May 5, 2020
Layoffs Fray Health Insurance Network
The majority of Americans who have health insurance – some 150 million workers – get their coverage through their employers. But this network has suddenly developed a big hole in the midst of a pandemic.
The economic shutdown that is suppressing the coronavirus has thrown nearly 30 million people out of work – and taken away their health insurance. Millions more are expected to be laid off.
About 10 percent of the U.S. population did not have health insurance in 2018, Kaiser’s most recent estimate. This share will certainly increase sharply, but how high it goes and how quickly the situation will improve is hard to predict, given all the uncertainties, said Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform for the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) does provide options that were unavailable to people who lost their jobs during the 2008-2009 recession. Even so, “there are still so many ways that people can lose insurance,” Tolbert said.
The coronavirus “highlights the still-existing gaps in our healthcare system and coverage,” she said.
Under the ACA, the newly unemployed potentially have two options: purchasing private policies on the state insurance exchanges or enrolling in the Medicaid program for poor and very low-income people.
Medicaid enrollment is available year-round for the newly unemployed and for low-paid workers whose hours have been cut, causing them to lose the insurance they had when they were full-time. But this program is not an option for thousands of laid-off workers in 14 states, including Florida and Texas. They will slip through the cracks, because their states have declined the ACA option to extend their programs to cover more residents.
Medicaid historically has provided health insurance for low-income parents with dependent children. Under the ACA, most states did expand their programs and now include adults who do not have children. The ACA also expanded coverage by increasing the income ceiling for Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. …Learn More
March 5, 2020
State Uninsured Rates All Over the Map
A decade after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, about one out of every five Texans under age 65 still do not have health insurance. Georgia, Oklahoma and Florida are close behind.
The contrast with Hawaii, Minnesota, Michigan, and New Hampshire is stark – only about one in 20 of their residents lacked insurance in 2018, the most recent year of available data, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual roundup of insurance coverage in the 50 states.
Despite this glaring disparity, the share of Americans lacking coverage has dropped dramatically across the board, including in Texas. Texas’ uninsured rate fell from 26 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2018. This translates to 2.3 million more people with health insurance. (Large populations of undocumented immigrants in states like Texas can push up the uninsured rate.)
States that had fairly broad coverage even prior to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) 2010 passage didn’t have as far to fall. For example, Connecticut’s uninsured rate is 6 percent, down from 10 percent in 2010.
One upshot of these two trends is that the disparity between the high- and low-coverage states has shrunk. Certainly, the strong job market gets credit for reducing the ranks of the uninsured. But millions of Americans who don’t have employer insurance have either purchased a policy on the insurance exchanges or gained coverage when their state expanded Medicaid to more low-income residents under the ACA.
For example, just two years after Louisiana’s 2016 Medicaid expansion, the uninsured rate had fallen from 12 percent to 9 percent.
But the initial benefits of the ACA seem to have played out. The U.S. uninsured rate increased slightly, from 10 percent to 10.4 percent between 2016 and 2018.
The share of people who are underinsured is also rising, the Commonwealth Fund found in a recent analysis. …
February 4, 2020
US Life Span Lags Other Rich Countries
Life expectancy for 65-year-olds in the United States is less than in France, Japan, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Fifty years ago, we ranked third.
First, some perspective: during that time, the average U.S. life span increased dramatically, from age 79 to 84. The problem is that we haven’t kept up with the gains made by the nine other industrialized countries, which has caused our ranking to slide.
A troubling undercurrent in this trend is that women, more than men, are creating the downdraft, according to an analysis by the Center for Retirement Research. The life expectancy of 65-year-old American women is 2½ years less than women in the other countries. The difference for men is only about a year.
The center’s researchers identified the main culprits holding us back: circulatory diseases, respiratory conditions, and diabetes. Smoking and obesity are the two major risk factors fueling these trends.
Americans used to consume more cigarettes per capita than anyone in the world. That’s no longer true. In recent years, the U.S. smoking rate has fallen sharply, resulting in fewer deaths from high blood pressure, stroke, and other circulatory diseases.
But women haven’t made as much progress as men. Men’s smoking peaked back in the mid-1960s, and by around 1990, the delayed benefits of fewer and fewer smokers started improving men’s life expectancy. Smoking didn’t peak for women until the late-1970s, and their death rate for smoking-related diseases continued to rise for many years after that, slowing the gains in U.S. life expectancy overall. More recently, this pattern has reversed so that women are now beginning to see some improvement from reduced smoking.
Obesity is a growing problem across the developed world. But in this country, the obesity rate is increasing two times faster than in the other nine countries. Nearly 40 percent of American adults today are obese, putting them at risk of type-2 diabetes and circulatory and cardiovascular diseases. …Learn More
January 23, 2020
Medicaid Expansion has Saved Lives
The recent rise in Americans’ death rates is a crisis for the lowest-earning men. They are dying about 15 years younger than the highest-earners due to everything from obesity to opioids. Women with the lowest earnings are living 10 years less.
But healthcare policy is doing what it’s supposed to in the states that expanded their Medicaid coverage to more low-income people under the Affordable Care Act (ACA): helping to stem the tide by making low-income people healthier.
An analysis by the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis, found that death rates have declined in the states that chose to expand Medicaid coverage. The study focused on people between ages 55 and 64 – not quite old enough to enroll in Medicare.
Medicaid has “saved lives in the states where [expansion] occurred,” UC-Davis researchers found. They estimated that 15,600 more lives would have been saved nationwide if every state had covered more of their low-income residents.
This is one of many studies that takes advantage of the ability to compare what is happening to residents’ well-being in states that expanded their Medicaid programs with the states that did not. Progress has come on many fronts.
In expansion states, rural hospitals, which are struggling nationwide, have had more success in keeping their doors open. By covering more adults, more low-income children have been brought into the program, which one study found reduces their applications for federal disability benefits as adults. And low-income residents’ precarious finances improved in states where Medicaid expansion reduced their healthcare costs. …Learn More
September 3, 2019
Second Careers Late in Life Extend Work
Moving into a new job late in life involves some big tradeoffs.
What do older people look for when considering a change? Work that they enjoy, fewer hours, more flexibility, and less stress. What could they be giving up? Pensions, employer health insurance, some pay, and even prestige.
Faced with such consequential tradeoffs, many older people who move into second careers are making “strategic decisions to trade earnings for flexibility,” concluded a review of past studies examining the prevalence and nature of late-life career changes.
The authors, who conducted the study for the University of Michigan’s Retirement and Disability Research Center, define a second career as a substantial change in an older worker’s full-time occupation or industry. They also stress that second careers involve retraining and a substantial time commitment – a minimum of five years.
The advantage of second careers is that they provide a way for people in their late 40s, 50s, or early 60s who might be facing burnout or who have physically taxing jobs to extend their careers by finding more satisfying or enjoyable work.
Here’s what the authors learned from the patchwork of research examining late-life job changes:
People who are highly motivated are more likely to voluntarily leave one job to pursue more education or a position in a completely different field, one study found. But older workers who are under pressure to leave an employer tend to make less dramatic changes.
One seminal study, by the Urban Institute, that followed people over time estimated that 27 percent of full-time workers in their early 50s at some point moved into a new occupation – say from a lawyer to a university lecturer. However, the research review concluded that second careers are more common than that, because the Urban Institute did not consider another way people transition to a new career: making a big change within an occupation – say from a critical care to neonatal nurse. “Unretiring” is also an avenue for moving into a second career.
What is clear from the existing studies is that older workers’ job changes may involve financial sacrifices, mainly in the form of lower pay or a significant loss of employer health insurance. But they generally get something in return: more flexibility. …Learn More
August 27, 2019
The ACA and Retirement: Is there a Link?
When older workers are able to get health insurance from a source outside of their jobs – Medicare, a spouse’s job, or an employer’s retiree health coverage – they become much more likely to decide it is time to retire.
So it’s reasonable to ask whether the Affordable Care Act, which provided millions of people with health insurance for the first time, has also helped to nudge more older workers into early retirement.
The answer, surprisingly, is no, according to a recent study for the University of Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center. This finding is important, because baby boomers who are poorly prepared financially to retire should be working longer – not retiring sooner – to improve their retirement outlook.
The researchers, who are at the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University, estimated that the uninsured rate of 50- to 64-year-olds dropped substantially after the ACA went into effect in 2014 – from 16 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2016. But when they tracked these older workers for several years, they found no evidence that they started retiring at a faster pace after the ACA established the state insurance exchanges and gave tax subsidies to people who purchased coverage on the exchanges.
The study also looked at whether retirement activity increased in response to a separate provision of the ACA: the expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income Americans. The expansion, which was voluntary for each state, was achieved by increasing the income ceiling for eligibility. The federal government gave a financial incentive to states that broadened eligibility for Medicaid coverage, and about two-thirds of the states have expanded to date.
In comparing states that expanded their Medicaid programs to states that had not, the researchers again found virtually no change in low-income workers’ retirement trends.
There is widespread agreement that turning 65 and becoming eligible for Medicare motivates people to retire. So why is the ACA different?
One possible explanation is that the “political uncertainty” surrounding the ACA and Medicaid expansion “discourage[s] older workers from counting on them when making career decisions,” the researchers said. …Learn More
August 22, 2019
Health Plan Confusion and Bad Decisions
A popular idea for reducing healthcare costs is to arm consumers with detailed information about the prices of drugs and medical procedures so they can make smarter decisions.
But the academic community is reaching the opposite conclusion: people don’t understand the information they already have and are making bad decisions based on these misconceptions. The latest example is a survey of Wisconsin state workers who sometimes defer care because they are under the mistaken impression that they can’t afford it.
“Workers do not understand how health plans work, the role of deductibles, co-insurance and co-pays … and what goes into out-of-pocket costs,” concludes a report by the University of Wisconsin public affairs school, which surveyed 2,200 government workers.
Before getting into the specific findings, it’s important to note that Wisconsin’s employees are in an enviable position. They choose from just four health insurance options approved and overseen by the state. The broader implications of the report are more distressing, if one considers that millions of Americans buying insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges, Medicare Advantage plans, or Medicare Part D drug plans must sort through oodles of plan options with different copayments, deductibles, physician and hospital networks, or drug coverages.
The confusing patchwork of Part D plans hurts retirees’ pocketbooks, according to research in Health Affairs, which found that only one out of 20 retirees selects the cheapest drug plan to meet their medication needs. A different study found that health insurance buyers purchase overly expensive plans when they have to choose from a complex menu of options.
The Wisconsin report said state workers there are also overwhelmed: …