By:  Margot Sanger-Katz
Source: The New York Times

Fewer Americans Would Be Insured With G.O.P. Plan Than With Simple Repeal

The Congressional Budget Office recently said that around 24 million fewer Americans would have health insurance in 2026 under the Republican repeal plan than if the current law stayed in place.

That loss was bigger than most experts anticipated, and led to a round of predictable laments from congressional Democrats — and less predictable ones from Republican senators, including Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and John Thune of South Dakota, who told reporters that the bill needed to be “more helpful” to low-income people who wanted insurance.

But one piece of context has gone little noticed: The Republican bill would actually result in more people being uninsured than if Obamacare were simply repealed. Getting rid of the major coverage provisions and regulations of Obamacare would cost 23 million Americans their health insurance, according to another recent C.B.O. report. In other words, 1 million more Americans would have health insurance with a clean repeal than with the Republican replacement plan, according to C.B.O. estimates.

The C.B.O. estimated what would happen after a simple repeal when it considered a bill that Congress passed last year. (President Obama later vetoed that bill.) The bill left parts of Obamacare in place, so the 23 million estimate didn’t come with the kind of detailed analysis that accompanied last week’s score of the American Health Care Act. But the similarity of the two estimates highlights some of the difficulties of the current proposal, both for Democrats, who are strongly criticizing potential coverage losses, and for the repeal-or-die crowd, who hate the structure of this new bill.

“It’s reaffirmed how exceedingly complicated and convoluted the approach the House leadership took,” said Dan Holler, the vice president for communications and government relations at Heritage Action, an advocacy group firmly in the repeal-or-die camp.

Late Monday, House leadership revealed a set of amendments to the bill, which will be considered when the bill comes up for a vote. But, if they are adopted, the changes are unlikely to have major effects on overall coverage numbers. If anything, the changes might lead to a larger increase in the number of Americans without health insurance.

The people who would end up without health insurance are slightly different in the two cases. The current bill would cause more people to lose employer insurance, while a straight repeal bill would most likely cause more people who buy their own coverage to become uninsured. A simple repeal would be worse for Americans with pre-existing conditions, but the current bill would be worse for older Americans who are relatively healthy. Both approaches would lead to major reductions in the number of Americans covered by Medicaid.

The bill that Congress passed in 2016 is the third scenario. It would have kept Obamacare’s major insurance regulations on the books, including its rule that health insurers need to sell insurance at the same price to healthy and sick customers of the same age. It would have removed funding for the expansion of Medicaid, dropped subsidies to help people buy health coverage, and eliminated the individual and employer mandates in the law.

The results of those changes would be drastic: In a decade, 32 million more people would be without health insurance, according to the estimates. The C.B.O. essentially said it was a policy combination that would break the insurance market, resulting in substantially more people losing coverage than gained it under Obamacare.

The kind of full repeal that some Republicans are calling for would, of course, be hard to pass. Even if every member of their caucus supported the approach, most experts believe that repealing Obamacare’s major insurance provisions would require a type of legislation that would be vulnerable to a Senate filibuster, and would thus require at least eight Democratic votes.

All three approaches would result in meaningful reductions in the number of Americans with health coverage. But, in the end, it appears that the long-term effects of the current Republican plan don’t look that different from full repeal.