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Supreme courtIn case you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out this article by NC Policy Watch’s Sharon McCloskey about North Carolina’s support for the provision of subsidies to low-income residents purchasing Obamacare.

Last week, Attorney General Roy Cooper signed on to a brief, on behalf of North Carolina, supporting these subsidies for low-income enrollees on the federal exchange.

In a number of lawsuits filed in federal courts, ACA opponents have argued that the law as written limits those subsidies to those who purchase on a state exchange and not, as interpreted by the Internal Revenue Service, to purchasers on either a state or federal exchange.

That interpretation would exclude North Carolinians, as well as the residents of the 33 other states in which governors opted to join the federal exchange rather than construct one of their own, from receiving the aid.

The lawsuit has been through several appeals and will now be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 4th.

Twenty-two other states also signed the brief and collectively argue that a challenge to the subsidies should be rejected because they weren’t informed that residents of their state would be harmed if the state chose to use the federal exchange.

Most experts agree that a decision limiting subsidies to purchasers on state exchanges would cripple Obamacare.

The non-partisan Urban Institute projects that in 2016, the loss of subsidies in the 34 states using the federal exchange would deprive more than 9.3 million Americans of almost $29 billion in financial assistance — an average of $3,090 per eligible person — and increase the number of uninsured by about 8.2 million people nationally.

To read the full article, visit Policy Watch’s main page here.

Commentary

NC Left Me OutA group of coalition partners working in North Carolina to close the Medicaid coverage gap has launched a new website called NC Left Me Out to collect stories of people who make too much for Medicaid and too little for private insurance. As the website explains, the Affordable Care Act specifically allocated funds to provide affordable insurance coverage to approximately 500,000 people in our state. Unfortunately, the Governor and the legislature have blocked those funds from coming to North Carolina. Many of the individuals and families who could use this money to get insurance coverage work in low-wage professions like construction, day care, and food service.

At a press conference today Dana Wilson, a woman in the coverage gap who suffers from MS, shared her story. You can watch her video here.

The legislature and the Governor need to hear from more people like Dana, the working poor who are being unfairly denied coverage. If you are in the coverage gap please consider sharing your story on the NC Left Me Out website. If you want to support the campaign then you can sign up as well.

Every week a new Governor shows the leadership to formulate a plan for extending insurance coverage to people in the Medicaid gap. Last week the conservative state of Indiana had a plan approved. States like Wyoming and Utah are moving forward with similar ideas. We need Governor McCrory to show us his plan for closing the coverage gap. He has publicly hinted that he wants to design a state-specific Medicaid waiver. Great, let’s get moving. Every day that we wait is another day people like Dana suffer.

We need to continue telling our stories to the media, to legislators, and to the Governor. If the economic arguments and moral arguments don’t win the day, maybe looking into the eyes of those who have been denied coverage will begin changing minds.

Commentary

We have written before about King v. Burwell, the case that will be heard before the US Supreme Court to determine whether or not health insurance subsidies can flow to states that refused to establish state-based marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. As John Stewart has noted, justices would have to be more literal than Amelia Bedelia to find for the plaintiffs, but we live in strange times where anything seems possible.

The next question then is if the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies how many people would it impact? Now Kaiser Family Foundation has a helpful interactive map to estimate an answer. KFF researchers think more than 13 million people nationally, and about 1 million people in North Carolina, would lose tax credits if the Supreme Court denies subsidies to federal marketplace states. For most of these folks insurance would immediately become unaffordable. This is especially true because prices would most likely spiral upward as younger, healthier enrollees lose coverage.

That is a stunning figure. It would be like the Supreme Court cutting the number of North Carolinians receiving Medicare in half.

The cruel truth is that Congress could easily fix this problem by adding a few words to the Affordable Care Act, but they are so obsessed with repealing the legislation that they are unlikely to repair it. The state legislature could also provide a patch by at least establishing a governance structure for a state-based marketplace, but they are also unlikely to move. After all, the federal government stands ready to pay the state to expand insurance to 500,000 more state residents and that hasn’t gained any legislative traction.

So, we wait, while medical care for 1 million North Carolinians hangs in the balance.

Commentary

Notwithstanding the unceasing efforts to undermine and obstruct the Affordable Care Act, America’s health care law continues to pile up an impressive list of accomplishments. The latest was detailed this morning in this post by Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress:

“For the first time in a decade, the number of people struggling to pay their medical bills has started to decline, according to a new survey released on Thursday by the Commonwealth Fund. The researchers attributed the historic drop to the number of people gaining insurance under the health care reform law.

Between 2012 and 2014 — as Obamacare’s main coverage expansion took effect — the Commonwealth researchers found that the number of people who had issues paying for health treatment dropped from 41 percent to 35 percent. Over the same time period, the people who skipped out on health services because they couldn’t afford them declined from 43 percent to 36 percent:

commonwealth1

CREDIT: Commonwealth Fund

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CREDIT: Commonwealth Fund”

Commentary

As noted below, Gov. McCrory met with President Obama to discuss flexibility in using Medicaid expansion money to implement a North Carolina specific program that will extend health insurance to more low-income residents. As we have also said, the federal government has shown a tremendous willingness to accommodate governors who request authority to design new and innovative programs. This is all encouraging and kudos to the Governor for sticking his toe in the water.

What is not encouraging is McCrory floating the idea of work requirements as a condition to receive health insurance. As McCrory notes in the article, Utah’s Governor has pushed this idea unsuccessfully. Our Governor feels that President Obama may reconsider his opposition to this idea. That will not happen.

As background, an 1115 waiver allows states to waive some traditional protections in Medicaid to experiment with new ideas that can improve this important health insurance program. Specifically, waivers are meant to promote the ultimate objectives of Medicaid. Several states, for example, now have waivers to purchase private insurance plans for low-income people who would be eligible for Medicaid under expansion. This is an interesting and worthwhile experiment and we will collect important information on outcomes and costs from these state innovations.

Some Governors are abusing this process by applying for 1115 waivers that do nothing but erect barriers for people who need health insurance. A prime example is requesting a waiver that requires people to report to work search programs as a condition of receiving health insurance benefits. This is not innovative. It is not new. We know what happens when you include work requirements as a condition for receiving public benefits. It means many people will not be able to access insurance.

The waiver approved in Pennsylvania includes a provision that automatically refers unemployed people to job programs when they enroll in insurance. That’s fine as long as insurance is not contingent on participation in the work program.

We know, for these reasons, that a work requirement will not be approved by the federal government. There is some concern that Gov. McCrory may use this as a poison pill to sink a Medicaid expansion proposal and then blame the Obama Administration for not showing enough flexibility. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

Gov. McCrory has plenty of room to create a North Carolina specific plan to cover low-income people in the state. He should drop this one idea that everyone knows will never get approved and move forward with an evidence-based, innovative policy.