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Could this be the moment we moved on from Affordable Care Act politics?
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Thank you for being a Health Affairs Today reader. Today, we are highlighting a new monthly newsletter dedicated to the topic of health reform from Health Affairs and author Katie Keith.

Each month, Katie will share perspectives and analysis beyond her regular Forefront articles assessing the many facets of health reform.
The Affordable Care Act: Twelve Years and Nine Lives Later
A new spring brings another anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Twelve (sometimes tumultuous) years later, this remarkably resilient law is on firmer ground than ever before.

So what are some highlights?

The uninsured rate remained stable even in the face of a global pandemic. Congress leveraged parts of the ACA to quickly cover COVID-19 tests and vaccines without cost sharing.

The American Rescue Plan Act supercharged marketplace subsidies, leading to record-high marketplace enrollment.

And there are currently no existential legal threats to the law working their way through federal courts.

In some ways, this rosy report feels unremarkable. Why expect otherwise with the law now in place for more than a decade and baked into every part of the health care system?

But this outcome was far from inevitable.

Just five years ago, Congress tried to repeal as much of the law as possible. When those broader efforts failed, Congress eliminated the much-maligned individual mandate penalty. We appeared to have reached a stalemate: Democrats could not improve the law while Republicans could not repeal it.

Could this be the moment we moved on from ACA politics?!

Enter the courts. In early 2018, Republican attorneys general sued to invalidate the mandate and, with it, the rest of the law. That lawsuit—California v. Texas—was ultimately heard by a new Supreme Court one week after the 2020 election, and the ACA was upheld just last summer.

This marked the third time that the Supreme Court largely rebuffed what could have been a crippling legal challenge to the law. It feels like ancient history now, but it is worth remembering that we were still playing "will they or won’t they?" with the Supreme Court and ACA only one year ago.

In the meantime, the Trump administration tried to undermine access to coverage under the law—except when it didn’t. I won’t list all the relevant Trump-era policies, but they had an impact: the uninsured rate rose, and marketplace enrollment declined until the 2021 plan year.

Ironically, one policy meant to destabilize the market had the opposite effect: so-called "silver loading" led to more generous marketplace subsidies and likely helped stave off even greater coverage losses.

This is the recent history that is top of mind as I reflect on the year ahead—and the work left to do to achieve universal coverage. Here are just some of the major issues facing policymakers:

     • The clock is ticking to extend the American Rescue Plan Act subsidies. If Congress fails to do so, millions will face premium hikes next year and marketplace enrollment will likely drop.

     • More than 2 million low-income people remain stuck in the Medicaid coverage gap in the 12 states that have not yet expanded their Medicaid program.

     • Up to 15 million people, including nearly 6 million children, could lose Medicaid coverage at the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

     • There is increasingly an affordability and underinsurance crisis, including for those with job-based coverage: an estimated 87 million people were underinsured in 2018.

Congress and the White House are working to address these challenges, but much uncertainty remains.

"It feels like ancient history now, but it is worth remembering that we were still playing 'will they or won’t they?' with the Supreme Court and Affordable Care Act only one year ago." - Katie Keith

Looking beyond Congress, 2022 will be an important year for regulatory changes. The Biden administration has proposed, but has not yet finalized, major marketplace changes. Other already-identified priorities include fixing the family glitch, limiting short-term limited duration insurance, and enhancing nondiscrimination protections. We could see movement on at least some of these rules soon.

While the Biden administration may be waiting out Congress before initiating some rulemaking, time is of the essence. New rules take many months to adopt and then take effect—followed by more time to deal with the legal challenges that typically follow.

Follow along as I dive deep on these issues and more in a new Health Affairs’ Health Reform newsletter.

We’ll highlight the latest health policy developments—from legislation to litigation—and explain what these changes mean for patients, payers, providers, and other key health care stakeholders.

For Health Wonks

Peter Lee on Obamacare, Covered California and Where We Go Next With Health Care

Peter, a long-standing leader on the Affordable Care Act and beyond, is stepping down in March. In this Tradeoffs episode, he reflects on his decade running Covered California, his background as an AIDS activist, and how to achieve universal coverage.

Eliminating Health Disparities Will Require Looking At How Much and How Medicaid Pays Participating Providers

In a new article for Milbank Quarterly, Profs. Heidi Allen, Ezra Golberstein, and Zinzi Bailey offer one key suggestion for advancing health equity for Medicaid beneficiaries: make Medicaid more attractive by paying providers more.

It's Your Birthday, Affordable Care Act!
In March 2020, Health Affairs published a theme issue to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. The issue contains many illuminating research articles on the landmark legislation, from its impact on "the cost curve" to Medicaid expansion.

Below is a datagraphic from the issue showing how the ACA affected insurance coverage.
Insurance Coverage Increased For All Racial/Ethnic Groups
Attend this Event
Register today for this periodic check-in on the status and future of the Affordable Care Act. On April 14, Health Affairs Contributing Editors Katie Keith and Tim Jost, Health Affairs’ dynamic duo on all things ACA, will join Forefront Editor Chris Fleming for a discussion of how we got to this point in health reform and where we might be going next.

Date: Thursday, April 14, 2022
Time: 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Eastern
Place: Online details to be shared 24 hours in advance of the event

You are reading this as a Health Affairs Today reader. If you want to continue to read the Health Reform newsletter from Katie Keith, sign up for the monthly newsletter.
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Health Affairs is the leading peer-reviewed journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published monthly by Project HOPE, the journal is available in print and online. Late-breaking content is also found through healthaffairs.org, Health Affairs Today, and Health Affairs Sunday Update.  

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