Medicare for Pets IS as Crazy as You Think

Recently, business writer David Lazarus penned a column in the Los Angeles Times called “Medicare for Pets—It’s Not as Crazy as You Think.” The column argued for a “Peticare for all” program (I’m not making that up—that’s really what he called it) of mandatory insurance for pets.

Unfortunately for Lazarus, the idea is as exactly as crazy as one might think: Both an impractical and unwise use of government resources. But the fact that he would propose such a concept—and that a major newspaper would devote column inches to the idea—shows how people now expect government to solve their every waking problem.

Why It Wouldn’t Work

California law requires that all dogs over the age of 4 months be vaccinated against rabies and licensed through the local animal care agency. Many cities and counties, including Los Angeles, also require that cats be vaccinated for rabies and licensed. How about if we insure dogs and cats as part of the licensing process?

The proposal raises several obvious problems. First, confining the proposal to cats and dogs could prompt outrage from owners of non-feline, non-canine breeds, like the 9.4 million reptiles kept as pets. The most recent national pet owners’ survey reveals Americans keep more fish as pets (139.3 million) than cats (94.2 million) or dogs (89.7 million). Of course, including more species, particularly exotic ones, could make “Peticare” tougher and costlier to implement.

Pet Licensing Ineffective, So Why Would This Work?

More importantly, Lazarus didn’t mention it—perhaps he didn’t even bother to check—but a simple Google search reveals that, legal requirements notwithstanding, a large percentage of pets remain unlicensed. A 1998 House of Commons Library paper notes that Britain abolished its licensure requirement in 1987, because the license “was held by only around half of dog owners.”

More recent surveys in the United States indicate a similar rate of non-compliance with pet licensure laws. For instance, as of 2014, “98.8 percent of pets living in Richmond,” Virginia’s capital, were unlicensed, even though city code requires dog and cat owners to pay $10 annually for a license. The nearby counties of Henrico and Chesterfield, which require licenses for dogs but not cats, fared little better, with compliance rates of only about 50 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

Britain’s Kennel Club opposes a renewal of that country’s dog licensing laws, because “it is the responsible dog owner who will end up paying a further tax on dog ownership, whilst the irresponsible will continue to flout the law.” Adding an insurance requirement to go with the licensing fee would only compound the incentives for individuals to disobey—and compound the financial punishment inflicted on those law-abiding individuals who comply.

Lazarus’ concept of linking pet insurance to licensure would only work if government officials created a massive (and expensive!) bureaucracy to enforce those requirements. One can easily see how this “nanny state” proposal would cause all sorts of ramifications—neighborhood disputes escalating as someone reports “uninsured” pets to the authorities, for instance. Libertarians have already outlined good reasons to forgo pet licensure, with this proposal to add an insurance requirement merely the latest.

Big Government Has Gone to the Dogs

Apart from the fact that the “Peticare” proposal wouldn’t work, the fact that some people might take it seriously speaks to the desire for government to solve all their problems. Lazarus began his article by telling the story of a woman whose dog could well need a hip replacement, but whose pet insurance policy won’t cover the treatment because it’s a pre-existing condition. The owner asked Lazarus, “If you’re going to have loopholes for pre-existing conditions, why offer insurance at all?”

The question has a simple answer—albeit one the owner likely does not want to hear. If a health condition pre-exists the issuance of the policy, then by definition covering it doesn’t constitute insurance. Insurance consists of protection against an event that could occur in the future but that has not occurred yet. The problem occurs when individuals want “insurance” for conditions they (or in this case, their pets) have already developed.

And that’s the problem: People who want, or worse yet expect, government—meaning someone else—to solve their problems, and give them something for “free.” Lazarus’ “Peticare” represents a more absurd manifestation of that desire, but by no means the only one.

After all, if people didn’t expect something for nothing from the federal government, future generations wouldn’t face the prospect of paying off nearly $23 trillion in debt for things other people got and they won’t.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Another Study Confirms Obamacare as the Unaffordable Care Act

Despite the high level of partisanship in the United States, both sides can agree on something even as controversial as health care: Both Democrats and Republicans believe Obamacare has failed to deliver.

Based on their last primary debate, Democrats running for the 2020 presidential nomination can’t give away more health care subsidies fast enough. Some of them want to abolish Obamacare outright. But all of them agree the law has not lived up to Barack Obama’s claims during the 2008 campaign, when he repeatedly promised that hisplan would reduce premiums by $2,500 for the average family.

Shrinking Without Subsidies

The CMS analysis of risk adjustment data submitted by insurers focuses on the unsubsidized marketplace. These individuals, who make more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($103,000 for a family of four in 2019), do not receive any subsidies from the federal government to offset their premiums.

The analysis concludes that, while the subsidized marketplace has remained steady for the past several years, the number of unsubsidized people purchasing insurance has steadily shrunk as premiums continue to decline. In 2018, even as average monthly subsidized enrollment increased by a modest 4 percent, average monthly unsubsidized enrollment plummeted by 24 percent.

From 2016 through 2018, the unsubsidized market shrank by an even larger amount. Successive price increases — an average 21 percent premium rise in 2017, followed by another 26 percent jump in 2018 — priced many people out of the market.

During those two years, the average monthly enrollment by unsubsidized people fell by 40 percent, from 6.3 million to 3.8 million. Six states saw their unsubsidized enrollment drop by more than 70 percent, with Iowa’s unsubsidized enrollment shrinking by a whopping 91 percent.

The large percentages of unsubsidized people dropping coverage in many states — in most cases, because they could not afford their rapidly escalating premiums — show the unstable nature of the Obamacare “marketplaces.” With only people who qualify for subsidies able to afford their premiums, most states’ insurance markets have become dependent on the morphine drip of subsidies from Washington.

‘Popular’ Preexisting Conditions?

Why have premiums skyrocketed so that only people receiving federal subsidies can afford to pay their insurance rates? A Heritage Foundation analysis from last year provides a clear answer:

A cluster of [Obamacare] insurance-access requirements — specifically the guaranteed-issue requirement and the prohibitions on medical underwriting and applying coverage exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions — accounts for the largest share of premium increases.

In other words, the preexisting condition provisions have proven the largest factor in pricing literally millions of people out of their health insurance coverage. This means, ironically enough, such people now have no coverage should they develop any such condition.

The left does not want to talk about these people. While the liberal Kaiser Family Foundation will survey Americans about the supposed popularity of the preexisting condition provisions, the organization refuses to survey Americans about the cost of these regulations — for instance, whether people think those “protections” are worth spending an extra several thousand dollars a year in higher insurance premiums. As the old legal saying goes, “Don’t ask a question to which you don’t want to know the answer.”

But the American people need to know the answers and need to understand the effects of Obamacare. Liberals wouldn’t have you know it, but families care more about the affordability of health coverage than about losing their coverage due to a preexisting condition. Reforms codified by the Trump administration will help provide portable and more affordable coverage to many Americans and represent one of several better solutions to tackle the preexisting condition problem.

The left’s “solutions” to Obamacare’s skyrocketing premiums represent more of the same — more taxes, more spending, and more subsidies to make coverage “affordable” for a select few. But sooner or later, the left will eventually run out of other people’s money. The Unaffordable Care Act’s failure to deliver demonstrates that the American people need and deserve a better approach than the left can devise.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Six Things about Pre-Existing Conditions Republican “Leaders” Still Don’t Get

“If at first you don’t succeed, go ahead and quit.” That might be the takeaway from excerpts of a conference call held earlier this month by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and published in the Washington Post.

McCarthy claimed that Republicans’ “repeal and replace” legislation last Congress “put [the] pre-existing condition campaign against us, and so even people who are [sic] running for the very first time got attacked on that. And that was the defining issue and the most important issue in the [midterm election] race.” He added: “If you’ll notice, we haven’t done anything when it comes to repealing Obamacare this time.”

Problem 1: Pre-Existing Condition Provisions In Context

I first noted this dilemma last summer: Liberals call the pre-existing condition provisions “popular” because their polls only ask about the policy, and not its costs. If you ask Americans whether they would like a “free” car, how many people do you think would turn it down? The same principle applies here.

When polls ask about the trade-offs associated with the pre-existing condition provisions—which a Heritage Foundation study called the largest driver of premium increases under Obamacare—support plummets. Cato surveys in both 2017 and 2018 confirmed this fact. Moreover, a Gallup poll released after the election shows that, by double-digit margins, Americans care more about rising health premiums and costs than about losing coverage due to a pre-existing condition.

The overall polling picture provided an opportunity for Republicans to push back and point out that the pre-existing condition provisions have led to skyrocketing premiums, which priced 2.5 million people out of the insurance marketplace from 2017 to 2018. Instead, most Republicans did nothing.

Problem 2: Republicans’ Awful Legislating

The bills’ flaws came from a failure to understand how Obamacare works. The law’s provisions requiring insurers to offer coverage to everyone (guaranteed issue) and price that coverage the same regardless of health status (community rating) make insurers want to avoid covering sick people. Those two provisions necessitate another two requirements, which force insurers to cover certain conditions (essential health benefits) and a certain percentage of expected health costs (actuarial value).

In general, the House and Senate bills either repealed, or allowed states to waive, the latter two regulations, while keeping the former two in place. If Republicans had repealed all of Obamacare’s insurance regulations, they could have generated sizable premium savings—an important metric, and one they could tout to constituents. Instead, they ended up in a political no man’s land, with people upset about losing their pre-existing condition “protections,” and no large premium reductions to offset that outrage.

Looking at this dynamic objectively, it isn’t surprising that McCarthy and his colleagues ended up with a political loser on their hands. The true surprise is why anyone ever thought the legislative strategy made for good politics—or, for that matter, good (or even coherent) policy.

Problem 3: Pre-Existing Conditions Aren’t Going Away

Within hours after Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced a bill last year maintaining Obamacare’s pre-existing condition provisions—the requirement that all insurers offer coverage at the same rates to all individuals, regardless of health status—liberals weighed in to call it insufficient.

As noted above, Obamacare encourages insurers to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Repealing only some of the law’s regulations would exacerbate that dynamic, by giving insurers more tools with which to avoid enrolling sick people. Liberals recognize this fact, and will say as much any time Republicans try to modify any of Obamacare’s major insurance regulations.

Problem 4: Better Policies Exist

According to the Post, McCarthy said he wants to recruit candidates who would “find a solution at the end of the day.” A good thing that, because better solutions for the problems of pre-existing conditions do exist (I’ve written about several) if McCarthy had ever bothered to look for them.

Their political attacks demonstrate that liberals focus on supporting “insurance” for people once they develop a pre-existing condition. (Those individuals’ coverage by definition really isn’t “insurance.”) By contrast, conservatives should support making coverage more affordable, such that people can buy it before they develop a pre-existing condition—and keep it once they’re diagnosed with one.

Regulations proposed by the Trump administration late last year could help immensely on this front, by allowing employers to subsidize insurance that individuals hold and keep—that is, coverage that remains portable from job to job. Similar solutions, like health status insurance, would also encourage portability of insurance throughout one’s lifetime. Other options, such as direct primary care and high-risk pools, could provide care for people who have already developed pre-existing conditions.

Using a series of targeted alternatives to reduce and then to solve the pre-existing condition problem would prove far preferable than the blunt alternative of one-size-fits-all government regulations that have made coverage unaffordable for millions. However, such a solution would require political will from Republicans—which to date they have unequivocally lacked.

Problem 5: Republicans’ Alternative Is Socialized Medicine

Instead of promoting those better policies, House Republican leaders would like to cave in the most efficient manner possible. During the first day of Congress, they offered a procedural motion that, had it been adopted, would have instructed the relevant committees of jurisdiction to report legislation that:

(1) Guarantees no American citizen can be denied health insurance coverage as the result of a previous illness or health status; and (2) Guarantees no American citizen can be charged higher premiums or cost sharing as the result of a previous illness or health status, thus ensuring affordable health coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

Guaranteeing that everyone gets charged the same price for health care? I believe that’s called socialism—and socialized medicine.

Their position makes it very ironic that the same Republican committee leaders are pushing for hearings on Democrats’ single-payer legislation. It’s a bit rich to endorse one form of socialism, only to denounce another form as something that will destroy the country. (Of course, Republican leaders will only take that position unless and until a single-payer bill passes, at which point they will likely try to embrace it themselves.)

Problem 6: Health Care Isn’t Going Away As An Issue

The federal debt this month passed $22 trillion, and continues to rise. Most of our long-term government deficits arise from health care—the ongoing retirement of the baby boomers, and our corresponding obligations to Medicare, Medicaid, and now Obamacare.

Any Republican who cares about a strong national defense, or keeping tax rates low—concerns most Republicans embrace—should care about, and take an active interest in, health care and health policy. Given his comments about not repealing, or even talking about, Obamacare, McCarthy apparently does not.

But unsustainable trends are, in the long run, unsustainable. At some point in the not-too-distant future, skyrocketing spending on health care will mean that McCarthy will have to care—as will President Trump, and the Democrats who have gone out of their way to avoid talking about Medicare’s sizable financial woes. Here’s hoping that by that point, McCarthy and Republican leaders will have a more coherent—and conservative—policy than total surrender to the left.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Do House Republicans Support Socialized Medicine?

Health care, and specifically pre-existing conditions, remain in the news. The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has lined up two votes — one last week and one this week — authorizing the House to intervene in Texas’ lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., claims that the intervention will “protect” Americans with pre-existing conditions.

In reality, the pre-existing condition provisions represent Obamacare’s major flaw. According to the Heritage Foundation, those provisions have served as the prime driver of premium increases associated with the law. Since the law went into effect, premiums have indeed skyrocketed. Rates for individual health insurance more than doubled from 2013 through 2017, and rose another 30-plus percent last year to boot.

As a result of those skyrocketing premiums, more than 2.5 million people dropped their Obamacare coverage from March 2017 through March 2018. These people now have no coverage if and when they develop a pre-existing condition themselves.

A recent Gallup poll shows that Americans care far more about rising premiums than about being denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. Given the public’s focus on rising health care costs, Republicans should easily rebut Pelosi’s attacks with alternative policies that address the pre-existing condition problem while allowing people relief from skyrocketing insurance rates.

Unfortunately, that’s not what the Republican leadership in the House did. Last Thursday, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, offered a procedural motion that amounted to a Republican endorsement of Obamacare. Brady’s motion instructed House committees to draft legislation that “guarantees no American citizen can be charged higher premiums or cost sharing as the result of a previous illness or health status, thus ensuring affordable health coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.”

If adopted — which thankfully it was not — this motion would only have entrenched Obamacare further. The pre-existing condition provisions represent the heart of the law, precisely because they have raised premiums so greatly. Those premium increases necessitated the mandates on individuals to buy, and employers to offer, health insurance. They also required the subsidies to make that more-expensive coverage “affordable” — and the tax increases and Medicare reductions needed to fund those subsidies.

More to the point, what would one call a health care proposal that treats everyone equally, and ensures that no one pays more or less than the next person? If this concept sounds like “socialized medicine” to you, you’d have company in thinking so. None other than Kevin Brady denounced Obamacare as “socialized medicine” at an August 2009 town hall at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

All of this raises obvious questions: Why did someone who for years opposed Obamacare as “socialized medicine” offer a proposal that would ratify and entrench that system further?

Republicans like Brady can claim they want to “repeal-and-replace” Obamacare from now until the cows come home, but if they want to retain the status quo on pre-existing conditions then as a practical matter they really want to uphold the law. Conservatives might wonder whether it’s time to “repeal-and-replace” Republicans with actual conservatives.

This post was originally published in the Houston Chronicle.

Bill Clinton’s Right: Pre-Existing Condition Vote IS “The Craziest Thing in the World”

The new House Democratic majority is bringing to the floor a resolution on Wednesday seeking to intervene in Texas’ Obamacare lawsuit. The House already voted to approve the legal intervention, as part of the rules package approved on the first day of the new Congress Thursday, but Democrats are making the House vote on the subject again, solely as a political stunt.

I have previously discussed what the media won’t tell you about the pre-existing condition provisions—that approval of these Obamacare “protections” drops precipitously when people are asked if they support the provisions even if they would cause premiums to go up. I have also outlined how a Gallup poll released just last month shows how all groups of Americans—including Democrats and senior citizens—care more about rising premiums than about losing their coverage due to a pre-existing condition.

Bill Clinton Got This One Right

The current system works fine if you’re eligible for Medicaid, if you’re a lower income working person, if you’re already on Medicare, or if you get enough subsidies on a modest income that you can afford your health care. But the people that are getting killed in this deal are small business people and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies. Why? Because they’re not organized, they don’t have any bargaining power with insurance companies, and they’re getting whacked. So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care, and then the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world.

Why did people “who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half”? Because of the pre-existing condition provisions in Obamacare.

Clinton knew of which he spoke. Premiums more than doubled from 2013 to 2017 for Obamacare-compliant individual coverage, only to rise another 30 percent in 2018. A Heritage Foundation paper just last March concluded that the pre-existing condition provisions—which allow anyone to sign up for coverage at the same rate, even after he or she develops a costly medical condition—represented the largest driver of premium increases due to Obamacare.

The Congressional Budget Office concluded that the law would reduce the labor supply by the equivalent of 2.5 million workers. Because so many people cannot afford their Obamacare coverage without a subsidy now that the law has caused premiums to skyrocket, millions of Americans are working fewer hours and earning less income precisely to ensure they maintain access to those subsidies. Obamacare has effectively raised their taxes by taking away their subsidies if they earn additional income, so they have decided not to work as hard.

Why Do Republicans Support This ‘Crazy’ Scheme?

Given this dynamic—skyrocketing premiums, millions dropping coverage, taxes on success—you would think that Republicans would oppose the status quo on pre-existing conditions, and all the damage it has wrought. But no.

Guarantees no American citizen can be charged higher premiums or cost sharing as the result of a previous illness or health status, thus ensuring affordable health coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: As a matter of policy, any proposal that retains the status quo on pre-existing conditions by definition cannot repeal Obamacare. In essence, this Republican proposal amounted to a plan to “replace” Obamacare with the Affordable Care Act.

Even more to the point: What’s a good definition for a plan that charges everyone the exact same amount for health coverage? How about “I’ll take ‘Socialized Medicine’ for $800, Alex”?

There are better, and more effective, ways to handle the problem of pre-existing conditions than Obamacare. I’ve outlined several of them in these pages of late. But if Republicans insist on ratifying Obama’s scheme of socialized medicine, then they are—to use Bill Clinton’s own words—doing “the craziest thing in the world.”

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Ocasio-Cortez Suddenly Realizes She Doesn’t Like Paying Obamacare’s Pre-Existing Condition Tax

On Saturday evening, incoming U.S. representative and self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to compare her prior health coverage to the new health insurance options available to her as a member of Congress.

It shouldn’t shock most observers to realize that Congress gave itself a better deal than it gave most ordinary citizens. But Ocasio-Cortez’ complaints about the lack of affordability of health insurance demonstrate the way liberals who claim to support Obamacare’s pre-existing condition “protections”—and have forcibly raised others’ premiums to pay for those “protections”—don’t want to pay those higher premiums themselves.

She’s Paying the Pre-Existing Condition Tax

I wrote in August about my own (junk) Obamacare insurance. This year, I have paid nearly $300 monthly—a total of $3,479—for an Obamacare-compliant policy with a $6,200 deductible. Between my premiums and deductible, I will face paying nearly the first $10,000 in medical costs out-of-pocket myself.

Of course, as a fairly healthy 30-something, I don’t have $10,000 in medical costs in most years. In fact, this year I won’t come anywhere near to hitting my $6,200 deductible (presuming I don’t get hit by a bus in the next four weeks).

As I noted in August, my nearly $3,500 premium doesn’t just fund my health care—or, more accurately, the off-chance that I will incur catastrophic expenses such that I will meet my deductible, and my insurance policy will actually subsidize some of my coverage. Rather, much of that $3,500 “is designed to fund someone else’s medical condition. That difference between an actuarially fair premium and the $3,500 premium my insurer charged me amounts to a ‘pre-existing conditions tax.’”

Millions of People Can’t Afford Coverage

Because I work for myself, I don’t get an employer subsidy to pay the pre-existing condition tax. (I can, however, write off my premiums from my federal income taxes.) Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet referred to her coverage “as a waitress,” but didn’t specify where she purchased that coverage, nor whether she received an employer subsidy for that coverage.

However, a majority of retail firms, and the majority of the smallest firms (3-9 workers), do not offer coverage to their workers. Firms are also much less likely (only 22 percent) to offer insurance to their part-time workers. It therefore seems likely, although not certain, that Ocasio-Cortez did not receive an employer subsidy, and purchased Obamacare coverage on her own. In that case she would have had to pay the pre-existing condition tax out of her own pocket.

That pre-existing condition tax represented the largest driver of premium increases due to Obamacare, according to a March paper published by the Heritage Foundation. Just from 2013 (the last year before Obamacare) through 2017, premiums more than doubled. Within the last year (from the first quarter of 2017 through the first quarter of 2018) roughly 2.6 million people who purchased Obamacare-compliant plans without a subsidy dropped their coverage, likely because they cannot afford the higher costs.

Lawmakers Get an (Illegal) Subsidy to Avoid That Tax

Unsurprisingly, however, members of Congress don’t have to pay the pre-existing condition tax on their own. They made sure of that. Following Obamacare’s passage, congressional leaders lobbied feverishly to preserve their subsidized health coverage, even demanding a meeting with the president of the United States to discuss the matter.

Senators and representatives do have to purchase their health insurance from the Obamacare exchanges. But the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a rule allowing members of Congress and their staffs to receive an employer subsidy for that coverage. That makes Congress and their staff the only people who can receive an employer subsidy through the exchange.

Numerous analyses have found that the OPM rule violates the text of Obamacare itself. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) even sued to overturn the rule, but a court dismissed the suit on the grounds that he lacked standing to bring the case.

Liberals’ Motto: ‘Obamacare for Thee—But Not for Me’

Take, for instance, the head of California’s exchange, Peter Lee. He makes a salary of $436,800 per year, yet he won’t buy the health insurance plans he sells. Why? Because he doesn’t want to pay Obamacare’s pre-existing condition tax unless someone (i.e., the state of California) pays him to do so via an employer subsidy.

Ocasio-Cortez’ proposed “solution”—fully taxpayer-paid health care—is in search of a problem. As socialists are wont to do, Ocasio-Cortez sees a problem caused by government—in this case, skyrocketing premiums due to the pre-existing condition tax—and thinks the answer lies in…more government.

As the old saying goes, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. If Ocasio-Cortez really wants to get serious, instead of complaining about the pre-existing condition tax, she should work to repeal it, and replace it with better alternatives.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Senate Republicans’ Attempt to Entrench Obamacare

Earlier this month, I wrote about how when Republicans talk about the “need to govern,” they normally mean the “need to govern like liberals.” Last week, a group of ten Senate Republicans perfectly illustrated that axiom.

The Republicans, led by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), introduced “legislation to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.” Their bill would codify as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements that insurers accept all applicants, regardless of health, and do not vary premiums based upon health conditions.

Democrats have used the pending lawsuit to mount political attacks on pre-existing conditions. For instance, last week Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) attempted to offer an amendment directing the Senate’s legal counsel to intervene in the lawsuit to defend Obamacare, which some Republicans viewed as a politically difficult vote. Hence Tillis’ bill, which gave the ten Senate Republicans political cover to oppose Manchin’s amendment while still claiming to protect pre-existing conditions.

Although likely a messaging exercise, the Tillis bill sends at least four messages to voters about Republican views on health policy—none of them positive.

Senators Don’t Want to Repeal Obamacare

Last spring, I wrote that Republicans had a choice: They could either retain Obamacare’s pre-existing condition provisions, or they could fulfill their promise to repeal the law. They keep trying to do both, but as a policy matter, they cannot.

The premium increases caused by those regulations necessitated requirements to purchase coverage, and for businesses to offer coverage, to try and keep healthy people purchasing (more costly) insurance. They necessitated Obamacare’s insurance subsidies—to make coverage “affordable.” And the premium increases caused by the regulations required Obamacare’s taxes and Medicare reductions to finance those federal subsidies.

The pre-existing condition provisions stand as the foundation stone of Obamacare. Conservatives who want a true alternative to the law have other policy options for people with pre-existing conditions than merely retaining Obamacare’s federal regulations. But if Republican senators want to codify that provision elsewhere, then, as a practical matter, they want to retain the law.

Republicans Once Again Oppose Federalism

Among others, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sponsored Tillis’ legislation. Last year, of course, Graham stood as one of the prime co-sponsors of the Graham-Cassidy bill, which sought to devolve most of Obamacare’s health spending to the states via a block grant. Graham’s website retains press releases talking about how he supports a “state-centric” system that would “return power” outside of Washington.

The sharp contrast between Graham’s rhetoric on state-centered solutions, and his actions supporting a Washington-centered health-care system, show that he and his colleagues either do not understand the principles of federalism, or they discard those principles when they find them politically inconvenient.

Effectively Taxes the American People

Multiple analyses have discussed how Obamacare’s high deductibles make coverage feel meaningless to exchange enrollees. As an example, this year I will pay nearly $3,500 for a Bronze Obamacare policy with a $6,200 deductible—a deductible I have little chance of meeting unless I get run over by the proverbial bus, or suffer some other catastrophic incident.

I do have some pre-existing conditions, including mild asthma and a foot condition that required reconstructive surgery some years ago. Between these and the general randomness of life, the risk of a major medical condition that causing me to exceed my deductible remains greater than zero. But I doubt it warrants a $3,500 premium either.

Lawmakers don’t like talking about this “tax.” Wouldn’t you know it, few liberal organizations have attempted to quantify how much of a “tax” the average healthy person pays in state exchanges, although they’re quick to quantify the individuals with pre-existing conditions “at risk.” But this forcible redistribution of wealth exists nonetheless, and the Republican lawmakers just endorsed it.

Liberals Always Find Republican Concessions Insufficient

Hours after Tillis introduced his bill, liberal analysts already had outlined reasons to call it insufficient. According to them, the Tillis legislation would prohibit insurers from rejecting applications from people with pre-existing conditions outright, but they could still impose exclusions on specific conditions.

Therein lies Republicans’ problem: The more they concede, the more the Left demands. When the next wave of greater government control of health care comes along, don’t say I didn’t warn you—and don’t say that Republicans acted to protect you, either.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

One Year Later: STILL Bad for Young People

Today the Administration continues to sell its unpopular health care law to younger Americans, hoping they will see its benefits.  In reality however, young people stand to lose, not gain, from the 2700-page measure:

Higher Health Insurance Premiums.  The law states that insurance carriers cannot charge older individuals more than three times the premiums paid by younger applicants – meaning premiums for the young will likely rise so premiums for older populations can fall.  A Rand Corporation analysis found that premiums for individuals under age 35 could rise by 17% due to this one mandate, while other analyses have even higher estimated premium impacts.  While supporting initiatives (such as state-based high-risk pools) that would provide affordable coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, the very narrow age variations allowed function as a significant transfer of wealth from younger to older Americans—and by raising premiums for young and healthy individuals, may discourage them from buying insurance at all.

Penalties for Those Who Cannot Afford Coverage.  The law imposes penalties on individuals who cannot afford to purchase a “government-approved” policy – one that meets all the new federal mandates and regulations imposed in the legislation.  As candidate Obama pointed out during his presidential campaign, in Massachusetts, the one state with an individual mandate, “there are people who are paying fines and still can’t afford [health insurance], so now they’re worse off than they were.  They don’t have health insurance and they’re paying a fine.”

Employer Mandate Will Hurt Women and Young Workers.  The law penalizes employers who do not provide “acceptable” coverage, forcing them to pay a “fair share” penalty of $2,000 per full-time employee.  Harvard Professor Kate Baicker’s analysis demonstrates that at least 5.5 million low-wage workers would be “at substantial risk of unemployment” due to new mandates on employers.  What’s more, women and young adults “face the highest risk of losing their jobs under employer mandates.”  The Congressional Budget Office has also confirmed that such mandates “could reduce the hiring of low-wage workers,” and lead to wage stagnation as compensation is diverted to comply with new federal mandates.  At a time when nearly one in four teens is unemployed, these harmful tax increases will hurt exactly the workers that the law intends to help.

Marriage Penalty.  The law bases health insurance subsidy thresholds on multiples of the federal poverty level, and because the poverty level for a two-person couple ($14,710) is less than twice the poverty standard for a single person ($10,890), couples who marry will see their eligibility for subsidies automatically decline when compared to two cohabiting individuals.  Many may view this policy as providing perverse incentives for couples not to marry.

Rising Debt a Fiscal Time Bomb for Future Generations.  At a time of record budget deficits, the health law spends $2.6 trillion in its first 10 years of full implementation.  Growing the debt problem by adding trillions more of federal spending will only increase the debt burden to be faced by future generations.

Health Care Law’s Impact on Premiums

I wanted to pass along this article from today’s Hartford Courant about some of the premium increases being requested in Connecticut – many as a result of the health care reform law:

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Connecticut, by far the largest insurer of Connecticut residents, said in a letter that it expects the federal health reform law to increase rates by as much as 22.9 percent for just a single provision — removing annual spending caps. The mandate to provide benefits to children regardless of pre-existing conditions will raise premiums by 4.8 percent, Anthem said in the letter. Mandated preventive care with no deductibles would raise rates by as much as 8.5 percent, Anthem said.

An Obama Administration was quoted in the article as saying that “outside groups have done estimates, including the Urban Institute and Mercer, and the credible estimates come in the 1 [percent] to 2 percent range.”  However, in reality Mercer’s survey of employers found that the mandates taking effect this year alone would raise premiums by more than 2 percent on average – and small groups would face even greater premium impacts.

The article also makes a particularly salient point with respect to premium impacts: “Among all the plans, some already deliver the provisions required by health reform, while others do not.”  In other words, some individuals choose affordable plans that provide the benefits they need without other benefits they do not want.  These plans, and these individuals, will be most impacted by premium increases under the law – and the impact in these cases may be much greater than the 1-2 percent the Administration projects.

On a related note, below is a graph we’ve prepared highlighting rhetoric versus reality on premiums.  The President promised during his campaign that his health care plan would “bring down premiums by $2,500 for the typical family.”  However, the annual Kaiser Foundation survey of employer-provided insurance found that average family premiums totaled $12,860 in 2008, $13,375 in 2009, and $13,770 in 2010.  In other words, while candidate Obama promised premiums would fall by $2,500 on average, premiums have risen by $1,090 during the Obama Administration.  That difference is manifest in the graph below.

Obamacare: Bad for Young Americans

Higher Health Insurance Premiums. The health care takeover[i] states that insurance carriers cannot vary premiums solely based upon family structure, geography, and age; insurance companies also cannot vary premiums by age by more than 3 to 1 (i.e., charge older individuals more than three times the premiums paid by younger applicants). Average premiums for individuals aged 18-24 are nearly one-quarter the average premiums paid by individuals aged 60-64.[ii] While supporting initiatives (such as state-based high-risk pools) that would provide affordable coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, the very narrow age variations allowed function as a significant transfer of wealth from younger to older Americans—and by raising premiums for young and healthy individuals, may discourage their purchase of insurance.

Higher Taxes for Those Who Cannot Afford Coverage. The health care takeover imposes a 2.5 percent tax on the income of all individuals who cannot afford to purchase a “government-approved” policy—that is, one that meets all the new federal mandates and regulations imposed in the legislation. Particularly given the higher premiums that will be imposed on young people for the reasons described above, some may agree with then-Senator Obama when he pointed out that in Massachusetts, the one state with an individual mandate, “there are people who are paying fines and still can’t afford [health insurance], so now they’re worse off than they were. They don’t have health insurance and they’re paying a fine.”[iii]

Tax on Jobs Will Hurt Young Workers. The health care takeover imposes a new tax on jobs by forcing employers who do not provide “acceptable” coverage to pay a “fair share” tax of $2,000 per full-time employee—nearly triple the $750 tax initially proposed. Harvard Professor Kate Baicker’s analysis demonstrates that at least 5.5 million low-wage workers will be “at substantial risk of unemployment” due to new mandates on employers.[iv] The Congressional Budget Office has also confirmed that such mandates “could reduce the hiring of low-wage workers,” and could lead to wage stagnation as compensation is diverted to comply with new federal mandates.[v] At a time when more than one in four teens is unemployed,[vi] these harmful tax increases will hurt exactly the workers that a health care bill is intended to help.

Marriage Penalty. The health care takeover bases health insurance subsidy thresholds on multiples of the federal poverty level, and because the poverty level for a two-person couple ($14,570) is less than twice the poverty standard for a single person ($10,830),[vii] couples who marry will see their eligibility for subsidies automatically decline when compared to two cohabiting individuals. Many may view this policy as providing perverse incentives for couples not to marry.

Rising Debt a Fiscal Time Bomb for Future Generations. The health care takeover spends $2.6 trillion in its first 10 years of full implementation—and the President’s budget proposes to address Medicare physician reimbursements through an additional $371 billion in new deficit spending not included in the legislation.[viii] Growing the problem by adding trillions more of federal spending will only increase the debt burden to be faced by future generations.

 

[i] Senate-passed bill (H.R. 3590) text available at http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h3590/text; reconciliation bill (H.R. 4872) text available at http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h4872/text.

[ii] America’s Health Insurance Plans, survey of individual health insurance products, December 2007, http://www.ahipresearch.org/pdfs/Individual_Market_Survey_December_2007.pdf, Table 2, p. 7.

[iii] Democratic presidential debate in Austin, Texas, February 21, 2008, transcript available at http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/02/21/debate.transcript/index.html.

[iv] Kate Baicker and Helen Levy, “Employer Health Insurance Mandates and the Risk of Unemployment,” NBER Working Paper 13528, October 2007, http://www.nber.org/papers/w13528.pdf.

[v] Congressional Budget Office, “Effects of Changes to the Health Insurance System on Labor Markets,” July 13, 2009, http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/104xx/doc10435/07-13-HealthCareAndLaborMarkets.pdf

[vi] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The Employment Situation – February 2010,” http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf

[vii] Department of Health and Human Services 2009 Federal Poverty Level guidelines, http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/09poverty.shtml.

[viii] President’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Submission to Congress, February 2010, http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2011/assets/budget.pdf, Table S-7, p. 162.