Tag: "Uninsured"

Recent Rise In Health Coverage Due To Return of Jobs With Benefits

NHIS(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)

The best measurement of people who lack health insurance, the National Health Interview Survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has released early estimates of health insurance for all fifty states and the District of Columbia in the first quarter of 2016. There are three things to note.

First: 70.2 percent of residents, age 18 to through 64, had “private health insurance” (at the time of the interview) in the first quarter of this year, which is which is the same rate as persisted until 2006. Obamacare has not achieved a breakthrough in coverage. It has just restored us to where we were a decade ago. Further, the contribution of Obamacare’s exchanges to this is almost trivial, covering only four million people.

What has really happened is a restoration of employer-based benefits as we have slowly clawed our way out of recession: 61.2 million people had non-exchange private insurance in Q1 2010. This included both employer-based benefits and the pre-Obamacare market for individual health insurance. By Q1 2016, this had increased to 66 million. Because most in the pre-Obamacare individual market have shifted into Obamacare exchange coverage, the increase in employer-based coverage will have been close to eight or nine million.

Trouble Paying Medical Bills: Uninsured Do Better Than Obamacare Insured

iStock_000007047153XSmall(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics conducts thorough research on health insurance coverage. Recently published early results of the latest National Health Interview Survey have been misrepresented in the media to show that Obamacare is reducing the number of uninsured Americans, and that the number of people having trouble paying for health care has dropped as a result.

Actually, this is not the case. The data show some factor other than Obamacare has caused the survey’s respondents to state that they are having less trouble paying medical bills than in previous years. We know this because those who remained uninsured improved their ability to pay medical bills more than those who got coverage through Obamacare.

Only 45 million Americans under 65 years old reported they were in families with problems paying medical bills in 2015. In 2011, the number was 57 million. That drop of 12 million corresponds with a significant increase in health insurance coverage. The number without insurance dropped by 18 million, from 46 million to 28 million, while the population increased by about three million.

So, it looks like two thirds of the 18 million people insured after Obamacare took hold have no more worries about medical bills. Hooray for Obamacare, right? Not at all. In fact, it is those who remained uninsured who account for the biggest share of the decrease in the number of Americans with troubles paying medical bills.

Hospitals’ Uninsured Patients Rising Again

Remember how Obamacare was supposed to reduce the burden of so-called “uncompensated care” from uninsured patients that was driving hospitals bankrupt? Well, two years into Obamacare it hasn’t worked out that way:

Hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc on Tuesday said more patients are coming through its doors who have lost their health insurance, most likely because they stopped paying for it.

The largest U.S. for-profit hospital chain said it admitted more uninsured patients in the third quarter who had previously registered with health insurance, compared with a year ago. They included people who bought coverage from marketplaces set up under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but then dropped it.

“We believe this is likely due to non-payment of premiums,” HCA Chief Financial Officer Bill Rutherford said on the company’s earnings call.

Overall, the company admitted 13.6 percent more uninsured patients in the third quarter. It was the second straight quarterly increase in uninsured admissions, reversing a downward trend since the insurance exchanges opened for business in early 2014

(Susan Kelly, “HCA says some patients dropping their new insurance coverage,” Reuters. October 27, 2015.)

Protecting hospitals’ revenues by increasing the number of insured Americans was never actually a legitimately important goal of health reform, although hospitals are very successful at making that case. Now, it looks like Obamacare doesn’t even do that.

Gallup Confirms Obamacare Increased Welfare Dependency

I did not bother to discuss Gallup’s July update on the drop in uninsured Americans, because it was substantively the same as the teaser released in March, which showed most of the increase in health insurance was actually Medicaid, which is welfare dependency.

Gallup has just released a state-by-state report, concluding Medicaid expansion and establishing a state exchange almost doubled the reduction in uninsured. Of the two, I cannot imagine setting up a state exchange is a big factor, because beneficiaries get the same tax credits in state or federal Obamacare exchanges. Obamacare mostly increased Medicaid dependency.

Maybe The Government Should Just Not Ask People If They Are Uninsured?

Sir John Cowperthwaite was the Financial Secretary of the British Colony of Hong Kong when it began to boom in the 1960s:

Asked what is the key thing poor countries should do, Cowperthwaite once remarked: “They should abolish the Office of National Statistics.” In Hong Kong, he refused to collect all but the most superficial statistics, believing that statistics were dangerous: they would led the state to to fiddle about remedying perceived ills, simultaneously hindering the ability of the market economy to work. This caused consternation in Whitehall: a delegation of civil servants were sent to Hong Kong to find out why employment statistics were not being collected; Cowperthwaite literally sent them home on the next plane back. (Alex Singleton, The Guardian)

What does this have to do with health insurance? The Wall Street Journal’s Jo Craven McGinty reports on the Census Bureau’s rejigging of its measurement of how many Americans are without health insurance:

Access to Health Care Unchanged After Obamacare’s First Year

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released early estimates of health insurance and access to health care for January through September 2014. The National Health Insurance Survey (NHIS) is (in my opinion) the most effective survey of health insurance, because it asks people three different but important questions: Are they uninsured at the time of the survey? Have they been uninsured for at least part of the year? Have they been uninsured for more than a year?

As shown in Figure 2, the proportion of long-term uninsured is about the same as it was circa 2000. The proportion of short-term uninsured has shrunk a little in Obamacare’s first year.


Galluping Away with the Uninsured

GallupGallup has released a teaser for its quarterly update of health-insurance coverage. Although the polling firm released only one datum (that the rate of uninsured fell to 12.3 percent in the first quarter from 12.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014) this was enough for President Obama to send forth a victory tweet.

Not so fast: As the press release itself notes, a large proportion of the newly “insured” are not actually insured, but on Medicaid. Medicaid is a welfare program. Consider the question: “Do you have health insurance coverage?” It is as if people receiving cash welfare payments answered the question, “Do you have a job?” in the affirmative.

Hits and Misses

Government Spending on Uncompensated Care is Less Than One Half of One Percent of Government Health Spending

One of the reasons given for universal health insurance coverage is that uninsured people receive medical care but do not pay their bills. It’s true: A new analysis published by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that providers delivered $84.9 billion worth of medical care to uninsured people, for which they were not directly paid. However, federal, state, and local governments compensated providers $35.9 billion, leaving $49.0 billion truly uncompensated.

health-care-costsIs that a lot? Well, all levels of government spent $1.3 trillion on health care that year. So, government funding of uncompensated care is 0.4 percent of all government health care spending. If government stepped up and compensated the remaining $49.0 billion, the total payout would amount to about one percent of all government health spending.

Is this really something we should be turning ourselves inside out over? Especially given the evidence that Medicaid does not give timely access to care, and the emerging signals that ObamaCare reduces timely access to care, it is far from clear that adding ObamaCare’s insurance bureaucracy on top of this situation is going to be worth the trouble, even for the beneficiaries.

4 to 7 Million Will Be Fined under ObamaCare’s Individual Mandate

From the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation:

CBO and JCT estimate that 23 million uninsured people in 2016 will qualify for one or more of those exemptions. Of the remaining 7 million uninsured people, CBO and JCT estimate that some will be granted exemptions from the penalty because of hardship or for other reasons.

All told, CBO and JCT estimate that about 4 million people will pay a penalty because they are uninsured in 2016 (a figure that includes uninsured dependents who have the penalty paid on their behalf). An estimated $4 billion will be collected from those who are uninsured in 2016, and, on average, an estimated $5 billion will be collected per year over the 2017–2024 period.

(CBO, Payments of Penalties for Being Uninsured Under the Affordable Care Act: 2014 Update)