Churn, Churn, Churn: Measuring the Cost of Fragmented Coverage

 

F1Low-income Americans face bewildering bureaucratic requirements when they try to obtain welfare benefits. One of the challenges is that they have to frequently re-apply for benefits because the state needs to know whether their incomes are still low enough form them to remain eligible. This moving in and out of benefits is called churn, and Dottie Rosenbaum of the left-wing Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has written an interesting paper discussing the challenges in measuring and understanding it:

States renew Medicaid and CHIP eligibility once a year, as federal rules require, and federal rules have changed to require a minimum eligibility period of 12 months for child care. Many states still review SNAP eligibility every six months……

States are allowed to recertify eligibility of elderly and disabled households for SNAP every 24 months.

There is trade-off here: If people have too much hassle re-applying for fragmented benefits they might not get them and that will cost taxpayers more down the road. On the other hand, welfare that depends on income demands some burden of re-certifying eligibility on the recipient.

NCPA recently published an analysis of the bewildering array of federally funded safety-net programs, and recommended that state, local, and civic agencies be able to apply for block grants that consolidate funding from multiple programs. This would also reduce the challenge of churn, as applicants would be able to re-certify eligibility at one agency.

Health Insurers Just Fine Under Obamacare

 

New research from the Commonwealth Fund, a pro-Obamacare think tank, shows that health insurers are doing just fine under Obamacare.

Well, the stock market has been telling us that for years. The report’s purpose is to cheer the rebates that insurers which made too much money paid to consumers. Obamacare regulates the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR). If an insurer does not spend enough premium on medical claims, it has to pay a rebate to its beneficiaries.

Rebates have collapsed from over $1 billion in 2011 to $325 million in 2013. The report concludes that Obamacare caused insurers to reduce their overhead expenses and profits. Actually, there is less to this story than meets the eye. Exhibit 5 shows that there has been very little change in insurers’ income statements over the three years.

T5

(Source: Michael J. McCue & Michael A. Hall, The Federal Medical Loss Ratio Rule: Implications for Consumers in Year 3, New York, NY: Commonwealth Fund, March 2015, page 6.)

Honor Roll: 37 Voted Against the Budget Busting Medicare Doc Fix

 

“While I support an SGR replacement, I cannot vote in favor of a bill that costs more than $200 billion, while Congress only pays for $70 billion, leaving more than $130 billion to our children and grandchildren. We cannot continue to solve every problem by adding to the deficit,” Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) said in a statement.

The 37 Congressmen who voted against include high-ranking Republicans Darrell Issa and Jim Jordan.

Cristina Marcos of The Hill reports the entire list.

With Medicare Doc Fix, House Republicans Move Left of Obama on Health Reform

 

StethoscopeThe fallout from yesterday’s House vote to bind our children and grandchildren further into debt servitude to bail out an unreformed Medicare continues.

Before the vote, Chris Jacobs of America Next (Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s think tank) warned that Medicare could not survive reform if the so-called “doc fix” passed. Writing after the unfortunate vote, Jacobs explains that House Republicans have actually moved left of Obama on Medigap reform:

The GOP’s Proposed Budgets’ Effect on Medicare and Medicaid

 

Today’s appalling vote in favor of a so-called Medicare doc fix that will increase the deficit by $141 billion makes it hard to take the House and Senate budget resolutions seriously. Nevertheless, they have a lot of positive reform in them. Sean Parnell of the Heartland Institute interviewed me for the Heartland Institute’s podcast.

The interview happened a few days ago, before we knew that almost all House Republicans were about to vote to endorse Obamacare’s vision of controlling Medicare by federalizing the practice of medicine. Nevertheless, if the Republicans ever re-gather their bearings. maybe they will move their budget forward.

Hear the entire podcast here.

How Conservatives Rationalize the Budget Busting Medicare Doc Fix

 

Opposition to the outrageous so-called Medicare doc fix bill, which will increase the deficit by $141 billion, is growing. Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute explains how this will “bust the budget.” My Forbes editor, Avik Roy, pleads that the Senate stop this monstrosity (which passed the House by a huge majority).

On the other hand, there are those unfortunate conservatives who endorsed the bill before the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had announced what a budget buster it was. My friend Ryan Ellis of Americans for Tax Reform appreciates that the CBO score could give us a feeling of “whiplash”.

97 Percent of Medicare Doc Fix Deficit Funded

 

Today’s Health Alert warned against the so-called Medicare doc fix that is being jammed through the Congress this week. The Health Alert was written and published before the Congressional Budget Office issued its estimate of the bill’s effect on the deficit.

Here it is:

Over the 2015–2025 period, CBO estimates, enacting H.R. 2 would increase both direct spending (by about $145 billion) and revenues (by about $4 billion), resulting in a $141 billion increase in federal budget deficits (see table on page 2). Although the legislation would affect direct spending and revenues, it would waive the pay-as-you-go procedures that otherwise apply.

Less than three percent of this spending binge is paid for. Over 97 percent is deficit financed. This is how Republicans are showing how they can govern, especially on health reform?

Not in my worst nightmare did I think the bill would be this outrageous. As they say in America: “You gotta be kidding me!”

Any politician who votes for this will surely not be considered a credible voice in the debate over post-Obamacare health reform.

Here is the Heritage Foundation’s take. And AEI’s James Capretta and Scott Gottlieb.

What VA Scandal?

 

Senior Man ThinkingIn 2011, economist Paul Krugman attacked Republican lawmakers for wanting to reform the federal agency responsible for delivering health services to our military personnel. Krugman wrote, “Multiple surveys have found the V.H.A. providing better care than most Americans receive,” and said the VA was “a huge policy success story.” Well, he was wrong.

Today, we know the embattled agency needs an overhaul. When news broke last year that numerous veterans had died while awaiting medical treatment, the public was emphatic in its determination to deliver a message of discontentment to the VA. So, despite Krugman’s fanfare for the VA and despite the media ignoring the ongoing issues, a new report by Heartland Institute indicates at least one national veterans’ organization is still paying attention and thinks reform is necessary.

Republicans Plant Their Flags on Health Reform

 

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz declaring his presidential candidacy at Liberty University (March 23): “Imagine health care reform that keeps government out of the way between you and your doctor and that makes health insurance personal and portable and affordable.”

House Budget Committee’s budget resolution (March 17): “Individuals should be able to own their insurance and have it follow them in and out of jobs throughout their career.”

Senate Budget Committee’s budget resolution (March 18): “By adopting this new budget, Republicans can repeal the President’s health law and the committees of jurisdiction can continue to work on plans to replace it.”

These statements are all good news for reformers.

Kick the Medicare Doc Fix Down The Road

 

Confident Doctors

A similar version of this Health Alert appeared at Forbes.

Congressional leaders from both parties have agreed on a long-term, so-called “doc fix” that claims to solve the problem of how the federal government pays doctors who treat Medicare patients.

Currently, Congress has a certain amount of money every year to pay doctors. This amount of money increases according to a formula called the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), which was established in 1997. The SGR is comprised of four factors that (by the standards of federal health policy) are fairly easy to understand. Most importantly, the SGR depends on the change in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.

The Medicare Part B program, which pays for physicians, is an explicit “pay as you go” system. Seniors pay one quarter of the costs through premiums, and taxpayers (and their children and grandchildren) pay the rest through the U.S. Treasury. Therefore, it is appropriate taxpayers’ ability to pay (as measured by real GDP per capita) be an input into the amount.

The problem is the amount is not enough. If growth in Medicare’s payments to doctors were limited by the SGR, the payments would drop by about one-fifth, and they would stop seeing Medicare patients. So, at least once a year, Congress increases the payments for a few months. The latest patch (H.R. 4302) was passed in March 2014 and runs through March 31, 2015. It costs $15.8 billion.

This has happened 17 times since 1997. Congress has never allowed Medicare’s physician fees to drop. So, why not pass a long-term fix? This would finally free politicians from having to grub around every year finding money to pay doctors, and they could turn their attention to loftier matters.

Actually, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of any “doc fix”, and certainly this one.