Category Archives: Bernie Sanders

 

 

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Peter Sullivan reported that Congressional Republicans don’t want to talk about attacks on ObamaCare. But President Trump isn’t making that easy.

The Trump administration on Wednesday filed its official legal argument calling for the entirety of the Affordable Care Act to be struck down, once again thrusting the issue back in the spotlight at a time when GOP lawmakers are trying to turn the page.

Republicans would much rather focus on criticizing the “Medicare for All” proposal backed by more and more Democrats, something they see as a winning line of attack compared to reigniting an ObamaCare debate that contributed to the GOP losing its majority in the House last year.

Trump, though, is not playing along with that strategy; instead, he is keeping up his attacks on ObamaCare in court and in his speeches.

Asked if he wished the Trump administration was not arguing so forcefully against the 2010 health care law in court, Sen. John Thune(S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, separated congressional Republicans from the White House.

“They’re going to do what they’re going to do,” Thune said. “What we have to worry about is what our members are working on, what we’re trying to do and how we’re communicating that to the American people.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, declined to say he supported the administration’s move.

“The president can message whatever he wants to message, and there’s no control I have over what he can message,” Grassley said.

With all the talk of collusion, lies, threats of impeachment our Congress is really doing nothing for real healthcare improvement. And Republicans have been beating the drum almost daily to get across their main health care message: that Medicare for All would take away people’s private health insurance and come with an enormous price tag.

Republicans this week seized on a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office examining projected costs associated with Medicare for All. While the report did not put a specific price tag on the proposal, it said government spending on health care would “increase substantially.”

Previous studies have put the cost to the government around $32 trillion over 10 years. I will try to break down the numbers.

But one side effect of the GOP’s attacks on Medicare for All is that it comes close to defending the status quo, which includes ObamaCare.

This is the problem with the GOP, they have no real plan for healthcare and although that they have had many months for the solution-they have none.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) asked at a hearing this week on Medicare for All why lawmakers don’t just focus on bipartisan fixes to ObamaCare instead of pursuing the sweeping new system that’s championed by progressives like 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“We have a chance, I think, to make some fixes that we probably all agree on,” Cole said.

Over the past few months, though, GOP lawmakers had been mostly silent on ObamaCare, a law they aggressively attacked for eight years.

The Affordable Care Act’s popularity has been rising in recent years, with a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in April finding that 50 percent of adults have a favorable view of the law, compared to 38 percent with an unfavorable one.

Most Democrats last year campaigned on maintaining the law’s popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“The last thing Senate Republicans want to be doing is participating in an exercise that would potentially remove coverage from people with pre-existing conditions that they already have,” said a Senate GOP strategist. “Candidates in tough races will be emphasizing how to improve on what currently exists.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last month said the GOP health care message is “preserving what works and fixing what doesn’t,” a very different slogan than the party’s long-time mantra of “repeal and replace.”

Trump, though, is on the attack against ObamaCare. In a speech last week, he touted the 2017 repeal of the law’s mandate to have coverage before adding, “Now we’re going for the rest.”

His administration is also supporting the lawsuit brought by a coalition of GOP-led states calling for overturning the law. That case, which legal experts in both parties dismiss as unlikely to succeed, is now making its way through the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Vulnerable Republican lawmakers are not eager to talk about the administration’s efforts on that front.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), perhaps the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection next year, said Thursday that he had not seen the administration’s legal filing, declining to comment on it and on his views on the lawsuit. His office did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.

Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), a moderate who is facing a potentially competitive race next year, distanced himself from the lawsuit.

“I don’t agree with anything being taken out without a replacement ready,” he said.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) noted the failure of the GOP’s repeal attempt in 2017.

“Obviously the repeal-and-replace discussion wasn’t successful, so let’s put that behind us and let’s make this one work,” she said.

Thune, though, suggested that if Republicans were in control of both chambers again, they would likely attempt another repeal-and-replace measure.

“Obviously, if and when we have the votes, we’d like to take a different direction, one that would create more competition and more choices and lower costs,” Thune said.

So, the Real Question is Would ‘Medicare for All’ Save

Josh Katz, Kevin Quealy, and Margot Sanger-Katz last month reviewed U.S. Health Care Expenditures in 2019

Total cost under current law out of pocket$1.00Private health insurance$1.00Other health spending$514 billion other health insurance$149 billionMedicaid$1.00Medicare for All$3.87 trillion

How much would a “Medicare for all” plan, like the kind being introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday, change health spending in the United States?

Some advocates have said costs would actually be lower because of gains in efficiency and scale, while critics have predicted huge increases.

We asked a handful of economists and think tanks with a range of perspectives to estimate total American health care expenditures in 2019 under such a plan. The chart at the top of this page shows the estimates, both in composition and in total cost.

In all of these estimates, patients and private insurers would spend far less, and the federal government would pay far more. But the overall changes are also important, and they’re larger than they may look. Even the difference between the most expensive estimate and the second-most expensive estimate was larger than the budget of most federal agencies.

Annotation 2019-04-13 234119.Estimates of cost of medicare for all.a

The big differences in the estimates of experts reflect the challenge of forecasting a change of this magnitude; it would be the largest domestic policy change in a generation.

The proposals themselves are vague on crucial points. More broadly, any Medicare for all system would be influenced by the decisions and actions of parties concerned — patients, health care providers, and political actors — in complex, hard-to-predict ways. But seeing the range of responses, and the things that all the experts agree on can give us some ideas about what Medicare for all could mean for the country’s budget and economy.

These estimates come from:

Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, whose estimates were frequently cited by the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in 2016.

Charles Blahous, a senior research strategist at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and a former trustee of Medicare and Social Security.

Analysts at the RAND Corporation, a global policy research group that has estimated the effects of several single-payer health care proposals.

Kenneth E. Thorpe, the chairman of the health policy department at Emory University, who helped Vermont estimate the costs of a single-payer proposal there in 2006.

Analysts at the Urban Institute, a Washington policy research group that frequently estimates the effects of health policy changes.

Right now, individuals and employers pay insurance premiums; people pay cash co-payments for drugs, and state governments pay a share of Medicaid costs. In a Sanders-style system or one recently introduced by Representative Pramila Jayapal and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, nearly all of that would be replaced by federal spending. That’s why some experts describe such a system as single-payer. (Other Democrats who are supporting coverage expansion through Medicare have offered more modest proposals that would preserve some out-of-pocket spending and a role for private insurance.)

The economists made their calculations using different assumptions and methods, and you can read more about those methods at the bottom of this article.

These two estimates, for example, from the Mercatus Center and the Urban Institute, differ by about $730 billion per year, roughly 3 percent of G.D.P. The two groups don’t often agree on public policy — Mercatus tends to be more right-leaning and Urban more left-leaning.

Annotation 2019-04-13 234303.estimates for medicare for all.b

The biggest difference between the Mercatus estimate and the Urban one is related to how much the new system would pay doctors, hospitals and other medical providers for health services. Mr. Friedman’s estimate, the least expensive of the group, assumed that the government could achieve the largest cost savings on both prescription drugs and administrative spending.

How much would doctors and hospitals and other providers be paid?

Pay too little, and you risk hospital closings and unhappy health care providers. Pay too much, and the system will become far more expensive. Small differences add up.

The estimated increase in Medicare payment rates paid to medical providers

FRIEDMAN BLAHOUS THORPE URBAN RAND
6% 0% 5% 7% 9%

In our current system, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers are paid by a number of insurers, and those insurers all pay them slightly different prices. In general, private insurance pays medical providers more than Medicare does. Under a Medicare for all system, Medicare would pick up all the bills. Paying the same prices that Medicare pays now would mean an effective pay cut for medical providers who currently see a lot of patients with private insurance.

For a Medicare for all system to save money, it needs to reduce the health care industry’s income somewhat. But if rates are too low, hospitals already facing financial difficulties could be put out of business.

Neither Mr. Sanders’s legislation nor the Jayapal House bill specifies what the Medicare for all system would pay, but they say that Medicare would establish budgets and payment rates. So our estimators offered their best guess of what they thought such a plan might do.

Mr. Thorpe said he picked a number higher than current Medicare prices for hospitals because he thought anything lower would be unsustainable. Mr. Blahous said he constructed his starting estimate at precisely Medicare rates, though he thought the real number would most likely be higher. He also reran his calculations with a more generous assumption: At 111 percent of Medicare, around the average amount all health insurers pay medical providers now, the total shot up by hundreds of billions of dollars, about an additional 1.5 percent of G.D.P.

How much lower would prescription costs be?

By negotiating directly on behalf of all Americans, instead of having individual insurance companies and plans bargain separately, the government should be able to pay lower drug prices.

The estimated reduction in drug spending

FRIEDMAN BLAHOUS THORPE URBAN RAND
31% 12% 4% 20% 11%

Patients in the United States pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. That’s partly a result of a fractured system in which different payers negotiate separately for drug benefits. But it also reflects national preferences: An effective negotiator needs to be able to say no, and American patients tend to want access to the widest array of cutting-edge drugs, even if it means paying more.

A Medicare for all system would have more leverage with the drug industry because it could bargain for the whole country’s drug supply at once. But politics would still be a constraint. A system willing to pay for fewer drugs could probably get bigger discounts than one that wanted to preserve the current set of choices. That would mean, though, that some patients would be denied the medications they want.

All of our economists thought a Medicare for all system could negotiate lower prices than the current ones. But they differed in their assessments of how cutthroat a negotiator Medicare would be. Mr. Friedman thought Medicare for all could reduce drug spending by nearly a third. The Urban team said the savings would be at least 20 percent. The other researchers imagined more modest reductions.

How much more would people use the health care system?

By expanding coverage to the uninsured, adding new benefits and wiping out cost sharing, Medicare for all would encourage more Americans to seek health care services.

The estimated increase in the use of health care

FRIEDMAN BLAHOUS THORPE URBAN RAND
7% 11% 15% 8%

Medicare for all would give insurance to around 28 million Americans who don’t have it now. And evidence shows that people use more health services when they’re insured. That change alone would increase the bill for the program.

Other changes to Medicare for all would also tend to increase health care spending. Some proposals would eliminate nearly all co-payments and deductibles. Evidence shows that people tend to go to the doctor more when there’s no such cost sharing. The proposed plans would also add medical benefits not typically covered by health insurance, such as dental care, hearing aids, and optometry services, which would increase their use.

The economists differ somewhat in how much they think people would increase their use of medical services. (Because of the way the Urban Institute team’s estimate was calculated, it couldn’t easily provide a number for this question.

What would Medicare for all cost to run?

Right now, the health care system is complicated, with lots of different payers and ways to negotiate prices and bill for services. A single payment system could save some money by simplifying all that.

Estimated administrative costs as a share of all spending

FRIEDMAN BLAHOUS THORPE URBAN RAND
2% 6% 6% 5%

The complexity of the American system means that administrative costs can often be high. Insurance companies spend on negotiations, claims review, marketing and sometimes shareholder returns. One key possible advantage of a Medicare for all system would be to strip away some of those overhead costs.

But estimating possible savings in management and administration is not easy. Medicare currently has a much lower administrative cost share than other forms of insurance, but it also covers sicker people, distorting such comparisons. Certain administrative functions, like fraud detection, can have a substantial return on investment.

The economists all said administrative costs would be lower under Medicare for all, but they differed on how much. Those differences amount to percentage points on top of the differing estimates of medical spending. On this question, there was rough agreement among our estimators that administrative costs would be no higher than 6 percent of medical costs, a number similar to the administrative costs that large employers spend on their health plans. Mr. Blahous said a 6 percent estimate would probably apply to populations currently covered under private insurance but did not calculate an overall rate.

But what will it cost me?

All of these estimates looked at the potential health care bill under a Sanders-style Medicare for all plan. In some estimates, the country would not pay more for health care, but there would still be a drastic shift in who is doing the paying. Individuals and their employers now pay nearly half of the total cost of medical care, but that percentage would fall close to zero, and the percentage paid by the federal government would rise to compensate. Even under Mr. Blahous’s lower estimate, which assumes a reduction in overall health care spending, federal spending on health care would still increase by 10 percent of G.D.P., or more than triple what the government spends on the military.

How that transfer takes place is one of the least well-explained parts of the reform proposals. Taxation is the most obvious way to collect that extra revenue, but so far none of the current Medicare for all proposals have included a detailed tax plan. Even if total medical spending stayed flat overall, some taxpayers could come out ahead and pay less; others could find themselves paying more.

Raising revenue would require broad tax increases that are likely to be partly borne by the middle class, potentially impeding passage. Advocates, including Mr. Sanders, tend to favor funding the program with payroll taxes.

For some people, any increase in federal taxes might be more than offset by reductions in their spending on premiums, co-payments, deductibles, and state taxes. There is evidence to suggest that premium savings by employers would also be returned to workers in the form of higher salaries. But, depending on the details, other groups could end up paying more in tax increases than they save in those reductions.

After Mr. Sanders’s presidential campaign released a tax proposal in 2016, the Urban Institute tried to calculate the effects on different groups. But it found that the proposed taxes would pay for only about half of the increased federal bill. That means that a real financing proposal would probably need to raise a lot more in taxes. How those are spread across the population would change who would be better or worse off under Medicare for all.

About the estimates

Our economists differed somewhat in their estimation methods. They also examined a couple of different Medicare for all proposals, though all the plans had the same major features.

Gerald Friedman calculated the cost of Medicare for all by making adjustments to current health care spending using assumptions he derived from the research literature. His measurements didn’t capture the behavior of individual Americans, but estimated broader changes as groups of people gained access to different insurance, and as medical providers earned a different mix of payments. A 2018 paper with his analysis of several different variations on Medicare for all is available.

Kenneth E. Thorpe calculated the cost of Medicare for all by making adjustments to current health care spending using assumptions he derived from the research literature. His measurements didn’t capture the behavior of individual Americans, but estimated broader changes as groups of people gained access to different insurance, and as medical providers earned a different mix of payments. A 2016 paper with more of his findings on Mr. Sanders’s presidential campaign proposal is available.

The Urban Institute built its estimates using a microsimulation model, which estimates how individuals with different incomes and health care needs would respond to changes in health insurance. The model does not consider the effects of policy changes on military and veterans’ health care or the Indian Health Service, so its totals assumed those programs would not change. It also measures limits on the availability of doctors and hospitals using evidence from the Medicaid program. The team at Urban that prepared the calculations includes John Holahan, Lisa Clemans-Cope, Matthew Buettgens, Melissa Favreault, Linda J. Blumberg and Siyabonga Ndwandwe. Its detailed report on Mr. Sanders’s presidential campaign proposal from 2016 is available.

Charles Blahous calculated the cost of Medicare for all by making adjustments to current health care spending using assumptions he derived from the research literature. His measurements didn’t capture the behavior of individual Americans, but estimated broader changes as groups of people gained access to different insurance, and as medical providers earned a different mix of payments. His calculations were made based on Mr. Sanders’s 2017 Medicare for All Act, which indicated that states would continue to pay a share of long-term care costs. A 2018 paper with more of his findings is available and includes both sets of estimates for Medicare provider payments.

The RAND Corporation built its estimates by making adjustments to previous single-payer analyses. The original estimates used a microsimulation model, which estimates how individuals with different incomes and health care needs would respond to changes in health insurance. The RAND model, which it uses to estimate the effects of various health policy changes, is called RAND COMPARE. Calculations were made assuming a Medicare for all plan that offers coverage with no cost-sharing and long-term care benefits. The RAND team that prepared the estimate includes Christine Eibner and Jodi Liu. A copy of the report is available; Ms. Liu’s 2016 study of how different.

Maybe we should spend some time reviewing the history of Medicare to get a better idea of the system. I’ll do that over the next few weeks.

Most Americans don’t want Congress to overhaul health care, despite ‘Medicare for All’ plans, GOP push to repeal Obamacare

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Ashley Turner pointed out in her article that maybe the voters don’t want a whole new healthcare system even though Bernie and the rest are touting Medicare for All.

KEY POINTS

  • A majority of Americans say they don’t think Congress should prioritize revamping the entire U.S. health care system, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
  • Instead, voters would rather see lawmakers focus on protecting pre-existing conditions and tackling rising prescription costs and surprise medical bills.

As Democrats and Republicans battle over which health care proposal should replace the Affordable Care Act, a majority of Americans say they don’t think Congress should revamp the entire U.S. health care system, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Instead, voters would rather see lawmakers focus on a handful of changes, like protecting pre-existing conditions and tackling rising prescription costs and surprise medical bills.

Most Americans felt high drug costs are the most important issue for Congress to address, with 68% of those polled believing lawmakers should take targeted actions on rising prices. 64% believe Congress should focus on protecting pre-existing conditions, while half believe surprise medical bills should also be a “top priority.”

“Everybody is concerned about drug prices because they’re really feeling the pinch here,” Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, said. He said the dramatic rise in drug costs over the last 10 years has made the issue a prime focus for Americans.

Though pre-existing conditions are protected now under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Laszewski said voters became worried after Republicans proposed to replace it in 2017. The legislation included a provision that under certain conditions would have undone Obamacare’s ban on letting insurers charge more for people with those conditions. The bill failed to pass the Senate.

The recent poll shows Americans are more concerned about rising medical costs than access to health care, Ashley Kirzinger, associate director for the Public Opinion and Survey Research team at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said.

The health care debate has taken lawmakers by storm as the 2020 elections approach with both Democrats and Republicans promising to replace Obamacare. Though there have been some issues that have seen bipartisan support, like seeking to lower drug costs, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have otherwise viciously attacked each other’s attempts to reform the health care system.

President Donald Trump and Republicans have pledged to repeal Obamacare, though top Republicans have said the GOP will wait until Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives to unveil a replacement proposal. Republicans currently hold control of the Senate but need 21 more seats in the House to win the majority.

Lawmakers believe Republicans’ failed attempt to overturn Obamacare in 2017 led to Democrats taking control of the House in last year’s midterm elections. The law is now in jeopardy once again after the Trump administration supported a lawsuit questioning its constitutionality.

More than half, 54%, of those polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they don’t want to see the Supreme Court overturn Obamacare.

Meanwhile, some progressive Democrats like presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders are looking to replace Obamacare with “Medicare for All,” which seeks to create a government-run health care plan that would cover every American. The proposal has support from fellow Democratic presidential candidates like Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., though Republicans and centrist Democrats have spoken against Sanders’ legislation.

As lawmakers jockey over which overhaul of the health care system is best, Americans would rather Congress just fix the basics.

Less than a third of the people surveyed think a complete overhaul of the health care system should be a top priority in Congress, according to the poll. More than a third, 31%, think that the implementation of Medicare for All should be Congress’ focus, while 27% think lawmakers should prioritize repealing Obamacare.

Though there has been talk from top politicians about completely redoing the health care system, lawmakers have also looked to fix the issues Americans want them to spotlight.

The Senate Finance Committee earlier this year held two hearings with the nation’s top pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers in an attempt to discover the source of rising drug costs. Protecting pre-existing conditions is also a bipartisan issue, with Democrats touting protections under Obamacare and Republicans offering an alternative protection plan in case the health care law is overturned.

Lawmakers have also introduced legislation to stop patients from getting hit with surprise medical bills and the White House promised to make the issue a priority for the Trump administration to tackle.

Laszewski said protecting pre-existing conditions, Medicaid expansion, providing subsidies for those who can’t afford insurance and tackling rising drug costs are “crucially important” to Americans, but he noted that not every citizen is the same.

“Different people are impacted differently here,” Laszewski said. “We can’t just say all Americans are exactly alike.”

House Dems to hold a hearing on ‘Medicare for All’ next week

The House Rules Committee will hold a hearing on “Medicare for All” legislation next week, a step forward for the legislation that is gaining ground in the progressive wing of the party.

The hearing on Tuesday will examine a bill from Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) that has over 100 co-sponsors in the House.

According to the Rules Committee, the hearing will be the first ever that Congress has held on Medicare for All legislation.

“It’s a serious proposal that deserves serious consideration on Capitol Hill as we work toward universal coverage,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Rules Committee and a co-sponsor of the Medicare for All bill, said in a statement. Notably, the hearing will occur in a committee that is not one of the primary committees overseeing health care.

The main health care panels, the Ways and Means Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee, have so far declined to commit to holding a hearing on Medicare for All, illustrating the divide among House Democrats over the legislation.

But McGovern has been more supportive of the bill, ultimately bringing it to a hearing in the Rules Committee. The House Budget Committee is also expected to hold a hearing.

“Health care is a human right and I’m proud the Rules Committee will be holding this hearing on the Medicare for All Act as this Majority discusses ways to strengthen our health care system for everyone,” Jayapal said in a statement.

While Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supports hearings on Medicare for All, she has declined to support the legislation itself and has raised doubts about the bill, including its price tag. She has also noted she wants to build on her signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. Still, she has not outright opposed Medicare for All, saying that different ideas should be on the table.

Well, this Fox & Friends Twitter poll on “Medicare for All” didn’t go as planned Christopher Zara reported that in today’s edition of “Ask and Ye Shall Receive,” here’s more evidence that support for universal health care isn’t going away. The Twitter account for Fox & Friends a few weeks ago ran a poll in which it asked people if the benefits of Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for All” plan would outweigh the costs. The poll cites an estimated cost of $32.6 trillion. Hilariously, 73% of respondents said yes, it’s still worth it—which is not exactly the answer you’d expect from fans of the Trump-friendly talk show.

Granted, this is just a Twitter poll, which means it’s not scientific and was almost certainly skewed by retweets from Twitter users looking to achieve this result. At the same time, it’s not that far off from actual polling around the issue. In March, a Kaiser Health tracking poll revealed that 6 in 10 Americans are in favor of a national healthcare system in which all Americans would get health insurance from a single government plan. Other polls have put the number at less than 50% support but trending upward.

If you’re still unsure, you can read more about Sanders’s plan and stay tuned for more discussion on “Medicare for All”.

Medicare for All? For Some? Many Plans for Universal Coverage. But nothing likely to happen soon, suggests former CMS chief Tom Scully

News Editor of MedPage Joyce Frieden brings some reality to the discussion. Talk has been heating up on Capitol Hill about how to get to universal coverage, with “Medicare for All” being a popular option. But what exactly does that phrase mean, and what other universal coverage plans are out there?

So far, four different types of universal coverage bills have been introduced, although “nothing is going to happen in the next 2 years,” Tom Scully, partner in the Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe private equity firm here and a former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), predicted at a press briefing Thursday. However, Scully added that he hoped the introduction of the bills would be “based on substance and details.”

The Four Types of Plans

Karen Pollitz, MPP, a senior fellow for health reform and private insurance at the Kaiser Family Foundation, laid out the four types of plans aimed at getting closer to universal coverage.

Medicare for All. Under these plans, private insurance coverage would be replaced by a single federal program; the program would also replace most other public plans such as Medicaid. Benefits would be comprehensive, with some bills offering additional coverage currently not in Medicare, such as dental care, vision care, and long-term care. The program would be taxpayer-funded — requiring substantial tax increases — but would also require few or no premiums and copays. Healthcare would be under a global budget, and a national system for paying providers — at rates yet to be determined — would be set up. Examples of Medicare for All bills include one from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and one from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)

Federal Public Plan Option. Under this set of options, a federally funded health insurance plan would be offered alongside current public and private healthcare The plan would be designed to be affordable — with premium subsidies and cost-sharing subsidies — and would be available to both individuals and employer

The plan would cover all of the Affordable Care Act’s “essential health benefits,” and some bills include additional coverage. Examples of a public plan option include a bill from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one from Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and one from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) Medicare Buy-In for Older Adults. These bills would allow older adults — either ages 55-64 or 50-64, depending on the bill — to buy into the Medicare program. One bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) would allow buy-in from people who also have access to employer-sponsored health coverage, and would permit employers to pay part of all of the premiums for these employees. Both the Higgins bill and one from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) would allow for eligible enrollees to receive subsidies for the buy-in plan from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces. Enrollees could choose between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans

State Medicaid Buy-In Plan. Under this approach, outlined in a bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), states would have the option of allowing state residents to buy into the Medicaid program. The buy-in option would be available through the ACA marketplaces to people of all income levels and would cover the ACA’s essential health benefits. States would receive federal matching funds to cover any costs that are not recouped through premiums and copays. States could vary premiums by the same factors as ACA marketplace plans (age, geography, family size, and tobacco use)

How to Pay Providers?

Panelists at the briefing disagreed on the best way to pay providers under these proposals, most of which don’t offer many specifics on the issue. “The idea of Medicare fee-for-service for all is completely wacky,” Scully said. “The government is [already] moving away from fee-for-service price-fixing because it never works … Paying every doctor the same thing has been shown to be part of the problem.”

Instead, Scully suggested that the government should pay private insurers to run plans, as is done in the Medicare Advantage program. He noted that 85% of Medicaid spending goes to Medicaid managed care plans, with some liberal states such as Oregon being among the first to jump on the Medicaid managed care bandwagon. “Why? Because they’re better off having Kaiser do it,” Scully said. “It’s a better deal with more coverage, so the idea that we should have the government set prices centrally to me is totally counter-intuitive.”

Mark Miller, Ph.D., executive vice president of healthcare at Arnold Ventures, philanthropy here that works on healthcare and other issues, begged to differ. “I’m not arguing that the best method is fee-for-service, but a strong argument is that one thing Medicare has done right controls the prices paid for providers, and for hospitals and physicians in particular; private plans have failed at this,” said Miller, who is also the former executive director of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC).

Linda Blumberg, Ph.D., a fellow at the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank here, said in a phone interview that the idea that price regulation hasn’t worked “is a fallacy because if you look at how the Medicare program works, it’s very successful and has price regulation at its core.”

She noted that studies performed by MedPAC have found that “when you change reimbursement rates, hospitals do adjust their underlying costs … They become more efficient when they’re constrained. That doesn’t mean you can turn down the dial from 200% of Medicare down to 50%, but looking at the enormous variation in pricing going on in the commercial market, we know we can do better than where we are. The system isn’t rational at the moment.”

A Public/Private Alternative

Blumberg and colleagues have developed a plan called Healthy America, which would replace the Medicaid and CHIP programs, as well as the ACA marketplaces, with a public option that would allow people to buy a comprehensive insurance plan that covers hospital care, physician care, prescription drug coverage, and a wide range of other healthcare services. In addition, “other private insurers — which I would expect largely to be managed care organizations — would contract with the federal government and be alternatives to the public option,” she said.

One problem with the ACA’s marketplaces is that in many geographic areas, there are not enough enrollees to make for a competitive marketplace, Blumberg said. So the Healthy America plan pulls in additional people through the Medicaid program and also offers no cost-sharing for very-low-income enrollees, “basically pulling a much larger population into this same pool” in order to increase private-plan competition. The researchers estimate the annual cost of the fully phased-in plan at about $98 billion.

Changing the healthcare system incrementally rather than switching everyone over to a Medicare for All plan offers several advantages, she said. “There are a lot of people who are quite satisfied with their employer-based insurance and also with their Medicare program and when you tell them you’re going to replace it with something new, it causes a lot of anxiety.” In addition, “the federal government costs needed to put a plan like this in place are reduced” compared with Medicare for All.

So, these are some options but what about what all the Democrat presidential hopefuls are touting for the 2020 election?

Next week let’s break down the real cost of health care under Medicare for All.

So Why Do the Democrats Running for President Promote Medicare for All When there is Still Obamacare? Shouldn’t We All Be Able to Fix Obamacare?

 

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Here is my question for the week, with all this talk of Medicare for All what happened to Obamacare the pride of the Democratic Party and the Golden Trophy of President Obama?

This was and still is a great idea to provide health care for many/all and was designed by very smart people. The only big problem was how to pay for it and therefore how to make it sustainable, especially after removing the Individual Mandate. Why then Medicare for All with all of its own problems? Susannah Luthi wrote that the Centrist House Democrats on Wednesday launched a push to revive Obamacare stabilization talks, two hours after their progressive wing unveiled new Medicare for All legislation.

But Now Some of the Moderate Democrats revive talks to fund CSRs, reinsurance

The 101-strong New Democrat Coalition wants to fund reinsurance and cost-sharing reduction payments in a package that closely resembles the deal struck last Congress by Senate health committee leaders Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

That bill, known colloquially as Alexander-Murray, fell apart at the last minute following a GOP-Democratic dispute over including anti-abortion language.

“Well, we would call it Schrader-Bera-Kuster,” joked Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), one of the co-chairs of the coalition’s healthcare task force as he referred to fellow co-chairs Reps. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Annie Kuster (D-N.H.).

He said the group wants to take another run at it, as this is a “different Congress, with different makeup,” and voters gave Congress a mandate to make the individual market more affordable.

To prod leadership into action, the group sent a letter urging prompt committee action to key committee leaders—Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) of Energy and Commerce, Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) of Ways and Means, and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) of Education and Labor.

“Building upon your work and the work of the New Democrat Coalition last Congress, we urge your committees to deliver on the promises made to our constituents by prioritizing strengthening the ACA and continuing the path toward universal affordable coverage,” the group wrote.

The group hopes numbers are on their side. It’s now the largest ideological caucus in Congress and owes its swelling ranks to the 40 Democratic freshmen who swept into office largely with the ACA on their platform.

The coalition announced its healthcare policy wish list two hours after progressive Democrats’ 70-minute press conference unveiling the new Medicare for All or single payer legislation.

Coalition members downplayed their role as opposing single payer—highlighting instead the pragmatism of lowering ACA individual market premiums as action Congress can take immediately for people who remain unsubsidized.

They also said they want to discuss public options, such as a policy to allow people to buy into Medicare or Medicaid.

Democratic leaders have pushed support for the ACA as a key part of their agenda, but proposals so far this Congress haven’t included funding for CSRs—whose cut-off led to the silver-loading that boosts premiums for people who can’t get subsidies—or reinsurance.

The Pallone-Neal-Scott proposal from last year includes reinsurance and CSRs, but enthusiasm for funding CSRs has waned since last year. Liberal advocates like the fact that the CSR cut-off led to bigger subsidies for low-income people.

And while insurers hope stabilization talks resurface, their profitability on the exchanges is soaring.

On Wednesday, Pallone told an audience at an Atlantic Live event that he’s most interested in growing the subsidies—increasing the pool of people who qualify for them and raising what’s available for people who currently receive them.

“It’s clear now that people at the higher income level, who were not eligible for those subsidies before, that we need to raise that, for people with a higher income, because there are people now making over $85, $90k a year who don’t get any subsidy,” Pallone said Wednesday morning. “In a place like New Jersey, that’s not a lot of income for a family of four.”

He also confirmed that the House will push back against the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term, limited duration plans.

Pallone was pressed on the cost problem: that an increase in subsidies puts the government on the hook for most of the high premiums, he pointed to his proposal to set up a reinsurance pool.

On whether Congress could overcome last year’s dispute over abortion language, Schrader was optimistic.

However, a Republican aide for the Senate health committee responded by referring to a comment made to Modern Healthcare last week.

“The only way Congress could pass an appropriation for CSRs is if Democrats reverse course and agree to apply the Hyde Amendment which applies to all other healthcare appropriations,” the staffer said.

Dems hit GOP on health care with additional ObamaCare lawsuit vote

At the beginning of January, Jessie Hellmann reported that in the first week of this year the House passed a resolution backing the chamber’s recent move to defend ObamaCare against a lawsuit filed by GOP states, giving Democrats another opportunity to hit Republicans on health care.

GOP Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), John Katko (N.Y.) and Tom Reed (N.Y.) joined with 232 Democrats to support the measure, part of Democrats’ strategy of keeping the focus on the health care law heading into 2020. The final vote tally was 235-192.

While the House voted on Friday to formally intervene in the lawsuit as part of a larger rules package, Democrats teed up Wednesday’s resolution as a standalone measure designed to put Republicans on record with their opposition to the 2010 law.

A federal judge in Texas last month ruled in favor of the GOP-led lawsuit, saying ObamaCare as a whole is invalid. The ruling, however, will not take effect while it is appealed.

Democrats framed Wednesday’s vote as proof that Republicans don’t want to safeguard protections for people with pre-existing conditions — one of the law’s most popular provisions.

“If you support coverage for pre-existing conditions, you will support this measure to try to protect it. It’s that simple,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) before the vote.

Most Republicans opposed the resolution, arguing it was unnecessary since the House voted last week to file the motion to intervene.

“At best, this proposal is a political exercise intended to allow the majority to reiterate their position on the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep.Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “At worst, it’s an attempt to pressure the courts, but either way, there’s no real justification for doing what the majority wishes to do today.”

The Democratic-led states defending the law are going through the process of appealing a federal judge’s decision that ObamaCare is unconstitutional because it can’t stand without the individual mandate, which Congress repealed.

Democrats were laser-focused on health care and protections for people with pre-existing conditions during the midterm elections — issues they credit with helping them win back the House.

The Trump administration has declined to defend ObamaCare in the lawsuit filed by Republican-led states, which argue that the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions should be overturned. It’s unusual for the DOJ to not defend standing federal law.

The House Judiciary Committee, under the new leadership of Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), plans to investigate why the Department of Justice decided not to defend ObamaCare in the lawsuit.

“The judiciary committee will be investigating how the administration made this blatantly political decision and hold those responsible accountable for their actions,” Nadler said.

Democrats are also putting together proposals to undo what they describe as the Trump administration’s efforts to “sabotage” the law and depress enrollment.

“We’re determined to get that case overruled, and also determined to make sure the Affordable Care Act is stabilized so that the sabotage the Trump administration is trying to inflict ends,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over ObamaCare.

One of the committee’s first hearings this year will focus on the impacts of the lawsuit. The hearing is expected to take place this month.

The Ways and Means Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass), will also hold hearings on the lawsuit and on protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Those two committees, along with the Education and Labor Committee, are working on legislation that would shore up ObamaCare by increasing eligibility for subsidies, blocking non-ObamaCare plans expanded by the administration and increasing outreach for open enrollment.

And Now the House Democrats Decry ‘Junk Plans’ and are introducing bills to reverse Trump-inflicted ACA “sabotage”

Shannon Firth noted that the Democrats blasted attempts by the Trump administration to “sabotage” the Affordable Care Act during a House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

“We’re inviting people back into a world with mirrors and trap doors, which was exactly the place we wanted to get away from when we passed the ACA,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who called on his colleagues to “push back against these junk plans.”

House Democrats introduced four bills to roll back administration efforts to loosen or circumvent the ACA’s insurance requirements. In the very unlikely event that they pass the Republican-controlled Senate and gain the president’s signature, they would:

  • Require all short-term health plans to include a warning explicitly stating which benefits are included and which aren’t
  • Restore marketing and outreach funding for ACA exchanges
  • Rescind a regulation that extended the allowable duration of short-term plans (including renewals) to just under 3 years
  • Cancel the administration’s new guidance around 1332 waivers, which relaxed certain “guard rails”

Republicans complained that ACA plans are unaffordable for middle-income Americans who don’t receive subsidies, and argued that the Trump administration’s actions allow those same Americans more options for cheaper health plans.

“They’re really trying to give consumers new options, particularly those who were shut out of the market because of costs,” said Grace-Marie Turner, a witness at the hearing and president of the Galen Institute, a conservative think tank, in defense of the administration.

Republicans also pushed back on criticism of the administration’s 1332 waiver guidance, saying Democrats were denying states the right to innovate their programs and instead of trying to impose the will of Washington.

Turner stressed that states are better positioned to regulate their own local health insurance markets.

Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Texas), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said that none of the bills being discussed would increase the availability of “reasonably priced plans.”

Are Short-Term Plans Junk?

Much of Wednesday’s discussion focused on short-term plans, which are cheaper than ACA exchange plans but offer a shrunken set of benefits.

In August, the Trump administration issued a final rule extending the duration of these plans for just under 12 months and made plans eligible for renewals for nearly 3 years. Previously, the plans were available for just under 3 months at a maximum.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who introduced a bill to rescind the short-term plan rule, said she’s worried “the public is being snookered here.”

Hearing witness Katie Keith, JD, MPH, of Georgetown University, highlighted “post-claims underwriting” as a major risk to buyers of short-term plans.

“Maybe you were healthy when you signed up. Then, something happens — you have a big medical claim. It triggers an alarm and [the insurers] go back and look at your application, and pull all your medical records again and go, ‘Oh, you should have told us about this,'” she told MedPage Today after the hearing.

Even in cases where a patient was not diagnosed with an illness prior to enrollment, insurers find ways to justify cancellation, she said.

Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) offered one example, a Chicago businessman who was encouraged to buy a short-term plan by a broker even after disclosing symptoms of serious back pain. After he enrolled, the businessman was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Insurers then reviewed his medical records and determined that the businessman’s cancer was a pre-existing condition because he had visited a chiropractor in the past, leaving him with over $800,000 in medical bills after 6 months, Barragán said.

“You would never expect your cancer treatment to be denied because you’ve had bad back pain,” Keith said. “That’s something that, I think, disclosures can’t fix.”

Jessica Altman, Pennsylvania Insurance Department commissioner, pointed out that short-term plans may not cover ACA-defined “essential health benefits.” She cited a study showing that less than 60% cover mental health, only about one-third cover treatment for substance use disorder or prescription drugs, and none included maternity benefits.

Altman also noted that short-term plans aren’t required to abide by the ACA’s medical loss ratio requirements. The two largest short-term plan vendors, which control 80% of the market, spend less than half of each premium dollar on “actual medical care,” she said.

But Turner said short-term plans are meant to serve as “bridge plans” for individuals such as early retirees, people in the gig economy, and young entrepreneurs starting a business, who would convert before long to more comprehensive coverage. Turner also emphasized the plans’ affordability — with premiums less than half of what an ACA plan would cost — and stressed that consumers understand the plans aren’t permanent.

Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) pointed out that states are allowed to impose limits on short-term plans or ban them altogether.

“I think it’s important to note that we’re not forcing anyone into this. We’re giving flexibility to the states,” he said.

He suggested bringing in witnesses from states where plans are available to learn their true impact.

New Waiver Guidance

Another bill, explored at the hearing, would revoke the administration’s changes to 1332 waivers, which loosened standards for what qualifies as healthcare coverage. The administration’s waiver also allows ACA subsidies to be spent on short-term plans.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who chairs the full Energy & Commerce Committee, said the changes “turn the statute on its head,” exceeding the administration’s authority and “contrary to congressional intent.”

Keith agreed. She said the guidance was inconsistent with the statute itself. Instead of improving access to healthcare, the guidance “undermines” it. In particular, subsidizing short-term health plans “flies in the face of 1332,” she said.

Several Republicans, including Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), ranking member for the full committee, highlighted the successful implementation of reinsurance programs in states such as Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon, and others, claiming that Democrats oppose state innovation.

Keith clarified that the reinsurance programs were approved under the 1332 rules as written by the previous administration, without the Trump administration’s changes.

Any waivers approved under the Trump administration’s new guidance would likely trigger a lawsuit, she said. As for short-term health plans, several patient advocacy groups have already filed a lawsuit targeting the administration’s new guidance for those plans.

So, I am not going to pursue this issue anymore because I want all of us to consider my first question-Why are Bernie Saunders and most of the multiple Democrat candidates running for President in 2020 touting Medicare for All instead of coming up with fixes for the Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare?

Let us discuss possible fixes to Obamacare next week.

And to a lighter side:

You can now buy an actual hospital room on Amazon

  • Amazon is increasingly moving into the business of selling supplies to hospitals.
  • Now, that includes “smart” hospital rooms that can be purchased on its marketplace as of Thursday.
  • The units are targeted to hospitals and are made by a company called EIR Healthcare.

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MedModular

You can buy almost everything on Amazon. And that includes, as of Thursday, a “smart” hospital room in a box.

A New York-based company called EIR Healthcare is now selling units of its hospital room, dubbed MedModular, for $814 a square foot on Amazon.com, which the company claims are more affordable than traditional construction. The design is customizable but all the rooms come with a bathroom and a bed.

These rooms don’t come cheap at $285,000 per unit, but they are targeted to business buyers that are increasingly flocking to Amazon.

So who would buy the units?

“We’re targeting hospitals and health systems,” said Grant Geiger, CEO of EIR Healthcare, the company selling the units. “There’s a trend towards bringing more transparency in the health care space,” he added.

Geiger said he’s currently seeing an uptick in interest from hospitals in using the units for things like simulation labs, or urgent care facilities.

Geiger has also considered looking into potential customers in the military.

But hospital administrators are an obvious place to start, he said, as Amazon is already selling them medical supplies ranging from bedpans to syringes. Previously, large hospital systems would buy everything through group purchasing organizations, or GPOs, which provided discounts but also a lack of transparency around costs.

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MedModular

Now, Amazon is looking to carve out its own slice of that lucrative business with its own growing portfolio of medical supplies.

Geiger said he talked to that group for months before he got permission to sell his units on Amazon’s marketplace. He also needed the company’s approval to ship and deliver the product, which involves transporting the units in giant shipping containers down the freeway.

Incidentally, you can also buy tiny houses on Amazon.

 

 

Congress Must Pony Up to Improve Nation’s Health, Doc Groups Say and Our Politicians Need to Change the Conversation

52585272_1914340792028904_751869742112833536_nIt was an interesting week on so many levels. I guess that we don’t have to worry about another government shut down…. until next September but now Congress, the Senate and the President will fight and get nothing done… Probably not even getting the full wall.

Can any progress be made on health care if we have all this anger, incivility and progressive socialism?!? Let’s have progress in health care and vows to work for a better future!

Medical society leaders come to Capitol Hill to push their funding priorities

News Editor of MedPage, Joyce Frieden remarked that Congress needs to do a better job of funding public health priorities and improving the healthcare system, a group of six physician organizations told members of Congress.

Presidents of six physician organizations — the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Osteopathic Association, and the American Psychiatric Association — visited members of Congress as a group here Wednesday to get their message across. The American Medical Association, whose annual Washington advocacy conference takes place here next week, did not participate.

The physician organizations had a series of principles that they wanted to emphasize during their Capitol Hill visits, including:

  • Helping people maintain their insurance coverage
  • Protecting patient-centered insurance reforms
  • Stabilizing the insurance market
  • Improving the healthcare financing system
  • Addressing high prescription drug prices

The group also released a list of proposed 2020 appropriations for various federal healthcare agencies, including:

  • $8.75 billion for the Health Resources and Services Administration
  • $7.8 billion for the CDC
  • $460 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
  • $41.6 billion for the National Institutes of Health
  • $3.7 billion for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

One of the group’s specific principles revolves around Medicaid funding. “Policymakers should not make changes to federal Medicaid funding that would erode benefits, eligibility, or coverage compared to current law,” the group said in its priorities statement.

This would include programs like the work requirements recently approved in Arkansas and other states; the Kaiser Family Foundation reported in January that more than 18,000 Arkansans have been dropped from the Medicaid rolls for failing to meet the work requirements there.

“Our group is very, very supportive of innovation,” said Ana Maria López, MD, MPH, president of the American College of Physicians, at a breakfast briefing here with reporters. “We welcome testing and evaluation, but we have a very strong tenet that any effort should first do no harm, so any proposed changes should increase — not decrease — the number of people who are insured. Anything that decreases access we should not support.”

That includes work requirements, said John Cullen, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “When waivers are used in ways that are trying to get people off of the Medicaid rolls, I think that’s a problem,” he said. “What you want to do is increase coverage.”

Lydia Jeffries, MD, a member of the government affairs committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agreed. “We support voluntary efforts to increase jobs in the Medicaid population, but we strongly feel that mandatory efforts are against our principal tenets of increasing coverage.”

More $$ for Gun Violence Research

Gun violence research is another focus for the group, which is seeking $50 million in new CDC funding to study firearm-related morbidity and mortality prevention. Kyle Yasuda, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, explained that gun research stopped in 1997 after the passage of the so-called Dickey Amendment, which prevented the CDC from doing any “gun control advocacy” — that is, accepting for publication obviously biased articles and rejecting any articles that found any positive benefits to gun ownership. Although the amendment didn’t ban the research per se, the CDC chose to comply with it by just avoiding any gun violence research altogether.

Recently, however, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, “have provided assurances that the language in the Dickey Amendment would allow for [this] research,” said Yasuda. “We didn’t have research to guide us and that’s what we need to go back to.”

The research is important, said Altha Stewart, MD, president of the American Psychiatric Association, because “in addition to the physical consequences related to gun violence, there’s a long-term psychological impact on everyone involved — both the people who are hurt and the people who witness that hurt. It’s a set of concentric circles that emerges when we talk about the psychological effects of trauma. We often think of [these people] as outliers, but for many people, we work with, this has become all too common in their lives.

“This is definitely our lane as physicians and I’m glad we’re in it,” she said, referring to a popular hashtag on the topic.

Yasuda said the effects of gun violence are nothing new to him because he spent half his career as a trauma surgeon in Seattle. “It’s not just the long-term effect on kids, it is the next generation of kids … It’s the impact on future generations that this exposure to gun violence has on our society, and we just have to stop it.”

The high cost of prescription drugs also needs to be addressed, López said. “We see this every day; people come in and have a list of medications, and you look and see when they were refilled, and see that the refill times are not exactly right … People will say, ‘I can afford to take these two meds on a daily basis, these I have to take once a week’ … They make a plan. [They say] ‘I can fill my meds or I can pay my rent.’ People are making these sorts of choices, and as physicians, it’s our job to advocate for their health.”

One thing the group is staying away from is endorsing a specific health reform plan. “We’re agnostic as far as what a plan looks like, but it has to follow the principles we’ve outlined on consumer protection, coverage, and benefits,” said Cullen. “As far as a specific plan, we have not decided on that.”

Also, Politicians Need To Change The Conversation On How To Fix Health Care

Discussions about Medicare for all, free market care, and Obamacare address one issue – how we pay for health care. The public is tired of these political sound bites and doesn’t have faith in either public or private payment systems to fix their health care woes. Changing the payer system isn’t going to fix the real problem of the underlying cost of care and how it is delivered.

The current system is rotting from the inside. Fee for service payment started the trend with rewarding health care providers for the amount of care they deliver. Through the decades, health care organizations learned how to manipulate the system to maximize profit. Remember, at no time has an insurer lost money. They just increase premiums and decrease reimbursements to health care facilities and caregivers and constrict their coverage. Insurers retaliated by creating more hoops to jump through to get services covered. This includes both Medicare and private insurance.

Who is left to deal with the quagmire? The patients. Additionally, the health care professionals who originally entered their profession to take care of people became burned out minions of the health care machine. Now we are left with an expensive, fragmented health care system that costs three times more than the average costs of other developed countries and has much poorer health outcomes.

Our country needs a fresh conversation on how to fix our health care system. The politicians who can simplify health care delivery and provide a plan to help the most people at a reasonable cost will win the day. There are straightforward fixes to the problem.

Provide taxpayer-funded primary care directly and remove it from insurance coverage

About 75% of the population needs only primary care. Early hypertension, diabetes, and other common chronic issues can be easily cared for by a good primary care system. This will reduce the progression of a disease and reduce costs down the line.  Unfortunately, the fee for service system has decimated our primary care workforce through turf wars and payment disparities with specialty care and we now have a severe primary care shortage. Patients often end up with multiple specialists which increases cost, provides unsafe and fragmented care, and decreases patient productivity.

Insurance is meant to cover only high cost or rare events. Primary care is inexpensive and is needed regularly, so it is not insurable. We pay insurance companies  25% in overhead for the privilege of covering our primary care expenses. Plus, patients and their doctors often must fight insurance companies to get services covered. The lost productivity for patients and care providers is immeasurable.

In a previous article, the author shared the proposal of creating a nationalized network of community health centers to provide free primary care, dental care, and mental health care to everyone in this country.

  • Community health centers currently provide these services for an average cost of less than $1,000 per person per year. By providing this care free to all, we can remove primary care from insurance coverage, which would reduce the cost of health insurance premiums.

Free primary care would improve population health, which will subsequently reduce the cost of specialty care and further reduce premiums.

  • Community health centers can serve as treatment centers for addiction, such as our current opioid crisis, and serve as centers of preparedness for epidemic and bioterrorist events.

People who do not want to access a community health center can pay for primary care through direct primary care providers.

  • This idea is not unprecedented – Spain enacted a nationwide system of community health centers in the 1980s. Health care measures, patient satisfaction, and costs improved significantly.

By providing a free base of primary care, dental care, and mental health care to everyone in this country, we can improve health, reduce costs, and improve productivity while we work toward fixing our health care payment system.

Current Community Health Centers

Community health centers currently serve approximately 25 million low-income patients although they have the structural capacity to serve many more. This historical perspective of serving low-income individuals may be a barrier to acceptance in the wider population. In fact, when discussing this proposal with a number of health economists and policy people, many felt the current variability in the quality of care would discourage use of community health centers in all but a low-income population. Proper funding, a culture of care and accountability, and the creation of a high functioning state of the art facilities would address this concern.

There are currently a number of community health centers offering innovative care, including dental and mental health care. Some centers use group care and community health workers to deliver care to their communities. Many have programs making a serious dent in fighting the opioid epidemic. Taking the best of these high functioning clinics and creating a prototype clinic to serve every community in our nation is the first step in fixing our health care system

The Prototype Community Health Center – Delivery of Care

Community health centers will be built around the patient’s needs. Each clinic should have:

  • Extended and weekend hours to deliver both acute and routine primary care, dental care, and mental health care. This includes reproductive and pediatric care.
  • Home visits using community health workers and telemedicine to reach remote areas, homebound, and vulnerable populations such as the elderly.
  • Community and group-based education programs for preventive health, obesity prevention and treatment, smoking cessation, and management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, musculoskeletal problems, chronic pain, asthma, and mental health.
  • A pharmacy that provides generic medications used for common acute and chronic illnesses. Medication will be issued during the patient’s visit.
  • There will be no patient billing. Centers will be paid globally based on the population they serve.

The standard of care will be evidence-based for problems that have evidence-based research available. If patients desire care that is not evidence based, they can access it outside the community health system and pay for that care directly. For problems that do not have evidence-based research, basic standards of care will apply.

It will be very important that both providers and patients understand exactly what services will be delivered. By setting clear expectations and boundaries, efficiency can be maintained and manipulation of the system can be minimized.

The Prototype Community Health Center – Staffing

The clinics would be federally staffed and funded. Health care providers and other employees will receive competitive salary and benefits. To attract primary care providers, school loan repayment plans can be part of the compensation package.

The “culture” of community health centers must be codified and will be an additional attraction for potential employees. A positive culture focused on keeping patients AND staff healthy and happy, open communication, non-defensive problem solving, and an attitude of creating success should be the standard. Bonuses should be based on the quality of care delivery and participation in maintaining good culture.

One nationalized medical record system will be used for all community health centers. The medical records will be built solely for patient care. Clinical decision support systems can be utilized to guide health care providers in standards of diagnosis and treatment, including when to refer outside the system.

Through the use of telemedicine, basic consultation with specialists can be provided but specialists will consult with the primary care physicians directly. One specialist can serve many clinics. For example, if a patient has a rash that is difficult to diagnose, the primary care doctor will take a picture and send it to the dermatologist for assistance.

For services beyond primary care and basic specialty consultation, insurance will still apply. The premiums for these policies will be much lower because primary care will be excluded from coverage.

How to get “there” from “here”

Think Starbucks – after the development of the prototype design based on currently successful models, with proper funding, centers can be built quickly. Attracting primary care providers, dentists, and mental health care providers will be key to success.

Basic services can be instituted first – immunizations, preventive care, reproductive care, and chronic disease management programs can be standardized and easily delivered by ancillary care providers and community health workers. Epidemic and bioterrorist management modules can be provided to each center. As the primary care workforce is rebuilt, further services can be added such as acute care visits, basic specialty consultations, and expanded dental and mental health care.

With the implementation of this primary care system, payment reform can be addressed. Less expensive policies can immediately be offered that exclude primary care. Ideally, we will move toward a value-based payment system for specialty care. The decision on Medicare for all, a totally private payer system, or a public and private option can be made. Thankfully, during the political discourse, 75% of the population will have their needs fully met and our country will start down the road to better health.

Well, this Fox & Friends Twitter poll on “Medicare for All” didn’t go as planned

Christopher Zara reported that in today’s edition of “Ask and Ye Shall Receive,” here’s more evidence that support for universal health care isn’t going away.

The Twitter account for Fox & Friends this week ran a poll in which it asked people if the benefits of Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for All” plan would outweigh the costs. The poll cites an estimated cost of $32.6 trillion. Hilariously, 73% of respondents said yes, it’s still worth it—which is not exactly the answer you’d expect from fans of the Trump-friendly talk show.

Granted, this is just a Twitter poll, which means it’s not scientific and was almost certainly skewed by retweets from Twitter users looking to achieve this result.

At the same time, it’s not that far off from actual polling around the issue. In March, a Kaiser Health tracking poll revealed that 6 in 10 Americans are in favor of a national healthcare system in which all Americans would get health insurance from a single government plan. Other polls have put the number at less than 50% support but trending upward.

If you’re still unsure, you can read more about Sanders’s plan and stay tuned for more discussion on “Medicare for All”.

Should we all be even concerned about any of these health care problems if AOC is right and the world ends in 12 years? Good young Ocasio Cortez, if she only had ahold on reality!! Her ideas will cost us all trillions of dollars, tax dollars, which we will all pay! Are we all ready for the Green Revolution?

 

 

 

 

Kamala Harris Vows to ‘Eliminate’ Private Insurance Market and Medicare For All

 

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The children in Washington are still fighting over the wall but, my wife found out why I’m not a fan of Medicare-For-All this past weekend. She finally found out how expensive it is for our family, which is just the two of us. She added up the fees, including secondary insurance, etc. and it came up with a yearly cost of $13,000. So, there is nothing free here. And if the government pays these costs to imagine the cost and who is going to pay for this program?

Jack Crowe from the National Review reported that Senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) advocated the elimination of the private health insurance industry during a CNN town hall event in Iowa Monday night.

Harris, who announced her 2020 presidential candidacy this week, broke from previous Democratic healthcare orthodoxy, which held that Americans could retain their private insurance if they so chose, in favor of a single-payer plan in which the government is the sole health insurance provider.

“I believe the solution — and I actually feel very strongly about this — is that we need to have Medicare for all,” Harris said in response to an audience question about healthcare affordability. “That’s just the bottom line.”

“So for people out there who like their insurance, they don’t get to keep it?” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked.

“Let’s eliminate all of that,” Harris responded, “let’s move on.”

Harris went on to describe the current healthcare system as “inhumane” and argued that switching over to a single payer system would reduce the financial and bureaucratic barriers to quality health care.

“Well, listen, the idea is that everyone gets access to medical care, and you don’t have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork, all of the delay that may require,” she said. “Who of us has not had that situation where you’ve got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, well, I don’t know if your insurance company is going to cover this. Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.”

Employing the language of human rights, the Democratic establishment has increasingly embraced “Medicare For All” in recent years as young, healthy Americans — previously burdened by the threat of a punitive tax on the uninsured, which the Trump administration recently eliminated — have increasingly fled government exchanges, exposing older, sick consumers to even steeper premiums.

The policy, which is widely viewed as a litmus test among potential Democratic presidential candidates, mandates that every American purchase their health insurance through the government. It would require $32.6 trillion in new spending over ten years, according to the Mercatus Center. Doubling the corporate and individual income tax would not cover the cost of the program, according to the analysis.

Kamala Harris Backtracks After Vowing to ‘Eliminate’ Private Insurance Market

Jack Crowe then followed up on this announcement by Harris noting that after advocating the elimination of the private insurance market during CNN’s town hall in Iowa Monday night, Senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) appeared to backtrack on Tuesday amid criticism from moderate Democrats and Republicans alike.

Remember her announcement “Let’s eliminate all of that,” Harris said when asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if, under her proposed “Medicare For All” proposal, Americans with private insurance plans could retain them.

“Let’s move on,” she added.

The remarks immediately drew condemnation from former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who recently launched an independent bid for president, and Mike Bloomberg, the centrist former mayor of New York City.

In response, Harris’s national press secretary Ian Sams and an unnamed advisor told CNN that she would also be open to pursuing more moderate healthcare reforms that would allow the 177 million Americans currently using private health insurance plans to keep them.

“Medicare-for-all is the plan that she believes will solve the problem and get all Americans covered. Period,” Sams told CNN. “She has co-sponsored other pieces of legislation that she sees as a path to getting us there, but this is the plan she is running on.”

During her time in the Senate, Harris has co-sponsored Senator Bernie Sanders (D., Vt.) “Medicare For All” bill, which would entirely phase out the private insurance industry, but has also proven willing to embrace the more moderate “public option,” which would allow more Americans to buy into Medicaid while leaving the private market largely intact.

Kamala Harris and the Implausibility of ‘Medicare-for-All’

Then Rich Lowry noted that Senator Kamala Harris committed a most unusual gaffe at her CNN town hall the other night — not by misspeaking about one of her central policy proposals, but by describing it accurately.

Asked on Monday night if the “Medicare-for-all” plan that she’s co-sponsoring with Senator Bernie Sanders eliminates private health insurance, she said that it most certainly does. Citing insurance company paperwork and delays, she waved her hand: “Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.”

She met with approbation from the friendly audience in Des Moines, Iowa, but the reaction elsewhere was swift and negative.

“As the furor grew,” CNN reported the next day, “a Harris adviser on Tuesday signaled that the candidate would also be open to the more moderate health reform plans, which would preserve the industry, being floated by other congressional Democrats.”

This was a leading Democrat wobbling on one of her top priorities 48 hours after the kickoff of her presidential campaign, which has been praised for its early acumen. It is sure to be the first of many unpleasant encounters between the new Democratic agenda and political reality.

Democrats are now moving from the hothouse phase of jockeying for the nomination, when all they had to do was get on board the party’s orthodoxy as defined by Bernie Sanders, to defending these ideas in the context of possibly signing them into law as president of the United States.

The Harris flap shows that insufficient thought has been given to how these proposals will strike people not already favorably disposed to the new socialism. It’s one thing for Sanders to favor eliminating private health insurance; no one has ever believed that he is likely to become president. It’s another for Harris, deemed a possible front-runner, to say it.

Her position is jaw-droppingly radical. It flips the script of the (dishonest) Barack Obama pledge so essential to passing Obamacare: “If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

That was a very 2009 sentiment. Ten years later, Harris indeed wants to take away your health plan, not in a stealthy operation, not as an unfortunate byproduct of the rest of her plan, but as a defining plank of her agenda.

This is a far more disruptive idea than Senator Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax. The affected population isn’t a limited group of highly affluent people. It is half the population, roughly 180 million people who aren’t eager for the government to swoop in and nullify their current health-care arrangements.

They may not like the current system, but they like their own health care — about three-quarters tell Gallup that their own health care is excellent or good. This is why the relatively minor interruption of private plans as part of the rollout of Obamacare was so radioactive.

How is a President Harris going to overcome this kind of resistance absent Depression-era Democratic supermajorities in Congress? Not to mention pay for a program that might well cost $30 trillion over 10 years and beat back fierce opposition from key players in the health-care industry?

She obviously won’t. “Medicare-for-all” is a wish and a talking point rather than a realistic policy. When her aides say she is willing to accept another “path” to “Medicare-for-all,” what they mean is that Harris is willing to accept something short of true “Medicare-for-all.”

There is always something to be said for shifting the Overton window on policy. But it’s better if think tanks and gadflies rather than plausible presidential candidates who aren’t even trying to hold down the left flank of the party do that.

If it’s uncomfortable for Kamala Harris to defend eliminating private health insurance now, imagine what it will be like when the entire apparatus of the Republican Party — including the president’s Twitter feed — is aimed at her in a general election.

What do Californians think about Kamala Harris’ far-left agenda?

Campus Reform editor-in-chief Lawrence Jones hit the streets of Los Angeles to see how people view the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate’s progressive proposals.

People expressed enthusiasm for Harris’ agenda, which includes Medicare-for-all, free college and rolling back President Trump’s tax plan.

When asked how they would pay for healthcare and college for every American, people responded with “Figure it out!” and “It’s in someone’s pockets, so why not share?”

On “Fox & Friends” Thursday, Jones said he spoke to many people who acknowledged that Harris’ agenda is not affordable or practical, but they like her and what she’s saying.

“This just shows you where this emotion-driven, progressive policy has taken this country,” Jones said.

He said Campus Reform has explored that troubling trend on college campuses, and now he’s increasingly seeing it among adults.

“That’s why people should be concerned because Obama won because he connected with voters,” Jones said. “Let’s see what happens now.”

‘Medicare-for-all’ means long waits for poor care, and Americans won’t go for it once they learn these facts

Progressive Democrats push ‘Medicare-for-all’ platform.

Critics say to provide ‘Medicare-for-all,’ taxes would have to go up while quality, choice, and access to care would go down; chief congressional correspondent Mike Emanuel reports.

Sally Pipes of Fox News pointed out that this week, as I have already stated, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., one of the front-runners in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, revealed her radical vision for American health care – outlawing private health insurance and putting the government in charge of the system.

Harris, along with 15 of her Democratic colleagues, supports Sen. Bernie Sanders’, I-Vt., the vision of “Medicare-for-all.” Sanders’ 2017 bill, S.1804, was explicit about outlawing private health insurance. At a town hall in Iowa last Again, remember Monday when Harris confirmed she was on board with that idea. “Let’s eliminate all of that,” she said.

In other words, Harris is running for president on a platform of taking away the private insurance coverage of about 200 million people and dumping everyone into a one-size-fits-all government-run health plan that would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. And if the experiences of other countries with single-payer health care are any indication, it would result in long waits for poor care.

I’M A NOT A DEMOCRAT, ACTUALLY AN INDEPENDENT, BUT MEDICARE FOR ALL IS NOT THE ANSWER — HERE ARE FOUR SUGGESTIONS

Support for single-payer appears to be the price of admission to the Democratic presidential race. Harris’s fellow presidential aspirants, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Cory Booker, D.-N.J., were among the co-sponsors of Sanders’ 2017 “Medicare-for-all” legislation. And it’s only a matter of time before Sanders himself, the pied piper of the “Medicare-for-all” movement, joins the race.

“Medicare-for-all’s” advocates promise a health care system that’s free at the point of service – no co-pays, no deductibles, no coinsurance.

They tend to be less upfront about how they’d pay for it. Independent estimates from both the right and the left peg “Medicare-for-all’s” cost at about $32 trillion over 10 years. Doubling what the federal government takes in individual and corporate income tax revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover that tab.

That’s assuming “Medicare-for-all” is able to implement its financing strategy. The bill proposes reimbursing doctors and hospitals at Medicare’s current rates, which are 40 percent below what private insurance pays.

Health care providers are unlikely to just absorb those cuts. Those with narrow margins – say, in rural areas – may be forced to close, unable to cover their costs. Some doctors may respond to lower payments by seeing fewer patients, retiring early, or leaving the practice of medicine altogether. Bright young people may decide not to pursue careers in medicine, given that “Medicare for all” will limit their earning power.

Regardless, ratcheting down the price of care by force is going to cause health care providers to supply less of it. And that will lead to longer waits for patients.

American patients will not stand for the higher taxes and lower-quality care that “Medicare-for-all” would bring.

Long waits plague patients in other countries with government-run health care. Take Canada, which outlaws private health insurance for anything considered medically necessary, just as “Medicare for all” would. The median wait for treatment from a specialist following referral by a general practitioner is 19.8 weeks, according to the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think tank. In 1993, the median wait was less than half as much – 9.3 weeks.

Waits are far longer for some specialties. For orthopedic surgery, the median wait for specialist treatment is 39 weeks.

Many Canadians are uninterested in waiting multiple months for treatment, particularly if they’re in pain or fear they may have a serious illness. So they pay out of pocket for care abroad. In 2016, more than 63,000 Canadians went to another country to receive medical treatment.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the United Kingdom’s government-run, 70-year old National Health Service, is proving similarly incapable of providing quality care. The system is currently short 100,000 health professionals – doctors, nurses, and other workers.

It’s no wonder 14 percent of operations are canceled right before they are supposed to happen, usually due to a shortage of staff or beds. Last July, 4.3 million patients were waiting for an operation – the highest figure in a decade.

During the winter, the system goes into crisis mode. Between December 2017 and February 2018, more than 163,000 patients waited in corridors and ambulances for over 30 minutes before being admitted to the emergency room. To deal with the crunch, officials ordered hospitals to cancel 50,000 operations.

American patients will not stand for the higher taxes and lower-quality care that “Medicare-for-all” would bring. A majority of people, 55 percent, erroneously believes that they’d be able to keep their private insurance under such a system. Once they learn it would eliminate private health insurance, support for the idea plummets, from 56 percent to 37 percent. The same happens after they learn it would require higher taxes.

Seven in 10 Americans say they’d oppose “Medicare-for-all” if it led to delays in getting some treatments and tests. Such delays are not hypothetical – they’re endemic to single-payer.

Harris and her fellow Democrats may think “Medicare-for-all” is their ticket to the White House. But voters are not interested in their plan to eliminate private health insurance.

And now, this past week, one of the potential Presidential candidates Senator Kirsten Gillibrand a backer of Medicare-For-All, announced that she thought that Medicaid-For-All made sense also. Really, do you all know what Medicaid pays the physicians???? 10 cents on the dollar, which is why my practice doesn’t accept any Medicaid patients. But maybe for primary care using nurse practitioners and physician assistants, this might work as basic care for “All”.

More to discuss.

 

 

Poll: Support for ‘Medicare-for-all’ fluctuates with details and Medicaid. What is the Answer​?

50065252_1872612819535035_7021591760191094784_nSo, one of the options that the Democrats are pushing is “Medicare-for-All.” But do the voters like the idea? Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar noted that Americans like the idea of “Medicare-for-all,” but support flips to disapproval if it would result in higher taxes or longer waits for care. Then how will the plan be financed?

That’s a key insight from a national poll released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. It comes as Democratic presidential hopefuls embrace the idea of a government-run health care system, considered outside the mainstream of their party until Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders made it the cornerstone of his 2016 campaign. President Donald Trump is opposed, saying “Medicare-for-all” would “eviscerate” the current program for seniors.

The poll found that Americans initially support “Medicare-for-all,” 56 percent to 42 percent.

However, those numbers shifted dramatically when people were asked about the potential impact, pro, and con.

Support increased when people were told “Medicare-for-all” would guarantee health insurance as a right (71 percent) and eliminates premiums and reduce out-of-pocket costs (67 percent).

But if they were told that a government-run system could lead to delays in getting care or higher taxes, support plunged to 26 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Support fell to 32 percent if it would threaten the current Medicare program.

“The issue that will really be fundamental would be the tax issue,” said Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who reviewed the poll. He pointed out those state single-payer efforts in Vermont and Colorado failed because of concerns about the tax increases needed to put them in place.

There doesn’t seem to be much disagreement that a single-payer system would require tax increases since the government would take over premiums now paid by employers and individuals as it replaces the private health insurance industry. The question is how much.

Several independent studies have estimated that government spending on health care would increase dramatically, in the range of about $25 trillion to $35 trillion or more over a 10-year period. But a recent estimate from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst suggests that it could be much lower. With significant cost savings, the government would need to raise about $1.1 trillion from new revenue sources in the first year of the new program.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., has asked the Congressional Budget Office for a comprehensive report on single-payer. The CBO is a nonpartisan outfit that analyzes the potential cost and impact of legislation. Its estimate that millions would be made uninsured by Republican bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act was key to the survival of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Mollyann Brodie, director of the Kaiser poll, said the big swings in approval and disapproval show that the debate over “Medicare-for-all” is in its infancy. “You immediately see that opinion is not set in stone on this issue,” she said.

Indeed, the poll found that many people are still unaware of some of the basic implications of a national health plan.

For example, most working-age people currently covered by an employer (55 percent) said they would be able to keep their current plan under a government-run system, while 37 percent correctly answered that they would not.

There’s one exception: Under a “Medicare-for-all” idea from the Center for American Progress employers and individuals would have the choice of joining the government plan, although it wouldn’t be required. Sanders’ bill would forbid employers from offering coverage that duplicates benefits under the new government plan.

“Medicare-for-all” is a key issue energizing the Democratic base ahead of the 2020 presidential election, but Republicans are solidly opposed.

“Any public debate about ‘Medicare-for-all’ will be a divisive issue for the country at large,” Brodie said.

The poll indicated widespread support for two other ideas advanced by Democrats as alternatives to a health care system fully run by the government.

Majorities across the political spectrum backed allowing people ages 50-64 to buy into Medicare, as well as allowing people who don’t have health insurance on the job to buy into their state’s Medicaid program.

Separately, another private survey out Wednesday finds the uninsured rate among U.S. adults rose to 13.7 percent in the last three months of 2018. The Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index found an increase of 2.8 percentage points since 2016, the year Trump was elected promising to repeal “Obamacare.” That would translate to about 7 million more uninsured adults.

Government surveys have found that the uninsured rate has remained essentially stable under Trump.

The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll was conducted Jan. 9-14 and involved random calls to the cellphones and landlines of 1,190 adults. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Trump Seeks Action To Stop Surprise Medical Bills

A healthcare reporter, Emmarie Huettman reported that President Trump instructed administration officials Wednesday to investigate how to prevent surprise medical bills, broadening his focus on drug prices to include other issues of price transparency in health care.

Flanked by patients and other guests invited to the White House to share their stories of unexpected and outrageous bills, Trump directed his health secretary, Alex Azar, and labor secretary, Alex Acosta, to work on a solution, several attendees said.

“The pricing is hurting patients, and we’ve stopped a lot of it, but we’re going to stop all of it,” Trump said during a roundtable discussion when reporters were briefly allowed into the otherwise closed-door meeting.

David Silverstein, the founder of a Colorado-based nonprofit called Broken Healthcare who attended, said Trump struck an aggressive tone, calling for a solution with “the biggest teeth you can find.”

“Reading the tea leaves, I think there’s a big change coming,” Silverstein said.

Surprise billing, or the practice of charging patients for care that is more expensive than anticipated or isn’t covered by their insurance, has received a flood of attention in the past year, particularly as Kaiser Health News, NPR, Vox and other news organizations have undertaken investigations into patients’ most outrageous medical bills.

Attendees said the 10 invited guests — patients as well as doctors — were given an opportunity to tell their story, though Trump didn’t stay to hear all of them during the roughly hourlong gathering.

The group included Paul Davis, a retired doctor from Findlay, Ohio, whose daughter’s experience with a $17,850 bill for a urine test after back surgery was detailed in February 2018 in KHN-NPR’s first Bill of the Month feature.

Davis’ daughter, Elizabeth Moreno, was a college student in Texas when she had spinal surgery to remedy debilitating back pain. After the surgery, she was asked to provide a urine sample and later received a bill from an out-of-network lab in Houston that tested it.

Such tests rarely cost more than $200, a fraction of what the lab charged Moreno and her insurance company. But fearing damage to his daughter’s credit, Davis paid the lab $5,000 and filed a complaint with the Texas attorney general’s office, alleging “price gouging of staggering proportions.”

Davis said White House officials made it clear that price transparency is a “high priority” for Trump, and while they didn’t see eye to eye on every subject, he said he was struck by the administration’s sincerity.

“These people seemed earnest in wanting to do something constructive to fix this,” Davis said.

Dr. Martin Makary, a professor of surgery and health policy at Johns Hopkins University who has written about transparency in health care and attended the meeting, said it was a good opportunity for the White House to hear firsthand about a serious and widespread issue.

“This is how most of America lives, and [Americans are] getting hammered,” he said.

Trump has often railed against high prescription drug prices but has said less about other problems with the nation’s health care system. In October, shortly before the midterm elections, he unveiled a proposal to tie the price Medicare pays for some drugs to the prices paid for the same drugs overseas, for example.

Trump, Azar, and Acosta said efforts to control costs in health care were yielding positive results, discussing, in particular, the expansion of association health plans and the new requirement that hospitals post their list prices online. The president also took credit for the recent increase in generic drug approvals, which he said would help lower drug prices.

Discussing the partial government shutdown, Trump said Americans “want to see what we’re doing, like today we lowered prescription drug prices, the first time in 50 years,” according to a White House pool report.

Trump appeared to be referring to a recent claim by the White House Council of Economic Advisers that prescription drug prices fell last year.

However, as STAT pointed out in a recent fact check, the report from which that claim was gleaned said “growth in relative drug prices has slowed since January 2017,” not that there was an overall decrease in prices.

Annual increases in overall drug spending have leveled off as pharmaceutical companies have released fewer blockbuster drugs, patents have expired on brand-name drugs and the waning effect of a spike driven by the release of astronomically expensive drugs to treat hepatitis C.

Drugmakers were also wary of increasing their prices in the midst of growing political pressure, though the pace of increases has risen recently.

Since Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives this month, party leaders have rushed to announce investigations and schedule hearings dealing with health care, focusing in particular on drug costs and protections for those with preexisting conditions.

Last week, the House Oversight Committee announced a “sweeping” investigation into drug prices, pointing to an AARP report saying the vast majority of brand-name drugs had more than doubled in price between 2005 and 2017.

The Ground Game for Medicaid Expansion: ‘Socialism’ or a Benefit for All?

One of the other options is that of expanding Medicaid but is that socialism or a benefit for all. Michael Ollove noted that a yard sign in Omaha promotes Initiative 427, which would expand Medicaid in Nebraska. Voters in the red states of Idaho and Utah also will decide whether to join 33 states and Washington, D.C., in extending Medicaid benefits to more low-income Americans as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act. Montana voters will decide whether to make expansion permanent.

Nati Harnik noted that on a sun-drenched, late October afternoon, Kate Wolfe and April Block are canvassing for votes in a well-tended block of homes where ghosts and zombies compete for lawn space with Cornhusker regalia. Block leads the way with her clipboard, and Wolfe trails behind, toting signs promoting Initiative 427, a ballot measure that, if passed, would expand Medicaid in this bright red state.

Approaching the next tidy house on their list, they spot a middle-aged woman with a bobbed haircut pacing in front of the garage with a cellphone to her ear.

Wolfe and Block pause, wondering if they should wait for the woman to finish her call when she hails them. “Yes, I’m for Medicaid expansion,” she calls. “Put a sign up on my lawn if you want to.” Then she resumes her phone conversation.

Apart from one or two turndowns, this is the sort of warm welcome the canvassers experience this afternoon. Maybe that’s not so surprising even though this is a state President Donald Trump, an ardent opponent of “Obamacare,” or the Affordable Care Act, carried by 25 points two years ago.

Although there has been no public polling, even the speaker of the state’s unicameral legislature, Jim Scheer, one of 11 Republican state senators who signed an editorial last month opposing the initiative, said he is all but resigned to passage. “I believe it will pass fairly handily,” he told Stateline late last month.

Anne Garwood (left), a tech writer, and April Block, a middle school teacher, review voter lists in preparation for canvassing an Omaha neighborhood in favor of Initiative 427, which would expand Medicaid in Nebraska.

The Pew Charitable Trusts

Bills to expand eligibility for Medicaid, the health plan for the poor run jointly by the federal and state governments, have been introduced in the Nebraska legislature for six straight years. All failed. Senate opponents said the state couldn’t afford it. The federal government couldn’t be counted on to continue to fund its portion. Too many people were looking for a government handout.

Now, voters will decide for themselves.

Nebraska isn’t the only red state where residents have forced expansion onto Tuesday’s ballot. Idaho and Utah voters also will vote on citizen-initiated measures on Medicaid expansion. Montana, meanwhile, will decide whether to make its expansion permanent. The majority-Republican legislature expanded Medicaid in 2015, but only for a four-year period that ends next July.

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Polling in those three states indicates a majority supports expanding Medicaid. Like Nebraska, all are heavily Republican states easily captured by Trump in 2016.

Last year’s failed attempt by Trump and congressional Republicans to unravel Obamacare revealed the popularity of the ACA with voters. Health policy experts said it also helped educate the public about the benefits of Medicaid, prompting activists in the four states to circumvent their Republican-led legislatures and take the matter directly to the voters.

Activists also were encouraged by the example of Maine, where nearly 60 percent of voters last year approved Medicaid expansion after the state’s Republican governor vetoed expansion bills five times.

“Medicaid has always polled well,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown. “When you explain what it does, they think it’s a good idea. What has changed is the intensity and growing recognition that states without expansion are falling further behind, especially in rural areas where hospitals are closing at an alarming rate.

“And all of the states with these ballot initiatives this year have significant rural populations.”

For many in Nebraska, the argument — advanced in one anti-427 television ad — that Medicaid is a government handout to lazy, poor people simply doesn’t square with what they know.

“These aren’t lazy, no-good people who refuse to work,” said Block, a middle school teacher, in an exasperating tone you can imagine her using in an unruly classroom. “They’re grocery store baggers, home health workers, hairdressers. They are the hardest workers in the world, who shouldn’t have to choose between paying for rent or food and paying for medicine or to see a doctor.”

Extending Benefits to Childless Adults

The initiative campaign began after the Nebraska legislature refused to take up expansion again last year. Its early organizers were, among others, a couple of Democratic senators and a nonprofit called Nebraska Appleseed.

Calling itself “Insure the Good Life,” an expansion of the state slogan, the campaign needed nearly 85,000 signatures to get onto the ballot. In July, the group submitted 136,000 signatures gathered from all 93 Nebraska counties.

The initiative would expand Medicaid to childless adults whose income is 138 percent of the federal poverty line or less. For an individual in Nebraska, that would translate to an income of $16,753 or less. Right now, Nebraska is one of 17 states that don’t extend Medicaid benefits to childless adults, no matter how low their income.

Under Medicaid expansion, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the health care costs of newly eligible enrollees, and the state would be responsible for the rest. The federal match for those currently covered by Medicaid is just above 52 percent.

The Nebraska Legislative Fiscal Office, a nonprofit branch of the legislature, found in an analysis that expansion would bring an additional 87,000 Nebraskans into Medicaid at an added cost to the state of close to $40 million a year. The current Medicaid population in Nebraska is about 245,000.

The federal government would send an additional $570 million a year to cover the new enrollees. An analysis from the University of Nebraska commissioned by the Nebraska Hospital Association, a backer of the initiative, found the new monies also would produce 10,800 new jobs and help bolster the precarious financial situation of the state’s rural hospitals.

For economic reasons alone, not expanding makes little sense, said state Sen. John McCollister, one of two Republican senators openly supporting expansion and a sponsor of expansion bills in the legislature, over coffee in an Omaha cafe one day recently.

“Nebraska is sending money to Washington, and that money is being sent back to 33 other states and not to Nebraska,” he said. “It’s obviously good for 90,000 Nebraskans by giving them longevity and a higher quality of life, but it also leads to a better workforce and benefits rural hospitals that won’t have to spend so much on uncompensated care.”

He said the state could easily raise the necessary money by increasing taxes on medical providers, cigarettes and internet sales. If 427 passes, those will be decisions for the next legislature.

Among the measure’s opponents are Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian advocacy group funded by David and Charles Koch that has been running radio ads against the initiative. Jessica Shelburn, the group’s state director in Nebraska, said her primary concern is that expansion would divert precious state resources and prompt cutbacks in the current optional services Medicaid provides.

“While proponents have their hearts in the right place,” Shelburn said, “we could end up hurting the people Medicaid is intended to help.”

Georgetown’s Alker, however, said that no expansion state has curtailed Medicaid services.

When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, it mandated that all states expand Medicaid, but a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made expansion optional for the states. As of now, 33 states and Washington, D.C., have expanded, including states that tend to vote Republican, such as Alaska, Arkansas, and Indiana.

Expansion is not an election issue only in the states with ballot initiatives this year. Democratic gubernatorial candidates are making expansion a major part of their campaigns in Florida and Georgia.

Ashley Anderson, a 25-year-old from Omaha with epilepsy, is one of those anxiously hoping for passage in Nebraska. A rosy-faced woman, she wears a red polo shirt from OfficeMax, where she works part-time for $9.50 an hour in the print center. She aged out of Medicaid at 19, and her single mother can’t afford a family health plan through her employer.

Since then, because of Anderson’s semi-regular seizures, she says she can’t take a full-time job that provides health benefits, and private insurance is beyond her means.

Because Anderson also can’t afford to see a neurologist, she is still taking the medication she was prescribed as a child, even though it causes severe side effects.

Not long ago, Anderson had a grand mal seizure, which entailed convulsions and violent vomiting, and was taken by ambulance to the emergency room. That trip left her $2,000 in debt. For that reason, she said, “At this point, I won’t even call 911.”

Anderson might well qualify for Social Security disability benefits, which would entitle her to Medicaid, but she said the application process is laborious and requires documentation she does not have. As far as she is concerned, the initiative is her only hope for a change.

“You know what, I even miss having an MRI,” she said. “I’m supposed to have one every year.” She can’t remember the last time she had one.

For the uninsured, the alternatives are emergency rooms or federally qualified health centers, which do not turn away anyone because of poverty.

While the clinics provide primary care, dental care, and mental health treatment, they cannot provide specialty care or perform diagnostic tests such as MRIs or CAT scans, said Ken McMorris, CEO of Charles Drew Health Center, the oldest community health center in Nebraska, which served just under 12,000 patients last year.

Almost all its patients have incomes below 200 percent of poverty, McMorris said. Many have little access to healthy foods and little opportunity for exercise.

William Ostdiek, the clinic’s chief medical officer, said he constantly sees patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease whose symptoms are getting worse because they cannot afford to see specialists.

“It’s becoming a vicious cycle,” he said. “They face financial barriers to the treatments they need, which would enable them to have full, productive lives. Instead, they just get sicker and sicker.”

Expansion, McMorris said, would make all the difference for many of those patients.

Some county officials also hope for passage. Mary Ann Borgeson, a Republican county commissioner in Douglas County, which includes Omaha, said her board has always urged the legislature to pass expansion. “Most people don’t understand — for counties, the Medicaid is a lifeline for many people who otherwise lack health care.”

Consequently, she said, the county pays about $2 million a year to reimburse providers for giving care to people who don’t qualify for Medicaid and can’t afford treatment, money that would otherwise be in the pockets of county residents.

‘That Is Socialism’

Insure the Good Life has raised $2.2 million in support of 427, according to campaign finance reports and Meg Mandy, who directs the campaign. Significant contributions have come from outside the state, particularly from Families USA, a Washington-based advocacy organization promoting health care for all, and the Fairness Project, a California organization that supports economic justice.

Both groups are active in the other states with expansion on the ballot. Well-financed, the proponents have a visible ground game and a robust television campaign.

The opposition, much less evident, is led by an anti-tax Nebraska organization called the Alliance for Taxpayers, which has filed no campaign finance documents with the state.

Marc Kaschke, former mayor of North Platte, said he is the organization’s president, but referred all questions about finances to an attorney, Gail Gitcho, who did not respond to messages left at her office.

Gitcho had previously told the Omaha World-Herald that the group hadn’t been required to file finance reports because its ads only provided information about 427; it doesn’t directly ask voters to cast ballots against the initiative.

Last week, the Alliance for Taxpayers began airing its first campaign ads. One of them complains that the expansion would give “free health care” to able-bodied adults. It features a young, healthy-looking, bearded man, slouched on a couch and eating potato chips, with crumbs spilled over his chest.

In a phone interview, Kaschke made familiar arguments against expansion. He said the state can’t afford the expansion, that it would drain money from other priorities, such as schools and roads. He said he fears the federal government would one day stop paying its share, leaving the states to pay for the whole program.

He also said, repeating Shelburn’s claim, that with limited funds, the state would be forced to cut back services to the existing population.

“We feel the states would be in a better position to solve this problem of health care,” Kaschke said. He didn’t offer suggestions on how.

Outside influence ruffles many Nebraska voters. Duane Lienemann, a retired public school agricultural teacher from Webster County near the Kansas line, said he resents outside groups coming to the state telling Nebraskans how to vote.

And he resents “liberals” from Omaha trying to shove their beliefs down the throats of those living in rural areas.

Their beliefs about expansion don’t fly with him.

“I think history will tell you when you take money away from taxpayers and give it to people as an entitlement, it is not sustainable,” Lienemann said. “You cannot grow an economy through transferring money by the government. That is socialism.”

It’s a view shared by Nebraska’s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts. He is on record opposing the expansion, repeating claims that it would force cutbacks in other government services and disputing claims, documented in expansion states, that expansion leads to job growth. But Ricketts has not made opposition to expansion a central part of his campaign.

Whether he would follow in the path of Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, and seek to block implementation of the expansion if the initiative passed, is not clear. Ricketts’ office declined an interview request and did not clarify his position on blocking implementation.

For his part, Scheer, the speaker of the legislature, said he would have no part of that. “We’re elected to fulfill the wishes of the people,” he said. “If it passes, the people spoke.”

Rural Hospitals in Greater Jeopardy in the Non-Medicaid Expansion States

Michael Ollove reported that after marching 130 miles from rural Belhaven, North Carolina, to the state Capitol in Raleigh, protesters in 2015 rally against the closing of their hospital, Vidant Pungo. Medicaid expansion could be the difference between survival and extinction for many rural hospitals.

In crime novelist Agatha Christie’s biggest hit, “And Then There Were None,” guests at an island mansion die suspicious deaths one after another.

So you can forgive Jeff Lyle, a big fan of Christie’s, for comparing the 36-bed community hospital he runs in Marlin, Texas, to one of those unfortunate guests. In December, two nearby hospitals, one almost 40 miles away, the other 60 miles away, closed their doors for good.

The closings were the latest in a trend that has seen 21 rural hospitals across Texas shuttered in the past six years, leaving 160 still operating.

Lyle, who is CEO, can’t help wondering whether his Falls Community Hospital will be next.

“Most assuredly,” he replied when asked whether he could envision his central Texas hospital going under. “We’re not using our reserves yet, but I can see them from here.”

It’s not just Texas: Nearly a hundred rural hospitals in the United States have closed since 2010, according to the Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill. Another 600-plus rural hospitals are at risk of closing, according to an oft-cited 2016 report by iVantage Health Analytics.

Texas had the most hospitals in danger of closing (75), the health metrics firm said. And Mississippi had the largest share of hospitals at risk (79 percent).

Neither state has expanded Medicaid eligibility to more of its low-income residents under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. In fact, the closures and at-risk hospitals are heavily clustered in the 14 states that have not expanded.

Those state decisions not to expand have deprived rural hospitals, which already operate with the slimmest of margins, of resources that could be the difference between survival and closure.

That is why Lyle and administrators of other rural hospitals in Texas and other non-expansion states are so adamant about their states joining the ranks of those that have expanded.

“It would mean a fair number of people we see who have no insurance would have insurance,” Lyle said. “And for us, a dollar is better than no dollar.”

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In Texas, the expansion would make 1.2 million more people eligible for Medicaid, according to a 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. An Urban Institute study in 2014 estimated that not expanding Medicaid would deprive Texas hospitals of $34.3 billion in federal reimbursements over 10 years.

Without that money, many rural hospitals in Texas and other non-expansion states have closed obstetrics units and other expensive services, forcing patients to travel long distances to seek treatment at the next-closest hospital, which is sometimes hours away.

By shedding those services, the hospitals diminish their reason for existing, said Maggie Elehwany, head of government affairs and policy for the National Rural Health Association.

The office of Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the most recent Republican chairmen of the health committees in the Texas legislature (the legislature has yet to make committee assignments for the current legislative session), Sen. Charles Schwertner and Rep. Four Price, did not return calls requesting comment for this story.

But not everyone believes Medicaid expansion is the answer to the problems facing rural hospitals. “Medicaid is as likely to prop up inefficient and wasteful hospitals as anything else,” said Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Another rural hospital in Texas, Goodall-Witcher in Clifton, which also operates two community health clinics and a nursing room, risked closing until residents of Bosque County voted in November to create a hospital taxing district.

“I’m not saying we would have closed the day after the election,” said Adam Willmann, the hospital’s CEO, “but I don’t know how much longer we could have gone.”

The additional taxes will bring the hospital an estimated $2.5 million a year and perhaps take it out of the red, but they won’t necessarily lift Goodall-Witcher out of financial peril, Willmann said.

“Medicaid expansion,” Willmann said. “That is one of the key things we could do to help us deal with the tough financial demands we face.”

The burden of Uncompensated Care

As envisioned by the ACA when it passed Congress in 2010, expansion states would extend benefits to all adults — including childless adults — whose income was at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. (In 2019, that would be an average individual income of $12,140, depending on the state.)

Initially, the federal government paid 100 percent of the health care costs of the expansion population. The federal share falls to 90 percent in 2020.

To date, 36 states plus Washington, D.C., have expanded Medicaid. By 2017, expansion under the ACA had covered 17 million new enrollees. Roughly another 4 million people would qualify in the remaining states, according to a 2018 Kaiser report.

Instead, many of those low-income residents remain uninsured or underinsured in plans with high deductibles and copayments.

But that doesn’t mean people don’t receive health care. Without health insurance, low-income people are less likely to get preventive care, which often results in worsening health conditions that frequently bring them to hospitals where they are guaranteed treatment. Under federal law, hospitals must stabilize and treat anyone showing up at the emergency room, regardless of their ability to pay.

Rural hospitals, like their urban counterparts, are forced to absorb those costs. But unlike bigger hospitals, their patient volumes, and operating margins are so low that “uncompensated care” burdens can be crippling.

For instance, Willmann said his hospital’s uncompensated tab last year was about $4.2 million, or 11 to 12 percent of his overall budget.

According to the Oklahoma Hospital Association, the state’s rural hospitals carried about $170 million in bad debt from charitable care and patients’ unpaid bills. Five rural hospitals have closed in the state since 2016.

A 2018 study in the journal Health Affairs found that the rate of closures of rural hospitals increased significantly in non-expansion states after 2014 when states began implementing the expansion. At the same time, closure rates decreased in expansion states.

Many administrators of rural hospitals are quick to say that Medicaid expansion alone will not solve their financial problems. Rural hospitals faced steep challenges long before the ACA.

Rural Americans tend to be older, in poorer health and less insured than those living elsewhere, the latter resulting in a greater share of uncompensated care for rural hospitals. Because of declining populations in rural areas, hospitals there often have empty beds, which means less revenue.

“It’s been a long, slow bleed,” said Fred Blavin, a health policy expert at the Urban Institute.

Automatic federal budget cuts beginning in 2013 (known as sequestration) reduced Medicare reimbursements, which are a particularly important source of revenue for hospitals. Congress has cut back on the amount hospitals can deduct for bad debt. Congress, in its budget tightening, reduced other forms of assistance to rural hospitals as well.

“You can put a Band-Aid on, but you still have 99 other wounds,” Willmann said.

Elehwany, of the National Rural Health Association, said that rural communities where hospitals are forced to close might be able to meet residents’ health needs by opening a new urgent care facility or maternal care center.

The loss of rural hospitals not only means patients having to travel longer distances to the next medical providers, but the closures also can often have a crippling effect on the local economy.

Goodall-Witcher Hospital is the largest employer in Bosque County. “Our payroll is bigger than the county’s entire budget,” Willmann said. “Can you imagine what it would do to this county to lose $9 million from the economy a year?”

A Health Services Research journal report found that when a rural area’s only hospital closes, income per capita falls by 4 percent and unemployment rises by 1.6 percent.

Willmann was relieved voters in his district supported the measure to create a hospital taxing district, but he acknowledged that it wasn’t a good deal for his county’s taxpayers. Their federal taxes help pay for the expansion in other states but not in Texas.

“Basically, you’re asking them to pay twice,” he said.

Rural hospital officials appear not to have the slightest hope that the deep red Texas legislature and the governor will get behind expansion.

“There is no likelihood of Medicaid expansion in Texas in the near term,” said John Henderson, CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals.

The government shutdown is over, but for how long? The New York Times finally got it correct when they wrote:

‘Our Country Is Being Run by Children’: Shutdown’s End Brings Relief and Frustration

 

HHS chief dismisses ‘Medicare for all’ as ‘too good to be true’ and the Black Hole that Our Politicians are Creating!

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Apologies to all those that read my posts for not posting Sunday evening. My home computer finally crashed. So, here is the weekly post for your review.

These last two weeks have convinced me that both the Republicans and Democrats are flawed and no longer deserve our support. More on that later!

But back to Medicare for All and the confirmation that it may not be the best offer for our health care system.  Nathaniel Weixel wrote that the Trump administration’s top health official on Thursday dismissed “Medicare for all” as a promise that’s too good to be true.

“When you drill down into the details, it’s clear that Medicare for all is a misnomer. What’s really being proposed is a single government system for every American that won’t resemble Medicare at all,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during a wide-ranging speech in Nashville, Tenn.

Azar said embracing Medicare for all would mean ignoring the mistakes of ObamaCare, which he called a failure.

“The main thrust of Medicare for all is giving you a new government plan and taking away your other choices,” Azar said.

This was not the first time a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services has tried to discredit the idea of Medicare for all. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma in July called it socialized medicine that would put seniors at risk.

Medicare for all has become increasingly popular among Democrats and is now favored by many of the party’s potential 2020 presidential candidates.

However, many congressional Democrats have yet to completely embrace the idea, and while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has sponsored a “Medicare for all” bill, there’s no real push for it in Congress.

Republicans have been pointing to Democratic calls for single-payer as a key rebuttal in this year’s midterm campaign, part of an effort to push back against Democratic attacks on GOP bills to repeal ObamaCare.

Aside from attacking Medicare for all, Azar in his speech praised President Trump as a better steward of ObamaCare than former President Obama ever was.

“The president who was supposedly trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act has proven better at managing it than the president who wrote the law,” Azar said.

He said premiums have been decreasing and there are more plans available for consumers to choose from on state exchanges.

According to Azar, premiums for the typical ObamaCare plan will decrease in 2019 by an average of 2 percent nationwide.

But insurance experts say the main reason premiums are either stable or decreasing this year is because they were so high in 2018. Insurers overpriced their plans this year, driven by the uncertainty over how the Trump administration would handle ObamaCare.

In addition, studies have shown premiums would also be decreasing much more if not for Trump administration policies like the elimination of the individual mandate penalty and expansion of short-term plan.

And now some good, positive news on the healthcare front!

Congress Passes Healthcare Appropriations Bill

Includes funding increase for NIH, $$ for opioid disorder treatment and research

  • Our friend Joyce Frieden of MedPage wrote that Congress has passed a major appropriations bill that increases funding for medical research and opioid disorder treatment and research.

The bill, which includes a $2-billion increase in the National Institutes of Health budget, passed the House Wednesday evening; the Senate passed it last Tuesday. The $674 billion measure, which also includes funding for the departments of Labor and Defense, now heads to the White House, where President Trump is expected to sign it before Oct. 1, in time to avoid a government shutdown.

Medical groups praised the bill’s passage. “We applaud congressional approval of the FY19 Labor-HHS/Defense spending bill which ensures increased funding for innovative research and public health initiatives to address deadly and disabling diseases,” Mary Woolley, CEO of Research!America, a trade group for medical research organizations, said in a statement. “Passage of the measure before the end of the current fiscal year is also noteworthy and congressional leaders should be commended for their commitment to advancing the bill in a timely fashion. The $2-billion increase for the National Institutes of Health builds on the momentum to accelerate research into precision medicine, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other health threats.”

In addition, she noted, “The measure will also enable the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to step up efforts to combat antibiotic resistance, and the opioid epidemic through research, treatment, and prevention.”

The appropriations bill also includes $317 million for various rural health initiatives, including $20 million for the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Grant Program for quality improvement and adoption of health information technology, and up to $1 million for telehealth services, “including pilots and demonstrations on the use of electronic health records to coordinate rural veterans’ care between rural providers and the Department of Veterans Affairs electronic health record system,” according to the conference report on the bill that was worked out between the House and Senate.

Other health-related provisions of the bill include:

  • $1.5 billion for State Opioid Response Grants
  • $765 million to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for fighting fraud
  • $338 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which had been targeted for closure by the Trump administration
  • $120 million for the Rural Communities Opioids Response Program

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) also applauded the bill’s passage. In addition to the NIH funding bump, “funding for the Health Resources and Services Administration’s workforce and pipeline programs will help create a strong and culturally competent health care workforce to provide those cures and treatments to vulnerable patients and those living in underserved communities,” AAMC president and CEO Darrell Kirch, MD, said in a statement.

In her statement about the bill’s passage, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) singled out the healthcare provisions in particular. “I am particularly pleased that [Health and Human Services] programs received such robust funding in this Conference agreement,” she said. “The bill increases funding for three of my top legislative priorities: fighting underage drinking, supporting newborn screening, and reducing maternal mortality.”

In addition, “at a time when this country is experiencing the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases in history, this bill restores both the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program and all Title X Family Planning dollars that help our teens gain critical access to reproductive health care and education.”

But not everyone was happy with the bill. “We’re pleased policymakers have likely avoided a shutdown and actually appropriated most of this year’s discretionary budget on time,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, in a statement. “But let’s not forgot that Congress did so without a budget and had to grease the wheels with $153 billion to pass these bills. That isn’t function; it’s a fiscal free-for-all.

“Policymakers should not be budgeting by borrowing more; they should put in place a full budget with a plan to bring our borrowing down, not up,” she continued. “Let’s stop patting ourselves on the back for adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit in an orderly manner. Let’s instead work together to stabilize the nation’s finances.”

 ‘Indelible in the Hippocampus’: Christine Blasey Ford Explains Science Behind Her Trauma

The teaching psychologist Dr. Ford explained the uneven memories of sexual assault survivors to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Anna Almendria wrote that while recounting her allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford said the judge had covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming during an assault while the two were teenagers in high school. In follow-up questions, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Blasey how she could be so sure that it was Kavanaugh who did it.

Blasey, who is a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, offered a lesson in neuroscience in reply.  “The same way that I’m sure that I’m talking to you right now, just basic memory functions,” Blasey told Feinstein in response. “And also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that sort of, as you know, encodes ― that neurotransmitter encodes memories into the hippocampus, and so the trauma-related experience then is kind of locked there whereas other details kind of drift.”

Norepinephrine and epinephrine are two hormones released when the body experiences stress. When a person is experiencing a threat like a sexual assault, these stress neurotransmitters flood the brain and help encode details like the environment and the people who you’re with on the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that’s responsible for creating and retrieving memories.

Later on in the hearing, she again referred to the hippocampus when responding to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) question about her most vivid memory of the alleged assault, which Blasey said took place in the early 1980s.

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two,” she said, referring to Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, the other person Blasey alleges was in the room when the assault took place. “And their having fun at my expense.”

In pairing the retelling of her traumatic experience with explanations of the way assault affects the brain, Blasey is educating the public about how survivors process and store violent memories and can recall them years later.

Sabrina Segal, a psychology professor at Cal State University, Channel Islands, says that Blasey was making a distinction between everyday memories that the brain records during calm, relaxed moments and traumatic memories that the brain encodes during periods of high stress and fear for one’s life.

“The hippocampus is a structure in the brain that we know basically converts short-term memory traces into long-term memory traces,” Segal said, a term that psychologists use to describe the physical change that takes place in the brain when it stores a memory. “We know this because of studies where this part of the brain was removed, and it altered a person’s ability to do that.”

This bit of biology explains why Blasey would be certain of some details like Kavanaugh’s face, or the environment of the room and less so of other details that occurred before the alleged assault, such as the owner of the home where the incident took place. In moments where she feared for her life and was in “fight or flight” mode, she would have details “seared” into her memory, Segal said.

The full mechanics of this response also involve the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain, which perceives and responds to danger.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that your body releases adrenaline, which is a stress hormone, and almost simultaneously your brain will release [norepinephrine] in the amygdala,” Segal said. “It’s a potency maker in terms of being able to strengthen the memory.”

Research shows that it is common for survivors of sexual trauma to strongly remember the details of the event itself but not have many memories of other details around the event.

“When something is incredibly traumatic and emotional, that [norepinephrine] is going to make specific details etched in, and you will never forget them,” Segal said. “The fact that she’s had these memories for 20 years is not shocking to me in any way.”

Negar Fani, an assistant professor at Emory University who specializes in the neurobiology of post-traumatic stress disorder, says that this traumatic memory-storing process has a strong evolutionary purpose.

“It’s so that you can avoid things that could potentially harm you in the future,” Fani said. “When you encounter and encode these contextual aspects of the memory, you’ll avoid things that even remotely relate to that trauma memory.”

Fani said this could explain why Blasey requested that Kavanaugh not be present in the room during her testimony. “This person who assaulted her produces that same fight or flight reaction,” Fani said. “Because he’s a critical part of the threat context, it’s going to arouse her fight or flight system, and it’s hard to think clearly when that fight or flight system is engaged.”

But there is a lesson for Dr. Ford, and these experts, who has accused the supreme court nominee, Judge Kavanaugh, of sexual harassment saying that the norepinephrine and epinephrine levels in her hipocampus basically cements that memory 100% in her hippocampus. Interesting!! If that were true how come that she doesn’t remember where it took place, when it took place and how she got home.

Well, the last article the “professionals” tries to explain these differences. Alas, this “expert”, along with those others, who are not medical doctors with no training in neurology or medicine don’t understand the effect of alcohol has on the levels of norepinephrine in the hippocampus or chose not to mention these facts. Study up Doc/PhD, before you try to sound so sure of yourself.

Now also remember the Prosecutor that the Republicans brought in to question Ford and Kavanaugh. Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor who questioned Christine Blasey Ford on behalf of Republican senators last week during an emotional hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a memo late Sunday detailing why no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Brett Kavanaugh given the “evidence” that exists against him.

“A ‘he said, she said’ case is incredibly difficult to prove. But this case is even weaker than that,” Mitchell said, explaining the case’s “bottom line.”

Ironically, Mitchell’s language mirrors the vernacular of former FBI Director James Comey, who similarly argued in July 2016 that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server.

The career Arizona prosecutor, who specializes in sex-related crimes, goes on to outline eight reasons why no “reasonable prosecutor would bring this case,” explaining the evidence fails to “satisfy the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.”

  1. Ford has not offered a consistent account of when the alleged assault happened

Mitchell explained that initially Ford said the assault occurred in the “mid-1980s,” but later changed the date to the “early 80s.” But when she met with the polygraph administrator, Ford crossed out the word “early” for unknown reasons.

Ford has also described the incident occurring in the “summer of 1982” and her “late teens” — despite claiming it happened when she was 15.

“While it is common for victims to be uncertain about dates, Dr. Ford failed to explain how she was suddenly able to narrow the time frame to a particular season and particular year,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford has struggled to identify Judge Kavanaugh as the assailant by name

Mitchell explained Ford neither identified Kavanaugh by name during marriage counseling in 2012 or individual counseling in 2013. Ford’s husband claims she identified Kavanaugh in 2012, but Mitchell noted that Kavanaugh’s name was widely circulated as a potential Supreme Court pick should then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have won the presidency.

“In any event, it took Dr. Ford over thirty years to name her assailant,” Mitchell wrote. “Delayed disclosure of abuse is common so this is not dispositive.”

  1. When speaking with her husband, Ford changed her description of the incident to become less specific

According to Mitchell, Ford told her husband before they married that she had been the victim of a “sexual assault,” but told the Washington Post that she told her husband she was a victim of “physical abuse.”

“She testified that, both times, she was referring to the same incident,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford has no memory of key details of the night in question — details that could help corroborate her account

Mitchell explained:

  • Ford does not remember who invited her to the “party, how she heard about it, or how she got there”
  • Ford does not remember whose house the assault occurred or where the house is located with any specificity
  • Ford remembers very specific details about that night that are unrelated to the assault, such as how many beers she consumed and whether or not she was on medication

Perhaps the most significant hole in Ford’s memory, Mitchell said, is the fact that Ford does not remember how she returned home from the party.

Factually speaking, the location of the party that Ford identified to the Washington Post is a 20-minute drive from her childhood home. And it was only during her testimony last week that she agreed for the first time that someone had driven her somewhere that night. Ford remembers locking herself in a bathroom after the alleged assault, but cannot identify who drove her home.

Significantly, no one has come forward to identify themselves as the driver.

“Given that this all took place before cellphones, arranging a ride home would not have been easy. Indeed, she stated that she ran out of the house after coming downstairs and did not state that she made a phone call from the house before she did, or that she called anyone else thereafter,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford’s account of the alleged assault has not been corroborated by anyone she identified as having attended — including her lifelong friend

As widely reported, Mitchell explained that each individual Ford identified as having been at the party has submitted sworn statements — under penalty of felony — that they do not remember the party and cannot recall or corroborate any detail that Ford alleges.

  1. Ford has not offered a consistent account of the alleged assault

Ford claimed in her letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that she heard Kavanaugh and Mark Judge talking downstairs while hiding in a bathroom after the assault. But she testified that she could not hear anyone, and only “assumed” people were talking.

Meanwhile, Ford’s therapist’s notes show that she said there were four boys in the bedroom when she was assaulted. However, she told the Washington Post it was only two, and blamed the error on her therapist. Also, in Ford’s letter to Feinstein she said there were “me and 4 others” at the party. However, in her testimony, she said there were “four boys” at the party in addition to herself and Leland Keyser, her female friend.

Additionally, “Dr. Ford listed Patrick ‘PJ’ Smyth as a ‘bystander’ in her statement to the polygrapher and in her July 6 text to the Washington Post, although she testified that it was inaccurate to call him a bystander. She did not list Leland Keyser even though they are good friends. Leland Keyser’s presence should have been more memorable than PJ Smyth’s,” Mitchell said.

     7. Ford has struggled to recall important recent events relating to her allegations, and her testimony regarding recent events raises further questions about her memory

Mitchell explained that Ford is unable to accurately remember her interactions with the Washington Post, such as what she told reporters or whether or not she provided them with a copy of her therapist’s notes.

Also of significance is Ford’s claim that she wished to remain confidential since she submitted her assault allegations to a person operating the Washington Post’s tip line. She testified that she did this due to a “sense of urgency,” claiming she did not know how to contact the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, she was unable to explain how she knew to contact the offices of Feinstein and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

Also, Ford cannot recall if she was recorded, via audio or video, during the administration of her polygraph, nor can she remember if the polygraph was administered on the same day as her grandmother’s funeral or the day after.

“It would also have been inappropriate to administer a polygraph to someone who was grieving,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford’s description of the psychological impact of the event raises questions

Ford testified that she suffers from anxiety, PTSD, and claustrophobia, which explains her fear of flying. However, she testified that she has flown many times in the last year, and flies on a regular basis for her hobbies and work.

Meanwhile, Ford testified that the assault affected her academically in college. However, she never claimed it affected her in high school after the assault allegedly occurred.

“It is significant that she used the word ‘contributed’ when she described the psychological impact of the incident to the Washington Post. Use of the word ‘contributed’ rather than ’caused’ suggests that other life events may have contributed to her symptoms. And when questioned on that point, said that she could think of ‘nothing as striking as’ the alleged assault,” Mitchell explained.

Finally, Mitchell said the “activities of congressional Democrats and Dr. Ford’s attorneys likely affected Dr. Ford’s account.”

And now we are going to have the FBI do an additional investigation after they have already vetted this candidate 6 times. That’s right, 6 times for his other judicial positions!

Besides this expert and witness to the horrible things that the judge has done, the behavior of most of the Democrats especially, but also some of the Republicans really sickens me. It represents childish, uncivil and I think truly unethical behavior, which has no place in this confirmation hearing. Do you all remember all that you did in high school and or college? I doubt it and some of these allegations can be interpreted in various ways. But trust me I am no fan of sexual aggressive behavior on anyone’s part but some of these allegations have to be taken in context and timing and in lieu of the behaviors of the time and grouping behaviors. Really??

I remember college gals exposing themselves when drunk or even after only one or two drinks as well as “men and women” away from home in college who were so drunk that they fell on each other, etc.

But that being what it is I am still angrier with our Senators and Representatives who by their behavior and lack of respect for Judge Kavanaugh and their anger for President Trump have created a circus. All this horrible behavior, the anger, hatred and the vitriol has convinced me to vote for independents and not anyone from each of our popular parties, unless it only leaves me the Republican as my only choice.

I was even going to vote for a Democrat in our Senate race because of the lack of any positive input or suggestions for health care decisions from the two term physician who has filled that spot. But now it will be the independent gentleman who gets my vote. I hope that many of you out there when you get to vote in November carefully make your choices. We the voters are the only people that can turn this black era in our society’s history around. The Democrats are pitting Democrats against Republicans, whites against Afro-Americans, “straights against gays/LGTBXXX and finally men against women. For what?  They want control of our government and to get on with their agenda. Horrifying!!

And now here is another insult by our politicians. I had an interesting experience on Friday afternoon while waiting for our train to New York City. Our Acela train was delayed by 1 ½ hours so that Senator Coons could give interviews in D.C. regarding the Kavanaugh hearing. Yes, they held up the train in D.C. Union Station, so that the senator could complete his interviews and claim the Business Car for him and his troop. Unbelievable!!

Next, more discussion on single payer health care choices and if there are other alternatives to consider.