Trump Administration Moves Create Major Uncertainty In Healthcare System

  

The Trump administration has toyed for months with the idea of withholding cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies participating in the individual insurance marketplace implemented by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This has injected a great level of risk into the healthcare system which has in turn created a lot of uncertainty and confusion. These CSR payments are intended to help low-income individuals with income between 100% and 250% of the federal poverty level pay for co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles. The ACA limits to a percentage of their income the amount of cost-sharing these individuals pay. For instance, an individual with an annual income of $17,000 might only have a $125 deductible compared with a $2,500 deductible for someone with a $25,000 annual income under the same insurance plan. (See a detailed description of CSR payments here). The federal government makes CSR payments to insurance companies to balance out the difference between what the individual pays and what the insurance company charges (fortunately, the Trump administration today stated that it will make CSR payments for August).

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on August 15th released an analysis on the impact that withholding the CSR payments would have on insurance premiums and insurance coverage. According to the CBO report, insurance premiums for individual insurance coverage would increase by 20 percent in 2018 and by 25 percent by 2020, while 5 percent of people would live in areas that would have no insurers in the non-group market in 2018.

Furthermore, withholding CSR payments would increase the federal deficit by $194 billion from 2017 through 2026, largely as a result of higher federal premium tax credit payments. Higher federal deficits would also put pressure on existing federal healthcare and social services programs, including Medicaid, and would further threaten the ability of the federal and state governments to provide health care services to the nation’s vulnerable populations.

In addition to the chaos and uncertainty the Trump administration is causing with respect to CSR payments, it is also making moves to undo some of the progress made under the ACA toward achieving quality outcomes and a higher degree of care coordination. A recent rule proposal published on the website of the Office of Management and Budget would eliminate the mandatory implementation of the bundled payment models for cardiac care coordination and cardiac rehabilitation, as well as implement changes to the comprehensive care joint replacement model. These advanced payment models promote care coordination and place an emphasis on patient outcomes and quality of care; elimination of these models would be a detriment to patients and nurses alike.

Stable payment systems and innovative payment models which emphasize care coordination and patient outcomes will better enable nurses to provide quality care and ensure that patients are able to receive the best quality of care in a timely fashion and with better outcomes. As such, the American Nurses Association strongly supports both the federal CSR payments and the implementation of the aforementioned advanced payment models.

Congress and White House Continue to Threaten Americans’ Healthcare

  

The healthcare of millions of Americans is currently under threat from multiple branches of government. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on July 13 released its analysis of President Trump’s proposed FY 2018 federal budget; it continues to threaten the healthcare access of the most at-risk populations of Americans. President Trump’s proposed cuts to Medicaid would result in a $610 billion reduction in Medicaid spending by 2027. This number presumably does not include the additional potential cuts to Medicaid – such as the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA) repeal of Medicaid expansion – included in the anticipated $1.25 trillion in spending reductions by 2027 associated with the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. The Trump budget would severely impact vulnerable populations’ access to vital health care services. These vulnerable populations include children and adults with disabilities, low-income elderly individuals, individuals with chronic conditions, individuals with mental health conditions and substance use disorders, and individuals who need long-term supports, such as home and community-based services and skilled nursing facilities. Medicaid is a critical source of funding for these services and it has broad public support. Such enormous reductions in Medicaid spending would inevitably force states to make tough decisions as to which services to provide to which of these vulnerable populations, ripping away from millions of Americans their only source of healthcare coverage.

Congress, meanwhile, has its own plans for reducing Americans’ access to critical healthcare services. According to the CBO, the Senate’s BCRA would also reduce Medicaid spending dramatically – by $756 billion through 2026. The plan would roll back Medicaid expansion and would create a per-capita cap on the amount of federal Medicaid funding states receive, limiting the amount of Medicaid funding available to states even beyond 2026. These reductions would impact vulnerable populations in a way similar to those under President Trump’s budget. Furthermore, the BCRA would reduce subsidies to pay for individual health insurance coverage by $396 billion by 2026. These changes would leave an additional 22 million Americans without healthcare coverage by 2026. The numbers are even worse for a straight repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which the CBO estimates would leave 32 million more American uninsured and cause insurance premiums to double through 2026. Meanwhile, the Republican Study Committee – the House Republicans’ conservative policy making arm – has released its budget priorities for the FY 2018 budget. These include a complete repeal of the ACA, a conversion of Medicaid into a block grant or per-capita cap program (see ANA’s policy primers on Medicaid block grants here), and phases in an increase in the Medicare eligibility age.

These developments are bad enough on their own. But they have also overshadowed the fact that the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides healthcare coverage to 8 million American children, is up for reauthorization this year. If CHIP is not reauthorized by September, federal CHIP funds will not be available to states and current funds would run out within a year, thus putting healthcare access for those 8 million children at risk. CHIP reauthorization has been overlooked in the battles over healthcare reform in the House and Senate, and only one hearing on the subject has been held in either house during this Congress.

The Senate is still in the process of deliberating healthcare reform and the dismantling of the ACA. All of these healthcare reform proposals fly in the face of ANA’s 4 core principles of health system transformation and place our nation’s most vulnerable populations at risk of losing vital healthcare services. While the prospects for any bill to pass still look dim, ANA urges you to keep the pressure on your senators and representatives to ensure that they know that nurses do not support these reform efforts. Contact your elected officials today to let your voice be heard!

Senate Healthcare Bill Threatens to Reduce Care for Older Americans

  

Medicaid has grown into one of the largest and most critical payers of healthcare services in the country. It covers more than 70 million Americans annually and accounts for roughly one-sixth of all U.S. healthcare expenditures. It provides millions of children and pregnant women, aged, blind, and disabled individuals, and other low-income and vulnerable populations with the ability to receive crucial healthcare services. One group which benefits the most from Medicaid is the elderly. Medicaid pays for services such as care in skilled nursing facilities, home- and community-based services, and other services on which many elderly Americans rely. Medicaid is the largest payer of long-term services and supports in the country; it pays for nearly half of all nursing home costs and represents a disproportionate share of all Medicaid spending. As the population ages and more Baby Boomers reach retirement age and beyond, the demand for these long-term services and supports will continue to increase. Older Americans with fixed incomes will require more assistance paying medical bills even as their age makes it more likely that they will face complex medical issues such as heart disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.

Instead of investing in this critical population for the future, the Republican-controlled Congress’s and the Trump administration’s actions demonstrate that they do not place a priority on the healthcare and well-being of older Americans. The Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA) would phase out Medicaid expansion over three years and would allow states to cap Medicaid spending through either a per capita cap mechanism or through a block grant (read ANA’s policy primer on Medicaid block grants here).  According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill would result in a 26 percent reduction in Medicaid spending by 2026 (a total reduction in spending of roughly $800 billion over the same time period) and a 35% reduction in Medicaid spending by 2036. The Trump administration’s budget proposal would also cut over $600 billion in Medicaid funding, not including changes made through the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Such cuts would squeeze state Medicaid budgets, forcing them to make tough decisions about the provision of care and likely resulting in restricted access and lower quality of care for the nation’s seniors.

It is clear that the Senate’s BCRA is more intent on saving money and providing tax cuts to the wealthy than they are with ensuring that Americans’ parents and grandparents receive the critical care that they need just as they confront complex medical needs and limited incomes. It is critical that nurses make their voices heard through ANA’s call campaign. Let your senator know that this bill is unacceptable and will negatively impact the lives and healthcare of millions of older Americans!