Category Archives: Federal taxes

Warren’s Health Care Plan Will Cost More Than She Says; Hillary’s take on the matters and what does Medicare cover and the VA “new” system!

veteran529Tyler Cowen reported that Elizabeth Warren claims she can pay for her 10-year, $52 trillion health care plan without increasing taxes on the middle class. But both she and her critics are approaching the question wrong. What really matters is the opportunity cost of policy choices, in terms of foregone goods and services — not whether the money can be raised to pay for a chosen policy.

Consider this point in the context of Warren’s plan, which includes a complex series of health-care savings and higher taxes on the wealthy.

NOAH SMITH: Warren Tries to Make Medicare for All as Painless as Possible

One way of financing the plan is to pay doctors in hospitals lower fees (part of “saving” $2.3 trillion). There will then be fewer profitable hospitals, and fewer doctors working fewer hours because some of them might retire earlier than they otherwise would. Fewer hospitals mean they will likely increase their monopolistic tendencies, to the detriment of patients. A related plan to pay hospitals less is supposed to save another $600 billion.

The practical impact of these changes will be to deprive health-care consumers, including middle-class consumers, of goods and services. The larger point is that the real cost of any economic arrangement is not its nominal sticker price, but rather the consequences of who ends up not getting what.

Another part of the plan is to pay lower prices — 70% lower — for branded prescription drugs. That is supposed to save about $1.7 trillion, but again focus on which opportunities are lost. Lower drug prices will mean fewer new drugs are developed. There is good evidence that pharmaceuticals are among the most cost-effective ways of saving human lives, so the resulting higher mortality and illness might be especially severe.

Of course, many critics of the pharmaceutical industry downplay its role in the drug-discovery process. Regardless of the merits of those arguments, they do not show that a 70% cut in prices will leave supplies, or research and development, unchanged.

Another unstated cost of the Warren plan concerns current health-insurance customers: Many of them prefer their current private coverage to Medicare for All. Switching them into Medicare for All is an opportunity cost not covered by Warren’s $52 trillion estimates. Even if you believe that Medicare for All will be cheaper in monetary terms, tens of millions of Americans seem to prefer their current arrangements.

Warren also proposes higher taxes on corporations, capital gains, stock trades and the wealthy, as well as stronger tax enforcement — all of which is supposed to raise more than $10 trillion. Again, regardless of your position on those policies, they will diminish investment and (to some extent) consumption among the wealthy. You might not worry much about the consumption of the wealthy. But the decline in investment will lead to lower wages, less job creation, and fewer goods and services. These are all opportunity costs, for both the middle class and just about everyone else.

Supposedly $400 billion will be picked up from taxes on new immigrants, following the passage of a law legalizing millions now in the country illegally. I favor such legislation. Still, I don’t necessarily see this as a windfall. Yes, more immigrant labor will produce more goods and services. Tax revenue from this new productivity could be used in any number of ways, with universal health-care coverage just one option of many.

You might think that universal health insurance coverage is clearly the highest priority, but is it? America’s health-care sector is relatively costly and inefficient, and even major health-care legislation does not much improve health outcomes. What about investing in green energy or climate change alleviation? Private-sector job creation? Public health measures outside of the health-insurance system, such as fighting air pollution or lead? Checking California forest fires?

Even if you think health care is a human right, there are alternative policies that will benefit human health. They cannot all be carried out, at least not very well.

I don’t mean to pick on Warren. Virtually all politicians, of both parties, fall prey to similar fallacies when presenting the costs of their policies. Warren’s proposals, when all is said and done, are best viewed not as a way of paying for her program but as a series of admissions about just how expensive it would be. Whether or not you call those taxes, they are very real burdens — and many of them will end up falling on the middle class.

How Sen. Warren’s health care plan could impact 401(k)s

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s “Medicare for All” plan may impact your future nest egg. Some critics of the proposal note the presidential hopeful could potentially tax investors, which would make it more difficult to save for retirement. Edelman Financial Engines Founder Ric Edelman discusses with Yahoo Finance’s Zack Guzman, Sibile Marcellus, and ‘The Morning Brew’ Business Editor and Podcast Host, Kinsey Grant.

Hillary Clinton: Warren’s Medicare for All Plan Won’t Ever Get Enacted

Yuval Rosenberg noted that Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that she doesn’t believe Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare-for-All plan would ever become law and that there are better ways to raise revenues than Warren’s proposed wealth tax.

Asked at a New York Times conference whether she thinks the health-care plan released by Warren would ever get enacted, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee said: “No, I don’t. I don’t but the goal is the right goal.”

In her 2016 campaign, Clinton supported a public health insurance option and rejected calls from Bernie Sanders, her rival for the Democratic nomination, for a single-payer system. On Wednesday, Clinton said she still favors a public option to build on the Affordable Care Act, which lifted insurance coverage rates to 90%. “I believe the smarter approach is to build on what we have. A public option is something I’ve been in favor of for a very long time,” she said. “I don’t believe we should be in the midst of a big disruption while we are trying to get to 100 percent coverage and deal with costs and face some tough issues about competitiveness and other kinds of innovation in health care.”

Clinton also said she supports the health care debate Democrats are having and tried to contrast that with the Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “Yeah, we’re having a debate on our side of the political ledger, but it’s a debate about the right issue, how do we get to health care coverage for everybody that we can afford?” Clinton said.

Warren responded on Thursday. “I’m saying, you don’t get what you don’t fight for,” she said, according to The Times. “You know, you’ve got to be willing to get out there and fight.”

On the issue of a wealth tax, another central element of Warren’s campaign, Clinton said she doesn’t understand how the proposal could work, suggesting it would be too disruptive. Clinton added that there are better ways to raise revenues, get the rich to pay more and combat inequality. “I just think there are better ways of doing it,” she said, adding that she would be in favor of raising the estate tax.

Also, Hillary Clinton called the wealth taxes proposed by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren “unworkable” and said they would be “incredibly disruptive” if enforced.

Warren health plan departs from US ‘social insurance’ idea

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reported that Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to pay for “Medicare for All” without raising taxes on the middle class departs from how the U.S. has traditionally financed bedrock social insurance programs. That might impact its political viability now and in the future.

While echoing her party’s longstanding call for universal health care, the Massachusetts Democrat is proposing to raise most of the additional $20.5 trillion her campaign believes would be needed from taxes on businesses, wealthy people and investors.

That’s different from the “social insurance” — or shared responsibility — the approach taken by Democratic presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Broad financing through payroll taxes collected from workers and their employers has fostered a sense of ownership of Social Security and Medicare among ordinary Americans. That helped derail several Republican-led privatization efforts. And signs declaring “Keep Government Out Of My Medicare” proliferated during protests against President Barack Obama’s health care legislation, which scaled back Medicare payments to hospitals.

The Warren campaign says the reason programs like Social Security and Medicare are popular is that benefits are broadly shared. A campaign statement said her plan would put money now spent on medical costs back in the pockets of middle-class families “substantially larger than the largest tax cut in American history.”

But Roosevelt was once famously quoted explaining that he settled on a payroll tax for Social Security to give Americans the feeling they had a “legal, moral and political right” to benefits, thereby guaranteeing “no damn politician” could take it down.

Medicare passed under Johnson, is paid for with a payroll tax for hospital services and a combination of seniors’ premiums and general tax revenues for outpatient care and prescriptions. Truman’s plan for universal health insurance did not pass, but it would have been supported by payroll taxes.

“If you look at the two core social insurance programs in the United States, they have always been financed as a partnership,” said William Arnone, CEO of the National Academy of Social Insurance, a nonpartisan organization that educates on how social insurance builds economic security.

On Warren’s plan, “the question is, will people still look at it as an earned right, or will they say that their health care is coming out of the generosity of the wealthy?” Arnone added. His group takes no position on Medicare for All.

“It’s not an accident that Social Security is on the chopping block a lot less frequently than so-called welfare programs,” said retirement expert Charles Blahous, a political conservative and a former public trustee overseeing Social Security and Medicare finances.

With Warren’s approach, “you are going to have this clash of interests between the people paying the bills and the beneficiaries,” Blahous added. His own estimates indicate Medicare for All would cost the government about $12 trillion more over 10 years than Warren projects.

The Warren campaign downplays the role of shared responsibility and instead points to promised benefits under Medicare for All.

“Every person in America will have full health coverage, get the doctors and the treatments they need, and no more going broke over medical bills,” the campaign said in a statement. “Backed up by leading experts, Elizabeth has shown how her plan will do this by having the richest 1% and giant corporations pay a little bit more and without raising taxes on the middle class by one penny.”

Under Warren’s plan, nearly $9 trillion would come from businesses, in lieu of what they’re already paying for employees’ health care. About $7 trillion would come from increased taxes on investors, wealthy people, and large corporations. An IRS crackdown on tax evasion would net about $2 trillion. The remainder would come from various sources, including dividends of a projected immigration overhaul and eliminating a Pentagon contingency fund used for anti-terrorism operations.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ list of options to pay for Medicare for All includes a 4% income-based premium collected from most households.

John Rother, CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care umbrella group, said he can follow Warren’s argument about making the wealthy pay, but it still looks like a hard sell.

“What is different today is the tremendous gap between the well-off and middle-class people,” he said. “In a way, it makes sense as a step toward greater equality, but it is still a little tricky politically because you don’t have that same sense that ‘this is mine, I paid into it, and therefore no one is going to take it away.'” His group has taken no position on Medicare for All.

History records that various payment options were offered for Social Security in the 1930s and FDR favored a broad payroll tax. One competing idea involved a national sales tax.

An adviser’s memo in the Social Security archives distills Roosevelt’s thinking.

“We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits,” Roosevelt was quoted as saying.

“With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program,” he added. “Those taxes aren’t a matter of economics, they’re straight politics.”

Medicare-for-all could cause ‘enormous’ doctor shortage

Julia Limitone pointed out something I mentioned that I am concerned about in the Medicare for All plan outlined by Sen. Warren. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare-for-all plan is a disaster and would lead to an “enormous” doctor shortage, according to FOX News medical correspondent Dr. Marc Siegel.

If Warren’s plan came to pass, doctors would be working for the government, which in turn would decide their pay, Dr. Siegel told FOX Business’ Stuart Varney.

“The government doctors will be paid up to 40 percent less,” he said on Thursday. “Many will leave the profession,”

In countries with socialized medicine doctors earn about half of what primary care doctors make in America, he said.

“I’ve interviewed an Australian physician who’s from Canada, and she’s making about 30 to 40 dollars for a visit at the most,” he said.

But even more than that, a patient wouldn’t necessarily be able to get the care they need, Siegel said.

“I have to wait a month to figure out if someone has a problem up here,” he said.

What’s more, he said, it would hit hospitals hard. Hospitals rely on private insurance to pay for research, medical students and quality care, Dr. Siegel said. Under the plan, they’d get a flat fee from the government, and would not be able to differentiate between medical centers and great care and something that’s of lower quality, he explained.

“Hospitals are going to go belly up,” he warned.

Warren’s campaign said the single-payer plan would cost the country “just under” $52 trillion.

VA launches new health care options under MISSION Act

Because we are celebrating Veterans Day I thought that I would review some of the changes in the VA healthcare system. The VA system represents a health care system that is run by the government and look where that is going…….back to the private health care system. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched its new and improved Veterans Community Care Program on June 6, 2019, implementing portions of the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018 (MISSION Act), which both ends the Veterans Choice Program and establishes a new Veterans Community Care Program.

The MISSION Act will strengthen the nationwide VA Health Care System by empowering Veterans with more health care options.

“The changes not only improve our ability to provide the health care Veterans need but also when and where they need it,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It will also put Veterans at the center of their care and offer options, including expanded telehealth and urgent care, so they can find the balance in the system that is right for them.”

Under the new Veterans Community Care Program, Veterans can work with their VA health care provider or other VA staff to see if they are eligible to receive community care based on new criteria. Eligibility for community care does not require a Veteran to receive that care in the community; Veterans can still choose to have VA provide their care. Veterans may elect to receive care in the community if they meet any of the following six eligibility criteria:

  1. A Veteran needs a service not available at any VA medical facility.
  2. A Veteran lives in a U.S. state or territory without a full-service VA medical facility. Specifically, this would apply to Veterans living in Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire and the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  3. A Veteran qualifies under the “grandfather” provisions related to distance eligibility under the Veterans Choice Program.
  4. VA cannot furnish care within certain designated access standards. The specific access standards are described below:
  • Drive time to a specific VA medical facility
  • Thirty-minute average drive time for primary care, mental health, and noninstitutional extended care services.
  • Sixty-minute average drive time for specialty care.

Note: Drive times are calculated using geomapping software.

  • Appointment wait time at a specific VA medical facility
  • Twenty days from the date of the request for primary care, mental health care, and noninstitutional extended care services, unless the Veteran agrees to a later date in consultation with his or her VA health care provider.
  • Twenty-eight days for specialty care from the date of request, unless the Veteran agrees to a later date in consultation with his or her VA health care provider.
  1. The Veteran and the referring clinician agree it is in the best medical interest of the Veteran to receive community care based on defined factors.
  2. VA has determined that a VA medical service line is not providing care in a manner that complies with VA’s standards for quality based on specific conditions.

In preparation for this landmark initiative, senior VA leaders will visit more than 30 VA hospitals across the country to provide in-person support for the rollout.

The VA MISSION Act:

  • Strengthens VA’s ability to recruit and retain clinicians.
  • Authorizes “Anywhere to Anywhere” telehealth across state lines.
  • Empowers Veterans with increased access to community care.
  • Establishes a new urgent care benefit that eligible Veterans can access through VA’s network of urgent care providers in the community.

VA serves approximately 9 million enrolled Veterans at 1,255 health care facilities around the country every year. We send our military representatives-soldiers, sailors and airmen and women to fight for us and now we are arguing about how to care for them when they are injured, whether physically or mentally. Imagine if we adopt another government-run health care system??

Thank you, all you Vets for all you have done for us to keep us and our beloved country free!

 

Warren’s $52T ‘Medicare-for-all’ plan revealed: Campaign still claims no middle-class tax hikes needed and SNL

74798250_2323921837737462_2762717535395643392_nFinally, we got a view of the cost of Medicare for All plan for health care for all of us. It was so interesting that Saturday Night Live featured it on T.V. With the remarkably versatile Kate McKinnon at the helm, this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” cold open took aim at Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s $52 trillion “Medicare-for-all” health care plan.

“I am in my natural habitat – a public school on a weekend,” McKinnon’s excitable Warren quipped at an Iowa town hall, complete with fist pumps, some “whoos” and the senator’s signature raspy voice.

She also took a moment to give former Rep. Beto O’Rourke a sendoff after he dropped out of the race last week.

“Let me know how my dust tastes,” she said.

After mentioning that she pays taxes in every state “out of principle,” she took questions from cast members playing ambivalent voters.

Asked why it took her so long to release her health care plan, McKinnon’s Warren answered, “When Bernie [Sanders] was talking ‘Medicare-for-all’, everybody was like, ‘Oh cool,’ and then they turned to me and said, ‘Fix it, Mom.’”

She added that her plan “compares favorably” to former Vice President Joe Biden’s “in that it exists.”

“No one asks how we’re going to pay for ‘Remember Obama,” she said, referring to Biden’s tendency to frequently cozy up to the former president.

She then answered a question about estimates of how much her plan would cost.

“We’re talking trillions,” she answered. “When the numbers are this big they’re just pretending.”

Warren has surged in polls recently as Biden has faded and is in the lead in a new Iowa poll.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s long-awaited “Medicare-for-all” funding plan projects the government-run health care system would cost a staggering sum of “just under $52 trillion” over the next decade, with the campaign proposing a host of new tax increases to pay for it while still claiming the middle class would not face any additional burden.

“We don’t need to raise taxes on the middle class by one penny to finance Medicare for All,” Sen. Warren, D-Mass., said in her plan — a copy of which was obtained by Fox News in advance of its release Friday.

In a tweet posted after this report was first published, Warren reiterated that pledge while asserting she can return $11 trillion to American families.

Today, I’m releasing my plan to pay for ‪#MedicareForAll. Here’s the headline: My plan won’t raise taxes one penny on middle-class families. In fact, we’ll return about $11 TRILLION to the American people. That’s bigger than the biggest tax cut in our history. Here’s how:

Some of Warren’s rivals for the nomination are unlikely to buy that claim, after having repeatedly challenged her assertions that the middle class would not be hit by tax hikes and suggested she has not been upfront with voters.

Indeed, the Joe Biden campaign said the “unrealistic plan” would leave only two options: “even further increase taxes on the middle class or break her commitment to these promised benefits.”

“The mathematical gymnastics in this plan are all geared towards hiding a simple truth from voters: it’s impossible to pay for Medicare for All without middle-class tax increases,” Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.

The Warren campaign’s detailed Medicare-for-all proposal, however, insists that the costs can be covered by a combination of existing federal and state spending on Medicare and other health care — as well as myriad taxes on employers, financial transactions, the ultra-wealthy and large corporations and some savings elsewhere. Those measures are meant to pay for a projected $20.5 trillion in new federal spending. Notably, they include what is essentially a payroll tax increase on employers, something economists generally say can hit workers in the form of reduced wages.

Like Medicare-for-all’s chief Senate champion, fellow candidate Bernie Sanders, the Warren campaign argues that many of these costs already are being spent in the existing health care system by governments, employers and individuals in the form of premiums, deductibles, and other expenses.

However, unlike Sanders’ plan, Warren’s projects no new tax burden for the middle class. The Warren campaign claims those $11 trillion in individual costs would drop to “practically zero,” while the plan maintains and boosts a funding pipeline from other sources. The plan also carries a total price tag of “just under $52 trillion” over the next 10 years, or slightly less than cost projections for the current system. That factors in current and additional spending; new spending alone would be in the $20 trillion range, compared with roughly $32 trillion for Sanders’ plan.

So how would she pay for it?

Among other proposals, Warren calls for bringing in nearly $9 trillion in new Medicare taxes on employers over the next 10 years, arguing this would essentially replace what they’re already paying for employee health insurance. Further, Warren’s campaign says if they are at risk of falling short of the revenue target, they could impose a “Supplemental Employer Medicare Contribution” for big companies with “extremely high executive compensation and stock buyback rates.”

Whether some of those costs, however, still could be passed on to middle-class employees – as economists argue payroll tax costs often are – remains to be seen. As the Tax Policy Center has noted, it is assumed the “employee bears the burden of both the employer and employee portions of payroll taxes.”

Bedingfield pointed to that component in alleging the plan “would place a new tax of nearly $9 trillion that will fall on American workers.”

Warren also proposes even more taxes on the ultra-rich, expanding on her previously announced signature wealth tax, to tax more of anyone’s net worth over $1 billion (estimated to raise another $1 trillion). Warren also calls for raising capital gains tax rates for the wealthy, taxing more foreign earnings and imposing a tax on financial transactions to generate $800 billion in revenue.

Aside from those and other taxes, the campaign claims they can scrounge up $2.3 trillion with better tax enforcement and policies, as well as additional funds by reining in defense spending.

“When fully implemented, my approach to Medicare for All would mark one of the greatest federal expansions of middle-class wealth in our history,” Warren said in her plan. “And if Medicare for All can be financed without any new taxes on the middle class, and instead by asking giant corporations, the wealthy, and the well-connected to pay their fair share, that’s exactly what we should do.”

Warren has been teasing this plan for weeks, especially after some of her rivals hammered her campaign on the financing issue during the last primary debate.

“Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything except this,” South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg memorably said during last month’s Democratic primary debate.

“No plan has been laid out to explain how a multitrillion-dollar hole in this Medicare-for-all plan that Senator Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in,” he charged.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also slammed Warren during that debate, saying “at least Bernie’s being honest here in saying how he’s going to pay for this and that taxes will go up. And I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that and I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we’re going to send the invoice.”

Sanders has openly said taxes will increase “for virtually everybody” but argued the system will ultimately cost less than what workers currently pay for premiums and other expenses.

The Warren campaign’s insistence that the middle class will be spared any such costs is likely to face sustained skepticism in the Democratic primary field.

Buttigieg reprised his criticism this week, telling Fox News that his concern about Warren’s plan “is not just the multi-trillion-dollar hole, but also the fact that most Americans would prefer not to be told that they have to abandon their private plan.”

Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh also blasted Warren’s plan Friday as a “total disaster.”

“There are 52 trillion reasons why this plan is a total disaster,” Murtaugh told Fox News. “Best of luck to the fact-checkers who now have to clean up the mess.”

One Emory University health care expert recently told The Washington Post “there’s no question” a Medicare-for-all plan “hits the middle class” in some way. A new study released by the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget also noted it would be “impossible” to finance any such plan using only taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Aside from the cost issues, Warren did appear to acknowledge this week that Medicare-for-all could result in substantial job losses, calling it “part of the cost issue” when confronted with an estimate that nearly 2 million jobs could be shed.

During that same interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, Warren vowed that she would “not sign any legislation into law for which costs for middle-class families do not go down.”

UPDATE 6-Democrat Warren: Medicare for All would not raise U.S. middle-class taxes ‘one penny’

As we just heard and Reuters published a report noted, Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Friday proposed a $20.5 trillion Medicare for All plan that she said would not require raising middle-class taxes “one penny,” answering critics who had attacked her for failing to explain how she would pay for the sweeping healthcare system overhaul.

Warren said her plan would save American households $11 trillion in out-of-pocket healthcare spending over the next decade while imposing significant new taxes on corporations and the wealthy to help finance it.

“Healthcare is a human right, and we need a system that reflects our values,” Warren wrote in a 20-page essay outlining her plan. “That system is Medicare for All.”

The proposal to remake the U.S. healthcare system will face scrutiny from Warren’s more moderate Democratic opponents, who have questioned Medicare for All’s practicality.

Warren’s proposal also calls for cuts in defense spending and passing immigration reform to increase tax revenue from newly legal Americans, two steps that would face an uphill battle in Congress. The $20.5 trillion in new spending over 10 years would increase the entire federal budget by a third.

Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, is one of 17 Democrats vying for the party’s nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election. She is near the front of the pack in opinion polls, having closed in on former Vice President Joe Biden, the early front-runner.

Medicare for All would replace private health insurance, including employer-sponsored plans, with full government-sponsored coverage, and individuals would no longer have to pay premiums, deductibles, co-pays or other out-of-pocket costs.

It would extend Medicare, the U.S. government’s health insurance program for people 65 years and older and the disabled, to cover all Americans, including the roughly 27.5 million – 8.5% of the population – who are currently uninsured.

Warren, a former law professor, has become known for a bevy of detailed policy proposals. But she had faced criticism for not detailing how she would pay for a Medicare for All plan she backs, which was introduced in the Senate by rival Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

At recent debates, Warren had refused to answer directly when asked whether she would be forced to raise middle-class taxes to cover the costs, even as Sanders acknowledged he would.

More moderate 2020 candidates such as Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have said Medicare for All would be too disruptive and favor a more incremental approach.

‘MATHEMATICAL GYMNASTICS’

On Friday, Biden’s campaign questioned Warren’s calculations, calling them “double talk” and “mathematical gymnastics” and asserting that middle-class taxes would rise despite her vow.

“It’s impossible to pay for Medicare for All without middle-class tax increases,” said Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager. “To accomplish this sleight of hand, her proposal dramatically understates its cost, overstates its savings, inflates the revenue, and pretends that an employer payroll tax increase is something else.”

Warren, speaking to reporters in Iowa on Friday, said she was “just not sure where he (Biden) is going,” adding that her proposal and its costs were authenticated by outside experts.

“Democrats are not going to win by repeating Republican talking points and by dusting off the points of view of the giant drug companies and the giant insurance companies,” Warren said.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi also questioned the feasibility of enacting Medicare for All, saying in an interview with Bloomberg on Friday that Democrats should focus on expanding the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Critics like Warren note that the current U.S. healthcare system – a patchwork of private insurance often provided by employers or obtained through Obamacare marketplaces and public programs covering the poor, elderly and disabled – is the most costly in the world despite leaving tens of millions uncovered.

Medicare for All legislation stands little chance of passing Congress, where Democrats control the House and Republicans control the Senate.

The plan relies on aggressive ways of lowering healthcare costs, including major cuts in prescription drug prices and significant reductions in administrative costs by eliminating private insurers.

“She makes some assumptions about how effectively healthcare costs could be contained that may not pan out,” said Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Employers would be asked to repurpose the money they currently spend on workers’ healthcare into Medicare contributions, while billionaires, high-earning investors, and corporations would face trillions of dollars in higher taxes.

In an effort to appease union leaders, some of whom have expressed skepticism about giving up hard-fought healthcare plans, Warren said employers that already offer benefits under a collective bargaining agreement could reduce their contributions if they pass the savings along to workers.

Warren released two letters supporting her calculations from several experts, including Simon Johnson, the former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund; Donald Berwick, who oversaw Medicare in the Obama administration; and Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

An online calculator launched by Warren’s campaign showed an average family of four with employer-provided insurance would save $12,378 per year.

Warren said with her Medicare for All plan in place, projected total healthcare costs in the United States over 10 years would be just under $52 trillion – slightly less than maintaining the current system.

Here’s How Warren Finds $20.5 Trillion To Pay For ‘Medicare For All’

Danielle Kurtslenben reported that Sen. Elizabeth Warren says paying for “Medicare for All” would require $20.5 trillion in new federal spending over a decade. That spending includes higher taxes on the wealthy but no new taxes on the middle class.

The Democratic presidential candidate released her plan to pay for Medicare for All on Friday after being dogged for months by questions of how she would finance such a sweeping overhaul of the health care system. That pressure has been intensified by the fact that Warren has made detailed proposals a central part of her brand as a candidate.

Medicare for All is a single-payer health care proposal introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders and co-sponsored by multiple candidates in the presidential race, including Warren. It would virtually eliminate private insurance, including employer-sponsored coverage.

It also represents a political risk, as multiple polls show that introducing a public option for health insurance coverage is more popular than a Medicare for All plan that almost entirely does away with private insurance.

Here’s a look at what Warren has laid out to provide single-payer health care, including proposals to cut costs, where new revenue would come from, where funds would not be taken from and what comes next.

How Warren wants to reduce spending

Warren bases her plan off of a recent analysis from the Urban Institute, which estimated that under current law, Americans would spend $52 trillion over the next decade on health care — that includes many types of spending, from employers, individuals and all levels of government.

In that analysis, the Urban Institute calculated that under a single-payer plan that looks a lot like Medicare for All, costs would total not $52 trillion but $59 trillion over a decade, which would require $34 trillion in new federal spending.

Warren’s plan estimates that total health costs could be held to $52 trillion and that $20.5 trillion in new federal spending would be necessary.

Like Urban, Warren’s plan assumes that Medicare for All would pay doctors what Medicare pays them right now. It would also pay hospitals 110 percent of what Medicare pays right now — slightly less than Urban’s 115 percent assumption.

This question — what to pay hospitals and doctors — is a big part of what determines how much Medicare for All would cost. That’s because Medicare pays doctors and hospitals much less than private insurance.

“This plan aggressively constrains the price of health care, paying doctors, hospitals and drug companies much less,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “There would be a lot of adjustment required from hospitals and doctors as their incomes go down.” ( And I will say more about this at the end of this blog post).

Just how seismic such a shift would be would depend in part on how fast the transition is, he added.

“I think how quickly she proposes to transition to this new system will be really important because it would be very disruptive to the health care system,” Levitt said. “You know, a quick transition would be hard and potentially result in shortages or increased wait times for health care.”

Sanders calls for a four-year transition to Medicare for All — a pace that Levitt characterized as “quite quick.” In a Friday blog post spelling out her proposal, Warren said she plans to unveil her transition plan “in the weeks ahead.”

A letter from economists supporting the plan, provided by Warren’s team, argued that these payment rates would work in part because doctors and hospitals would save substantially on administrative costs. Warren’s team also says there would be ways to ensure that vulnerable hospitals, like those in rural areas, would get paid more, so they could stay in business.

Her proposal also establishes savings by projecting that Medicare for All could substantially slow medical cost growth. Warren also stipulates that state and local governments would redirect the more than $6 trillion they currently spend on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to the federal government.

Where the money would not come from

One thing that’s notable about this plan is where the revenue doesn’t come from. Warren had promised at a recent debate that she would not sign a bill that raises health care costs for the middle class.

This plan goes further: Middle-class Americans would no longer pay health premiums or copays and would also not pay new taxes to replace those costs. They would, however, pay taxes on whatever additional take-home pay they would receive from this plan. That would add $1.4 trillion in revenue, her team estimates.

This is a departure from Bernie Sanders’ ideas about how to fund Medicare for All. One of his options is a 4% tax on families earning more than $29,000. At the Democrats’ October debate, he explained that taxes would go up for many Americans under his plan.

“At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of people will save money on their health care bills. But I do think it is appropriate to acknowledge that taxes will go up,” he said. “They’re going to go up significantly for the wealthy. And for virtually everybody, the tax increase they pay will be substantially less — substantially less than what they were paying for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.”

Where the $20.5 trillion comes from

Employers are one of the main sources of revenue in this proposal. Warren says she would raise nearly $9 trillion here, a figure that comes from the roughly $9 trillion private employers are projected to spend over the next decade on health insurance. The idea here is that instead of contributing to employees’ health insurance, employers would pay virtually all of that money to the government.

In addition, she will boost her proposed 3% wealth tax on people with over a billion dollars to 6% and also boost taxes on large corporations. Altogether, she believes, taxes on the rich and on corporations would raise an estimated $6 trillion. An additional $2.3 trillion would come from improving tax enforcement.

But there are lingering questions about how much revenue some of these taxes would bring in or how easy it would be to impose a wealth tax in particular.

“Something like half of the wealth of the wealthiest people in America is held in privately held corporations, privately held businesses,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “And it’s really hard to value those assets for tax purposes.”

Warren also includes comprehensive immigration reform as part of her plan. Giving more people a path to citizenship would mean more taxpayers, which would mean more tax revenue.

Political ramifications

While Medicare for All is Sanders’ plan, his bill does not include set methods to pay for the plan. Rather, Sanders has included “options” to pay for his health care plan. In a recent interview with CNBC, he said “we’ll have that debate” over how exactly to finance the plan.

As the candidate with “a plan for that,” as one of her slogans goes, Warren has been asked repeatedly whether her health care overhaul plan would raise taxes on the middle class. Warren repeatedly said in response that she would not raise costs for the middle class.

This proposal gives Warren an answer for the next time she is asked how she would pay for Medicare for All, and it means she can say that she wouldn’t impose new taxes on middle-class Americans.

But it also gives her opponents potential new fodder for attacks. Former Vice President Joe Biden has already come out swinging, accusing Warren of fuzzy math. In addition, his team argues that that nearly $9 trillion that employers would pay the government would ultimately hurt workers.

“To accomplish this sleight of hand, her proposal dramatically understates its cost, overstates its savings, inflates the revenue, and pretends that an employer payroll tax increase is something else,” said Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield in a statement released Friday.

In fact, another study by a number of economists estimates the true cost of almost $70 trillion over a decade. Wow, what a spending plan and what is our national debt now? About $21 trillion and now we are going to add more and more. When does it end? And remember all the doctors and hospitals, especially rural hospitals, will be paid based on the discounted rates of Medicare. How do doctors then pay for the education debts, their overhead expenses, and their malpractice insurance fees? Interesting! Who then will be taking care of our patients?

Again I ask, where is Obamacare when we need it and how do we pay for it in the future?

 

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

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

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

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

Americans get insurance from four main sources.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Africa puts initial universal healthcare cost at $17 billion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“TAX BURDEN”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rural hospitals take the spotlight in the coverage expansion debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change

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

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

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

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

Fear-Mongering’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conditional Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Medicare History

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Misunderstood Question

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

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

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

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

Splitting Hairs

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

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

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

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

‘I’m With Bernie’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A true single-payer plan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some more history regarding Medicare and now, Medicaid!

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

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

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

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

Congress Finally Doing Something: Bundled Billing Won’t Solve Surprise Billing and More About Medicare, Is it Actually Lowering Costs?

57403779_2004991206297195_8128613615025520640_nI stated and I believe that the answer to our healthcare problem has to be a bipartisan solution. Last week Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced S.1895, the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 — bipartisan legislation to deliver better health care at a lower cost. Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray announced that the committee would vote on the legislation on June 26, 2019.

“The single issue I hear most about from Tennesseans is, ‘What are you going to do about the health care costs I pay for out of my own pocket?’ Well, we’ve got an answer,” said Chairman Alexander. “This legislation will reduce what Americans pay out of their pockets for health care in three major ways: First, it ends surprise billing; second, it creates more transparency — you can’t lower your health care costs until you know what your health care actually costs. And third, it increases prescription drug competition to help bring lower cost generic and biosimilar drugs to patients. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate health committee to mark up this legislation next week before sending it to the full Senate for consideration.”

“People across the country have been facing impossible decisions to afford the care they need and are counting on us to act. So I’m glad my Republican colleagues decided to listen to families and join Democrats at the negotiating table to work on these bipartisan steps to help lower health care costs, end surprise billing, respond to issues like the maternal mortality crisis, vaccine hesitancy, and obesity, and more,” said Senator Murray. “But this must be a first step, not a last one. I hope Republicans will build on this momentum by joining us at the table on bigger health care issues too—like repairing the damage from President Trump’s health care sabotage and protecting people with pre-existing conditions.”

Since last Congress, the Senate health committee has held five hearings on ways to reduce health care costs and four hearings on the cost of prescription drugs. In May, Alexander and Murray released a draft of this legislation for discussion, receiving over 400 comments. The Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 is composed of nearly three dozen specific provisions from at least 16 Republican senators and 14 Democrat senators.

Congress is fully engaged in trying to solve “surprise” medical bills and the conversation has exploded into a full-fledged debate on the best way to rein in bad actors while ensuring that physicians receive fair reimbursement for their services. The bipartisan U.S. Senate Working Group on Transparency dropped a new bill in 2019 that aims to address surprise billing. This Working Group, led by Sen. Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), has engaged in the most thoughtful discussion on the issue, meeting with stakeholders since summer 2018.

It is no surprise that in May the White House turned to Sen. Cassidy for advice on how to address this issue through legislation. During these discussions, a proposal emerged that would utilize hospital bundled billing to curb unanticipated medical bills. In a letter to the bipartisan Working Group, ASPS and other stakeholders urged the Working Group to consider the full scope of bundling and its ripple effect on patients. This practice would negatively affect patients in rural communities, as bundling could lead to further financial strains on rural and underserved hospitals. Patients may face reduced access to specialty care if hospitals and other facilities are forced to close. The letter highlighted that the use of hospital bundled billing to address this issue is untested and could be highly disruptive to the healthcare delivery system.

Medicare program aimed at lowering costs, improving care may not be working as well as thought

Kara Gavin reported that as the Medicare system seeks to improve the care of older adults while also keeping costs from growing too fast, a new University of Michigan study suggests that one major effort may not be having as much of an impact as hoped.

A new analysis of data from the Medicare Shared Savings Program finds that high-cost physicians and high-cost patients dropping out of the program accounted for much of the savings reported from 2008 to 2014.

After the effects of those departures were taken into account, the Accountable Care Organizations taking part in the MSSP had the same costs as physicians in their area who weren’t taking part in ACOs but also took care of other patients with traditional Medicare coverage.

The study also compares ACO and non-ACO providers on measures of health care quality, finding that patients in an MSSP ACO were not more likely to get four proven tests for common health problems than similar patients with the same kind of Medicare coverage who weren’t part of an ACO.

The study is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The authors note that the results have greater implications for providers who voluntarily join an ACO, rather than physicians employed by large group practices that have engaged in Medicare cost and quality efforts for many years—such as those at Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

The findings suggest that as the federal government continues its effort to “bend the cost curve” for Medicare through voluntary reforms, it should take into consideration year-to-year shifts in which providers and patients are taking part in ACOs. Otherwise, the researchers say, “selection bias” could skew the interpretation of the program’s effects.

ACOs can earn extra dollars from Medicare based on their overall costs and quality averaged across all their providers’ patients or can lose money if they don’t meet cost or quality goals. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has set a goal of increasing the disincentives or “risk” that ACOs face, so accurate measurement of actual cost and quality performance will increase in importance, the researchers say.

“Our results suggest that there is less reason for optimism about the MSSP’s effects to date that might have been suggested by other studies,” said Andy Ryan, senior author of the new study and a professor at the U-M School of Public Health. “We hope CMS will consider the implications as it moves forward with evaluating programs aimed at improving the long-term sustainability of the Medicare system.”

Ryan worked with Adam Markovitz, who led the analysis as part of his doctoral degree in public health and is now completing his medical degree at the U-M Medical School as part of the Medical Scientist Training Program.

“At the project’s outset, we hypothesized that early savings in this voluntary ACO program were driven by the disproportionate entry of high-performing “early adopter” clinicians into ACOs,” Markovitz said. “To our surprise, we found that ACO savings may be driven by the disproportionate exit of higher-spending clinicians out of ACOs.”

In all, the ACO providers whose overall costs were in the top 1% of all providers studied were more than twice as likely to leave an MSSP ACO as providers whose costs fell into the middle level of spending.

Whether these providers were encouraged to leave the ACO because of their costs, or whether they left voluntarily because they were unable or unwilling to reduce the growth in the cost of their patients’ care, can’t be determined through the current study.

MSSP ACO administrators are able to see the costs attributed to each of the providers taking part in their ACO, so “gaming” of which providers to include could be happening, say Ryan and Markovitz.

“We would hope that if a provider shows a trend toward low-value care, the ACO would work with them to remedy the situation,” Ryan said.

Markovitz, Ryan, and colleagues published a study in Health Affairs earlier this year, showing that high-cost patients were slightly more likely to leave ACOs than lower-cost ones. They noted in that study that the MSSP program does not adjust ACOs’ payments depending on how much more ill their participating patients have become over time—the payment is based on how sick each patient was when their provider first joined the ACO.

While this has apparently kept ACOs from “up-coding” patients to game the system, it also means that ACOs may have an incentive to drop providers whose patients become more severely ill—and therefore more costly.

That study and the new study have implications for the changes being proposed for MSSP and other value-based payment programs in Medicare.

“There need to be more safeguards against the selective attrition of patients and providers from ACOs that we’ve observed in our studies,” Ryan said. “As CMS encourages more provider risk-taking, it should design its systems to support what’s working best to improve care and efficiency.”

Markovitz also notes that CMS could design more future Medicare innovations as true experiments—for instance, with randomization (as in Medicare’s bundled payment plan for joint replacement surgery) or a phased roll-out that allows researchers to evaluate more readily whether a program truly saved money or improved quality.

CVS just laid out a big reason why health companies are worried about Amazon

Kyle Walsh of CNBC noted that when word spread that Amazon would move into health care in 2017, health-care executives had a ready answer: We are not afraid.

“I honestly don’t believe that Amazon will be interested in the near future in the next few years in this market,” Walgreens’ CEO Stefano Pessina told investors in an earnings call in July 2017.

“I think we have a lot of capabilities and a value proposition that can compete effectively in the market,” CVS CEO Larry Merlo said back in August.

But recent legal actions tell a different story.

In April, CVS filed a lawsuit against John Lavin, a former senior vice president in charge of CVS Caremark’s retail pharmacy network, after Lavin told the company he was leaving to take a job at Amazon’s pharmacy arm, PillPack. The judge this week ruled in CVS’ favor, preventing Lavin from taking immediate employment at PillPack.

That follows another case from January of this year, where insurance giant UnitedHealth sued one of its employees for attempting to join a different Amazon initiative. That was Haven, Amazon’s joint employer health venture with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan.

These lawsuits suggest incumbents are more concerned than they’re letting on in public.

The underlying concern: Amazon going directly to insurers

Amazon has said almost nothing in public about its health-care strategy.

But Amazon could disrupt the space dramatically by negotiating directly with insurance companies on drug pricing, cutting out the existing pharmacy benefits managers, or PBMs. All of that could potentially lower health-care costs for consumers.

Among other functions, PBMs help insurance companies negotiate lower drug costs. Manufacturers arrange discounts, called rebates, with the benefits managers so they can fix a spot for their products on a PBM’s list of preferred drugs. It’s a huge business — CVS’ PBM business represented approximately 60% of its overall revenues in 2018, or around $116 billion, according to a person familiar with CVS’ business.

Amazon PillPack CEO TJ Parker, in a deposition in the Lavin case, admitted to the court that the company had “explored a number of different things.”

But he said the company had “no immediate plans” to compete with CVS Caremark’s core offering, its PBM.

CVS certainly seems to think differently, according to the lawsuit to prevent Lavin from working for PillPack.

“Given its robust infrastructure, operational capacity, and distribution reach, Amazon-PillPack is uniquely positioned to negotiate directly with payers (insurers) and displace CVS Caremark’s email-based services,” CVS argued in support of its motion for a preliminary injunction.

In other words, CVS worries that Amazon is hiring Lavin to approach its clients — insurance plans — for deals that could undercut its PBM.

In particular, CVS said PillPack is already approaching Blue Cross Blue Shield. (CNBC reported talks between PillPack and the insurance network in May.)

“Most recently, Amazon-PillPack engaged in direct discussions with Blue Cross Blue Shield, a federation of 36 health insurance plans that cover more than 100 million Americans, to provide its members with prescription home delivery,” CVS’ motion reads.

Lavin, who has an extensive background working with payers, would be well positioned if Amazon PillPack did decide to take that step toward direct contracting over time.

According to Jefferies’ analyst Brian Tanquilut, who also reviewed the legal documents, there’s a real threat that Amazon could chip away at CVS Caremark’s business over time by going directly to insurers. “The lawsuit shows that pharmacy benefits managers are now also at risk of being dis-intermediated,” he wrote.

To that assertion, a PillPack spokesperson responded: “It is important to keep in mind that what’s being reported here is another company’s speculation about our business strategy for a lawsuit to which neither Amazon nor PillPack is a party.”

However, other drug supply chain experts agree that the PBMs have reason to worry, especially as the health industry consolidates and policymakers are pushing PBMs to be more transparent about their practices.

“PBMs are going to be more protective of their mail pharmacy business than ever and less welcoming to outsiders like PillPack,” said Stephen Buck, a drug supply chain expert who previously worked at McKesson.

For his part, Lavin said in communications to his former employer that he would not be competing head-on with them but would be negotiating from the opposite side of the table.

“I’ll be … handling [PillPack’s] negotiations with PBMs … in other words, it’ll be the opposite of what I did for CVS,” he noted in an email to CVS’ human resources department that was disclosed during the case.

The judge disagreed and granted CVS’ motion to enforce the non-compete agreement and block Lavin from working for PillPack for 18 months.

In his ruling, Judge John J. McConnell wrote, “Mr. Lavin will also negotiate and build relationships with private Payers and public Payers, both of whom are current CVS clients.” McConnell wrote, “It also appears that PillPack will be looking to negotiate directly with the insurers and others on the Payer level.”

CVS, in a statement to CNBC, denied any claim that it is working to block competition and said that it will continue to work with new players.

“We remain focused on delivering innovative solutions to transform the health care experience, but there is always room for new players in health care, as competition can help lower overall costs for payers and patients,” said a spokesperson for CVS Caremark.

If you remember our discussion last week, last we noted was that Wilbur Mills the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee hit upon the idea of combining the most ambitious components of three of the bills that all of the various groups arguing for a health care solution for the senior population. His idea was quickly embraced by the Administration because they all regarded it as insurance against any Republican attack. On Marci 23, 1965, the Ways and Means Committee voted to substitute the Mill’s bill for the King-Anderson bill and on the following day, it was introduced on the House floor. After only one day of floor debate, the Mill’s bill was passed without amendment by a vote of 313 to 115.

The features of the new bill was incorporated into two amendments to the Social Security Act, which provided in Title 18 for a universal hospital insurance program for the elderly and for optional coverage of physicians’ services while Title 19 (known as Medicaid) expanded the Kerr-Mills program of medical coverage for the needed.

When the Mills bill was referred to the Senate, months of debate and discussion proceeded and then was referred out of committee having been amended no less than seventy-five times.  The full Senate considered further 250 amendments, passed the bill as amended. It was then sent to a Senate-House conference committee with the task to resolve the over 500 differences between the two chambers.

In July the House passed the finally revised bill to be officially part of the Social Security Amendments of 1965 and the next day after the House passed it the Senate approved the measure. Finally, on July 30, 1965, President Johnson flew into Independence Missouri to sign the Medicare bill into law in the presence of former President Truman. Success finally!!

What were the provisions of the legislation?

Title XVIII, Part A: Hospital Insurance provided that all persons over the age of sixty-five otherwise entitled to benefit under the Social Security or Railroad Retirement Act were eligible and were automatically covered. The benefits were measured in sixty-day periods following discharge from a hospital or extended-care facility. During each benefit period, they were entitled to up to ninety days in a hospital, one hundred days in an extended care facility, and home-care benefits for up to one year after the most recent discharge from either a hospital or extended care facility.

Care in either a psychiatric or tuberculosis hospital was limited to a lifetime amount of 190 days, provided that a physician as being “reasonably expected to improve” certified the patient.  Subscribers were required to pay a “front-end deductible” for each hospital stay of up to ninety days. This deductible started at $40 but has risen to more than $760 for the first sixty days and an additional $190 for days 61-90. No front-end deductibles were imposed for the use of extended care facilities for the first twenty days but after that point, a daily copayment was levied.

The program was financed by earmarked payroll taxes levied on employers and employees and disbursements were made from the fund either directly to providers or through an intermediary insurance company who then reimbursed the providers based or what was and still is known as “reasonable costs.”

Because there is a lot more to the bill I will further breakdown the other provisions of the Medicare bill. But as seen in the eventual design and passing of the Medicare bill it took cooperation and bipartisanship to get the job done.

Listen up Congress, no matter which party you belong to!!

More to come.

The Conversation We Refuse to Have About War and Our Veterans, Hospital Billing and More on the History of Medicare.

Screen Shot 2019-05-26 at 11.34.05 PMMemorial Day and the latest redeployment of soldiers and a carrier group to the Middle East is a perfect time to realize that Veterans bear the burden of war long after they leave the battlefield. It’s time for America to acknowledge it.

I went to the market

Where all the families shop

I pulled out my Ka-bar

And started to chop

Your left right left right left right kill

Your left right left right you know I will

-Military cadence

“You can shoot her…” the First Sergeant tells me. “Technically.”

Benjamin Sledge wrote reflecting, we’re standing on a rooftop watching black smoke pillars rise from a section of the city where two of my teammates are taking machine gun fire. Below, the small cluster of homes we’ve taken over is taking sporadic fire as well. He hands me his rifle with a high powered scope and says, “See for yourself.”

It’s the six-year-old girl who gives me flowers.

We call her the Flower Girl. She hangs around our combat outpost because we give her candy and hugs. She gives us flowers in return. What everyone else at the outpost knew (except for me, until that day) was that she also carried weapons for insurgents. Sometimes, in the midst of a firefight, she would carry ammunition across the street to unknown assailants.

According to the rules of engagement, we could shoot her. No one ever did. Not even when the First Sergeant morbidly reassured them on a rooftop in the middle of Iraq.

Other soldiers didn’t end up as lucky.

Sometimes they would find themselves paired off against a woman or teenager intent on killing them. So they’d pull the trigger. One of the sniper teams I worked with recounted an evening where he laid up a pile of people trying to plant an IED. It was a “turkey shoot,” he told me laughing. But then he got quiet and said, “Eventually they sent out a woman and this dumb kid.” I didn’t need to ask what happened. His voice said it all.

I often wonder what would have happened if the Flower Girl pointed a rifle at me, but I’m afraid I already know. The thought didn’t matter anyway. There was enough baggage from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq that coming home was full of uncertainty, anger, and confusion — and not, as I had been led to believe, warmth and safety.

“People only want to hear the Band of Brothers stories. The ones with guts and gusto! Not the one where you jam a gun in an old woman’s face or shoot a kid.” I pause, then add, “Look around the room for a second…”

Andy surveys the restaurant we’re in for a moment while I lean in with a sardonic half-smile.

“How many people can even relate to what we’ve been through? What would they rather hear about? How Starbucks is giving away free lattes and puppies this week? Or how a soldier feels guilty because he pulled a trigger, lost a friend, or did morally questionable things in war? Hell, I want to hear about the latte giveaway… especially if it’s pumpkin spice.”

This eases the tension and he smiles.

Andy and I feel like we don’t fit in. We met a few years ago at the church where he works, and where I volunteer. Of the thousands of people in the congregation, we are a handful of veterans. The veterans I meet are few and far between, and we typically end up running in the same circles.

How do you talk about morally reprehensible things that have left a bruise on your soul?

Years ago, Andy fought in the siege of Fallujah. We never readjusted to normal life after deployment. Instead, we found ourselves angry, depressed, violent and drinking a lot. We couldn’t talk to people about war or its cost because, well, how do you talk about morally reprehensible things that leave a bruise on your soul?

The guilt and moral tension many veterans feel is not necessarily post-traumatic stress disorder, but a moral injury — the emotional shame and psychological damage soldiers incur when we have to do things that violate our sense of right and wrong. Shooting a woman or child. Killing another human. Watching a friend die. Laughing about situations that would normally disgust us.

Because so few in America have served, those who have can no longer relate to their peers, friends, and family. We fear being viewed as monsters or lauded as heroes when we feel the things we’ve done were morally ambiguous or wrong.

The U.S. is currently engaged in the longest running war in the history of the United States. We are entering our 15th year in Afghanistan, and we still station troops in some Iraqi outposts. In World War II, 11.5% of U.S. citizens served in four years. In Vietnam, 4.3% served in 12 years. Since 2001, only 0.86% of our population has served in the Global War on Terror. Yet, during World War II, 10 million men were drafted, and over 2 million men were conscripted during Vietnam. Despite the length of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, there has been no draft, whereas, in times past, shorter wars cost us millions of young men. Instead, less than 1% of the population has borne this burden, with repeated tours continually deteriorating our troops’ mental health.

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The gap between citizens and soldiers is growing ever wider. During WWII, the entire nation’s focus was on purchasing war bonds and defeating the Nazis. Movie previews and radio shows gave updates on the war effort. Today’s citizens, however, are quickly amused by the latest Kardashian scandal on TV, which gives no reminder of the men and women dying overseas. Because people are more concerned about enjoying their freedoms and going about their day to day lives, veterans can feel like outcasts. As though nothing we did matter to a country that asked us to go.

This is part of the problem with a soldier’s alienation. People quickly point out that we weren’t forced to join the military and fight in a war. We could have stayed home. The counterpoint is that, because the U.S. has now transitioned to an all-volunteer force, those opposed to war should be thanking their lucky stars that volunteers bear the burden of combat.

Additionally, regardless of whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Communist, Liberal, Conservative, Conscientious Objector, or Pacifist, we all sent the soldier overseas. Because we live in a democracy, we vote to put men and women in charge of governing our affairs, and those elected representatives send troops overseas. We may have voted for someone else, but it does not change the fact that we’ve put ourselves under the governance of the United States. When you live in a country, you submit yourself to their governing body and laws — even if you don’t vote.

The citizen at home may not have pulled the trigger, but they asked the soldier to go in their place.

By shirking responsibility, civilians only alienate our soldiers more. The moral quagmire we face on the battlefield continues to dump shame and guilt onto our shoulders while they enjoy the benefits of passing the buck and asking, “Whose fault is it, really?”

On March 3, 1986, 11 years after the end of the Vietnam War, Metallica released their critically acclaimed album Master of Puppets. On the album, a song entitled “Disposable Heroes” tells the story of a young man used as cannon fodder in the midst of war and the terror that enveloped him on the battlefield. Three years later, Metallica released “One,” a song about a soldier who lost all his limbs and waits helplessly for death. The song won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance.

In an odd twist, both songs are amazingly popular among members of the United States military. During my time at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, we had an entire platoon that could practically sing every last lyric to “One.” In Afghanistan and Iraq, these songs were on playlists made to get soldiers amped before missions. We sang songs about dying on behalf of the people or coming home a vegetable. As crazy as that sounds, we sang those songs because they felt true. And they felt true because of the conversation we refuse to have as a country.

As Amy Amidon, a Navy psychologist stated in an interview regarding moral injury:

Civilians are lucky that we still have a sense of naiveté about what the world is like. The average American means well, but what they need to know is that these [military] men and women are seeing incredible evil, and coming home with that weighing on them and not knowing how to fit back into society.

Most of the time, like the conversation Andy and I had, people only want to hear the heroics. They don’t want to know what the war is costing our sons and daughters in regard to mental health, and this only makes the gap wider. In order for our soldiers to heal, society needs to own up to its part in sending us to war. The citizen at home may not have pulled the trigger, but they asked the soldier to go in their place. Citing a 2004 study, David Wood explains that the “grief over losing a combat buddy was comparable, more than 30 years later, to that of a bereaved spouse whose partner had died in the previous six months.” The soul wounds we experience are much greater. Society needs to come alongside us rather than pointing us to the VA.

Historically, many cultures performed purification rites for soldiers returning home from war. These rites purified a broad spectrum of warriors, from the Roman Centurion to the Navajo to the Medieval Knight. Perhaps most fascinating is that soldiers returning home from the Crusades were instructed to observe a period of purification that involved the Christian church and their community. Though the church had sanctioned the Crusades, they viewed taking another life as morally wrong and damaging to their knights’ souls.

No one in their right mind wants war. We want peace. And no one wants it more than the soldier.

Today, churches typically put veterans on stage to praise our heroics or speak of a great battle we’ve overcome while drawing spiritual parallels for their congregation. What they don’t do is talk about the moral weight we bear on their behalf.

Dr. Jonathan Shay, the clinical psychologist who coined the term moral injury, argues that in order for the soldier and society to find healing, we must come together and bear the moral responsibility of what soldiers have done in our name.

Whether you agree or disagree with the war, you must remember that these are our fellow brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, flesh and blood. As veterans, we are desperate to reconnect with a world we feel no longer understands us. As a country, we must try and find common ground. We’re not asking you to agree with our actions, but to help us bear the burden of carrying them on behalf of the country you live in. A staggering 22 veterans take their lives every day, and I can guarantee part of that is because of the citizen/soldier divide.

But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if we could help our men and women in uniform bear the weight of this burden we carry? We should rethink exactly what war costs us and what we’ve asked of those who’ve fought on our behalf. In the end, no one in their right mind wants war. We want peace. And no one wants it more than the soldier. As General Douglas MacArthur eloquently put it:

“The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

And what do we offer our Veterans for their healthcare when they come home? A truly horrid attempt at a government-run healthcare system, which now is pushing to get our Vets to private healthcare programs!!

Surprise! House, Senate Tackle Hospital Billing

Senate bill also addresses provider directories, drug maker competition

Our friend Joyce Frieden wrote that responses are generally positive so far regarding draft bipartisan legislation on surprise billing and high drug prices released Thursday by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

“We commend this bipartisan effort to address several of the key factors associated with rising health care costs,” Richard Kovacs, MD, president of the American College of Cardiology, said in a statement.

“We agree with and support many of the principles outlined by the HELP Committee,” Matt Eyles, president, and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for health insurers, said in a statement. “We agree patients should be protected from surprise medical bills, and that policy solutions to this problem should ensure premiums and out-of-pocket costs do not go up for patients and consumers.”

The HELP Committee draft bill, known as the Lower Health Care Costs Act, would:

  •  Require that patients pay only in-network charges when they receive emergency treatment at out-of-network facilities, and when they are treated at an in-network facility by an out-of-network provider that they did not have a say in choosing/
  • Ban pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) from “spread pricing” — charging employers, health insurance plans, and patients more for a drug than the PBM paid to acquire the drug.
  • Require insurance companies to keep provider directories up to date so patients can easily know if a provider is in-network.
  • Require healthcare facilities to provide a summary of services when a patient is discharged from a hospital to make it easier to track bills, and require hospitals to send all bills within 30 business days, to prevent unexpected bills many months aftercare.
  • Ensure that makers of branded drugs, including insulin products, are not gaming the system to prevent generics or biosimilars from coming to market
  • Eliminate a loophole that allows the first company to submit a generic drug in a particular class to enjoy a monopoly
  • Give patients full electronic access to their own health claims information.

Although the patient will only need to pay in-network charges when receiving service from an out-of-network provider, that in-network amount won’t pay for the entire out-of-network bill, so lawmakers still must decide how to deal with the rest of the out-of-network charge. The committee says it’s considering several options, including having insurance companies pay the out-of-network providers the median contracted rate for the same services provided in that geographic area, and, for bills over $750, allowing the insurer or the provider to initiate an independent dispute resolution process. The insurer and provider would each submit a best final offer and the arbiter would make a final, binding decision on the price to be paid.

The bill’s provisions “are common-sense steps we can take, and every single one of them has the objective of reducing the health care costs that you pay for out of your own pocket,” committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in a statement. “We hope to move it through the health committee in June, put it on the Senate floor in July and make it law.” The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the HELP Committee’s ranking member.

Over on the House side, legislators also released a bipartisan bill Thursday on surprise billing. This bill, known as the Protect People From Surprise Medical Bills Act, mirrors the Senate bill in prohibiting balance billing to patients receiving emergency care out of network or anticipated care at in-network facilities that use out-of-network providers without the patient’s knowledge or consent.

The patient would pay in-network rates in those situations, and then the health plan would have 30 days to pay the provider at a “commercially reasonable rate.” If either party is dissatisfied with that rate, the plan and doctor would settle on a payment amount; if that didn’t work, the parties could go to arbitration.

This legislation “will ban these bills and keep families out of the middle by using a fair, evidence-based, independent, and neutral arbitration system to resolve payment disputes between insurers and providers,” Rep. Raul Ruiz, MD (D-Calif.), the bill’s main sponsor, said in a statement. “As an emergency doctor, patients come first and must be protected.”

Co-sponsors of the bill include representatives Phil Roe, MD (R-Tenn.), Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.), Van Taylor (R-Texas), Ami Bera, MD (D-Calif.), Larry Bucshon, MD (R-Ind.), and Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio). The group expects to introduce the final legislation in the next few weeks.

The American Society of Anesthesiology (ASA) praised the House bill. “The approach to addressing the problem of surprise medical bills outlined by Congressmen Ruiz and Roe is a fair proposal that puts patients first by holding them harmless from unanticipated bills,” ASA president Linda Mason, MD, said in a statement. “The proposal doesn’t pick winners or losers but instead places the dispute where it should be — between the health care provider and the insurance company.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) also liked the bill. “The outline released today represents a common-sense approach that protects patients from out-of-network bills that their insurance companies won’t pay while providing for a fair process to resolve disputes between physicians and hospitals and insurers,” AMA president Patrice Harris, MD, said in a statement.

Now, back to Medicare and the history of healthcare reform. Next, there was a convening of a National Health Conference, which had earlier approved a report of its Technical Committee on Medical Care, urging a huge extension of federal control over health matters. Sound familiar? Here we are in 2019 urging more control of the federal government over health care again in the form of a government-run health care system as either Obamacare or Medicare for All. The conference in 1938 opened with a statement by President Roosevelt describing the ultimate responsibility of the government for the health of its citizens.

The “technical committee” advised the Conference recommended that the federal government enact legislation in several areas:

  1. An expansion of the public health and maternal and child health programs including the original Social Security Act.
  2. A system of grants to the various states for direct medical care programs.
  3. Federal grants for hospital construction.
  4. A disability insurance program that would insure against loss of wages during illness.
  5. Grants to the states for the purpose of financing compulsory statewide health insurance programs.

The total costs of the program were about $850 million tax-funded and now compare this to the cost of Medicare for All at about $34 trillion. We should have adopted Medicare for All then. We would have saved a boatload of money.

It was interesting to learn that in order to placate the majority of medical practitioners the Committee urged the adoption of these programs on the state level. The reason why physicians opposed a program on the national level was the fear of becoming government salaried employees with not much to say in the administration of the program.

As predicted in 1943 when Senator Robert Wagner of New York, together with Senator James Murray of Montana and Representative John Dingle of Michigan, introduced a bill, which called for compulsory national health insurance/ mandatory health insurance as well as a federal system of unemployment insurance, broader coverage and extended benefits for old-age insurance, temporary and permanent disability payments underwritten by the federal government, unemployment benefits for veterans attempting to reenter civilian life, a federal employment service, and a restructuring of grants-in-aid to the states for public assistance.

Roosevelt wasn’t against the bill but he wasn’t prepared to endorse a bill quite so sweeping and so the bill dies in committee. But interestingly Roosevelt wanted to save the issue of national health care for the next presidential campaign in 1944. During the campaign he then called for an “Economic Bill of Rights,” which would include “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health” and the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment” and in his budget message of January 1945 he announced his intention of extending social security to include medical care.

However, Roosevelt died in April 1945 and then Harry Truman took over the presidency committed to most of the same domestic policies as Roosevelt. But then came politics and party and the attempts to enact a health insurance bill during the Truman era came to a definite end with the election of 1950 where a number of the proponents of the mandatory national health insurance were defeated as well as a vigorous and costly campaign by the American Medical Association which was against compulsory health insurance associating the plan in the mind of the public with notions of socialism. Sound familiar?

More next week!

Let us all thank our veterans, our heroes, our real Avengers for all that they have done to assure us all of living in such a great free country. Happy Memorial Day!!

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