Broker blog from Delta Dental

Tag: Affordable Care Act (Page 1 of 2)

The 2020 elections and the ACA: What’s at stake for dental insurance

For the dental insurance industry, the upcoming November elections are among the most important in recent history. Depending on the outcome, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could be affected significantly, which in turn could reduce access to oral health care for millions of Americans.

What’s going on with the ACA?

The future of the ACA is in question. In the case of California v. Texas, scheduled to be heard before the United States Supreme Court on November 10, the court will decide whether the law should be struck down, and which elements may or may not be saved.

A previous Insider Update article looked at how the upcoming Supreme Court nomination might affect the fate of the ACA. We’ll now consider the potential impact of the upcoming elections.

The upcoming election: What could happen?

On November 3, U.S. voters will decide whether to reelect President Donald Trump, a Republican, or replace him with former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat. They’ll also decide who will fill many United States Senate and House of Representative seats. Three outcomes are possible: 

  • A clean sweep by the Democrats. Democrats gain control of the White House and Senate, and retain control of the House.
  • A partial sweep by the Democrats. Democrats gain control of the White House and retain control of the House, but Republicans keep control of the Senate.
  • A return to status quo. Republicans keep the White House and Senate, and Democrats retain control of the House.

Current polling data strongly suggests that Democrats will retain the House, so a Republican sweep is unlikely.

How could a Democratic sweep affect the dental insurance industry?

A clean sweep for the Democrats, not surprisingly, would likely preserve and strengthen the ACA, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on California v. Texas, said Jeff Album, Vice President of Public & Government Affairs for Delta Dental.

“With Democrats controlling all three branches, Congress can quickly restore almost anything the Supreme Court might strike down, and do so long before the court’s decision becomes effective,” Album said.

Beyond the ACA, industry experts predict a clean sweep could lead to many other outcomes relevant to the dental industry:

  • Medicare could become available to people younger than 65, which could open new Medicare Advantage (MA) markets in which dental is often offered.
  • A dental benefit could be added to Medicare Part B, or as separate Part “T” (for teeth). Depending on the extent of the benefit provided, a Part B dental benefit could create or eliminate opportunities for dental insurers. A comprehensive Part B benefit could replace the private dental coverage purchased by millions of Medicare beneficiaries today, give growth to dental as a part of Medi-Gap policies, and eliminate employer-sponsored retiree dental plans. However, a Part B dental benefit limited to only preventive care could create opportunities for insurers to offer supplemental benefits plans. A Part B dental benefit would also require that all Medicare Advantage plans provide at least the same set of dental benefits, which would result in these plans receiving larger payments from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). About a third of MA plans today don’t offer dental.
  • A “public option” could be created. While the Biden campaign hasn’t offered many details, a public option is conceptually a federal health insurance program to be offered on state Health Insurance Exchanges as an alternative to private plans. It would likely be subsidized for lower income Americans, and partially or fully paid by enrollees who currently don’t qualify for subsidies. While dental coverage isn’t guaranteed to be a benefit for anyone other than children, an intriguing possibility is that it could be made available on a voluntary basis.
  • The public option might even entail automatic enrollment for low-income people into an existing Medicaid managed care or Medicaid fee-for-service plan.
  • Balance billing, or “surprise billing,” by out-of-network providers could become regulated by federal law, but it’s unclear how this might affect dental benefits, if at all.

How about a partial Democratic sweep?

A partial sweep, with a Republican-controlled Senate able to prevent legislation beginning in the House from reaching the president, would likely thwart a public option, strengthening the ACA or adding dental coverage to Medicare. However, a Biden White House could preserve the ACA as it currently exists, and eliminate through executive order moves by the prior administration to weaken it.

“Dramatic change is unlikely,” Album said.

Paired with an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, however, a partial sweep could spell trouble for the ACA, Album said.

“It makes recovering from an adverse Texas decision in the Supreme Court much harder because the Senate Republicans may support many of the cutbacks an adverse SCOTUS decision could cause,” Album said. “And should the Supreme Court strike the ACA entirely, it’s hard to imagine Democrats and Republican agreeing on replacement.”

And what if we maintain status quo?

Should the country continue with a Republican president and divided Congress, the outcome of California v. Texas is uncertain.

A ruling that either leaves the ACA in place, or finds that the law’s individual mandate can be eliminated while leaving the ACA otherwise intact, means little change. But a ruling that the ACA is inseverable from the mandate means millions will lose coverage they have today, with Congress likely unable to respond.

Album predicts that a Republican White House would probably continue to work through executive orders to weaken the ACA and make ACA-non-compliant alternatives more widely available.

The worst-case scenario for the ACA occurs if federal funding for the program is eliminated. As many as 2 million people with Exchange-based dental benefits in the Exchanges could lose that coverage. For insurers, the risk is most acute for those with sizeable managed Medicaid and Exchange business.

“Marketplace changes could be profound,” Album said.

The Supreme Court nomination and the ACA: What’s at stake for dental insurance

In the case of California v. Texas, scheduled to be heard before the United States Supreme Court on November 10, parties challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA) seek to overturn the law as unconstitutional. What might this case mean for the future of the ACA and insurance more widely?

The usual questions surrounding the outcome of this case have been complicated by the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, a new justice to the Supreme Court, nominated by President Donald Trump.

What’s at stake for the ACA?

The elimination of the ACA could have significant consequences, including:

  • Decreases or complete loss of state and federal Exchange enrollment, adult Medicaid enrollment and commercial enrollment of dependents up to age 26
  • A reduction or elimination of individual health insurance subsidies, which could erode Exchange enrollment
  • A reduction or elimination of dental benefits for adults in Medicaid

So what’s California v. Texas about, anyway?

The state of Texas, along with a group of other states and individual plaintiffs, is arguing that the ACA is unconstitutional. Specifically, they say that the 2017 changes to tax law, eliminating the penalty for failure to purchase health coverage, essentially eliminated the individual mandate, upon which the entire law depended.

Originally, the individual mandate required most people to have health insurance coverage. It penalized those who failed to comply by requiring them to pay a financial penalty to the IRS. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the financial penalty, but left the mandate in place.

The Texas-led plaintiffs argue that because the mandate no longer produces revenue for the federal government, it’s unconstitutional. Further, they say that the mandate can’t be severed from the rest of the ACA, so if the mandate is unconstitutional, the entire ACA is unconstitutional.

In December of 2018, a U.S. District Court judge in Texas agreed. In 2019, the case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. That court agreed with the District Court’s decision that the mandate was unconstitutional, but didn’t rule on whether the mandate was inseverable.

On the other side, California, together with a group of 18 other states, is defending the ACA.

In an unusual move, the federal government is siding with Texas, though offering arguments to allow some elements of the ACA to continue.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, scheduled for November 10. It will decide whether the Texas case has merit, whether the mandate is unconstitutional and, if so, whether this invalidates the entire ACA, or whether to let lower courts rule on severability.

Why a new Supreme Court justice matters

Justice Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed and will fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court.  

Barrett was formerly a circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She’s considered a political conservative and constitutional originalist, which means she believes the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted as it was understood at the time it was written. As a judge, she has also ruled against the ACA in the past. She replaces Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known for being one of the Supreme Court’s most liberal justices.

What specifically Barrett’s confirmation means in terms of a ruling is unclear, said Jeff Album, Vice President of Public & Government Affairs for Delta Dental.

“We’re not sure how the conservative judges are going to hear this particular case,” Album said. “Conservatives are thought to be originalists or strict interpretationists, and if they were truly to follow an originalist philosophy, striking the entirety of the ACA is not consistent with that.”

That’s because, Album said, if Congress had intended to overturn the ACA, the 2017 tax cut bill would have explicitly called for such an overturn, and the merits of that debated openly in hearings. That this didn’t happen speaks to the intent of Congress, which is an important consideration for a Supreme Court reaching a decision based on originalist thinking.

“Strict interpretationists are loath to reverse an act of Congress,” Album said. “They don’t want to counter Congressional intent, and they certainly don’t want to legislate from the bench. And if you listen to remarks that Amy Barrett has been making in the hearings, she’s gone out of her way to say she doesn’t believe that it’s a judges’ job to do anything other than enforce the Constitution and enforce the law.”

Still, that’s not a guarantee that Barrett will rule to preserve the ACA, Album said.

“We know that Amy Barrett is not fond of the ACA,” Album said. “She’s ruled against it many times, so she already has that track record.”

So what if the ACA is struck down? Then what?

If the Supreme Court rules to strike the entire bill, the impacts are “going to be profound,” Album said.

In that scenario, blue states such as California, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland would pass state laws to attempt to preserve some elements of the ACA, Album said, but they might lack federal support for the subsidies people depend on to afford those programs. Few red states, meanwhile, would be prepared to run their own Exchanges without the federally facilitated marketplace. This could lead to enrollment in Exchanges dropping substantially, Album said.

And this could lead to substantial enrollment declines for insurance companies with sizeable managed Medicaid and Exchange business.

About 1.9 million adults who have purchased optional, non-subsidized dental benefits in the Exchanges could lose their coverage. Young adults between the ages of 19 and 26 who were added to commercial employer coverage as a result of the ACA will lose that coverage if the ACA is completely struck.

Congress could decide to provide relief, but its ability to do so is dependent on the results of the November election. We’ll take a closer look at what the election results could mean for these issues in an upcoming article.

However…

Regardless of what happens, Album said, don’t expect anything to happen any time soon. Following the California v. Texas hearing in November, the decision won’t be announced until April or May, and possibly as late as June.

And if the Court agrees that the mandate is severable and sends that question back down to the lower courts, it could take years before that outcome and the additional legal challenges it will face.

A final twist is that while the current administration is arguing that the mandate should be struck down, it’s also urging that lower courts rule which provisions should and shouldn’t be invalidated.

“Even the Trump administration has suggested, and perhaps will argue in the Supreme Court, that some things should be left alone,” Album said. “We just don’t know which things they would cherry-pick in terms of what should be inseverable and what shouldn’t.”

Note: This post was updated to note Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court on October 26.

Policy pops: Health care exchanges — 2019 enrollment results

3‑minute read

Join our guest blogger, Devin McBrayer, as she reviews the outcomes of the 2019 open enrollment period for health care exchanges. Devin is a Legislative and Policy Analyst based in Sacramento, California.

The open enrollment period to purchase Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant individual health insurance coverage off the health insurance exchanges for 2019 has come to an end. Sign-ups were off to a slow start at the beginning of the enrollment period, leaving many experts fearful that ACA plans would experience a significant decrease in enrollment. However, total enrollment only decreased by about 3.8% nationwide on Healthcare.gov, much of this due to a 15% reduction in new sign-ups.

While the total enrollment drop in individual health insurance plans on the exchange may have been less drastic than expected, it is still worth exploring why new enrollment decreased considerably and why year-to-year enrollment continues to decline. Several 2018 policy changes, combined with a growing economy, could help explain the decrease in enrollment in ACA plans for the 2019 plan year.

Are policy changes to blame?

In 2018, Congress reduced the tax penalty for not having an ACA-compliant health insurance plan to zero, effectively eliminating it. The federal government also shortened the open enrollment period and reduced marketing for open enrollment. Simultaneously, the federal government passed several rules that expanded the availability of cheaper and less comprehensive insurance plans such as short-term limited duration plans. No tax penalty for lack of coverage, combined with a shorter sign-up period and more plan options outside the exchanges, may help explain the enrollment decrease.

The impact of the economy

Another possible explanation for the drop in enrollment could be attributed to an improving economy. When open enrollment started on November 1, 2018, 2 million more jobs were added to the economy than were added at the same time in 2017. As more people head back to work, it’s possible that they’re gaining access to employer-sponsored health insurance, eliminating the need to renew their ACA plan.

What does this mean for dental?

Any loss in enrollment for medical coverage also means less people enrolled in dental coverage on the exchange. (As a reminder, dental coverage is an essential health benefit for children but not for adults.)

In the exchanges, dental coverage is included in some health plans or consumers can get a stand-alone dental plan and pay a separate premium. However, there is no way for consumers to purchase a stand-alone dental plan without also purchasing a medical plan on the health care exchange. Pushing for states and the federal government to allow for the independent purchase of stand-alone dental plans on state and federal health insurance exchanges is a top priority for the Public & Government Affairs team at Delta Dental.

For more thought leadership from Delta Dental, subscribe to Insider Update, our newsletter for brokers, agents and consultants.

If you’re a benefits decision maker, administrator or HR professional, subscribe to our group newsletter, Word of Mouth.

Policy pops: How tax reform may affect dental enrollment

3‑minute read

Join our guest blogger, Devin McBrayer, as she unpacks the Job and Tax Cuts Act of 2017 and its likely effect on dental benefits enrollment. Devin is a Legislative and Policy Analyst based in Sacramento, California.

government workers walking down stairs

When most people think of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the increase in Americans with insurance coverage, medical insurance is the first thing that comes to mind. What’s sometimes overlooked is the significant growth in dental insurance, particularly among adults.

Pediatric dental is considered an “essential health benefit” in the ACA, meaning insurance must cover it. Dental carriers are also able to offer stand-alone family dental coverage on the health insurance exchanges as long as the pediatric benefits are included. This has made dental coverage more widely available to the 1.9 million people who purchased stand-alone dental coverage through the marketplaces in 2017.

Dental coverage could be threatened, however, due to the Job and Tax Cuts Act of 2017. This bill effectively repealed the mandate requiring most Americans to have health insurance by eliminating the financial penalty for lack of coverage.

Without the individual mandate, it’s likely that medical and dental insurance enrollment will decrease in the coming years. The Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan agency that conducts analyses for Congress, predicts that the U.S. will have 8–13 million more people living without health insurance by 2026.

Stand-alone dental plans on the exchanges in particular will struggle to sustain enrollment in the marketplace, because stand-alone dental plans cannot be purchased unless an individual has already purchased a medical plan. If consumers choose not to purchase medical insurance because they no longer have to pay the penalty, then those consumers will also not be able to purchase dental on the exchange.

Adding more strain on the uncertain future of the exchanges, heathier and younger people who believe that they do not need insurance are most likely to drop their coverage. The exchanges could soon face a scenario where older or sicker individuals will choose to keep their coverage, and healthier, younger people will choose to drop their coverage. An unhealthy risk mix, due to healthier people leaving the exchanges, would likely cause health insurance premiums to rise even higher.

On the bright side, open enrollment totals for health insurance exchanges in 2018 exceeded expectations. Nearly 65% of state-based exchanges saw an increase in their overall enrollment. Only time will tell if the exchanges can sustain their enrollment, while also maintaining a healthy risk mix, after the tax reform bill repealed the individual mandate.

Despite the uncertainty facing the marketplace, Delta Dental is still working hard to ensure that consumers continue to have access to the dental care that they need.

For more thought leadership from Delta Dental, subscribe to Insider Update, our newsletter for brokers, agents and consultants.

If you’re a benefits decision maker, administrator or HR professional, subscribe to our group newsletter, Word of Mouth.

 

Plain language policy: Spotlight on Public Affairs

Health care policy can be confusing. Really, really confusing.

That’s why we want to share periodic policy updates and insights with you — in plain terms. No jargon, no nonsense. To kick off our Plain Language Policy series, we’d like you to meet two of our key policy players, Stephanie Berry and Devin McBrayer.

Stephanie Berry and Devin McBrayer headshots

 

Tell us a little about yourself. Your educational background, past work experience, personal accomplishments, etc.

Stephanie: I have worked at Delta Dental for five and a half years in government relations – primarily handling legislative analysis.

Before coming to Delta, I worked for California Primary Care Association (CPCA) for five years, representing clinics that mostly serve the uninsured and underserved. At CPCA, I was the Assistant Director of Federal Affairs, so I ensured everyone was educated on the Affordable Care Act and what that would mean for them. I really enjoyed doing that.

I started in advocacy and legislation working for Congresswoman Doris Matsui. I worked in her district office, doing a lot of healthcare outreach and that got my feet wet to move toward straight advocacy.

Devin: I also came from Doris Matsui’s office, which is how I met Stephanie. Before that, I worked in D.C. for Congresswoman Lois Capps on the Energy and Commerce Committee. I focused on health policy, assisting with health reform bills and analyzing them before coming to Sacramento.

I have a Master of Public Health (MPH) from George Washington, and being in D.C. was a great experience to see first-hand how legislation is made and how it goes through the regulatory process. So I know how to analyze things here when they come across the table.

Before we’re all work and no play, what do you like to do for fun? What are your hobbies or interests outside of work?

Stephanie: I’m an avid skier; my husband snowboards and the kids ski. Living in Sacramento, we’re close to Sierra Nevadas, so we get to play in the snow, but we don’t have to live in the snow. It’s nice!

Devin: I’m into biking. I live in a super small apartment downtown, but we have four bikes. I also love to hang out with my dog.

Okay, so getting down to business, what is your role at Delta Dental?

Stephanie: We keep track of new legislation and regulations that affect our enterprise companies. Because our brand is in 15 states plus D.C., that’s where we spend most of our focus. We have lobbyists in each of these states. We write letters of support or opposition and take part in advocacy activities.

We’re also part of the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), which help us advocate on the issues happening in states where we don’t have as much presence.

In 2017, we tracked 750 bills. More than 5,000 bills come up in our search topics, and we narrow those down to those that might affect us. 150 of the 750 were signed into law; 50 of those affected us.

What is it like having a direct impact on health policy and legislation?

Stephanie: It’s feeling like you can make a difference. You can work with constituents when working for a congresswoman. You see the impact. In this role at Delta Dental, it’s writing a support or opposition letter and seeing your advice taken into account.

Devin: Stephanie and I both really enjoy politics and the legislative process. It’s a hobby to be involved. Being active in the political process and analyzing legislation and regulations might seem intimidating to some people, but we enjoy digging through them. With our background, sometimes we are lucky in that we intuitively understand the way a bill may have been designed a certain way and why. We just think it’s fun!

It sounds like you get to have fun for a living. What jumps out as making your work worthwhile?

Stephanie: Coming to this job being raised in California, it’s so interesting learning how other states think. I enjoy going to the Capitol in other states and learning that different perspective. The fact that we have people with boots on the ground in all these states is so helpful. I even went to Montana this year, and partnered with Jim Dole (Sales Account Executive). He was so great at explaining how things tick there. I love learning the history. And I was in Atlanta advocating on a bill recently – that perspective keeps things interesting.

Since you’re new to Delta Dental, what are some of your first impressions? What do you like most about your job so far?

Devin: I most enjoy the team I work with; they understand my background. We’re all equally passionate about the work we’re doing and we all want to be as helpful as possible to other business units. My first few months here have really been about becoming a better resource to the rest of the company. So far I like the openness to collaborate and work together.

Part of our purpose as a dental benefits provider is to “enhance lives” — can you cite an example of something you’ve worked on where you truly think we’re achieving that purpose?

Stephanie: There was a piece of legislation enacted in California in 2015 — AB 648. We supported this bill, which was brought forth by consumer groups. It establishes virtual dental homes, which is kind of like telehealth. Dental providers and hygienists can work in low-income areas, schools, Head Start programs, and clinics and are able to do initial screening and send that info to a dentist somewhere else who can view the x‑rays to evaluate. It helps people where they are. We were the only dental plan in California to support this bill and it was signed into law.

This year, we also supported another California bill, SB 379. There was already a law that says all kids in California must see a dentist before first grade. This bill lets dentists host free oral health assessments at schools because many kids who aren’t do the screenings either don’t have insurance or they’re on Medicaid and don’t have time. This bill will make it easier for kids to have this assessment before first grade.

We’d agree that your role is definitely helping in our purpose to enhance lives.

Let’s end on a fun note. Since you two work with such complex subject matter, how would you describe your job to an eight-year-old child?

Stephanie: Gosh, okay. I would say that I’m working to make sure more people have the chance to see a dentist and be sure their teeth are clean and free from sugar bugs. I get to meet with a lot of people and talk about really important issues … I get to go around the country trying to make it easier for people to see the dentist. What do you think of that?

Perfect. Okay, and now a different question. If you had to create your own campaign slogan, what would it be?

Devin: I’ll go with my nickname from childhood and it was Devin from Heaven. I like to think that I’m very nice, and I’ve been successful in working in legislative offices because sometimes you have to deal with people who are… not so nice. So my campaign would definitely be centered around that. I’d come in on a cloud, and there would be lots of stars and some fun music!

 

Thanks for taking the time to get to know two members of our Public Affairs team! For more content and industry news, subscribe to our newsletter.

The three R’s, and why dental shouldn’t be left out

Repeal, replace or repair? These are the three R’s dominating the news in recent weeks about how U.S. Congressional Republicans want to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans, who represent the majority in both the House and Senate, have an opportunity to rewrite the health care law, but are generally split into three camps on how to do so: Repeal the whole law now and replace later, perhaps incrementally; repeal once a complete replacement is ready; or repair the ACA for now, then determine what to do next.

Regardless of which strategy they select, something new is on the horizon, and Delta Dental is working to ensure dental benefits aren’t left out of the discussion.

About 1 million previously uninsured Americans today have affordable dental coverage as a result of dental benefits sold in public health exchanges, while employer-sponsored plans continue to enjoy tax-exempt coverage. Since our mission is to advance dental health and access to care, we want to preserve this progress in whatever legislation may come.

To this end, here’s what we’re telling lawmakers:

  • Allow people with exchange dental coverage to renew those policies with the carriers they’ve selected—whether or not those marketplaces continue—to minimize disruption.
  • If a new law includes tax credits to help eligible Americans purchase benefits, let those credits be used for dental as well as medical coverage.
  • Keep the tax-exempt status for employer-sponsored dental benefits; expand that exemption to allow individuals to pay dental premiums with tax-free dollars.

Whether repeal, replace, or repair, the key “r” word for Delta Dental is ready.

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