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Policy Jargon Decoder

toolkitThis glossary contains some of the terms used in the Urban Institute's publications and in policy debates more generally. The glossary is a work in progress and will be updated and expanded periodically.

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Latest Additions to the Jargon Decoder:

Economic Security Index. The Economic Security Index (ESI) measures the share of Americans who lose at least a quarter of their annual household income and do not have enough available wealth to cover their losses. The ESI looks at income loss, spikes in medical expenses, and debt and savings to measure families’ economic security. The measure was developed by a research team supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Mini-medical (mini-med) plans. Basic health insurance plans with limited benefits, low monthly premiums, and low annual spending limits. Mini-med plans are most commonly offered to low-wage or part-time workers. The Affordable Care Act prohibits annual and lifetime limits as of January 1, 2014, which will rule out these types of plans.

Medical loss ratio. For health insurance, the medical loss ratio is the portion of premiums spent on clinical services, quality, and certain other non-administrative costs. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies selling coverage in the large-group market to spend at least 85 percent of their premium dollars on clinical services and quality; insurers in the small-group and nongroup insurance markets must spend at least 80 percent on such costs. Carriers that don’t comply will be required to return the difference to enrollees.

Maintenance-of-effort provision in the Affordable Care Act. A provision in the health care reform law that requires states to maintain their eligibility standards and enrollment practices for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), with exceptions for states that have waivers in their current Medicaid programs. The provision prevents states from cutting costs by covering fewer people. The Medicaid requirement for adults lasts until 2014, when new nationwide standards go into effect and states have set up their health insurance exchanges. The Medicaid and CHIP requirements for children last until 2019.

Refund anticipation loans (RALs) and refund anticipation checks (RACs). Refund anticipation loans are secured by a taxpayer’s expected refund. These interest-bearing loans, made by banks through tax preparers and tax preparer software, allow taxpayers to receive an advance on their tax refund. The amount is based on the taxpayer’s anticipated refund, minus tax preparation fees and additional loan and preparation fees, and secured by and directly repaid from the taxpayer’s IRS refund.

Refund anticipation checks allow taxpayers who do not have bank accounts to get their refunds faster than they would waiting for a paper check. With RACs, banks open temporary accounts on behalf of the taxpayer, the IRS directly deposits the consumer’s refund into the account, and then the bank issues the consumer a paper check or debit card, minus fees. RAL recipients get their loan within one to three days. RAC recipients get their refund within two weeks (on the same schedule as IRS direct deposit refunds for taxpayers who file electronically).

Evidence-based policy. Public policy that draws from scientifically rigorous quantitative or qualitative evaluation studies.

CLASS Act. The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, which was included in the health care reform law, establishes the first national long-term care insurance program. The program is voluntary and intended to be self-funded by worker premiums. Benefits can be used for a variety of long-term care needs and allow beneficiaries to continue working and living in their homes. The program may modestly reduce Medicaid spending, which today pays for more than 40 percent of all personal care for seniors and others with disabilities and mostly goes to those in nursing homes. Enrollment is scheduled to begin in 2012, with benefits available in 2017 after beneficiaries have paid monthly premiums for at least five years.

Value-Added Assessment. Value-added assessments measure growth in student achievement and isolate a school or teacher's contribution to that growth. Researchers predict how much a student will improve in a year, based on test score gains in previous grades. Whether the student meets, exceeds, or drops below this expectation tells researchers how much value the student's teacher added to their learning. Long-term analysis can demonstrate a school's effect on student achievement. A teacher's effectiveness can be gauged by his students' average test score gains above or below their expected gains.