Senate Unveils Changes to the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017: Significant Changes, but Uncertainty Remains

14 July 2017 Health Care Law Today Blog
Authors: Anil Shankar Jennifer F. Walsh Morgan J. Tilleman Marian E. Dodson Nick J. Welle

On July 13th, the Senate released the updated version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) of 2017. While the new version makes some significant changes to the original Senate proposal, the major components of the original bill remain intact.

Will the Changes Result in Additional Support?

Securing the required votes to pass the revised BCRA will be very difficult, with two GOP Senators, Rand Paul (R-KY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) announcing soon after its release they cannot even support beginning debate on the measure, a key procedural Senate vote. Senator Paul believes the bill doesn’t go far enough to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while Collins believes the Medicaid cuts are far too deep.  Four other Republican Senators have publicly said they remain undecided and many moderates in the Caucus have not announced their position.

Currently, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to begin the procedural process to allow debate on the bill as early as next week, following an anticipated Congressional Budget Office score Monday of the new language and the possible addition of an amendment by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).  In an effort to appease more conservative Senators, the Cruz amendment would allow non-ACA compliant plans to exist alongside ACA compliant plans in the exchanges. However, that causes angst for many moderates who are concerned about the potential loss of assurances such as coverage for pre-existing conditions.  Similar to the dynamic that unfolded in the House, moderates and conservatives in the Senate are deeply divided and appeasing one group tends to aggravate the other.

The following are highlights of the changes in the most recent version of the BCRA:

Changes to the Medicaid Provisions

  • Allows CMS to increase federal contributions to states above the limits imposed by per capita caps or Medicaid block grant amounts, if the state, or a location within the state, has a declared public health emergency.
  • Modifies requirements for Medicaid block grants to allow them to be applied to the Medicaid expansion population, and to prohibit states from using unspent block grant funds for non-Medicaid services.
  • Would retain an ACA requirement for states to cover children up to age 19 with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level.
  • Allows states to receive relief from reductions in allowable disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments during the following quarter in 2018 or 2019 if the state terminates its Medicaid expansion, and modifies the formula by which non-expansion states can receive additional DSH allocations.
  • Would allow seniors and the disabled to have Medicaid cover services provided during the three months prior to enrollment, as in current law.  Other Medicaid beneficiaries would be limited to retroactive coverage during the month of enrollment.
  • Would allow states to apply for an aggregate of up to $8 billion in additional federally funded payments for home and community based services (HCBS) providers through a demonstration project.  The 15 states with the lowest density are given priority in applying for these demonstration project funds.
  • Would expand federal support for services provided to members of an Indian tribe by enrolled Medicaid providers that are not Indian Health Services facilities.

Insurance-Related Changes

  • Consumers will be permitted to use HSA funds to pay health insurance premiums for the first time.  This will allow consumers to use pre-tax dollars to pay for health insurance, and could reduce the financial incentives that have long supported employer-provided health insurance coverage.
  • The so-called “Cruz Amendment” has been included in the revised BCRA.  This amendment would permit insurers to sell individual health insurance policies that do not comply with the market reforms in the ACA, so long as the insurer also sells an ACA-compliant policy in the same state.
    • The non-ACA-compliant policies would be exempt from a number of popular market reforms, including:
      • Actuarial value requirements
      • Essential health benefits coverage
      • Limits on out-of-pocket expenses
      • Community rating
      • Guaranteed issuance of policies
      • Prohibition of pre-existing condition exclusions
      • Limitations on coverage waiting periods
      • No-copay preventive care coverage
      • Medical Loss Ratio requirements
    • Coverage under a non-ACA-compliant policy does not constitute creditable coverage, so persons moving from non-compliant policies to ACA-compliant policies will be subject to a 6-month waiting period.
    • Non-ACA-compliant policies are not included in the ACA’s risk adjustment program (42 U.S.C. §18063).

Other Notable Items

  • Substance use disorder treatment and recovery service funding is increased from $2 billion for one year to approximately $5 billion per year from 2018 through 2026.
  • Purchasers in the individual market will be able to buy catastrophic/lower-premium plans and still be eligible for tax credits.
  • While most of the Affordable Care Act tax repeals remain, this version does not repeal the net investment income tax, additional Medicare tax, and the limit on insurance company deductions for executive compensation.
As we continue to monitor the Senate debate on the BCRA, we will provide updates on the status of the Senate repeal and replace efforts.
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