Health – CMS Distributing New Medicare Cards

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is in the process of distributing newly-designed Medicare cards. As part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, Congress mandated the removal of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards to guard against identity theft. The new cards contain a unique Medicare number for each individual. Cards are being mailed out between April 2018 and April 2019 on a schedule organized by state of residence. Learn more here.

Health – Department of Justice Announces It Will Not Defend Key Provisions of the ACA

On June 7, the Department of Justice announced that it will not defend key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality. The lawsuit filed by Texas and 19 other states, argues that since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the penalty for not purchasing insurance to $0, it no longer raises revenue, and is therefore no longer constitutional under the tax powers of Congress. Furthermore, they argue that if the court strikes down the individual mandate, the rest of the ACA must also be struck down. The Department of Justice response argues that the individual mandate is unconstitutional but other provisions of the ACA should remain intact. The Administration further asserts that two critical protections for people with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed issue and community rating provisions, are unenforceable. Guaranteed issue is the provision that prevents denial of coverage based on health status and community rating helps keep insurance affordable for people with health conditions. California and sixteen other states have filed a motion to intervene, which would allow them to defend the law. Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc submitted a declaration in support of California’s motion to intervene. Read The Arc’s statement here.

Health – CBO Releases New Affordable Care Act Premium Estimates

On May 23, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report titled “Federal Subsidies for Health Insurance Coverage for People under Age 65: 2018-2028.” The report projects premiums for nongroup marketplace plans to increase by an average of 15 percent. The repeal of the individual mandate to have health insurance that was included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is a major contributor to the projected increase. The exit of people with lower health care costs from health insurance markets leads to higher premiums for those who remain. Additionally, enactment of a proposed rule expanding the use of time limited plans could lead to further exits and higher premiums.

Health – CMS Releases Final Rule Weakening Affordable Care Act Protections

On April 9, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a final rule weakening consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act. The final rule increases the amount by which insurers can increase premiums without regulatory approval, from 10% to 15%. Furthermore, it exempts student health plans from this process. The rule also broadens the circumstances when plans are allowed to spend less than 80% of premiums on providing care without being required to reimburse beneficiaries. Additionally, it allows states to narrow the scope of essential health benefits that plans are required to cover. Learn more about the final rule here.

Health – Senate Approves Alex Azar as HHS Secretary

On January 24, the Senate approved the nomination of Alex Azar to be Secretary of Health and Human Services by a vote of 55-43. HHS is the cabinet level department that administers most federal health and social service programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act programs, Developmental Disabilities Act programs, Head Start, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Additionally, it oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health.

Health/Medicaid – Senate Committee Votes to Approve Azar Nomination

On January 17, the Senate Finance Committee voted 15-12 to recommend that the full Senate confirm Alex Azar as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). All Republicans and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) voted in favor. All other Democrats voted against confirmation. HHS is the cabinet level department that administers most federal health and social service programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act programs, Developmental Disabilities Act programs, Head Start, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Additionally, it oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health. Visit the Committee web site for more information or to view archived video of the hearing.

Health/Medicaid – Senate Finance Committee Holds Hearing on HHS Secretary Nomination

On January 9, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Alexander Azar to be Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). During the hearing, Azar stated that he supported elements of last year’s health care bills, including the repeal of Medicaid expansion and per capita caps on traditional Medicaid. HHS is the cabinet level department that administers most federal health and social service programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act programs, Developmental Disabilities Act programs, Head Start, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Additionally, it oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health. Visit the committee web site for more information, including archived video of the hearing.

Health – Labor Department Releases Proposed Rule Expanding Access to ACA Non-Compliant Plans

On January 5, the Employee Benefits Security Administration released a proposed rule expanding the availability of association health plans (AHPs). While these plans are prohibited from discriminating or charging more based on pre-existing conditions, they are not required to cover the essential health benefits generally required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), such as rehabilitative and habilitative services, and mental health and substance abuse services. This rule has the potential to destabilize the individual and small group health insurance markets, leaving people with disabilities and chronic health condition with skyrocketing premiums.

Tax Policy/Health Care – Senate Expected to Vote on Harmful Tax bill the Week of Nov. 27

The Senate is in recess for the Thanksgiving holiday. When it reconvenes on November 27, it is expected to immediately take up its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on November 16th by a vote of 14-12. The Arc strongly opposes this bill because, like the House bill, it would reduce revenue by $1.5 trillion over 10 years, thereby increasing pressure to cut Medicaid and other programs that benefit people with disabilities, and it provides tax cuts that are heavily skewed toward high income earners and large corporations. However, the Senate bill is even more harmful than the House bill because it would effectively eliminate the health insurance individual mandate currently required by the Affordable Care Act. This repeal would lead to a reduction in the number of people with health coverage by 13 million and increase average health insurance premiums in the individual market by about 10 percent. If the Senate passes the bill quickly, it is possible that the House could immediately follow and pass the Senate version, getting the measure to the President’s desk by the end of the month. Alternatively, the House and Senate could engage in negotiations to compromise over the differences between their two bills; then the negotiated bill would be voted on by both the House and Senate. The goal is final passage before the Christmas recess. Take Action over the Thanksgiving Day recess to stop this harmful and unpopular bill!

Health Care – Health Insurance Open Enrollment Continues Through December 15

Now is the time for individuals who are uninsured or are looking for affordable health insurance to investigate the private health insurance plans available through state marketplaces (to find state information visit the health care website). During open enrollment a person can purchase private health insurance through the marketplace in each state. There may also be financial assistance to help with health care costs available for people with low and moderate incomes. It is also important for people who currently have insurance through the marketplace to look at the plan to determine if it will continue to meet their needs. Individuals who do not take action will be automatically re-enrolled in the current plan. Re-enrollment is also an important opportunity for people to report any changes in income. To learn more, read The Arc’s blog post. Open enrollment ends on December 15, 2017.