Health Policy Updates: July 16 2017

On Thursday, the Senate released its latest version of its Obamacare-repeal bill, known as the BCRA. Vox.com ran a brief explainer on the key provisions that have changed since prior versions, including a shift towards low-premium (and low-coverage) plans:

“The bill will include a provision based on a proposal by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), which allows health plans to offer skimpy coverage options so long as they have at least one plan that covers a robust set of benefits. The insurance industry opposes the policy, calling it ‘infeasible’ and fearing it would create ‘greater instability.'”

Politico ran a similar outline of the bill’s contents.

The GOP efforts at health care reform, overall, continue to be a “solution in search of a problem.”

“The GOP health care bill doesn’t even have pretextual justifications. Republican leaders like to claim that Trumpcare is necessary because Obamacare is “collapsing” into a “death spiral,” but not only is Trumpcare non-responsive to a death spiral, the death spiral they posit as the basis for Trumpcare is wholly fabricated.”


The supposed urgency behind Obamacare repeal is that it is “collapsing.” This doomsday claim is a bit premature, however, as the exchanges have continued creep along slowly but surely. In fact, a new report out from Kaiser appears to show that the Obamacare insurance exchanges are looking healthier than ever.

“Early results from 2017 suggest the individual market is stabilizing and insurers in this market are regaining profitability. Insurer financial results show no sign of a market collapse…Although individual market enrollees appear on average to be sicker than the market pre-ACA, data on hospitalizations in this market suggest that the risk pool is stable on average and not getting progressively sicker as of early 2017. Some insurers have exited the market in recent years, but others have been successful and expanded their footprints, as would be expected in a competitive marketplace.”


The ongoing challenge for the GOP in passing health care legislation is that different GOP senators have different goals. Some want sustained Medicaid spending, others want even deeper cuts. The NY Times gives a summary of which senators are breaking with the party line to request more changes to the bill – and which senators are pulling in opposite directions.


More great writing on Medicaid by Aaron Carroll and Austin Frakt this week. This time, the topic at hand is the idea that private insurance is inherently “better” insurance than Medicaid. This is one of the chief arguments among Medicaid critics (typically, the GOP) that Americans would be better off by defunding Medicaid and transitioning people to some for of private plans. While it is true that some doctors do not accept Medicaid, causing access problems, in general Medicaid is actually better than private insurance. Medicaid simply pays more of your medical costs; that is, it has lower “cost sharing” requirements – low/no deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance.

And based on well-established research, having low cost sharing is important for the quality of health care that people receive…

“The Senate’s health care plan, for example, would offer much less generous plans. A 64-year-old woman with an income of $11,400 would face a deductible of at least $6,000. For her, such a plan is not better than Medicaid; it is most likely much worse if she is also sick. Because of the deductible, the care she’d need would be financially out of reach.”


Kaiser Health News has recently started a new health policy news podcast called “What the Health.” I just listened to episode #3, a conversation including Margot Sanger-Katz at the NYTimes and Sarah Kliff at Vox.com about the politics behind the BCRA.

I’ll be a new subscriber! Highly recommended.


 

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