October 2, 2012 — The number of individuals with out health insurance could soar to 72 million nationwide by 2022 under Mitt Romney's plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), compared with 27 million uninsured if the law remains intact, according to a report released by The Commonwealth Fund, a liberal health policy advocacy group.
The report, "Health Care in the 2012 Presidential Election: How the Obama and Romney Plans Stack Up," is based on assumptions that Romney would replace the healthcare reform law with block grants to states for Medicaid, institute a premium support program for Medicare to provide beneficiaries with a specified sum of money to buy the plan they choose, and enact new tax incentives to encourage people to purchase insurance on the individual market.
Although some details of Romney's proposals have not been specified, economist Jonathan Gruber from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, used a set of assumptions based on similar proposals advanced in the past. Specifically, to equalize tax treatment of health insurance, he assumed that premiums for individual market insurance can be deducted from income on an "above the line" basis, meaning a deduction available to all, not just those who itemize taxes.
Almost 18 million children younger than 19 years are estimated to be uninsured by 2022 under Romney's plan, compared with 6 million under President Barack Obama's plan to implement the law. Under Romney's plan, another 18 million middle-income Americans — with incomes between about $32,000 and $58,000 a year for a family of four — are estimated to be uninsured by 2022 (more than one third of this income group). By comparison, 3.3 million middle-income families are estimated to be uninsured under the ACA. Among families of four with incomes under $32,000 a year, 38.7 million people are estimated to be uninsured under Romney's plan and 17.2 million under the ACA.
"There are stark differences between what each candidate has proposed for our healthcare system, and this report shines a light on how Americans might be affected, based on their age, their income, and where they live," lead report author Sara Collins, vice president for affordable health insurance at The Commonwealth Fund, said during a news conference yesterday. "The report finds that repealing the Affordable Care Act would significantly increase the number of Americans without health insurance, limiting their ability to get the healthcare they need and exposing them to burdensome medical bills and debt."
Effect of Repeal?
What effect would repeal of the law have on physician practice? "The ACA has provisions to improve the kind of team practice envisioned by designers of the law, such as promoting medical homes and coordinating care," Stuart Guterman, another Commonwealth vice president, said during the press conference. "Accountable care organizations put primary care at the center of that model, allowing providers to be rewarded for cost savings. The ACA also raises Medicare and Medicaid fees for primary care physicians. If the law is repealed, a lot of those provisions would be eliminated. It's hard to see how to achieve the same goals relying only on market forces."
The report finds that young adults and baby boomers would also have better access to secure health insurance coverage under the ACA, with an estimated 7.2 million young adults aged 19 to 29 years remaining uninsured in 2022, compared with more than 18.6 million estimated to be uninsured under Romney's plan. Among older adults aged 50 to 64 years, 4.9 million are estimated to be uninsured in 2022 under the ACA, whereas nearly 11.8 million would be uninsured under Romney's plan.
Under Medicare, Romney's plan would eliminate the phasing out of the "doughnut hole" in the prescription drug benefit, beneficiaries' free annual wellness visit, and preventive care with no cost-sharing. Converting Medicare to a premium support program, as Romney has proposed, might raise beneficiaries' out-of-pocket costs if the premium allowances failed to keep pace with growth of healthcare costs. Without the reform law's provisions, the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund would be depleted by 2016, rather than 2024, as currently projected under the ACA, the report said.
In addition, according to a news release from The Commonwealth Fund, the law "imposes sweeping new rules on insurers to protect consumers. Some of these rules have already been implemented, including a ban on rescissions (insurers cancelling coverage when a beneficiary gets sick), bans on lifetime benefit limits, a phased-in ban on annual benefit limits, no longer allowing insurers to turn away children with preexisting conditions, and requiring insurers to cover preventive care without copayments from beneficiaries.... Romney's plan to repeal the ACA would rescind all of these protections. Romney has said that he would prevent discrimination against people with preexisting conditions who maintain continuous coverage."
Opponents of the ACA were quick to criticize the report, saying it uses false assumptions to bash Romney's plan by ignoring several of his proposals. They add that polls have consistently shown that most Americans favor repeal of the law.
"In a word, this 'study' is nonsense," Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, told Medscape Medical News. "Commonwealth made up a health plan they attributed to Gov. Romney in order to shed the worst possible light on an alternative to Obamacare. The result is nothing more than a political news release for the Obama campaign.
"The real effort here is to try to get the American people to forget how much they despise the law, which will cost at least $2.6 trillion and still leave 30 million people uninsured," she said. "Seniors are still exposed to the independent payment advisory board's ever deeper cuts to Medicare spending, compromising their access to care. The ACA did nothing to reform the out-of-control Medicaid program, which ill serves our most vulnerable citizens while threatening to bankrupt many states."
Robert Goldberg, vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, agrees. "This report assumes a Romney proposal to turn Medicaid into block grants will lead states to limit coverage" and result in greater numbers of uninsured, he told Medscape Medical News. "That's because the vast majority of Americans would be forced into Medicaid under Obamacare. So Gruber is assuming the massive expansion in Medicaid is the only way to insure people.
"Romney's plan gives millions of Americans tax credits to buy insurance, allows states to use Medicaid to target those in greatest need and combine federal dollars with their own revenues to allow people to choose and keep coverage even if they lose or change jobs," Goldberg said. "Gruber doesn't measure the impact of the 'real' Romney proposals. Hence, he ignores that they will stop the diversion of $716 billion from the soon-to-be-bankrupt Medicare program to pay for Obamacare."