives in the United States. Mitigation strategies like social distancing would reduce the virus’ impact and save lives, but would prolong the outbreak—and harm the economy—for more than a year.

The paper’s most interesting nugget lies at its end: “Even if all patients were able to be treated”—meaning hospitals would not get overwhelmed with a surge of patients when the pandemic peaks—“we predict there would still be in the order of…1.1-1.2 million [deaths] in the US.” Based on the Imperial College model, shutting down the economy so as not to let the virus run rampant would save approximately 1 million lives compared to the worst-case scenario.

A Cost of $1 Million Per Estimated Life Saved

Some crude economic math suggests the value a pandemic-inspired economic “pause” might place on human life. Based on a U.S. gross domestic product of approximately $21 trillion, a 5 percent reduction in GDP—which seems realistic, or perhaps even conservative, based on current worldwide projections—would erase roughly $1.05 trillion in economic growth. The Imperial College estimate that mitigation and social distancing measures would save roughly 1 million lives would therefore place the value of each life saved at approximately $1 million.

Of course, these calculations depend in large part on inputs and assumptions—how quickly the virus spreads, whether large numbers of Americans have already become infected asymptomatically, whether already infected individuals gain immunity from future infection, how much the slowdown harms economic growth in both the short and long-term, and many, many more. Other assumptions could yield quite different results.

But if these types of calculations, particularly when performed with varying assumptions and inputs, replicate the results of the crude math above, policymakers likely will sit up and take notice. Given that Britain’s National Health Service makes coverage decisions by valuing life as worth tens of thousands of pounds, far less than millions of dollars, it seems contradictory to keep pursuing a pandemic strategy resulting in economic damage many multiples of that amount for every life saved.

Tough Cost-Benefit Analysis

Unfortunately, lawmakers the world over face awful choices, and can merely attempt to select the least-bad option based on the best evidence available to them at the time. Slogans like “Why put your job over your grandmother?” or “If you worry about the virus, just stay home” belie the very real consequences the country could face.

Consider possible scenarios if officials loosen economic restrictions while the pandemic persists. Some individuals with health conditions could face the prospect of returning to work in an environment they find potentially hazardous, or losing their jobs. Individuals who stay home to avoid the virus, yet develop medical conditions unrelated to the virus—a heart attack, for instance—could die due to their inability to access care, as hospitals become swarmed with coronavirus patients. And on and on.

The president said on Tuesday he would like to start reopening the economy by Easter, a timeline that seems highly optimistic, at best. If by that time the situation in New York City deteriorates to something resembling Italy’s coronavirus crisis—and well it could—both the president and the American people may take quite a different view towards reopening the economy immediately. (And governors, who have more direct power over their states, could decide to ignore Trump and keep state-based restrictions on economic activity in place regardless of what he says.)

Nonetheless, everyone understands that the economy cannot remain in suspended animation forever. Hopefully, better data, more rapid viral testing, and the emergence of potential treatments will allow the United States and the world to begin re-establishing some sense of normalcy, at the minimum possible cost to both human life and economic growth.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Analyzing the Gimmicks in Warren’s Health Care Plan

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

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

Independent Report Shows How Socialism Will Raise Your Taxes

Democratic candidates for president continue to evade questions on how they will pay for their massive, $32 trillion single-payer health care scheme. But on Monday, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) released a 10-page paper providing a preliminary analysis of possible ways to fund the left’s socialized medicine experiment.

Worth noting about the organization that published this document: It maintains a decidedly centrist platform. While perhaps not liberal in its views, it also does not embrace conservative policies. For instance, its president, Maya MacGuineas, recently wrote a blog post opposing the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, stating that the bill’s “shortcomings outweigh the benefits,” because it will increase federal deficits and debt.

Everyone’s Taxes Will Go Up—a Lot

Consider some of the options to pay for single payer CRFB examines, along with how they might affect average families.

A 32 percent payroll tax increase. No, that’s not a typo. Right now, employers and employees pay a combined 15.3 percent payroll tax to fund Social Security and Medicare. (While employers technically pay half of this 15.3 percent, most economists conclude the entire amount ultimately comes out of workers’ paychecks, in the form of lower wages.) This change would more than triple current payroll tax rates.

Real-Life Cost: An individual earning $50,000 in wages would pay $8,000 more per year ($50,000 times 16 percent), and so would that individual’s employer.

Real-Life Cost: An individual with $50,000 in income would pay $9,450 in higher taxes ($50,000 minus $12,200, times 25 percent).

A 42 percent Value Added Tax (VAT). This change would enact on the federal level the type of sales/consumption tax that many European countries use to support their social programs. Some proposals have called for rebates to some or all households, to reflect the fact that sales taxes raise the cost of living, particularly for poorer families. However, using some of the proceeds of the VAT to provide rebates would likely require an even higher tax rate than the 42 percent CRFB estimates in its report.

Real-Life Cost: According to CRFB, “the first-order effect of this VAT would be to increase the prices of most goods and services by 42 percent.”

Mandatory Public Premiums. This proposal would require all Americans to pay a tax in the form of a “premium” to finance single payer. As it stands now, Americans with employer-sponsored insurance pay an average of $6,015 in premiums for family coverage. (Employers pay an additional $14,561 in premium contributions; most economists argue these funds ultimately come from employees, in the form of lower wages—but workers do not explicitly pay these funds out-of-pocket.)

Real-Life Cost: According to CRFB, “premiums would need to average about $7,500 per capita or $20,000 per household” to fund single payer. Exempting individuals currently on federal health programs (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid) would prevent seniors and the poor from getting hit with these costs, but “would increase the premiums [for everyone else] by over 60 percent to more than $12,000 per individual.”

Reduce non-health federal spending by 80 percent. After re-purposing existing federal health spending (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid), paying for single payer would require reducing everything else from the federal budget—defense, transportation, education, and more—by 80 percent.

Real-Life Cost: “An 80 percent cut to Social Security would mean reducing the average new benefit from about $18,000 per year to $3,600 per year.”

The report includes other options, including an increase in federal debt to 205 percent of gross domestic product—nearly double its historic record—and a more-than-doubling of individual and corporate income tax rates. The impact of the last is obvious: Take what you paid to the IRS on April 15, or in your regular paycheck, and double it.

In theory, lawmakers could use a combination of these approaches to fund a single-payer health care system, which might blunt their impact somewhat. But the massive amounts of revenue needed gives one the sense that doing so would amount to little more than rearranging deck chairs on a sinking fiscal ship.

Taxing Only the Rich Won’t Pay for Single Payer

CRFB reinforced their prior work indicating that taxes on “the rich” could at best fund about one-third of the cost of single payer. Their proposals include $2 trillion in revenue from raising tax rates on the affluent, another $2 trillion from phasing out tax incentives for the wealthy, another $2 trillion from doubling corporate income taxes, $3 trillion from wealth taxes, and $1 trillion from taxes on financial transactions and institutions.

Several of the proposals CRFB analyzed would raise tax rates on the wealthiest households above 60 percent. At these rates, economists suggest that individuals would reduce their income and cut back on work, because they do not see the point in generating additional income if government will take 70 (or 80, or 90) cents on every additional dollar earned. While taxing “the rich” might sound publicly appealing, at a certain point it becomes a self-defeating proposition—and several proposals CRFB vetted would meet, or exceed, that point.

Socialized Medicine Will Permanently Shrink the Economy

The report notes that “most of the [funding] options we present would shrink the economy compared to the current system.” For instance, CRFB quantifies the impact of funding single payer via a payroll tax increase as “the equivalent of a $3,200 reduction in per-person income and would result in a 6.5 percent reduction in hours worked—a 9 million person reduction in full-time equivalent workers in 2030.”

By contrast, deficit financing a single-payer system would minimize its drag on jobs, but “be far more damaging to the economy.” The increase in federal debt “would shrink the size of the economy by roughly 5 percent in 2030—the equivalent of a $4,500 reduction in per person income—and far more in the following years.”

Moreover, these estimates assume a great amount of interest by foreign buyers in continuing to purchase American debt. If the U.S. Treasury cannot find buyers for its bonds, a potential debt crisis could cause the economic damage from single payer to skyrocket.

To say single payer would cause widespread economic disruption would put it mildly. Hopefully, the CRFB report, and others like it, will inspire the American people to reject the progressive left’s march towards socialism.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

The Broken Promises of Louisiana’s Medicaid Expansion

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

The Issue: Enrollment

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Costs and Spending

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Fraud

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Efficient Use of Taxpayer Dollars

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Uncompensated Care

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Jobs

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

The Facts:

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

The Issue: Vulnerable Individuals Waiting for Care

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

The Facts:

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was originally published by the Pelican Institute.

LSU, Department of Health Inflate Claims in Medicaid Expansion Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was originally published at Houma Today.