Category Archives: Affordable Care Act

Progress On Lung Cancer Drives Historic Drop In U.S. Cancer Death Rate, Obamacare and More Numbers

First some good news, which in today’s boiling kettle we all need. Cancer death rates in the United States took their sharpest drop on record between 2016 and 2017, according to an analysis by the American Cancer Society.

Richard Harris reported that the cancer death rates in the U.S. have been falling gradually for about three decades, typically about 1.5% a year. But during the latest study period, the cancer mortality rate dropped 2.2%, “the biggest single-year drop ever,” says Rebecca Siegel, scientific director for surveillance research at the cancer society.

“It seems to be driven by accelerating declines in lung cancer mortality,” Siegel says. That’s “very encouraging, because lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., causing more deaths than breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined.”

“This is unambiguously good news,” says Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, senior investigator with the Center for Surgery and Public Health, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He was not involved in the analysis.

What’s behind the decline? In part, smoking rates have fallen steadily, which means the biggest risk factor for lung cancer has fallen appreciably. New cancer treatments are also playing a role, Siegel says.

Advanced lung cancer, however, remains deadly. People diagnosed with lung cancer that has spread elsewhere in the body have only a 5% chance of surviving for five years. And many smokers and former smokers are not following the advice to get screened with a low-dose CT scan to catch cancer early.

In fact, a recent study found that only 4.4% of people eligible for this screening test (which under the Affordable Care Act is available at no cost) actually got screened in 2015. Nearly twice as many people instead got a test that has been found to be unsuited as a screen for lung cancer: a chest X-ray.

And others who didn’t fit the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations took the CT screening test anyway. “The number of adults inappropriately screened for lung cancer greatly exceeds the number screened according to the USPSTF recommendations,” the study notes.

Screening for cancer has played a controversial role in cancer trends. Mammography and the PSA blood test for prostate cancer do identify some cancers early, when treatment is usually more effective. But the tests also identify many growths that would never turn deadly — a phenomenon called “overdiagnosis.”

A paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October delves into that issue to help distinguish between cancer trends that are true improvements and trends simply due to changes in screening practices.

That issue plays out in the latest statistics. The reported number of prostate cancers surged in the 1980s as doctors started detecting it with the PSA test. That led to treating many prostate cancers that would never have turned deadly. Even so, the test caught a lot of cancers, and the death rate from prostate cancer fell at about 4% per year.

No longer. “The rapid declines in death rates over the past couple of decades actually halted,” Siegel says.

Siegel says that’s partly because reduced PSA screening, while preventing many unnecessary treatments, is also finding fewer treatable cancers. “I think there is a big need for a better test,” she says.

That plateau doesn’t surprise Welch, at Brigham and Women’s, who agrees that it might be time to reevaluate screening for prostate cancer. “I think we’ve gotten about the decline we’re going to get from screening and treatment,” he says. Some types of prostate cancer are more treatable than others and with recent improvements, he says, “we’ve gotten the low-hanging fruit.”

Improvements in cancer treatment are apparent when it comes to melanoma, a skin cancer that’s far less common than prostate or lung cancer. The new statistics show that melanoma death rates have been dropping by 7% per year. The report attributes this largely to anti-cancer drugs called checkpoint inhibitors and other new drugs. Some 92% of people diagnosed with this cancer are still alive five years later (compared with 19% of those diagnosed with lung cancer).

While the report measures trends in cancer rates (which are measured as deaths per 100,000 people), that’s not the same as tracking the actual number of cancer cases and deaths. Cancer is mostly a disease of older people, and the U.S. population is aging rapidly. So, while rates are declining, the absolute number of cancer deaths is not.

“We have more than 600,000 deaths from cancer in this country every year, and that number continues to grow,” Siegel says.

And with treatments getting progressively more expensive, that’s a challenge not just for individuals but for the entire health care system.

A detailed analysis of the statistics is being published Wednesday in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Study Finds Talcum Powder Not Likely A Risk For Ovarian

And some more god news Patti Neighmond noted that in recent years, women have taken talcum powder manufacturers to court over concerns that the use of the product in the genital area could cause ovarian cancer. Now, a new study finds no meaningful association between using talc-based or other powders and ovarian cancer.

Researchers from NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute conducted the largest study to date of genital powder use and ovarian cancer. The study, published Tuesday in JAMA, used data from 252,745 women who answered questions about whether they used powder on their genitals. This was a pooled analysis of four large studies gathering data about the frequency and length of time women used the powder.

According to epidemiologist Katie O’Brien who headed the study, women report applying the powder either directly on their genital area or on sanitary napkins, tampons, underwear or diaphragms. O’Brien doesn’t know exactly which type of powder women used. It could have been talcum powder alone, cornstarch alone or a combination of both.

The research finds that women who had ever used powder had an 8% increased risk of ovarian cancer compared to those who never used it. “That is not a statistically significant increase” says O’Brien. And she adds that this increase needs to be understood in context. Ovarian cancer is very rare and the lifetime risk of getting it is 1.3% so an increase of 8% to that is “small.” O’Brien says it represents an estimated 0.09% increase in risk by age 70.

But among the subset of women who had their uterus and fallopian tubes intact, their increased risk of ovarian cancer from using powder in their genital area was 13% — which is an estimated 0.15% increase in risk by age 70 and is still considered a very small increase.

Unlike most other studies of talc and ovarian cancer, which focused on women already diagnosed with cancer, this study was prospective, and asked about powder use before study subjects had developed ovarian cancer. This means the study is free from recall bias, says O’Brien. It removes the likelihood that study subjects “search for reasons why they have ovarian cancer, and may over-report certain things they have heard may be associated with it.”

Rates of powder use have declined over the last 50 years, yet it remains a routine practice for some women, says Dr. Dana Gossett, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. She wrote an editorial accompanying the study but was not involved in the study itself.

“Women have used powders for genital hygiene for decades to absorb odor and moisture,” she says.

Earlier investigations of an association between the use of talc-containing powders for genital hygiene and epithelial ovarian cancer risks have provided inconsistent results, says Gossett and have resulted in an “ongoing controversy.” Concerns have been raised about possible contamination of mineral talc with asbestos, a known cancer risk. Most powder products include some mineral talc.

Researchers say it’s been hypothesized that the powder could induce an inflammatory response by irritating epithelial ovarian tissue or fallopian tubes directly which, in turn, could set off a cascade of increased oxidative stress levels, DNA damage and cell division, all of which could contribute to carcinogenesis.

Gossett says the new study finding “doesn’t really support any association [of powder use with ovarian cancer].”

“No study can ever say definitively what the cause of cancer is, but this study at least shows there’s not a substantial increase in ovarian cancer risk,” she says.

The study has several limitations. Researchers were not able to document how frequently or how long women used powder nor were they able to identify exactly what ingredients were in the powder. It also included mostly white women. Anecdotally, black women are more likely to use baby powder.

Obstetrician Gossett says the study findings should be “reassuring to women that if they are choosing to use powders on their genitals that they’re not doing something horrendous.”

Gossett also notes that due to the very small number of cancer cases in the data, the study was “underpowered.” She suggests that future analyses would be strengthened by focusing on women with intact reproductive tracts, with particular attention to timing and duration of exposure to powder in the genital area.

In the meantime, since there’s no medical reason to use talcum powder, researcher O’Brien suggests women weigh perceived benefit with possible risk. Study participants will continue to be followed to track ovarian cancer development in the future, she says.

The Staggering Cost of US Health Care Bureaucracy

Yuval Posenberg, reporter for the Fiscal Times, wrote that seemingly everyone has a horror story to tell about dealing with the bureaucracy of the U.S. health care system, from mundane matters like medical records to financial fights over surprise medical bills or insurance claims.

Those individual experiences come at a high collective cost, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine: U.S. health insurers and providers spent $812 billion on administration in 2017, representing more than a third of national health expenditures, or double the 17% percent that Canada spends under its single-payer system. The U.S. administrative costs translate to nearly $2,500 per person — or almost five times as high as in Canada.

“The gap in health administrative spending between the United States and Canada is large and widening, and it apparently reflects the inefficiencies of the U.S. private insurance–based, multipayer system,” the study’s authors conclude. “The prices that U.S. medical providers charge incorporate a hidden surcharge to cover their costly administrative burden.”

The study finds that U.S. could have saved more than $600 billion in 2017 if it were able to cut its administrative costs to match Canada’s. “The difference between Canada and the U.S. is enough to not only cover all the uninsured but also to eliminate all the copayments and deductibles, and to amp up home care for the elderly and disabled,” Dr. David Himmelstein, a professor at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College and co-author of the study, told Time. “And frankly to have money left over.”

Why it matters: This isn’t the first study to show that the U.S. system has higher administrative costs than other countries, but it is the first major study calculating those system-wide costs in almost two decades. The spending disparity detailed in the study “could challenge some assumptions about the relative efficiency of public and private healthcare programs,” writes Melissa Healy of the Los Angeles Times. “It could also become a hot political talking point on the American campaign trail as presidential candidates debate the pros and cons of government-funded universal health insurance.”

A steep rise in U.S. costs: Administrative costs have grown in both the U.S. and Canada over the last 20 years, but the increase in the United States has been much higher, mostly as the result of insurance overhead. “The study showed that private insurers contributed to most of the increase in administrative costs between 1999 and 2017,” Modern Healthcare’s Rachel Cohrs reports. “Of the 3.2 percentage point increase in administrative costs as a share of overall health spending, 2.4 percentage points were due to the expanding role that private insurers have assumed in Medicare and Medicaid.”

The insurance industry response: America’s Health Insurance Plans, a group representing private health insurance companies, told the Los Angeles Times that government-run systems aren’t as efficient as private ones, citing a recent report by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent body that advises Congress, that found that private Medicare Advantage plans deliver benefits at 88% of the cost of traditional Medicare. “Study after study continues to demonstrate the value of innovative solutions brought by the free market,” AHIP said in its statement. “In head-to-head comparisons, the free market continues to be more efficient than government-run systems.”

The researchers are single-payer advocates: Himmelstein and one of his co-authors, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, also of the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, have long advocated for a single-payer health-care system in the United States. They co-founded the group Physicians for a National Health Program and have been unpaid policy advisors to Sen. Bernie Sanders and have coauthored research manuscripts with Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Both senators are calling for a transition to a single-payer Medicare-for-All system. But the researchers say that their conclusions in the new study are based on the data — and that their estimates of U.S. administrative costs are likely conservative.

“It’s actually the data that guided us to the solution, the solution didn’t give rise to the data,” Himmelstein said, according to Modern Healthcare.

Himmelstein also says that, while it may be possible to reduce administrative costs without switching to a single-payer system, the benefits would be much smaller. “We could streamline the bureaucracy to some extent with other approaches, but you can’t get nearly the magnitude of savings that we could get with a single payer,” he told Time.

‘Obamacare’ mandate: hot for lawyers, ho-hum to consumers

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press reported that the repeal of an unpopular fine for people without health insurance has had little impact on “Obamacare” sign-ups or premiums, a gap between the real world and legal arguments from conservatives again challenging the Affordable Care Act.

The 10-year-old law has proved more resilient than its creators or detractors imagined, even as the Supreme Court considers whether to take up the latest effort to roll it back.

Opponents argue that the constitutionality of the entire 900-page law hinges on the now-toothless penalty for not having health insurance. Collected as a tax by the IRS, the penalty was intended to enforce the law’s “individual mandate” that Americans be insured. A previous Republican-led Congress set the fines to $0, effective last year.

“We’ve gotten a lot of evidence by now about what the market looks like without a mandate penalty, and on the whole it looks pretty stable, which is surprising because that’s not what most people would have expected when the ACA was being written,” said Cynthia Cox, who directs research on the health law for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

A Kaiser study released this week found that removal of the penalty pushed premiums up about 5% going into 2019, but the bottom line was a wash because of other factors. Insurers appeared to be making healthy profits.

The penalty was thought to be critical when the law was being written in 2009-2010. The idea was to nudge healthy people to sign up, helping keep premiums in check. But Cox said there’s no indication that healthy people have dropped out in droves. In one telling statistic, the Kaiser study found that average hospital days per 1,000 people enrolled dipped slightly in 2019, even after the penalty was eliminated.

Partial sign-up numbers for 2020 released Wednesday by the government point to stability. Nearly 8.3 million people enrolled in the 38 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website. That’s down only about 2% from last year, when one additional state was using HealthCare.gov. A final count including that state — Nevada — and others that run their own sign-up efforts is expected by the spring.

The insurance mandate was the central issue when the Supreme Court first upheld the health care law in 2012, over a year before HealthCare.gov opened for business.

Chief Justice John Roberts cast the key vote in that 5-4 decision. He found that Congress lacked constitutional authority to require that Americans have health insurance. But because Congress has broad powers to levy taxes, Roberts ruled that a tax on people who did not purchase coverage offered them was constitutional. That allowed the law to survive what’s still seen as its most serious legal challenge.

Kathleen Sebelius, health secretary for President Barack Obama, said in 2012 that it was generally accepted that the insurance mandate was part of a three-legged stool key to stable markets. The other two legs were taxpayer-provided subsidies for premiums and a guarantee that patients with preexisting medical conditions could no longer be turned down or charged more.

“It was thought that the trade-off for changing the rules on preexisting conditions would have to be … some penalty incentive so you would get healthy people in the pool, along with not-healthy people,” Sebelius said. “What became clear when the law went into effect (in 2014) is that the subsidies in many ways provided a greater incentive for people get health insurance.”

Those subsides are designed so that low- and moderate-income households only spend a fixed percentage of their incomes on premiums, shielding consumers from high sticker prices.

Cox agreed that the law’s “carrots” seem to have made more of a difference than its “stick.”

Fast-forward to 2018 and a coalition of conservative states led by Texas won a lower court decision that the insurance mandate was still critical, in a legal and constitutional sense.

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas ruled that by zeroing out the tax penalty, Congress rendered the insurance mandate unconstitutional, and without it the entire health law must fall. President Donald Trump agreed.

Recently, a federal appeals court in New Orleans agreed with O’Connor that an unenforceable insurance mandate is unconstitutional. But the appeals court sent the case back to him to see whether other parts of the law can stand.

Defending the law, a coalition of Democratic-led states, along with the U.S. House, appealed to the Supreme Court, seeking a fast-track decision amid this year’s presidential election. The court has asked lawyers for the conservative states to respond by Friday on the timing question.

University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley said the stability of the health insurance markets exposes “the artificiality” of the conservatives’ argument.

“It really goes to show how ridiculous it is to claim that Congress understood the mandate to be so essential that if it were to be red-lined out, the rest of the law would have to fall,” said Bagley.

Not so fast, said Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer representing groups siding with Texas and the other GOP-led states opposing the law.

“The question is not whether in reality (the ACA) can work without the mandate,” said Schlafly. “The test is whether it was intended to work without the mandate.

“Theory does matter to these Supreme Court justices,” he added, “and they do take theory seriously.”

ObamaCare still working despite individual mandate’s repeal

Megan Henney noted that one year after Republicans repealed the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, President Barack Obama’s signature health care law remains surprisingly stable and profitable for insurers.

When Republicans gutted the ACA in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, eliminating the provision that required Americans to either buy health insurance or pay a fine, critics warned that decision would cause younger and healthier people to flee from the marketplace, leaving sicker, more expensive patients, remaining and causing the market to enter a “death spiral.”

But a report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation on Monday found that despite the removal of the mandate, those fears are largely unfounded.

Individual enrollment fell by 5 percent between the first quarter of 2018 and 2019, but the relatively modest growth in claims costs at the beginning of 2019 indicates that enrollment declines and policy changes did not cause healthy individuals to flee the market. In fact, the average number of days enrollees spent in a hospital in the first nine months of 2019 was slightly lower than inpatient days in the previous four years.

“Results from the first nine months of 2019 suggest that the individual market remains profitable and stable despite the effective repeal of the individual mandate,” the analysis said.

A key measure of insurers’ financial strength, margins — the average amount by which premium income exceeds claims costs per each enrollee in a given month — are the healthiest they’ve been in nearly eight years. (Insurer financial performance dipped slightly at the end of 2019, but the margins remained higher than all other previous years through 2017).

“These data suggest that insurers in this market remain on average financially healthy,” the report said.

The report comes amid attacks by Republicans and President Trump on arguably the biggest legislative accomplishment of the Obama administration.

Most recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in the case of Texas v. Azar, struck down the individual mandate as unconstitutional, though it did not invalidate the rest of the law, leaving its fate, once again, in limbo. The ruling was issued almost exactly one year after Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, struck down the entire law.

A coalition of Democratic states, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, has made it clear that it intends to challenge the appeals court decision by petitioning the Supreme Court to take the case.

The ultimate outcome of the lawsuit will affect millions of Americans, and the repeal of the 9-year-old law could leave up to 32 million people without health insurance by 2026, according to a Congressional Budget Office report from 2017 about the effects of repealing the ACA.

I’m still confused as to why Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are pushing Medicare for All and not fixing the ACA/Obamacare. Let’s see with tomorrow’s debate whether we get and more suggestions. Moreover, why hasn’t the Republicans when they had the majority on the House and the Democrats now that they have control in the House, why no one party has tried hard to fix the healthcare problem. Politics and more political “strategies” continue to get in the way of the real solution.

Drug prices rise 5.8% on average in 2020, Obamacare and True Economics and the opinions of Delaney!

The Holidays are finally over and Rudolf was just arrested for assaulting his teammate reindeers for calling him names and laughing at him. Was this a hate crime??? Oh, how sensitive these days!! Poor, poor Rudolf!

As I was picking up a prescription today I was reminded of this article, one copy sent to me by a friend, I then went to pay for the prescription with my GoodRx card though which I was given an 80% discount. This brings up the question how will we all be able to pay for the future drugs with their outrageous prices? 

It also brings up the question, how do organizations like GoodRx and Singlecare give people the discount. And what is the true value of prescription drugs and what prices should be charged in order for the always-profitable pharmaceutical companies to make an acceptable profit and what is an acceptable profit?

Consider this report published in MarketWatch by Jared S. Hopkins.

Pharmaceutical companies started 2020 by raising the price of hundreds of drugs, according to a new analysis, though the increases are relatively modest this year as scrutiny grows from patients, lawmakers and health plans.

Pfizer Inc. led the way, including increasing prices by over 9% on more than 40 products. The drug industry traditionally sets prices for its therapies at the start of the year and again in the middle of the year.

More than 60 drugmakers raised prices in the U.S. on Wednesday, according to an analysis from Rx Savings Solutions, which sells software to help employers and health plans choose the least-expensive medicines. The average increase was 5.8%, according to the analysis, including increases on different doses for the same drug.

The average is just below that of a year ago, when more than 50 companies raised the prices on hundreds of drugs by an average of more than 6%, according to the analysis.

Pfizer said that 27% of the drugs Pfizer sells in the U.S. will increase in price by an average of 5.6%. More than 90 of the New York-based company’s products rose in price, according to the Rx Savings Solutions analysis. Among them are Ibrance, which sold nearly $3.7 billion globally through the first nine months last year, and rheumatoid arthritis therapy Xeljanz.

A Pfizer spokeswoman said that nearly half of its drugs whose prices went up are sterile injectables, which are typically administered in hospitals, and the majority of those increases amount to less than $1 per product dose.

Pfizer’s largest percent increases, 15%, are on its heparin products, which are generic blood thinners typically administered in hospitals.

Pfizer said the heparin increases are to help offset a 50% increase in the cost of raw materials and expand capacity to meet market demand. The company said it is monitoring the global heparin supply, which has been challenged by the impact of African swine flu in China, as the drug is derived from pig products and disruption could lead to a shortage. Pfizer said that its U.S. heparin supply is not sourced from China.

Overall, the increases by drugmakers Wednesday affect “list prices,” which are set by manufacturers, although most patients don’t pay these prices, which don’t take into account rebates, discounts and insurance payments. Drugmakers have said prices are increased in conjunction with rebates they give to pharmacy-benefit managers, or PBMs, in order to be placed on the lists of covered drugs known as formularies.

In fact, drugmakers have said that their net prices have declined because of large rebates to PBMs, which negotiate prices in secret with their clients, such as employers and labor unions.

Pfizer said its price increases will be offset by higher rebates paid to insurers and middlemen. The company said the net effect on revenue growth in 2020 will be 0%, which is the same percentage expected for 2019. The company said the average net price of its drugs declined by 1% in 2018.

In 2018, Pfizer was assailed by President Trump after the company raised the prices on some 40 drugs. Pfizer temporarily rolled back the increases, but raised prices again later.

In Washington, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress have drawn up proposals for lowering drug costs, while the Trump administration recently introduced a plan for importing drugs from Canada.

“Prices go up but demand remains the same,” said Michael Rea, CEO of Rx Savings Solutions. Clients of the Overland Park, Kan., company include Target Corp. and Quest Diagnostics Inc. “Without the appropriate checks and balances in place, this is a runaway train. Consumers, employers and health plans ultimately pay the very steep price.”

While some increases in his firm’s analysis were steep, most product prices rose by less than 9%.

AbbVie Inc. raised the price of rheumatoid arthritis treatment Humira, the world’s top-selling drug, by 7.4%, according to the analysis. Through the first nine months of 2019, Humira sales totaled nearly $11 billion.

AbbVie didn’t respond to a request for comment.

GlaxoSmithKline PLC raised the prices on more than two dozen different therapies, although none by more than by 5%. That includes its shingles vaccine, Shingrix, which sold about $1.7 billion globally in the first nine months of 2019.

A Glaxo spokeswoman confirmed the increases and said net prices for its U.S. products fell about 3.4% on average annually the past five years.

Other major companies that raised prices included generic drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., which raised the price of more than two dozen products, but none by more than 6.4%, according to the analysis. Sanofi S.A. raised prices on some of their therapies, but none by more than 5%, while Biogen Inc. took increases that didn’t exceed 6%, including on multiple-sclerosis therapy Tecfidera.

Teva didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A Sanofi spokeswoman confirmed the increases and said that the changes are consistent with its pledge to ensure price increases don’t exceed medical inflation. A Biogen spokesman confirmed the price changes and said adjustments are made to products for which it continues to invest in research, and otherwise increases follow inflation.

In addition to Pfizer’s increases on heparin, companies increased prices for several therapies by more than 10%, according to the analysis.

Cotempla XR-ODT, which is approved in the U.S. to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children between 6 and 17 years old, increased by more than 13% to $420 for a month supply. The therapy is sold by Neos Therapeutics Inc., based in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Representatives for Neos didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Democrats ask U.S. Supreme Court to save Obamacare

Lawrence Hurley of Reuters reported that the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives and 20 Democratic-led states asked the Supreme Court on Friday to declare that the landmark Obamacare healthcare law does not violate the U.S. Constitution as lower courts have found in a lawsuit brought by Republican-led states. 

The House and the states, including New York and California, want the Supreme Court to hear their appeals of a Dec. 18 ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that deemed the 2010 law’s “individual mandate” that required people to obtain health insurance unconstitutional. 

The petitions asked the Supreme Court, which has a 5-4 conservative majority, to hear the case quickly and issue a definitive ruling on the law, formally called the Affordable Care Act, by the end of June. 

Texas and 17 other conservative states – backed by President Donald Trump’s administration – filed a lawsuit challenging the law, which was signed by Democratic former President Barack Obama in 2010 over strenuous Republican opposition. A district court judge in Texas in 2018 found the entire law unconstitutional. 

“The Affordable Care Act has been the law of the land for a decade now and despite efforts by President Trump, his administration and congressional Republicans to take us backwards, we will not strip health coverage away from millions of Americans,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said. 

Obamacare, considered Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, has helped roughly 20 million Americans obtain medical insurance either through government programs or through policies from private insurers made available in Obamacare marketplaces. Republican opponents have called it an unwarranted government intervention in health insurance markets. 

Congressional Republicans tried and failed numerous times to repeal Obamacare. Trump’s administration has taken several actions to undermine it. 

In 2012, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld most Obamacare provisions including the individual mandate, which required people to obtain insurance or pay a financial penalty. The court defined this penalty as a tax and thus found the law permissible under the Constitution’s provision empowering Congress to levy taxes. 

In 2017, Trump signed into law tax legislation passed by a Republican-led Congress that eliminated the individual mandate’s financial penalty. That law means the individual mandate can no longer be interpreted as a tax provision and therefore violates the Constitution, the 5th Circuit concluded. 

In striking down the individual mandate, the 5th Circuit avoided answering the key question of whether the rest of the law can remain in place or must be struck down, instead sending the case back to a district court judge for further analysis. 

That means the fate of Obamacare remains in limbo. The fact that the litigation is still ongoing may make the Supreme Court, which already has a series of major cases to decide in the coming months, less likely to intervene at this stage. 

John Delaney: On health care, bold vision with pragmatism is what America needs

Pulitzer prize winning editor, Art Cullen noted that in living rooms and coffee shops across all of Iowa’s 99 counties, I am forever reminded that health care is the paramount issue facing Americans. Our current system is deeply broken, and our country needs a bold vision and a pragmatic approach for improving health care. In many ways, a candidate’s approach to health care defines their governing and leadership style. It answers important questions about their values, vision, pragmatism and management style. 

The Democratic Party should have as its true north universal access — where every American has health care coverage as a right of citizenship. We should support plans that encourage innovation — curing diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s — and that create a framework for getting costs under control. My Better Care Plan uniquely achieves all of these goals.

Universal access needs to be realistic

Currently, only three candidates have detailed plans for universal access — Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and I. Universal access is the right answer, both morally and economically. The plans advocated by Warren and Sanders, however, call for an extreme “single-payer” system, where the government is the only provider of coverage. 

Aside from the extraordinary practical, fiscal and political issues associated with eliminating and replacing over 180 million private insurance plans, a single-payer system will massively underfund the health care system. Today, government reimbursement is dramatically less than reimbursements paid by insurance companies. Making the government the only payer in health care would underfund hospitals, particularly in rural America, resulting in hospital closures, practitioners closing up shop, and a reduction of investment in innovation.  

On the other hand, most other candidates are advocating for a “public option” as our way forward. This is a modest proposal, insufficient for the challenges of our broken health care system. A public option is simply another insurer that is government-run. It will have co-payments, deductibles, and premiums. And it relies on people choosing to sign up. While it would provide more options than are currently available in the marketplace, undoubtedly helping many, it would not address the tragedy of the uninsured in our country.

Under BetterCare we achieve the ambition of universal coverage without the negatives of a single-payer system. 

Under BetterCare, Medicare is left alone, because it works, and every American from birth to 65 (seniors are on Medicare) is auto-enrolled in a free federal health care plan that covers basic health care needs. This ensures every American has health care coverage. But unlike the single-payer Medicare for All, Americans could still choose private insurance. They could “opt out” of the BetterCare plan and buy private insurance or receive insurance from their employer. If they “opt out” they would receive a health care tax credit to offset the cost of health care they purchase or that their employer provides. 

Alternatively, they could use the BetterCare plan and enhance it with supplemental plans, similar to how Medicare beneficiaries acquire supplemental plans. BetterCare is like Medicare. It provides guaranteed coverage but allows our seniors to have supplemental plans or “opt out” and accept a Medicare Advantage Plan.  

BetterCare is similar to the plans of most developed nations that have universal coverage. As Art Cullen wrote, it provides “universal coverage while not eliminating private insurance.” By providing universal access, choice, protecting provider reimbursements, and encouraging innovation, BetterCare is bold, ambitious, practical and a political winner. Importantly, it can be fully paid for by applying the Obamacare subsidies and current federal and state Medicaid payments and by eliminating the corporate deductibility of health care.

It is bold, yet practical, and reflective of my approach to governing. As a former entrepreneur, CEO of two public companies and member of Congress, I bring a unique approach and real leadership experience, which is why I respectfully ask for your support. 

Use Simple Economics to Contain Health Care Costs

Gary Shilling wrote for Bloomberg and makes so much sense when he looked at health care costs in terms of simple economics. (Bloomberg Opinion) — Spending on U.S. health care is out of control, expanding steadily from 5% of GDP in 1960 to 18% in 2018.  There are, however, ways to curb the explosion in costs from both the demand and the supply side.

Health care costs per capita in the U.S. are almost double those of other developed countries, but life expectancy is lower than many, even South Korea, according to the CIA and Eurostat. Without restraint, costs will accelerate as more and more postwar babies age. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects Medicare spending alone will leap from 3% of GDP to 8% by 2090.

Medical costs are understandably high since the system is designed to be the most expensive possible for four distinct reasons. First, with the constantly improving but increasingly expensive modern technology, the best is none too good when your life or mine is at stake. Also, few patients have the knowledge to decide whether a recommended procedure will be medically much-less cost-effective. The medical delivery system encourages a gulf between the providers who supposedly know what’s needed and their patients who don’t.

Second, patients are quite insensitive to costs since their employers or governments pay most health care bills. And those who are privately insured want to get their money’s worth from their premiums, especially since Obamacare does not allow insurers to set premiums on a health risk basis.

Third, the pay-for-service system encourages medical providers to over-service. After my dermatologist burned off the pre-cancerous growths on my face, he wanted me back in two weeks to be sure, but also to bill another office visit.

Finally, domestic training programs and facilities for medical personnel are inadequate. As a result, many MD residents and nurses come from abroad, while medical schools of dubious quality in the Caribbean train U.S.-born physicians.

To control costs on the demand side, use the appeal of money. The importance of their health to most Americans means they will spend proportionally more on medical services than other goods and services, but they’ll think twice if it’s money they otherwise can keep. Increasing deductibles and co-payments are moving in that direction. In 1999, employees on average paid $1,500, or 22%, of $6,700 in family health coverage premiums, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The total rose to $26,600 in 2019, but employees’ share has climbed to $6,000, or 29%.

Medical savings accounts also make patients more aware of costs. Companies give employees a set amount of money and they can keep what they don’t spend on health care. 

Accountable Care Organizations, now authorized by Medicare, attack the fee-for-service problem. The medical providers who participate are encouraged to be efficient since they can retain part of any savings due to cost controls as long as they provide excellent care.

To increase the supply of medical personnel, American medical and nursing schools can be expanded with government help. Also, shortening the whole training process would save time and get huge student debts under control. Does a physician need a four-year bachelor’s degree before beginning medical school?

Cartels among hospital medical specialties can be attacked. Now, physicians in, say, the general surgery department limit competition by controlling who has the privileges to use their institution’s facilities.

In another development, the entrepreneurial model of a small group of MDs operating a practice is fading in the face of high costs of medical record-keeping and other regulatory requirements. Over half of physicians now work for hospitals, either on their main campuses or in satellite facilities. This may shift the emphasis of many from money to medicine. 

Limiting malpractice insurance premiums, a major outlay for medical providers, can also cut medical costs. Texas placed a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, i.e., pain and suffering, in 2003. Texas Department of Insurance data reveals that medical malpractice claims, including lawsuits, fell by two-thirds between 2003 and 2011, and the average payout declined 22% to $199,000.

Also, average malpractice insurance premiums plunged 46%, according to the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, a coalition of health care providers and physician liability insurers. And physicians were then attracted to Texas. The Texas Medical Association reports that in the decade since malpractice awards were capped, 3,135 physicians came to the Lone Star State annually, 770 more than the average in the prior nine years.

At present, Americans basically pay the development costs of new drugs while other countries with centralized pharmaceutical-buying skip the expenses of R&D, field trials, etc., and only pay the much-lower marginal cost of production. Allowing Medicare to join Medicaid to negotiate drug prices could reduce costs if foreigners can be convinced to share development costs. Otherwise, new drug development would be curtailed. The Trump administration’s new rules that force health insurers and hospitals to publish their negotiated prices may force costs to the lowest level.

One approach that doesn’t work in easing the burden on consumers of medical costs is increasing overall government subsidies. They tend to be offset by higher costs, much as higher college tuition and fees often dissipate more scholarship aid. Ever notice that the most modern, prosperous institutions in town tend to be hospitals, hugely subsidized by governments?

Health care is critical, but that doesn’t mean its costs aren’t subjected to supply and demand. Then how do we assess the value as well as the costs and cost limitations? Are drug companies as well as insurance companies making way too much in profits by taking advantage of we the honest patients?? 

There many parts of the eventual answer to our need for a health care program which can service all at reasonable costs and each “part” needs thorough investigation and real solutions and that just addressing only one or two of these “parts” will never be sustainable!!

Physicians Get Weed Killer; Administrators Get Miracle-Gro And neither is helping, Obamacare Funding Suggestions, Andrew Lang, Year in Review and Google Searches

Last week Suneel Dhand reported that compared to a couple of years ago, very little has changed in the hospital medical community. 

In fact, I’m sure the divergence of the curves has only grown bigger, as more and more administrators are added to the ranks of healthcare. Look at what happened in Chicago where one of the fairly large hospitals fired 15 of their physicians and replaced them with 15 nurse practitioners last year, and in Texas 27 pediatricians at a chain of clinics in the Dallas area lost their jobs and were replaced by nurse practitioners. 

Quite often in life, the answers to some of the biggest questions we have, are staring us right in the face and incredibly simple. Healthcare can never be fixed unless we radically simplify everything and strip away the unnecessary complexities in our fragmented system. The divergence of the above lines, however, actually represents so much more than just an obnoxious visual. It actually symbolizes what happens when any organization, system, or even country, becomes top-heavy and loses sight of what is happening at the front lines. And in the end, it eventually collapses under its own weight.

When this happens in America, we cannot predict, but consider this: The amount we spend on healthcare would be the 4th largest economy in the world if it stood alone (at $3.5 trillion, only China and Japan have a higher total GDP). With an aging population, increasing chronic comorbidities, and expensive new treatments, if costs are not reined in, healthcare expenditure could account for a third of the entire GDP in about 25 years. A figure that will quite simply destroy the American economy.

It would be one thing if all the administration and bureaucracy was actually resulting in an improved and more efficient healthcare system. But look around you folks. Acute physician shortages now plague every state. Millions of people find it impossible to find a primary care doctor. Certain specialties are now booking out appointments months in advance. ERs and hospitals are overflowing. And in the end, patients are still facing soaring out of pocket expenses.

The last 20 years have witnessed the consolidation and corporatization of the entire U.S. healthcare system. Sold initially as a way to reign in costs, I am yet to see any evidence that it’s done anything other than dramatically increase costs (please feel free to forward me any financial analysis if I’m wrong). And why should that be a surprise to anyone?

I’ll leave you to stare once again at the above graph for a minute or two, and take in a comment that a distinguished physician colleague of mine recently made: “It’s like the physicians have been given weed killer and the administrators have been given Miracle-Gro.”

Affordable Care Act funding in question after health insurance taxes repealed

The Cadillac Tax, Health Insurance Tax and Medical Device Tax were recently repealed, raising questions over how the Affordable Care Act will be funded in the future. Yahoo Finance’s Anjalee Khemlani joins Adam Shapiro, Julie Hyman and Dan Howley during On the Move to break it all down.

Andrew Yang Has The Most Conservative Health Care Plan In The Democratic Primary

Daniel Marans of the Huff Post pointed out that Entrepreneur Andrew Yang has had unexpected staying power in the Democratic presidential primary thanks in part to the enthusiasm for his plan to provide every American with a basic income of $1,000 a month.

But the boldness of his signature idea only serves to underscore the unambitiousness of the health care plan he released earlier this month.

In fact, Yang’s health plan, which he bills as an iteration of the left’s preferred “Medicare for All” policy, is more conservative than proposals introduced by the candidates typically identified as moderate. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota all at least call for the creation of a public health insurance option that would be available to every American. (Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts favor Medicare for All, which would move all Americans on to one government-run insurance plan ― though the two senators disagree on the timeline for implementing the idea.)

In terms of expanding health insurance coverage, Yang says on his website merely that he would “explore” allowing the employees of companies that already provide health insurance the chance to buy into Medicare. 

“We need to give more choice to employers and employees in a way that removes barriers for businesses to grow,” Yang writes.

Under Yang’s plan, people employed by businesses that do not provide insurance, or who are self-employed, would continue to purchase coverage on the exchanges created by former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The decision not to focus on expanding coverage distinguishes Yang dramatically from his competitors. And in the foreword to his plan, he explains that that is a deliberate choice, since enacting single-payer health care is “not a realistic strategy.”

“We are spending too much time fighting over the differences between Medicare for All, ‘Medicare for All Who Want It,’ and ACA expansion when we should be focusing on the biggest problems that are driving up costs and taking lives,” he writes. “We need to be laser focused on how to bring the costs of coverage down by solving the root problems plaguing the American healthcare system.”

When asked about how Yang plans to expand health insurance coverage ― 27 million Americans remain entirely uninsured and millions more have insurance that is so threadbare they do not use it ― Yang’s campaign referred HuffPost to his website. 

Yang would increase health care access through reforms designed to reduce the health care system’s underlying costs, according to his campaign. On his website, he divides those reforms into six categories: bringing down the cost of prescription drugs through bulk negotiation; investing in waste-saving health care technologies; realigning medical providers’ “incentives” away from waste and abuse; increasing investment in preventive and end-of-life health care; making the provision of health care more “comprehensive”; and reducing the influence of lobbyists on the political system.

Yang implies that his rivals have sacrificed cost control in the name of expanding coverage. But when it comes to the specifics, Yang’s competitors have already gotten behind many of the ideas he is proposing ― and sometimes take them a step further. 

For example, Buttigieg has a provision in his health care plan that would prohibit “surprise billing” ― the practice of providing unwitting patients with a large bill after a medical procedure when a doctor who performed it is not in the hospital’s insurance network. Yang does not mention the practice in his health care plan.

One provision of Yang’s plan that genuinely sets him apart is his plan to encourage the replacement of the fee-for-service billing model for doctors with salaries. The latter model is supposed to cut back on duplicative practices and foster more holistic care. Other elements of his plan, such as “incentivizing” gym memberships, healthy eating and bike commuting as a form of preventive health care, have drawn eye rolls from leftists who regard the ideas as paternalistic.

First and foremost, though, many progressives are likely to find fault with Yang’s plan, because they consider his use of the term “Medicare for All” misleading. 

For months on the campaign trail, Yang claimed that he supported Medicare for All, though not the provision of Sanders’ bill ― and its companion in the House ― requiring people with private insurance to enroll in an expanded Medicare program. 

He even aired a television ad casting his commitment to the policy as a reflection of his experience as the father of a special needs child.

Yang says on his campaign website that he is still firmly committed to the “spirit” of Medicare for All. But now that he has introduced a plan of his own, that claim is harder to defend.

Yet the Yang campaign is plowing full-steam ahead with its appropriation of the term in a new 30-second ad, “Caring.”

“If my husband, Andrew Yang, is president, he’ll fight for Medicare for All with mental health coverage,” Yang’s wife, Evelyn, says in the ad. 

Fate of Obamacare uncertain amid tax repeals, lawsuits and Medicare-for-all push consider that Democrats seize on anti-Obamacare ruling to steamroll GOP in 2020

Alice Miranda Ollstein and James Arkin reported that a court ruling last week putting the Affordable Care Act further in jeopardy may provide the opening Democrats have been waiting for to regain the upper hand on health care against Republicans in 2020.

At the most recent Democratic presidential debate, candidates largely avoided discussing the lawsuit or Republicans’ years-long efforts to dismantle Obamacare, and instead continued their intra-party battle over Medicare for All.

But Senate Democrats, Democratic candidates and outside groups backing them immediately jumped on the news of the federal appeals court ruling — blasting out ads and statements reminding voters of Republicans’ votes to repeal the 2010 health care law, support the lawsuit and confirm the judges who may bring about Obamacare’s demise.

“I think it’s an opportunity to reset with the New Year to remind people that there’s a very real threat to tens of millions of Americans,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in an interview. “We Democrats are always striving to improve the system, but, at a minimum, the American people expect us to protect what they already have.”

In 2018, Democrats won the House majority and several governorships largely on a message of protecting Obamacare and its popular protections for preexisting conditions. This year continued the trend, with Kentucky’s staunchly anti-Obamacare governor, Matt Bevin, losing to Democratic now-Gov. Andy Beshear.

The landscape in 2020 may be more challenging for Democrats than it was in 2018, when Republicans had more recently voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Republicans also say they now have more ammunition to push back on Democrats’ arguments with the party’s divisions over single-payer health care, which would replace Obamacare, shaping the presidential race.

Moreover, the appeals court’s ruling — which in all likelihood punted any final disposition on the case until after the 2020 elections — eliminates what some Republicans saw as a nightmare scenario: If the court had embraced a lower court ruling striking down the law in its entirety, it would have put the issue before the Supreme Court during the heat of the election, putting tens of millions of Americans’ health insurance at risk.

Still, Democrats believe they can win the political battle over health care, especially in Senate races. At least a half-dozen GOP senators are up for reelection, and Democrats need to net three seats to win back control of the chamber if they also win back the presidency. Democratic strategists and candidates are eager to run a health care playbook that mirrors that of the party’s House takeover in 2018, and say Republicans are uniquely vulnerable after admitting this year that they have no real plan for dealing with the potential fallout of courts striking down Obamacare.

Within a day of the ruling, the pro-Obamacare advocacy group Protect Our Care cut a national TV and digital ad featuring images of Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), warning that if the lawsuit succeeds, “135 million Americans with preexisting conditions will be stripped of protections, 20 million Americans will lose coverage and costs will go up for millions more.”

Other state-based progressive groups told POLITICO they’re readying their own ads going after individual Senate Republicans over the 5th Circuit’s ruling.

Protect Our Care director Brad Woodhouse predicts that it’s just a preview of the wave of attention the issue will get in the months ahead, as Democratic candidates and outside groups alike hammer the GOP on the threat their lawsuit poses to Obamacare.

“If there is one issue in American politics that is going to flip the Senate from Republican to Democratic in 2020, it’s this issue,” he said. “Our message is simple: President [Donald] Trump and Republicans are in court right now, suing to take away the ACA, take away your health care. And if Cory Gardner or Thom Tillis or any of them don’t think that’s an indefensible position, they should ask the 40-plus House Republicans who lost their seats in 2018.”

More than a dozen Republican state attorneys general, backed by the Trump administration, have been arguing in federal court for more than a year that Congress rendered the entire Affordable Care Act untenable when they voted as part of the 2017 tax bill to drop the penalty for not buying insurance down to zero. A district judge in Texas sided with them last year in a sweeping ruling declaring all of Obamacare unconstitutional.

Last week, an appeals court agreed that the elimination of the penalty made the individual mandate unconstitutional, but sent the case back down to the district court to decide whether any of the law could be separated out and preserved. The move all but guarantees the case won’t reach the Supreme Court until after the election, but it maintains the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the health law that experts say drives up the cost of insurance.

Though no one is in danger of losing their health coverage imminently, Democratic challengers in nearly every Senate battleground race, including Arizona, North Carolina, Maine and Iowa, jumped on the court ruling as an opportunity to attack Republicans on health care.

“Democrats have been in the fight to ensure that people across this country have access to affordable health care,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, the chair of the DSCC. “This opinion does not help the Republicans.”

Sara Gideon, Democrats’ preferred candidate in Maine to take on Collins, called the lawsuit a “direct threat to the protections countless Mainers and Americans depend on. She has been reminding voters that Collins’ vote on the 2017 tax reform law triggered the ACA lawsuit in the first place, and she voted to confirm one of the 5th Circuit judges that recently sided with the Trump administration’s arguments against the law.

Unlike the vast majority of her GOP colleagues in the upper chamber, Collins has spoken up against the lawsuit. She has written multiple times to Attorney General Bill Bar, urging him to defend the ACA in court. Collins told POLITICO the day after the ruling that it was “significant” that the 5th Circuit judges were clearly “very uneasy with the thought of striking down the entire law” and instead sent the case back down to the lower court for reconsideration. Collins’ campaign spokesman both emphasized that she believes the government should defend the law and criticized Democrats for defending the unpopular individual mandate.

Tillis, the vulnerable North Carolina senator, said the lawsuit gave Republicans “breathing room” to find a viable replacement for Obamacare and attempted to flip the attack on Democrats by tying them to their presidential contenders.

“I think the fact that they all raised their hands and said we need Medicare for All is also raising their hands and saying the Affordable Care Act has failed,” Tillis said.

Though most of the 2020 presidential candidates have come out against Medicare for All, and more Democratic voters favor a choice between private insurance and a public option, the single-payer debate has given Republicans a potent line of attack that they’re turning to more than ever in the wake of the court’s ruling.

“Obamacare failed to lower health care costs for millions of Americans, and now Democrats want a complete government takeover of our health care system,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “They spent all of 2019 defending their socialist plan to eliminate employer-based health care coverage, and those problems will not subside anytime soon.”

The effectiveness of the GOP attacks will depend largely on the Democratic nominee for president — if it is someone who backs Medicare for All, it will be much more difficult for Senate candidates who don’t support the policy to separate themselves from it. But Democratic activists say they’re confident the GOP’s actions in court will sway voters more than their claims about Medicare for All.

“We can prepare for and counter those attacks by reminding voters that [Republicans are] fighting actively to take health care away,” said Kelly Dietrich, the founder and CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee, which coached more than 17,000 candidates for federal and state office in 2019. “Republicans’ ability to use fear as a tool to win elections should never be underestimated. But the antidote is to fight back just as hard.”

Year in Review: Lots of talk, not a lot of action in healthcare politics

Rachel Cohrs noted that lawmakers and regulators talked big on tackling high drug prices and surprise medical bills in 2019, but agreement on the bipartisan policies remained elusive. Some healthcare policy could be attached to a potential budget deal in December, but it is still unclear whether lawmakers will resolve funding disputes by the end of the year.

Despite major bipartisan legislative packages spearheaded by senior Senate Republican leaders, disputes over details and intense lobbying efforts have so far stalled progress in Congress. Drug makers are fighting a provision in the Senate Finance Committee’s drug pricing bill that would require them to pay back Medicare for drug price hikes faster than inflation, and providers and insurers are warring over how out-of-network medical bills should be handled.

Competing approaches to address surprise medical billing came to a head in December when a bipartisan, bicameral compromise proposal on addressing surprise medical bills emerged, but a key Senate Democrat involved in the negotiations had not signed on as of press time. Despite provider-friendly tweaks, providers still oppose the legislation and it is unclear whether House and Senate leadership have an appetite to include it in must-pass legislation.

Health reform 3.0: Early in the year, Senate health committee Chair Lamar Alexander and ranking Democrat Patty Murray released a wide-ranging plan to lower costs that addresses surprise medical bills; contract reform provisions; cost transparency; and boosting generic competition for Rx drugs. The year ended with a bipartisan, bicameral bill emerging, but at deadline it lacked Murray’s endorsement.

Reducing drug prices: Addressing drug prices was the other issue that dominated the policy landscape. Competing plans emerged, and the House passed a bill in mid-December on a party-line vote.

Grinding to a halt: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, which soured the prospects of a grand bargain between Trump and Pelosi on drug pricing and complicated the timeline for passing major healthcare policy.

Drug pricing was also a top priority for the Trump administration, but several marquee policy ideas have been stopped by the courts, abandoned, or are forthcoming. The White House decided to retract a prominent initiative that would have required insurers to pass manufacturer rebates directly to patients at the pharmacy counter, and a rule that would have compelled drug makers to include list prices in television advertisements is tied up in court. House Democrats passed a partisan government drug price negotiation bill, but it almost certainly will not become law.

The administration could at any time release a regulation outlining a process to allow states to import prescription drugs from Canada or move forward with a demonstration that would tie payments for physician-administered drugs in Medicare to international drug prices, but it has not yet acted on either proposal.

The 10 most-searched questions on health Reported by Sandee LaMotte of CNN

There were more questions that had people Googling in 2019.

The full list of the most-searched health questions in the United States this year also included questions about the flu, kidney stones and human papillomavirus or HPV:

  1. How to lower blood pressure
  2. What is keto?
  3. How to get rid of hiccups
  4. How long does the flu last?
  5. What causes hiccups?
  6. What causes kidney stones?
  7. What is HPV?
  8. How to lower cholesterol
  9. How many calories should I eat a day?
  10. How long does alcohol stay in your system?

NYU started to answer one of the big questions in the design of a fair healthcare system when they decided to declare their medical school tuition free. If all medical schools were tuition free the graduating doctors wouldn’t have the huge debt and they could have the opportunities to chose primary care and provide care to underserved rural and poorer communities. 

One step at a time and maybe next year Congress can really improve the health care system of our U.S.A.

And to all you interested readers out there Happy New Year! Maybe those in control will start the process of improving the delivery of affordable health care to all and not worry about their future political aspirations. What a change that would be!

US Health-Care Prices Are Off the Charts, Pros and Cons of Public vs Private healthcare and possible Financing of Medicare for All

After listening to the debates and the House debating and finally voting to approve the Articles of Impeachment I can actually say that I am embarrassed for we Americas and our Country. We all look like such fools! I say this because I have read critically the transcripts of the phone call that President Trump made to the President of Ukraine, listened to the witnesses in the case and have found no credible data to support an Impeachment. But how can one argue with the Hate of the party that lost the 2016 election? But on to discuss additional information on healthcare.

Michael Rainey of the Fuscal Times reported that a CT scan of the abdomen typically costs more than $1,000 in the U.S., but the same procedure in the U.K. costs $470, while in the Netherlands it costs just $140. Those numbers come from a new report, released Tuesday by the Health Care Cost Institute and the International Federation of Health Plans, that compares private insurance health-care prices in the U.S. to those in a sample of other wealthy countries – and finds that the U.S. is just about always the most expensive.

“The median prices paid by private insurance for health care services in the United States was almost always higher than the median prices in the eight other countries included in the iFHP study,” the report says. “Figure 1 [below] shows the prices paid for medical services in each country as a percent of the US price.”

Note that U.S. prices are marked by the red dots. In almost every case, the prices in other countries are just a fraction of the U.S. price. (Avoid getting cataract surgery in New Zealand, apparently.) 

The report also looks at drug prices, and finds that with only one exception, prices in the U.S. are the highest in the group. Harvoni, used to treat hepatitis C, costs $4,840 in South Africa and $12,780 in the Netherlands, but it costs more than twice that ($31,620) in the U.S. Similarly, a Humira pen, used to treat arthritis, costs $860 in the U.K., but $4,480 in the U.S.

“Drug prices for most countries were less than half the US price for most of the administered and prescription drugs included in the study,” the report says.

Writing about the report Tuesday, Vox’s Dylan Scott said that high medical prices in the U.S. have many causes, but one in particular stands out: “The US is still the wealthiest country in the world. It’s home to the world’s leading biopharmaceutical industry. It tends to have the most cutting-edge treatments. All this contributes to higher prices here than elsewhere. But one big and unavoidable culprit is the lack of price regulation.”

American health care is a farce

Rick Newman reported that the cost of private health insurance is skyrocketing. Medicare will run short of money soon. About 28 million Americans still lack health insurance.

Are your elected officials on it? NOPE! Why should they be. They get generous coverage through a choice of plans and enjoy taxpayer subsidies covering most of the cost. So they’ve taken care of themselves, which is the only thing that matters in Washington.

Wait, that’s not quite correct. Republicans are also determined to keep hacking away at the Affordable Care Act, now in place for 9 years. A GOP lawsuit—backed by the Trump administration—claims the entire ACA is unconstitutional, because in 2017 Congress repealed the penalty for people who lack insurance. It’s a convoluted argument, yet an appeals court recently upheld part of the case and sent the rest back to a lower-court judge, to assess which other parts of the ACA to kill. The law isn’t dead yet, and it might ultimately survive, but it could take the Supreme Court to rescue the ACA from its third or fourth near-death experience.

So here’s the story: There’s a health care crisis in the United States, with millions of people lacking care and many millions more facing costs that are rising far faster than their incomes. Health care costs are devouring both the family and the federal budget. And many workers stay in jobs they’re not suited for simply for the health benefits. Yet Republicans are trying to take care away from about 18 million Americans, and repeal the ACA’s prohibition against denying coverage to people with preexisting coverage. Their answer to giant problems of access and affordability is to make coverage even harder to obtain and drive up costs even more.

The Democrats have answers! Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to annihilate the private insurance system and create a government program, Medicare for All, which would be 15 times larger than the ACA Republicans hate so much. Sure, that’ll work. In response to obstinate political opposition, peddle a fantasy plan that generates even more furious resistance. And tell voters you refuse to compromise because it’s more important to stand for the right thing than to actually accomplish something that could improve people’s lives.

There are better ideas out there. Democrats such as Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar favor enhancements to the ACA and a new public option that would provide coverage to nearly all the uninsured while leaving private insurance in place, for those who want to stick with that. It will never get Republican support, since Republicans favor the law of the jungle over government aid. But a Bidenesque plan could happen in the unlikely event a few reddish states grow momentarily sensible and elect a few pragmatic Democrats, including a majority in both the House and Senate.

If that doesn’t happen, we can look forward to posturing on both sides that will fool some voters into thinking politicians care, without accomplishing anything likely to help. The Trump administration is pushing a new plan that would allow states to import prescription drugs from Canada, which enforces price controls that make drugs cheaper. Great idea, as long as Canada has no problem diverting drugs meant for Canadians back to America, where many of the drugs come from in the first place. Why doesn’t America just impose its own price controls? Because pharmaceutical companies own Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many other members of Congress, who won’t let it happen. So Trump is hoping more principled Canadian legislators will help Americans gets cheaper drugs made in America by American companies.

At least you’ll be free of all these worries once you turn 65, and Medicare kicks in. Except Medicare is going to run short of money starting in 2026, and will eventually be able to pay only about 77% of its obligations. So here’s the real health care plan: Don’t get sick until you turn 65, and then, get just 77% as sick as you would have otherwise. Or just move to Canada.

Pros and cons of private, public healthcare

A study by Flinders University found that the rising cost of private health cover and public hospital standards raise concerns among heart patients to obtain the best outcomes.

In one of the few direct comparisons, medical researchers in South Australia have analyzed data from pacemaker and defibrillator implant surgeries in all public and private hospitals in New South Wales and Queensland between 2010 and 2015 to make an assessment of medical safety outcomes, including infection levels and mortality.

Overall the outcomes were quite similar, says lead researcher Flinders cardiologist and electrophysiologist Associate Professor Anand Ganesan, who joined other Flinders University and University of Adelaide researchers in a new article just published in the Royal Australasian College of Physicians Internal Medicine Journal.

“There is growing community interest in the value of private health insurance and, to date, there are few head-to-head studies of the outcomes of care in public and private hospitals to compare the same service with adjustments for differences in patient characteristics,” says Associate Professor Ganesan, a Matthew Flinders Research Fellow and National Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow.

“We believe our results are of community interest for patients to assess the value and benefit of private health insurance, as well as for policymakers who decide on resource allocations between the public and private healthcare systems.”

He stressed that further “head-to-head” studies are needed across all major medical procedures to provide patients and clinicians in both the public and private system with the most up-to-date safety information.

The population level study of pacemaker complications found few key differences in overall major safety issues, although there were slightly higher infection rates in public hospitals but slightly lower acute mortality rates compared to the private hospital system.

This could be connected to the greater number of older, frail patients relying on private health cover—and greater number of people in the public system—although further studies were needed to explain these differences.

Associate Professor Ganesan says more regular comparative assessments of public versus private hospital care quality are very important, particularly for Australian health consumers.

Australia’s hospitals account for more than 40% of healthcare spending with a cumulative cost exceeding $60 billion per annum. Hospital care in Australia is delivered by a combination of 695 public (or 62,000 beds) and 630 private sector hospitals (33,100 beds).

The research paper, “Complications of cardiac implantable electronic device placement in public and private hospitals” has been published in the Internal Medicine Journal.

Budget watchdog group outlines ‘Medicare for All’ financing options

So, one of my oppositions to the program Medicare for All has been the question as to financing the program. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) on Monday released a paper providing its preliminary estimates for various ways to finance “Medicare for All,” as the issue of how to pay for such a health plan has taken center stage in the Democratic presidential primary.

“Policymakers have a number of options available to finance the $30 trillion cost of Medicare for All, but each option would come with its own set of trade-offs,” the budget watchdog group wrote. 

The issue of how to pay for Medicare for All — single-payer health care that eliminates premiums and deductibles — has become a key discussion topic in the Democratic presidential race.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), one of the top tier 2020 hopefuls, recently said that she would release a financing plan for her Medicare for All proposal after being criticized by some of her rivals in the primary race for refusing to give a direct answer about whether she’d raise taxes on the middle class to pay for the massive health care overhaul. 

CRFB said most estimates find that implementing Medicare for All would cost the federal government about $30 trillion over 10 years.

“How this cost is financed would have considerable distributional, economic, and policy implications,” the group wrote.

CRFB provided several options that each could raise the revenue needed to pay for Medicare for All. These included a 32 percent payroll tax, a 25 percent surtax on income above the standard-deduction amount, a 42 percent value-added tax, mandatory premiums averaging $7,500 per capita, and more than doubling all individual and corporate tax rates.

The group estimated that Medicare for All could not be fully financed just by raising taxes on the wealthy.

CRFB also estimated that cutting all nonhealth spending by 80 percent, or by more than doubling the national debt, so that it increased to 205 percent of gross domestic product, could finance Medicare for All.

The group said that the financing options it listed could be combined, or that policymakers could reduce the cost of Medicare for All by making it less generous.

“Adopting smaller versions of several policies may prove more viable than adopting any one policy in full,” CRFB wrote. 

CRFB said that most of the financing options it listed would on average be more progressive than current law, but most of the financing options would also shrink the economy.

Out-of-pocket costs for Medicare recipients will rise in the New Year

Dennis Thompson reviewed the future costs of Medicare since the Democratic primary discussion seems to point to Medicare or All. He noted that the standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B would rise $9.10, to $144 a month, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced.

The annual deductible for Part B also will increase $13 to $198 per year, CMS said.

Both increases are relatively large compared to 2019, when the Part B premium rose $1.50 a month and the deductible $2 for the year.

“This year there’s an unusual tick up in the Part B premium that could be a real concern for people living on a fixed income,” said Tricia Neuman, director of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s Program on Medicare Policy.

The Part B premium increase will affect people enrolled in original Medicare as well as those who are covered under Medicare Advantage, said David Lipschutz, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

“One thing I definitely wanted to make clear is that the increase in the Part B premium itself also applies to everyone on Medicare Advantage,” he said. “People on Medicare Advantage have to continue to pay the part B premium.”

Some, but not all, Medicare Advantage plans cover the Part B premium as part of their package, Lipschutz added.

The annual inpatient hospital deductible for Medicare Part A is also increasing to $1,408 a year, up $44. In 2019, the increase was $24.

These cost increases will wipe out much of the 1.6% cost-of-living (COLA) increase for Social Security benefits in 2020, CBS News reported. The COLA amounts to about $24 extra a month for the average retiree.

Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital stays, nursing facility care and some home health care services. Part B covers doctor visits, outpatient hospital treatment, durable medical equipment, and certain home health care and medical services not covered by Part A.

Unless Congress acts, the prescription benefit in Medicare Part D also will start drawing a lot more money out of the pockets of seniors taking pricey drugs, the experts added.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) included a provision that limited how much a senior with Part D would pay out-of-pocket after reaching a “catastrophic coverage” threshold, Neuman and Lipschutz said.

Once they reach that threshold, seniors pay 5% of their prescription costs. Until then, they pay 25% of the costs for brand-name drugs and 37% of generic drug costs.

But that ACA provision expires this year. When that happens, the catastrophic coverage threshold will jump $1,250, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates. People will have to pay $6,350 out-of-pocket before reaching the threshold.

“There will be a jump up in the threshold, which means that people with high drug spending will have to pay more before they can get this extra help,” Neuman said.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have bills in the works that could address this Part D increase, but it’s hard to predict whether Congress will be able to cooperate on a solution, Neuman and Lipschutz said.

“No matter what your allegiances are, everyone agrees something should be done about the high cost of prescription drugs,” Lipschutz said.

It’s not all bad news, however.

Folks with Medicare Advantage are expected to pay lower premiums, even with the increase in Part B, according to the CMS.

On average, Medicare Advantage premiums are expected be at their lowest in the past 13 years, and 23% lower than in 2018, the CMS said.

Medicare Advantage enrollees also will have more plans to choose from. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the average beneficiary will have access to 28 plans, compared with a low of 18 in 2014.

Original Medicare is the traditional fee-for-service program offered by the federal government, while Medicare Advantage plans are an alternative provided through private insurance companies.

Medicare beneficiaries spent an estimated $5,460 out-of-pocket for health care in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. About 58% went to medical and long-term care services, with the remainder spent on premiums for Medicare and supplemental insurance.

So, the ultimate question is :

Equal health care for all: A philosopher’s answer to a political question

The University of Pennsylvania staff asked the question-Should access to health care, especially in life-threatening situations, depend on whether you can afford it? Absolutely not, says Robert C. Hughes, Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics, who compared health care systems in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He writes about this question and other issues in a recent paper titled, “Egalitarian Provision of Necessary Medical Treatment.”

Hughes identifies two key features of an egalitarian health care system. First, he argues, it would protect people’s liberty to ensure that access to money does not decide if people get the health care they need. Second, it would promote stability and encourage people to be law abiding. “The central finding of [my research] is that it’s morally necessary to make sure that people’s finances don’t affect their ability to get truly medically necessary treatment,” he says.

Hughes favors universal health care coverage in the U.S. Further, in order to ensure that everybody has access to the medical care they need, he says one option is to eliminate private health insurance for coverage provided under “Medicare for All,” the solution that Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed. Hughes explores what legislators, the pharmaceutical industry, and other health care providers could do to ensure a fair health care system where private parties don’t get to decide who is eligible for what treatments.

I mentioned my embarrassment and disappointment in our political system we all have to give thanks for all the good things in our lives. As Christmas approaches we all should reflect on the good in our lives and enjoy the Holiday including family and friends. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa! And I hope Santa leaves coal in all the stockings of our politicians who can’t even do the job that we the voters asked them to do when we voted them in. Oh, how you are making a mockery of the system in the games that you all are playing!

I have been avoiding the discussion regarding single payer system, what it is, how it would work and what are the consequences, etc.? More to come! 

A British doctor was treated in an American emergency room and said it revealed how broken US healthcare really is, The Republicans on Healthcare and Obamacare Again!!

  1. “You should never, ever have to say, ‘I can’t afford this medical treatment I need,'” he said. Really??
  2. He experienced American healthcare firsthand when he went to the emergency room in the US with a bloody finger.
  3. Adam Kay says he never paid a single medical bill in his life — until, while vacationing in the US, he got a piece of glass lodged in his finger.

His finger sprang open, spurting bright red blood in every direction.

“It was really embarrassing. It was like a little fire hose,” the former obstetrician told Insider. “It looked like there’d been some sort of massacre, and the blood was coming, and I couldn’t stop it bleeding.”

That was the day that Kay got a glimpse of just how different the US healthcare system is from the system in his home in the UK, where medical care is taxpayer-funded.

Kay swiftly headed off to the nearest emergency room, travel-insurance card in hand, for care.

“They took my card details and my insurance details,” he recalled. “That was the most important thing. And that was quite weird, because that just doesn’t happen back home.”

Kay, a former National Health Service worker who chronicled his time as a doctor in a bestselling book, “This Is Going to Hurt,” said he took great pride in being a doctor in the NHS — what he called the “closest thing” Brits have to “a national religion.”

One of the biggest differences between the UK and US health systems, he’s noticed, is the pay-as-you-go, employer-bankrolled nature of many American health plans. He said the for-profit US health system undermined the idea that healthcare is a basic human right.

“The NHS was founded on the principle that it’s free at the point of delivery and you’re treated according to clinical need, not ability to pay — whether you live in Windsor Castle or on a bench outside Windsor Station,” Kay wrote in his book. “Other systems around the world might be more efficient, but I’d drag myself out of a coma to argue that none of them is fairer.”

Kay acknowledged that it’s not a perfect system. In recent years, it’s been tough for the NHS to find enough doctors and nurses to go around. With Brexit on the horizon, many doctors are worried that the shortages will only get worse.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Conservative Party, famous for slashing the NHS’s budget in recent years, won an overwhelming majority of parliamentary seats in the country’s general election on Thursday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Conservative leader, has promised to reverse course and make the national healthcare system the first priority. Even so, he’s proposing to spend less than his left-wing rivals.

Despite issues of cash and people power, the NHS still tends to outperform private care systems in the US. For example, the NHS said that in November, more than 80% of patients who were rushed to the ER were admitted, transferred, or discharged within four hours. In California, the average ER patient can expect to wait more than 5 1/2 before admission. Life expectancy is also shorter in the US by more than two years.

“I feel like America’s been gaslit about what the NHS is,” Kay said. “I speak to hugely intelligent people over here who’ve just been slightly brainwashed into the idea that healthcare is rationed.”

Instead, he said, it’s the US system that has “got this wrong.”

“You’ve got yourself worked up into this lunatic situation where everything’s itemized and everything’s become hyperinflated, because it’s become a marketplace,” Kay said. “I don’t think that should ever play a part in medicine. They’re two separate things. Do what’s best, clinically.”

That was not how Kay’s trip to the ER went.

Money should not dictate best practices in medicine, Kay said- hmmm, and that’s why the most complex, complicated cases in other countries come to the U.S. for treatment!!

After the bleeding stopped, Kay was shocked when his doctor said he’d have to decide what to do based on how much he wanted to spend.

“They said, ‘Normally, because it was a glass injury, we would want to X-ray it, just to make sure that nothing’s got into the joint, but that will be an extra $1,500.’ I’m suddenly thinking, do I really [want this X-ray]? I imagine I’ll get this back from my travel insurance, but if I don’t, that’s a lot of money on my holiday … And then I suddenly thought, no! If I was the doctor back home, I wouldn’t suggest it as an option. I would say, ‘This is best practice.'”

The cost of US healthcare has consistently been at the top of the list of issues Americans are most worried about. Healthcare bills are the most common reason Americans file for bankruptcy protection. In the UK, while people are still concerned about the direction of their national healthcare system, they’re more likely to say their top life worry is a looming Brexit deal, or crime, or maybe the environment.

“You should never have to sell your house ’cause you got ill,” Kay said. “You should never, ever have to say, ‘I can’t afford this medical treatment I need.’ I’ve just grown up in an environment where it’s effectively a human right. You get the healthcare you need.”

Interesting, then who pays the bill and if the government is paying all the bills and if there is no fear of bills and who will pay them the patient can ask for anything to treat them without care as to expense and can go from doc to doc without care as to cost. Not a happy scenario.

A growing number of Republicans say they’re satisfied with US healthcare costs — even as insurance prices have surged 20% in the past year

Joseph Zeballos-Roig noted that a growing number Republicans are satisfied with the cost of healthcare in the United States, according to a new Gallup poll released Wednesday.

The increase comes as another major index from the Labor Department showed average insurance prices spiking 20% over the last year.

The poll noted overall satisfaction with US healthcare costs is the highest since 2009 as just over one in four Americans are content with the healthcare pricing environment — though much of that boost was driven by the uptick in Republican approval.

It suggests that heightened partisanship is swaying Republicans on healthcare just as it has been on the economy, another issue where they are much likelier than Democrats to view the situation more favorably, An growing number of Republicans are satisfied with the cost of healthcare in the United States, according to a new Gallup poll released Wednesday. The increase comes as another major index from the Labor Department showed average insurance prices spiking 20% over the last year.

The poll noted overall satisfaction with US healthcare costs is the highest since 2009 as just over one in four Americans are content with the healthcare pricing environment — though much of that boost was driven by the uptick in Republican approval.

The Labor Department’s consumer price index, which tracks the average change over time in prices paid for goods and services, said the cost of overall medical care rose 5.1% since Nov. 2018. That measure also incorporates doctors’ visits and hospital services.

The cost of health insurance had the biggest jump over the past year at 20.2%, representing one part of the broader healthcare industry. Other elements such as the price of doctors’ visits and hospital services saw more modest increases at 1.4% and 3.3%, respectively.

It suggests that heightened partisanship is swaying Republicans on healthcare just as it has been on the economy, another issue where they are much likelier than Democrats to view the situation more favorably, the Pew Research Center said.

By comparison, only 9% of Democrats were satisfied with healthcare costs in the US, according to the Gallup poll.

Still, another recently-released Gallup poll showed both Democrats and Republicans broadly satisfied with what they pay for their own healthcare, though there was a notable dip in Democratic satisfaction and an increase among Republicans. 

The cost of healthcare, though, continues to rise in the United States.

That’s led to Democratic primary candidates to propose a variety of methods to reform American healthcare. They range from incrementally shoring up the Affordable Care Act and introducing an optional government insurance plan to enrolling every American into a government-run insurance system.

Trump has repeatedly promised to introduce another plan to replace Obamacare, but he hasn’t done so yet.

House Republicans rolled out their own alternative in October, but it looks a lot like the unpopular “skinny repeal” version that was narrowly defeated by a single Senate vote in 2017. That one has almost no chance of becoming law before the 2020 election as it would have to pass the Democratic-led lower chamber.

Striking down Obamacare would open a path to better, more affordable health care

Realize that I really believe that Obamacare was and still is a well thought out health care system, but my concern is the lack of long term financing of the program, especially in comparison to the new program touted by the Democratic liberals running for president.  Now, Thomas Price and Alfredo Ortiz and Opinion contributor noted that The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas is expected to rule soon on the constitutionality of Obamacare. While its decision will have significant implications for American health care policy, it won’t affect people’s health coverage for at least a couple of years as the appeals process plays out. In the meantime, a ruling striking down Obamacare would give the country the opportunity and the impetus to unite behind a health care reform plan that actually lowers costs, increases choices and improves the doctor-patient relationship.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare was constitutional under the government’s power to tax. However, President Donald Trump’s tax cuts eliminated the tax, more commonly known as the penalty, for not purchasing health insurance. In February 2018, 20 states led by Texas filed suit against the federal government, arguing that Obamacare was no longer constitutional because the tax upon which the law had been based no longer existed. Without this tax, the plaintiffs argued, the law’s individual mandate is nothing more than the unlawful federal compulsion to purchase health insurance.

Last December, a federal judge in Texas agreed with this reasoning and declared Obamacare unconstitutional. But he also issued a stay on his judgment, allowing the law — the Affordable Care Act — to remain while the case is being appealed in order to save Americans potentially needless uncertainty. The case, Texas vs. Azar, was then appealed to the 5th Circuit.

Disgraceful fearmongering

Politicians and commentators claim that this case threatens to eliminate health care coverage for Americans covered by Obamacare. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading the appeal, called the lower court ruling “an assault on 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, on the 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA for health care.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries claims that the Trump Justice Department is trying to “destroy health care for tens of millions of Americans.”

Sabrina Corlette, co-director of the health care industry-funded Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University, warns that if Obamacare is deemed unconstitutional, “the chaos that would ensue is almost impossible to wrap your brain around. The marketplaces would just simply disappear and millions of people would become uninsured overnight, probably leaving hospitals and doctors with millions and millions of dollars in unpaid medical bills. Medicaid expansion would disappear overnight.”

This is fearmongering of disgraceful proportions. In reality, Democrats would appeal a plaintiff’s victory to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the trial court stay would remain in effect. The earliest the high court would be able to hear the case would be next fall at the start of its next session, barring an expedited Supreme Court timeline. Based on the usual timeline between hearings and rulings, this means the soonest it would issue a final decision would be the spring of 2021. Obamacare health coverage already purchased and planned upon for 2021 would likely continue.

Listen to your doctor: Medicare for All government chokehold would be even worse than private insurance

In the meantime, policymakers and reformers can develop a health care alternative that fixes the many flaws in Obamacare while keeping its protections for those with preexisting conditions. Obamacare has done nothing to control spiraling medical costs and diminishing health care choices for many ordinary Americans. Despite their different reform visions, Republicans and many Democrats are united in their agreement that the country must move on from Obamacare. 

‘Medicare for All’ would be worse

Yet the solution proposed by these Democrats — “Medicare for All” — would exacerbate our current cost and choice problems even further. The Mercatus Center of George Mason University estimates that Medicare for All would cost $32 trillion over 10 years. That means one year would amount to more than two-thirds of the entire 2020 federal budget.

The only way government-run health care could attempt to control costs is by rationing care — meaning fewer options, longer wait times and less innovation.

‘Medicare for All’ is unpopular: Democrats could lose to Trump if they abandon Obamacare and private health insurance

A better alternative is the Job Creators Network Foundation’s “Healthcare for You”  framework, which prioritizes reform from the bottom up rather than the top down. In practice, this means deregulating insurance markets and allowing state officials to set insurance parameters while maintaining protections for those with preexisting conditions. Instead of the one-size-fits-all health care plans that proliferate today, this reform would unleash a flood of new insurance options — from Cadillac to catastrophic — that patients could tailor to their unique needs.

By also prioritizing direct medical care, transparent prices and expanded tax-free health management accounts (also called health savings accounts), a true health care market would emerge, allowing patients to shop for coverage while prices fell.

A Texas vs. Azar ruling that deems Obamacare unconstitutional will help spur such long-overdue patient-centric health care reforms. It will not immediately remove lifelines for patients, as critics claim. 

Sunday Deadline Looms For Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment

Brakkton Booker alerted us all that for millions of Americans, time is running out to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplace healthcare.gov.

For those who will not receive health coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2020 through an employer or other programs like Medicaid, Medicare or the Children’s Health Insurance Program — commonly referred to as CHIP — the deadline to purchase health insurance is Sunday, Dec. 15.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar tweeted a reminder: “If you decide that purchasing coverage through healthcare.gov is the right decision for you, make sure you select coverage by this Sunday.”

December 15 is the deadline to shop for 2020 plans.

Costs are down and choices are up for 2020 plans. If you decide that purchasing coverage through 

 is the right decision for you, make sure you select coverage by this Sunday.

Sign-ups for 2020 coverage in the first six weeks of open enrollment for the ACA, also referred to as Obamacare, are down slightly, trailing last year’s totals by 6%. However, this decline is happening at a slower rate when compared to 2019 coverage sign-ups in the first six weeks. That decline dipped 12%, according to Modern Healthcare.

The publication also notes that the latest numbers “don’t include the millions of people who will be automatically enrolled in coverage at the conclusion of open enrollment.”

NPR’s Health Policy reporter Selena Simmons-Duffin told NPR’s Up First podcast on Saturday that enrollment has been down every year since 2016.

“Last year more than 11 million people enrolled and we’re on track to be slightly behind that this year,” Simmons-Duffin said.

Many experts blame the drop in sign-ups on the Trump administration making sharp reductions in outreach efforts to connect would-be insurance purchasers to available plans.

“One of the actions that President Trump’s administration took to change the [Affordable Care Act] law is to radically cut back the funding to do outreach and to do advertising to let people know that this exists,” Simmons-Duffin said.

Kaiser Health News points out there is typically “a flurry in the last few days before the Dec. 15 deadline” when last-minute participants decide to sign-up.

Some states have seen double-digit declines. In Arizona, for example, enrollments are down 17% from this time a year ago, according to the Arizona Republic. The paper cites “apprehension among some Latino families over enrolling in anything government-related” as one possible cause for the drop off.

Meanwhile, Delaware Public Media reports a 1.7% decline from last year. It adds: “Lagging enrollment comes despite premiums in Delaware dropping for the first time since the ACA became law seven years ago.”

Health officials in California announced Thursday more than 130,000 people signed up for new coverage plans this year — an increase of 16% compared to the open enrollment period last year.

For those who miss the open enrollment sign-up period, not all is lost. The health care law does allow, in specific cases, a special enrollment period where people can sign-up after the open enrollment period ends.

The government lists circumstances including losing health insurance, getting married, moving, having a baby or adopting a child as “life events” that would make applicants eligible.

And the confusion continues with no real solution in the horizon! Let’s get to the discussion that I had promised, what a single-payer system is really all about!

Health care spending hit $3.6 trillion in 2018 due to ACA tax, The GDP and Again My Worry Concerning Rural Hospitals

bus559National spending on health care is rising, fueled in part by the reinstatement of an Affordable Care Act tax on insurers, according to a new federal report.

Total national health expenditures last year increased by 4.6 percent to $3.6 trillion last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said. The U.S. spent about $11.172 per person, and national health care spending accounted for about 17.7 percent of the total U.S. economy last year, compared with 17.9 percent in 2017. It was roughly the same as in 2016.

By household, health care spending, which includes out-of-pocket spending, contributions to private health insurance premiums and contributions to Medicare through payroll taxes and premiums, also grew by 4.4 percent.

Private businesses, meanwhile, shelled out $726.8 billion on health care, a 6.2 percent increase from the year-ago period. Most of that goes toward employers’ contributions for insurance premiums. At 20 percent, it absorbed the second-largest shares of health care spending, preceded only by the federal government and households.

Overall, spending by Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance grew faster because of the health insurance tax; an annual fee on all health insurers intended to help fund the estimated $1 trillion cost of the ACA. Congress suspended the tax in 2017 and 2019. It was expected to raise $14.3 billion in 2018, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

“It was responsible for a significant portion of the rise we saw,” Micah Hartman, the report’s lead author, told The Wall Street Journal.

As baby boomers age, the pace of health care spending is only expected to grow. Health care’s share of the economy is projected to climb to 19.4 percent by 2027 from 17.9 percent in 2017, according to a previous CMS study cited by the Journal.

The number of uninsured Americans rose by 1 million for the second year in a row to 30.7 million in 2018. The rate of people without health insurance held steady under 10 percent.

The report could draw the ire of Democrats, who have criticized the Trump administration for its attacks on the ACA. The future of the Obama-era health law is in limbo as a panel of three federal appeals court judges weighs whether it’s unconstitutional after Republicans stripped it of the individual mandate in 2017.

Rare Dip in Healthcare’s Share of GDP in 2018

CMS report shows growth in spending on physician services fell slightly

Joyce Frieden, the News Editor of the MedPage points out that overall U.S.healthcare spending increased by 4.6% in 2018 — higher than the 4.2% growth in 2017, but still representing a slight drop in healthcare’s percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said Thursday.

The increase left the U.S. with health spending of $3.6 trillion in 2018, or $11,172 per person. Some of the spending increase was attributed to growth in private health insurance and Medicare spending due to collection of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance tax — postponed from 2017 — which raised $14.3 billion in 2018, said Micah Hartman, a statistician in CMS’s Office of the Actuary, during a press briefing hosted by Health Affairs. (The figure for the tax revenue came from the Internal Revenue Service, not CMS.) Other growth drivers included faster growth in healthcare prices. Because the overall economy’s 5.4% growth in 2018 outpaced healthcare spending, the percentage of GDP spent on healthcare dropped slightly, from 17.9% in 2017 to 17.7% in 2018, Hartman said.

Paul Hughes-Cromwick, MA, co-director of Sustainable Health Spending Strategies at Altarum, a healthcare consulting firm here, said in an email that he found the decrease in percentage of GDP “encouraging,” but added that “we can safely predict that this will return to near 18% in 2019 with mildly accelerating health spending and weakening GDP growth.” And “despite all the talk and support for social determinants of health (SDOH) across the political spectrum, government public health activities only grew at 2.4%, the second slowest in the past 7 years (though it is expected that much SDOH activity lies outside formal public health spending).”

Jamie Hall, a research fellow in quantitative analysis at the Heritage Foundation here, said in a phone interview that the decrease in the percentage of GDP “is the first time that’s happened since before Obamacare. So it’s a good sign that some of the Trump administration policies that are oriented toward containing costs are having an effect” — things like short-term, limited-duration insurance policies and efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs. “We’re sort of more at equilibrium and it’s somewhat more of a stable system at this point,” he said.

Growth in Spending on Physicians Declines

Spending on physician care and other clinical services increased by 4.1% in 2018, down from 4.7% the year before. This was due in part to slower growth in private health insurance, Medicaid, and “residual use and intensity” — the number and intensity of clinician visits — and was not offset by faster growth in healthcare prices, said Aaron Catlin, deputy director in the Office of the Actuary.

Healthcare prices are accelerating from an all-time low measured in 2015, Hughes-Cromwick noted. “If health care price growth returns to a historical pattern, i.e., significantly higher than economy-wide inflation, healthcare spending will definitely accelerate,” consistent with CMS’s long-run projections, he said.

The percentage of uninsured Americans grew by one million people, from 29.7 million to 30.7 million, according to CMS; that was on top of a previous one-million-person increase from 28.7 million in 2016. “We can’t track individuals, so we can’t say where those people came from and the status of their coverage before and after becoming uninsured … but we do show decreases in private health insurance and reductions in other directly purchased insurance,” said Catlin.

This increase in the uninsured “is a huge issue,” said Dan Mendelson, founder and former CEO of Avalere, a healthcare consulting firm here, in a phone interview. “The numbers are on an upward march and it will be a major electoral issue going into 2020.”

But Hall said the uninsured numbers were “quite misleading.” “Of the folks officially considered uninsured, the overwhelming majority of these folks have access to some type of coverage but have chosen not to enroll,” he said. “It’s important that folks not equate a lack of insurance with lack of access to coverage or lack of access to care.”

Private Insurance Enrollment Down

Private health insurance enrollment declined by 1.6 million people, with the drop coming primarily from those enrolled in private plans outside the ACA’s health insurance marketplaces, said Anne Martin, an economist in the Office of the Actuary. The number of enrollees who purchased employer-sponsored health insurance also fell slightly, from 175.6 million to 175.2 million. Medicare enrollment, on the other hand, grew from 57.2 million in 2017 to 58.7 million in 2018, while Medicaid enrollment also rose slightly during the same time period, from 72.1 million to 72.8 million.

Despite the enrollment drop, spending on private health insurance grew by 5.8%, to $1.2 trillion, up from 4.9% the prior year, Martin continued. “The most significant factor in insurance spending was the increase in the net cost of health insurance, which was influenced by the health insurance tax.”

Retail prescription drug spending rose by 2.5% in 2018, to $335 billion, up from a 1.4% increase in 2017. “This faster rate of growth was driven by non-price factors, such as the use and mix of drugs consumed, which more than offset a decline of 1% in prices for retail prescription drugs,” the agency said in a press release. This spending category does not take into account spending on physician-administered drugs or drugs administered in the hospital.

Home Healthcare Spending Up

“The fact that drug spending at the pharmacy is attenuating is a big deal, and it appears to be a combination of the mix of drugs being used,” Mendelson said. “It shows that consumers are using drugs more efficiently, which is good news. I think that change of behavior has been happening for quite some time; it’s durable and it’s a positive effect.”

However, he added, “The other thing is that healthcare costs are still rising much more rapidly than wages, and what it shows is that while costs have attenuated, the fact that they’re still rising faster than wages is squeezing consumers significantly … The fact we’re seeing macro[-level] progress doesn’t help the patient who is facing a $5,000 deductible and trying to figure out how to pay for their healthcare.”

In terms of personal healthcare spending, some of the largest increases were in-home healthcare (up 5.2%), durable medical equipment (up 4.7%), and dental services (up 4.6%). Spending on hospital care in 2018 rose 4.5% to $1.2 trillion, down slightly from a 4.7% increase the year before. The slower growth was attributed to a decrease in out-of-pocket hospital spending growth, decreased residual use and intensity, a slowing in inpatient days in hospitals, and a drop in the growth of hospital spending by the Defense Department.

Overall, 33% of healthcare expenditures in 2018 went for hospital care, 20% went for physician care and other clinician services, 13% to other services, 9% to retail prescription drugs, 8% to government administration and net cost of health insurance, and 5% to nursing care and continuing care retirement communities, according to the agency.

Sally Pipes: Sanders, Warren wants ‘Medicare-for-all’ like Canada – But Canadian health care is awful

Sally Pipes of the Fox News reported that the Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want you to believe Canada’s health care system is a dream come true. And they want to make the dream even better with their “Medicare-for-all” plans. Don’t believe them.

In truth, Canada’s system of socialized medicine is actually a nightmare. It has left hospitals overcrowded, understaffed and unable to treat some patients. Americans would face the same dismal reality if Canadian-style “Medicare-for-all” takes root here.

Canada’s health care system is the model for the “Medicare-for-all” plan that both Sanders, I-Vt., and Warren, D-Mass., embrace.

North of the border, all residents have taxpayer-funded, comprehensive health coverage. In theory, they can walk into any hospital or doctor’s office and get the care they need, without a co-pay or deductible.

Sanders and Warren would one-up Canada by providing all Americans with free prescription drugs, free long-term care, free dental care, free vision care, and free care for people with hearing problems.

Who could possibly object to all that free care?

Well, politicians in Canada object. They say even their country can’t do what Sanders and Warren want because all this free care would cost too much and cause other problems.

But for Sanders and Warren, money is no object. They can just raise taxes as higher and higher and higher. And the huge tax increases needed to fund “Medicare-for-all” would hit us all – there aren’t enough millionaires and billionaires to foot the bill.

It’s true that everyone in Canada has health coverage. But that coverage doesn’t always secure care. According to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, patients waited a median of nearly 20 weeks to receive specialist treatment after referral by a general practitioner in 2018. That’s more than double the wait patients faced 25 years ago.

In Nova Scotia, patients faced a median total wait time of 34 weeks. More than 6 percent of the province’s population was waiting for treatment in 2018.

Waiting for care is perhaps better than not being able to seek it at all. The hospital emergency department in Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia recently announced that it would simply close on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There aren’t enough doctors available to staff the facility.

Canadians can’t escape waits like these unless they leave the country and payout of pocket for health care abroad. Private health insurance is illegal in Canada.

Private clinics in Canada are not allowed to charge patients for “medically necessary” services that the country’s single-payer plan covers. And the government has deemed just about every conceivable service “medically necessary.”

For the past decade, Dr. Brian Day, an orthopedic surgeon who runs the private Cambie Surgery Centre in British Columbia, has tried to offer Canadians a way out of the waits by expanding patient access to private clinics. He’s been battling his home province in court for a decade to essentially grant patients the ability to pay providers directly for speedier care.

During closing arguments in Day’s trial before the British Columbia Supreme Court at the end of November, Dr. Roland Orfaly of the British Columbia Anesthesiologists’ Society testified that over 300 patients in the province died waiting for surgery from 2015 to 2016 because of a shortage of anesthesiologists. And that was in just one of the province’s five regional health authorities!

Shortages of crucial medical personnel and equipment are common throughout Canada. The country has fewer than three doctors for every 1,000 residents. That puts it 26th among 28 countries with universal health coverage schemes. If current trends continue, the country will be short 60,000 full-time nurses in just three years.

In 2018, Canada had less than 16 CT scanners for every million people. The United States, by comparison, had nearly 45 per million.

These shortages, combined with long waits, can lead to incredible suffering.

In 2017, one British Columbia woman who was struggling to breathe sought treatment in an overcrowded emergency room. She was given a shot of morphine and sent home. She died two days later.

That same year, a Halifax, Nova Scotia, man dying of pancreatic cancer was left in a cold hallway for six hours when doctors couldn’t find him a bed. Yes, people must sometimes be treated on hallway floors because of severe overcrowding.

In fact, some Canadian hospital emergency rooms look like they belong in poverty-stricken Third World countries.
WBUR Radio, Boston’s NPR station, documented these terrible conditions in a story about a hospital in Nova Scotia earlier this month.

Americans who find the promise of free health care difficult to resist would do well to take a hard look north.

Sure, “Medicare-for-all” as pitched by Sanders and Warren sounds good. But the reality is far from what these two far-left candidates are promising. Like a drug that helps you in one way but causes even more serious problems, “Medicare-for-all” has dangerous side effects that can be hazardous to your health.

Rural hospital acquisitions may reduce patient services

I have already discussed the outcome of Medicare for All on physicians and especially rural hospitals. Beware, especially when we hear of what is happening already! Last week it was reported that one of the hospital systems in Chicago fired 15 physicians and hired NP’s/nurse practitioners to take over their patient care responsibilities.

Also, Carolyn Crist of Reuters noted that although hospitals can improve financially when they join larger health systems, the merger might also reduce access to services for patients in rural areas, according to a new study.

After an affiliation, rural hospitals are more likely to lose onsite imaging and obstetric and primary care services, researchers report in a special issue of the journal Health Affairs devoted to rural health issues in the United States.

“The major concern when you think about health and healthcare in rural America is access,” said lead study author Claire O’Hanlon of the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California.

More than 100 rural hospitals in the U.S. have closed since 2010, the study authors write.

“Hospitals in rural areas are struggling to stay open for a lot of different reasons, but many are looking to health-system affiliation as a way to keep the doors open,” she told Reuters Health by email. “But when you give up local control of your hospital to a health system, a lot of things can change that may or may not be good for the hospital or its patients.”

Using annual surveys by the American Hospital Association, O’Hanlon and colleagues compared 306 rural hospitals that affiliated during 2008-2017 with 994 nonaffiliated rural hospitals on 12 measures, including quality, service utilization, and financial performance. The study team also looked at the emergency department and nonemergency visits, long-term debt, operating margins, patient experience scores, and hospital readmissions.

They found that rural hospitals that affiliated had a significant reduction in outpatient non-emergency visits, onsite diagnostic imaging technologies such as MRI machines, and availability of obstetric and primary care services. For instance, obstetric services dropped by 7-14% annually in the five years following affiliation.

“Does this mean that patients are getting prenatal care in their community at a different location, traveling to receive prenatal care at another location of the same health system, or forgoing this care entirely?” O’Hanlon said. “Trying to figure out the extent to which the observed changes in the services available onsite at rural hospitals reflect real changes in patient access is an important next step.”

At the same time, the affiliated hospitals also experienced an increase in operating margins, from an average baseline of -1.6%, typical increases were 1.6 to 3.6 percentage points, the authors note. The better financial performance appeared to be driven largely by decreased operating costs.

Overall, patient experience scores, long-term debt ratios, hospital readmissions, and emergency department visits were similar for affiliating and non-affiliating hospitals.

“Research on these mergers has been mixed, with some suggestions they are beneficial for the community (access to capital, more specialty services, keep the hospital open) and other evidence that there are costs (employment reductions, loss of local control, increase in prices),” said Mark Holmes of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Mergers can have a large impact on a community, so understanding the effect on the resultant access, cost and quality of locally available services is important,” he told Reuters Health by email.

A limitation of the study is that the surveys capture affiliation broadly and don’t specifically describe the arrangements, the study authors’ note. Future studies should investigate the different types of affiliations, such as a full acquisition versus a clinically integrated hospital network, which may show different outcomes, said Rachel Mosher Henke of IBM Watson Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who also wasn’t involved in the study.

For instance, certain types of rural hospital affiliations may be better for the community than a full hospital closure, she said.

“However, it’s important to evaluate the potential for negative consequences for the community in terms of reduced service offerings,” she told Reuters Health by email. “New payment models such as all-payer global payments that allow rural hospitals to continue to operate independently with consistent cash flow may be an alternative to affiliation to consider.” But it may not fix the impossible especially if the system pays all at Medicare or Medicaid rates?

Next is to discuss the basis of single-payer healthcare systems and look who is back trying to hold his lead in the Democratic-run for President a guy who can’t even remember where he is, dates, or where he is going, Joe Biden!!!

 

Waiting to Be Saved: A Health Care Fairy Tale and Why Most Americans Can’t Afford to Get Sick and is Health Insurance Affordable?

17308963_1134320833364241_8656274778864181034_nLindsey Woodworth of the National Interest recently noted that the wait times in emergency rooms are so out of control that researchers recently tested whether aromatherapy would make waiting in the ER more tolerable.

It didn’t.

Over a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine offered an ominous warning: “Underneath the surface, a national crisis in emergency care has been brewing and is now beginning to come into full view.”

Now the view is quite clear. ERs are packed and wait times are growing longer each year. In fact, even if you’re having a heart attack, you may have to wait to get to the doctor.

The problem is, patients get sicker the longer they wait.

Oh, by the way, sicker patients cost more to care for.

I am an economist at the University of South Carolina. In a new study, I analyzed how ER wait times affect health care costs. I found that a 10-minute increase in ER wait time among the most critical patients will increase the hospital’s cost to care for the patient by an average of 6%. Some critical patients are currently waiting close to an hour, according to my study.

Costs grow a little more slowly among patients who begin their wait in a better condition.

An intriguing relationship

Health care costs are an issue of national concern. Presidential candidates have focused on health care reform as a major issue in the 2020 presidential election.

One complication in lowering health care costs, however, is that reductions in health care spending could compromise patient outcomes – spend less on health care, and you might very well jeopardize health.

Yet, this is exactly what makes the finding that ER wait times exacerbate costs so intriguing. It suggests that targeting ER wait times could both improve patient outcomes and lower the cost of care. A double win like this hardly ever occurs in health care.

Longer wait = higher costs

One major challenge in measuring the effect of ER wait times on costs is that ERs prioritize sicker patients. This means that relatively healthy patients have longer waits. The sickest patient in the ER will always get treated first. A lot of resources will probably get poured into this patient, making his costs quite high. On the other hand, a patient who arrives at the ER with a splinter will wait in the ER for hours. Treating this patient will be super cheap.

This creates a persistent correlation between long waits and low costs. On the surface, this correlation can deceptively send the signal that longer ER wait times reduce health care costs.

To uncover the real effect of ER wait times on costs, I needed to use a “trick” in my research to untangle the mess. The “trick” I used was to leverage something in the ER that slightly bumps patients’ wait times but has nothing to do with their health at their time of arrival. Triage nurses provided the answer.

These nurses are the people who determine the order in which patients are seen. Yet, because triage nurses are not robots, they sometimes differ in terms of their judgments. This means that some triage nurses are “tougher” than others – at least “tougher” in the sense that they’ll look at a problem and not see it as quite so urgent. This causes their patients to have longer wait times, on average.

It is effectively a coin toss whether a patient will get a tough triage nurse, so the patients who get a tough triage nurse look remarkably similar to the patients who do not, in terms of their health at arrival. Yet, the patients who get a tough triage nurse have to wait in the ER longer.

The study revealed that the patients who had longer wait times only because they coincidentally got a tough triage nurse had higher health care costs by the end of their visits. In other words, longer ER wait times cause health care costs to go up.

Why? It seems that patients’ health deteriorates the longer they wait. Therefore, by the time they get to the doctor, it takes more resources to get their health up to speed.

What’s the treatment?

How might ER wait times be reduced and costs lowered?

Fixing ER wait times will require taking a step out of the emergency room and looking at the whole health care system.

Drs. Arthur L. Kellermann and Ricardo Martinez recently wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine: “The quickest way to assess the strength of a community’s public health, primary care, and hospital systems is to spend a few hours in the emergency department.”

ER overcrowding often occurs when people are blocked from care elsewhere. For instance, when people with Medicaid are unable to find primary care physicians who accept their insurance, they often resort to ERs instead.

Another contributor to ER overcrowding is a recent shift in how patients are admitted to hospitals. It used to be that primary care physicians directly admitted their sick patients to the hospital if inpatient care was required. Now, many first recommend that their patients go first to the emergency room.

Inpatient wards inside hospitals can also contribute to ER overcrowding. Often inpatient wards get filled with high-paying, elective-case patients. These patients take up valuable bed space, leaving little room for ER patients who need to be hospitalized. As a result, the ER patients who have already been seen by the ER doctor end up staying in the ER waiting for an inpatient bed to become available. This practice of “ER boarding” generates a log jam inside the emergency room. Patient volumes balloon and the overcrowding prolongs all patients’ waits.

Growth in ER wait times shows no sign of slowing. Therefore, policymakers should consider system-level changes that would take the pressure off of ERs. It is time to turn the tide on ER wait times given their impact on both patient outcomes and the overall cost of care.

Why Most Americans Can’t Afford to Get Sick

Simon F. Haeder reviewed the financial costs of health care finding that Americans are being bankrupted by the costs of providing health care. Medical bankruptcy has been a talking point for many Democratic candidates as they make their individual cases for health care reform. This begs a few questions about how widespread these bankruptcies are and what causes them.

  1. How big a problem is medical bankruptcy?

Medical bankruptcy, which refers to situations where individuals were forced into bankruptcy because of medical bills, loss of income due to sickness or accident, or both, is widespread in the U.S.

While the exact contribution of medical bills to the number of bankruptcies is difficult to determine, one important study prior to the Affordable Care Act found that medical debt was the single biggest contributor to bankruptcies for well over 60% of Americans. Even today, while the overall number of bankruptcies has been cut in half over the last decade to roughly 750,000 in 2018, a recent study indicated that two-thirds of bankruptcies are connected to medical bills.

It is interesting to note that the concept of medical bankruptcy is entirely alien to Europeans.

  1. How did the Affordable Care Act help?

Individuals have gained coverage via the Medicaid expansion, their parents’ insurance or the insurance marketplaces. Moreover, other ACA insurance regulations have added protections for all Americans with insurance.

  1. Who’s still vulnerable?

Close to 30 million Americans remain uninsured. While a significant number are eligible for varying degrees of public support, the refusal by many states to expand their Medicaid programs creates challenges. It is important to note that while the ACA expanded coverage to millions, it did little to reign in the biggest contributor to medical bankruptcy: high medical costs.

Even Americans with insurance are not immune to the specter of medical bills. While the ACA limited deductibles and out-of-pocket payments, many insurance plans still require consumers to pay tens of thousands of dollars annually.

Similarly, many Americans may incur bills ranging in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from so-called surprise bills. Inaccurate provider directories can compound these problems, misleading patients to believe they seek care from a provider in their network.

Finally, evidence from ACA and commercial plans, as well as Medicare Advantage, has highlighted problems with regard to “artificial local provider deserts,” situations in which providers are located in the area but excluded from the network. These situations might force patients into seeking costly out-of-network carefully aware of the potential financial consequences.

  1. How do concerns about medical costs affect Americans beyond medical bankruptcy?

Half of Americans have less than US$1,000 in savings. This lack of financial security has implications for how Americans access medical care. A study found that costs have kept 64% of Americans from seeking medical care. Millions of Americans are skipping their medications for the same reason. Avoiding needed medical care often has implications for people’s health and well-being. Of course, it may also ultimately force them to seek care in more expensive settings, like emergency departments or at advanced stages of the disease.

New medical bankruptcy study: Two-thirds of filers cite illness and medical bills as contributors to financial ruin

Physicians for a National Health Program looked at the contributors to financial ruin and found that medical problems contributed to 66.5% of all bankruptcies, a figure that is virtually unchanged since before the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a study published yesterday as an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health. The findings indicate that 530,000 families suffer bankruptcies each year that are linked to illness or medical bills.

The study carried out by a team of two doctors, two lawyers, and a sociologist from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP), surveyed a random sample of 910 Americans who filed for personal bankruptcy between 2013 and 2016, and abstracted the court records of their bankruptcy filings. The study, which is one component of the CBP’s ongoing bankruptcy research, provides the only national data on medical contributors to bankruptcy since the 2010 passage of the ACA. Bankruptcy debtors reported that medical bills contributed to 58.5% of bankruptcies, while illness-related income loss contributed to 44.3%; many debtors cited both of these medical issues.

These figures are similar to findings from the CBP’s medical bankruptcy surveys in 2001 and 2007, which were authored by three researchers in the current study (Himmelstein, Thorne, and Woolhandler), and then-Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. As in those earlier studies, many debtors cited multiple contributors to their financial woes.

The current study found no evidence that the ACA reduced the proportion of bankruptcies driven by medical problems: 65.5% of debtors cited a medical contributor to their bankruptcy in the period prior to the ACA’s implementation as compared to 67.5% in the three years after the law came into effect. The responses also did not differ depending on whether the respondent resided in a state that had accepted ACA’s Medicaid expansion. The researchers noted that bankruptcy is most common among middle-class Americans, who have faced increasing copayments and deductibles in recent years despite the ACA. The poor, who were most helped by the ACA, less frequently seek formal bankruptcy relief because they have few assets (such as a home) to protect and face particular difficulty in securing the legal help needed to navigate formal bankruptcy proceedings.

Relative to other bankruptcy filers, people who identified a medical contributor were in worse health and were two to three times more likely to skip needed medical care and medications.

Dr. David Himmelstein, the lead author of the study, a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Hunter College and Lecturer at Harvard Medical School commented: “Unless you’re Bill Gates, you’re just one serious illness away from bankruptcy. For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection. Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, co-payments, and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse. And even the best job-based health insurance often vanishes when prolonged illness causes job loss—just when families need it most. Private health insurance is a defective product, akin to an umbrella that melts in the rain.”

In the article, the authors note that “medical bills frequently cause financial hardship, and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that they were by far the most common cause of unpaid bills sent to collection agencies in 2014, accounting for more than half of all such debts.”

The study’s senior author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, an internist in the South Bronx, Distinguished Professor at CUNY/Hunter College and Lecturer in Medicine at Harvard commented: “The ACA was a step forward, but 29 million remain uncovered, and the epidemic of under-insurance is out of control. We need to move ahead from the ACA to a single-payer, Medicare for All system that assures first-dollar coverage for everyone. But the Trump administration and Republicans in several states are taking us in reverse: cutting Medicaid, threatening to gut protections for the more than 61 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, and allowing insurers to peddle stripped-down policies that offer no real protection.”

Study co-author Robert M. Lawless, the Max L. Rowe Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law noted: “In the Supreme Court’s words, bankruptcy is a fresh start for the ‘honest but unfortunate debtor.’ Our study shows that for many bankruptcy debtors, the misfortune continues to come from the way we pay for health care. Bankruptcy may provide a fresh start, but it comes at a high financial and emotional cost for those who file. Filing for bankruptcy can stop the financial bleeding that the health care system imposes, but curing that system’s ills is the only lasting solution.”

Health insurance is becoming more unaffordable for Americans

Megan Henny of FOX Business pointed out that Americans who receive health insurance through their employers are finding it increasingly unaffordable, as out-of-pocket costs continue to outpace wage growth, according to a new study.

Over the past decade, the combined cost of premiums and deductibles grew quicker than the median income in every single state, according to a study released Thursday by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for expanded health insurance coverage.

Last year, on average, middle-income workers spent 6.8 percent of their income on employer premium contributions, or fixed costs they pay every month. Deductibles, which you pay before your health insurance kicks in, accounted for 4.7 percent of median income on average.

That number is even higher in some states, however. In nine states — Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas — premium contributions accounted for 8 percent or more of median income, reaching a high of 10 percent in Louisiana.

In Louisiana, on average, employees pay more than $5,000 in premiums. The state’s median household income is $46,145.

Workers in the majority of states put between 6 to 8 percent of median household income toward premiums, although in thirteen states — Alaska, Washington, Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire — workers paid as little as 4.1 percent.

Worse for workers is that despite the high premiums, they’re still “potentially exposed to high out-of-pocket costs because of large deductibles,” the study said.

Last year, the average deductible for single-person coverage plans was $1,846, with average deductibles ranging from $1,308 in Washington, D.C., to $2,447 in Maine. Across the country, average deductibles compared to median income were more than 5 percent in 18 states, but ranged as high as 6.7 percent in Mississippi.

In 2018, the combined cost of premiums and deductibles exceeded 10 percent of median income in 42 states, compared to seven states in 2008. That means people could spend more than 16 percent of their incomes on premiums and deductibles in Mississippi, which has the second-lowest median income in the U.S., compared to an average cost burden of 8.4 percent in Massachusetts, which has a median income among the nation’s highest.

“Higher costs for insurance and health care have consequences,” the study said. “People with low and moderate incomes may decide to go without insurance if it competes with other critical living expenses like housing and food.”

So, in the midst of all this discussion of Medicare for All and modifications of the Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare the question is, is a single-payer health care system the answer and how is it created, managed and financed?