CBO, JCT share methods for analyzing legislative proposals impacting health insurance coverage

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) revealed in a recent report how they jointly analyze proposed legislation that would impact health insurance coverage for individuals younger than age 65, detailing how they develop analytic strategies, model a proposal’s effect, and finalize their analysis (CBO Report, February 2018).

Analytic strategy development

First, the CBO and JCT put together an analytic strategy. The agencies formally develop their strategy once the proposed legislation’s specifications become available, an official request for analysis has been made, and the CBO and JCT arrange the time to commence the analysis. However, the agencies also often work informally with Congressional staff during development of the proposal. The agencies begin by reviewing the policy specifications. The CBO and JCT consider how the proposed legislation would impact existing law and how the proposed legislation is different from earlier proposal drafts. The agencies work to verify that the Congressional staff’s intent is reflected in the language and then estimate the legislative effect by, namely, identifying how the proposal could affect health insurance coverage and the federal budget.

The CBO and JCT focus on the policy changes most likely to impact health insurance coverage or cost, ranging from the straight-forward to the more complex. Another key aspect the agencies consider is timing and what additional “administrative infrastructure” is necessary to bring about the changes of the proposed legislation—and how long it would take to do so. The timing element includes estimates of how other stakeholders (state governments, insurers, employers, etc.) would respond and how long it would take for them to implement the proposed changes. To help with their estimates, the agencies rely on past cases of legislative reform programs. Further, the agencies seek input from outside experts and existing evidence while maintaining the required confidentiality of a proposal.

Proposal effect modeling

Second, the CBO and JCT undertake modelling the impact of the proposed legislation. Primarily, the agencies rely on CBO’s health insurance simulation model (HISIM), Medicaid enrollment and cost models, and JCT’s individual tax model. These models use data on health insurance coverage information for everyone younger than 65, Medicaid enrollment and expenditures, and detailed tax return information. The agencies also draw estimates based on information HISIM cannot project, namely, the behavior of states, employers, and insurers. These initial projections are incorporated as inputs into HISIM (state, employer, and individual enrollee behavior) or assessed outside HISIM (insurer behavior). CBO and JCT also use HISIM to estimate stakeholder responses to new coverage options. Medicaid enrollment and cost projections use HISIM estimates in addition to a more detailed Medicaid model and other methods. JCT usually provides estimates of proposed tax liability changes using its individual tax model.


Finally, both the CBO and JCT engage in rigorous review of their respective analysis results in order to ensure objectivity and proper analysis. Specifically, they examine results of one or more years out of the 10-year projection period to ensure that the analysis is being computed as intended and compare results against previous analyses. The agencies also inspect for programming errors or unexplained results. The CBO and JCT consider changes to the results if there were different critical inputs. The agencies prepare a formal written estimate and explanation thereof and, before releasing it to Congress and the public, agency staff carefully review the report.

Eliminating individual mandate lowers cost of CHIP funding

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) lowered its estimate of the deficit impact of legislation that would fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five years, finding that CHIP had become less expensive relative to the rising costs of providing alternative coverage through the federally-subsidized health insurance marketplaces (CBO Report, January 5, 2018).

Prior estimate

The CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation previously reviewed S. 1827, the Keep Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure Act of 2017, in October, finding then that it would add $8.2bn to the deficit. The new estimate finds that the bill, which would also change the federal matching rate for the program and state eligibility requirements, would only increase the deficit by $0.8 billion over the next ten years.

Individual mandate

The change stems from Congress’s repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) individual mandate. Without CHIP, parents would have to seek alternative coverage, including federally-subsidized coverage offered through health insurance marketplaces set up by the ACA. Without the individual mandate, the CBO expects lower enrollment and higher costs for the insurance marketplaces, which increases the federal cost of enrolling a child in coverage through the marketplaces. The rising marketplace costs make CHIP a more cost-effective alternative to funding children’s health costs, the CBO found.

Federal and beneficiary spending on Medicare will skyrocket if ACA repealed

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act, as promised by the incoming Congressional leadership and President-elect Donald Trump’s (R) Administration, would not only increase Medicare spending but also lead to higher beneficiary costs, a less-solvent Part A trust fund, and the return of the Part D drug benefit “doughnut hole.” The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) published an issue brief on the Medicare implications of repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), finding that the Medicare provisions of the ACA have strengthened Medicare’s financial status for the future, and repeal would weaken the program.

KFF noted that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated an increase in Medicare spending of $802 billion from 2016 to 2025 if the ACA were repealed in full (see Repealing the Affordable Care Act—an unaffordable idea?, Health Reform WK-EDGE, June 24, 2015). This increase would primarily be attributed to higher payments to health care providers and Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, which the ACA reduced based on the expectation that due to coverage increases, hospitals would have fewer uninsured patients.

Repeal of the ACA would increase Medicare Parts A and B spending by $350 billion over 10 years. It would also increase Part A deductibles and copayments and Part B premiums and deductibles. Similarly, the ACA removed a payment per enrollee discrepancy that paid MA plans 14 percent more than traditional Medicare; in 2016, MA plans only received 2 percent higher payments than traditional plans. A repeal would increase MA spending; however, it would also potentially reduce MA enrollees’ costs or allow them to receive additional benefits.

Under the ACA, certain Medicare benefits are available with no cost-sharing, including a yearly exam and some preventive screenings. The ACA also closed the coverage gap, or doughnut hole, in the Part D drug benefit. Without these changes, beneficiary costs would increase for preventive services and drugs.

The ACA played a role in extending the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by establishing new dedicated sources of revenue. As a result, four years’ time was added to the Medicare trustees’ projection of asset depletion in 2014 (see Life expectancy of Medicare trust funds extended to 2030, July 30, 2014). A repeal of these revenue provisions would give the Trust Fund a shorter lifespan.

The analysis also considered repeal of the ACA’s provisions for the following:

  • Freezing income thresholds for the Part B income-related premium;
  • Creating a formal method to expand payment and delivery system reforms through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI);
  • Reducing preventable hospital readmissions and hospital-acquired conditions; and
  • Establishing new accountable care organization (ACO) programs.

Overall, KFF determined that ACA repeal without corresponding replacement legislation would weaken Medicare’s financial status for the future while costing beneficiaries and the federal government more.

Will the ACA be repealed under President-elect Trump?


On January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump (R) will be sworn in as the president of the United States; the Republican Party will retain its majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate, but will fall short of the 60-member Senate majority required to break a filibuster. President-elect Trump campaigned on the promise to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), President Obama’s signature health care reform law.

Trump’s plan

In a position paper, Trump laid out his plan for health care, which will include:

  • complete repeal of the ACA;
  • permitting the sale of health insurance across state lines;
  • allowing individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from tax returns;
  • enabling all Americans to make tax-free contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs);
  • requiring price transparency from all health care providers;
  • changing the Medicaid structure from a federal-state partnership to a block-grant system;
  • removing barriers to free-market entry for drug providers; and
  • reforming mental health programs and institutions.

The plan also calls for obtaining health care savings by enforcing immigration laws and increasing the employment rate to decrease enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Most of these proposals are similar to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis) plan for replacing the ACA (see Ryan proposes ‘A Better Way’ to repeal Obamacare, Health Reform WK-EDGE, June 29, 2016).

Without a supermajority in the Senate, the Trump Administration could potentially face a filibuster on its health care plans; that obstacle, however, may be overcome by use of the reconciliation process. Earlier this year, H.R. 3762—a bill repealing the ACA’s coverage subsidies, tax credits, Medicaid expansion provisions, individual and employer mandate penalties, and the medical device and health insurance taxes—made it to Obama’s desk before being vetoed (see Bill to repeal portions of the ACA heads to the President’s desk, Obama veto imminent, Health Reform WK-EDGE, January 13, 2016; Message in a veto: President says ACA stays put, Health Reform WK-EDGE, January 13, 2016).

Effects of Trump plan on uninsurance rate and federal spending

Under the ACA, the uninsurance rate in the U.S. has dropped to 8.6 percent, the lowest level on record (see White House celebrates ACA, Republicans refuse to join party, Health Reform WK-EDGE, October 26, 2016). The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that 22 million people would lose health insurance if H.R. 3762 became law (see Senate’s ACA repeal would reduce deficits by $474B, Health Reform WK-EDGE, December 16, 2015).

In a different report, the CBO found that repealing the ACA would first increase the federal deficit, but later begin to reduce the deficit while leaving individuals with higher premium costs (see Can health care spending be reduced while improving effectiveness?, Health Reform WK-EDGE, September 28, 2016). Similarly, Ryan’s “A Better Way” plan is estimated to reduce overall insurance coverage from ACA projections while decreasing the deficit (see ‘A Better Way’ would lead to quick gains but lower overall insurance coverage, Health Reform WK-EDGE, August 31, 2016).

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget analyzed Trump’s plan and determined that if it were implemented, the uninsurance rate would double; it also found that the Medicaid block-grant proposal lacked sufficient detail to estimate whether it would maintain current spending levels or save hundreds of billions of dollars.

Ongoing developments

In the coming weeks and months, Wolters Kluwer and Health Reform WK-EDGE will continue to provide in-depth analysis and coverage of ACA-related developments. Stay tuned for the practical tips and reliable guidance you’ve come to expect.