Free birth control begins in US today – what difference will it make to you?

Provisions in the Affordable Healthcare Act will give insured American women better access to basic care. How much do you currently pay for contraception? What difference will the new rules mean?

Many basic healthcare options for US women, including birth control and annual “well-woman” check-ups, become free on Wednesday as provisions in the Affordable Care Act come into force.

The new rules mean that many women will no longer have to stump up for “co-pays” or out-of-pocket expenses.

Trump rolls back access to free birth control

Donald Trump’s government has issued a ruling that allows employers to opt out of providing free birth control to millions of Americans.

The rule allows employers and insurers to decline to provide birth control if doing so violates their “religious beliefs” or “moral convictions”.

Fifty-five million women benefited from the Obama-era rule, which made companies provide free birth control.

Before taking office, Mr Trump had pledged to eliminate that requirement.

What happened?

The mandate requiring birth control coverage had been a key feature of so-called Obamacare – President Obama’s efforts to overhaul the US healthcare system.

But the requirement included a provision that permitted religious institutions to forgo birth control coverage for their employees.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Friday it was important to expand which organisations can opt out and deny free contraceptive coverage.

“We should have space for organisations to live out their religious ideas and not face discrimination because of their religious ideas,” said one HHS official, who did not wish to be named.

Why was the decision made?

In announcing the rule change, HHS officials cited a study claiming that access to contraception encourages “risky sexual behaviour”.

The department disputes reports that millions of women may lose their birth control coverage if they are unable to pay for it themselves.

 

Latest Version of Cassidy-Graham Still Has Damaging Cuts to Health Care Funding That Grow Dramatically in 2027

Like prior versions, the latest version of the bill from Senators Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would cut federal funding for health coverage for the large majority of states over the next decade (see Table 1).  And the cuts would grow dramatically in 2027, when the bill’s temporary block grant (which would replace the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies) would expire and its Medicaid per capita cap cuts would become increasingly severe.  We estimate that in 2027 alone, the bill would cut federal health care funding by $298 billion relative to current law (see Figure 1), with the cuts affecting all states.

In fact, starting in 2027, Cassidy-Graham would likely be even more damaging than a straight repeal-without-replace bill because it would add large cuts to the rest of Medicaid — on top of eliminating the Medicaid expansion — by imposing a per capita cap on the entire program.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has previously estimated that the repeal-without-replace approach would ultimately leave 32 million more people uninsured.[1]  Cassidy-Graham would presumably result in even deeper coverage losses than that in the second decade as the cuts due to the Medicaid per capita cap continue to deepen.

  • Eliminate the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and ACA’s marketplace subsidies in 2020 and replace them with an inadequate block grant.  Under our estimates, the block grant would provide about $239 billion less between 2020 and 2026 than projected federal spending for the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies under current law, with the cut reaching $40 billion (16 percent) in 2026.  The block grant would not adjust based on changes in states’ funding needs, and it could be spent on virtually any health care purpose, with no requirement to offer low- and moderate-income people coverage or financial assistance.  And, as noted, the block grant would disappear altogether in 2027.
  • The enormous cut in 2027 reflects two factors.  First, the block grant would disappear in 2027.  The bill’s sponsors have claimed that the rules that govern the budget reconciliation process, which allows the bill to pass the Senate with only 50 votes, necessitated that the proposed block grant be temporary.  In reality, however, nothing in those rules prevents the bill from permanently funding its block grant.  Furthermore, the expiration of the temporary block grant would create a funding cliff that Congress likely couldn’t afford to fill.  Even if there were significant political support for extending the inadequate block grant in the future, budget rules would very likely require offsets for the hundreds of billions of dollars in increased federal spending needed for each additional year.[3]

The Individual Mandate Is Here to Stay

The basic economics of U.S. health care makes that easier said than done. Before the ACA, the U.S. stood out from the international pack on health care in two very unpleasant ways. First, it spent a far larger share of gross domestic product on health care. Second, it was the only advanced industrial nation that left vast swaths of its population uninsured. These two doleful facts remain true, although the fraction of Americans without health insurance fell from 13.3% in 2013 to 8.8% in 2017, according to Commerce Department data.

There are several ways to get more people covered. One is to adopt a system in which the government provides or pays for universal coverage—the British or Canadian model. This won’t happen soon in the U.S., not even as Medicare for All.

A second route, advocated unsuccessfully by President Clinton in 1993, is to mandate that every employer provide health insurance to its workers. This approach might seem natural in the U.S. context because so many workers already receive health insurance that way. But the employer mandate has fatal flaws. It wouldn’t cover the nonworking population, and it would impose heavy burdens on small businesses.

For these and other reasons, many economists in the Clinton administration—including me—favored an individual mandate. But that idea was dead in the water in 1993 because it had been advocated by the Heritage Foundation starting in 1989. It was therefore a “right wing” idea.

There are problems with an individual mandate, too. For one, the high cost of U.S. health insurance means that many low- and moderate-income families cannot afford to buy policies on their own. For another, if for-profit insurance companies are made to lose money by covering people with pre-existing conditions, the government must also force young healthy people, who tend to have limited medical expenses, into the insurance pool.

Fortunately, both problems are easily solved—conceptually, that is, not politically—by mandating that everyone buy a policy and providing subsidies to the needy. Massachusetts legislators understood this in 2006. They also knew they were not writing on a blank slate; many citizens received health insurance through their jobs and didn’t want to lose it. Hence the hybrid system that became known as RomneyCare.

If this short description reminds you of the ACA, it should. The two plans are not identical twins, but there is a family resemblance. In 2010 Democrats didn’t follow in the footsteps of Romney Republicans to make them look good; they designed their plan that way because under the constraints of precedent, the underlying logic practically forces you there.

Keep that in mind: If there ever is a TrumpCare, an unlikely proposition, it’s bound to resemble RomneyCare and ObamaCare—no matter what the president claims.