Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Will Revived GOP Health Care Effort Bring Back Preexisting Condition Bars?

Those who have felt safer in the wake of the Republican Party's failure to pass legislation to repeal and "replace" Obamacare need to still be afraid.  Efforts are stirring among House Republicans to have another go at "reform" and the consequences could be that the health insurance market would return to much of its pre-Obamacare nature: those with preexisting conditions could be excluded from policy coverage and those with health problems could see premium costs soar to a point where any tax credits awarded under the GOP plan would barely scratch the costs of coverage.  To use a term the GOP coined, insurance companies would become death panels largely determining who gets treatment and who dies.  The main force behind the effort id the "conservative" House Freedom Caucus, a group that espouses respect for Christian values but which obviously has cast aside the Gospel message of caring for the sick.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the foul proposals brewing in the House of Representatives.  Here are excerpts: 
Monday night, word emerged that the White House and the group of conservative lawmakers known as the Freedom Caucus had discussed a proposal to revive the bill. But the proposed changes would effectively cast the Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing conditions provision aside.
The terms, described by Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina and the head of the Freedom Caucus, are something like this: States would have the option to jettison two major parts of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance regulations. They could decide to opt out of provisions that require insurers to cover a standard, minimum package of benefits, known as the essential health benefits. And they could decide to do away with a rule that requires insurance companies to charge the same price to everyone who is the same age, a provision called community rating.
The proposal is not final, but Mr. Meadows told reporters after the meeting that his members would be interested in such a bill. To pass the House, any bill would need to find favor not just with the Freedom Caucus, but also with more moderate Republicans. It would also need to attract the support of nearly every Republican in the Senate to become law.
The ability to opt out of the benefit requirements could substantially reduce the value of insurance on the market. A patient with cancer might, for example, still be allowed to buy a plan, but it wouldn’t do her much good if that plan was not required to cover chemotherapy drugs.
The second opt-out would make the insurance options for those with pre-existing conditions even more meaningless.
Technically, the deal would still prevent insurers from denying coverage to people with a history of illness. But without community rating, health plans would be free to charge those patients as much as they wanted. If both of the Obamacare provisions went away, the hypothetical cancer patient might be able to buy only a plan, without chemotherapy coverage, that costs many times more than a similar plan costs a healthy customer. Only cancer patients with extraordinary financial resources and little interest in the fine print would sign up.
There is a reason that many conservatives want to do away with these provisions. Because they help people with substantial health care needs buy relatively affordable coverage, they drive up the price of insurance for people who are healthy. An insurance market that did not include cancer care — or even any cancer patients — would be one where premiums for the remaining customers were much lower. The result might be a market that is much more affordable for people with a clean bill of health. But it would become largely inaccessible to anyone who really needs help paying for medical care.
We do not have to speculate to know what the world looks like without essential health benefits and community rating. It was how most state insurance markets worked before Obamacare. Back in 2009, most sick people who did not get insurance through work or a government program were excluded from coverage if they had a history of health problems like allergies or arthritis. Plans that did not cover pregnancy care or drug addiction treatment were widespread.
[I]nsurance in the old high-risk pools tended to be expensive, and often came with long waiting periods or benefit limitations, even for the very sick.
What states would choose to do with this set of options is hard to predict. Before Obamacare, few states required community rating of health plans. And few states required insurers to cover all of the benefits deemed essential under Obamacare, though most did require a few types of treatments to be covered. State governments would face a difficult choice: either take away the requirements, and leave sick patients without insurance options, or keep them and see people unable to afford coverage under the new subsidy system.
Mr. Meadows said that the proposal presented to the Freedom Caucus would retain the pre-existing conditions policy. But that would be true in only the most literal sense. The mix of policies could allow insurance companies to charge sick people prices that few of them could pay. And it could allow them to exclude benefits that many healthy people need when they get sick. The result could be a world where people with pre-existing conditions would struggle to buy comprehensive health insurance — just like before Obamacare.

As I have argued for some time, the only real solution is a single payer system like the rest of the advanced world utilizes that would take the power of life and death away from insurance companies.  It is really that simple. 

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