ACA Sabotage

I've written a lot over the past nearly three years about the damage caused to ACA policy enrollment caused by the Trump Administration's slashing of 90% of HealthCare.Gov's marketing, awareness and outreach budgets.

A significant portion of the reduction in ACA exchange enrollment in 2017, 2018 and 2019 can be blamed squarely on this.

That's not just my opinion; it's been supported by detailed analysis as well as the corresponding increase in enrollment on state-based exchanges, which operate their own marketing/outreach budgets.

The following graph compares the two over the first six Open Enrollment Periods. I've had to adjust for the fact that since 2014, several states have switched from state exchanges to the federal one or vice-versa, but even so, the contrast is dramatic and clear:

 

Just 9 days ahead of the official launch of the 2020 ACA Open Enrollment Period (California already started theirs), the House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee will be holding a livestreamed hearing with CMS Administrator Seema Verma:

HEARING ON "SABOTAGE: THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION'S ATTACK ON HEALTH CARE"

  • Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 10:00am
  • Location: 2123 Rayburn House Office Building
  • Subcommittees: 116th Congress, Energy and Commerce (116th Congress), Oversight and Investigations (116th Congress)

The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a hearing on Wednesday, October 23, 2019, at 10 a.m. in the John D. Dingell Room, 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

I haven't written about it in a few weeks, but the ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals could (and likely will) be released any day now, so it's a good thing that Abby Goodnough wrote this piece for the New York Times today:

How Pending Decision on Obamacare Could Upend 2020 Campaign

A federal appeals court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act could be a huge headache for the president and take Democrats’ focus off Medicare for all.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans is preparing a ruling on the Affordable Care Act that could put the law’s future front and center in the presidential race, overwhelming the current Democratic debate over Medicare for all and reigniting the health care-driven worries that helped Democrats win back the House last year.

 

Long-time readers may remember that back in June 2018, the Trump Administration's Justice Dept. threw all precedence, decency and logic out the window by not only refusing to defend against the idiotic "Texas vs. Azar" lawsuit (aka #TexasFoldEm) brought by 20 Republican state Attorneys General...but went even further by actually agreeing with the plaintiffs that the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act--which is, remember, the federal law of the land which the DoJ is supposed to defend--is unconstitutional.

At the time, there was one strange thing which was buried within the ugly implications of such a complete abdictation of duty by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions: While the Trump DoJ did side with the plaintiffs on the case, they split from the plaintiffs as to what they thought the actual "solution" to the "problem" should be.

David Balat is the director of the Right on Healthcare initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank which pushes school vouchers and which attempts--against all sanity--to claim there's a moral case in favor of fossil fuels, which I guess should be described as "natural gaslighting."

Anyway, the other day, Mr. Balat posted an op-ed at The Hill in which he tries to gaslight America regarding the lengthy list of ACA sabotage efforts which have been (and which continue to be) pushed by the Trump Administration, some more successfully than others.

Repeated claims of sabotage of the ACA by the Trump Administration fall flat because of these important initiatives put in place by the president. Although the president has chosen to not defend the ACA in the Texas v. Azar case, he has made numerous strides to make available options to help Americans who require coverage suited to their needs, as well as help for those with chronic conditions.

Back in March, I noted that a federal judge had shot down the Trump Administration's attempt to expand so-called "Association Health Plans", which are quasi-ACA compliant but which also have a long, ugly history of fraud and other abuses:

There is a long history of shady and inept operators of association health plans and related multiple employer welfare arrangements, with dozens of civil and criminal enforcement actions at the state and federal levels. The U.S. Government Accountability Office identified 144 "unauthorized or bogus" plans from 2000 to 2002, covering at least 15,000 employers and more than 200,000 policyholders, leaving $252 million in unpaid medical claims. Some were run as pyramid schemes, while others charged too little for premiums and became insolvent.

...Powerful words from DC District Court Judge John Bates in holding a Trump DOL rule unlawful: "The Final Rule was intended and designed to end run the requirements of the ACA, but it does so only by ignoring the language and purpose of both ERISA and the ACA."

Here's the transcript of the entire healthcare segment of Night One of the Democratic Candidate Presidential Debate:

HOLT: Senator Warren, you signed on to Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plan. It would put essentially everybody on Medicare and then eliminate private plans that offer similar coverage. Is that the plan or path that you would pursue as president?

WARREN: So, yes. I'm with Bernie on Medicare for all. And let me tell you why.

I spent a big chunk of my life studying why families go broke. And one of the number-one reasons is the cost of health care, medical bills. And that's not just for people who don't have insurance. It's for people who have insurance.

 

Long-time readers of this site may recall the infamous Risk Corridor Massacre of 2014-2015. Here's a very simplified backstory:

  • When the ACA was first developed and voted on, lawmakers knew that the disruption to the individual health insurance market was going to be pretty rocky for the first few years, so they put three types of market stabilization programs into place. They were known as the "Three 'R's"...Risk Adjustment, Reinsurance and Risk Corridors:

...Risk adjustment interrupts these cycles by doing exactly what its name implies. It adjusts for differences in the health of plans’ enrollees by redistributing funds from companies with healthier-than-average customers to plans with sicker-than-average customers. Such transfers could occur within or across health plan tiers in the exchanges (bronze, silver, gold, platinum). All the redistributed monies come from insurance companies in the marketplaces. No taxpayer bailout here.

Various healthcare wonks, including myself, have been warning for years that imposing work requirements on Medicaid enrollees would be pointless, ineffective, wasteful, expensive and cruel.

Several studies, including this one from just the other day, have driven home this point clearly: Adding work requirements to Medicaid expansion enrollees serves no useful purpose other than to kick tens of thousands of people off of their healthcare coverage (which, of course, is the whole point from the POV of those who add the requirements).

As for the one positive-sounding goal (increasing employment) which supporters always use to try and justify them, that's a complete joke:

The first major study on the nation’s first Medicaid work requirements finds that people fell off of the Medicaid rolls but didn’t seem to find more work.

With the idiotic #TexasFoldEm lawsuit scheduled for oral arguments by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals this summer, many states have been scrambling to replicate ACA protections for those with pre-existing conditions at the state level, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico and more.

In a red state like Louisiana, unfortunately, it's not so easy...the state has a Democratic Governor, but both the state House and Senate are solidly controlled by Republicans. In addition, the Governor, John Bel Edwards, is up for re-election this November, making everything politicized, thus making it likely impossible to get anything useful through this year. Still, Gov. Edwards is trying to do something to mitigate the problem:

Last fall I wrote about Yet Another Sabotage Attack® on the ACA by the Trump administration, this time in the form of CMS Administrator Seema Verma completely warping the entire point behind the 1332 Waiver provision. Here's the backstory:

One of the great strengths and dangers of the ACA is that it includes tools for individual states to modify the law to some degree by improving how it works at the local level. The main way this can be done is something called a "Section 1332 State Innovation Waiver":

Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) permits a state to apply for a State Innovation Waiver to pursue innovative strategies for providing their residents with access to high quality, affordable health insurance while retaining the basic protections of the ACA.

I don't know if I'm just asleep at the wheel when it comes to healthcare happenings in Washington State lately, but this one caught me by surprise as well:

Today I signed a bill that protects Affordable Care Act health care insurance practices in WA state. This bill assures Washingtonians that regardless of what happens in D.C., we’re protecting your access to care here here at home. #waleg #ACAhttps://t.co/e3g35Fch68

— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) April 17, 2019

From the official press release:

There's been so many Big Important Breaking News stories about healthcare this week I haven't been able to keep up. On top of the ACA 2.0 rollout and Trump's kamikaze #TexasFoldEm maneuver via the Dept. of Justice memo and the release of the 2019 Open Enrollment Period report and a major judicial ruling which torpedoed Medicaid expansion work requirements in Kentucky (again) and Arkansas which also had immediate implications for Idaho and Iowa...and potentially other states as well!!

And then, this evening, THIS just happened:

(sigh) I was planning on writing up an in-depth analysis of the 2019 ACA Open Enrollment Period report which was just released by CMS a few hours ago.

Instead, in a bit of sick irony, I have to spend the evening writing about this (via Nicholas Bagley):

The Trump Administration Now Thinks the Entire ACA Should Fall

In a stunning, two-sentence letter submitted to the Fifth Circuit today, the Justice Department announced that it now thinks the entire Affordable Care Act should be enjoined. That’s an even more extreme position than the one it advanced at the district court in Texas v. Azar, when it argued that the court should “only” zero out the protections for people with preexisting conditions.

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