Tag: ppaca

Cochrane on ObamaCare’s Contraceptive-Coverage Mandate

My Cato colleague John Cochrane – who is way smarter than I am – has a generally excellent op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal on ObamaCare’s contraception mandate:

Salting mandated health insurance with birth control is exactly the same as a tax—on employers, on Catholics, on gay men and women, on couples trying to have children and on the elderly—to subsidize one form of birth control…

The tax rate and spending debates that occupy the media are a small part of the effective taxes and spending that the government achieves by these regulatory mandates…

The natural compromise is simple: Birth control, abortion and other contentious practices are permitted. But those who object don’t have to pay for them. The federal takeover of medicine prevents us from reaching these natural compromises and needlessly divides our society…

Sure, churches should be exempt. We should all be exempt.

My only quibble is with his claim, “Insurance is a bad idea for small, regular and predictable expenses.”

That’s generally true. But medicine is an area where, potentially at least, small up-front expenditures (e.g., on hypertension control) could prevent large losses down the road. So it may be economically efficient for health plans to cover some small, regular, and predictable expenses. Both the carrier and the consumer would benefit. In fact, that would be the market’s way of telling otherwise uninformed consumers, “Hey! Controlling your hypertension is a really good for you!” And really, if someone is so risk-averse that they want health insurance with first-dollar coverage of everything – and they’re willing to pay the outrageous premiums that would accompany such coverage – why should we take issue with that?

ObamaCare’s contraceptive-coverage mandate demonstrates that government does  a horrible job of picking only those types of “preventive” services for which first-dollar coverage will leave consumers better off. But I also think advocates of free-market health care generally need to let go of the idea that health insurance exists only for catastrophic expenses.

RTD: ‘Insurance Exchange: Just Say No’

Regarding legislation to create an ObamaCare “Exchange” in Virginia, the Richmond Times-Dispatch explains:

Republicans at the General Assembly are falling prey to the fallacy of the false alternative…

[H]ere are the real options facing Virginia: (a) federal bureaucrats determine the form of our exchange, or (b) federal bureaucrats determine the form of our exchange. There is no (c)…

Running a health-insurance exchange would cost a lot of money — money Virginia does not have. Since Washington will dictate how it will be run, Washington should pick up the tab.

But, But…Price Controls Poll Well!

Politico’s Jason Millman writes:

How much does Rick Santorum hate President Barack Obama’s health care law? So much that he even opposes the parts a lot of Republicans like.

The Republican presidential candidate, talking health care across the street from Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic Monday morning, blasted parts of the Affordable Care Act that poll well even among Republican voters — like guaranteeing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and making health insurers cover preventive care.

Santorum, who has touted free market health principles like health savings accounts as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, defended insurance industry practices the law eliminates, like setting premiums based on people’s health status.

Sigh. I refer my right honorable friend to the smack-down I gave such silliness some time ago:

Asking people whether they support the law’s pre-existing conditions provisions is like asking whether they want sick people to pay less for medical care.  Of course they will say yes.  If anything, it’s amazing that as many as 36 percent of the public are so economically literate as to know that these government price controls will actually harm people with pre-existing conditions.  Also amazing is that among people with pre-existing conditions, equal numbers believe these provisions will be useless or harmful as think they will help.

But as the collapse of the CLASS Act and private markets for child-only health insurance have shown, and as the Obama administration has argued in federal court, the pre-existing conditions provisions cannot exist without the wildly unpopular individual mandate because on their own, the pre-existing conditions provisions would cause the entire health insurance market to implode.

If the pre-existing conditions provisions are a (supposed) benefit of the law, then the individual mandate is the cost of those provisions. If voters don’t like the individual mandate–if they aren’t willing to pay the cost of the law’s purported benefits–then the “popular” provisions aren’t popular, either.

Or, as Firedoglake’s Jon Walker puts it, ObamaCare is about as popular as pepperoni and broken glass pizza.

Even among Republican voters? Good grief.

The Ethos of Universal Coverage

Associated Press photojournalist Noah Berger captured this thousand-word image near the Occupy Oakland demonstrations last month.

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Many Cato @ Liberty readers will get it immediately. They can stop reading now.

For everyone else, this image perfectly illustrates the ethos of what I call the Church of Universal Coverage.

Like everyone who supports a government guarantee of access to medical care, the genius who left this graffiti on Kaiser Permanente’s offices probably thought he was signaling how important other human beings are to him. He wants them to get health care after all. He was willing to expend resources to transmit that signal: a few dollars for a can of spray paint (assuming he didn’t steal it) plus his time. He probably even felt good about himself afterward.

Unfortunately, the money and time this genius spent vandalizing other people’s property are resources that could have gone toward, say, buying him health insurance. Or providing a flu shot to a senior citizen. This genius has also forced Kaiser Permanente to divert resources away from healing the sick. Kaiser now has to spend money on a pressure washer and whatever else one uses to remove graffiti from those surfaces (e.g., water, labor).

The broader Church of Universal Coverage spends resources campaigning for a government guarantee of access to medical care. Those resources likewise could have been used to purchase medical care for, say, the poor. The Church’s efforts impel opponents of such a guarantee to spend resources fighting it. For the most part, though, they encourage interest groups to expend resources to bend that guarantee toward their own selfish ends. The taxes required to effectuate that (warped) guarantee reduce economic productivity both among those whose taxes enable, and those who receive, the resulting government transfers.

In the end, that very government guarantee ends up leaving people with less purchasing power and undermining the market’s ability to discover cost-saving innovations that bring better health care within the reach of the needy. That’s to say nothing of the rights that the Church of Universal Coverage tramples along the way: yours, mine, Kaiser Permanente’s, the Catholic Church’s

I see no moral distinction between the Church of Universal Coverage and this genius. Both spend time and money to undermine other people’s rights as well as their own stated goal of “health care for everybody.”

Of course, it is always possible that, as with their foot soldier in Oakland, the Church’s efforts are as much about making a statement and feeling better about themselves as anything else.

Will States Lose Medicaid Funds If They Fail to Create an ObamaCare ‘Exchange’?

In recent weeks, officials from two states have claimed that if they do not set up an ObamaCare health insurance “Exchange,” the state will lose federal Medicaid or State Children’s Health Insurance Program funds. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R), has since walked back that claim. New Hampshire Commissioner of Health and Human Services Nicholas Toumpas has not.

In a January 19 letter to the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Toumpas writes:

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) mandates that states create a virtual health coverage marketplace called an Exchange. To ensure compliance with this federal mandate the law provides that having an Exchange in place by January 1, 2014, is a condition precedent to receipt of Medicaid funding commencing in 2014.

I have not heard the Obama administration or any other ObamaCare supporter claim that the law contains such a mandate. I have made inquiries in a handful of states. None of them report that the Obama administration has said that failing to create an Exchange will result in the loss of Medicaid or SCHIP funds. If what Toumpas says is true, it will certainly come as a shock to the 35 states that have not enacted legislation to create an Exchange, including many states that have flat-out refused.

But is it true? Parts of ObamaCare might seem to support Toumpas’ claim.

  • Section 1311 declares that each state “shall” set up an Exchange.
  • The law also imposes conditions on the receipt of federal Medicaid and SCHIP funds, and those provisions do make reference to Exchanges. Section 2101 provides that, with regard to certain children who are not eligible for SCHIP, states receiving federal SCHIP funds “shall establish procedures to ensure that the children are enrolled in a qualified health plan that…is offered through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311.”
  • Section 2201 provides that as a condition of receiving federal Medicaid funds, states “shall establish procedures for” several things, including “ensuring that individuals who apply for but are determined to be ineligible for [Medicaid and SCHIP] are screened for eligibility for enrollment in qualified health plans offered through such an Exchange.” The words “such an Exchange” refer to the words “an Exchange established by the State under section 1311,” which appear a few lines before.

Thus, sections 2101 and 2201 might seem to require states to establish an Exchange so that the required “procedures” can interface with it. But there are serious problems with that interpretation.

First, the directive that states “shall” create Exchanges does not amend that part of the U.S. code where Congress imposes conditions on Medicaid and SCHIP funds—i.e., the Social Security Act, or chapter 7 of title 42. It instead appears in chapter 157, which is also where Congress explains that the consequence for failing to create an Exchange is that the federal government will create one.

Second, sections 2101 and 2201 provide, respectively, that states “shall establish procedures to” enroll certain children through a state-run Exchange, and that states “shall establish procedures for” enabling the state’s Medicaid-eligibility system to coordinate with a state-run Exchange. One need not diagram those sentences to see that the object of “shall establish” is “procedures,” not “Exchange.”

Third, ObamaCare does create these “coordination” conditions within the Social Security Act. That fact demonstrates that ObamaCare’s authors knew how to make the directive to create an Exchange an explicit condition of receiving Medicaid and SCHIP funds, if that’s what they wanted to do.

Fourth, if ObamaCare’s authors had intended to condition Medicaid and SCHIP funds on the creation of Exchanges, or if that were a defensible interpretation of the law as written, then one might expect to have heard members of Congress discussing it. One might expect the Obama administration to have informed states of this condition as part of their effort to encourage states to implement the law. I have been paying fairly close attention to this issue. I have seen no evidence of either.

Fifth, the Supreme Court has held that “if Congress desires to condition the States’ receipt of federal funds, it must do so unambiguously, enabling the States to exercise their choice knowingly, cognizant of the consequences of their participation.” It is simply not credible to argue that ObamaCare unambiguously conditions Medicaid and SCHIP funds on the creation of an Exchange. The law never does so explicitly, and the language and structure of the law militate against the claim that it does so implicitly.

A more reasonable interpretation of these conditions is that states will be in compliance so long as they have the required procedures at the ready—regardless of whether those procedures are coordinating with a state-created Exchange, a federal Exchange, or no Exchange (in the event that neither level of government creates one).

I have no doubt that, had ObamaCare’s authors had any inkling that two thirds of states might balk at setting up an Exchange, they would have made it a condition of Medicaid and SCHIP participation. But they didn’t foresee the widespread resistance ObamaCare would encounter. When drafting ObamaCare and for some time afterward, they honestly thought, “The more people learn about this bill, the more they [will] like it.” Thus they didn’t create that requirement.

If Toumpas is the only state or federal official who sees this mandate in the law, that’s probably because it isn’t there. Just as important, there is no evidence that the Obama administration sees or is enforcing such a requirement. If Toumpas has such evidence, he should furnish it.

Until then, New Hampshire and the other 49 states can be confident that refusing to create an Exchange will not cost them Medicaid or SCHIP funds.

The Real Tragedy of the Komen/Planned Parenthood Flapdoodle

…is that it overshadowed news that the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to repeal one of two new entitlement programs created by Obamacare—the ironically named CLASS Act—with a bipartisan three-fifths majority. (With numbers like that, Congress could even repeal Obamacare’s death panel!)

But really, one private organization pulling funding for another private organization is way more important than Congress voting to repeal an entitlement program … isn’t it?