Can the GOP Produce on Healthcare?

 

The House of Representatives, after much struggle, was finally able to pass a healthcare bill, The American Health Care Act.  Now it’s the Senate’s turn to pass its own version and it, too, is turning out to be a struggle.


The healthcare policy expert, Avik Roy, considers the Senate bill to be a huge step forward:

 

  • Medicaid is finally put on a budget with annual increases in spending, starting in 2025, tied to the overall rate of inflation. In return, states will gain substantial latitude to use funds more effectively and efficiently.
  • Tax Credits in the Senate bill are means adjusted and will also encourage younger people to enroll for coverage. This is an improvement over the AHCA.
  • Expanded coverage. Mr. Roy predicts that passage of the Senate bill would increase (not decrease as the CBO predicts) the number of Americans with health insurance five years from now. This will result because the near poor in states like Texas and Florida, which have not expanded Medicaid, will be eligible for the new means-tested tax credits.
  • The 10th Amendment is strengthened because so much more authority for regulating healthcare insurance is transferred to the states. This represents huge progress because states are so much more fiscally responsible than the federal government (they have to balance their budgets)!

 

Conclusion. There are certainly many imperfections in the Senate bill.  It does nothing to limit tax credits for employer-sponsored insurance.  This is sorely needed to put the overall cost of American healthcare on a sustainable course.  It does nothing to help low income people who struggle with high deductibles (for example, by helping to set up Health Savings Accounts). It also does nothing to rein in the cost of Medicare, such as by introducing means adjusted premiums and allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.
Nevertheless it is a huge step forward in controlling excessive healthcare costs as well as expanding health insurance coverage to more Americans in a fiscally responsible way.

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How to Improve the Affordable Care Act

 

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has dramatically expanded access to healthcare in the United States. But it has done nothing to lower the cost of healthcare  which now exceeds 18% of GDP and is steadily increasing.


Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, refers to medical costs as “the tapeworm of American economic competiveness.”
An excellent plan for improving the ACA, “Transforming Obamacare” has been put forward by the medical economist, Avik Roy.  It has five main features:

  • Repeals the individual mandate and proposes universal tax credits for acquiring catastrophic insurance and setting up health savings accounts.
  • Repeals the employer mandate and sets up a capped standard deduction for employer sponsored coverage.
  • Reforms Medicaid by migrating the current system into the above universal (and refundable) tax credit plan
  • Reforms Medicare by migrating the current program into the same universal system.
  • Other reforms for veterans, medical innovation, hospital monopolies, drug pricing and malpractice litigation.

According to Mr. Roy, the American Health Care Act, recently passed by the House of Representatives, does a good job in relaxing many of the ACA’s onerous regulations.  However it falls down badly by including a flat tax credit rather than a means-tested credit based on income. Such an approach means that millions of low-income Americans, either near retirement or just above the Medicaid cutoff, will be priced out of the insurance market.  This is what the Senate bill needs to fix.

Conclusion. Mr. Roy’s plan will not only expand overall healthcare access beyond the level achieved by the ACA but will also dramatically cut the cost of healthcare in the U.S. and even goes a long way towards achieving a balanced budget. Let’s hope that the Senate gets the AHCA proposal back on track.

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The Necessity of Fixing Medicaid

 

As I have discussed in previous posts, here and here, the American Health Care Act, the GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act, is a step in the right direction.


One of the best features of the GOP bill is its provisions to revamp the Medicaid program.  The problems of Medicaid are well described by the healthcare expert, Avik Roy, here and here:

  • Medicaid was established in 1965 and now provides healthcare benefits for individuals and families with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level.
  • The states pay 40% of the costs on average while only controlling 5% of how the program is operated.
  • The federal Medicaid law mandates a laundry list of benefits which the states must provide. States cannot charge premiums and copays and deductibles are minimal.
  • Medicaid is the largest or second largest line item in nearly every state budget. The only tool states have in controlling costs is to pay doctors and hospitals less than private insurers pay for the same care. This means that fewer and fewer doctors are accepting Medicaid patients.
  • Thus Medicaid enrollees have poor access to healthcare. In fact, their health outcomes are typically no better than for those with no insurance at all.
  • An able-bodied adult on Medicaid receives about $6000 a year in government health-insurance benefits. Yet CBO estimates that five million Americans won’t sign up for Medicaid if the ACA individual mandate is repealed as proposed by the AHCA.
  • AHCA block grants will give states more flexibility to manage Medicaid’s costs in ways which increase access to doctors and other providers. It would also decrease federal outlays for Medicaid by $880 billion in its first decade.
  • AHCA’s goal is to ultimately merge Medicaid for able-bodied low-income adults into the system of tax credits which the AHCA proposes for those above the poverty line.

Conclusion. The AHCA will make Medicaid into a much more efficient, flexible and effective program for serving low-income individuals and families. This represents a first step in the entitlement reform which the U.S. so badly needs.

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Repealing and Replacing Obamacare

 

The U.S. spends 18% of GDP (and rising) on healthcare, public and private, almost twice as much as any other developed country. The Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2010, increases access to healthcare in the U.S. but does nothing to control its cost.

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President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican Congress want to repeal the ACA and replace it with a more effective and less expensive alternative. An excellent plan for doing this, “Transcending Obamacare” has been proposed by Avik Roy, the President of the Foundation for Research and Opportunity.  Mr. Roy’s Universal (and refundable) Tax Credit Plan will:

  • expand health insurance coverage well beyond ACA levels without an individual mandate
  • improve the quality of coverage and care for low-income Americans
  • achieve permanent solvency of U.S. healthcare entitlements
  • reduce the federal deficit without raising taxes
  • reduce the cost of health insurance for individuals and businesses

Here are the main elements of the Universal Tax Credit Plan:

  • Premium assistance. The Plan repeals the ACA’s individual mandate and expands access to health savings accounts. By lowering the cost of insurance for younger and healthier individuals, the Plan would expand coverage beyond ACA levels.
  • Employer-sponsored insurance reform. The Plan repeals the ACA’s employer mandate, thereby offering employers a wider range of options for subsidizing workers’ coverage.
  • Medicaid reform. The Plan migrates the Medicaid acute-care population onto the reformed private individual insurance market, with 100% federal funding. The Plan returns to the states full financial responsibility for the Medicaid long-term care population.
  • Medicare reform. The Plan gradually raises the Medicare eligibility age by four months each year (forever), allowing younger retirees to remain on their existing plans.
  • Veterans’ health reform. The Plan gives veterans the option of private coverage via premium assistance.
  • Medical innovation is encouraged by the Plan.

Conclusion. The Universal Tax Credit Plan is a big improvement over the ACA because it expands access, improves quality and dramatically lowers costs for both individuals and the country as a whole. Check it out!

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Why Is American Healthcare So Expensive?

 

The U.S. spends almost 18% of GDP on healthcare costs, double what any other developed county spends.
CaptureThere are many reasons for our excessive healthcare spending.  For example:

  • As illustrated in the above chart, many medical procedures are far more expensive here than in other countries.
  • Profit levels in the healthcare industry are often very high, for example: 16.4% for pharmaceuticals, health-care information 9.4%, home healthcare firms 8.5%, medical labs 8.2% and generic drug makers 6.5%.
  • Health insurers, on the contrary, have a very low profit margin, (2.2% in 2009), and so can hardly be blamed for the high cost of healthcare.

The Affordable Care Act greatly expands access to healthcare but does very little to control costs.  The Manhattan Institute’s Avik Roy has outlined a plan, “Transcending Obamacare: A Patient Centered Plan for Near-Universal Coverage and Permanent Solvency” which would reform Obamacare by making it more like two very successful and low cost consumer-driven plans, those in Switzerland and Singapore.
These two countries feature government sponsored health savings accounts, backed up by insurance for catastrophic care.  What happens is that out-of-pocket spending for healthcare per individual is higher in Switzerland and Singapore than it is in the U.S., as indicated in the chart below.
Capture1In other words, the real reason for our high cost of healthcare is that Americans don’t have enough “skin in the game.”  We have very little incentive to hold down the cost of our own care because it is mostly paid for by third party insurance companies.
As the cost of healthcare continues to climb, such changes are already beginning to creep into the health insurance market place.  Private companies are raising the deductibles on the insurance plans which they subsidize.  The bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans on the ACA exchanges differ largely by the level of the insurance deductible.
Avik Roy’s plan referred to above in essence speeds up the process of converting the ACA into an efficient, consumer-driven healthcare system by making it more flexible and therefore more adaptable to market forces.

Why the U.S. Needs True Health Care Reform

 

The Affordable Care Act has improved access to healthcare by already enrolling over 7 million Americans who were previously uninsured.  It is estimated that there will be a total of 20 million new enrollees by the end of this decade.
CaptureBut as the above chart from a recent Gallup survey indicates, the cost of healthcare is now a big barrier for an increasing number of people with health insurance.
The University of Chicago economist, Casey Mulligan, discusses the cost issue in a recent Wall Street Journal article “The Myth of ObamaCare’s Affordability” as well as in a new book.  He makes the following points:

  • Although the ACA helps specific populations by giving them a bigger piece of the economic pie, the law diminishes the pie itself by reducing the amount that American’s work and making their work less productive.
  • 35 million men and women currently work for employers who don’t offer health insurance. These tend to be small and midsize businesses with lower paid employees. The result of penalizing businesses for hiring and expanding will be less hiring and expanding.
  • The “29er” phenomenon is a good example of how the law harms productivity. If a business has 50 or more employees who work over 30 hours a week, it is required to offer health insurance. Many employers have thus adopted 29-hour work schedules which lessens overall productivity.
  • Mr. Mulligan estimates that the ACA’s long-term impact will include about 3% less weekly employment, 2% less GDP and 2% less labor income. He also claims that these effects will be visible and obvious in just a few years by 2017!
  • The ACA is thus weakening the economy. For the large number of people who continue to pay for their own healthcare, healthcare is now less affordable.

Conclusion: we need true healthcare reform which addresses cost as well as access and this can be achieved by fixing Obamacare.  It is not necessary to repeal it.  The Manhattan Institute’s Avik Roy has developed a plan to do this: ”Transcending Obamacare.”  Mr. Roy’s Plan would keep the exchanges, end both the individual and employer mandates, and migrate both the Medicare and Medicaid programs onto the exchanges over time.  These features will greatly reduce the cost of American healthcare.  Check it out and see for yourself!

How to Shrink the Deficit: Control Entitlement Spending by Fixing Obamacare

 

Our country faces two major fiscal and economic problems:

  • How to boost the economy in order to put more people back to work.
  • How to either increase tax revenue or better control spending in order to shrink the deficit.

My last post, “The Great Wage Slowdown and How to Fix It” makes a specific tax reform proposal to cut tax rates for all by shrinking tax deductions for the wealthy.  This would put tax savings in the hands of millions of wage earners with stagnant incomes, who would likely spend it, thereby boosting the economy.
CaptureAs the above chart clearly shows, there is only one realistic way to shrink the deficit.  We have to do a better job of controlling entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.)  As a practical matter, this means we have to cut back the cost of American healthcare in general, both public and private.
The Manhattan Institute’s Avik Roy has come up with an attractive Plan for doing just this, “Transcending Obamacare.” Mr. Roy’s proposal is to:

  • Repeal the individual mandate. Insurers are encouraged to design policies of high quality tailored to individual need. By lowering the cost of insurance for younger and healthier individuals, the Plan will expand coverage without a mandate.
  • Repeal the employer mandate, thereby offering employers a wider range of options for subsidizing employees insurance.
  • Keep the exchanges to provide broad access as well as subsidies for those with low incomes.
  • Migrate the Medicaid population onto the exchanges.
  • Raise the Medicare eligibility age by 4 months per year indefinitely. Over time this will maintain future retirees on exchange-based or employer sponsored health plans.

By gradually moving the Medicaid and Medicare recipients onto the exchanges, both of these very large populations will receive equal quality coverage to everyone else, delivered in a cost effective manner.  Mr. Roy estimates that the Plan will expand coverage by 12 million above Obamacare levels by 2025 and reduce the deficit by $8 trillion over 30 years.
This is the sort of major healthcare reform which we need to get entitlement spending under control!