President Obama signed the final piece of the health reform package today. So before we do anything else and get caught up in the next round of debate, here’s a toast to all those who have worked so hard over the past year to get us this far.
And what goes better with toast than a bill summary?
(We couldn’t think of anything, either.)
So now what? Congress’s work on health reform is complete (at least for now) but with barely a pause for breath, the hissy fit against reform has continued, merely shifting venue to the states and the upcoming fall elections. Public outreach is still needed, both because a number of provisions take effect very quickly (here they are), and the ongoing smear campaign against reform.
Thirty something As we mentioned last week, legislators in over 30 states have filed legislative proposals or constitutional amendments regarding health reform. Although there are a few variations on the theme, the main claim is that Congress does not have the authority to impose a tax penalty on people who do not have qualifying health insurance.
And a dozen or so Attorneys General have filed suit against the federal government, claiming, among other things, that it does not have the authority to condition federal Medicaid matching funds on states meeting federal eligibility criteria, because to do so would impose costs on the states. (This is a strange argument, since the federal government has been doing exactly that since the beginning of the Medicaid program.)
Analysts have concluded that the proposed challenges lack legal merit. See:
- The O’Neill Institute at Georgetown Law
- American Constitution Society for Law and Policy
- The New York Times
They may also be trying to force the administration to make a potentially damaging public admission that the individual mandate constitutes a tax—thus violating an Obama campaign pledge.
A dead end strategy? Given some truly awful recent Supreme Court decisions, no one can afford to laugh at the prospects of litigation, even though most nonpartisan analysts have concluded that they are without merit.
Still, challenges aside, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of reform.
First, the status quo is unsustainable—and more and more civic leaders are recognizing that. Reform opponents have no meaningful alternative that will address the rising costs and rising numbers of uninsured that are undermining the system.
Second, reform does a number of popular things (insurance reforms and subsidies, say) that will be not only be difficult to undo, but also difficult to separate from some of the less-popular aspects.
Third, reform creates more winners than losers among interest groups. There are not that many stakeholders who have a vested interest in repealing (not to be mistaken for amending) key parts of reform. Hospitals, doctors and drug companies can all find provisions they do not like but on balance, the extension of coverage to more than 30 million people will be good for the health care industry. States have concerns about the cost of the Medicaid expansion, but the expansion is 100 percent federally-financed in the short run, and provisions like increasing the Medicaid drug rebate rate will reduce state costs.
What about businesses? Although some may have concerns about the “free rider” provisions, only a very small percentage of employers will actually be subject to any penalties (The Congressional Research Service estimates only about 5 percent).
So too with the individual mandate. Most people already have private or public insurance or would voluntarily purchase coverage once a subsidy is available. The mandate is a tool to ensure the broadest possible risk pool and to prevent people from churning off and on health insurance on an as-I-need-it basis.
But if Massachusetts is any guide, the mandate will (notwithstanding the political furor of the moment) be, in practice, fairly acceptable to the general public.
Even the insurance industry, which spent millions to defeat reform, may think twice before getting behind a repeal effort. Especially since if the effort is only partly successful, it could be left with new requirements to cover high-risk and high-cost individuals without the guarantee of a bigger and on average healthier subscriber base.
And it looks, early on anyways, that public opinion is swinging toward reform.
This may be the case in part because broadstroke polling has always overstated the opposition—polls and stories before reform passed often failed to break out the anti-reformers from those who were unhappy with the current bills because they wanted reform to go further.
But new post-reform polls (check out this Five-Thirty-Eight post) that have gone deeper show an upward trend of support for reform.
Those, for instance, who say the law is a step in the right direction are unlikely to see repeal as anything but two steps back.
The question becomes: How much of the public can be made to believe things that are not true about health care reform—and for how long—now that it is law?
And here, there’s some cause for concern that goes beyond the persistent misunderstandings of what is in the law. A recent Harris poll shows 23 percent of adults in the US (41 percent of Republicans) think that President Obama wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack to assume dictatorial powers, and 24 percent of Republicans think President Obama may be the anti-Christ. We may surmise that these folks are unlikely to be persuaded on health care no matter what advocates (or anyone else) says or does.
On the other hand, as Nate Silver noted in the above link, public support seems to be going toward reform, though it is too soon to say whether this is a long-term trend.
The best thing advocates can do is go out and explain what reform really does (and what it doesn’t do). The more public understands reform, the less support there will be for a rejectionist agenda. Reaching out to constituencies that will benefit from early improvements (again, check out our Quick Win fact sheet)—including seniors, small businesses and children and adults with pre-existing conditions—are a good place to begin.
Seniors have generally been more opposed to reform than most age groups, and opponents have consistently claimed that reform is bad for Medicare. The first changes that seniors will see is the beginning of a phase out of the doughnut hole and new preventive care benefits in Medicare.
Many small businesses are probably unaware that they are exempt from “free rider penalties” or that the new law includes an immediate tax credit for small, low-wage businesses that offer health insurance.
For children and adults with major or chronic conditions, the bill has provisions to, immediately eliminate pre-existing conditions for children (pending HHS regulation), allow young adults to remain on their parents’ plan, eliminate lifetime benefit caps and create (or enhance) a high risk pool, and will provide immediate benefits for children and young adults with special health care needs. Implementation: a three-piece puzzle
Going forward the keys to successful implementation include:
-An aggressive effort to build public support for reform
-Engagement at the state and federal level around the state laws and state and federal regulations that will govern the details of implementation
-Maintaining and strengthening the Medicaid program during the interim period when the states’ fiscal crisis is still squeezing the program and new federal coverage rules have not yet kicked in.
We’ll look at the way these three interlocking pieces fit together and developments in the weeks ahead.
–Michael Miller, director of strategic policy