ACA redistribution via Medicaid: what it means for future reform

The self imposed redistribution from mostly poor (mostly red) states, to mostly rich (mostly blue) states via the ACA Medicaid expansion is a direct result of the June 2012 Supreme Court ruling that made it voluntary.

That 7-2 court decision, and the subsequent state decisions, mean that the primary liberal/progressive health reform goal of expanding insurance coverage is being thwarted in some of the most needy states. Liberals/progressives have two choices: fight out the state-by-state Medicaid expansion decisions, or seek a health reform deal with conservatives that would be more likely to expand coverage in the non-expanding, poorest states, sooner. The first is not a pleasing outcome, and the second seems like a political impossibility.

This result was likely inevitable given the SCOTUS decision coupled with the re-election of President Obama; as I said in my post the day the decision was released:

…in the Medicaid aspect of the ruling the court identified the penalty of losing all of your states’ Medicaid funding if you don’t undertake the prescribed Medicaid expansion, to be something that the Federal Government could not do because it would be coercive to states. While this may seem to Conservatives a bit like the question “other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” in the long run I suspect this precedent will be important going forward in policy debates.

Leaving the Medicaid expansion in place, while allowing states to not undertake the expansion without losing all medicaid funding has set up a fascinating test of ideology v. financial self interest for Conservative states. People’s lives are at stake here and I don’t mean to minimize that, but again, elections are important and I suspect what State politicians plan to do about the Medicaid expansions will be a key question in some states this Fall.

Reihan Salam has persuasively noted that a default insurance option is needed for health reform, motivated at least in part by the difficulties of healthcare.gov. I agree with him–if I could do just one thing to the ACA, it would be to add such a default option.

However, I have long felt that a political deal on health reform was needed, and such a deal was at the heart of a book I put out in September 2011 that claimed to identify a health reform deal between Democrats and Republicans, that had at its heart replacing the individual mandate with a default insurance option in the form of universal catastrophic health insurance implemented via the Medicare program. My overriding political point in Fall 2011 was that a Super Committee deal that made the SCOTUS case go away could have removed the doomsday outcome for both sides. We didn’t get such a deal, and also got a mixed SCOTUS decision, that has lead directly to an uneven Medicaid expansion.

My proposed deal is not a liberal/progressive dream, but then neither is the uneven Medicaid expansion.

Paradoxically, a SCOTUS ruling that had struck down the individual mandate as unconstitutional and invalidated premium supported private insurance sold in exchanges but that left the Medicaid expansion untouched would have produced what would have seemed like a bigger loss for Democrats at the time, but that would have at least resulted in all persons up to 133% of the poverty level being guaranteed health insurance. From such a base, the parties could fight another day and the red states, especially in the South, could have continued their tradition of saying they hated the federal government (all the way to the bank). But that is not where we are, so where do we go from here?

I think Liberal/Progressive reformers need a health reform deal because of the uneven Medicaid expansion, but we are in a difficult position because we have no control over the the biggest block to a health reform deal: the fact that elected Republicans do not hold any coherent health reform position(s) for which they are willing to vote (old posts here, here, here, here, here, etc)

It takes two sides to make a deal. This doesn’t mean there aren’t conservative intellectuals with reform ideas–Capretta, Moffit, Ponnuru, Roy, Salam, Douthat and others–these are thoughtful people with ideas that I think are reasonable to differing degrees. But whatever I think of them, some amalgamation of their ideas desperately needs to meet the Republican-controlled Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives, ground zero for any actual health reform effort; and then the CBO.

I think that all of these intellectuals realize that the Republican party is the only way for their ideas to reach legislative fruition, and they know that eventually the Party will have to be for something in health reform. And I believe they are quietly working towards making this case within the Republican Party. The entire country, but especially Liberals/Progressives who know that more must be done on health reform, should be rooting for them to succeed.

Update: while I wasn’t attempting an exhaustive list of conservative public intellectuals with reform ideas, I should definitely have included Yuval Levin.

About Don Taylor
Associate Professor of Public Policy at Duke University and author of Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

4 Responses to ACA redistribution via Medicaid: what it means for future reform

  1. Pingback: Health care reform and ch-ch-ch-changes | The McLean Parlor

  2. Pingback: Health care reform and ch-ch-ch-changes | Punditocracy

  3. Pingback: Ponnuru & Levin in WSJ | freeforall

  4. Pingback: Halbig case | freeforall

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