2017 Interim Session – Healthcare Update

Health Reform Task Force – June 18

With Congress still debating the future of the Affordable Care Act and an expected vote coming soon in the Senate on the American Health Care Act, it is no wonder that health reform is one of the main topics on the agenda over the course of the Interim Session. Because of this, we thought it would be extremely important to sit in on June’s meeting of the Health Reform Task Force!

The first interesting information that we gleaned from this meeting was from an update on insurer participation in Utah’s health insurance exchanges. The Utah Department of Insurance (as you can guess, this is the main government entity over insurers in the state) gave a presentation on what we can expect the insurance market to look like next year.

Because insurers have until June 15 to file, it still isn’t exactly certain exactly what it will look like, but the Department is optimistic that we will still see three insurers on the exchange next year. Although not every county is able to access plans from each insurer, the majority of the state’s population live in counties that have more than one insurer on the exchange and hopefully this will continue!

The bad news is that the Department expects that premiums will increase by 15-20% next year for exchange plans (and most likely will increase for other plans as well). This is due to all the uncertainty insurers are facing from Congress and the administration. In particular, the administration’s refusal to say whether or not it will continue cost-sharing reductions is the main source of uncertainty. So, when the administration and other leaders say that Obamacare is imploding on its own, remember that at least one reason why is because of their refusal to be clear on whether they will continue this Obama-era cost-sharing.

There was also a lot of discussion on the future of Medicaid in the state. The American Health Care Act proposes two new ways to fund Medicaid in the states, either through “per-capita caps” or “block grants.” The Utah Department of Health came in to present on what these two options actually do, and what concerns come along with each of them.

We won’t get into the nitty-gritty details of each of these proposals here, but the main concerns for each of these capped-fund proposals come from the fact that they are capped and don’t have much flexibility for dealing with crises or unexpected costs. Basically, it shifts more of the risk from the federal government to the state. Therefore, the federal government is saving more money, but it comes at a great cost not only to the state coffers, but also to the populations who need this care most.

There were a lot of concerns raised about block grants and per-capita caps by various healthcare advocacy groups at the meeting. Among these were the Utah Health Policy Project, AARP of Utah, the Disability Law Center, and Voices for Utah Children. Each of these groups felt that the Medicaid proposals, most particularly the over $800 billion in funding being cut from the program, would do significant damage to each of the populations they serve.

Once Congress decides (if they ever are actually able to get a bill through) what to do with the ACA, it will be interesting to see how our state leaders react. But whatever they do, we’ll be there to make sure that you know what is going on and to advocate for each and every Utahn who needs access to affordable and quality healthcare.

For more information, see these articles from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News.

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