HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Creighton University School of Law

Friday, November 13, 2015

KY Governor-Elect Bevin and Health Care Federalism Post-ACA

Matt Bevin will soon become Kentucky's Republican Governor, which has created consternation regarding his plans for discontinuing Kentucky's successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  While on the campaign trail, Governor-Elect Bevin first promised to end the Medicaid expansion; then he promised to cap new Medicaid enrollment; and then he promised to reject "Obamacare" but keep Medicaid expansion on Kentucky's terms.  Governor-Elect Bevin also promised to dismantle Kynect, widely considered a model state-run health insurance exchange.  Each of these promises leads to a complex realm of statutory provisions, governance choices, and inter-governmental dynamics.  Each also has real implications for the neediest in our health care system as well as the ongoing negotiations between the federal government and the states in a post-ACA, post-NFIB federalism world.  

First, could Governor-elect Bevin completely end the Medicaid expansion in Kentucky?  Yes, but not instantaneously.  The Medicaid Act creates a right for any person who meets its eligibility requirements to be enrolled upon approval of her application. The Medicaid Act has mandatory eligibility categories and optional eligibility categories, and the federal government must match state funding by at least 50 cents on each Medicaid dollar.  As enacted, the ACA built on this design by expanding eligibility to anyone under age 65 earning less than 133% of the federal poverty level, and the expansion was mandatory.  States would have been required to enroll the newly eligible population and could not alter the expansion without a waiver from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The ACA funded 100% of the cost for newly eligible beneficiaries until 2017, then decreases the match gradually to 90% over the next several years.

States that complied with the ACA submitted State Plan Amendments to HHS to expand eligibility; Kentucky was one of them.  But, NFIB v. Sebelius made the ACA's Medicaid expansion unenforceable by HHS, or "optional."  HHS issued guidance after NFIB explaining that states could opt-in to expansion at any time and that they could subsequently opt-out. Although HHS opined that post-expansion opt-out (my phrase) is consistent with NFIB, it has not clarified how such an opt-out would work.  Because Governor Beshear expanded Medicaid by executive order, Governor-Elect Bevin would be able to reverse expansion at the state level with another executive order.  But, Kentucky would also need to submit a State Plan Amendment to HHS for approval, which can take 2-3 months when non-controversial.  The state would also need to determine whether the newly eligible beneficiaries (approximately 400,000 people) are eligible for Medicaid through another category of eligibility, such as pregnancy or disability.  Some would qualify for tax credits to purchase insurance in the exchange, but many would not qualify for Medicaid or tax credits at that point.  Beneficiaries have a right to appeal dis-enrollment, but for most that appeal will not lead anywhere.  So, post-expansion opt-out would not occur immediately or without cost, but it is possible.

Second, could Bevin cap enrollment?  No.  States cannot limit enrollment of Medicaid beneficiaries under the Medicaid Act; they may only do so if they have a specific waiver granted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  HHS has explained that capped enrollment will not be approved because it is inconsistent with the universal coverage goals of the ACA.   

Third, could Kentucky amend Medicaid expansion like Indiana, which Bevin has admired in public remarks?  A waiver from HHS is necessary to expand Medicaid differently than the ACA required.  So far, such waivers have been granted to seven states, underlining states' empowerment after NFIB to negotiate a version of health care reform that Congress never envisioned.  In addition to that vertical cooperative federalism, states are experiencing noticeable horizontal federalism, learning from one another what concessions can be won from HHS. Republican governors of waiver states have touted that they expanded Medicaid their way, spinning the waivers as a win for red state values.  And, many of the concessions granted by HHS have reflected a more typically conservative agenda.  For example, Arkansas, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Montana have negotiated compromises such as placing the newly eligible population in the exchanges with federal Medicaid dollars supporting their purchase of private plans ("premium assistance"); required premiums and co-payments, especially for people earning more than 100% of the federal poverty level; wellness requirements; limiting payment for non-emergency use of ambulances and imposing co-payments for ER use; private third-party administration; and other adjustments.  Notably, HHS rejected work requirements, which reflect "able-bodied" rhetoric that is so politically prevalent.  (In a forthcoming paper with Jessica Roberts, I debunk the myth of self-reliance in health care, which underlies the work linkage proposals.)  

Some of these waiver concessions may improve insurance coverage; for example, a person who earns close to 133% of the federal poverty level is likely to "churn" between Medicaid coverage and private insurance coverage, and the premium assistance model may make that movement smoother and less likely to result in loss of coverage (time will tell).  But, some concessions have harmful effects, such as enforceable premiums that drop coverage for anyone who does not pay, as studies have shown that cost sharing is a barrier to care for low-income Americans. Further, Indiana's waiver is arguably the most complex, raising questions as to why a complicated system should replace one that is relatively simple and working well (other than ideology).  Bevin says it's economics, but a Deloitte study performed for Kentucky showed that is not true.

If one thing is clear from states' negotiations with HHS, the agency is strongly motivated by increasing enrollment and by universal coverage policy entrenchment.  This could cut both ways for Kentucky, which would be in uncharted waters as a waiver-seeking state that could be the first post-expansion opt-out.  Kentucky's Medicaid expansion covers nearly 10% of the state's population, and HHS surely would take a very hard look at any waiver application that makes the already-insured lose coverage.  HHS would also be aware that timing is tricky, and Medicaid enrollment could disappear and then reappear for the newly eligible in Kentucky, leaving needy people with gaps in coverage (and thus gaps in care).  

Finally, could Governor-Elect Bevin dismantle Kynect?  Yes, a state-based exchange can be disbanded, but not immediately.  The open enrollment for 2016 that is underway cannot be stopped, and HHS wants a year's notice before a state moves to the federally-run exchange.  Dismantling Kynect will cost tens of millions of dollars according to current estimates.  And, the state must ensure that privately insured people do not lose coverage in an exchange transition.  

Kentucky has experienced the largest drop in uninsurance in the nation due to Governor Beshear's implementation of the ACA, and modifications enacted without due care could result in hundreds of thousands of people losing health care coverage.  Change for the sake of change may be an interesting political experiment to some, but it has real world implications for the low income individuals relying on regulatory stability for their health insurance access.  



November 13, 2015 in Affordable Care Act, CMS, Health Reform, HHS, Medicaid, Politics, PPACA, Spending, State Initiatives, States, Uninsured | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Will the Uninsured Become Healthier Once They Receive Health Care Coverage?

The Affordable Care Act might not bend the cost curve or improve the quality of health care, but it will save thousands of lives, as millions of uninsured persons receive the health care they need. At least that’s the conventional wisdom. But while observers assume that ACA will improve the health of the uninsured, the link between health insurance and health is not as clear as one may think. Partly because other factors have a bigger impact on health than does health care and partly because the uninsured can rely on the health care safety net, ACA’s impact on the health of the previously uninsured may be less than expected.

To be sure, the insured are healthier than the uninsured. According to one study, the uninsured have a mortality rate 40% higher than that of the insured. However, there are other differences between the insured and the uninsured besides their insurance status, including education, wealth, and other measures of socioeconomic status.

How much does health insurance improve the health of the uninsured? The empirical literature sends a mixed message. On one hand is an important Medicaid study. Researchers compared three states that had expanded their Medicaid programs to include childless adults with neighboring states that were similar demographically but had not undertaken similar expansions of their Medicaid programs. In the aggregate, the states with the expansions saw significant reductions in mortality rates compared to the neighboring states

On the other hand is another important Medicaid study. After Oregon added a limited number of slots to its Medicaid program and assigned the new slots by lottery, it effectively created a randomized controlled study of the benefits of Medicaid coverage. When researchers analyzed data from the first two years of the expansion, they found that the coverage resulted in greater utilization of the health care system. However, coverage did not lead to a reduction in levels of hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes.

Continue reading

April 8, 2014 in Affordable Care Act, Health Care, Health Care Reform, PPACA, Uninsured | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Get to Know the 9 ACA Exemptions-Health Care Sharing Ministries

Stacey Tovino, a rock-star health law professor and Lincy Professor of Law at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law and I were nearly knocked off our chairs at a presentation by Wellesley College Professor Charlene Galarneau, PhD on The ACA Exemption of Health Care Sharing Ministries at the ASBH- American Association of Bioethics and the Humanity’s annual Meeting last month.  If you are a health law professor (or hobbyist) and do not yet know what a Health Care Sharing Ministry is, prepare to be surprised.  It is NOT insurance but rather a non-binding agreement among people of faith to share their health care costs.  As the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries explains, “A health care sharing ministry (HCSM) provides a health care cost sharing arrangement among persons of similar and sincerely held beliefs. HCSMs are not-for-profit religious organizations acting as a clearinghouse for those who have medical expenses and those who desire to share the burden of those medical expenses.”  It specifically does not provide the essential services of an ACA qualified plan.  Yet those without health insurance who are participating in one of these ministries are exempt from the obligation to purchase insurance or pay a penalty—even though it is highly likely that the cost of their care will fall on the community where they become sick and seek treatment.  Read more about it here and here.  Health Care Sharing Ministries are among the 9 exemptions in the Affordable Care Act, yet have not attracted significant attention.  Given their important role in exempting large numbers of people from the obligation of obtaining health insurance, they deserve a place, or at least a shout-out, in all of our classes.


December 17, 2013 in Access, Affordable Care Act, Coverage, Health Care, Individual Mandate , Policy, Politics, PPACA, Private Insurance, Public Health, Uninsured | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Difference Between a Law Professor and a Pundit

is that most of what I do is in the "no spin zone."  I may agree or not with a holding or a policy, but my job is to explain--not (in my view) editoralize.


Unless something is really wrong--and this headline is really wrong. Obama: ‘I’m Sorry’ About Americans Who Are Losing Current Health Plans


 Yes, I heard President Obama say he was "sorry" that people who "liked" their health insurance were losing it.  But there are no facts to support the implied conclusion that they were reasonable in their affection.

 So--are people "losing" health insurance they had because it provided so little coverage (so little value for money) that it was as good as being uninsured?  Yes.  But  are there any identifiable people who experienced an illness, were satisfied with the level of coverage they had from these policies?  Not that I've heard speak in any form that can be recorded for review.

 I'm from Connecticut and to say that people are losing coverage they "liked" is to suggest that those unlucky enough to pay a peddler for a piece of wood shaped like a nutmeg "liked" it well enough to continue putting sawdust in their eggnog for years to follow.  Sure, maybe they had thought they got a bargain and at the time could not have afforded a real nutmeg.  But there's a solid old time English word for what they experienced: they were swindled.  And would in no sense describe their feeling about the old block of wood as "liking."

What's missing here is any definition--let alone understanding--of what it means to "like" insurance coverage for which you are paying a monthly premium only to discover on needing it that it's not worth what you paid for it.    People who had this insurance  did so either because they were defrauded or because they had no other access to health insurance and were hoping for the best from it.

Here's my concern--I'm not qualified to assess the politics of this or even the longterm economics.  But I do know that many vulnerable people who either now have solid, excellent insurance through Medicare, the VA or their jobs believe that they could lose it because of Obamacare.  And that's simply not true.


All of us who are health law professors field questions from students,  friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances about Obamacare all the time--and my answer to almost everyone until very recently was, "I don't know--we'll have to see what happens when it actually takes effect." 

 But here is something I do know---the people who are "losing" healthcare are losing something that was never worth having--and which, by the way, they would surely have lost instantly the first time they made a claim.   Thus putting them in the same catagory of people from whom we have heard no complaints--those without access to health insurance because of pre-existing conditions or prohibitive premiums and now find it available and affordable.


Folks who are finding out that the coverage they had did not meet minimum standards and who now have the option of buying insurance that is worth what it costs may well not know the details yet--because they haven't been able to get on line to read about it.   And if they were lucky enough to never have had to use their policies, they may never have known how little they had.

But lets not forget that the system we had was responsible for 62% of personal bankruptcies due to medical bills.  And that includes a lot of people who had health insurance they "liked" but which proved inadequate when needed.

Not being a pundit--let alone an expert on presidential speech writing--I can't imagine how President Obama thought it was a good idea to make a promise that he had as much power to keep as that it wouldn't rain on anyone's Fourth of July Parade or that the entire United States would be covered by an even blanket of new snow on Christmas Eve. 

Most people with "good" insurance through work face changes in doctors, hospitals, and covered medications just about everytime their employer re-negotiates their contract.   It's a reality we all live with.  

But are people who had adequate and affordable insurance losing coverage?  To switch states for a moment,  we have to all be from Missouri.   Show us.

Until  we see what options are available to these folks who were paying monthly premiums to plans, now being cancelled, which would not be there when needed, lets stop scaring people by telling them that the adequate insurance they do have is going to be taken away.  And that they will become uninsured. 

Sure, the roll out is a disaster--and in retrospect predictable once it became apparent how many states were declining the opportunity to set up their own exchanges and shifting the burden onto the woefully unprepared department of Health and Human Services.

But lets not confuse the messenger with the message.  The actual insurance available is from private insurance companies--which for the first time must by law provide comprehensive health insurance for a fair price.  There's no reason to think it will be worse than the expensive and inadequate plans it replaces.  And certainly it will be far better than nothing.    And it seems like the people directly affected by these cancellations know that because with all the glitches and apologies, the majority of Americans  continue to support the increased access to affordable care insurance at the same rate they did when the bill was passed--three years ago!.

Getting back to being a professor, one of the biggest problems in explaining this topic is that it's a moving target and a substantial mistrust about sources of information.  Once again, I recommend the non-profit and non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation which continues to gather and explain facts.    If indeed the people "losing" their insurance do not soon have access to better coverage at an affordable price, then there is a serious problem far past computer glitches.  Lets wait and see.

November 8, 2013 in Access, Affordable Care Act, Health Care Reform, Insurance, Uninsured | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Poverty and Cognitive Function

Don't miss a fascinating article in the August 30th issue of Science, "Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function."  The article contends that there is a causal explanation for the correlation between poverty and disfunctional behavior, such as the failure to keep medical appointments or to employ healthy behaviors. Put crudely, the connection is that people in poverty have to think about so much just to keep going that they don't have the cognitive bandwidth to make carefully reasoned decisions.

The authors of the article, Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainanthan, Eldar Shafir, and Jiaying Zhao, present two studies in support of their claim.  The first study involved four experiments in which shoppers at a New Jersey mall were paid participants.  The income level of the shoppers varied, from the bottom quartile of US income to over $70,000.  In the first experiment, participants were asked to think about a decision about how to pay for car repairs, and were randomized to inexpensive ($150) or expensive ($1500) costs of the repair.  They were then asked to perform simple cognitive tests on a computer.  Among those asked to think about the inexpensive repair, there were no significant differences by income level in performance of the cognitive task.  By contrast, there were significant differences in performance by income among those confronted with the more expensive repair.  Variations on this experiment involved problems where sums of money were not involved (to control for math anxiety), incentives in the form of getting paid for getting the right answers on the cognitive tests, and situations in which participants came to a decision about the financial problem, engaged in intervening activities, and then were asked to perform the cognitive tests.  Each of these variations produced results similar to the initial experiment:  the performance of people in poverty on the cognitive tests was significantly associated with the expensive repair, but the performance of those in higher income groups was not.

In the authors' second study, participants were a random sample of sugar cane farmers in Tamil Nadu in southern India.  They were interviewed before and after the cane harvest.  Pre-harvest the farmers faced more significant financial pressures (as measured by criteria such as numbers of pawned items, numbers of loans, and the like) than post-harvest.  Performance on cognitive function tests was significantly higher post-harvest than pre-harvest.  Because the cane harvest extends over a considerable time period, the authors were able to control for calendar effects; the difference was similar early or later in the 5 month period of the harvest.  The authors conclude that poverty has about the same cognitive consequences as the loss of a night's sleep.

To be sure, other variables might explain the authors' findings.  They are careful to discuss many of these such as physical exertion, stress, nutrition, or training effects.  If the authors are right, however, their findings have some impressive implications for health policy.  One, which they note, is that it may just be more difficult for people who are poor to perform complex tasks needed to apply for eligibility for programs such as Medicaid (why are we surprised that so many who are eligible don't sign up?).  Another is that programs designed to incentivize healthy behaviors may just not work very well if they ignore cognitive loads.


    September 5, 2013 in Access, Affordable Care Act, Consumers, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Economics, Health Reform, Medicaid, Obesity, Prevention, Public Health, Uninsured | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)