Category Archives: GOP health care plan

Whistleblower Alleges Fraud At A Large Medicare Advantage Plan In Seattle and on and on about the last Democrat Debate and more on Medicare for All

72488737_2301802426616070_6529440653267435520_nWhat a unique world we live in. Bernie Sanders, a man running for the position of President, ignores his symptoms of heart disease, has a heart attack, needs stents for his coronary arteries which are obstructed and a few weeks later is back on the difficult road to running for President. What a jerk who I am sure is ignoring his doctor’s advice, who I’m sure has discussed his post-procedure heart disease restrictions including taking stress, etc. easy for at least 6 weeks, or that what is what I would tell my patient. And this is the man who is telling us all how we should all be deciding our health care system. Unbelievable!! Now, with all the whistleblowers coming out of the woodworks, Fred Schulte points out another whistleblower. Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, one of the United States’ oldest and most respected nonprofit health insurance plans, is accused of bilking Medicare out of millions of dollars in a federal whistleblower case.

Teresa Ross, a former medical billing manager at the insurer, alleges that it sought to reverse financial losses in 2010 by claiming that some patients were sicker than they were or by billing for medical conditions that patients didn’t actually have. As a result, the insurer retroactively collected an estimated $8 million from Medicare for 2010 services, according to the suit.

Ross filed suit in federal court in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012, but the suit remained under a court seal until July and is in its initial stages. The suit also names as defendants two medical coding consultants — consulting firm DxID of East Rochester, N.Y., and Independent Health Association, an affiliated health plan in Buffalo, N.Y. All denied wrongdoing in separate court motions filed late Wednesday to dismiss the suit.

The Justice Department has thus far declined to take over the case but said in a June 21 court filing that “an active investigation is ongoing.”

The whistleblower suit is one of at least 18 such cases documented by Kaiser Health News that accuses Medicare Advantage managed care plans of ripping off the government by exaggerating how sick their patients were. The whistleblower cases have emerged as a primary tool for clawing back overpayments. While many of the cases are pending in courts, five have recovered a total of nearly $360 million.

“The fraudulent practices described in this complaint are a product of the belief, common among [Medicare Advantage] organizations, that the law can be violated without meaningful consequence,” Ross alleges.

Medicare Advantage plans are a privately run alternative to traditional Medicare that often offers extra benefits such as dental and vision coverage but limits the choice of medical providers. They have exploded in popularity in recent years, enrolling more than 22 million people, just over 1 in 3 of those eligible for Medicare.

Word of another whistleblower alleging Medicare Advantage billing fraud comes as the White House is pushing to expand enrollment in the plans. On Oct. 3, President Trump issued an executive order that permits the plans to offer a range of new benefits to attract patients. One, for instance, is partly covering the cost of Apple watches as an inducement.

Group Health opened for business more than seven decades ago and was among the first managed care plans to contract with Medicare. Formed by a coalition of unions, farmers and local activists, the HMO grew from just a few hundred families to more than 600,000 patients before its members agreed to join California-based Kaiser Permanente. That happened in early 2017, and the plan is now called the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington. (Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

In an emailed statement, a Kaiser Permanente spokesperson said: “We believe that Group Health complied with the law by submitting its data in good faith, relying on the recommendations of the vendor as well as communications with the federal government, which has not intervened in the case at this time.” Ross nods to the plan’s history, saying it has “traditionally catered to the public interest, often highlighting its efforts to support low-income patients and provide affordable, quality care.”

The insurer’s Medicare Advantage plans “have also traditionally been well regarded, receiving accolades from industry groups and Medicare itself,” according to the suit.

But Ross, who worked at Group Health for more than 14 years in jobs involving billing and coding, says that from 2008 through 2010, the company “went from an operating income of almost $57 million to an operating loss of $60 million.” Ross says the losses were “due largely to poor business decisions by company management.”

The lawsuit alleges that the insurer manipulated a Medicare billing formula known as a risk score. The formula is supposed to pay health plans higher rates for sicker patients, but Medicare estimates that overpayments triggered by inflated risk scores have cost taxpayers $30 billion over the past three years alone.

According to Ross, a Group Health executive in 2011 attended a meeting of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, where he heard from a colleague at Independent Health about an “exciting opportunity” to increase risk scores and revenue. The colleague said Independent Health “had made a lot of money” using its consulting company, which specializes in combing patient charts to find overlooked diseases that health plans can bill for retroactively.

In November 2011, Group Health hired the firm DxID to review medical charts for 2010. The review resulted in $12 million in new claims, according to the suit. Under the deal, DxID took a percentage of the claims revenue it generated, which came to about $1.5 million that year, the suit says.

Ross says she and a doctor who later reviewed the charts found “systematic” problems with the firm’s coding practices. In one case, the plan billed for “major depression” in a patient described by his doctor as having an “amazingly sunny disposition.” Overall, about three-quarters of its claims for higher charges in 2010 were not justified, according to the suit. Ross estimated that the consultants submitted some $35 million in new claims to Medicare on behalf of Group Health for 2010 and 2011.

In its motion to dismiss Ross’ case, Group Health called the matter a “difference of opinion between her allegedly ‘conservative’ method for evaluating the underlying documentation for certain medical conditions and her perception of an ‘aggressive’ approach taken by Defendants.”

Independent Health and the DxID consultants took a similar position in their court motion, arguing that Ross “seeks to manufacture a fraud case out of an honest disagreement about the meaning and applicability of unclear, complex, and often conflicting industry-wide coding criteria.”

In a statement, Independent Health spokesman Frank Sava added: “We believe the coding policies being challenged here were lawful and proper and all parties were paid appropriately.”

Whistleblowers sue on behalf of the federal government and can share in any money recovered. Typically, the cases remain under a court seal for years while the Justice Department investigates.

How would Warren pay for ‘Medicare for All’? Enough evasion, it’s past time for answers.

Chris Truax points out that the last 2 months al anyone who watches the politicians suggesting that Medicare for all is the solution to the healthcare crisis has bombarded the news. Medicare for All will create winners and losers. It’s all very well to say you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs unless you’re the egg.

When it comes to doing things, Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything — and she’s happy to tell you all about it. But when it comes to paying for things, I’m sorry to say, the Massachusetts senator dodges and deflects like a Donald Trump defender.

It’s estimated that “Medicare for All” will cost the federal government an extra $3 trillion a year. That’s more than $9,000 annually from every man, woman, and child in America. Despite being asked, again and again, Warren refuses to acknowledge that paying for this is going to require an across-the-board tax increase — and a pretty massive one, at that. Instead, she keeps talking about how “costs” will go down before she changes the subject to how stressful it is to have your insurance canceled when you get sick or when you have to cope with your mom having diabetes. That’s very true, I’m sure. But we’re talking fiscal policy here.

Warren To Release Plan To Pay For ‘Medicare For All’

Yuval Rosenberg of The Fiscal Times noted that now, just last week Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Sunday she will roll out a plan to pay for an expansive single-payer health care system in the coming weeks, promising the plan would decrease overall costs for the middle class.

“I plan over the next few weeks to put out a plan that talks, specifically, about the cost of ‘Medicare for All’ and how we pay for it,” Warren said at the end of a town hall here at Simpson College. “I will not sign a bill into law that does not reduce the cost of health care for middle-class families.”

Warren’s aides have long suggested she was studying ways to pay for the health care plan originally backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of her leading rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In recent days, Warren has faced criticism from lower-profile candidates in the race — especially South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — for her failure to explain how she would pay for the ambitious plan, which would replace private health insurance with generous, universal coverage paid for by the federal government.

“Everybody who is running for president right now knows that families are getting crushed by the high cost of health care,” Warren told the crowd of nearly 500 people. “They also know that the cheapest possible way to make sure that everyone gets the health care that they need is Medicare for All.”

Warren’s statement came after her standard 40-minute stump speech and three questions from attendees, none of whom asked about Medicare for All. The addition appeared to be an attempt to short-circuit recent criticisms of her health care plan.

Warren has previously promised, most recently at the Oct. 15 debate, that no middle-class family would see an increase in overall health care costs. And her aides have said since at least September that she was evaluating ways to pay for Medicare for All. She does not plan to significantly alter the details of the legislation she’s co-sponsored with Sanders in the way Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) did with her own health care proposal over the summer. Warren said she had been working on the problem of how to pay for the legislation for “months and months.”

“It’s just a little more work until it’s finished,” she said.

For a campaign that has long prided itself on detailed policy proposals, releasing a plan to pay for Medicare for All — which is sure to generate intense scrutiny from the media and her rivals for the nomination — is a high-risk but likely necessary move. Whether or not a plan for Medicare for All would lower costs for the middle class would rely heavily on complicated details, including how progressive the tax system supporting the plan is and how aggressively the government is able to control the cost of health care.

Estimates of how much the plan would cost vary wildly, as do estimates of how much switching to a single-payer system would increase or decrease overall health care costs.

Buttigieg, in particular, has aggressively questioned how Warren would pay for the plan, and said she is being dishonest by not saying whether or not taxes would go up for middle-class families. Sanders has said taxes would likely go up, while overall costs would drop. But Warren has resisted the question, arguing that admitting taxes would rise is equal to accepting a dishonest Republican framing of the issue. Warren has also attacked Buttigieg’s plan for failing to cover every American, dubbing it “Medicare for all who can afford it.”

“Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything. Except this,” Buttigieg said at the debate. “No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Senator Warren is putting forward.”

Soon, Buttigieg will get his answer.

She ended your last weekend rally asking the “people” to give her a little more time and she will announce how she proposes to pay for it. More important, is her plan, probably an increase of taxes for all, including Middle Americans, to pay for it…. realistic???? Remember, nothing in any of the political “experts” proposals are ever free. Someone, you and I, have to pay for it in some way or another!!

Winners and losers in Medicare for All

There’s a very unpleasant collectivist feel to this. It’s all very well to say you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs … unless you’re the egg. About 56% of Americans — more than 180 million — have private health insurance through an employer. Medicare for All would sweep that all away, whether the people who have that insurance like it or not, in the name of the common good. Perhaps worse, as Warren knows perfectly well but steadfastly refuses to admit, there are going to be winners and losers. Costs might go down in the aggregate, but individuals and families aren’t aggregates.

Elizabeth Warren’s choice: ‘Medicare for All’ purity or a path to beating Trump?

For example, Warren keeps saying that the total you pay for health care would end up being less under Medicare for All because it will eliminate out-of-pocket costs like premiums and copays. That’s an oversimplification at best, especially since she hasn’t said how she would finance this enormously expensive project.

But it is a given that everyone will pay higher taxes, and it’s older people who spend more on premiums and out-of-pocket health care costs — a lot more. Consequently, older people will be far more likely to see these higher taxes offset by a decrease in the cost of their health care. By contrast, younger people and families at healthier stages of their lives would still be paying new taxes but will see fewer benefits.

 Your Two-Minute Summary of Tuesday’s Democratic Medicare-for-All Debate

Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate once again highlighted the candidate’s deep divides over Medicare for All. After opening questions related to the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump, the debate quickly turned to the health care reform plan backed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Warren again tried to reframe the question of whether she would raise middle-class taxes to pay for the plan. “Costs will go up for the wealthy. They will go up for big corporations. And for middle-class families, they will go down,” she said. “I will not sign a bill into law that does not lower costs for middle-class families.”

Pete Buttigieg, who last month called Warren “extremely evasive” on the tax question, pounced. “No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for all plan that Senator Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in,” he said, touting his “Medicare for All Who Want It” proposal as a better alternative. “I don’t understand why you believe the only way to deliver affordable coverage to everybody is to obliterate private plans, kicking 150 million Americans off of their insurance in four short years,” he said to Warren. “Why unnecessarily divide this country over health care when there’s a better way to deliver coverage for all?”

Warren jabbed back at Buttigieg, saying his “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan is really “Medicare for All Who Can Afford It.”

Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar, both of whom support building on the Affordable Care Act with a public option, also attacked Medicare for All as expensive and impractical. “The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done,” Klobuchar said. “And we can get this public option done.”

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

Klobuchar took the opportunity to criticize Warren again. “At least Bernie is being honest here, and saying how he’s going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up,” she said. “And I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that, and I think we owe the American people to tell them where we will send the invoice.”

A political strategy: The attacks on Warren are widely seen as a sign that she’s now the Democratic frontrunner — and they’re likely a sign that, as tiresome as the repeated tax question might get, Warren is going to keep getting asked it by the media, Democratic rivals, and Republicans. She’s pointedly not willing to answer directly (or take the bait) and say that she will raise taxes, even as she continues to argue that overall costs under Medicare for All will go down for the middle class. Her caginess on the question suggests she thinks that higher taxes on the middle class, or the very word “taxes,” might be toxic in an election campaign against Trump. But her dodging hasn’t hurt her so far.

What the polls say: The latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 51% of those surveyed favor Medicare for All, while 47% oppose it. A majority of Democrats and about half of independents support a national Medicare-for-all plan, while more than 70% of Republicans oppose the idea. Support for a public option is higher, at 73%. A CBS News poll released Tuesday found that 59% of voters believe that a government-run plan should “compete with private insurance” as under a public option, while 32% said they would want it to replace private insurance. But polls have also found that support for Medicare for All or other health plans can shift significantly depending on the arguments presented.

The bottom line: Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation reminds us that there is no simple answer to the question of ultimate costs, and that a wide variety of outcomes are possible depending on how Medicare for All is implemented. “A Medicare for all plan could be designed so that many people, including those who are middle class, pay less in taxes than they are paying now in premiums, deductibles, and copays,” Levitt tweeted Tuesday. “It depends entirely on the details.”

J&J Pulls Baby Powder From Market

FDA testing reveals chrysotile fibers in one lot of embattled product of the J&J babypowder, which the courts are suggested cause ovarian cancer.

John Gever the managing editor of the MedPage reported that Johnson  & Johnson is recalling one lot of its famous baby powder because of possible asbestos contamination, the FDA announced Friday.

“FDA testing has found that a sample from one lot of the product contains chrysotile fibers, a type of asbestos,” the agency said in a press release. “Consumers who have Johnson’s Baby Powder lot #22318RB should stop using it immediately and contact Johnson & Johnson for a refund.”

Although Johnson & Johnson agreed to initiate the recall, it stopped short of admitting that the product really was contaminated. It questioned “the integrity of the tested sample and the validity of the test results,” suggesting that it might not even be a genuine Johnson & Johnson product.

The company has consistently denied that its baby powder — on the market for more than a century — has ever been contaminated with asbestos, but the company has faced numerous lawsuits from consumers alleging that they or loved ones developed cancer because of asbestos in talc components. The baby powder is popular not only for use on babies; many women have used it to reduce “feminine odors” as well.

The FDA said it has tested some 50 cosmetic products since 2018 for asbestos contamination, including two lots of Johnson’s Baby Powder. One was negative and the other was positive. This lot of baby powder is not the first to test positive and the FDA has previously issued alerts on others.

“The FDA expects to issue the full results from this survey, including all tested products having both positive and negative results, by the end of the year,” the agency said.

 

The Big Push for Medicare Advantage, Trump’s Counter Health Care Proposal and Dumb Bernie!

rights328Michael Rainey reported that Medicare is shaping up as one of the most important issues in the 2020 election, with several leading Democrats offering proposals that would significantly expand the program. President Trump jumped into the fray with an executive order last week that he claimed would protect and improve the Medicare system, in part by promoting broader use of private Medicare Advantage plans. Those plans are quite lucrative for the private insurers that sell them, Bloomberg’s John Tozzi said Wednesday, and they’ll be pushing hard to sell more of them when Medicare enrollment begins next week.

Enrollment in Medicare Advantage has more than tripled in the last 20 years, and now about a third of all Medicare beneficiaries get coverage through private plans. If current trends continue, more than half of all beneficiaries will be in Medicare Advantage by 2025, according to Tozzi.

How it works: Those who sign up for Medicare Advantage pay the same monthly premiums as regular plans but agree to certain limits imposed by the insurers, such as a restricted network of doctors, and also receive a wider range of benefits, which can include drugs plans and dental care. Insurers get a fee from the government for each person who signs up and is responsible for managing their plans to ensure a profit. In 2019, the average fee for each of the roughly 22 million participants was $11,545 – which comes to a total of about $254 billion.

Big numbers for insurers: Insurers see Medicare Advantage as “as a lucrative market they can’t afford to pass by,” Tozzi said, especially as sales of traditional, employer-based insurance plans slow. Medicare is now the biggest part of UnitedHealthcare’s business and the insurance giant is expanding to reach 90% coverage of the market next year. Other major players including Humana and Aetna are also expanding their coverage, and competition in the space is growing.

More generous benefits: Recent rule changes have allowed private insurers to offer new benefits within Medicare Advantage, such as meal delivery, air-conditioners, and in-home help. Regular fee-for-service Medicare doesn’t offer such options due to concerns about fraud.

A potential political battle ahead: Insurers increasingly rely on the revenues and profits from Medicare Advantage and can be expected to fight any effort to restrict – or, as some Democrats are calling for, eliminate – the existing private system. And as the plans become more generous – and, as critics have pointed out, more expensive for the government – seniors are likely to resist changes as well, complicating any Democratic effort to enact sweeping changes in the Medicare system.

Targeting ‘Medicare For All’ Proposals, Trump Lays Out His Vision For Medicare

Selena Simmons reported that President Trump gave a speech and signed an executive order on health care Thursday, casting the “Medicare for All” proposals from his Democratic rivals as harmful to seniors.

His speech, which had been billed as a policy discussion, had the tone of a campaign rally. Trump spoke from The Villages, a huge retirement community in Florida outside Orlando, a deep-red part of a key swing state.

His speech was marked by cheers, standing ovations and intermittent chants of “four more years” by an audience of mostly seniors.

Trump spoke extensively about his administration’s health care achievements and goals, as well as the health policy proposals of Democratic presidential candidates, which he characterized as socialism.

The executive order he signed had previously been titled “Protecting Medicare From Socialist Destruction” on the White House schedule but has since been renamed “Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors.”

“In my campaign for president, I made you a sacred pledge that I would strengthen, protect and defend Medicare for all of our senior citizens,” Trump told the audience. “Today I’ll sign a very historic executive order that does exactly what — we are making your Medicare even better, and … it will never be taken away from you. We’re not letting anyone get close.”

The order is intended, in part, to shore up Medicare Advantage, an alternative to traditional Medicare that’s administered by private insurers. That program has been growing in popularity, and this year, premiums are down and plan choices are up.

The executive order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to develop proposals to improve several aspects of Medicare, including expanding plan options for seniors, encouraging innovative plan designs and payment models and improving the enrollment process to make it easier for seniors to choose plans.

The order includes a grab bag of proposals, including removing regulations “that create inefficiencies or otherwise undermine patient outcomes”; combating waste, fraud, and abuse in the program; and streamlining access to “innovative products” such as new treatments and medical devices.

The president outlined very little specific policy in his speech in Florida. Instead, he attacked Democratic rivals and portrayed their proposals as threatening to seniors.

“Leading Democrats have pledged to give free health care to illegal immigrants,” Trump said, referring to a moment from the first Democratic presidential debate in which all the candidates onstage raised their hands in support of health care for undocumented migrants. “I will never allow these politicians to steal your health care and give it away to illegal aliens.”

Health care is a major issue for voters and is one that has dominated the presidential campaign on the Democratic side. In the most recent debate, candidates spent the first-hour hashing out and defending various health care proposals and visions. Only two candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — between a Medicare for All system — support the major divide and a public option supported by the rest of the field.

Trump brushed those distinctions aside. “Every major Democrat in Washington has backed a massive government health care takeover that would totally obliterate Medicare,” he said. “These Democratic policy proposals … may go by different names, whether it’s single-payer or the so-called public option, but they’re all based on the totally same terrible idea: They want to raid Medicare to fund a thing called socialism.”

Toward the end of the speech, he highlighted efforts that his administration has made to lower drug prices and then suggested that drugmakers were helping with the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. “They’re very powerful,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if … it was from some of these industries, like pharmaceuticals, that we take on.”

Drawing battle lines through Medicare may be a savvy campaign move on Trump’s part.

Medicare is extremely popular. People who have it like it, and people who don’t have it think it’s a good thing too. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than 8 in 10 Democrats, independents and Republicans think of Medicare favorably.

Trump came into office promising to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something better. Those efforts failed, and the administration has struggled to get substantive policy changes on health care.

On Thursday, administration officials emphasized a number of its recent health care policy moves.

“[Trump’s] vision for a healthier America is much wider than a narrow focus on the Affordable Care Act,” said Joe Grogan, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, at a press briefing earlier.

The secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, said at that briefing that this was “the most comprehensive vision for health care that I can recall any president putting forth.”

He highlighted a range of actions that the administration has taken, from a push on price transparency in health care to a plan to end the HIV epidemic, to more generic-drug approvals. Azar described these things as part of a framework to make health care more affordable, deliver better value and tackle “impassable health challenges.”

Without a big health care reform bill, the administration is positioning itself as a protector of what exists now — particularly Medicare.

“Today’s executive order particularly reflects the importance the president places on protecting what worked in our system and fixing what’s broken,” Azar said. “Sixty million Americans are on traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage. They like what they have, so the president is going to protect it.”

Trump’s New Order For Medicare Packs Potential Rise In Patients’ Costs

Julie Appleby reported that vowing to protect Medicare with “every ounce of strength,” President Donald Trump last week spoke to a cheering crowd in Florida. But his executive order released shortly afterward includes provisions that could significantly alter key pillars of the program by making it easier for beneficiaries and doctors to opt-out.

The bottom line: The proposed changes might make it a bit simpler to find a doctor who takes new Medicare patients, but it could lead to higher costs for seniors and potentially expose some to surprise medical bills, a problem from which Medicare has traditionally protected consumers.

“Unless these policies are thought through very carefully, the potential for really bad unintended consequences is front and center,” said economist Stephen Zuckerman, vice president for health policy at the Urban Institute.

While the executive order spells out few details, it calls for the removal of “unnecessary barriers” to private contracting, which allows patients and doctors to negotiate their own deals outside of Medicare. It’s an approach long supported by some conservatives, but critics fear it would lead to higher costs for patients. The order also seeks to ease rules that affect beneficiaries who want to opt-out of the hospital portion of Medicare, known as Part A.

Both ideas have a long history, with proponents and opponents duking it out since at least 1997, even spawning a tongue-in-cheek legislative proposal that year titled, in part, the “Buck Naked Act.” More on that later.

“For a long time, people who don’t want or don’t like the idea of social insurance have been trying to find ways to opt-out of Medicare and doctors have been trying to find a way to opt-out of Medicare payment,” said Timothy Jost, emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia.

The specifics will not emerge until the Department of Health and Human Services writes the rules to implement the executive order, which could take six months or longer. In the meantime, here are a few things you should know about the possible Medicare changes.

What are the current rules about what doctors can charge in Medicare?

Right now, the vast majority of physicians agree to accept what Medicare pays them and not charge patients for the rest of the bill, a practice known as balance billing. Physicians (and hospitals) have complained that Medicare doesn’t pay enough, but most participate anyway. Still, there is wiggle room.

Medicare limits balance billing. Physicians can charge patients the difference between their bill and what Medicare allows, but those charges are limited to 9.25% above Medicare’s regular rates. But partly because of the paperwork hassles for all involved, only a small percentage of doctors choose this option.

Alternatively, physicians can “opt-out” of Medicare and charge whatever they want. But they can’t change their mind and try to get Medicare payments again for at least two years. Fewer than 1%of the nation’s physicians have currently opted out.

What would the executive order change?

That’s hard to know.

“It could mean a lot of things,” said Joseph Antos at the American Enterprise Institute, including possibly letting seniors make a contract with an individual doctor or buy into something that isn’t traditional Medicare or the current private Medicare Advantage program. “Exactly what that looks like is not so obvious.”

Others said eventual rules might result in lifting the 9.25% cap on the amount doctors can balance-bill some patients. Or the rules around fully “opting out” of Medicare might ease so physicians would not have to divorce themselves from the program or could stay in for some patients, but not others. That could leave some patients liable for the entire bill, which might lead to confusion among Medicare beneficiaries, critics of such a plan suggest.

The result may be that “it opens the door to surprise medical billing if people sign a contract with a doctor without realizing what they’re doing,” said Jost.

Would patients get a bigger choice in physicians?

Proponents say allowing for more private contracts between patients and doctors would encourage doctors to accept more Medicare patients, partly because they could get higher payments. That was one argument made by supporters of several House and Senate bills in 2015 that included direct-contracting provisions. All failed, as did an earlier effort in the late 1990s backed by then-Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who argued such contracting would give seniors more freedom to select doctors.

Then-Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) opposed such direct contracting, arguing that patients had less power in negotiations than doctors. To make that point, he introduced the “No Private Contracts To Be Negotiated When the Patient Is Buck Naked Act of 1997.”

The bill was designed to illustrate how uneven the playing field is by prohibiting the discussion of or signing of private contracts at any time when “the patient is buck naked and the doctor is fully clothed (and conversely, to protect the rights of doctors, when the patient is fully clothed and the doctor is naked).” It, too, failed to pass.

Still, the current executive order might help counter a trend that “more physicians today are not taking new Medicare patients,” said Robert Moffit, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.

It also might encourage boutique practices that operate outside of Medicare and are accessible primarily to the wealthy, said David Lipschutz, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

“It is both a gift to the industry and to those beneficiaries who are well off,” he said. “It has questionable utility to the rest of us.”

Elizabeth Warren Has Many Plans, But on Health Care, She’s ‘With Bernie’

Sahil Kaput noted that Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything — but on the crucial 2020 issue of health care, she’s borrowing from a rival and fellow progressive — Bernie Sanders.

The presidential candidate who made a mark with her signature “I have a plan for that!” is the only one of the five top-polling Democrats without a sweeping proposal of her own to remake the health care system. She has instead championed Sanders’ legislation to replace private insurance by putting every American in an expanded Medicare program.

“I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All,” Warren said recently in New Hampshire when asked if she’d devise a blueprint of her own. “Health care is a basic human right. We need to make sure that everybody is covered at the lowest possible cost, and draining money out for health insurance companies to make a lot of profits, by saying no.”

Warren’s deference to a rival is unusual for a candidate who has styled herself as the policy wonk with a program for everything from cradle to grave. It has allowed her to attract many liberal voters who supported Sanders in 2016, leading her to a dead heat with former vice president Joe Biden for the top spot in the Democratic field. And if Sanders were to eventually drop out of the race before Warren, her embrace of his most popular plan could keep his supporters in her camp.

Sean McElwee, a left-wing activist, and researcher with Data For Progress said that Warren cannot afford to go soft on Medicare for All.

“It’s the best option for the campaign to stay in alignment with Sanders on health care through the general election,” he said. “These Sanders voters have the highest risk of voting third party or staying home, and you have to keep them mobilized.”

Weeks before Warren, a Massachusetts senator, announced that she was exploring a presidential run last December, she sounded less wedded to the Sanders proposal, describing a three-step approach to health care.

“Our first job is to defend the Affordable Care Act. Our second is to improve it and make changes, for example to families’ vulnerability to the impact of high-priced drugs,” she told Bloomberg News. “And the third is to find a system of Medicare available to all that will increase the quality of care while it decreases the cost of all of us.”

As Warren was rising in the polls, her allies began to pick up signals that Sanders supporters were questioning her commitment to progressive ideas. Since June, Warren has given them little ammunition to claim she’s going soft on Medicare for All, a defining issue for many left-wing voters.

“The biggest concern Warren has from the left is this idea that, at the end of the day, Sanders is the one true progressive,” McElwee said. “If your main issue is Medicare for All, and that’s a central tenet of your politics, Warren probably can’t win you. But she doesn’t want you to hate her. She wants to be your fallback option.”

At the same time, Warren faces attacks from Biden for supporting a plan that would replace Obamacare, which Democrats bitterly fought for in 2009 and 2010. “The senator says she’s for Bernie. Well, I’m for Barack,” the former vice president said in the third Democratic debate in September. “I think Obamacare worked.”

Biden’s plan would build out Obamacare and have a public option for those who want it.

Health care consistently ranks as the top issue for Democratic voters. Government-run health care is popular among Democrats and Americans overall, but that support dips once voters are given the arguments against it, including that it would require higher middle-class taxes and abolish employer-sponsored coverage.

Medicare for All, which lay at the heart of Sanders’ stronger-than-expected 2016 campaign, has become a litmus test for some progressive activists and voters. To them, it indicates a candidate’s belief in universal health care and willingness to take on private insurers who they say are gouging consumers for profit.

In Los Angeles on Friday, Warren was asked if her health care vision would raise middle-class taxes. She evaded the question and said working families would see their overall medical costs reduced, referring to the end of premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. “The very wealthy and big corporations will see their costs go up, but middle-class families will see their costs go down,” she said.

Surveys show that Sanders voters clearly prefer Warren as their second choice. But it doesn’t cut both ways — Warren’s supporters are more split among Sanders, Biden and Kamala Harris as their second choice.

Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant based in Boston, said that if Warren believes Sanders has the best plan, she has to “be all in on it — and if she’s got elements of her own to put in it, she needs to do that.”

The Sanders health care plan tracks with the “big structural change” Warren has called for, a message that also appeals to mainstream Democrats who backed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Maintaining that cross-section of support is critical to Warren’s path to the nomination. Biden is dominating with moderate and conservative Democrats, some of whom worry that running on Medicare for All will cost Democrats the general election.

“By supporting Bernie Sanders’ health care plan, Elizabeth Warren improves the chances of Bernie Sanders voters supporting her if she’s the nominee, thereby avoiding some for the heartburn Bernie gave Clinton and her supporters all the way through Election Day,” Marsh said.

A voter at her event in Keene, New Hampshire, asked Warren how she would handle the transition from private insurance to a government-run system.

“What we’ve got on Medicare for All is a framework,” she said. “And it doesn’t have the details, and you’re right to be antsy.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sahil Kapur in Washington at skapur39@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, John Harney

Pete Buttigieg explains why he’s against Medicare for All

As reported by Adriana Belmont, Mayor Pete Buttigieg stands apart from other Democratic presidential candidates when it comes to health care policy. Unlike frontrunners Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), he does not support for Medicare for All, but rather an alternative.

“I am a candidate who believes Medicare for All is not as attractive as Medicare for All Who Want It,” Buttigieg said at The New Yorker Festival. “Because it gives people a choice.”

Through Buttigieg’s plan, everyone would automatically be involved in universal health care coverage for those who are eligible. It would also expand premium subsidies for low-income individuals, cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare, and limit what health care providers charge for out-of-network care at double what Medicare pays for the same service. However, those who still want to stay on private insurance can do so.

When asked whether or not this is a matter of “having your cake and eating it too,” Buttigieg responded: “Why not?”

“This is how public alternatives work,” Buttigieg said. “They create a public alternative that the private sector is then forced to compete with.”

This differs from other candidates like Sanders and Warren, both vocal supporters of a single-payer health system. Sanders has even gone so far as to call for the elimination of private insurance companies. Buttigieg, however, sees his plan as an opportunity for private insurance companies to step up.

“The way I come at it is with a certain humility about what’s going to happen,” Buttigieg said. “Because one of two things will happen. Either, there’s really no private option that’s as good as the public one we’re going to create … which means pretty soon everyone migrates to it and pretty soon it’s Medicare for all.”

“Or, some private plans are still better, in which case we’re going to be really glad we didn’t command the American people to abandon them whether they want to or not,” Buttigieg said. “I’m neutral on which one of those outcomes happen.”

According to Politico, although there is no official cost for what Medicare for All Who Want It would cost, a campaign adviser said the federal spending would “be in the ballpark” of $790 billion.

“The core principle is not whether or not the government is your health insurance provider,” Buttigieg said. “The core principle for me is you get covered one way or the other. That’s what Medicare for All Who Want It entails.”

Bernie Sanders admits he was ‘dumb’ for ignoring symptoms ahead of heart attack

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is turning his heart attack into a PSA.

The 2020 candidate was hospitalized last week with what his doctors later said was a heart attack, leading Sanders to suspend his campaign events and a forthcoming Iowa ad buy. Sanders hasn’t said if he’ll resume campaigning before the Oct. 15 primary debate, but he does have a universally agreeable message in the meantime.

Sanders gave a health update at his home on Tuesday, telling reporters he was on his way to meet with a new cardiologist. “I must confess, I was dumb,” he said. Despite being “born” with “a lot of energy” and usually handling multiple rallies a day without a problem, “in the last month or two,” Sanders said he’d been “more fatigued than I usually have been.” “I should’ve listened to those symptoms,” Sanders continued, and then advised listeners to do the same “when you’re hurting when you’re fatigued when you have pain in your chest.”

Bernie Sanders is meeting a cardiologist this morning. A new doctor he has not met with before. Before he left he told reporters that he was “dumb” and should’ve listened to the warning signs his body was sending him prior to his heart attack.

Sanders first tied his hospitalization to his campaign in a tweet last week expressing his thanks for “well wishes,” “great doctors,” and “good health care.” “No one should fear going bankrupt” if they experience a medical emergency, he continued, and added in a call for “Medicare for All!”

What a dumb comment but it seems to follow how dumb Bernie is to neglect his heart disease however, he is telling us all about health care. And remember that Bernie has Congressional Blue Cross Blue Shield health care insurance, the best in the world!

 

Medicare for All Discussion Spirals Into Squabble; and What about Obamacare?

Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 8.30.22 PM.pngThose of you that were able to stick it out and watch the latest Democrat debates were observers to the shouting match, which erupted between Biden and Castro. I really wonder whether any of the candidates understand health care and what they are all proposing as the solutions!

Shannon Firth the Washington Correspondent for MedPage noted that whether Americans really want a Medicare for All health system, what it would cost, and who among the remaining Democratic presidential candidates has the best plan might have made a thoughtful discussion at Thursday night’s third debate. Americans didn’t see much of that, however.

Instead, the event quickly devolved into personal squabbling that often left the moderators’ and each others’ questions unanswered.

It was the first debate to include only 10 candidates, due to more rigid qualifying requirements set by the Democratic National Committee.

Participants included former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and businessman Andrew Yang.

Biden led in most polls ahead of the debate, although Warren tied with him in one, and Sanders beat him in another, according to RealClearPolitics.

Paying for Medicare for All

It was Biden, the front-runner, who took the first shot at his opponents when asked whether Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, which Warren also supports, was “pushing too far beyond” what the Democratic party wants.

Biden said voters themselves would decide what the Democratic party wants.

“I know that the senator says she’s for Bernie,” said Biden of Warren. “Well, I’m for Barack,” he said, referring to former President Barack Obama and his landmark Affordable Care Act. “I think the Obamacare worked,” Biden declared.

His plan would “replace everything that’s been cut [under President Trump], add a public option,” and guarantee affordable insurance for everybody. He said it would cost $740 billion. “It doesn’t cost $30 trillion,” he said, alluding to Sanders’ 10-year plan.

“That’s right, Joe,” Sanders responded, confirming his plan would cost that much. But he quickly added, the “status quo over 10 years will be $50 trillion.”

“Every study done shows that Medicare for All is the most cost-effective approach to providing healthcare,” Sanders asserted.

He stressed that his plan would “eliminate all out of pocket expenses, all deductibles, all copayments,” and that no American would pay more than $200 for prescription drugs under his bill.

Biden said that, under his plan, the most an individual would pay out-of-pocket would be $1,000. Under Sanders’ plan, a middle-class individual with three kids would ultimately pay $5,000 more for insurance and 4% more on income taxes.

ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos pressed Warren on whether she would raise taxes for the middle class in order to fund a full Medicare for All plan.

“On Medicare for All, costs are going to go up for wealthier individuals and costs are going to go up for giant corporations, but for hardworking families across this country, costs are going to go down,” Warren replied, without addressing the tax question directly.

Biden also argued that his own plan would not take away health insurance from the 160 million people satisfied with what they have now. Klobuchar, who also wants to keep private insurance available, also attacked Sanders’ and Warren’s plan, suggesting an estimated 149 million Americans would lose their commercial health insurance in 4 years.

“I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think it’s a bad idea,” Klobuchar said.

“I’ve actually never met anybody who likes their health insurance company,” Warren shot back, to hearty applause.”I’ve met people who like their doctors. I’ve meet people who like their nurses. I’ve met people who like their pharmacists… What they want is access to healthcare.”

Sanders pointed out, too, that 50 million Americans change or lose health insurance every year, when they quit, lose or change jobs, or their employers change policies.

Shouting match

But the substantive debate may not linger in memory as much as a shouting match between Biden and Castro over one aspect of the former vice president’s plan and his statements about it.

The quarrel was short-lived but sent Twitter aflutter for hours. Viewers wondered whether Castro’s remarks were a veiled critique of Biden’s age — Biden is 76, Castro is 44 — as well as whether the criticisms were fair or true.

Castro told ABC News in a post-debate interview, “I wasn’t taking a shot at his age.”

Harris had tried earlier, without much success, to steer the debate toward the candidates’ differences from President Trump, rather than each other.

“Everybody on this stage … is well-intentioned and wants that all Americans have coverage and recognizes that right now 30 million Americans don’t have coverage,” she said. “So, let’s talk about the fact that Donald Trump came into office and spent almost the entire first year of his term trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. We all fought against it and then the late, great John McCain, at that moment at about 2 o’clock in the morning, killed his attempt to take healthcare from millions of people in this country.”

That did not put an end to the current administration’s efforts to end the ACA, however, and Harris pointed to the Department of Justice’s moves in court to have it declared unconstitutional.

“But let’s focus on the end goal, if we don’t get Donald Trump out of office, he’s gonna get rid of all of it,” she said.

The other Democrats, however, let the subject drop.

Disabled Activist Calls Out Kamala Harris Over Huge Holes Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is holding steadfast in her belief that her version of “Medicare for All” is indeed “the best,” as she said during an August forum.

But, the presidential hopeful’s unwavering defense of her self-drafted health care plan didn’t deter progressive activist, lawyer and author Ady Barkan from pointing out what he found to be glaring flaws in her proposal.

In a nine-minute video capturing his discussion (below) with Harris released on Monday, Barkan, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2016, took Harris to task when he asked her why she was using the phrase “Medicare for All” to describe her plan, when to him, it sounded more like something “closer to a combination of private and public options rather than a single-payer ‘Medicare For All.’”

Unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) single-payer bill that Harris had previously supported, the California senator’s proposal would give Americans the option of keeping their private health insurance plans. Harris’ plan also includes a 10-year transitory period to phase out privatized insurance, which critics say is too long.

In response, Harris explained that with her plan, “everybody will be covered … and it will be a Medicare system” in which private insurers “have to be in our system … and it will be by our rules.”

That’s when Barkan decided to share why he thinks Sanders’ single-payer bill — which senators and presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also support — is the best approach for reforming the country’s health care system.

Under Harris’ plan, Barkan said, “millions of people like me will still be denied care by their for-profit insurance company” during the 10-year transition period and possibly afterwards. Because of this, Barkan said he believes that people “will avoid getting needed care because of high co-pays and deductibles.”

In his opinion, Sanders’ single-payer plan would drive down “billions of dollars per year in administrative and billing costs,” which are a result of the for-profit system.

“That will not happen if providers still have to bill numerous insurance companies,” he added.

“Finally, there is the political reality,” Barkan concluded. “The insurance industry is going to do everything it can to block any of these proposals, including yours, which means the only way to win is with a huge grassroots movement, and from what I can see, that enthusiasm only exists for ‘Medicare for All.’ So, where am I wrong?”

In response, Harris said that with her “Medicare for All” plan, on Day 1, “you can get into the system of ‘Medicare for All’ and have a public plan, you don’t have to do a private plan. It’s your choice.”

Harris’ answer echoed what she has said in the past of her plan, but many people on Twitter still seemed to enjoy watching Barkan make compelling arguments about what he considered to be holes in her bill.

Doctors alarmed by Trump’s health care plan but confused by Democratic presidential candidates’ plans

Alexander Nazaryan pointed out that a day before Democratic presidential candidates converged here for a primary debate, a half-dozen doctors affiliated with the Committee to Protect Medicare and Affordable Care, a progressive group, held a rally to denounce President Trump and Republicans for what they charged were harmful proposals to strip Americans of health care coverage.

“We are here in Houston because the world is watching,” said Dr. Rob Davidson, the Michigan-based founder of the committee. “The world is watching to see whether the United States, the most powerful country in the world, is going to choose affordable, quality care or they’re going to peel back the social safety net from the elderly, the sick and the middle class.”

He said that Trump administration decisions — such as repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate — had led to 7 million people losing their health care coverage.

At the same time, some of those doctors expressed confusion and even dismay with Democratic plans. That suggested that while many in the medical community do oppose Trump’s plan to repeal and replace the ACA, they are ambivalent about the plans of his political opponents. And they hoped that, when it came time to debate on Thursday night, those candidates would offer substance instead of platitudes.

“I have to be honest, out of all the politicians I hear talk about health care,” said Davidson, “I don’t know that any of them quite have the grip on it that doctors have.”

Doctors, though, are hardly in agreement. A few, though not many, supported Trump’s ultimately unsuccessful 2017 effort to repeal the ACA, which was President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. The American Medical Association has come out against a fully federalized health care system, the proposal of Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Some doctors, though, do believe that such a fix is not just possible but necessary.

“I don’t want a single-payer for all of America,” said Dr. Lee Ben-Ami, a Houston family practice doctor who is also affiliated with a local progressive group but was speaking as a private individual. She said she was “a little worried” about the Democratic Party moving toward the Sanders plan, even as she said it was necessary to provide health care to uninsured Americans. Centrist candidates like Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado have offered such proposals, with a public option, but even though that was regarded as a radical solution during the Obama administration, many progressives now see it as a conservative concession.

Such friction could spell trouble for Democrats, who in the 2018 midterm congressional elections successfully ran on protecting health care from cuts by Republicans. At the time, a tight focus on preserving the ACA allowed for victories even in unlikely districts like the 14th in Illinois, a Republican stronghold won by Lauren Underwood, a first-time candidate who was trained as a nurse. Her opponent had voted to repeal the ACA as a House member.

Even though the doctors at the Houston rally expressed dismay at the Trump administration’s approach to health care, there was no explicit endorsement of a Democratic policy. “I’m very unclear what some of the Democrats believe,” said Ben-Ami, speaking to Yahoo News before the rally. “We’ve got some people saying ‘Medicare for all,’ and what does that mean? And then I have some Democrats where I can’t pinpoint their policy.”

Davidson also lamented the lack of specifics from candidates. “I hope we get more into the weeds” during Thursday’s debate, he told Yahoo News. He hoped candidates avoid “little sound bites that play well on the news.”

Those present at the rally agreed that any Democratic president would be a better custodian of the nation’s complex medical system than Trump. Davidson noted that Republicans have spoken to the president about cutting Medicare as a “second-term project,” should he win reelection next November.

The doctors held their rally on the edge of the Texas Medical Center, the largest such facility in the world. The center is home to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center — where immunologist James P. Allison was recently awarded a Nobel Prize — as well as five dozen other institutions. At the same time, 22 percent of Houston residents are uninsured, according to the Urban Institute.

Just the day before the rally on Houston’s vast medical campus, Texas was found to be “the most uninsured state in the nation,” as the Texas Tribune put it, describing just-released statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. The ACA allowed Texas to expand Medicaid, but it was one of 14 states — almost all of them controlled by conservative governors and legislatures — to decline the federal government’s help. That prevented 1.8 million Texans from receiving coverage, Ben-Ami said on Thursday.

Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, an Austin doctor who is running for Congress, agreed that any plan would be better than Trump’s: “Physicians could care less about the semantics of plans.”

Gandhi said he would endorse any Democrat who would push for the uninsured to have insurance. “All we want is for folks who don’t have insurance to get insurance,” he said.

Most Democrats want that too, even if they are deeply divided about how to get there.

Poll of the Day: Democrats Increasingly Favor Obamacare

Yuval Rosenberg of the Fiscal Times reviewed a poll showing that more than eight in 10 Democrats — 84% to be precise — say they view the Affordable Care Act favorably in the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking polls. That’s the largest share of Democrats supporting the law in the nine years the tracking poll has been conducted. (Overall, 53% of Americans view the law favorably.) Support for the law among Democrats has risen 11 percentage points since President Trump took office.

The poll also finds that 55% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they’d prefer a candidate who wants to build on the ACA to expand coverage and lower costs, while 40% say they’d prefer a candidate who wants to replace the law with a national Medicare-for-All system.

Majorities across party lines agree that Congress’s top health care priorities should be lowering prescription drug costs, maintaining protections for patients with pre-existing conditions and reducing what people pay for care. But a partisan split emerges when people are asked to choose whether it’s more important for lawmakers to make sure all Americans have health insurance or to lower health care costs.

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CDC, states update number of cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping. What is going to take us all to ban these e-cigarettes at least from our youth. How many kids’ death does it take?

Media Statement

CDC today announced the updated number of confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping. The new case count is the first national aggregate based on the new CDC definition developed and shared with states in late August.

Cases

  • As of September 11, 2019, 380 confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping, were reported by 36 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • The previous case count released by CDC was higher because it reported possible* cases that were still under investigation by states. The current number includes only confirmed** and probable*** cases reported by states to CDC after classification.
  • CDC is no longer reporting possible cases or cases under investigation and states have recently received the new CDC case definition to classify cases. The classification process requires medical record review and discussion with the treating healthcare providers. The current number is expected to increase as additional cases are classified.
  • CDC will continue to report confirmed and probable cases as one number because the two definitions are very similar and this is the most accurate way to understand the number of people affected.

*A possible case is one still under investigation at the state level.

**A confirmed case is someone who recently used an e-cigarette product or vaped, developed a breathing illness, and for whom testing did not show an infection. Other common causes of illness have been ruled out as the primary cause.

***A probable case is someone who recently used an e-cigarette product or vaped, developed a breathing illness, and for whom some tests have been performed to rule out infection. Other common causes of illness have been ruled out as the primary cause.

Deaths

  • Six total deaths have been confirmed in six states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, and Oregon.

What the CDC is doing

CDC is currently coordinating a multistate investigation. In conjunction with a task force from the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists and affected states, interim outbreak surveillance case definitions, data collection tools, and a database to collect relevant patient data have been developed and released to states.

CDC continues to provide technical assistance to states, including working closely with affected states to characterize the exposures and the extent of the outbreak.

CDC is providing assistance in epidemiology, disease surveillance, pathologic consultation, clinical guidance development, and communication.

CDC also continues to work closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to collect information about recent e-cigarette product use, or vaping, among patients and to test the substances or chemicals within e-cigarette products used by case patients.

So, we can still see that there are really no solutions to the health care problem. Even the Republicans who had the majorities in both the House and the Senate made any headway, even though they promised to come up with a solution. The President also keeps on promising a solution, but nowhere do I see any progress. As you all my have figured out Medicare for All is not the correct solution unless there are clarity on realistic financing, tort reform and how to provide financial assistance for medical education. Help!!

More to come in this discussion.

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

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

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

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

Americans get insurance from four main sources.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Africa puts initial universal healthcare cost at $17 billion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“TAX BURDEN”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rural hospitals take the spotlight in the coverage expansion debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

As the President of the American Medical Association stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEDICARE FOR ALL

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

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

BUILDING ON OBAMACARE

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

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

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

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

THE NEW ENTRANT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These Are the Health-Care Questions That Matter Most

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biden v. Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Bold?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on Medicare

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

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

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

More to Come!

Why Mention Failed Obamacare When Democrats Can Debate Shiny New Medicare-for-All? And More About the Medicare Bill and Its Provisions.

fourth297Reporter Megan McArdle noted that there’s one thing you didn’t hear at the first two Democratic presidential debates unless you were listening carefully to what candidates didn’t say: Obamacare is a failure.

The Affordable Care Act barely came up. What candidates wanted to talk about was Medicare-for-all.

That is nothing short of extraordinary. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the biggest entitlement expansion, and the most significant health-care reform, since the 1960s. You’d think Democrats would be jostling to claim that mantle for themselves. Instead, it was left in a corner, gathering dust, while the candidates moved on to the fashion of the moment.

In fairness, they may have found the garment an uncomfortable fit. The rate of Americans without health-care insurance is now within a percentage point of where it was in the first quarter of 2008, a year before Obama took office. Yet in 2008, the unemployment rate was more than a full percentage point higher than it is now. Given how many people use employer-provided health insurance, the uninsured rate ought to be markedly lower than it was back then.

Overall, the effect of Obamacare seems to be marginal, or perhaps nonexistent.

You can chalk that up to Republican interference since the uninsured rate has risen substantially in the Trump era. But Democrats weren’t really making that argument, perhaps because they realized that a system so vulnerable to Republican interference isn’t really a very good system.

But even before January 2017, Obamacare was failing to deliver on many of its key promises. At its best point, in November 2016, the reduction in the number of the uninsured was less than the architects of Obamacare had expected. And the claims that Obamacare would “bend the cost curve” had proved, let us say, excessively optimistic.

Adjusted for inflation, consumer out-of-pocket expenditures on health care have been roughly flat since 2007. Obamacare didn’t make them go up, but it didn’t really reduce them, either. The rate of growth in health-services spending has risen substantially since 2013 when Obamacare’s main provisions took effect. And since someone has to pay for all that new spending, premiums have also risen at about the same pace as before Obamacare. So much for saving the average American family $2,500 a year!

Meanwhile, the various proposals that were supposed to streamline care and improve incentives have produced fairly underwhelming results. Accountable-care organizations, which aimed to reorient the system around paying for health rather than treatment, have produced, at best, modest benefits. Meanwhile, a much-touted program to reduce hospital readmissions not only failed to save money but may also have led to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Nine years in, when you total up all the costs and benefits, you end up with . . . a lot of political aggravation for very little progress. No wonder Democrats would rather talk about something else.

And yet, it’s startling that the something else is health care. The U.S. system is a gigantic, expensive mess, but experience indicates that politicians who wade into that mess are apt to emerge covered in toxic sludge, without having made the mess noticeably tidier.

That could be a good argument for Medicare-for-all: The health-care mess has grown so big, so entangled with the detritus from decades of bad policymaking that it can’t be straightened out. The only thing to do is bulldoze the steaming pile of garbage into a hole and start over.

The argument isn’t unreasonable, even if I don’t agree with it. But it is a policy argument, not a political argument. The political argument in favor of launching into another round of health-care reform is, purely and simply, that a certain portion of the Democratic base wants to hear it.

And a fine reason that is in a primary race. But it then comes to the general election, filled with moderate voters who get anxious when people talk about taking away their private health insurance in favor of a government-run program — as Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) have all done. (On Friday, Harris said she misheard a debate question and changed her position, a flip-flop she has tried before.)

More to the point, whatever the merits of Medicare-for-all, the political obstacles to even the comparatively modest reforms of Obamacare very nearly overwhelmed it — and probably cost Democrats their House majority in 2010. And the compromises that Democrats were forced to make to get even that through Congress left them with a badly drafted program that had insufficient popular support — one that was, in other words, almost doomed to fail. At an enormous political cost. It takes either a very brave politician or a very foolish one, to look at the Obamacare debacle and say, “I want to do that again, except much more so.”

Health Care Gets Heated On Night 2 Of The Democratic Presidential Debate

Reporter Shefali Luthra pointed out that on Thursday, the second night of the first Democratic primary debate, 10 presidential hopefuls took the stage and health issues became an early flashpoint. But if you listen to both nights it was embarrassing. These 25 potential candidates could be the answer to the President’s campaign. Some of their ideas are just too expensive and plain dangerous!!

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opened the debate calling health care a “human right” — which was echoed by several other candidates — and saying “we have to pass a ‘Medicare for All,’ single-payer system” — which was not.

Just as on Wednesday night, moderators asked candidates who would support abolishing private insurance under a single-payer system. Again, only two candidates — this time Sanders and California Sen. Kamala Harris — raised their hands.

Former Vice President Joe Biden also jumped on health care, saying Americans “need to have insurance that is covered, and that they can afford.”

But he offered a different view of how to achieve the goal, saying the fastest way would be to “build on Obamacare. To build on what we did.” He also drew a line in the sand, promising to oppose any Democrat or Republican who tried to take down Obamacare.

Candidates including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet offered their takes on universal coverage, each underscoring the importance of a transition from the current system and suggesting that a public option approach, something that would allow people to buy into a program like Medicare, would offer a “glide path” to the ultimate goal of universal coverage. Gillibrand noted that she ran on such a proposal in 2005. (This is true.)

Meanwhile, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper used the issue of Medicare for All to say that it is important to not allow Republicans to paint the Democratic Party as socialist but also to claim his own successes in implementing coverage expansions to reach “near-universal coverage” in Colorado. PolitiFact examined this claim and found it Mostly True.

“You don’t need big government to do big things. I know that because I’m the one person up here who’s actually done the big progressive things everyone else is talking about,” he said.

But still, while candidates were quick to make their differences clear, not all of their claims fully stood up to scrutiny.

Fact-checking some of those remarks.

Sanders: “President Trump, you’re not standing up for working families when you try to throw 32 million people off the health care that they have.”

This is one of Sanders’ favorite lines, but it falls short of giving the full story of the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. We rated a similar claim Half True.

I’ll write more about half-truths next week.

Scrapping the Affordable Care Act was a key campaign promise for President Donald Trump. In 2017, as the Republican-led Congress struggled to deliver, Trump tweeted “Republicans should just REPEAL failing Obamacare now and work on a new health care plan that will start from a clean slate.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that would lead to 32 million more people without insurance by 2026. But some portion of that 32 million would have chosen not to buy insurance due to the end of the individual mandate, which would happen under repeal. (It happened anyway when the 2017 tax law repealed the fine for the individual mandate.)

In the end, the full repeal didn’t happen. Instead, Trump was only able to zero out the fines for people who didn’t have insurance. Coverage has eroded. The latest survey shows about 1.3 million people have lost insurance since Trump took office.

Bennet, meanwhile, used his time to attack Medicare for All on a feasibility standpoint.

Bennet: “Bernie mentioned the taxes that we would have to pay — because of those taxes, Vermont rejected Medicare for All.”

This is true, although it could use some context.

Vermont’s effort to pass a state-based single-payer health plan — which the state legislature approved in 2011 — officially fell flat in December 2014. Financing the plan ultimately would have required an 11.5% payroll tax on all employers, plus raising the income tax by as much as 9.5%. The governor at the time, Democrat Peter Shumlin, declared this politically untenable.

That said, some analysts suggest other political factors may have played a role, too — for instance, the fallout after the state launched its Affordable Care Act health insurance website, which faced technical difficulties.

Nationally, when voters are told Medicare for All could result in higher taxes, support declines.

And a point was made by author Marianne Williamson about the nation’s high burden of chronic disease.

Williamson: “So many Americans have unnecessary chronic illnesses — so many more compared to other countries.”

There is evidence for this, at least for older Americans.

A November 2014 study by the Commonwealth Fund found that 68% of Americans 65 and older had two or more chronic conditions, and an additional 20% had one chronic condition.

No other country studied — the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria or Canada — had a higher rate of older residents with at least two chronic conditions. The percentages ranged from 33% in the United Kingdom to 56% in Canada.

An earlier study published in the journal Health Affairs in 2007 found that “for many of the most costly chronic conditions, diagnosed disease prevalence and treatment rates were higher in the United States than in a sample of European countries in 2004.”

‘Medicare For All’ Is The New Standard For 2020 Democrats

In 2008, single-payer health care was a fringe idea. Now, its opponents are the ones who have to explain themselves.

Jeffrey Young pointed out that the last time there was a competitive race to be the Democratic presidential nominee, in 2008, just one candidate called for the creation of a national, single-payer health care program that would replace the private health insurance system: then-Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).

This time around, “Medicare for All” is the standard against which all the Democratic candidates’ plans are measured. There’s also a very real chance that, for the first time since Harry Truman, Democrats will nominate a presidential candidate who actively supports the creation of a universal, national health care system.

During Kucinich’s long-shot bid against leading contenders like then-Sens. John Edwards (N.C.), Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), his opponents barely felt the need to counter his single-payer position. It was seen as too much, too fast, too disruptive and too expensive. Edwards, Clinton, and Obama all instead promoted plans reliant on private insurers. In 2010, President Obama enacted those principles in the form of the Affordable Care Act.

That split still exists, with current Democratic presidential hopefuls like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and former Vice President Joe Biden as the proponents of a more cautious, incremental approach to achieving universal coverage and lower health care costs.

But as the two nights of presidential debates between the 2020 candidates illustrated, it’s Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his sweeping Medicare for All plan that is now the benchmark for progressive health care reform. It’s appropriate, considering that Sanders’ serious challenge to Clinton in 2016 moved the notion of single-payer health care into the Democratic mainstream.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) acknowledged as much in her response to a question about health care on Wednesday: “I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All,” she said.

The case Sanders made for Medicare for All is essentially the same Kucinich made years ago during his presidential campaign, the difference being that Sanders has earned the right to have his ideas taken seriously, and did a lot of the work to force those ideas into the mainstream.

“The function of health care today from the insurance and drug company perspective is not to provide quality care to all in a cost-effective way. The function of the health care system today is to make billions in profits for the insurance companies,” Sanders said Thursday. “We will have Medicare for All when tens of millions of people are prepared to stand up and tell the insurance companies and the drug companies that their say is gone, that health care is a human right, not something to make huge profits on.”

Among the Democratic candidates, Warren, and Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.),  Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.) are co-sponsors of Sanders’ bill and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Eric Swalwell (Calif.) are co-sponsors of a similar House bill introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Biden is a leading representative of the other side of this debate, which also is appropriate. The White House in which he served carried out the biggest expansion of the health care safety net since Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives, which included the creation of Medicare and Medicaid.

And while the Affordable Care Act was nowhere near as far-reaching as single-payer would be, the changes it brought created widespread anxiety among those who already had health coverage, a political dynamic that dogged Obama’s White House.

Like other moderates including Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Biden insisted he supported universal coverage even while opposing Sanders’ Medicare for All plan, and suggested another path.

“The quickest, fastest way to do it is built on Obamacare, to build on what we did,” Biden said Thursday, highlighting his preference for a public option that would be available to everyone in lieu of private insurance.

It was Klobuchar who articulated the political argument that replacing the entire current coverage system with a wholly public one would be disruptive. “I am just simply concerned about kicking half of America off of their health insurance in four years, which is what this bill says,” she said Wednesday.

Although just four of the 20 candidates raised their hands when asked if they supported eliminating private health insurance during the two debates ― Sanders, Warren, Harris and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ― the very fact that this was the question shows how much has changed since Kucinich’s opponents could safely brush off the notion of single-payer without alienating Democratic primary election voters. (Harris later recanted her answer, claiming to have misunderstood the question.)

Medicare for All proponents learned from the GOP’s relentless attacks on the Affordable Care Act that even incremental change will bring accusations of rampant socialism, so they might as well go for the whole thing.

The question that was seemingly designed to expose the differences in their points of view had the effect of highlighting how much broad agreement there is within the Democratic Party about what to do about high health care costs and people who are uninsured or under-insured.

It’s also a bit of an odd litmus test in the context of other nations’ universal health care programs, which are meant to be the models for plans like Medicare for All. Private insurance even exists as a supplement to public programs in countries like the United Kingdom and Canada.

Even so, while the question of whether private coverage can coexist with broadened public plans in the United States is a genuine sticking point among Democrats, the responses from the candidates who addressed the issue Wednesday and Thursday nights also highlighted their apparently universal conviction that the federal government should play a much larger role in providing health coverage.

In 2008, the top candidates all supported what’s now considered the moderate position, which was some form of government-run public option as an alternative to private insurance. Centrist Democrats in Congress killed that part of the Affordable Care Act, and Obama went along with it. This year, the public option is the bare minimum.

And every Democratic candidate’s proposals are a far, far cry from the policies President Donald Trump and the Republican Party seek, which amount to dramatically reducing access to health care, especially for people with low incomes.

Likewise in contrast to Trump, all 10 Democrats who appeared at Thursday’s debate endorsed allowing undocumented immigrants access to federal health care programs, which would mark a major shift in government policy. Under current law, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all forms of federal assistance except limited, emergency benefits.

Just nine years ago, the Democrats who wrote the Affordable Care Act included specific provisions denying undocumented immigrants access to the health insurance policies sold on the law’s exchange marketplaces, even if they want to spend their own money on them.

Medicare for All proponents views the reticence of the candidates who haven’t joined their side as a lack of courage. They also learned from the GOP’s relentless attacks on the Affordable Care Act that even incremental change will bring accusations of rampant socialism, so they might as well go for the whole thing.

“There are a lot of politicians who say, ‘Oh, it’s just not possible. We just can’t do it,’” Warren said Wednesday. “What they’re really telling you is they just won’t fight for it.”

Health care may or may not be a determining factor in which of these candidates walks away with the Democratic nomination. Also unknown is whether Democratic voters’ uneven support for Medicare for All will benefit the more moderate candidates, or whether the progressive message of universal health care and better coverage will appeal to primary voters.

Both camps may actually benefit from the public’s vague understanding of what Medicare for All is and what it would do compared to less ambitious approaches like shoring up the Affordable Care Act and adding a public option.

For moderate candidates like Biden, support for greater access to government benefits may be enough to satisfy all but the most ardent single-payer supporters. But voters who are uncertain about the prospect of upending the entire health coverage system with Medicare for All may also be unconcerned about candidates like Sanders because they don’t realize how much change his plan would bring.

The debates didn’t shed much light on the answers to those questions. Voters will get their first chance to weigh in by February when the Iowa caucuses begin and campaign season kicks into high gear.

Remember that last we talked; the Medicare Bill was passed and signed by President Johnson. Next, I reviewed the main provisions starting with Title XVIII, Part A.

Now on to Title XVIII, Part B: Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI). This provided that all persons over sixty-five were eligible for participation in this program on a voluntary basis, without the requirement that they had earlier paid into the Social Security program. Benefits included physicians’ services at any location and home health services of up to one hundred visits per year. Coverage also included the costs of diagnostic tests, radiotherapy, ambulance services, and various medical supplies and appliances certified as necessary by the patient’s physician. Subscribers were at first required to pay one-half the monthly premium, with the government underwriting the other half. After July 1973 premium increases levied on subscribers were limited to “the percentage by Social Security cash benefits had been increased since the last…premium adjustment.” Each enrollee was subject to a front-end deductible ($50 per year originally, $100 in 1997). After having met this payment, patients were responsible for a coinsurance of 20 percentage of the remaining “reasonable” charges. Limits were set on the amount of psychiatric care and routine physical examinations. Among the exclusions were eye refraction and other preventive services, such as immunizations and hearing aids. The cost of drugs was also totally excluded. Similar financing arrangements as prevailed for Part A coverage were put in place for Part B for the payment of benefits. Premium payments were placed in a trust fund, which made disbursements to private insurance companies—carriers—who reimbursed providers on a “reasonable cost” or, in the case of physicians, “reasonable charge” basis. Physicians were permitted to “extra bill” patients if they regarded the fee schedule established by the carriers as insufficient payment. (William Shonick, Government and Health Services: Government’s Rule in the Development of U.S. Health Services, 1930-1980, New York, Oxford University Press, 1995. pp 285-91.)

Note that Medicare has further discounted physician fees, which makes it difficult to run a practice based on Medicare reimbursement. We need to remember this when we discuss the new healthcare system, Medicare for All, which almost all of the Democratic presidential candidates propose. Realize also, that not one of those candidates knows anything about Medicare and what Medicare for All really means in its application. Be very careful all you voters!!!

And next on to Title XIX: Medicaid.

And a Happy Fourth of July to All. Remember why we celebrate this day and enjoy our Freedom!

Rural healthcare a Top Issue Among Voters for 2020 and Such Bad Patients Here in the U.S. More Important-Happy Father’s Day!!

Annotation 2019-06-15 220837Voters want 2020 candidates to start talking about access to healthcare in rural America — in fact, most say it would swing their vote, according to a poll conducted by survey research firm Morning Consult and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The poll hit on a rare area of bipartisan agreement in the healthcare debate: 93 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats said making it easier to access healthcare in rural communities is important to them. The issue was also consistent across rural and nonrural voters: 91 percent of nonrural voters and 95 percent of rural voters said this was an important issue.

Three in 5 voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who includes expanding rural healthcare access as part of their platform.

Unsurprisingly, rural voters said they had less access to healthcare in all its forms: primary care physicians, hospitals, specialists, pharmacies and urgent care.

The poll is based on survey responses from 1,995 voters across the country, in addition to 200 rural voters from Iowa, 200 rural voters from North Carolina and 200 rural voters from Texas. It was conducted in May.

Who are the Worst Patients in the World?

Americans are hypochondriacs, yet we skip our checkups. We demand drugs we don’t need and fail to take the ones we do. No wonder the U.S. leads the world in health spending.

David H. Freedman noted that he was standing two feet away when his 74-year-old father slugged an emergency-room doctor who was trying to get a blood-pressure cuff around his arm. I wasn’t totally surprised: An accomplished scientist who was sharp as a tack right to the end, my father had nothing but disdain for the entire U.S. health-care system, which he believed piled on tests and treatments intended to benefit its bottom line rather than his health. He typically limited himself to berating or rolling his eyes at the unlucky clinicians tasked with ministering to him, but more than once I could tell he was itching to escalate.

My father was what the medical literature traditionally labeled a “hateful patient,” a term since softened to “difficult patient.” Such patients are a small minority, but they consume a grossly disproportionate share of clinician attention. Nevertheless, most doctors and nurses learn to put up with them. The doctor my dad struck later apologized to me for not having shown more sensitivity in his cuff placement.

When he wasn’t in the hospital, my dad blew off checkups and ignored signs of sickness, only to reenter the health-care system via the emergency department. Once home again, he enthusiastically undermined whatever his doctors had tried to do for him, practically using the list of prohibited foods as a menu. He chain-smoked cigars (for good measure, he inhaled rather than puffed). He took his pills if and when he felt like it. By his late 60s, he’d been rewarded with an impressive rack of life-threatening ailments, including failing kidneys, emphysema, severe arrhythmia, and a series of chronic infections. Various high-tech feats by some of Boston’s best hospitals nevertheless kept him alive to the age of 76.

It was in his self-neglect, rather than his hostility, that my father found common cause with the tens of millions of American patients who collectively hobble our health-care system.

For years, the United States’ high health-care costs and poor outcomes have provoked hand-wringing, and rightly so: Every other high-income country in the world spends less than America does as a share of GDP, and surpasses us in most key health outcomes.

Recriminations tend to focus on how Americans pay for health care, and on our hospitals and physicians. Surely if we could just import Singapore’s or Switzerland’s health-care system to our nation, the logic goes, we’d get those countries’ lower costs and better results. Surely, some might add, a program like Medicare for All would help by discouraging high-cost, ineffective treatments.

But lost in these discussions is, well, us. We ought to consider the possibility that if we exported Americans to those other countries, their systems might end up with our costs and outcomes. That although Americans (rightly, in my opinion) love the idea of Medicare for All, they would rebel at its reality. In other words, we need to ask: Could the problem with the American health-care system lie not only with the American system but with American patients?

One hint that patient behavior matters a lot is the tremendous variation in health outcomes among American states and even counties, despite the fact that they are all part of the same health-care system. A 2017 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that 74 percent of the variation in life expectancy across counties is explained by health-related lifestyle factors such as inactivity and smoking, and by conditions associated with them, such as obesity and diabetes—which is to say, by patients themselves. If this is true across counties, it should be true across countries too. And indeed, many experts estimate that what providers do accounts for only 10 to 25 percent of life-expectancy improvements in a given country. What patients do seems to matter much more.

Somava Saha, a Boston-area physician who for more than 15 years practiced primary-care medicine and is now a vice president at the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement, told me that several unhealthy behaviors common among Americans (for example, a sedentary lifestyle) are partly rooted in cultural norms. Having worked on health-care projects around the world, she has concluded that a key motivator for healthy behavior is feeling integrated into a community where that behavior is commonplace. And sure enough, healthy community norms are particularly evident in certain places with strong outcome-to-cost ratios, like Sweden. Americans, with our relatively weak sense of community, are harder to influence. “We tend to see health as something that policymaking or health-care systems ought to do for us,” she explained. To address the problem, Saha fostered health-boosting relationships within patient communities. She notes that patients in groups like these have been shown to have significantly better outcomes for an array of conditions, including diabetes and depression than similar patients not in groups.

The absence of healthy community norms goes a long way toward explaining poor health outcomes, but it doesn’t fully account for the extent of American spending. To understand that, we must consider Americans’ fairly unusual belief that, when it comes to medical care, money is no object. A recent survey of 10,000 patients found that only 31 percent consider cost very important when making a health-care decision—versus 85 percent who feel this way about a doctor’s “compassion.” That’s one big reason the push for “value-based care,” which rewards providers who keep costs down while achieving good outcomes, is not going well: Attempts to cut back on expensive treatments are met with patient indignation.

For example, one cost-reduction measure used around the world is to exclude an expensive treatment from health coverage if it hasn’t been solidly proved effective, or is only slightly more effective than cheaper alternatives. But when American insurance companies try this approach, they invariably run into a buzz saw of public outrage. “Any patient here would object to not getting the best possible treatment, even if the benefit is measured not in extra years of life but in months,” says Gilberto Lopes, the associate director for global oncology at the University of Miami’s cancer center. Lopes has also practiced in Singapore, where his very first patient shocked him by refusing the moderately expensive but effective treatment he prescribed for her cancer—a choice that turns out to be common among patients in Singapore, who like to pass the money in their government-mandated health-care savings accounts on to their children.

Most experts agree that American patients are frequently overtreated, especially with regard to expensive tests that aren’t strictly needed. The standard explanation for this is that doctors and hospitals promote these tests to keep their income high. This notion likely contains some truth. But another big factor is the patient preference. A study out of Johns Hopkins’s medical school found doctors’ two most common explanations for overtreatment to be patient demand and fear of malpractice suits—another particularly American concern.

In countless situations, such as blood tests that are mildly out of the normal range, the standard of care is “watchful waiting.” But compared with patients elsewhere, American patients are more likely to push their doctors to treat rather than watch and wait. A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine suggested that American men with low-risk prostate cancer—the sort that usually doesn’t cause much trouble if left alone—tend to push for treatments that may have serious side effects while failing to improve outcomes. In most other countries, leaving such cancers alone is not the exception but the rule.

American patients similarly don’t like to be told that unexplained symptoms aren’t ominous enough to merit tests. Robert Joseph, a longtime ob‑gyn at three Boston-area hospital systems who last year became a medical director at a firm that runs clinical trials, says some of his patients used to come in demanding laparoscopic surgery to investigate abdominal pain that would almost certainly have gone away on its own. “I told them about the risks of the surgery, but I couldn’t talk them out of it, and if I refused, my liability was huge,” he says. Hospitals might question non-indicated and expensive surgeries, he adds, but saying the patient insisted is sometimes enough to close the case. Joseph, like many American doctors, also worried about getting a bad review from a patient who didn’t want to hear “no.” Such frustrations were a big reason he stopped practicing, he says.

In most of the world, what the doctor says still goes. “Doctors are more deified in other countries; patients follow orders,” says Josef Woodman, the CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, a consulting firm that researches international health care. He contrasts this with the attitude of his grown children in the U.S.: “They don’t trust doctors as far as they can throw them.” (For what it’s worth, patients in China may be even worse than American patients in this regard. According to one report, they spend an average of eight hours a week finding and sharing information online about their medical conditions and health-care experiences. Various observers have told me that Chinese patients wield that information like a club, bullying doctors into providing as many prescriptions as possible.)

American patients’ flagrant disregard for routine care is another problem. Take the failure to stick to prescribed drugs, one more bad behavior in which American patients lead the world. The estimated per capita cost of drug noncompliance is up to three times as high in the U.S. as in the European Union. And when Americans go to the doctor, they are more likely than people in other countries to head to expensive specialists. A British Medical Journal study found that U.S. patients end up with specialty referrals at more than twice the rate of U.K. patients. They also end up in the ER more often, at enormous cost. According to another study, this one of chronic migraine sufferers, 42 percent of U.S. respondents had visited an emergency department for their headaches, versus 14 percent of U.K. respondents.

Finally, the U.S. stands out as a place where death, even for the very aged, tends to be fought tooth and nail, and not cheaply. “In the U.K., Canada, and many other countries, death is seen as inevitable,” Somava Saha said. “In the U.S., death is seen as optional. When [people] become sick near the end of their lives, they have faith in what a heroic health-care system will accomplish for them.”

It makes sense that a wealthy nation with unhealthy lifestyles, little interest in preventive medicine, and expectations of limitless, top-notch specialist care would empower its health-care system to accommodate these preferences. It also makes sense that a health-care system that has thrived by throwing over-the-top care at patients has little incentive to push those same patients to embrace care that’s less flashy but may do more good. Medicare for All could provide that incentive by refusing to pay for unnecessarily expensive care, as Medicare does now—but can it prepare patients to start hearing “no” from their physicians?

Marveling at what other systems around the world do differently, without considering who they’re doing it for, is madness. The American health-care system has problems, yes, but those problems don’t merely harm Americans—they are caused by Americans. And more importantly, what do we do about it to contribute to improving our health care system?? Any suggestions??

More on the History of Medicare and Other Healthcare Reforms

Remember last week’s conversation as we realized that with the assignation of President Kennedy that Congressional support swelled. President Lyndon Johnson pushed for enactment of a host of reform measures, among them Medicare and in one of his earliest speeches to Congress referred to Medicare as “one of his top priorities”.

Back and forth it went between committees and candidates and then the November election proved decisive in the history of Medicare. President Johnson’s campaign underscored the importance of extending social security benefits to cover health care costs, but his challenger, Barry Goldwater was adamantly opposed to the plan.

Again, we had many congressional supported the measure, while at the same time organized medicine devoted great sums of money in their attempt to defeat Medicare’s chief defenders. This was an interesting election which proved to be a win for the Democrats, who gained thirty-eight seats in the House and the pro-Medicare majority increased by forty-four seats. Also, interesting was that of the fourteen physicians who ran for Congress in the election eleven lost, and of those three that won one was a Medicare supported.

It seemed obvious that the electoral outcome was due in a large part to the strong support given the pro-Medicare candidates by the older voters. The prominence given the prospective passage of a Medicare bill during the campaign led to its being given “pride-of-place in the 89thCongress. Next, the King-Anderson bill was the first bill introduced into each chamber (H.R. 1 and S.1) when Congress convened on January 4, 1965. President Johnson 3 days later, in a Special Message to Congress, urged the swift passage of the bill.

It was interesting that the bill was only a hospital insurance scheme only and did not cover physicians’ services. The AMA was faced with a choice of whether to support the bill or help design a modified bill to Organized medicine’s liking. The AMA then proposed an alternative called the “Eldercare” bill, that would have expanded the Medical Assistance (MAA) for the Aged program, which was established under the Kerr-Mills Act. Then two members of the Ways and Means Committee introduced legislation along the lines of Eldercare, which provided more sweeping coverage than the King-Anderson bill.

The AMA’s campaign seemed to strike a sympathetic chord among the electorate and a survey by the AMA found that 72% of the respondents agreed that any government health insurance plan should cover physicians’ services. The Congressional backers of a government health insurance plan were delighted with the poll, which signaled wide support for an extension of coverage offered by the King-Anderson bill.

Here we go again, the Republicans were worried of being deprived of not getting any credit for a health insurance plan and so a third bill was introduced in the Ways and Means Committee by its ranking Republican member, John Byrnes of Wisconsin. This plan was an extension of a private health insurance plan offered by the Aetna Life Insurance Company to federal employees. This plan called for the creation of a government-administered insurance plan for the elderly that covered both hospital expenses but also physicians’ services as well as the costs of drugs and permitted older Americans to either opt out of the plan or not, their choice.

It gets more complicated but Wilbur Mills the Committee Chairman thought that combining the most ambitious components of all three bills into a new proposal would be best.

More to come next week!

This Sunday being Father’s Day, I decided to write a blog post on the word “father.”

While that may seem like an obvious idea, there’s a deeper meaning to that word for me personally—since 2017, the word “father” has been my life word.

You see, for years—decades, really—I have prayed for and selected a word that would lead me to live intentionally throughout the calendar year. I’ve chosen words or phrases that would spur my thinking and my actions to be in alignment with the kind of life I want to live.

Some years the word was intensely personal, usually because I had a lot of growing to do in a specific area. Other years, the word was more about others and how I needed to add value to people in new ways.

But “father” is different.

I thought it would be a one-year word, a gentle reminder to see and connect with people with even greater care and wisdom. But one year turned into two, and I began to understand that some people don’t need care and wisdom—they need a dose of reality to get them moving!

Then, two years became three.

This is my third year with the word “father” as the central piece of my thinking and reflection, and I’ve become more convinced it may be my word for the rest of my life.

Part of that sense comes from the work I’m doing with my team. We’re experiencing a season of significance unlike anything I’ve ever seen—the culmination of their tireless work over the years and miles of this leadership journey. We are collectively seeing a harvest on seeds we’ve sown at times and in places when we weren’t sure there’d ever be a return.

The joy and fulfilment of reaping those rewards with the many wonderful people I’ve worked and coached alongside is deeper and richer than I could’ve dreamed. Fatherhood, in this instance, is fun.

But there’s also the flipside of being a “father” to many, and I’m reminded of it whenever I visit places where people are desperate for training in values and leadership. More and more, people are asking for help in transforming themselves and their communities, and more and more I find my heart and my passion drawn to help them.

I want to be a guide; be a friend; be a teacher; be a mentor.

But what I really want to be is a “father”.

“Father” is about adding value differently, which means I am constantly stretching myself in new ways. Just like when my kids were growing up, and I had to change tactics or reset my thinking, I’m finding that being a “father” to many means constantly adjusting how I approach life.

My thinking is deeper, bigger, more inclusive, more defined; as a result, my dreams are larger and more significant than I ever imagined because they are dreams for other people.

That’s what it means to be a “father”. That’s what my dad did for me—he dreamed big dreams on my behalf and then loaned me his belief to chase dreams of my own. I am blessed that he’s still with me; this will be our 72ndFather’s Day together, and every year reminds me of how wonderful it is to have my father’s love and investment.

It also reminds me to pay that kind of love forward.

In that way, the biggest gift of a “father” is to pour into others what is valuable and good and helpful and challenge them to repeat the process with others. The influence of a father can either build or destroy, and our world needs more of the former. We have more than enough of the latter.

My challenge to you this Father’s Day is to add value to someone else. Invest in them, encourage them, challenge them; loan them your belief in their potential, and then equip them to do something amazing with it.

I’ve seen firsthand how that kind of intentional investment changes families, as well as changes the world.

Happy Father’s Day to you, wherever you are. Whether you’re celebrating or being celebrated, make it a day to remember—make it a day that you choose to add value to others and make a difference to those around you.