Friday, May 29, 2015

The Flip Side of Halbig/King/Burntwell

The goal of The ObamaTax was to extend health insurance (and thus, presumably, health care) to the minority of Americans without it. It's been an article of faith that the subsidies are what will drive that goal. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on Halbig (etc), but that hasn't stopped the chattering class from opining on what a tragedy it will be if they strike down the government's (illegal) extension of subsidies to residents of states using the Exchange.

But there's another side to this, one which has thus far gone unremarked: is there a potential upside to folks whose subsidies go away? Turns out, there likely is. In fact, the case for enforcing the law train-wreck as written is pretty strong:

"Nearly 8 million people currently enrolled in 37 states through the site would lose their health insurance [by] losing their subsidies. Premiums would spiral out of control as the only ones left in the exchanges would be the sickest and most expensive patients."

Okay, making the defendants' case, so what's that "flip-side?"

"[A] new report ... says that these critics are looking at only one side of the equation ... the claim [is] that 8 million will lose insurance assumes that everyone who loses subsidies in the federal exchange would cancel their health plans."

While it's likely that many - perhaps most - would, in fact, opt for the (toothless) penalty fine tax, it's by no means certain that all of these folks would bail. After all, as IBD points out, most of these folks were already paying for insurance before the ObamaTax. It seems reasonable, then, to presume that a good portion of them would suck it up and continue paying unsubsidized premiums.

But wait, there's more:

"[P]eople in [the affected] states would be eligible to enroll in low-cost catastrophic plans, something that they can't do now without also paying the individual mandate penalty."

This is key: many folks really just want/need catastrophic cover, without unnecessary (and expensive) bells-and-whistles.

As an aside, this would be a perfect opportunity to expand HSA eligibility to these types of plans. Hint, hint.

Perhaps the greatest benefit is the one least discussed:

"Getting rid of the subsidies has benefits, too: Namely, both the individual and employer mandates would get flushed away with them."

How's that, you ask?

Well, if getting rid of the subsidies renders coverage "unaffordable" (an ACA "term of art"), then the penalty no longer applies, thus saving consumers even more money. In fact, the "study finds that 11.1 million people will be free of the individual mandate, and more than a quarter million businesses will be liberated from the employer mandate" if the plaintiff prevails: "No subsidies, no mandate."

Four words I can get behind.

Oh, and the other upside?

That would be the north of 230,000 new jobs, plus higher pay for both full- and part-time workers.

So what's the rub?

Well, all of these goodies likely go away if the rocket surgeons in Congress decide to "fix" the ObamaTax instead of deleting it. What are the odds of that?
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