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Implementing Health Reform: 2016 Benefit And Payment Parameters Proposed Rule, Insurance Provisions


November 23rd, 2014

On November 21, 2014, the Centers on Medicare and Medicaid Services of the Department of Health and Human Services released its proposed Benefits and Payment Parameters (BPP) RulePart I of this post examined the benefit provisions of this proposed rule. This post will analyze the parts of the rule that deal with the insurance market reforms; the reinsurance, risk adjustment, and risk corridor programs; health insurance rate review; and the individual and SHOP exchanges.

New Definitions Of ‘Plan’ And ‘State’

The regulation begins with a modified definition of the term “plan.”  The terms “plan” is important in the ACA regulations.  A plan has been defined, with respect to a health insurer, as the combination of a benefit package, metal tier, and service area.  The new definition adds to this combination cost-sharing structure and provider network, so that plans that differ in their cost-sharing structure (deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance) or provider networks are different plans, even if they are offered at the same metal tier.  This definition becomes important, for example, in determining whether a plan offered outside the exchange is the same as a qualified health plan (QHP) offered in the exchange and can thus participate in the risk corridor program.  The proposed regulations later propose that the unreasonable rate review regulation applies at the plan level.

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Implementing Health Reform: 2016 Benefit And Payment Parameters Proposed Rule, Consumer Provisions; Hardship Exemptions


November 22nd, 2014

On November 15, 2014, the marketplaces reopened for 2015.  Anecdotal reports indicate that in most places enrollment and reenrollment are running smoothly.  But the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is looking forward to 2016.  On November 21 CMS published its massive 2016 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (BPP) Proposed Rule  with accompanying fact sheet.  It also published the draft 2016 actuarial value calculator and draft actuarial value calculator methodology for 2016.  Finally, CMS published a guidance on hardship exemptions for certain individuals.

Not to be outdone, the Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service released its final regulation on Minimum Essential Coverage and other Rules Regarding the Shared Responsibility Payment for Individuals, together with a Notice regarding Individual Shared Responsibility Payment Hardship Exemptions that May be Claimed on a Federal Income Tax Return Without Obtaining a Hardship Exemption Certificate from the Marketplace and a Revenue Procedure setting out indexed adjusted percentages of income that will be used for determining the level of contributions expected of individuals before premium tax credits become available, the affordability threshold for the shared responsibility payments unaffordability exemption, and the threshold for determining whether employer coverage is affordable for purposes of determining eligibility for tax credits.

Finally, the Office of Personnel Management released a lengthy proposed rule proposing modifications in the multi-state plan program.  These rules, proposed rules, and guidances will be addressed in a series of posts over the next several days.  This post will address primarily the consumer-facing provisions of the BPP proposed rule, focusing on changes in benefits.  A second post will follow, discussing the provisions of the rule more relevant to insurers, such as proposed changes in the reinsurance, risk adjustment, and risk corridor rules.  A final post will discuss the IRS rule, which is primarily a finalization of proposals and guidances already made public, and the OPM multi-state plan rule.

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New On GrantWatch Blog


November 21st, 2014

Health Affairs GrantWatch Blog brings you news and views of what foundations are funding in health policy and health care.

Here are the most recent posts:

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Spreading Like A Wildfire: Interprofessional Education – The Vanderbilt Experience


November 20th, 2014

Well before the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, efforts to expand interprofessional education (IPE) were beginning to change the mindset that permeated much of health professional education in the US. One such example is the Vanderbilt Program in Interprofessional Learning (VPIL) that was established in 2010 with initial support from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, and later from the Baptist Health Trust.

To learn about the challenges, successes, and surprises experienced by those who developed and lead IPE at Vanderbilt, I interviewed Linda Norman, Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Bonnie Miller, Associate Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Senior Associate Dean for Health Sciences Education at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Heather Davidson, Director of Program Development for VPIL.

Peter Buerhaus: What were the key challenges faced when you started IPE at Vanderbilt?

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The Case For Advancing Access To Health Coverage And Care For Immigrant Women And Families


November 19th, 2014

Before the end of the year, the Obama administration is expected to announce that millions of undocumented immigrants will be able to lawfully stay in the United States. The new Congress may also take action on immigration reform legislation. Regardless of how it happens, any immigration policy change presents a good opportunity to revisit what has gone wrong with insurance coverage and health care for millions of immigrants, both undocumented and lawfully present, living and working in communities across the country.

A web of policy barriers to public and private insurance options effectively keeps millions of immigrant women and their families from affordable coverage and the basic health care—including sexual and reproductive health services—that coverage makes possible. Removing these barriers would advance the health and economic well-being of immigrant women, their families, and society as a whole. Most immediately, administrative steps advancing access for even some immigrants would be an important step forward. The case for doing so is compelling.

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Challenges For People With Disabilities Within The Health Care Safety Net


November 18th, 2014

Medicare and Medicaid were passed to serve as safety nets for the country’s most vulnerable populations, a point that has been reemphasized by the expansion of the populations they serve, especially with regards to Medicaid. Yet, even after 50 years, the disabled population continues to be one whose health care needs are not being met. This community is all too frequently left to suffer health disparities due to cultural incompetency, stigma and misunderstanding, and an inability to create policy changes that cover the population as a whole and their acute and long-term needs.

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Analysis Of Medicare Spending Slowdown Leads Health Affairs Blog October Most-Read List


November 17th, 2014

Loren Adler and Adam Rosenberg’s examination of the causes of slower Medicare spending growth was the most-read Health Affairs Blog post in October. Their post was followed by Jeff Goldsmith’s interview with former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson.

Next on the top-ten list was J. Stephen Morrison’s look at the US response to Ebola and the role of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, followed by Tim Jost’s post on reference pricing and network adequacy.

The full list is below:

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How Consumers Might Game The 90-Day Grace Period And What Can Be Done About It


November 17th, 2014

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), individuals receiving a federal subsidy are entitled to a three-month premium nonpayment grace period. As long as such an individual has paid at least the first month’s premium of the year, in any subsequent month the individual has three months to make the premium payment before coverage is terminated.

The grace period has obvious benefits for consumers, yet as a recent Health Affairs Health Policy Brief describes, this provision of the law has created significant apprehension among doctors and other health care providers who worry they will go unpaid when coverage is retroactively terminated for their patients. Unfortunately, as we explain here, this provision could have even broader adverse implications for the health care system.

The grace period law could encourage subsidized individuals to regularly pay only nine months of premiums and receive, in effect, twelve months of coverage. Should this gaming become widespread it could increase premiums (perhaps by as much as several percentage points) for everyone who purchases coverage in the individual (non-group) exchanges.

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Implementing Health Reform: Setting The Stage For 2015 Open Enrollment


November 16th, 2014

On November 15, 2014, the Affordable Care Act marketplaces reopened for 2015 enrollment, the second year of ACA coverage.  On November 14, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Office of Personnel Management released guidance and reports laying the groundwork for the second year.  This post covers these and notes briefly a couple of ACA court decisions that also came down on November 14.

Plan data release.  CMS released a number of data files containing information on plans available on the marketplaces for 2015 and their rates.  First, the release includes “landscape files” including plans available by county along with premium and cost-sharing data for selected scenarios and services for the 2015 plan year for the federally facilitated marketplace and federally facilitated SHOP.

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Medicaid At 50: From Exclusion To Expansion To Universality


November 14th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of several posts stemming from presentations given at “The Law of Medicare and Medicaid at Fifty,” a conference held at Yale Law School on November 6 and 7.

For almost five decades, Medicaid has been a safety net with gaping holes. Medicaid has provided invaluable health care access for the “deserving poor”—the impoverished blind, disabled, children, pregnant women, and elderly—but they only comprise approximately 40 percent of the nation’s poor. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), as part of its comprehensive insurance coverage architecture, rendered all Americans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) eligible for Medicaid. Through the effort to “provide everybody … some basic security when it comes to their health care,” the ACA adopted a universal approach to health care access. Universality is a fundamentally different philosophical approach in American health care, and an important progression away from the stigmatizing rhetoric of the “deserving poor.”

The Supreme Court nearly thwarted the possibility of universality by holding the Medicaid expansion unduly coercive and rendering expansion optional for the states. Ever since, states have been exercising that option, deciding whether to expand in a highly dynamic dialogue that has occurred both intrastate and extra-state with the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This dialogue has resulted in four waves of Medicaid expansion, each of which has exhibited greater boldness on the part of the states in their proposals to HHS, and greater flexibility on the part of HHS in accepting state ideas for expansion. On a spectrum of federalism, the waves move from cooperation to assertions of state sovereignty. But, Medicaid’s new universality provides an absolute backstop for HHS in these negotiations, a point at which federal policy should not accommodate the rent-seeking behavior of the states.

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Risk And Reform Of Long-Term Care


November 14th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of several posts stemming from presentations given at “The Law of Medicare and Medicaid at Fifty,” a conference held at Yale Law School on November 6 and 7.

The 50th Anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid offers an opportunity to reflect on how U.S. social policy has conceived of the problem of long-term care.

Social insurance programs aim to create greater security—typically financial security—for American families (See Note 1). Programs for long-term care, however, have had mixed results. The most recent attempt at reform, which Ted Kennedy ushered through as a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), called the CLASS Act, was actuarially unsound and later repealed. Medicare and especially Medicaid, the two primary government programs to address long-term care needs, are criticized for failing to meet the needs of people with a disability or illness, who need long-term services or supports. These critiques are valid.

Even more troublesome, however, long-term care policy, especially in its most recent evolution toward home-based care, has intensified a second type of insecurity for Americans. This insecurity arises when someone becomes responsible for the long-term care of a loved one. In a longer forthcoming article, I argue that this insecurity—which I call “next-friend risk”—poses a serious threat to Americans and needs to be addressed. (I borrow the phrase next friend from a legal term for a person who in litigation represents someone with a disability who is otherwise unable to represent him or herself. Although not a legal guardian, the next friend protects the interests of an incompetent person.)

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Implementing Health Reform: New HHS 2015 Marketplace Enrollment Estimates


November 11th, 2014

On November 10, 2014, the HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) released an estimate of “How Many Individuals Might Have Marketplace Coverage After the 2015 Open Enrollment Period.”  ASPE estimates that 9.1 to 9.9 million will be enrolled, substantially lower than the 13 million enrollee estimate the Congressional Budget Office issued in the Spring of 2014.

Both the ASPE and CBO estimates see the marketplaces as eventually covering 24 to 25 million people.  But while CBO projected that the marketplaces would reach this number in 3 years, ASPE believes that a 4 to 5 year ramp-up period is more realistic based on the launch experience of other programs, like Medicaid and CHIP.

Examining the numbers.  The marketplaces enrolled 8.1 million individuals during the 2014 open enrollment period.  The ASPE brief states that 7.1 million were still enrolled as of October of 2014.  It is not clear whether or not this number includes 112,000 individuals that HHS recently announced have been dropped from the marketplaces because they failed adequately to document their immigration or citizenship status.  HHS has also announced that another 105,000 individuals will have their financial eligibility determined on data available to HHS (in most instances 2012 tax returns), because they failed to document the income levels they claimed on their applications.  These individuals will not lose coverage, but may receive smaller tax credits.

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New Health Policy Brief: The Family Glitch


November 10th, 2014

A new health policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) looks at the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) so-called family glitch. Low-to-moderate-income families are eligible for a subsidy to purchase health insurance on the Marketplace if the cost of health coverage through their employers is more than 9.5 percent of their household income.

However, this formula is based on individual-only coverage and does not account for the higher cost of a family insurance plan. If the family glitch is not fixed, the path to affordable insurance for many spouses and children could be blocked—and children could be even further impacted if Congress fails to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) after the current appropriation ends in September 2015, which the brief also explains.

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Health Insurance Without An Annual Expiration Date? A Case For Exchange-Based Long-Term Policies


November 10th, 2014

Today, consumers make decisions every year about whether to renew or change health plans. Exchange-based multi-year plans would have to overcome significant obstacles before they become reality, but they hold the potential for helping the United States move toward goals of a healthier society and a more efficient health care system.

Since the launch of the federal and state health insurance exchanges in October 2013, set up to facilitate the purchase of insurance in line with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), millions of Americans have obtained coverage. In addition, several large employers, such as Sears and Walgreens, have announced that they will stop offering coverage and instead provide a defined contribution for their employees to purchase coverage on an exchange.

The growing role of exchanges, their price transparency, and the increasing share of the cost of coverage borne by enrollees is likely to make consumers pay increased attention to price. Price-sensitive buyers could encourage competition and thus efficiency. But there might be unintended consequences. Consumers might deliberately choose low-cost plans with limited benefits when they are healthy, knowing that the ACA allows them to purchase a more generous plan should they develop a chronic disease. The possibility of changing health plans when becoming sick might exacerbate the self-selection problem in the insurance market because the public exchanges allow only limited risk adjustment based on such factors as age, family composition, rating area, and tobacco use.

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Implementing Health Reform: Defining Group Health Plans And More


November 9th, 2014

A primary goal of the Affordable Care Act is to extend individual health insurance coverage through the exchanges and the premium tax credits to Americans who would otherwise be uninsured.  But most working-age Americans and their families remain insured through employer-sponsored group coverage. While seeking to expand individual coverage, therefore, the ACA also attempts to preserve group coverage.

Employers and those who advise employers have, however, sought to break down the barrier between group and individual coverage. That is, they have tried to figure out how employers can subsidize individual coverage for their employees rather than provide group coverage.  If this were possible, employers could assist their employees to secure coverage while avoiding the burden of operating a group health plan.  Employees might be able to simultaneously receive the benefits of employer contributions and of premium tax credits.  It might even be possible for employers to shunt off their high-cost employees with poor health status to the exchanges, where they would be charged community-rated premiums, while keeping healthy employees in a group plan, which would likely receive a favorable rate based on claims experience.

In earlier guidances, the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services clarified that employer health care arrangements, such as health reimbursement accounts and employer payment plans, are group health plans subject to the group market reforms of the ACA, including the prohibition of annual limits or the requirement to cover certain preventive services.  Such arrangements must therefore be integrated with a group health plan that meets these requirements, therefore, to comply with the law.  They cannot be integrated with individual policies and comply with the law.

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Implementing Health Reform: Supreme Court Will Review Tax Credits In Federal Exchanges


November 7th, 2014

On November 7, 2014, the Supreme Court granted certiorari (review) in King v. Burwell, one of the cases involving the question of whether federally-facilitated marketplaces can grant premium tax credits.  The Fourth Circuit in King had upheld the Internal Revenue Service rule allowing FFMs to grant premium tax credits.  A panel of the District of Columbia Circuit had decided the same day that only state-operated exchanges could grant tax credits; however, that decision was vacated by the D.C. Circuit when it decided to rehear the case as a whole, so at the time the Supreme Court accepted certiorari, King was the only circuit court decision in effect, and that upholding the rule.

The challenge to the IRS rule is based on the wording of the provision of the ACA that authorizes premium tax credits, which refers to enrollment “in through an Exchange established by the State.”  The plaintiffs in King argue that this means that only state-operated exchanges can grant premium tax credits.

The government responds that this is an incorrect reading of the statute, which recognizes FFMs as the state-established exchange in states that elect not to establish a state exchange.  This is certainly the way that the members of Congress who wrote the legislation and the states that elected not to operate their own exchange understood the legislation.

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Health Care Policy After The Mid-Term Elections


November 7th, 2014

As President Obama said in his post-election news conference, Republicans had a good night on November 4. They increased their majority in the House to a level not seen since the 1920s and may hold as many as 250 seats in the lower chamber. In the Senate, Republicans defeated at least three incumbent Democratic Senators, and are likely to defeat two more when all of the voting and counting is over.

The most likely scenario is that the GOP will hold 54 seats in the Senate come January — an increase of nine seats from the current Congress. It is noteworthy that half of the Democratic Senators who voted to pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA) nearly five years ago will no longer be in the Senate in 2015. Despite some commentary to the contrary, the ACA was a big issue in the election. To a person, the successful GOP Senate candidates ran strongly against the ACA. In the middle of October, anti-ACA ads were among the most frequently-aired political advertisements from Republican Senate candidates. By and large, these candidates won their races.

The conventional wisdom is that the ACA, now heading into its second year of full-scale implementation, cannot be rolled back in any substantial way at this point. That’s certainly the view of major corporate players and the health care industry. But it is decidedly not the view of the newly-elected Republican members of the House and Senate, or their constituents. They believe voters sent them to Washington to do their best to push back against the perceived excesses of the ACA and to begin replacing it with a reform plan that is less expensive, less damaging to the economy, and less reliant on federal regulation and control.

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Tax Filing And The ACA: Helping Americans Meet The Challenge


November 7th, 2014

Tim Jost’s post of September 21, 2014 expressed concern about the problems that Americans who are uninsured or who have received or qualify for premium tax credits will face in filing their taxes for 2014.  Those who are not otherwise insured and who wish to claim an exemption from the shared responsibility penalty will have to file tax form 8965.  Those who received advance premium tax credits during 2014 will have to file a form 8962, as will those who did not receive advance premium tax credits but who wish to claim premium tax credits on their tax return.  Tax filers who fail to reconcile their tax credits for 2014 cannot claim tax credits for subsequent years.

Individuals who did not have coverage at the beginning of 2014, but purchased coverage at some point in the year through the marketplaces, may need to file both forms.  For example, victims of domestic violence or spousal abandonment were granted a special enrollment period part of the way through 2014 and will have to file an 8965 for the months they were uninsured before they enrolled and an 8962 for months after they enrolled.

This post offers suggestions as to how the Internal Revenue Service and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the two agencies that oversee the shared responsibility and premium tax credit programs, might mitigate the problems that tax filers may face in filing their taxes for 2014.

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Yes, We Can Transcend Obamacare


November 6th, 2014

In a recent  Health Affairs Blog post, Washington and Lee University law professor Timothy Jost described a new health-reform plan designed by one of us (Roy) and fiscally modeled by the other (Parente) as a “serious proposal [that] deserves to be taken seriously.” Jost praises parts of the plan. Most notably, he writes that its suggested reform of Medicaid “makes a lot of sense and is similar to proposals made earlier by progressive commentators,” and describes its aim of enacting a uniform annual deductible for Medicare as a “common sense proposal.”

But much of Jost’s review is filled with ideological pique—there are various harrumphs about “nostrums” and “talking points” and “hobby horses.” His article contains some factual and analytical inaccuracies, but also a few good points worth discussing.

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The Law Of Medicare And Medicaid At Fifty


November 4th, 2014

Editor’s note: This is the first of several periodic posts stemming from presentations to be given at “The Law of Medicare and Medicaid at Fifty,” a conference to be held at Yale Law School on November 6 and 7.

This post introduces an online symposium in connection with The Law of Medicare and Medicaid at 50, an upcoming interdisciplinary conference at Yale Law School.  Many thanks to Health Affairs for its co-sponsorship of the conference and for this opportunity to preview some of the work to be presented.

Why focus on the law of Medicare and Medicaid?  These two programs are almost always analyzed from a policy perspective, but one of the most significant changes that the 1965 legislation wrought was bringing two major federal statutes—and, with them,  the three branches of the federal government—squarely into the center of  health care and regulation.  To be sure, Congress had passed laws related to health prior to 1965, but until Medicare and Medicaid, most health policy was made at the local level, by state courts and state governments, and by the medical profession itself.

Medicare and Medicaid brought not only Congress, but the Supreme Court and the rest of the lower federal courts into the picture. It also made the federal administrative apparatus—federal agencies ranging from Health and Human Services, to Treasury, to the Department of Justice—central players in the world of health policy and enforcement.  Nevertheless, amidst the thousands of pages that have been written about the two programs, there has been relatively little reflection on how the distinct features of law—and federal law in particular—have affected the programs’ development and successes.

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