'I owe the American people an apology': A former healthcare executive says he's sorry for devising the biggest argument against Medicare for All and Some Additional Thoughts

As the politicians are getting ready for the Senate impeachment trial, I realize how much time has been wasted on non-health care, non-immigration, non-education improvement, non-environmental issues. Both parties, Democrats and Republicans have wasted and multiple millions of our taxpayer dollars. Pathetic. These are the people that we voter for to do our bidding…improve our lives. Instead they fight and embarrass all of us. Pathetic!

And again, what about Medicare for All? Zeballos-Roig noted that Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive and now pro-Medicare for All activist, apologized for his role in designing the biggest argument against industry reform in a New York Times op-ed published Tuesday.

He was referring to the idea of choice, or put another way, the freedom of Americans to pick their own health insurance plans and which doctors they want to see.

The activist called it “a PR concoction,” one filling him with “everlasting regret.”

A former executive at a prominent health insurance company had one thing to say recently: I’m sorry.

Wendell Potter, once a vice president for corporate communications at Cigna and now a pro-universal healthcare activist, laid out his apology in the New York Times on Tuesday for crafting one of the biggest arguments used against the creation of a single-payer system in the United States.

He was referring to the idea of choice, or put another way, the freedom of Americans to pick their own health insurance plans and which doctors they want to see.

It’s a common argument the health industry employs to oppose any attempt to change the system. Most recently, its spearheaded a multimillion-dollar effort to throttle proposals for Medicare for All, which would enroll everyone in the US onto a government insurance plan and virtually eliminate the private insurance sector.

“When the candidates discuss health care, you’re bound to hear some of them talk about consumer ‘choice,'” Potter wrote, referring to the Democratic primary field. “If the nation adopts systemic health reform, this idea goes, it would restrict the ability of Americans to choose their plans or doctors, or have a say in their care.

He called it “a good little talking point,” effective at casting any reform proposal expanding the government’s role in healthcare as drastically damaging.

But Potter said that defense was ultimately “a P.R. concoction,” and one that filled him with “everlasting regret.”

“Those of us in the insurance industry constantly hustled to prevent significant reforms because changes threatened to eat into our companies’ enormous profits,” Potter wrote.

Potter resigned his position at Cigna in 2008. And he testified to Congress a year later about the practices of an industry that “flouts regulations” and “makes promises they have no intention of keeping.” He’s since become a leading reform advocate.

Get this, the activist said in the Times op-ed that healthcare executives were well aware their insurance often severely limited the ability of Americans to personally decide how they accessed and received medical care, unless they wanted to pay huge sums of money out of their own pockets.

Do you all believe this?

“But those of us who held senior positions for the big insurers knew that one of the huge vulnerabilities of the system is its lack of choice,” Potter said. “In the current system, Americans cannot, in fact, pick their own doctors, specialists or hospitals — at least, not without incurring huge ‘out of network’ bills.”

The “choice” talking point, Potter wrote, polled well in focus groups that insurers set up to test their messaging against reform plans, leading them to adopt it.

Now he is shocked to see an argument that he had a hand in engineering used among Democrats battling to claim their party’s nomination to face off against President Trump in the 2020 election — and Potter says the insurers likely see it as a huge victory for them.

“What’s different now is that it’s the Democrats parroting the misleading ‘choice’ talking point — and even using it as a weapon against one another,” Potter wrote. “Back in my days working in insurance P.R., this would have stunned me. It’s why I believe my former colleagues are celebrating today.”

One of the biggest divides among Democratic candidates is on health reform.

The progressive wing of the party, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, largely supports enacting Medicare for All. So does Sen. Elizabeth Warren, though she’s tempered her rhetoric backing it in the last few months after rolling out her own universal healthcare plan and drawing criticism for its hefty $20.5 trillion price tag.

Moderates like former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg are pushing to create an optional government insurance plan for Americans instead. They’ve argued that a single-payer system could kick millions of Americans off their private insurance and restrict their ability to manage their care — echoing the line of attack used by the healthcare industry.

Potter had a warning for voters as they head to the polls in this year’s election.

“My advice to voters is that if politicians tell you they oppose reforming the health care system because they want to preserve your ‘choice’ as a consumer, they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re willfully ignoring the truth,” Potter wrote in the op-ed. “Either way, the insurance industry is delighted. I would know.”

Humana CEO talks M&A, government-controlled health care

More from another healthcare executive. Reporter Chris Larson noted that Louisville-based Humana Inc. — a giant in the health insurance market — expects its long-term success to be based in providing health services to keep its members from needing more care.

Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said as much — and much more — on Monday in two appearances at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco.

Appearing beside Humana Chief Financial Officer Brian Kane, the duo answered a wide range of questions (which you can hear for yourself here). Below are a few takeaways from their remarks.

Humana’s core business is expected to grow despite market leader status

Administering Medicare Advantage, a privately administered version of the federal health plan Medicare, is at the heart of Humana’s (NYSE: HUM) business: it has about 4.1 million members on individual or group Medicare Advantage plans, according to the company’s latest financial disclosure.

One analysis shows that Humana holds about 18 percent of the Medicare Advantage market, the second largest share in the nation.

Presentation moderator Gary Taylor, a managing director and senior equity analyst with J.P. Morgan, noted that continued growth in a market-leading position is not typical and noted that continued growth in the Medicare Advantage business is possible because more seniors are using it rather than traditional Medicare.

Taylor said that about one-third of Medicare enrollees are on Medicare Advantage plans. Broussard said that he expects that portion to grow to one-half in the next seven to 10 years.

“We’re seeing just both a great consumer attraction, but, more importantly, great health outcomes by being able to serve someone more holistically,” Broussard said.

Broussard added that Humana’s growth in Medicare Advantage depends on brand recognition and customer experience. He added he expects that the company can grow along with the popularity of Medicare Advantage in the Midwest and Texas specifically.

Public policy: Americans want a private option

Some Democratic presidential candidates say they would push for expanded health benefits from the government while others — notably Vermont Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders — want to see private insurance eliminated altogether. Broussard largely downplayed the likelihood that these proposals would become policy.

He referred to polling, the company’s experience and the increased popularity of Medicare Advantage — a privately administered version of a government health plan — as proof that people want private options in health care.

Humana’s M&A plans will focus on clinical capabilities

Broussard said clinical capabilities were key to the company’s success and later added that its merger and acquisition activity would largely focus on that.

“What we see long term is the ability to compete in this marketplace will be really determined on your clinical capabilities — helping members stay out of the health care system as well as what we’ve done in past in managing costs in the traditional managed care way,” Broussard said.

Broussard added later in the presentation: “As we think about growth, we really think about how do we build the health care services side more. We’ll still buy plans especially on the Medicaid side and the markets that we want to be in. But for the most part, I think our capital deployment is expanding the capabilities we have.”

He added that there are only a few options for additional blockbuster mergers in the health care industry given the current regulatory environment.

Humana was the subject of such a merger a few years ago with Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna Inc. But that deal fell apart and Aetna has since merged with Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health Inc.

Humana was party to a $4.1 billion acquisition that took Louisville-based Kindred Healthcare private and separated Kindred At Home into a standalone entity.

How an insured pro athlete ended up with $250,000 in medical debt

With all the concern regarding patients without health care insurance that there are people with insurance who due to the complexities of the system still end up with huge bills sometimes ending in bankruptcies. In the U.S., going bankrupt because of medical bills and debt is something that doesn’t just happen to the unlucky uninsured, but also to people with insurance.

Though health plans have an “out of pocket max” – the most you’d be required to pay for medical services in a given year – that’s no guarantee that number will ensure a safety net.

This is what pro cyclist Phil Gaimon discovered after a bad crash in Pennsylvania last June that left him with his collarbone, scapula, and right ribs broken. The bills totaled $250,000.

“I have good insurance,” Gaimon told Yahoo Finance. “I pay a lot of money for it. I just haven’t gotten good explanations for any of this.”

Gaimon pays $500 a month for a plan with a $10,000 deductible, and is fighting the bills.

This type of medical debt isn’t uncommon. The Kaiser Family Foundation, a healthcare think tank, has reported that insurance can be incomplete and that the complexity of the system often leaves people seeking treatment in financial hardship. In a survey KFF found that 11% of consumers with medical bill problems have declared bankruptcy, and cited the medical bills as at least a partial contributor. Another report found that medical problems contributed to 66.5% of all bankruptcies. (Currently, there’s some legislation addressing surprise billing issues.) 

Gaimon was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital after his crash. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an out-of-network hospital. Gaimon told Yahoo Finance that he thought it would be okay, because the emergency nature could be seen as an extenuating circumstance. His insurer, Health Net, has an appeals process for situations like that.

Gaimon figured the no-other-option aspect of the situation would solve the problems, and believed it enough to post on Instagram soon after that people should donate to No Kid Hungry, a children’s food insecurity charity, rather than a GoFundMe for his bills.

“I said, ‘Hey, I crashed, what would you donate to my GoFundMe if i didn’t have health insurance? Take that money and give it to this instead,’” said Gaimon. “We raised around $40,000 in 48 hours.”

The $103,000 raised in the next few months would have taken a big chunk out of his medical bills, but Gaimon has no regrets. “Someone out there needs more help than I do,” he said.

Medical bills are fun!

It’s hard to comparison shop when you’re in physical pain

Things may have been easier if it would have been possible for Gaimon to steer the ambulance towards an in-network hospital. But an ambulance isn’t a taxi — it’s a vehicle designed to bring a patient to health care providers in the least amount of time possible.

Also consider that Gaimon, as he put it, was in “various states of consciousness” following his accident — hardly in a position to check which hospitals are in his insurer’s network.

Gaimon may be able to win the appeals process with his insurer for the out-of-network hospital. But that’s just the beginning of his insurance woes.

The cyclist’s scapula break was complex enough to require a special surgeon, and Gaimon said the hospital was unable to find someone capable. 

“I was laying in the hospital for three days hitting the morphine,” Gaimon said. Multiple times a potential surgeon would come to examine him only to say that they weren’t up to the task. 

After multiple cycles of fasting before a surgery only to be told that the surgeons couldn’t operate, Gaimon took matters into his own hands. Eventually he found a surgeon in New York to do it, and even though it was out-of-network as well, he figured the fact that there was seemingly no other alternative would mean his insurer would cover the surgery. 

So the track race didn’t go very well. Broken scapula, collarbone, 5 ribs, and partially collapsed lung.  What if I told you that I don’t have health insurance? Would you donate do help me out? How much?

Okay well I do have health insurance and I’m fundamentally alright, so I ask you to take that money and give it to @ChefsCycle @nokidhungry who need it more than I do. I’m in a lot of pain and this is all I can think to cheer me up. Link in profile and updates as I have them. Xo

Six months later, Gaimon finds out that it did not, and is fighting the charges. He’s hired a lawyer to help, as has had mixed results with the system so far. 

“No one talks prices until it’s over — that’s the other horrible flaw,” he said. 

Gaimon said that he’s numb to things at this point, though he doesn’t know what will happen.

“Ultimately I’m going to have to negotiate with that hospital, or the health insurance will choose to cover,” said Gaimon. “Or they’ll have to sue me and I’ll go bankrupt — the traditional way you deal with medical stuff.” 

Gaimon’s sarcasm aside, sky-high health care costs are a central issue in the current presidential election and a frequent talking point for Democratic candidates. In this week’s Democratic debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders highlighted the issue. “You’ve got 500,000 people going bankrupt because they cannot pay their medical bills,” Sanders said. “We’re spending twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country.”

The whole ordeal has shown Gaimon how fragile the healthcare system really is. 

“The whole idea that you could be in a car accident and you wake up in a hospital and owe $100,000 — and that could happen to anyone — that’s a ridiculously scary thing,” he said. “I was making no decisions, I was on drugs, and in fetal-position-level pain. Every decision was made to live. And then you emerge and you’re financially ruined.”

Medicare for All? A Public Option? Health Care Terms, Explained

Now, a review of some of the terms that we keep discussing. As I complete a chapter in my new book, I thought that it would worth taking the time to review some of the terms. Yahoo Finance’s Senior writer, Ethan Wolff-Mann reported that if the last few Democratic presidential debates are any guide, tonight’s will likely delve into health care proposals. Do voters know what we’re talking about when we talk about various plans and concepts, including “Medicare for All?” Or any of the other health policy terms that get thrown around?

Pretty much no.

According to one poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 87% of Democrats support “Medicare for All,” while 64% of Democrats support “single-payer health care.” Here’s the catch — those two phrases describe almost the same thing. The language in this debate is murky, confusing and hugely consequential. So, we’re laying out some key terms to help you keep up.

Single-payer

This is a kind of health care system where the government provides insurance to everyone. Think about it as if you’re a doctor: a patient comes in, and you treat them. Who’s paying you for that care? Under our current system, it could be a variety of payers: state Medicaid programs, Medicare, or a private insurance company like Aetna or Cigna or Blue Cross and Blue Shield — each with different rates and different services that they cover. Instead, under the single-payer model, there’s just one, single payer: the government.

Medicare for All

If single-payer is fruit, Medicare for All is a banana. In other words, single-payer is a category of coverage, and Medicare for All is a specific proposal, originally written by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (as he often reminds us). It envisions the creation of a national health insurance program, with coverage provided to everyone, based on the idea that access to health care is a human right. Private health insurance would mostly go away, and there would be no premiums or cost-sharing for patients.

Important note: it would not actually just expand Medicare as it exists now for all people (as you might guess from the name). Medicare doesn’t cover a whole lot of things that this proposed program would cover, like hearing and vision and dental and long-term care.

Public option

The idea of a “public option” was floated back in 2009 when the Affordable Care Act was being debated. The idea is that along with the private health insurance plans that you might have access to through your employer or through the individual insurance exchanges, there would be an option to buy into a government-run insurance program, like Medicare. Private insurance would still exist, but people could choose to get a government insurance plan instead.

There are many kinds of public option proposals, and different presidential candidates have their own ideas on how it would work, whether it’s lowering the age for Medicare access or creating a new program that’s not Medicare or Medicaid that people could buy into, among others. The idea is that the government might be able to offer a more affordable option for people, which could push down prices in the private insurance world.

Pete Buttigieg’s plan — “Medicare for All Who Want It” — is his version of a public option. And Elizabeth Warren announced November 15 that she’d start with a public option plan before trying to push the country toward Medicare for All.

“Government-run” health care

Many opponents of Medicare for All and other health proposals use the term “government-run” as a dig against them, including President Trump. (Sometimes the term “socialized medicine” is used as well.) In the U.K. and some other places, the government doesn’t just pay people’s health care bills, it also owns hospitals and employs doctors and other providers — that’s a government-run health care system. The single-payer concept being discussed in this country’s presidential campaign would not operate like that — the industry would still be mostly private, but the government would pay the bills. How the government would generate the money to pay those bills is subject to debate.)

Universal coverage

This isn’t a plan, it’s a goal that everyone has health insurance — that health insurance coverage is universal. The Affordable Care Act made a system for states to expand Medicaid and created the individual health insurance exchanges, , both of which significantly cut down on the number of uninsured people, but currently 27 million Americans do not have health insurance, and the rate of people who lack insurance is rising. Most Democratic presidential candidates would like to achieve universal coverage — the debate is about the best approach to get there.

Medicare for All Would Save US Money, New Study Says

Reporter Yuval Rosenberg, The Fiscal Times noted that a Medicare for All system would likely lower health care costs and save the United States money, both in its first year and over time, according to a review of single-payer analyses published this week in the online journal PLOS Medicine. You have to read on to understand the flimsy data and weak argument to try to convince us all to adopt the Medicare for All program, especially those of us who really know the reality of living with a Medicare type of healthcare program and the reality of restrictions in needed care for the patients.

The authors reviewed 18 economic analyses of the cost of 22 national and state-level single-payer proposals over the last 30 years. They found that 19 of the 22 models predicted net savings in the first year and 20 of 22 forecast cost reductions over several years, with the largest of savings simplified billing and negotiated drug prices.

“There is near-consensus in these analyses that single-payer would reduce health expenditures while providing high-quality insurance to all US residents,” the study says. It notes that actual costs would depend on the specifics features and implementation of any plan.

The peer-reviewed study’s lead author, Christopher Cai, a third-year medical student at the University of California, San Francisco, is an executive board member of Students for a National Health Program, a group that supports a single-payer system.

Questions about methodology: “This might be the worst ‘academic’ study I’ve ever read,” tweeted Marc Goldwein, head of policy at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “It’s a glorified lit review of 22 studies – excluding 6 of the most important on the topic and including 11 that are redundant, non-matches, or from the early 90s.” The results would look quite different if the authors had made different choices about what analyses to include in their review.

What other studies have found: Other recent analyses have been far less conclusive about how health care spending might change under a single-payer system. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said last year that total national health care spending under Medicare for All “might be higher or lower than under the current system depending on the key features of the new system, such as the services covered, the provider payment rates, and patient cost-sharing requirements.”

An October analysis by the Urban Institute and the Commonwealth Fund, meanwhile, found that a robust, comprehensive single-payer system would increase national health spending by about $720 billion in its first year, while federal spending on health care would rise by $34 trillion over 10 years. But a less generous single-payer plan would reduce national health spending by about $210 billion in its first year. Remember the costs that Elizabeth Warren spouted?? $52 trillion over a decade! Can we all afford this?

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