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Obama Administration Pushes New Health Care Data

By Joe Williams, CQ Roll Call

December 13, 2016 -- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Tuesday defended President Barack Obama's signature health care law with a massive new report on improvements to health care in the U.S. since it took effect. The compilation of federal and state-by-state data comes as Republicans in Congress work through their strategy to repeal large aspects of the overhaul.

The information, which does not provide any new statistics on the ongoing open enrollment period that runs through Jan. 31, is intended to highlight the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. More than 20 million new individuals received insurance under the law. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in late November, when the most recent public data from the agency was released, said 2.1 million new individuals have signed up or re-enrolled for insurance during the current open enrollment period. 

The national rate of uninsured individuals in the U.S. is now under 9 percent, according to HHS. Over 10 million individuals are currently covered under the individual insurance marketplace, and more than 150 million receive coverage through employer-sponsored health care plans.

HHS released similar statistics for each of the states in a new analysis. In Kentucky, for example, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the number of people without insurance fell by 61 percent since the health care law was enacted in 2010. About 151,000 individuals in the state gained health coverage since Kentucky expanded its Medicaid program under the law, according to HHS estimates based off Urban Institute's projections of how many people would lose coverage if the law were repealed. Fewer than 75,000 people are covered through the marketplace. Most people, however, get their employer-provided coverage, which was not affected as dramatically by the health care overhaul as Medicaid or the individual market were. More than 2 million people in Kentucky receive health coverage through their jobs. 

The uninsured rate in Wisconsin dropped by 39 percent since 2010. More than 3 million individuals in Wisconsin, the home state of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, get employer-provided coverage. The state did not expand Medicaid. Just over 224,000 people receive coverage from the individual marketplace.

"Americans have better health coverage and health care today as a result of the [health care law]. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform, and it's time to build on the progress we've made, not move our system backward," HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a written statement.

The data from HHS is unlikely to sway the minds of Republican lawmakers who are charging ahead with their plans to repeal the health care overhaul. Disregarding concerns from actuaries, hospitals, insurance companies and other interest groups, McConnell on Monday said repeal legislation would be enacted before a replacement mechanism is established.

But the HHS information could help bolster the chances that several popular provisions are maintained in any new health care system.

A key provision in the 2010 law that many GOP lawmakers hope to keep in some form mandates that insurers could not deny coverage to individuals based on a pre-existing condition. Some Republicans, however, would like to allow insurers to either deny coverage or charge more if a consumer had previously dropped his or her coverage.

As many as 129 million individuals could be denied coverage should that policy be reversed, according to data from HHS. In comparison, the Kaiser Family Foundation on Monday released a report that estimated that 52 million individuals under the age of 65 could be denied coverage based on a pre-existing condition before the law took effect. 

HHS also said the number of uninsured young adults fell by 53 percent since 2010. Roughly 2.6 million individuals under the age of 26 obtained coverage under their parent's health care plan, a policy included in the health care law that many Republicans, including President-elect Donald Trump, have supported.

The department said 15.7 million people have received coverage under Medicaid as a result of the program's expansion under the law, a provision that Republicans attempted to undo in the repeal legislation (HR 3762) passed last year that Obama vetoed. GOP leaders have advocated for switching Medicaid over to a block grant or per capita grant system, arguing that it would provide states more flexibility and reduce regulatory burdens. Critics, however, say such a system could diminish benefits if the amount of money provided to the states is not increased year by year.

The health care law, coupled with legislation (PL 111-3) enacted in 2009 to improve the Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP, has also provided health insurance to more than 3 million more children, HHS said. Republicans and Democrats are preparing for a looming battle over a reauthorization of the CHIP program that is currently set to expire on Sept. 30, 2017.

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