Firearm-Related Injury and Death in the United States: A Call to Action From the Nation’s Leading Physician and Public Health Professional Organizations; Politics and Solutions!

rifles364I have been so upset with the recent mass shootings and the lack of action to start the real discussion and solutions I thought that I would dedicate a few posts to this subject. The President and Congress had better get something done because the voters are pretty sick and tired of inaction and the GOP being afraid of the NRA. Get over it and do the right thing and come up solutions and more important, stop making it political!!!

Robert McLean, Patricia Harris, John Cullen, etc. of the AMA noted that shortly after the November publication of the American College of Physicians’ policy position paper on reducing firearm injury and death, the National Rifle Association tweeted:

Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.

Within hours, thousands of physicians responded, many using the hashtags #ThisIsOurLane and #ThisIsMyLane, and shared the many reasons why firearm injury and death is most certainly in our lane. Across the United States, physicians have daily, firsthand experience with the devastating consequences of firearm-related injury, disability, and death. We witness the impact of these events not only on our patients, but also on their families and communities. As physicians, we have a special responsibility and obligation to our patients to speak out on prevention of firearm-related injuries and deaths, just as we have spoken out on other critical public health issues. As a country, we must all work together to develop practical solutions to prevent injuries and save lives.

In 2015, several of our organizations joined the American Bar Association in a call to action to address firearm injury as a public health threat. This effort was subsequently endorsed by 52 organizations representing clinicians, consumers, families of firearm injury victims, researchers, public health professionals, and other health advocates. Four years later, firearm-related injury remains a problem of epidemic proportions in the United States, demanding immediate and sustained intervention. Since the 2015 call to action, there have been 18 firearm-related mass murders with 4 or more deaths in the United States, claiming a total of 288 lives and injuring 703 more.

With nearly 40 000 firearm-related deaths in 2017, the United States has reached a 20-year high according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We, the leadership of 6 of the nation’s largest physician professional societies, whose memberships include 731 000 U.S. physicians, reiterate our commitment to finding solutions and call for policies to reduce firearm injuries and deaths. The authors represent the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association. The American Public Health Association, which is committed to improving the health of the population, joins these 6 physician organizations to articulate the principles and recommendations summarized herein. These recommendations stem largely from the individual positions previously approved by our organizations and ongoing collaborative discussion among our leaders.

Background

In 2017, a total of 39 773 people died in the United States as a result of firearm-related injury—23 854 (59.98%) were suicides, 14 542 (36.56%) were homicides, 553 (1.39%) were the result of legal intervention, 486 (1.22%) were subsequent to unintentional discharge of a firearm, and 338 (0.85%) were of undetermined origin. The population-adjusted rates of these deaths are among the highest worldwide and are by far the highest among high-income countries. Firearm-related deaths now exceed motor vehicle–related deaths in the United States. Further, estimates show that the number of nonfatal firearm injuries treated in emergency departments is almost double the number of deaths. Firearm-related injury and death also present substantial economic costs to our nation, with total societal cost estimated to be $229 billion in 2015.

While mass shootings account for a small proportion of the nearly 109 firearm-related deaths that occur daily in the United States, the escalating frequency of mass shootings and their toll on individuals, families, communities, and society make them a hot spot in this public health crisis. Mass shootings create a sense of vulnerability for everyone, that nowhere—no place of worship, no school, no store, no home, no public gathering place, no place of employment—is safe from becoming the venue of a mass shooting. Mass shootings have mental health consequences not only for victims, but for all in affected communities, including emergency responders. Studies also show that mass shootings are associated with increased fear and decreased perceptions of safety in indirectly exposed populations. Preventing the toll of mass firearm violence on the well-being of people in U.S. cities and towns demands the full resources of our health care community and our governments.

Our organizations support a multifaceted public health approach to prevention of firearm injury and death similar to approaches that have successfully reduced the ill effects of tobacco use, motor vehicle accidents, and unintentional poisoning. While we recognize the significant political and philosophical differences about firearm ownership and regulation in the United States, we are committed to reaching out to bridge these differences to improve the health and safety of our patients, their families, and communities, while respecting the U.S. Constitution.

A public health approach will enable the United States to address culture, firearm safety, and reasonable regulation consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Efforts to reduce firearm-related injury and death should focus on identifying individuals at heightened risk for violent acts against themselves or others. All health professionals should be trained to assess and respond to those individuals who may be at heightened risk of harming themselves or others.

Screening, diagnosis, and access to treatment for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders is critical, along with efforts to reduce the stigma of seeking this mental health care. While most individuals with mental health disorders do not pose a risk for harm to themselves or others, improved identification and access to care for persons with mental health disorders may reduce the risk for suicide and violence involving firearms for persons with tendencies toward those behaviors.

In February 2019, 44 major medical and injury prevention organizations and the American Bar Association participated in a Medical Summit on Firearm Injury Prevention. This meeting focused on building consensus on the public health approach to this issue, highlighting the need for research, and developing injury prevention initiatives that the medical community could implement. Here we highlight specific policy recommendations that our 7 organizations believe can reduce firearm-related injury and death in the United States.

Background Checks for Firearm Purchases

Comprehensive criminal background checks for all firearm purchases, including sales by gun dealers, sales at gun shows, private sales, and transfers between individuals with limited exceptions should be required.

Current federal laws require background checks for purchases from retail firearm sellers (Federal Firearms License [FFL] holders); however, purchases from private sellers and transfer of firearms between private individuals do not require background checks. Approximately 40% of firearm transfers take place through means other than a licensed dealer; as a result, an estimated 6.6 million firearms are sold or transferred annually with no background checks. This loophole must be closed. In 2017, of the 25 million individuals who submitted to a background check to purchase or transfer possession of a firearm, 103 985 were prohibited purchasers and were blocked from making a purchase. While it is clear that background checks help to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals at risk of using them to harm themselves or others, the only way to ensure that all prohibited purchasers are prevented from legally acquiring firearms is to make background checks a universal requirement for all firearm purchases or transfers of ownership.

Need for Research on Firearm Injury and Death

Research to understand health-related conditions underpins the modern practice of medicine. In brief, medical research saves lives and improves health. Yet, despite bipartisan agreement that there are no prohibitions on the CDC’s ability to fund such research, research that would inform efforts to reduce firearm-related injury and death has atrophied over the last 2 decades. Consequently, we lack high-quality nationwide data on the incidence and severity of nonfatal firearm injuries. It is critical that the United States adequately fund research to help us understand the causes and effects of intentional and unintentional firearm-related injury and death in order to develop evidence-based interventions and make firearm ownership as safe as possible. Research should be nonpartisan and free of data restrictions to enable robust studies that identify robust solutions. Many of our organizations have affiliated with the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a nonprofit organization of health care professionals and researchers working to provide private funding for research related to firearm injury and its prevention. Both private and public funding are key to building a powerful evidence base on this important issue. Research for firearm injury and its prevention should be federally funded at a level commensurate with its health burden without restriction. To move from atrophy to strength requires not just allowing research, but also naming, appropriating, and directing funding for it and for the establishment of comprehensive data collection platforms to document the epidemiology of this growing public health crisis.

Intimate Partner Violence

Currently, federal laws prohibiting domestic abusers from accessing firearms do not apply to dating partners, even though almost half of intimate partner cases involved current dating partners. Federal law restricts firearm purchases by individuals who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or have protective orders against them if they are a current or former spouse; a parent or guardian of the victim; a current or former cohabitant with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian; are similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim; or have a child with the victim. It does not apply to dating partners, stalkers, or individuals who commit violence against another family member. This loophole in the background check system must be closed.

Safe Storage of Firearms

Keeping a firearm locked, keeping it unloaded, storing ammunition locked, and storing it in a separate location have all been associated with a protective effect. A 2018 study found that an estimated 4.6 million U.S. children are living in homes with at least 1 loaded and unlocked firearm. A large number of unintentional firearm fatalities occurred in states where firearm owners were more likely to store their firearms loaded, with the greatest risk in states where loaded firearms were more likely to be stored unlocked. Therefore, our organizations support child access prevention laws that hold accountable firearm owners who negligently store firearms under circumstances where minors could or do gain access to them. These laws are associated with a reduction of suicides and unintentional firearm injuries and fatalities among children.

Mental Health

The great majority of those with a mental illness or substance use disorder are not violent. However, screening, access, and treatment for mental health disorders play a critical role in reducing risk for self-harm and interpersonal violence. This is particularly of concern for adolescents, who are at high risk for suicide as a consequence of their often impulsive behavior. Access to mental health care is critical for all individuals who have a mental health or substance use disorder. This must include early identification, intervention, and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, including appropriate follow-up. Those who receive adequate treatment from health professionals are less likely to commit acts of violence and individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. Early identification, intervention, and access to treatment may reduce the risk for suicide and violence involving firearms for persons with tendencies toward those behaviors.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Several states have enacted ERPO or ERPO-style laws, and numerous other states are considering them. We support the enactment of these laws as they enable family members and law enforcement agencies to intervene when there are warning signs that an individual is experiencing a temporary crisis that poses an imminent risk to themselves or others while providing due process protections.

Physician Counseling of Patients and “Gag Laws”

Confidential conversations about firearm safety can occur during regular examinations when physicians have the opportunity to educate their patients and answer questions. Such conversations about mitigating health risks are a natural part of the patient–physician relationship. Because of this, our organizations oppose state and federal mandates that interfere with physicians’ right to free speech and the patient–physician relationship, including laws that forbid physicians from discussing a patient’s firearm ownership. Patient education using a public health approach will be required to lower the incidence of firearm injury in the United States. Our organizations are working on programs and strategies that engage firearm owners in devising scientifically sound and culturally competent patient counseling that clinicians can apply broadly.

In the privacy of an examination room, physicians can intervene with patients who are at risk of injuring themselves or others due to firearm access. They can also provide factual information about firearms relevant to their health and the health of their loved ones, answer questions, and advise them on the best course of action to promote health and safety. Providing anticipatory guidance on preventing injuries is something physicians do every day, and it is no different for firearms than for other injury prevention topics. To do so, physicians must be allowed to speak freely to their patients without fear of liability or penalty. They must also be able to document these conversations in the medical record just as they are able and often required to do with other discussions of behaviors that can affect health.

Firearms With Features Designed to Increase Their Rapid and Extended Killing Capacity

The need for reasonable laws and regulations compliant with the Second Amendment regarding high-capacity magazine–fed weapons that facilitate a rapid rate of fire is a point of active debate. Although handguns are the most common type of firearm implicated in firearm-related injury and death, the use of firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity during mass violence is common. As such, these weapons systems should be the subject of special scrutiny and special regulation. There are various strategies to consider, and our organizations look forward to a greater engagement and partnership with responsible firearm owners to determine how best to achieve this goal.

Conclusion

Physicians are on the front lines of caring for patients affected by intentional or unintentional firearm-related injury. We care for those who experience a lifetime of physical and mental disability related to firearm injury and provide support for families affected by firearm-related injury and death. Physicians are the ones who inform families when their loved ones die as a result of firearm-related injury. Firearm violence directly impacts physicians, their colleagues, and their families. In a recent survey of trauma surgeons, one third of respondents had themselves been injured or had a family member or close friend(s) injured or killed by a firearm. As with other public health crises, firearm-related injury and death are preventable. The medical profession has an obligation to advocate for changes to reduce the burden of firearm-related injuries and death on our patients, their families, our communities, our colleagues, and our society. Our organizations are committed to working with all stakeholders to identify reasonable, evidence-based solutions to stem firearm-related injury and death and will continue to speak out on the need to address the public health threat of firearms.

Understanding gun violence and mass shootings

Columbia University studies showed that public mass shootings, once a rare event, now occur with shocking frequency in the United States. According to the Washington Post, four or more people are killed in this horrific manner every 47 days. The most recent mass shootings, in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, occurred less than a day apart and resulted in the loss of 31 lives.

With each fresh assault, politicians and the public have become more firmly entrenched in their beliefs about the root causes of mass shootings and about possible solutions, from more restrictive gun control laws to better mental health care.

Researchers across Columbia University’s campuses have put these theories to the test in an effort to identify effective strategies for preventing mass shootings and other forms of gun violence.

Mental Illness

Mental illness has long been suspected as a primary cause of gun violence and mass shootings in particular. But only 3% to 5% of violent events are attributable to mental illness, writes Paul Appelbaum, MD, director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, in an opinion article in JAMA Psychiatry. “Much of the increased risk [of violence] in people with mental disorders is attributable to other variables rather than to the disorders themselves. Substance abuse, for example, accounts for a large proportion of the incremental risk.”

Further, Appelbaum writes, “compilations of incidents of mass shootings suggest that people with severe mental disorders may be overrepresented among the perpetrators, but given the possibility of bias in the nonsystematic collection of such data, firm conclusions are impossible at this point.”

Video Games

With little funding to study gun violence, “we tend to fall back on conclusions unsupported by evidence,” says Sonali Rajan, EdD, assistant professor of health education at Columbia University Teachers College in an interview published on the school’s website.

In a study published in PLOS ONE, Rajan and colleagues from NYU Langone found no association between video games and other types of screen time and gun ownership among teens. The researchers analyzed data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System—which surveyed tens of thousands of teens about 55 different behaviors over a period of 10 years—to identify factors associated with carrying a firearm. “Among the 5% to 10% of American teens who report regularly carrying a firearm, there is a much stronger association with substance use, engagement in physical fighting, and exposure to sexual violence than with any poor mental health indicator,” explains Rajan.

Gun Laws

States with more permissive gun laws and greater ownership of firearms had higher rates of mass shootings than states with more restrictions on gun ownership, according to a recent study by Columbia researchers in the British Medical Journal. “Our analyses reveal that U.S. gun laws have become more permissive in past decades, and the divide between permissive states and those with more stringent laws seems to be widening in concert with the growing tragedy of mass shootings in the U.S.,” says senior author Charles Branas, Ph.D., chair of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in an article on the school’s website.

“What happened in Las Vegas saddens me deeply,” Branas says in a previous interview for the Mailman School website. “But this is only the tip of a much larger gun-violence iceberg in the U.S. On the same day, hundreds more people across the U.S. were shot, adding up to somewhere around 100,000 shootings a year.

“We need to think beyond simply guns and people, and start thinking about the environment that is promoting these shootings in the first place,” writes Branas, whose research also has focused on transforming abandoned housing and other signs of urban and rural blight to improve community health and safety.

In other countries, the implementation of laws restricting the purchase of and access to guns in other countries has also been associated with reductions in gun-related deaths, according to a study from researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “While the research did not conclusively prove that restrictions, or relaxation of laws, reduce gun deaths, the results indicate that gun violence tended to decline after countries passed new restrictions on gun purchasing and ownership,” says co-author Sandro Galea, Ph.D., in an interview for the school’s website.

Aftereffects

Recent suicides among survivors of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Parkland High School show that the effects of such violent events are long-lasting and entrenched.

“The public may be affected [by mass shootings] even if they were not in immediate proximity, because the media reifies the effects of a mass violent incident,” says Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a recent video interview for Medscape.

For survivors of violent events, “reminders such as anniversaries can prolong complicated grief or even reactive grief and trauma,” writes Kathleen Pike, Ph.D., director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University, in an article published on the center’s website. “Community supports matter not only in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events but also for individuals who continue to suffer over time.”

GOP Waits to See if Trump Will Protect It From the NRA Before Moving on Gun Laws

Sam Brodey, Asawin Suebsaeng and Jackie Kucinich reported that just over a week since mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Senate Republicans are waiting to see if President Trump walks away from the issue again or forces their hand before trying to do anything about potentially expanding background checks for gun purchases.

He’s walked away before. Following the Parkland school massacre last year, the president promised that he was “going to be very strong on background checks,” only to retreat after holding private meetings with National Rifle Association officials at the White House. The NRA, a key ally of Trump’s, has spent big money lobbying against background-checks expansion legislation, and last week reminded him of its staunch opposition.

After the latest shootings, Trump told reporters that there is great “appetite” on the Hill to finally get something done on background checks but his GOP allies in the Senate are holding off, unwilling to burn political capital with the gun lobby and conservative-base voters on the issue if Trump isn’t going to burn some of his.

However, the president’s prior inaction, and the media coverage he incurred for it, may force him to make at least a slightly harder run at background checks this time around, even if only in his messaging and bluster. Two people who’ve spoken to the president in recent days say that he has referenced, during conversations about how he could possibly bend the NRA to his will in this case, his annoyance at media coverage of his post-Parkland about-face that suggested he was all talk and no action on the issue, and easily controlled by the NRA. One of the sources noted that Trump’s aversion to being seen as “controlled” by anyone or any organization makes it much more likely that the president will dwell on the issue for longer than he did last year.

Trump’s influence could well make or break legislation, since Republicans are unlikely to support anything without his blessing but will be just as hesitant to immediately reject a bill he puts his full support behind.

“Many Hill Republicans are waiting to see what Trump will get behind,” said a Senate GOP aide. “He gives them political cover. I don’t think you’re going to see any one bill or one proposal get any momentum until the President publicly endorses it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Thursday that he and the president are actively discussing possible avenues for gun legislation. “He’s anxious to get an outcome and so am I,” said McConnell on a radio show in Kentucky.

The GOP leader stressed that the president was open to a discussion on gun legislation, from background checks to “red flag” bills: “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.”

A spokesman for McConnell declined to elaborate on the Senate leader’s conversations with the president.

Democrats aren’t holding their breath, given that McConnell won’t call the Senate back from its recess for gun bills and that Trump has backtracked before on the issue after outcry from pro-gun factions of his base.

Democratic aides have been mindful of Sean Hannity’s reaction to the background checks push, since Trump’s position has been known to change based on the broadcasts or private counsel of Hannity and other top Fox personalities.

White House aides are similarly waiting on Trump, and talking up how he’s also been reaching out across the aisle to find a potential solution, even if nobody knows what that would look like yet. “The president has been actively talking to Republicans and Democrats on the matter of background checks, and just being able to have meaningful, measurable reforms that don’t confiscate law-abiding citizens’ firearms without due process, but at the same time keep those firearms out of people who have a propensity toward violence,” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, said on this week’s Fox News Sunday.

One of those Democratic politicians, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said in a call with reporters on Wednesday he had spoken to the president twice since the shootings in Dayton and El Paso and that he was “committed to getting something done.”

While “everything is on the table,” Manchin said, Trump’s sign-off on any plan will be key to getting it through the Senate. The proposal introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Manchin in the months after the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary made modest adjustments to background check system by extending checks to gun shows and internet sales, but exempted gun transactions between friends and family members. It also provided additional funding to states to put critical information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in order to prevent people who should not have guns from obtaining them, and created a commission to study the causes of gun violence.

It’s a bill that’s failed twice, once in 2013 and again after the mass shooting in a San Bernardino office park in 2015. Both times it drew very limited support from Republican senators.

Asked what had changed since the last time the bill failed on the Senate floor, Manchin said, “The political will wasn’t there.”

Manchin said he was told by some colleagues who opposed the bill that they really didn’t object to the substance of the bill but they weren’t convinced the “Obama administration wouldn’t go further [and try] taking more of their guns away from them.”

Manchin said he tried to explain that would be unconstitutional, but to no avail.

Some Trump allies say that this president, given his record and rhetoric, might have just enough credibility among Second Amendment enthusiasts to drag them along, if he so chooses.

“If only Nixon could go to China, then maybe only Trump can address the chasm between gun owners and those who want gun control,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, told The Daily Beast. “He’s so strong on the Second Amendment he can truly do something to make a change when it comes to these mass shootings.”

Caputo, who in 2013 and 2014 advised Trump on pro-gun voters and the NRA when the celebrity businessman was weighing a run for New York governor, said that even years ago, “We talked about mass shootings and what that means to the United States, and the importance [to voters] of the Second Amendment, and I know the president has been thinking about this issue for a long time: How you balance gun rights versus gun atrocities.”

Trump’s former adviser added, “If the president pursues broader background checks… perhaps it’s because he knows that is something only he can do. He may lose the support of some of the most pro-gun members of his base, but the vast majority of us understand there are some reasonable measures to be taken.”

I do have more data comparing the gun violence in the U.S.A. to other countries, which I will save until next week. But the most important point of this post is that those who can make the difference, i.e. the President and Congress have to ignore the NRA and do the right things. I have included a number of options and most important is that we all can not wait for another media circus as they cover the next mass shooting or jus any shooting, especially where the offending weapon is an assault weapon.

The Real Costs of the U.S. Health-Care Mess, South Africa’s cost of Health Care and Rural Health Care and Gun Violence

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How health insurance works now, and how the candidates want it to work in the future is confusing and yes, very costly.

Matt Bruenig reviewed that with more than 20 people vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, it can be difficult to get a handle on the policy terrain. This is especially true in health care, where at least eight different plans are floating around, including from candidates whom few support, such as Michael Bennet, who wants to offer a public health plan in the small individual-insurance market.

Among the candidates polling in the double digits, three have offered actual health-care proposals (as opposed to vague statements): Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders, whose Medicare for All plan is also supported by Elizabeth Warren. These plans are similar in the most general sense, in that they expand coverage and affordability, but they are dramatically different in their particulars and in what they tell voters about the respective candidates. To understand any of that, however, you have to understand how insurance works right now.

Americans get insurance from four main sources.

The first source is Medicare, which covers nearly all elderly people and some disabled people. The “core” program consists of Medicare Part A, which pays for hospital treatment, and Medicare Part B, which pays for doctor visits. Medicare Part D covers prescription drugs but is administered only by private insurance providers. Private Medigap plans provide supplemental insurance for some of the cost-sharing required by Parts A and B, while private Medicare Advantage plans essentially bundle all of the above into a single offering.

The second source is Medicaid, which covers low-income people and provides long-term care for disabled people. Medicaid is administered by states and jointly funded by state and federal governments. The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid eligibility up to the income ladder a bit, but some states did not go along with the expansion.

The third source is employer-sponsored insurance, which covers about 159 million workers, spouses, and children. Employer insurance is very costly, with the average family premium running just under $19,000 a year. For average wage workers living in a family of four, this premium is equal to 26.4 percent of their total labor compensation. If you count this premium as taxes for international comparison purposes, the average wage worker in the United States has the second-highest tax rate in the developed world, behind the Netherlands. As with Medicaid, employer insurance is very unstable, with people losing their insurance plan every time they separate from their job (66 million workers every year) or when their employer decides to change insurance carriers (15 percent of employers every year).

The final source is individual insurance purchased directly from a private insurer. Most of the people who buy this kind of insurance do so through the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges provide income-based subsidies to individuals with incomes from 100 percent to 400 percent of the poverty line, but have mostly been a policy train wreck: Enrollments were 50 percent lower than predicted, insurers have quit the exchanges in droves, and the income cutoffs have caused disgruntlement among low-income participants who would rather have Medicaid and high-income participants who get no subsidy at all.

Despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, America still has about 30 million uninsured people, a number that is predicted to increase to 35 million by 2029. Conservative estimates suggest that there is one unnecessary death annually for every 830 uninsured people, meaning that America’s level of uninsurance leads to more than 35,000 unnecessary deaths every year.

Biden has centered his candidacy on his association with Barack Obama. Given this strategy, it’s no surprise that he has put out a health plan that is meant to be as similar to Obamacare as possible.

The plan keeps the current insurance regime intact while tweaking some of the rules to fix a few of the pain points identified above. He closes the hole created by some states not expanding Medicaid by enrolling everyone stuck in that hole into a new public health plan for free. He soothes the disgruntlement of high-income people who buy unsubsidized individual insurance by extending subsidies beyond 400 percent of the poverty line. And he slightly increases the subsidy amount for those buying subsidized individual insurance on the exchanges.

In addition to these rule tweaks, Biden also says that the new public option for everyone in the Medicaid hole will also be available in the individual and employer insurance markets, meaning that people in those markets can buy into that public option rather than rely on private insurance.

Biden is probably correct to say that his plan is the most similar to Obamacare. And just like Obamacare, Biden’s plan will leave a lot of Americans uninsured. Specifically, his own materials say that 3 percent of Americans will still be uninsured after his reforms, which means that about 10 million Americans will continue to lack insurance and about 12,000 will die each year due to uninsurance.

Sanders is running as a progressive democratic socialist who wants America to offer the kinds of benefits available in countries such as Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Norway, or in even less left-wing countries such as Canada. Unlike Biden, he has no need or desire to wrap himself in the policies of the Obama era and has instead come out in favor of a single-payer Medicare for All system.

Under the Sanders plan, the federal government will provide comprehensive health insurance that covers nearly everything people associate with medical care, including prescription drugs, hearing, dental, and vision. Over the course of four years, every American will be transitioned to the new public health plan. Going forward, rather than getting money to providers through a mess of leaky insurance channels, all money will flow through the single Medicare channel, which will cover everyone.

So far, Sanders has not adopted a specific set of “pay-fors” for his Medicare for All program but has instead offered up lists of funding options. Although he has remained open on the specifics of funding Medicare for All, the overall Sanders vision is pretty clear: cut overall health spending while also redistributing health spending up the ladder so that the majority of families pay less for health care than they do now.

And this plan is plausible: The right-wing Mercatus Center found in 2018 that the Sanders plan reduces overall health spending by $2 trillion in the first 10 years. The nonpartisan Rand Corporation has constructed a similar single-payer plan, with pay-fors, for New York State that would result in health-care savings for all family income-groups below 1,000 percent of the poverty line ($276,100 for a family of four).

While Sanders’s support for Medicare for All helps promote his image as a supporter of universal social programs, Warren’s support for it helps boost her brand as a smart technocrat who understands good policy design. As Paul Krugman noted in 2007, a single-payer Medicare for All system is “simpler, easier to administer, and more efficient” than the “complicated, indirect” health-care system we have now. In general, single-payer systems are beloved by the wonk set because they are the most direct and cost-effective way to provide universal health insurance to a population.

If Biden’s plan is Obamacare 2.0 and the Sanders/Warren plan is wonky universalism, then Harris’s plan is a bizarre and confusing muddle that also has come to typify her campaign. Harris is the candidate who went hard after Biden for his views on busing many decades ago and then clarified the next day that her views are the same as Biden’s. She’s the candidate who said she wanted to get rid of private insurers and raised her hand when asked if she would be willing to swap out private insurance for Medicare for All, only to walk back both statements the very next day.

Harris’s health-care proposal, which is basically Medicare Advantage for All, is similar to the Sanders plan, except it takes 10 years to phase in instead of four and allows people to opt out of the public plan in favor of a private plan with identical coverage (similar to how Medicare Advantage works today). This weird hybrid allows Harris to insist that she is for Medicare for All while also saying that she is not getting rid of private insurance.

As readers can probably guess, I favor the Sanders plan on the merits. But what matters for voters may not be the particulars, which most voters will probably never be aware of, but rather what the plans say about the candidates. Voters who want Obama 2.0 will see in Biden’s health-care plan a reassuring fidelity to his predecessor. Voters interested in universal social programs or technocratic wonkiness will have another reason to like Sanders or Warren based on their Medicare for All plan. And voters who like Harris’s style and do not care about consistency can use Harris’s triangulated health-care policy to see what they want in her.

South Africa puts initial universal healthcare cost at $17 billion

I thought that it would be a great idea to see how much other countries are paying for their health care plans. Onke Ngcuka noted that South Africa published its draft National Health Insurance (NHI) bill on Thursday, with one senior official estimating universal healthcare for millions of poorer citizens would cost about 256 billion rands ($16.89 billion) to implement by 2022.

The bill creating an NHI Fund paves the way for a comprehensive overhaul of South Africa’s health system that would be one of the biggest policy changes since the ruling African National Congress ended white minority rule in 1994.

The existing health system in Africa’s most industrialized economy reflects broader racial and social inequalities that persist more than two decades after apartheid ended.

Less than 20 percent of South Africa’s population of 58 million can afford private healthcare, while a majority of poor blacks queue at understaffed state hospitals short of equipment.

Anban Pillay, deputy director-general at the health department, told reporters an initial Treasury estimate of 206 billion rand costs by 2022 was more likely to be 256 billion rands by the time final numbers had been reviewed.

The bill proposes that the NHI Fund, with a board and chief executive officer, also be funded from additional taxes.

“The day we have all been waiting for has arrived: today the National Health Insurance Bill is being introduced in parliament,” said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize at the briefing, adding that the pooling of existing public funds should help reduce costs.

The Hospital Association of South Africa (HASA), an industry body which represents private hospital groups including Netcare, Mediclinic and Life Healthcare, welcomed the release of the bill.

“We are committed to, and supportive of, the core purpose of the legislation, which is to ensure access to quality healthcare for all South Africans,” said HASA chairman Biren Valodia in a statement.

“TAX BURDEN”

The new bill is still to be debated in parliament with public input. It is unclear how long the legislative process will take, with the main opposition party Democratic Alliance suggesting the NHI, which has been in the works for around a decade, would strain the nation’s coffers.

“The DA is convinced that instead of being a vehicle to provide quality healthcare for all, this Bill will nationalize healthcare … and be an additional tax burden to already financially-stretched South Africans,” said Siviwe Gwarube, the DA’s shadow health minister, in a statement.

Successful implementation of NHI would be a boon for President Cyril Ramaphosa following May’s election the ANC won, but its cost comes at a tricky time in a struggling economy.

South Africa’s rand fell to touch an 11-month low on Wednesday, rocked by deepening concerns about the outlook for domestic growth with unemployment at its highest in over a decade and the economy skirting recession.

New taxation options for the Fund include evaluating a surcharge on income tax and small payroll-based taxes.

“There is no doubt that taxpayers will find the additional tax burden a bitter pill to swallow,” said Aneria Bouwer, a partner and tax specialist at Bowmans law firm.

The NHI is due to be implemented in phases before full operation by 2026. The government is looking to eventually shift into the new Fund approximately 150 billion rands a year from money earmarked for the provincial government sphere.

Rural hospitals take the spotlight in the coverage expansion debate

Susannah Luthi points out a fact of these health care plans which everyone refuses to believe. Opponents of the public option have funded an analysis that warns more rural hospitals may close if Americans leave commercial plans for Medicare.

With the focus on rural hospitals, the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future brings a sensitive issue for politicians into its fight against a Medicare buy-in. The policy has gone mainstream among Democratic presidential candidates and many Democratic lawmakers.

Rural hospitals could lose between 2.3% and 14% of their revenue if the U.S. opens up Medicare to people under 65, the consulting firm Navigant projected in its estimate. The analysis assumed just 22% of the remaining 30 million uninsured Americans would choose a Medicare plan. The study based its projections of financial losses primarily on people leaving the commercial market where payment rates are significantly higher than Medicare.

The estimate assumed Medicaid wouldn’t lose anyone to Medicare and plotted out various scenarios where up to half of the commercial market would shift to Medicare.

The analysis was commissioned by the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a coalition of hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical companies fighting public option and single-payer proposals.

In their most drastic scenario of commercial insurance losses, co-authors Jeff Goldsmith and Jeff Leibach predict more than 55% of rural hospitals could risk closure, up from 21% who risk closure today according to their previous studies.

Leibach said the analysis was tailored to individual hospitals, accounting for hospitals that wouldn’t see cuts since they don’t have many commercially insured patients.

The spotlight on rural hospitals in the debate on who should pay for healthcare is common these days, particularly as politicians or the executive branch eye policies that could cut hospital or physician pay.

On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) seemingly acknowledged this when she published her own proposal to raise Medicare rates for rural hospitals as part of her goal to implement single-payer or Medicare for All. She is running for the Democratic nomination for president for the 2020 election.

“Medicare already has special designations available to rural hospitals, but they must be updated to match the reality of rural areas,” Warren said in a post announcing a rural strategy as part of her campaign platform. “I will create a new designation that reimburses rural hospitals at a higher rate, relieves distance requirements and offers the flexibility of services by assessing the needs of their communities.”

Warren is a co-sponsor of the Medicare for All legislation by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is credited with the party’s leftward shift on the healthcare coverage question. But she is trying to differentiate herself from Sanders, and the criticisms about the potentially drastic pay cuts to hospitals have dogged single-payer debates.

Most experts acknowledge the need for a significant policy overhaul that lets rural hospitals adjust their business models. Those providers tend to have aging and sick patients; high rates of uninsured and public pay patients over those covered by commercial insurance; and fewer patients overall than their urban counterparts.

But lawmakers in Washington aren’t likely to act during this Congress. The major recent changes have mostly been driven by the Trump administration, where officials just last week finalized an overhaul of the Medicare wage index to help rural hospitals.

As political rhetoric around the public option or single-payer has gone mainstream this presidential primary season, rural hospitals will likely remain a talking point in the ideas to overhaul or reorganize the U.S.’s $3.3 trillion healthcare industry.

This was in evidence in May, when the House Budget Committee convened a hearing on Medicare for All to investigate some of the fiscal impacts. One Congressional Budget Office official said rural hospitals with mostly Medicaid, Medicare, and uninsured patients could actually see a boost in a redistribution of doctor and hospital pay.

But the CBO didn’t analyze specific legislation and offered a vague overview of how a single-payer system might look, rather than giving exact numbers.

The plight of rural hospitals has been used in lobbying tactics throughout this year — in Congress’ fight over how to end surprise medical bills as well as opposition to hospital contracting reforms proposed in the Senate.

And it has worked to some extent. Both House and Senate committees have made concessions to their surprise billing proposals to mollify some lawmakers’ worries.

New research finds restructuring Medicare Shared Savings Program can yield 40% savings in healthcare costs, bolstering payments to providers

As I reviewed in the last few posts, the evaluation of Medicare was underestimated regarding the cost of the program many times.  Ashley Smith reported that more than a trillion dollars were spent on healthcare in the United States in 2018, with Medicare and Medicaid accounting for some 37% of those expenditures. With healthcare costs expected to continue to rise by roughly 5% per year, a continued debate in healthcare policy is how to reduce costs without compromising quality.

As part of this effort, the Medicare Shared Savings Program was created to control escalating Medicare spending by giving healthcare providers incentives to deliver more efficient healthcare.

New research published in the INFORMS journal Operations Research offers a new approach that could substantially change the healthcare spending paradigm by utilizing performance-based incentives to drive down spending.

The researchers Anil Aswani and Zuo-Jun (Max) Shen of the University of California, Berkeley, and Auyon Siddiq of the University of California, Los Angeles found that redesigning the contract for the shared savings program to better align provider incentives with performance-based subsidies can both increase Medicare savings and increase providers’ reimbursement payments.

“Introducing performance-based subsidies can boost Medicare savings by up to 40% without compromising provider participation in the shared savings program,” said Aswani, a professor in the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research Department at UC Berkeley. “This contract can lead to improved outcomes for both Medicare and participating providers,” he continued.

So, again Medicare will be tweaked and reworked for the present aging population.

What will happen with the Medicare program if it applies to all and at what cost?

And finally, we physicians are on the front lines of caring for patients affected by the intentional or unintentional firearm-related injury. We care for those who experience a lifetime of physical and mental disability related to firearm injury and provides support for families affected by firearm-related injury and death. Physicians are the ones who inform families when their loved ones die as a result of the firearm-related injury. Firearm violence directly impacts physicians, their colleagues, and their families. In a recent survey of trauma surgeons, one-third of respondents had themselves been injured or had a family member or close friend(s) injured or killed by a firearm (38). As with other public health crises, firearm-related injury and death are preventable. The medical profession has an obligation to advocate for changes to reduce the burden of firearm-related injuries and death on our patients, their families, our communities, our colleagues, and our society. Our organizations are committed to working with all stakeholders to identify reasonable, evidence-based solutions to stem firearm-related injury and death and will continue to speak out on the need to address the public health threat of firearms and I will discuss this in more detail in the following weeks.

First, we have to ignore the NRA and make a difference in order to decrease the increasing gun violence!!!!! I predict that if the President and the Republican Senate doesn’t make inroads they are doomed to fail in the 2020 election.

 

 

Medicare for All, funding and ‘impossible promises’ deeply divide Democrats during 2020 debate; and How Many More Shootings of Innocent people Can Our Society Tolerate?

 

promise312What a horrible week it has been! The debates were an embarrassment for all, both Democrats as well as everyone else. Who among those twenty who were on stage, spouting impossible strategies, attacking each other and in general making fools of themselves.

But the worst was the mass shootings this past weekend. Why should anybody be allowed to own assault weapons? We all need to finally do something about this epidemic of mass shootings. How many more innocent people do we have to lose before the Republicans, as well as the Democrats and our President, work together to solve this problem.

As the President of the American Medical Association stated:

“The devastating gun violence tragedies in our nation this weekend are heartbreaking to physicians across America. We see the victims in our emergency departments and deliver trauma care to the injured, provide psychiatric care to the survivors, and console the families of the deceased. The frequency and scale of these mass shootings demand action.

“Everyone in America, including immigrants, aspires to the ideals of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Those shared values – not hatred or division – are the guiding light for efforts to achieve a more perfect union.

“Common-sense steps, broadly supported by the American public, must be advanced by policymakers to prevent avoidable deaths and injuries caused by gun violence. We must also address the pathology of hatred that has too often fueled these mass murders and casualties.”

Brittany De Lea when reviewing the Democrat presidential hopefuls noted that Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential election spent a sizable amount of time during the second round of debates detailing the divide over how the party plans to reform the U.S. health care system – while largely avoiding to address how they would pay for their individual proposals.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren dodged a point-blank question from moderators as to whether middle-class families would pay more in taxes in order to fund a transition to a Medicare for All system.

Instead, she said several times that “giant corporations” and “billionaires” would pay more. She noted that “total costs” for middle-class households would go down.

Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said during the first round of Democratic debates in Miami that taxes on middle-class families would rise but added that those costs would be offset by lower overall health care costs. Warren seemed to refer to this plan of action also.

Sanders and Warren quickly became targets on the debate stage for his proposed plan, which she supports, to transition to a Medicare for All system where there is no role for private insurers.

Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney (and even though I am not a big fan of Mr. Delaney, he is the only one that makes any sense with regard to health care) said Sanders’ plan would lead to an “underfunded system,” where wealthy people would be able to access care at the expense of everyone else. He also said hospitals would be forced to close.

Delaney asked why the party had to be “so extreme,” adding that the Democrats’ health care debate may not be so much about health care as it was an “anti-private sector strategy.” In his opening statement, he appeared to throw jabs at Sanders and Warren for “impossible promises” that would get Trump reelected.

Former Texas lawmaker Beto O’Rourke said taxes would not rise on middle-class taxpayers, but he also does not believe in taking away people’s choice for the private insurance they have.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said there needed to be a public option, as did former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg thought the availability of a public alternative would incentivize people to walk away from their workplace plans.

Earlier this week, California Sen. Kamala Harris unveiled her vision for a transition to a Medicare for All system over a 10-year phase-in period, which called for no tax increase on families earning less than $100,000. She instead said a Wall Street financial transaction tax would help fund the proposal.

Harris is scheduled to appear during Wednesday’s night debate in Detroit, alongside former Vice President Joe Biden whose campaign has already criticized her health care plan.

Health care comes in focus, this time as a risk for Democrats

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reported that the Democratic presidential candidates are split over eliminating employer-provided health insurance under “Medicare for All.”

The risk is that history has shown voters are wary of disruptions to job-based insurance, the mainstay of coverage for Americans over three generations.

Those divisions were on display in the two Democratic debates this week, with Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren calling for a complete switch to government-run health insurance for all. In rebuttal, former Vice President Joe Biden asserted, “Obamacare is working” and promised to add a public option. Sen. Kamala Harris was in the middle with a new Medicare for All concept that preserves private insurance plans employers could sponsor and phases in more gradually. Other candidates fall along that spectrum.

The debates had the feel of an old video clip for Jim McDermott, a former Democratic congressman from Washington state who spent most of his career trying to move a Sanders-style “single-payer” plan and now thinks Biden is onto something.

“There is a principle in society and in human beings that says the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know,” said McDermott, a psychiatrist before becoming a politician. “I was a single-payer advocate since medical school. But I hit every rock in the road trying to get it done. This idea that you are going to take out what is known and replace it with a new government program — that’s dead on arrival.”

Warren, D-Mass., was having none of that talk Monday night on the debate stage. “Democrats win when we figure out what is right, and we get out there and fight for it,” she asserted.

Confronting former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., a moderate, Warren said, “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for. … I don’t get it.”

Here’s a look at options put forward by Democrats and the employer-based system that progressives would replace:

MEDICARE FOR ALL

The Medicare for All plan advocated by Sanders and Warren would replace America’s hybrid system of employer, government and individual coverage with a single government plan paid for by taxes. Benefits would be comprehensive, and everybody would be covered, but the potential cost could range from $30 trillion to $40 trillion over 10 years. It would be unlawful for private insurers or employers to offer coverage for benefits provided under the government plan.

“If you want stability in the health care system, if you want a system which gives you freedom of choice with regard to doctor or hospital, which is a system which will not bankrupt you, the answer is to get rid of the profiteering of the drug companies and the insurance companies,” said Sanders, a Vermont senator.

BUILDING ON OBAMACARE

On the other end is the Biden plan, which would boost the Affordable Care Act and create a new public option enabling people to buy subsidized government coverage.

“The way to build this and get to it immediately is to build on Obamacare,” he said.

The plan wouldn’t cover everyone, but the Biden campaign says it would reach 97% of the population, up from about 90% currently. The campaign says it would cost $750 billion over 10 years. Biden would leave employer insurance largely untouched.

Other moderate candidates take similar approaches. For example, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet’s plan is built on a Medicare buy-in initially available in areas that have a shortage of insurers or high costs.

THE NEW ENTRANT

The Harris plan is the new entrant, a version of Medicare for All that preserves a role for private plans closely regulated by the government and allows employers to sponsor such plans. The campaign says it would cover everybody. The total cost is uncertain, but Harris says she would not raise taxes on households making less than $100,000.

“It’s time that we separate employers from the kind of health care people get. And under my plan, we do that,” Harris said.

Harris’ plan might well reduce employer coverage, while Sanders’ plan would replace it. Either would be a momentous change.

Job-based coverage took hold during the World War II years, when the government encouraged employers and unions to settle on health care benefits instead of wage increases that could feed inflation. According to the Congressional Budget Office, employers currently cover about 160 million people under age 65 — or about half the population.

A poll this week from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation underscored the popularity of employer coverage. Among people 18-64 with workplace plans, 86% rated their coverage as good or excellent.

Republicans already have felt the backlash from trying to tamper with employer coverage.

As the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, the Arizona Sen. John McCain proposed replacing the long-standing tax-free status of employer health care with a tax credit that came with some limits. McCain’s goal was to cut spending and expand access. But Democrats slammed it as a tax on health insurance, and it contributed to McCain’s defeat by Barack Obama.

“The potential to change employer-sponsored insurance in any way was viewed extremely negatively by the public,” said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who served as McCain’s policy director. “That is the Achilles’ heel of Medicare for All — no question about it.”

These Are the Health-Care Questions That Matter Most

Max Nisen then noted that Health care got headline billing at both of this week’s second round of Democratic presidential debates. Unfortunately for voters, neither was very illuminating.

The biggest culprit was the format. Jumping between 10 candidates every 30 seconds made any substantive debate and discussion impossible. The moderators also deserve blame; they asked myopic questions intended to provoke conflict instead of getting any new information. And the candidates didn’t exactly help; there was a lot of sniping and not a lot of clear explanation of what they wanted to do.

The next debates may well be an improvement, as a more stringent cutoff should help to narrow the field and give candidates added time to engage in thoughtful discourse. Regardless, here are the issues that matter, and should be at the heart of any discussion:

The issue of how candidates would propose paying for their various health-care plans has been framed in the debates by the question, “Will you raise middle-class taxes?” That’s a limited and unhelpful approach. Raising taxes shouldn’t be a yes or no question; it’s a trade-off. Americans already pay a lot for health care in the form of premiums, deductibles, co-payments, and doctor’s bills. Why is that regressive system, which rations care by income, different or better than a more progressive tax?  Insurer and drug maker profits, both of which got airtime at the debates, are only a part of the problem when it comes to America’s high health costs.  The disproportionately high prices Americans pay for care are a bigger issue. What we pay hospitals and doctors, and how we can bring those costs down, are crucial issues that the candidates have barely discussed. What’s their plan there? The first round of debates saw the moderators ask candidates to raise their hands if they would eliminate private health coverage. Round two did essentially the same thing without the roll call. The idea of wiping out private insurance seems to be a flashpoint, but there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in questioning the merits of the current, mostly employer-based system. It’s no utopia. Americans unwillingly lose or change employer coverage all the time, and our fragmented system does an awful job of keeping costs down. People who support eliminating or substantially reducing the role of private coverage deserve scrutiny, but so do those who want to retain it. What’s so great about the status quo?

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 12.14.52 AM

As the field narrows, voters need specifics. A chunk of the field has been remarkably vague. Answers to these questions could offer some clarity:

For Senator Elizabeth Warren: Are there any differences between your vision of “Medicare for All” and Senator Bernie Sanders’s? There’s wiggle room here; his plan is more expansive (and expensive) than single-payer systems in countries like Canada.  For Senator Kamala Harris: What will your plan cover and how much will it cost? The skeletal outline of Harris’s plan lacks details on premiums and what patients would have to pay for out of pocket. She didn’t clarify matters at the debate.  For former Vice President Joe Biden: Will people with access to employer insurance be eligible for subsidies in your public option plan? If the answer is no or restrictive, his public option could have a relatively limited impact. It the answer is yes, his $750 billion cost estimate should head to the dustbin.  For the morass of candidates who pay lip service to Medicare for All but want to keep private insurance but don’t have a specific plan: What exactly do you want?

Health care is the most important issue for Democrats, according to polling. We need to find a way to have a discussion that does it justice.

Democrats’ Health-Care Feud Eclipses Message That Won in 2018

So, what have we learned from these debates? John Tozl realizes that in the four evenings of Democratic presidential debates since June, one phrase appeared for the first time on Wednesday: “pre-existing conditions.”

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker uttered it in his remarks on health care, chiding fellow Democrats for their infighting as Republicans wage a legal battle to undo the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits insurers from charging people more for being sick.

“The person who is enjoying this debate the most tonight is Donald Trump,” he said. “There is a court case working through the system that’s going to gut the Affordable Care Act and actually gut protections on pre-existing conditions,” Booker said, citing litigation in which the Trump administration and Republican-controlled states seeking to strike down Obamacare.

Over two nights this week, the 20 candidates spent at least an hour fiercely arguing over health-care plans, most of which are significantly more expansive than what the party enacted a decade ago in the Affordable Care Act. It’s a sign of how important the issue will be in the bid to unseat Trump, and how the party’s position has shifted leftward.

In November, Democrats won control of the House on the strength of their message to protect people with pre-existing conditions. That provision, a fundamental change to America’s private insurance market, is central to the ACA, the party’s most significant domestic policy achievement in a generation.

Booker’s attempt to unify his fractious colleagues against their common opponent stood out, because most of the discussion of health care, which kicked off the debate as it did on Tuesday, but the party’s divisions into sharp focus.

Biden v. Harris

Senator Kamala Harris of California and former Vice President Joe Biden tried to discredit each other’s proposals. Biden says he wants to build on the Affordable Care Act while expanding access to health insurance through a public insurance option.

Harris, in a plan, unveiled this week, likewise favors a public option but wants to sever the link between employment and health insurance, allowing people instead to buy into public or private versions of Medicare, the federal health-care program for seniors.

Harris took Biden to task over a plan that fails to insure everyone, saying his plan would leave 10 million people without insurance.

“For a Democrat to be running for president in America with a plan that does not cover everyone, I think is without excuse,” she said.

Biden accused Harris of having had “several plans so far” and called her proposal a budget-buster that would kick people off health plans they like.

“You can’t beat President Trump with double-talk on this plan,” he said.

Other candidates split along similar lines, with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet saying Harris’s proposal “bans employer-based insurance and taxes the middle class to the tune of $30 trillion.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio argued for a more sweeping approach, like the Medicare for All policies embraced by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

“I don’t understand why Democrats on this stage are fear-mongering about universal health care,” he said. “Why are we not going to be the party that does something bold, that says we don’t need to depend on private insurance?”

How Bold?

The question any candidate will eventually have to answer is how bold a plan they believe voters in a general election want.

In 2018, Democrats running for Congress attacked Republicans for trying to repeal the ACA and then, when that failed, asking courts to find it unconstitutional. Scrapping the law would mean about 20 million people lose health insurance.

About two-thirds of the public, including half of Republicans, say preserving protections for people with pre-existing conditions is important, according to polls by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health research group.

More than a quarter of adults under 65 have pre-existing conditions, Kaiser estimates.

But that message has been mostly absent from the primary debates, where health-care talk highlights the divisions between the party’s progressive left-wing and its more moderate center.

Warren and Sanders weren’t on stage Wednesday, but their presence was looming. They’re both leading candidates and have deeply embraced Medicare for All plans that replace private insurance with a government plan. Bernie is an idiot, especially in his come back that he knows about Medicare for All since he wrote the bill. He has no idea of the far-reaching effect of Medicare for all. Our practice just reviewed our payments from Medicare over the last few years as well as the continued discounts that are applied to our services and noted that if we had to count on Medicare as our only health care payer that we as well as many rural hospitals would go out of business.

I refer you all back to John Delaney’s responses to the Medicare for All discussion. In the middle of a vigorous argument over Medicare for All during the Democratic debate tonight, former Representative John Delaney pointed out the reason he doesn’t support moving all Americans onto Medicare: It generally pays doctors and hospitals less than private-insurance companies do.

Because of that, some have predicted that if private insurance ends, and Medicare for All becomes the law of the land, many hospitals will close, because they simply won’t be able to afford to stay open at Medicare’s rates. Fact-checkers have pointed out that while some hospitals would do worse under Medicare for All, some would do better. But Delaney insisted tonight that all the hospital administrators he’s spoken with have said they would close if they were paid at the Medicare rate for every bill.

Whichever candidate emerges from the primary will have to take their health plans not just to fervent Democrats, but to a general electorate as well.

More on Medicare

If you remember from last week I reviewed the inability of our federal designers to accurately estimate the cost of the Medicare program and the redesign expanding the Medicaid programs mandating the states expand their Medicaid programs to provide comprehensive coverage for all the medically needy by 1977.

The additional provision of the 1972 legislation was the establishment of the Professional Standards Review Organizations (PSROs), whose function it was to assume responsibility for monitoring the costs, degree of utilization, and quality of care of medical services offered under Medicare and Medicaid. It was hoped that these PSROs would compel hospitals to act more efficiently. In keeping with this set of goals, in 1974 a reimbursement cap was instituted that limited hospitals from charging more than 120 percent of the mean of routine costs in effect in similar facilities, a limit eventually reduced to 112 percent named as Section 223 limits. But despite these attempts at holding down costs, they continued to escalate inasmuch as hospitals were still reimbursed on the basis of their expenses and the caps that were instituted applied only to room and board and not to ancillary services, which remained unregulated.

Now think about the same happening on a bigger scale with the proposed Medicare for All. Those that are proposing this “Grand Plan” need to understand the complexities issues, which need to be considered before touting the superiority of such a plan. Otherwise, the plan will fail!! Stop your sputtering arrogance Bernie, Kamala, and Elizabeth, etc. Get real and do you research, your homework before you yell and scream!!!!!!

More to Come!

Governors Weigh Health Care Plans as They Await Court Ruling, the Future of the ACA and San Francisco Experience with Healthcare Insurance and, Yes, More on Medicare

Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 8.29.30 PMBrady McCombs reported that as they gather at a conference in Utah, governors from around the U.S. are starting to think about what they will do if an appeals court upholds a lower court ruling overturning former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

More than 20 million Americans would be at risk of losing their health insurance if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with a Texas-based federal judge who declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional last December because Congress had eliminated an unpopular tax is imposed on people who did not buy insurance.

The final word on striking down the law will almost certainly come from the Supreme Court, which has twice upheld the 2010 legislation.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, signed a bill earlier this year prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage to patients due to pre-existing conditions, a pre-emptive move in case the Affordable Care Act was struck down.

He said this week in Salt Lake City at the summer meeting of the National Governors Association that he would ask his recently created patient protection commission to come up with recommendations for how to ensure patients don’t lose coverage if the law is overturned, which would impact about 200,000 people enrolled in Medicaid expansion in Nevada.

“To rip that away from them would be devastating to a lot of families,” Sisolak said.

Nevada is among a coalition of 20 Democratic-leaning states led by California that appealed the lower court ruling and is urging the appeals court to keep the law intact.

At a news conference Thursday, Democrats touted the protections they’ve passed to prevent people from losing health coverage.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed laws this year that enshrine provisions of the Affordable Care Act into state law, including guarantees to insurance coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and access to contraception without cost-sharing. She said half of the state’s residents use Medicaid, prompting New Mexico officials to research creating a state-based health care system.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said his state is already deep in contingency planning because five million people could lose health insurance if the law is struck down and the state doesn’t have enough money to make up for the loss of federal funds. He said the decision this year to tax people who don’t have health insurance, a revival of the so-called individual mandate stripped from Obama’s model, was the first step. That tax will help pay for an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, the joint state, and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

Newsom said the state is looking at Massachusetts’ state-run health care program and investigating if a single-payer model would work as possible options if the law were spiked.

“The magnitude is jaw-dropping,” Newsom said. “You can’t sit back passively and react to it.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said states need Congress to be ready to quickly pass a new health care plan if the court overturns Obama’s law since doing so would cut off federal funding for Medicaid expansion.

A court decision in March blocked Arkansas from enforcing work requirements for its Medicaid expansion program, which has generated seemingly annual debate in that state’s Legislature about whether to continue the program.

“Congress can’t just leave that out there hanging,” Hutchinson said.

The 2018 lawsuit that triggered the latest legal battle over the Affordable Care Act was filed by a coalition of 18 Republican-leaning states including Arkansas, Arizona, and Utah.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said he wants to see how the court rules before he makes any decisions about how his state would deal with the loss of Medicaid funds but that Arizona has backup funds available.

“They’re going to rule how they’re going to rule and we’ll deal with the outcome,” Ducey said. “The best plans are to have dollars available.”

It is unknown when the three-judge panel will rule.

The government said in March that 11.4 million people signed up for health care via provisions of the Affordable Care Act during open enrollment season, a dip of about 300,000 from last year.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said if the law is overturned, it would provide a perfect opportunity for Congress to try to craft a better program with support from both political parties.

He said his state, which rolled out its partial Medicaid expansion in April, probably will not start working on a contingency plan for people who would lose coverage until the appeals court rules.

“It’s been talked about for so long, people are saying ‘Why to worry about it until it happens?'” Herbert said. “I think there’s a little bit more of a lackadaisical thought process going on.”

President Donald Trump, who never produced a health insurance plan to replace Obama’s health care plan, is now promising one after the elections.

Newsom warned Americans not to rely on that.

“God knows they have no capacity to deal with that,” Newsom said. “The consequences would be profound and pronounced.”

Appeals Court Judges Appear Skeptical About ACA’s Future

Alicia Ault noted that if its line of questioning serves as a barometer, a three-judge panel of the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals here seemed to be more favorably inclined toward the arguments of a group of 18 Republican states and two individuals seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) than to those bent on defending the law.

“I think the plaintiffs had a better day than the defendants,” Josh Blackman, an associate professor of law at the South Texas College of Law, Houston, told Medscape Medical News.

“I think they found that the plaintiffs had standing,” said Blackman, who attended the arguments. The judges also seemed to believe the plaintiffs have been injured by the ACA, and that the individual mandate still demanded that people buy health insurance, even though Congress has eliminated the penalty, he said.

“Short news is it went very badly,” said Ian Millhiser, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, on Twitter, after attending the hearing.

“The two Republican judges appear determined to strike Obamacare,” he said, adding, “There is a chance they will be too embarrassed to do so, but don’t bet on it.”

At the outset, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod asked Samuel Siegel, a lawyer with the California Department of Justice representing the 20 states and Washington, DC, who are defending the ACA, “If you no longer have the tax, why isn’t [the ACA] unconstitutional?”

Only two of the three judges on the panel asked questions during the 1-hour-and-46-minute hearing — Elrod, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007, and Kurt Engelhardt, appointed by President Donald J. Trump in 2018. Carolyn Dineen King, appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, did not ask a single question.

The defendants — led by California — were first to argue. They were given 45 minutes to make their case that District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas had erred in December when he ruled that the ACA should be struck down because Congress had eliminated the penalty associated with the requirement that individuals buy health insurance.

Essentially, said Judge O’Connor, the mandate could not be severed from the rest of the ACA. O’Connor did not grant the plaintiffs’ request that the ACA be halted while the case made its way through the courts.

The plaintiffs — led by Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins — also had 45 minutes before the appellate court judges.

Is the ACA Now a “Three-Legged Stool?”

Both Judges Elrod and Engelhardt interrupted Siegel several times while arguing for the ACA to ask him to explain why California and the other states had the standing to defend the federal law. Siegel said that if the law were to be struck down it would cost the defendants hundreds of billions of dollars.

The two judges seemed intent on getting both sides to explain why Congress would have eliminated the penalty that went along with the individual mandate but left the rest of the law standing. The plaintiffs contend that the law could not be severed into parts, that it lived or died with the mandate and its penalty.

When asked to assess congressional intent, Hawkins said, “I’m not in the position to psychoanalyze Congress.” But he said the US Supreme Court had already settled the question, ruling in King v Burwell that the ACA was like a three-legged stool without the penalty. And, he said, even without the penalty, the individual mandate remained part of the law, which he called “a command to buy insurance.”

Douglas Letter, the general counsel to the US House of Representatives, arguing in defense of the ACA, said the opposite: that the Supreme Court had determined in NFIB v Sebelius that the ACA presented a choice of buying health insurance or facing a penalty. Without the penalty, “The choice is still there,” said Letter, adding that individuals could choose to maintain insurance or not.

“We know definitively that ‘shall’ in this provision does not mean must,” Letter said.

Engelhardt disagreed and said that Congress perhaps should have revised the ACA after the penalty was removed. He also asked Letter why the Senate was not also a party to the defense of the ACA. “They’re sort of the 800-pound gorilla not in the room,” Engelhardt said.

What’s Next?

The judges are not expected to rule for several months and will be addressing several issues, including whether the Democratic states and the House of Representatives have proper standing to defend the law and whether the plaintiffs have the standing to challenge the law.

They also will address whether the individual mandate is still constitutional, and if the mandate is ruled unconstitutional, whether it can be severed from the rest of the ACA, or, on the other hand, whether other provisions of the ACA also must be invalidated, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The court could dismiss the appeal and vacate O’Connor’s judgment, “in which case there wouldn’t be any decision in the case at all,” Timothy S. Jost, professor emeritus at the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia, told Medscape Medical News ahead of today’s hearing.

At the hearing, Texas’ Hawkins said it was wrong to say the plaintiffs were trying to strike the law. “There’s an erasure fallacy,” he told the judges. “We’re not asking the court to erase anything.”

Still, O’Connor did say in his ruling that the ACA was unconstitutional. The Trump administration announced in March that it would not defend the law, but said it would continue to enforce the ACA. August E. Flentje, a US Department of Justice lawyer, reiterated that position at the Fifth District hearing today.

But, in a briefing before the hearing, the administration argued that, if ultimately the law is ruled unconstitutional, it should only be struck down in the states seeking to overturn the law. Any ultimate judgment “should not declare a provision unlawful if it doesn’t impact the plaintiff,” Flentje said.

Douglas Letter, for the defendants, was agog. “The DOJ position makes no sense,” he said, noting, for instance, that that would mean that the US Food and Drug Administration — which is required to speed biosimilar drugs to market under the ACA — would approve drugs in California, but not Arizona.

Elrod pressed the point by asking Flentje, “What is the government planning to do?” if the ACA is halted.

“A lot of this has to get sorted out — it’s complicated,” he said.

Despite the outcome of today’s hearings, the case is still ultimately expected to go before the Supreme Court again, according to multiple legal experts.

Advocates: The Stakes Are Astronomical

Shortly after the hearing ended, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a statement predicting disaster for American healthcare if the appeals court agrees that the ACA is unconstitutional. If that happens, “Millions of Americans could be forced to delay, skip, or forego potentially life-saving healthcare,” he said.

“Our state coalition made it clear: on top of risking lives, gutting the law would sow chaos in our entire healthcare system,” Becerra said, vowing to “fight the Trump administration tooth and nail.”

Physicians, consumer and patient advocates, and healthcare groups have voiced their support of the law through friend-of-the-court briefs, starting in June 2018, when the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry joined together in a brief.

Other organizations have also voiced their support for the ACA through amicus briefs, including: the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Association of American Medical Colleges, Americas Health Insurance Plans, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Families USA, AARP, the Children’s Partnership, 483 federally recognized tribal nations, and 35 cities, counties, and towns.

A coalition led by the American Cancer Society, and including the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Epilepsy Foundation, the Hemophilia Federation of America, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the March of Dimes, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, the National Hemophilia Foundation, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and The Kennedy Forum also filed an amicus brief and issued a joint statement ahead of the hearing.

“If allowed to stand, the lower court’s ruling would once again mean people could be charged more or denied coverage based on their health history,” said the statement. “Insurance plans could impose arbitrary annual and lifetime limits on patients’ coverage and could exclude whole categories of care — like prescription drugs — from their plans,” they said, adding that striking the law from the books would jeopardize tax credits used by 8 million Americans to buy health insurance on the individual market.

Millions more could be dropped from Medicaid, the coalition stated. In total, the groups said that some 27 million people could lose health insurance — a figure they said was calculated by the Congressional Budget Office.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that 19 million people could lose insurance. Also at stake: requiring private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid expansion coverage of preventive services with no cost-sharing, and a phase-out of the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” coverage gap.

“All of these provisions could be overturned if the trial court’s decision is upheld, and it would be enormously complex to disentangle them from the overall health care system,” Kaiser said.

The Urban Institute estimated that if the ACA were overturned, the number of uninsured would increase by 65% — 20 million people; state spending on Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would fall by $9.6 billion — and that uncompensated care would rise by $50.2 billion, an increase of 82%.

Health Insurance for All: Learning From San Francisco

This last article is an interview with Dr. George Lundberg and the San Francisco healthcare insurance. Hello and welcome. I’m Dr. George Lundberg and this is At Large at Medscape.

You can pay me now or you can pay me later. Perhaps best known as a commercial promoting automobile maintenance, this statement could also apply to healthcare.

Everybody gets sick. If left alone, most acute human maladies fix themselves (automobiles don’t), but people with chronic diseases do better if managed sensibly, including with professional help. Some serious illnesses are fully preventable. The effects of many potentially serious diseases can be ameliorated by early diagnosis and intervention.

Who pays? In whose best interest is it for payment to be assured?

Medical expense insurance in the United States began in Dallas, Texas, in 1929 and Sacramento, California, in 1932. Hospitals needed to be paid; surgeons were particularly motivated early on to assure not only that patients who needed surgery would get it, but also that the surgeons would get paid. Surgical fees often exceeded more typical fees for medical care, so out-of-pocket costs (the normal way doctors and hospitals were paid back then) were more difficult for many patients to afford. Usual medical care did not cost much, but then again, neither did it offer much.

Growing up in small-town, lower Alabama in the 1930s and ’40s, I did not know anyone who had medical expense insurance. Oddly, many people had burial insurance, which was aggressively marketed and sold.

Once medical (health) insurance became common, medical services (and costs) increased and then flourished—an early example of supply-induced demand. Of course, there were benefits for many.

The enactment of Medicare and Medicaid legislation poured gasoline on the already upward-spiraling healthcare cost fire. That is how we arrived at nearly 20% of the US annual gross domestic product going to healthcare.

Our American Medical Association actually warned the country about that risk.[1] The incipient medical-industrial complex developed an insatiable capacity to transfer money by greatly increasing costs, often to gain small, incremental improvements.

Yet, lifesaving medical and surgical interventions do occur, they are often expensive, and someone has to pay for them. Ergo, health insurance. Everyone should have it. Why not?

I live in Silicon Valley. Many of the key innovations that have revolutionized how the world functions day by day have been begun and are headquartered here. Think Google, Apple, Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, Twitter, YouTube, Salesforce, Oracle, Intel, Cisco, Netflix, etc.

So why would it not make sense for San Francisco to pioneer healthcare for all via innovation?

Residents of San Francisco are expected to have health insurance coverage via employment-based insurance, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Medi-Cal, if eligible, just like all other Americans, with all the pluses and minuses of those programs. But if they don’t, Healthy San Francisco is available regardless of immigration status, employment status, or preexisting medical conditions.

The 2008 Health Care Security Ordinance created the authority that underpins the Healthy San Francisco program. It requires businesses to pay a minimum set amount of money on healthcare benefits for their employees.

Restaurant users learn of this expense of doing business by seeing the note, “In response to employer mandates, including the San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance, a 4% surcharge will be added to all food and beverage sales.”

Healthy San Francisco is administered by the San Francisco Department of Public Health and delivered via designated Medical Homes. Eligible annual income is set at 500% of the federal poverty limit.

Health insurance is not, a panacea it is not. It is a safety net below the other safety nets. By July 2010, 50,000 people had enrolled, but by 2019, that number declined to about 14,000. The drop probably represents both low unemployment and the success of California’s robust implementation of the ACA via Covered California.

Any other city or county in the United States that would like to provide economic access to basic medical care for its people, without such care being forgone, termed charity, or simply written off as bad debt by providers, could do well by learning from San Francisco’s experience.

Read through the last few paragraphs, especially as we consider elimination, i.e. the uncertain future of the ACA and the possibility of Medicare for All. Also, as I have pointed out in the past few weeks as I have discussed the history of Medicare and Medicaid remember the inability of the administration to accurately predict the true costs. The following addition to the discussion on Medicare and Medicaid will further emphasize the huge costs and expenses of the programs. The next question would be how would the additional up-ward healthcare spiraling costs/expenses be paid for.

Back to our Medicare and Medicaid discussion:

Remember as I just mentioned, that last week I discussed the underestimation of the Medicare program and even more increases which occurred in the Medicaid program. Remember also that because of the wording of Title XIX where the federal government had an open-ended obligation to help underwrite the costs of medical care for the wide range of services to such a large number of recipients, which made it very difficult to accurately predict the ultimate cost.

Then in 1965, the House Ways and Means Committee had estimated that if all of the states were to take advantage of the Medicaid program, including all of the services, that the additional federal costs of medical assistance would amount to $238,000,000. However, in the fiscal year 1967, the total cost of Medicaid payments amounted to $1,944,000,000. Realize that half of these payments were federal funds and realize that the program was operating in only twenty-eight states. Also, interestingly even with the decline in usage and expenditures of other programs by the end of the year 1968 forty-one states had opted into the Medicaid program the total expenditures amounted to $3,783,000,000. Compare this to the total federal outlays for all medical assistance programs in the fiscal year 1965, prior to the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid, amounted to $1,239,000,000.

The goal of the House and Ways Committee when they met in 1971 discussed the need to contain the spiraling costs of Medicare and Medicaid. Members of the individuals testifying were members of the Nixon administration who suggested a whole series of cost-control measures, among them that the new legislation promote a system of capitation payments to health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and that Medicaid introduces cost-sharing while Medicare expands its own cost-sharing policies. Interestingly many of these cost-saving recommendations eventually found their way into the final bill to reform these programs, which became law in October1972.

So, among these changes to the Medicare program was:

  • The inclusion of the totally disabled as eligible for Medicare benefits. Workers of any age and widows and disabled dependent widowers over the age of fifty were eligible to receive Medicare benefits after having received APTD (Aid to Permanently and Totally Disabled) assistance for twenty-four months. This added approximately 1,700,000 beneficiaries to Medicare rolls and was the first instance of any group under the age of sixty-five being made eligible benefits;
  • Beneficiaries of Part B (Supplementary Medical Insurance) who otherwise were ineligible for Part A (Hospital Insurance) by virtue of not qualifying for Social Security coverage could now voluntarily enroll in Part A by paying a monthly premium;
  • Provision was made for capitation payments to HMOs and certain limits were placed on the items that a health care facility could include in calculating its cost.

However, the most significant change in the Medicare program contained in the 1972 amendments was the repeal of a provision contained in the original legislation that made it mandatory that each state expands its Medicaid program each year until it offered comprehensive coverage for all the medically needy by 1977. Remember that when Medicare and Medicaid were first introduced, Congress had hoped to establish a universal hospital and medical insurance scheme for the needy using Medicaid as its foundation but largely as a result of the swelling costs of the program this design was abandoned in1972.

So, let’s see how this week’s set of debates evolve as the candidates make more promises for the answer to the health care problem. How will Kamala Harris pay for her health care system and will private insurance be a thing of the past?

2020 Dems Grapple with How to Pay for ‘Medicare for All’ and the Biden and Sanders Argument, and Yes, More on Medicare

rights328I recently spoke with a friend in the political world of Washington and his comment was that “there is a war here in D.C.” After listening to whatever news reports that you and yes I, listen to I can certainly believe it!! I’m wondering who is really in charge!!

Reporter Elena Schor noticed that the Democratic presidential candidates trying to appeal to progressive voters with a call for “Medicare for All” are wrestling with the thorny question of how to pay for such a dramatic overhaul of the U.S. health care system.

Bernie Sanders, the chief proponent of Medicare for All, says such a remodel could cost up to $40 trillion over a decade. He’s been the most direct in talking about how he’d cover that eye-popping amount, including considering a tax hike on the middle class in exchange for healthcare without co-payments or deductibles — which, he contends, would ultimately cost Americans less than the current healthcare system.

His rivals who also support Medicare for All, however, have offered relatively few firm details so far about how they’d pay for a new government-run, a single-payer system beyond raising taxes on top earners. As the health care debate dominates the early days of the Democratic primary, some experts say candidates won’t be able to duck the question for long.

“It’s not just the rich” who would be hit with new cost burdens to help make single-payer health insurance a reality, said John Holahan, a health policy fellow at the nonpartisan Urban Institute think tank. Democratic candidates campaigning on Medicare for All should offer more specificity about how they would finance it, Holahan added.

Sanders himself has not thrown his weight behind a single strategy to pay for his plan, floating a list of options that include a 7.5% payroll tax on employers and higher taxes on the wealthy. But his list amounts to a more public explanation of how he would pay for Medicare for All than what other Democratic presidential candidates who also back his single-payer legislation have offered.

Kamala Harris, who has repeatedly tried to clarify her position on Medicare for All, vowed this week she wouldn’t raise middle-class taxes to pay for a shift to single-payer coverage. The California senator told CNN that “part of it is going to have to be about Wall Street paying more.”

Her contention prompted criticism that she wasn’t being realistic about what it would take to pay for Medicare for All. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a rival Democratic presidential candidate, said Harris’ claim that Medicare for All would not involve higher taxes on the middle class was “impossible,” though he stopped short of calling her dishonest and said only that candidates “need to be clear” about their policies.

A Harris aide later said she had suggested a tax on Wall Street transactions as only one potential way to finance Medicare for All, and that other options were available. The aide insisted on anonymity in order to speak candidly about the issue.

Another Medicare for All supporter, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, would ask individuals to pay between 4% and 5% of their income toward the new system and ask their employers to match that level of spending. Gillibrand’s proposal, shared by an aide who requested anonymity to discuss the campaign’s thinking, could supplement the revenue generated by that change with options that hit wealthy individuals and businesses, including a new Wall Street tax.

Gillibrand is a cosponsor of Sanders’ legislation adding a small tax to financial transactions, while Harris is not.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who also has signed onto Medicare for All legislation but said on the campaign trail that he would pursue incremental steps as well, could seek to raise revenue for the proposal by raising some individual tax rates, changing capital gains taxes or expanding the estate tax, according to an aide who spoke candidly about the issue on condition of anonymity.

The campaign of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who used last month’s debate to affirm her support for Sanders’ single-payer health care plan, did not respond to a request for more details on potential financing options for Medicare for All.

Meanwhile, Sanders argued during a high-profile Medicare for All speech this week that high private health insurance premiums, deductibles, and copayments, all of which would be eliminated by his proposal, amount to “nothing less than taxes on the middle class.”

Medicare for All opponents are also under pressure to explain how they’d pay for changes to the health insurance market. Former Vice President Joe Biden is advocating for a so-called “public option” that would allow people to decide between a government-financed plan or a private one. He would pay for his $750 billion proposals by repealing tax cuts for the wealthy that President Donald Trump and the GOP cut in 2017, and by raising capital gains taxes on the wealthy.

Inside Biden and Sanders’ Battle Over Health Care—and the Party’s Future

Sahil Kapur noted that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are engaged in open warfare over health care that could harden party divisions and play into the hands of President Donald Trump.

In the latest iteration of the battle, Biden’s communications director posted an article on Saturday, entitled “Let’s Get Real About Health Care,” that delved into the potential costs of the proposals favored by the Democratic party’s left flank.

The tension points to a broader power struggle in Washington and on the campaign trail that pits long-dominant moderates like Biden against an insurgent wing led by Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But a prolonged battle risks entrenching bitterness between the factions that threatens party unity heading into the general election.

Many prominent Democrats fear that backing an end to private health insurance means defeat in the presidential race and the competitive districts that won the party a House majority in 2018. They prefer more modest legislation to expand government-run insurance options.

Biden favors that approach, calling for largely preserving the popular Obamacare while adding a “public option” that would compete with private insurers. Sanders, a Vermont senator and the chief architect of a Medicare for All plan that would cover everybody under a single government plan, wants to replace the 2010 law.

Aimee Allison, who runs She the People, an activist group that seeks to elevate women of color and recently hosted a Democratic presidential forum, said young voters and minorities are eager for change.

“The Democratic Party leadership is more concerned about moderate to conservative Democratic voters, who are a shrinking and less reliable part of the party base than they are about people of color, women of color, younger voters who are inspired by these kinds of ideas,” Allison said.

“That decision led to the loss in 2016,” she said. “There were plenty of black voters who could be inspired to vote and weren’t — and that’s why we lost.”

Climate Change

The split extends far beyond health care. Democrats also differ on how aggressively to tackle climate change and whether to support mass cancellation of student debt.

Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said the differences among Democrats reflect meaningful policy disagreements rather than just political calculations.

“Bernie Sanders should be applauded for pushing the debate” about how bold to be, Pfeiffer said in an email. “But I do think some of the opposition among the candidates to Sanders’ version is about policy as much as politics.”

The health care debate grew heated earlier this week when Biden, who as vice president helped steer the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, through Congress, told voters that the “Medicare For All Act” authored by Sanders “means getting rid of Obamacare — and I’m not for that.” He said the bill would end private insurance and ensure that “Medicare goes away as you know it.”

Fear-Mongering’

Sanders responded by accusing Biden of “fear-mongering” and parroting the “lies” of Trump and the insurance industry. His campaign website posted a “who said it” quiz on health care mocking Biden as being aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump.

Biden argues that Medicare for All would cancel plans for the 150 million people on private insurance and that he’d give them the option to keep their plan. Sanders says adding a public option to Obamacare would be less effective at covering the 27 million uninsured Americans or cutting costs. While a tax increase would be required to pay for single-payer, eliminating premiums and out-of-pocket costs would offset it, he says.

Biden pressed his argument Thursday, insisting he wasn’t criticizing Sanders but rather conveying what his plan would do.

“Bernie’s completely honest about saying he’s going to raise taxes on the middle class and just straightforward about it,” the former vice president told reporters in Los Angeles.

The Biden campaign went after Sanders’ plan again on Saturday in a Medium.com post, saying that defending Obamacare is a way for Democrats to win in 2020.

“We all understand the appeal of Medicare for All, but before we go down that road we should take a clear-eyed and honest look at what the plan actually says and what it will cost,” wrote Biden communications director Kate Bedingfield. She suggested Biden’s view would prevail “once voters look beyond Twitter and catch-phrases.”

A similar power struggle is unfolding in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi and moderate Democrats have clashed with the “Squad” of newly elected progressive women – Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

The new lawmakers have used their large social media followings to elevate far-reaching ideas while challenging party leaders to be more tactically aggressive with Trump on issues like immigration and impeachment.

“The Squad — they’re a proxy for the millions of us who want to see a bolder, more progressive set of policies and changes,” Allison said, arguing that limiting the Democratic Party’s vision based on what appears politically possible would prevent new voters from getting engaged and turning out.

Conditional Support

Polling on Medicare for All illustrates the party’s dilemma. Surveys indicate that a majority of Americans favor the idea. But support plummets when people are told the program would eliminate private insurance and rises again when they are told that switching to a government-run plan doesn’t necessarily mean losing their doctors and providers.

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders back Biden’s approach. 2020 rivals Warren, and Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand cosponsor sanders’ single-payer plan. Harris says she prefers single-payer but has also cosponsored legislation for a public option as a route to extending coverage.

Ocasio-Cortez said Americans she talks to “like their health care, they like their doctor,” but that they aren’t “heartbroken” about the prospect of having to transition off an Aetna or Blue Cross Blue Shield plan.

Trump and his allies have sought to make the Squad the face of the Democratic Party, believing that they alienate moderate voters. House GOP campaign chairman Tom Emmer called the four women the “red army of socialists” at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast for reporters.

The four women are among the 114 cosponsors of the Medicare For All Act in the House, but the legislation has stalled out and is unlikely to be brought to a vote, which suggests that the moderate wing is winning the battle in Washington.

Andy Slavitt, a former acting head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Obama, said Democrats unanimously agree on the goal of universal coverage but differ on how best to get there.

“Primaries are about calling out differences in approach. There should be sufficient oxygen to say how would Joe Biden or Michael Bennet do it versus how would Bernie Sanders do it,” he said in an interview.

Slavitt warned that while a debate was healthy, Democrats shouldn’t lose sight of the ultimate goal.

“It’s important that we don’t get so overwhelmed with the distinctions around ‘how’ that we forget there is a massive gulf between what the visions are,” Slavitt said, “between Democrats and the president’s position to repeal the ACA, make coverage more expensive.”

Surprise! Here’s Proof That Medicare for All Is Doomed

Ramesh Ponnuru discovered that there’s a high-profile debate over health care playing out in the presidential race, and a lower-profile one taking place in Congress. Several Democratic presidential candidates are telling us that they are going to provide health care that is free at the point of service to all comers. In little-noticed congressional mark-ups, members of both parties are demonstrating why these promises will not be met.

The legislation under consideration is aimed at so-called surprise medical bills” – charges a patient assumes were covered by insurance but turn out not to have been. My family got one last year: The hospital where my wife delivered our son was in our insurer’s network, but an anesthesiologist outside the network-assisted. The bill had four digits.

Surprise bills seem to be something of a business model for some companies. A 2017 study showed how bills rose when EmCare Inc. took over hospitals’ emergency rooms, with the percentage of visits incurring out-of-network charges jumping “like a light switch was being flipped on.”

Policy experts from across the political spectrum have devised ways to prevent this sticker shock. Benedic Ippolito and David Hyman have a short paper for the American Enterprise Institute (where I am a fellow) that suggests providers of emergency medicine should have to contract with hospitals, reaching agreement on prices and folding them into the total bill, rather than sending separate bills to patients and their insurers. In incidents where the surprise bill is the result of an emergency involving treatment by an out-of-network hospital (or transportation by an out-of-network ambulance), their solution would be to cap payments at 50% above the level that in-network providers get paid on average. In both cases, prices would be determined by negotiation among parties that are informed and not in the middle of a medical emergency.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, has introduced a bill that includes a version of that cap. But provider trade groups favor a different measure introduced by Representative Raul Ruiz, a Democrat from California, which would create a 60-day arbitration process to determine what insurers should pay out-of-network providers, and instructs arbiters to first consider the 80th percentile of list prices for a service in a given market. It is a generous approach that analysts with the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy conclude “would likely result in large revenue increases for emergency and ancillary services, paid for by commercially-insured patients and taxpayers.” It would, therefore, mean higher premiums and federal deficits, while Alexander’s alternative has been estimated to reduce both. Ruiz has 52 co-sponsors who range from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans.

Turn from this dispute, for a moment, to the Medicare for All proposal (which has some of the same co-sponsors as the Ruiz bill). It envisions sharp cuts in payments to providers – as high as 40%. Those cuts enable advocates to say they will cover the uninsured and provide added coverage to the insured while reducing national health spending.

Is this at all likely? The Alexander bill would try to rein in billing by one subset of providers in cases where the bills are especially unpopular. But the House Energy and Commerce Committee is watering down its surprise-billing legislation, accepting a provider-backed Ruiz amendment to add arbitration. It’s not as generous as Ruiz’s own bill, but its effect would be to keep payments at today’s rates.

The House is following a long line of precedents. For years, bipartisan majorities in Congress voted down planned cuts in provider-payment rates under Medicare; ultimately, they got rid of the planned cuts altogether. Now even modest measures like Alexander’s face determined and effective resistance.

There is, in short, very little appetite for cutting payments to providers. If medical-provider lobbies can force Congress to back off from addressing surprise bills – which are, in the grand scheme of our health-care system, a small kink – what are the odds lawmakers will force a much larger group of providers, including the powerful hospitals lobby, to accept the much larger reductions that Medicare for All would have to entail? Maybe the Democratic presidential hopefuls should be asked that question at the next debate so that we can judge whether Medicare for All is a fantasy or a fraud.

Those of us who are covered by Medicare, we realize the limitations of coverage as well as the discounted reimbursements paid to physicians, hospitals, nursing facilities, etc. Do we think that Medicare for All is going to make it any better for “All”?

Back to Medicare History

By 1972 the costs associated with Medicare had spiraled out of control to such a rate that even the administration and Congress were expressing concern as I pointed before. Then as a consequence, a number of studies were undertaken to examine what were the causes. The conclusions were that this rise was due to hospital service charges that rose much faster than the Consumer Price Index and especially the medical care component of the index as well as physicians’ charges over the first five years of Medicare ending in 1971. The charges rose 39 percent as compared with a 15 percent rise in the five years before the advent of Medicare. If you adjust for the increase in CPI, the Medicare physicians’ charges rose by 11 percent during that first five years of Medicare.

Also as important is that the proportion of total health care expenditures of the elderly that originated in public sources rose far more sharply than had been expected prior to Medicare’s passage. In fact in the fiscal year 1966, the government programs provided 31 percent of the total expended on health care for the elderly and just one year later this proportion had risen to 59 percent. Also, consider that Medicare alone accounted for thirty-five cents of every dollar spent on health services by or for those over the age of 65. There were even more dramatic increases occurred in the Medicaid program during its first few years.

The wording of Title XIX provided that the federal government had an open-ended obligation to help underwrite the costs of medical care for a wide range of services to a large number of possible recipients, depending on state legislation. Therefore, there was no accurate way of predicting the ultimate costs of the program and I will leave this discussion here. Why? Because age we have an older and older population we will have a bigger group in which Medicare will cover. Now if we enlarge the demographic to include “All” Americans the main question is how will we pay for that program?

 

The Democrats’ Gamble on Health Care for the Undocumented; but What About Our Own Citizens and Medicare?

health298Several 2020 candidates are proffering moral and policy arguments for providing coverage, but the politics of the move are another matter. “We” are now worried more about the undocumented immigrants than our own citizens? This is really an indication as to the idiocy seeping into all aspects of our society, especially during this competitive race for the Presidency.

Ronald Brownstein reported that anxiety spiked among many centrist Democrats when all 10 presidential candidates at a recent debate raised their hand as if pledging allegiance, to declare they would support providing health care to undocumented immigrants. The image, which drew instant ridicule from President Donald Trump on Twitter, seemed to encapsulate the primary’s larger lurch to the left during the early stages of the 2020 race, which has unnerved many moderates.

But opinion among the candidates on this polarizing question is actually much more divided than that moment suggested. And that division underscores a larger point: While the most left-leaning positions in the Democratic field have attracted the most attention in the race so far, it’s far from certain the party will pick a nominee who embodies them.

Led by Senator Bernie Sanders, nearly a half-dozen 2020 Democrats have embraced a clear position of offering full access to health-care benefits. Others, including former Vice President Joe Biden, the nominal front-runner, oppose full benefits, although that wasn’t apparent at the debate. The latter group would allow undocumented immigrants to purchase coverage through the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, but only with their own money. That approach would cover far fewer people, but also potentially create much less exposure to Republican counterattacks.

“If we are saying that we can put them into the pools and they can buy on the exchange, I don’t think voters are going to flip out on that because there is no subsidy,” says Matt Bennett, the executive vice president for public affairs at Third Way, a leading organization of Democratic centrists. “But I think beyond that gets pretty dicey.”

This debate affects millions of people. The Kaiser Family Foundation, using census data, has estimated that 47 percent of the country’s roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants are uninsured, compared with one-fourth of legally present immigrants and about one-tenth of American citizens. Similarly, the Urban Institute places the number of uninsured undocumented immigrants at nearly 4.9 million, or about one-sixth of the total population of uninsured people in America.

The case for expanding their health-care access rests on financial, public health, and moral arguments. Supporters contend that it’s cheaper to provide access to medical care upfront, rather than deal with health crises in emergency rooms; that allowing the undocumented to go untreated increases health risks for legal residents who come in contact with them; and that it is unjust to let people face health threats without care, regardless of their status. As Biden put it in a recent interview with CNN, “How do you say, ‘You’re undocumented. I’m going to let you die, man’? What are you going to do?” The counterargument, meanwhile, is that it’s unfair to ask taxpayers to subsidize their care, and that covering the undocumented will act as a “magnet” to incentivize more immigration.

Emergency rooms must provide aid to all who need it. But polls have consistently found that most Americans resist offering public benefits to the undocumented beyond that. In a recent CNN survey, Americans by a solid 3–2 margin said that “health insurance provided by the government” should not be available to immigrants here illegally. The idea faced resistance across a wide array of constituencies, including several that Democrats rely on: Just over half of college-educated white voters, half of young adults ages 18 to 34, and more than two-fifths of nonwhites said they opposed providing coverage for the undocumented. At the same time, three-fifths of voters who identified as Democrats or lean Democratic said they support the idea.

This mixed result leaves the 2020 candidates balancing competing political and policy considerations as they confront the question. In the process, they have reopened a debate that extends back to the consideration of the ACA during former President Barack Obama’s first year in office.

The original version of the ACA, passed by the Democratic-controlled House in November 2009, allowed undocumented immigrants to purchase insurance on the law’s exchanges with their own money. But it denied them eligibility for the subsidies the law established to help the uninsured afford such coverage, and it maintained their exclusion from Medicaid, which the ACA expanded to cover more of the working poor.

The Democratic-controlled Senate—and the Obama White House—would not even go as far as to allow them to buy into the exchanges. Republicans and conservatives had seized on the charge that the ACA would provide the undocumented with benefits as one of their talking points against the proposed law; when Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina famously yelled “You lie” at Obama during his 2009 speech to Congress about his health-care proposal, it was in response to Obama’s insistence that the law would not cover those in the U.S. illegally.

To a degree that’s been largely forgotten today, passing the ACA was a herculean political challenge. Presidents Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, and Harry Truman had all failed to pass universal-coverage bills; indeed, none of them had even advanced their proposal as far as a floor vote in either chamber. Within the Obama administration, resolving the issue of health coverage for the undocumented was widely viewed as one brick too many on the load.

Rahm Emanuel, who directed the legislative fight for the ACA as Obama’s chief of staff, recalled in an interview that pressure for covering the undocumented never developed “in any concerted way,” and that “no one seriously demanded it.” Neera Tanden, who served as a senior adviser to former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, remembered the debate inside the administration in similar terms. “I don’t remember considering this at all,” said Tanden, now the president of the Center for American Progress, a leading liberal think tank.  The “whole issue was a lot more toxic then.”

The final ACA bill that Obama signed into law, on March 2010, completely excluded undocumented immigrants from the system. Even when Obama later instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to block the deportation of young people brought into the country illegally by their parents, the administration denied them access to benefits under the ACA, notes Eric Rodriguez, the vice president for policy and advocacy at UnidosUS, a leading Latino group.

Toward the end of 2016, the Obama administration had an opportunity to reconsider at least one aspect of that policy. California passed legislation allowing the undocumented to buy coverage on state-run exchanges with their own money (without any public subsidy) and requested a waiver from the federal government to implement the policy. Anthony Wright, the executive director of the advocacy group Health Access California, which helped pass the law, said the state argued that opening up the exchanges made sense because as many as 70 percent of undocumented Californians were in “blended” families that included American citizens. “The argument we made was … isn’t there a benefit to allowing the whole family to buy into coverage at the same time? Rather than to tell these families we can cover the kid and maybe the mother, but the father has to go to buy coverage from a broker independently?” Wright recalled in an interview.

The issue was never resolved. The state submitted its waiver request too late in 2016 for the Obama administration to rule before it left the office. Once Trump took control, California withdrew its request because he was virtually certain to reject it.

Hillary Clinton had moved the party’s position in a more inclusive direction during the 2016 campaign, although her policy didn’t attract nearly as much attention as the hand-raising moment at last week’s debate. Clinton ran, essentially, on House Democrats’ initial proposal in the early days of the ACA debate: that the undocumented should be allowed to buy coverage on the exchanges, though without any subsidies to help.

Three years later, the current slate of candidates seems to have significant differences in how they would treat the undocumented, even if, as a group, they have moved beyond the Obama administration’s more cautious position on the ACA. Biden and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, both of whom raised their hand at the debate last month, are taking a similar position to House Democrats’ in 2009 and Clinton’s in 2016: In addition to opening the ACA exchanges to the undocumented, they would also allow them to buy into the new public insurance option they would create through an expanded Medicare system. But they would still deny the undocumented any public assistance. Biden, in his CNN interview, put greater emphasis on expanding federally funded community-health clinics as a means of delivering more health care to undocumented immigrants than he has on offering them insurance.

At the other pole of the debate is Sanders’s Medicare for All proposal, which would entitle the undocumented to the same health-care services as anyone else in America. The actual language of the bill is less definitive: It says that while “every individual who is a resident of the United States is entitled to benefits for health care services under this Act,” the federal government will promulgate regulations for “determining residency for eligibility purposes.” But in response to a health-care questionnaire from The New York Times, Sanders unequivocally included the undocumented in his system: “Medicare for All means just that: all. Bernie’s plan would provide coverage to all U.S. residents, regardless of immigration status,” his campaign wrote.

In response to my questions, the campaigns of Senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Cory Booker of New Jersey said they would provide full benefits to the undocumented; so would former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg made a passionate case for covering the uninsured during last month’s debate, but his campaign would not specify his exact plan for doing so, particularly whether he would subsidize coverage with public dollars. Former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas likewise would not nail down his position on that point.

“This issue is one of many reasons Beto believes that comprehensive immigration reform must be a top priority,” Aleigha Cavalier, his national press secretary, said in a statement. “Because our laws rightly require hospitals to provide care to everyone, the cost of care for uninsured individuals is currently shifted onto other consumers. Therefore, it is in everyone’s interest to provide a pathway for obtaining insurance, whether through the ACA, a new universal healthcare program, or on the private market.”

The rub for both health-care and immigration advocacy groups seems to be the matter of public subsidies. What has become the more centrist position—of allowing undocumented people to purchase coverage on their own—generates mixed feelings: The advocates consider it a valuable gesture, but little more than that, because so few could afford health coverage without assistance.

Wright, for instance, says, “any step toward inclusion is a positive one.” But he notes that when California offered its coverage proposal to the Obama administration, his group estimated that probably fewer than 30,000 of the estimated 1.5 to 2 million uninsured undocumented immigrants in California could afford to buy coverage.

Rodriguez stressed the limited practical impact of the position Biden and Bennet are endorsing now. “If you don’t have subsidies, there is no affordability to get into the system,” he says. “Symbolism these days are still important. The fact that all the candidates raised their hands [to cover the undocumented], that’s not insignificant. But what would be meaningful is proposals that would enable families [to] afford coverage.”

California pushed the debate into another front this week. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a budget that makes California the first state to cover undocumented young adults ages 19 to 26 under its Medicaid program; the state had already extended eligibility to undocumented children under 18 and to pregnant women.

Wright noted that the expansion was, from a cost perspective, a relatively small component of a much larger package, one that focused on providing middle-class families more financial help to afford health care. That linkage, he argues, is the key to winning public acceptance for greater aid to the undocumented.

“There will always be a group of folks who are animated by the immigration issue and that just might be something they are opposed to, period,” he said, basing his analysis on focus groups and polls his group has conducted in California. “But if they see an effort to help people broadly, most people don’t begrudge others being helped as part of that process.”

With either modest steps—or big leaps—toward providing undocumented immigrants health coverage, that may be exactly the wager Democrats are placing in 2020.

The poll of The Day: Faith in Trump’s Phantom Health Care Plan

Yuval Rosenberg of the Fiscal Times noted that American voters aren’t quite sure what to make of the latest lawsuit seeking to strike down the Affordable Care Act.

While legal experts have largely dismissed the lawsuit, now before a federal appeals court, as meritless, a new Morning Consult survey of 1,988 registered voters finds a much more divided electorate.

Nearly half of voters, 44%, say the GOP-led lawsuit isn’t likely to bring down Obamacare, compared to 37% who say it might. Those views fall along predictably partisan lines:

Screen Shot 2019-07-14 at 9.50.04 PM.pngMore surprising is that voters who expect the ACA to be overturned express a fairly high level of confidence that President Trump has a plan to replace it. The GOP has thus far failed to come to a consensus about how to replace Obamacare, and Trump has yet to reveal a promised health care plan. Yet 60% of voters who think Obamacare may be struck down are confident the administration has a plan of its own, including 87% of Republicans.

Analysts and pundits have warned that, if the lawsuit were to succeed, it would be a disaster for Republicans — and GOP lawmakers have shown little desire to grapple with a health care overhaul again before the 2020 elections.

The Morning Consult poll also found that voters are increasingly placing responsibility for the state of the U.S. health care system on Trump — and half of the voters say the system has gotten worse over the past decade.Screen Shot 2019-07-14 at 9.46.48 PM

And now back to our discussion on the history of Medicare:

The benefits that the various states were required to provide recipients were:

  1. Inpatient hospital care (other than in an institution for tuberculosis or mental disease),
  2. Outpatient hospital services
  3. Laboratory and x-ray services
  4. Nursing facility services for those over the ages of twenty-one (and, after July 1, 1970, to home health services
  5. Physicians” services, regardless of the location of treatment.

Also, the states could underwrite many other services such as physical therapy, dental care, diagnostic, preventive, and rehabilitative services, and the cost of prescribed drugs, dentures, prosthetic devices, and eyeglasses. Those elderly that were insured by Medicare but were also eligible because of the incomes for Medicaid had their hospital deductibles and copayments paid by Medicaid.

The Johnson administration then went on in 1967 to propose amendments to the Social Security program that included extending Medicare benefits to the disabled who were otherwise eligible for cash payments. To pay for this extension, a higher earnings base on which Medicare taxes would be levied was recommended. So, from then on the current $6,600, the amount as to rise to $7,800 in 1968, to $9,00 in 1971, and in 1974 and thereafter would rise to $10,800.

However, despite the strong support from the Johnson administration, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to defer consideration of the extension in light of the substantial costs associated with the amendment. The administration tried to present the case that the medical costs for each disabled beneficiary would be about the same as those associated with Medicare recipients over the age of 65. But a study released while the bill was before the committee indicated that in fact, these costs would be about two and a half to three times as high.

And to no one’s surprise looking at healthcare today, following the first year of operation of the Hospital Insurance program that its costs significantly exceeded the estimates put forward by the program’s proponents. You have to remember that the main purpose of enacting a national health insurance bill had been, after all, to encourage greater use of health care facilities by the elderly. It was therefore not surprising that with the measure’s passage there should have been an increased demand for hospital and medical services. However, not only was there greater utilization of medical facilities on the part of those covered by the Medicare program, but there followed a far higher increase in the prices of covered services than had been expected. Congress reviewed the data and increased the contribution schedule along the lines suggested by the administration despite its not having incorporated the disabled among the program’s beneficiaries.

By 1972 the costs associated with Medicare had increased at such a rate that even the administration and Congress were expressing concern. What followed was a number of studies to examine the causes and I will discuss this more next week. So, imagine the passage of Medicare for All and the true costs!!

I have finally decided that our society is crazy and I probably have said this before. I was reading about Nike’s decision to not sell the sneakers with the Betsy Ross flag on the back of the shoe because Mr. Kaepernick decided that the flag was racist. Did the company realize that Betsy Ross was a Quaker and that Quakers were Abolitionists who helped ban slavery in England? Also, Quakers were vital to the American Underground Railroad to free slaves. Objecting to the Betsy Ross flag, because it represents slavery, shows complete and utter ignorance of history!!

More next week!

Kamala Harris Says ‘Medicare for All’ Wouldn’t End Private Insurance. It Would! and More on Healthcare and the Democratic Debate!

harris314Sahil Kapur reported that Kamala Harris says she supports “Medicare for All,” and she has cosponsored legislation with Bernie Sanders. But unlike her Democratic presidential rival, she says the plan wouldn’t end private insurance.

That’s misleading. The measure would outlaw all private insurance for medically necessary services but allow a sliver to remain for supplemental coverage. It would force the roughly 150 million Americans who are insured through their employer to switch to a government-run program.

Harris is trying to find a narrow path between two competing constituencies in the Democratic Party. On one side are progressives who passionately support so-called single payer insurance and are pushing the party to the left. On the other is the party establishment, which believes that calling for an end to private insurance for millions would be political suicide against President Donald Trump in 2020.

Her attempts to please both camps could become a vulnerability for a campaign that is surging after a strong performance in last week’s debates, though allies say her rhetoric about a role for private insurance would be more politically viable in a general election.

Misunderstood Question

The issue has tripped up the California senator almost from the moment she began her candidacy. During the debates in Miami last week, Harris and Sanders raised their hands when NBC’s Lester Holt asked which candidates would “abolish their private health insurance in favor of a government-run plan.” She retreated the next day, saying she thought Holt was referring to her personal insurance plan and answered “no” when asked if private coverage insurance should end.

She ran into a similar problem in January, when her campaign walked back a comment she made at a CNN town hall calling for getting “rid of” private insurance structures.

Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said the intent of the Sanders bill is clear.

“As a practical matter, Senator Sanders’ Medicare for all bill would mean the end of private health insurance,” he said. “Employer health benefits would no longer exist, and private insurance would be prohibited from duplicating the coverage under Medicare.”

Splitting Hairs

Sanders last week criticized Harris for splitting hairs, without mentioning her by name.

“If you support Medicare for All, you have to be willing to end the greed of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries,” he said. “That means boldly transforming our dysfunctional system by ending the use of private health insurance, except to cover non-essential care like cosmetic surgeries.”

In an email, Harris spokesman Ian Sams responded: “Kamala’s position is and has always been every American would get insurance through the single payer plan, and private insurance would exist to cover anything supplemental, as is expressly outlined in the Medicare for All bill. Seems like Bernie is saying that, too.”

Other 2020 candidates — Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand — also cosponsored Sanders’s bill.

‘I’m With Bernie’

Warren has given a far more direct endorsement than Harris of the idea of eliminating private insurance.

“I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All,” she said on the first night of the Democratic debates. “There are a lot of politicians who say, oh, it’s just not possible, we just can’t do it, have a lot of political reasons for this. What they’re really telling you is they just won’t fight for it.”

At the other end of the spectrum is former Vice President Joe Biden, who said he wants to build on Obamacare by adding a government-run plan to the menu of options, a provision that progressives tried and failed to add in 2009 amid opposition from centrist Democrats.

“Everyone, whether they have private insurance or employer insurance and no insurance, they, in fact, can buy in the exchange to a Medicare-like plan,” Biden said in the debate.

Hedging her position, Harris has also cosponsored “Medicare X” legislation by Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, another Democratic presidential candidate who’s running as a moderate. That measure would preserve private coverage while allowing Americans to buy into a government-run plan. But she said Friday on MSNBC she favors single payer with only supplemental private insurance.

An issue that united the party in 2018 has the potential to fracture it in 2020.

Abby Goodnough and Thomas Kaplan reported on the Democratic party debate and that It was a command as much as a question, intended to put an end to months of equivocating and obfuscating on the issue: Which of the Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage supported abolishing private health insurance in favor of a single government-run plan? Show of hands, please.

Just four arms went up over the two nights — Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York on Wednesday, and Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California on Thursday — even though five candidates who kept their hands at their sides have signed onto bills in Congress that would do exactly that.

And after the debate, Ms. Harris said that she had misunderstood the question, suggesting she had not meant to raise her hand either.

The response and ensuing confusion reflected one of the deepest fault lines among Democrats heading into 2020 — on an issue the party hopes to use as a cudgel against President Trump as effectively as it did last fall when their vow to protect the Affordable Care Act helped them recapture the House.

Though Democrats owned the health care issue in 2018, pointing a way forward — tear up the current system and start over or build on gains in coverage and care that the Obama health law achieved — is proving tricky for the party’s presidential candidates.

The challenge is to avoid alienating both the progressives, whose support they will need in the primary and the more moderate voters, without whom they cannot survive the general election.

We surveyed all the candidates for details of their positions on health care. Here’s what they said:

‘Medicare for All’ vs. ‘Public Option’: The 2020 Field Is Split, Our

Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 9.51.13 PM

In shooting up her hand and saying, “I’m with Bernie,” Ms. Warren seemed to have made the calculation that proving herself as unequivocal as Mr. Sanders in the quest for universal government-run health insurance was crucial to building the left-wing support she needs, including from some of his loyalists.

During the early months of the Democratic primary race, Ms. Warren has gained attention with her steady stream of detailed policy plans on a variety of subjects. But before Wednesday’s debate, she had been less than crystal clear about how she would expand access to health care— and particularly on the role, that private insurers should play under the type of Medicare-for-all system that she is calling for.

“I think lots of progressives were very happy to see her clarify her position,” said Waleed Shahid, the communications director for Justice Democrats, a group that seeks to elect progressive House candidates.

Ms. Harris had more overtly waffled on the future of private insurance before the debates, yet raised her hand just as quickly as Mr. Sanders when one of the moderators asked who favored abolishing it.

After the debate, she immediately walked it back, saying she understood the question to be asking whether she would give up her own private insurance.

Asked point-blank on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday morning whether she believed that private insurance should be eliminated in the United States, Ms. Harris responded, “No.”

“I am a proponent of ‘Medicare for all,’” she said. “Private insurance will exist for supplemental coverage.” Mr. Sanders’s Medicare for All Act, which she co-sponsored, would allow private coverage for elective procedures, like cosmetic surgery, not covered by the government plan.

John Delaney, a former Maryland congressman who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, is taking every possible opportunity to warn that the party is at risk of turning health care from a winning issue into a liability.

“We won on health care in 2018, and if we go down the path with Medicare for all, we’ll lose on it in 2020,” he said in an interview. “Right now, about half of our citizens have private insurance and most of them like it. And you just can’t win elections on taking something away from the American people that they like. It’s just not common sense.”

Ironically, support for universal government-run health insurance could provoke the same counterattack from Republicans that the Democrats used so potently after the Trump administration tried to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“Trump and the Republicans will spend a billion dollars telling the American people that the Democrats want to take away your health insurance,” Mr. Delaney said, “and he would be correct.”

Mr. Trump appears to be adopting just such a strategy. In a recent Rose Garden appearance, he warned that more than 120 Democrats had signed onto Medicare for all legislation — a “massive government takeover of health care,” as he put it — that would expand Medicare to cover all Americans, make the program’s benefits more generous and eliminate most deductibles and co-payments.

“That’s going to hurt a lot of people,” Mr. Trump said. “Their plan would eliminate Medicare as we know it and terminate the private health insurance of 180 million Americans.”

Remaining imprecise on the issue could have been a vulnerability for Ms. Warren in particular as she tries to compete with Mr. Sanders. “Elizabeth Warren Has a Plan for Everything — Except Health Care,” read the headline of a recent article published by Jacobin, the socialist magazine.

But her outright call for eliminating private coverage would create new risks if she were to become the Democratic nominee.

“She didn’t have to fall into that trap,” said Paul Starr, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton who was a health policy adviser in the Clinton White House.

Not only would abolishing private insurance disrupt coverage for many people who are satisfied with their private coverage, Mr. Starr said, but generating the revenue needed to finance a single-payer health care system “would be just an overwhelming political task.”

“If in coming weeks and months it’s that raising of the hand that gets replayed again and again, then I think it’s going to damage her,” he said.

With Mr. Trump and his surrogates likely to step up their attack in the coming months, it was not particularly surprising to hear most of the Democrats walk a more cautious line — even the ones who have co-sponsored Mr. Sanders’s single-payer bill or a House version that would, in fact, put everyone into government-run coverage, including Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

All three were more vague when questioned about eliminating private insurance. Mr. Booker said he favored keeping it but did not explain why and Ms. Gabbard said merely that it deserved “some form of a role.”

Many candidates — including some who say their ultimate goal is a government-run system — support a system in which people would have the option to buy into Medicare or a similar public insurance program, but private insurers could still compete for their business.

Ms. Gillibrand was eager to point out that she had written the portion of the Sanders bill allowing four years for Americans to transition to their new government coverage by providing such a choice.

“I believe we need to get to universal health care as a right and not a privilege — to single-payer,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “The quickest way you get there is you create competition with the insurers. God bless the insurers. If they want to compete, they can certainly try.”

More likely, though, she contended, is that “people will choose Medicare, you will transition, we will get to Medicare for all.”

The hesitancy to fully embrace the abolition of private insurance isn’t surprising considering the polling on the issue, which has consistently found that support for Medicare for all drops off quickly when voters are told it would eliminate their private, employer-provided plans and most likely raise taxes.

The poll results also help explain why so many candidates — including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas — say they would keep private insurance but add a “public option” to buy coverage in a government-run health plan that would create competition and potentially drive down prices.

Some candidates support bills that would allow people who do not get insurance through a job, or those 50 and older, to pay a premium to buy a Medicare plan that would be the same as what is now available to people 65 and older. Others prefer the idea of setting up a new public plan, run by the government, that anyone could buy — a “Medicare-for-all-who-want-it” approach.

Mr. Buttigieg used that very phrase on Thursday and suggested he was fine with keeping private insurance for everything but the most basic care.

“Let’s remember,” he said, “even in countries that have outright socialized medicine — like England — even there, there’s still a private sector. That’s fine. It’s just that for our primary care, we can’t be relying on the tender mercies of the corporate system.”

Mr. Biden noted that creating a public option to compete with private insurance could be done much quicker than a complete overhaul of the health care system.

“Urgency matters,” Mr. Biden said, referring to people like his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015. “We must move now.”

How might Medicare for All reshape health care in the U.S.?

As the Democrats pummel us all with their various forms of a single-payer, Medicare for All, healthcare systems, Sharita Forrest noted that a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll indicates that support for a single-payer health system is increasing among American consumers, but many people are confused about how a program like “Medicare for All” would actually affect them. University of Illinois professor emeritus of community health Thomas W. O”Rourke, an expert on health policy analysis, spoke with News Bureau research editor Sharita Forrest.

How might a single-payer system such as Medicare for All differ from what we have now?

Under a true single-payer program, coverage would be universal, with every resident covered from birth to death. Health care would become a public service funded through taxes, much like the public schools, the fire department and the military.

It would detach health care from employment. Most Americans receive private health insurance under a shared-cost arrangement with their employers or through Medicare. If you lose or change your job, you may lose your insurance and access to care unless you can pay the full cost yourself.

Coverage would be portable and accessible across the country, without geographical, economic or bureaucratic obstacles such as narrow provider networks.

Various politicians are proposing different types of health care programs. What are the key differences to watch for?

Many politicians and think tanks have proposed plans that are not actual single-payer plans but have similar-sounding names such as “Medicare Extra.”

The key questions to ask are: Who is covered? What benefits are included? How is it funded? Who pays? And what are the roles of the government and the private sector in controlling and managing costs?

A true single-payer plan:

  • Provides universal coverage for everyone.
  • Covers all medically necessary care—including inpatient and outpatient services, drugs, mental health, reproductive health, dental, vision, and long-term care—and virtually every provider is in the network.
  • Covers 100 percent of costs without premiums, copays or deductibles.
  • Maximizes administrative efficiencies and exerts cost-control measures such as global budgeting for hospitals, negotiated fee schedules, and drug prices, and bulk purchasing of drugs and other supplies.
  • Is nonprofit and does not include a role for private health insurance except that private insurers could offer supplemental plans that pay for extras like cosmetic surgery that aren’t covered by the government plan.

What would the federal government’s role be in a single-payer system?

The government would finance the system, but, importantly, not own or operate it. It would be publicly funded but privately operated.

There are many options for funding it, including payroll taxes, taxes on Wall Street trades, increased taxes on high-income earners or taxes on investments and interest.

If the program followed other countries’ examples, it would reduce costs by consolidating administrative tasks and eliminating insurers’ profits. Because there would be one payer instead of multiple payers with thousands of plans, the government could leverage its purchasing power to exert cost controls that currently don’t exist.

Critics argue that a single-payer program would end up costing consumers more. Can such comprehensive care be provided without burdensome tax hikes?

It would require a modest tax increase, true, but eliminating health insurance premiums, copays, high out-of-pocket costs would offset that and runaway price increases. The taxes would be progressive, based on income. Therefore, many families would experience broader coverage with comparable or reduced expenditures.

Our current system wastes hundreds of billions of dollars annually, in part because providers have to deal with many different insurance carriers and bill each patient individually.

A 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that administrative costs are responsible for 31 percent of U.S. health care costs, compared with about 17 percent in Canada. Through simplified administration and greater efficiency, some researchers estimate that Medicare for All would save more than $500 billion a year.

According to a Commonwealth Fund report, the U.S. ranks last among 11 industrialized countries on health care quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and outcomes such as infant mortality and longevity.

If the U.S. were in the Health Olympics, we would never make it to the medal podiums.

By 2025, health care costs in the U.S. are expected to rise to one-fifth of our economy. Some people say we can’t afford to provide universal coverage when actually we can’t afford not to provide it.

Opponents deride single-payer plans as socialized medicine that facilitates greater government encroachment into their lives and deprives them of choice. Is that an accurate depiction?

Americans are concerned about affordability, access, and quality. They value their relationship with their clinicians, not their health insurance companies.

Currently, we have the illusion of choice. Our employers choose our health plan, and our insurance companies determine which providers we can see and when—unless we want to cover all of the costs ourselves.

Under a true Medicare for All program, choice and access would expand.

What are the main obstacles to implementing a single-payer system?

There seems to be a lack of public understanding. Health care is a complex topic, and there are so many different proposals and so much misinformation and disinformation. Expect much more in the months ahead.

Entrenched interests—including insurers, many health care providers, the pharmaceutical industry and medical device makers—don’t want to give up their profits. We’re already seeing the pushback in the media.

Many lawmakers aren’t going to get behind a single-payer plan until it’s politically expedient.

There was an interesting comment made this past week, President Trump can’t win the 2020 election but the Democratic Party policies will be responsible for their loss, where they reach into all of our pockets and pick every cent and dollar that we have earned. How true!!

Some more history regarding Medicare and now, Medicaid!

Title XIX: Medicaid. The 1965 legislation provided states a number of options regarding their level of participation in Medicaid, ranging from opting out of the program entirely to including all covered services for all eligible classes of persons. The federal government provided matching funds for two of the three groups stipulated in the legislation (the “categorically needy” and those “categorically linked,”) while in the case of the third group (“not categorically linked but medically indigent”) only administrative funds (and no medical expenses) were matched. Each state was required to include members of the first group, the categorically needy, in the medical care program acceptable to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, while the inclusion of the other groups was optional. Eligibility standards varied (and continued to vary) from state to state, depending on the state legislation. The three groups were:

  1. The Categorically Needy. This group included all persons receiving federally matching public welfare assistance, including Families and Dependent Children, the permanently and totally disabled, the blind, and the elderly whose resources fell below welfare-stipulated levels. The federal government matched state expenditures from 50 to 80 percent, depending on the state’s per capita income.
  2. The Categorically Linked. This class included persons who fell into one of the four federally assisted categories whose resources exceeded the ceiling for cash assistance. Should the state designate members of this class as medically indigent, benefits had to be extended to all four subgroups. The amount of federal matching funds was determined by the same formula as was used for the Categorically Needy.
  3. Not Categorically Linked but Medically Indigent. Members of this group could include those eligible for the statewide general assistance and those between the ages of twenty-one and sixty-five deemed medically indigent. State operating expenses were not matched by the federal government, who confined their grants to match the costs of administering the program if the benefits extended to members of this group were comparable to those provided to other groups.

Next, I will cover the benefits that the various states were required to provide recipients.

These all sound like great ideas unless one realizes the limitations of reimbursements to hospitals, physicians and other care givers.