Why do Legislators rely on CBO estimates? Let’s take a look at the “holes” in the CBO report on the AHCA 2.0 and why their projections are so flawed.

Like so many things in Wash DC, it was a process that started with good intentions but then turned upside down and ruined by efforts for political gain! Today legislators applaud or criticize CBO projections depending on which argument it’s projections supports. So, the answer to the rhetorical question above is “The CBO is used for political advantage”.

Without casting stones let’s just look at where the CBO estimates are skewed by incorrect assumptions and projections. To support my point I will call upon several facts from a recent report issued by Doug Badger of the Galen Institute. Mr. Badger does a much more thorough examination of the facts and is more articulate laying the foundation for explaining the mistakes with in the CBO report.

Even in the most balanced effort (which seldom occurs) it is impossible to determine the outcome on the process of repealing a gigantic metastasized piece of legislation like the ACA and replacing it with any solution, even one drastically needed. To be successful the recipe to replace the ACA will take three parts “good” legislation and two parts communication. To date, the Repub’s attempts have gotten the mixture wrong on both policy and communication. But the ACA must either be truly Repealed & Replaced or it must be fixed.

The News reports last week about the CBO estimates was dominated by the headline of CBO’s projection that 23 million fewer people will have coverage by 2026 than would be covered under the ACA, if left intact. Without casting blame or bias, the CBO’s numbers are flawed and it is pretty clear to see where the CBO’s numbers went off tract. Why the CBO did not or does not correct its errors is not the purpose of this post. You can judge that! 

The CBO’s numbers start with inaccurate enrollment data for the state exchanges which creates an inaccurate baseline of enrollment projections. Then it makes its projections from that point. For example, the CBO states that the exchange enrollment as of December 2016 was 10 million members but then uses the figure of 15 million lives covered in the exchanges for 2017. That means the baseline of 15 million, from which CBO starts its projections, is already misstated by 5 million lives or 50%.

If you recall a bit of history, the CBO originally projected that over 24 million lives would be covered by state exchanges in 2014 however that clearly not true since, as reported above, the CBO states that Dec. 2016 enrollment at just 10 million lives.

But, to make matters worse, the CBO estimates that that over 18 million lives will be covered under ACA in 2018 which would be an 80% increase from Dec 2016 actual enrollment. So, the CBO used ACA enrollment numbers, incorrect by 80%, to project covered lives compared against the AHCA 2.0. The CBO projects  that 8 million fewer lives would be covered in 2018 by AHCA 2.0 simply because it starts with the flawed baseline that 18 million lives would be covered by the ACA in 2018.

Power of the Mandate overstated.
The CBO estimates that 4 million Americans will drop off their Medicaid coverage in 2018 because the penalty or Mandate to be insured is reduced to zero by AHCA 2.0. To clarify, the Mandate won’t be repealed just the penalty for no coverage would be reduced to zero under AHCA 2.0.
The question Mr. Badger raises is “Why would 4 million people covered by Medicaid suddenly torch their Medicaid cards if their eligibility and coverage under Medicare still exists”. Pretty good question, don’t you think? 

The CBO also projects that 2 million lives will give up their employer sponsored coverage in 2018. I have trouble believing this but employees will have choices to make. However, they also may choose to re-enroll once they experience life without coverage or discover that their employer’s plan was actually a better deal.

The following  shows how weak the mandate was in making Americans sign up for coverage. The IRS reported to Congress the effects of the Mandate for 2015:
* 6.5 million uninsured paid the penalty
* 12.7 million uninsured got an exemption from penalty
* 4.2 million uninsured ignored the penalty
That’s 23.4 million uninsured Americans in 2015

So, the CBO estimates rely heavily upon the power of the employee Mandate. But, it is clearly obvious that the Mandate did not get enrollment close to full coverage.

Let’s add the Press and Pundit’s misrepresentation of the AHCA’s impact on enrollment by Medicare expansion. In 2018 the AHCA 2.0 does not reduce or impact the enrollment in Medicaid caused by the Medicare expansion. Those enrollments are still valid and states that expanded their Medicare eligibility will continue to receive those “extra” Medicare support for at least 2 more years.
In fact contrary to reports by opponents of AHCA 2.0 the Federal government will continue to fund the Medicare allotments for all states at the levels in existence prior to the enactment of the ACA. Instead of the 95% funding under ACA the states will receive the percentage of funding for their Medicare folks at the levels  already in place for the past 50 years.

If you add the currently uninsured numbers to the false baseline of 8 million fewer covered by the state exchanges as well as the skewed reporting on Medicare expansion, it is easy to see that the CBO is fodder for the opponents of the AHCA 2.0.

Once again, why should anyone rely on the CBO estimates when those estimates are clearly flawed? It’s political of course.
The CBO is in a no-win situation though when it comes to making its projections. No one can project who will waive coverage or why when the decision is made by Americans who either demand choice and quality or who are honestly dependent on support by the government to survive or who feel entitled and choose to live off the effort of others. That is not meant as a criticism. It’s merely stating the obvious as we have all seen how a entitlement mentality can impact government programs. 

To close, I don’t know if we have ever seen so many distractions in Wash DC. Most seem like deliberate attempts to fragment the efforts to improve healthcare, lower taxes and improve national security for political gain. But some is caused by the inaction of the controlling party that does not seem willing or capable of governing.

So, let’s keep watching and talking because I know we all hope for better outcomes than we are getting currently.
And, because we’re all in this together.

Talk soon,

Mark Reynolds, RHU

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