Category Archives: Health care budget

Obamacare, Trump and a lawsuit: How industry is reacting, Mental Health and Back to Court!

Picture1.Trump and obamacare the wasps nestSorry for the delay with this week’s post but with all my travels through Europe the Internet connection was not secure enough to send this edition. So, here it is with a bit more regarding Obamacare and President Trump. However, it was interesting again to hear from some of my travel associates how they were satisfied with their type of socialized medicine, but that there were many shortcomings including long wait to see their doctors and with the care that they received. One additional point was made that the dental care had become unreliable since the dentists finally decided not to participate in the national dental plan in England due to the poor payment schedule and the government regulations. My wife and I were warned to be careful as a nation for what we really want the government to control. Also, the Brits told us that there wasn’t enough money to cover the needs of health care for all in their country.

Susannah Luthi’s piece on Obamacare and Trump deserves mention as we go on to discuss alternatives. The Trump administration’s decision to support eliminating the entire Affordable Care Act has riled lawmakers and industry alike as they navigate the line between politics and the potential practical impact of the lawsuit.

The Justice Department’s politically volatile move last week to agree with a Texas judge’s ruling against the law sparked a political firestorm not likely to end soon in the ramp-up to 2020 elections. It has already inspired calls for a GOP replacement plan.

But as the case wends its way through the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and potentially the U.S. Supreme Court after that, healthcare business goes on as usual across the country and likely will continue to do so as legal experts are skeptical the lawsuit will succeed.

“From my perspective, anything that would happen to the law is at best a year away,” said Dave Schreiner, CEO of Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital, an 80-bed rural facility in Dixon, Ill. He is also the chair of the American Hospital Association’s Section for Small or Rural Hospitals. “It’s hard from a strategy perspective to react to anything like that.”

Last week, just after the Justice Department made its statement, Schreiner held a three-year strategic planning retreat with his board of directors.

“The ACA was not part of that discussion,” he said.

Instead, the organization’s discussion delved into the Trump administration’s regulations that touch industry’s day-to-day operations — such as last year’s regulation to cut Medicare Part B reimbursement to 340B hospitals and setting some Medicare site-neutral payment rates.

“Those have the opportunity to impact us very urgently and negatively,” Schreiner told Modern Healthcare, noting the 340B drug discount program in particular.

But in Washington, the industry trade groups on the front-lines of policy battles say there is plenty of reason to worry or at least keep their guard up.

“The important thing for the industry is to keep in mind the old saw about, ‘Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do,'” said Chip Kahn, president, and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals. “And that being the case, this position is a reminder that the administration ultimately supports policies that are likely to mean less coverage rather than more. And we need to prepare ourselves for that to continue.”

Ceci Connolly, president, and CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans which represents not-for-profit insurers, is also taking the administration’s position extremely seriously. On Monday her group filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit on Monday, supporting the ACA and the Democratic state attorneys general who will defend it.

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association also filed amicus briefs on Monday.

“If you look at small nonprofits, we don’t have a lot of extra dollars to spend on filing court briefs, so I think this indicates how seriously we are taking this threat — that we have taken this step to articulate, we hope very clearly, to the court that this would be incredibly detrimental on so many levels,” Connolly said.

She called the president’s move a “complete game-changer, with no replacement plan.”

Axios over the weekend reported that President Donald Trump doesn’t expect the lawsuit to succeed and made the move out of political considerations. Joseph Antos of the American Enterprise Institute characterized the lawsuit move as a “particularly awkward play” aimed at Trump’s political base and the administration’s approach as a “short track to nowhere.”

Last week, Trump over Twitter and in Congress declared the Republican party the “party of healthcare,” and promised a new and better plan, although Republicans failed to pass a replacement in 2017 when they controlled both chambers of Congress.

The gap between political rhetoric around the lawsuit and what’s likely to happen next makes for a confusing landscape for GOP lawmakers to navigate.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate, urged Attorney General William Barr in a letter Monday to reject the administration’s stance on the Obamacare lawsuit.

“This surprising decision goes well beyond the position taken by the department last June, and puts at risk not only critical consumer provisions such as those protecting individuals suffering from pre-existing conditions but also other important provisions of that law,” Collins wrote to Barr.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of Republican leadership in the Senate, last week emphasized that the lawsuit’s fate depends on the 5th Circuit rather than the president.

“From my point of view, I don’t want to presuppose what the courts are going to do,” he said. “Certainly, the Court of Appeals has the entire record that is not dependent on the government’s arguing its past position.”

On the regulatory side, the administration is pushing for industry-specific policies on healthcare, including site-neutral payment policies and 340B cuts, as well as policies hospitals favor like rolling back Medicare red tape.

Not all of the rules are partisan: the site-neutral payments, in particular, have bipartisan support from policy analysts.

On the insurance front, the White House has homed in on expanding association health plans and short-term, limited duration plans.

But industry representatives in Washington, who watch those regulations for their impact on profits, characterize the president’s stance on the lawsuit as part of the regulatory picture.

“When you couple (the lawsuit) with other efforts on association health plans and short-term plans, you begin to have a higher degree of concern,” Connolly said.

Kahn also argued that the administration’s regulations are in line with its strategy on the lawsuit.

“I think when you look at the different issues (around the regulations), I don’t think my concern about this lawsuit necessarily overshadows my concern about any of those other matters,” he said. “There’s a strategic reason why the president chose to take this position on the lawsuit, and it reflects a policy that HHS carries out every day, in its attitude toward coverage provisions of the ACA.”

Attacking the ACA Is an Attack on Mental Health: The Sequel

The threat is even more real

This article is adapted from a blog post on Sept. 20, 2018, when the author anticipated the consequences of a possible federal court ruling declaring the unconstitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Micheal Friedman had reported that the Affordable Care Act(a.k.a. Obamacare) was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court in Texas in December. That ruling has been appealed, and now the Justice Department has asked that the ruling is upheld. If that happens, millions of people will lose health coverage, including coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Amazing! At a time when everyone agrees that access to treatment is critical to fighting the opioid epidemic and that mental health services fall woefully short of meeting America’s need; a court ruling could deprive tens of millions of people of coverage for mental health and substance abuse services.

The Affordable Care Act increased access for these services for those tens of millions by increasing coverage generally, by mandating that the health coverage purchased through the federal and state health exchanges include coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment, and by requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions — including mental disorders. It also required parity — i.e., that payment for behavioral health services be on a par with physical health services, making such services more affordable.

Before the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans for small groups or individuals and occasionally for large groups did not cover the behavioral cost at all or only at a great additional cost. The amount of coverage was also usually very limited. Typically, there were caps on numbers of covered outpatient visits and of inpatient days per year. Co-pays were typically 50% rather than 20%. Annual and lifetime caps were common, which might not be a problem for occasional acute disorders but left people with chronic conditions without coverage very quickly.

Mental and substance use disorders were also among the pre-existing conditions for which coverage could be and often was denied.

Federal legislation prior to the Affordable Care Act addressed some of the problems related to lack of parity, but not all. And parity was only required if a health plan included behavioral health coverage, not if the health plan covered only physical health conditions — a widely used option open to the purchasers of health plans.

And, prior to the ACA, no one — not large employers or small employers or individuals — was legally obliged to buy health insurance at all.

The ACA addressed all of these problems. Employers — except very small employers — were required to provide coverage for their employees (some with subsidies). Medicaid eligibility was extended to more working poor people. Individuals who did not have coverage through work, Medicare, Medicaid, the State Child Health Insurance Program, or the VA were required to purchase coverage (some with subsidies). And the small group and individual plans purchased through the federal or state health exchanges were required to include coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders.

The original expectation was that changes under the ACA would provide behavioral health coverage for as many as 62 million people. The decision of several states not to extend Medicaid to larger populations and a subsequent decision not to penalize people who did not purchase insurance resulted in some shortfall. Nevertheless, there are still tens of millions of people with behavioral health coverage today who did not have it prior to the ACA.

Of course, not all will lose coverage if the ACA falls. Some employers who previously did not provide behavioral health coverage may decide to do so. Some individuals could continue to buy plans with such coverage — if such plans are affordable.

But that is unlikely. If people who do not believe they need coverage for mental health or substance abuse services opts for cheaper plans without behavioral health coverage — or no plans — the cost of plans with such coverage will rise because the people who buy them are likely to use them. The insurance industry refers to this as “adverse selection.”

If our nation really wants to have a health insurance system that will help to address the opioid epidemic and the vast underserviced of people with mental disorders, it must make sure that behavioral health coverage is affordable. It must also require coverage of people with pre-existing conditions. And it must enforce parity requirements.

To do this, the Affordable Care Act must stay in place unless or until a viable alternative is created. Swatting it down suddenly by court decree will have devastating consequences for millions.

 

Trump’s battle with ‘Obamacare’ moves back to the courts

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar noted that after losing in Congress, President Donald Trump is counting on the courts to kill off “Obamacare” as I started off this post. But some cases are going against him, and time is not on his side as he tries to score a big win for his re-election campaign.

Two federal judges in Washington, D.C., this past week blocked parts of Trump’s health care agenda: work requirements for some low-income people on Medicaid, and new small business health plans that don’t have to provide full benefits required by the Affordable Care Act.

But in the biggest case, a federal judge in Texas ruled last December that the ACA is unconstitutional and should be struck down in its entirety. That ruling is now on appeal. At the urging of the White House, the Justice Department said this past week it will support the Texas judge’s position and argue that all of “Obamacare” must go.

A problem for Trump is that the litigation could take months to resolve — or longer — and there’s no guarantee he’ll get the outcomes he wants before the 2020 election.

“Was this a good week for the Trump administration? No,” said economist Gail Wilensky, who headed up Medicare under former Republican President George H.W. Bush. “But this is the beginning of a series of judicial challenges.”

It’s early innings in the court cases, and “the clock is going to run out,” said Timothy Jost, a retired law professor who has followed the Obama health law since its inception.

“By the time these cases get through the courts there simply isn’t going to be time for the administration to straighten out any messes that get created, much less get a comprehensive plan through Congress,” added Jost, who supports the ACA.

In the Texas case, Trump could lose by winning.

If former President Barack Obama’s health law is struck down entirely, Congress would face an impossible task: pass a comprehensive health overhaul to replace it that both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Trump can agree to. The failed attempt to repeal “Obamacare” in 2017 proved to be toxic for congressional Republicans in last year’s midterm elections and they are in no mood to repeat it.

“The ACA now is nine years old and it would be incredibly disruptive to uproot the whole thing,” said Thomas Barker, an attorney with the law firm Foley Hoag, who served as a top lawyer at the federal Health and Human Services department under former Republican President George W. Bush. “It seems to me that you can resolve this issue more narrowly than by striking down the ACA.”

Trump seems unfazed by the potential risks.

“Right now, it’s losing in court,” he asserted Friday, referring to the Texas case against “Obamacare.”

The case “probably ends up in the Supreme Court,” Trump continued. “But we’re doing something that is going to be much less expensive than Obamacare for the people … and we’re going to have (protections for) pre-existing conditions and will have a much lower deductible. So, and I’ve been saying that, the Republicans are going to end up being the party of health care.”

There’s no sign that his administration has a comprehensive health care plan, and there doesn’t seem to be a consensus among Republicans in Congress.

A common thread in the various health care cases is that they involve lower-court rulings for now, and there’s no telling how they may ultimately be decided. Here’s a status check on major lawsuits:

— “Obamacare” Repeal

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, ruled that when Congress repealed the ACA’s fines for being uninsured, it knocked the constitutional foundation out from under the entire law. His ruling is being appealed by attorneys general from Democratic-led states to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The challenge to the ACA was filed by officials from Texas and other GOP-led states. It’s now fully supported by the Trump administration, which earlier had argued that only the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions and its limits on how much insurers could charge older, sicker customers were constitutionally tainted. All sides expect the case to go to the Supreme Court, which has twice before upheld the ACA.

— Medicaid Work Requirements

U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg in Washington, D.C., last week blocked Medicaid work requirements in Kentucky and Arkansas approved by the Trump administration. The judge questioned whether the requirements were compatible with Medicaid’s central purpose of providing “medical assistance” to low-income people. He found that administration officials failed to account for coverage losses and other potential harm, and sent the Health and Human Services Department back to the drawing board.

The Trump administration says it will continue to approve state requests for work requirements, but has not indicated if it will appeal.

— Small Business Health Plans

U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates last week struck down the administration’s health plans for small business and sole proprietors, which allowed less generous benefits than required by the ACA. Bates found that administration regulations creating the plans were “clearly an end-run” around the Obama health law and also ran afoul of other federal laws governing employee benefits.

The administration said it disagrees but hasn’t formally announced an appeal.

Also facing challenges in courts around the country are an administration regulation that bars federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions and a rule that allows employers with religious and moral objections to opt out of offering free birth control to women workers as a preventive care service.

I thought that I laid out fixes for the Affordable Care Act in my last three posts so now let us look at “alternative solutions”.

And A Few More Suggestions to Fix the Affordable Care Act- Keep improving healthcare quality

 

 

clueless145[458]Republican response to Trump’s declaration of war on the Affordable Care Act-McConnell to Trump: We’re not repealing and replacing ObamaCare
This last week Alexander Bolton reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told President Trump in a conversation Monday that the Senate will not be moving comprehensive health care legislation before the 2020 election, despite the president asking Senate Republicans to do that in a meeting last week.
McConnell said he made clear to the president that Senate Republicans will work on bills to keep down the cost of health care, but that they will not work on a comprehensive package to replace the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration is trying to strike down in court.
“We had a good conversation yesterday afternoon and I pointed out to him the Senate Republicans’ view on dealing with comprehensive health care reform with a Democratic House of Representatives,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday, describing his conversation with Trump.
“I was fine with Sen. Alexander and Sen. Grassley working on prescription drug pricing and other issues that are not a comprehensive effort to revisit the issue that we had the opportunity to address in the last Congress and were unable to do so,” he said, referring to Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and the failed GOP effort in 2017 to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
“I made clear to him that we were not going to be doing that in the Senate,” McConnell said he told the president. “He did say, as he later tweeted, that he accepted that and he would be developing a plan that he would take to the American people during the 2020 campaign.”
After getting the message from McConnell, Trump tweeted Monday night that he no longer expected Congress to pass legislation to replace ObamaCare and still protect people with pre-existing medical conditions, the herculean task he laid before Senate Republicans at a lunch meeting last week.
“The Republicans are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare,” Trump wrote Monday night in a series of tweets after speaking to McConnell. “In other words, it will be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House.”
Trump blindsided GOP senators when he told them at last week’s lunch meeting that he wanted Republicans to craft legislation to replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
The only heads-up they got was a tweet from Trump shortly before the meeting, saying, “The Republican Party will become ‘The Party of Healthcare!’”
The declaration drew swift pushback from Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), who said the administration’s efforts to invalidate the entire law were “a mistake.”
Other Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), said they wanted to first see a health care plan from the White House.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) on Tuesday said the chances of getting comprehensive legislation passed while Democrats control the House are very slim.
“It’s going to be a really heavy lift to get anything through Congress this year given the political dynamics that we’re dealing with in the House and the Senate,” he said. “The best-laid plans and best of intentions with regard to an overhaul of the health care system in this country run into the wall of reality that it’s going to be very hard to get a Democrat House and a Republican Senate to agree on something.”
Back to our/my suggestions to improve the Affordable Care Act.
Healthcare organizations like the Cleveland Clinic have made front-end investments to change their approaches to care delivery.
Another writer on healthcare reported that the GOP’s proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act have so far focused on health insurance coverage, cutting federal aid for Medicaid and targeting subsidies for those who purchase private insurance through the health insurance marketplace.
But there’s a lot more to the ACA than health insurance. Republican lawmakers would do well to take a closer look at other parts of the healthcare reform law, which focus on how the United States can deliver high-quality care even while controlling costs.
The ACA helped spur the transition away from fee-for-service reimbursement models that rewarded providers for treating large numbers of patients to value-based care payments, which reward providers who deliver evidence-based care with a focus on wellness and prevention.
And any revisions to the law should continue to support these endeavors—such as programs to reduce hospital readmissions and hospital-acquired conditions—that aim to improve patient outcomes while lowering overall healthcare costs.
It’s true that some physicians are reluctant to embrace value-based contracts, which they argue increase their patient loads and hold them responsible for overall wellness, which is often beyond their typical scope of practice or beyond their control if patients aren’t compliant. Smaller hospitals and health systems may have trouble implementing quality-improvement changes, too.
But it’s too soon to give up on a model of care that strives to meet the Triple Aim and improve individual care, boost the health of patient populations and reduce overall costs.
The country must do something to address the quality of its healthcare. Although the United States spends more on healthcare than other wealthy nations do, we rank last in quality, equity, access, efficiency and care delivery. And we’ve come in dead last in quality for the past 13 years.
But it’s not for lack of trying.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is still experimenting with advanced payment models that reward providers for quality of care. Although the results have been a mixed bag, there are signs of progress.
Yes, several of the Pioneer accountable care organizations exited the model early on after suffering financial losses and struggling to meet the demands of the program. But other participants of the Pioneer model and the Shared Savings Program reported clinical successes as well as significant savings.
In response, CMS has adapted the models, offering providers options for lower and higher risk tracks.
Whereas some healthcare organizations took a wait-and-see approach to value-based care until one successful model emerged, many leaders say it takes time to see results and that what works in one region or for one organization won’t necessarily work somewhere else.
But the organizations that have made front-end investments to change their approaches to care delivery and have stuck with it are beginning to see their efforts pay off.
Donald Berwick, M.D. noted that Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, for instance, has standardized care pathways to reduce variations in care, lower costs and increase quality. Its stroke care pathway has led to a 43% decrease in stroke mortality and a 25% decline in the cost of care.
And California-based Dignity Health has developed community partnerships to discharge homeless patients to a recuperation shelter and address the social determinants of health via a referral program to connect patients in need with outside agencies.
“All three [aims] are achievable, all three show progress and all three are vulnerable,” Donald M. Berwick, M.D., president emeritus and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, said recently.
“It seems to me incumbent upon those who claim to lead healthcare and healthcare systems to defend that progress against threats.”
Improve payment models and cut costs
We must all remember there is no silver bullet that will cut costs and improve care. But allowing the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation to keep working on it is key.
Reporter Paige Minemyer went on to state that if they really want to repair the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers must focus on the transition to value-based care, which has accelerated under healthcare reform.
The first step? Support the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) as it tests new payment models that will cut costs. There is no silver bullet that will cut costs and improve care. But allowing CMMI to keep working on it is key.
Payment model innovation
Providers that have seen the benefits of CMMI’s initiatives, including bundled payments, say they’re sticking with it regardless of what the White House or Congress decide. Helen Macfie, chief transformation officer for Los Angeles-based Memorial Care Health System, is taking that route: She says her organization is “bullish” on continuing the model voluntarily.
Bundled payments get specialists together with providers “to do something really cool,” she says.
Providers have seen mixed success in accountable care organizations (ACOs), the most complex advanced payment model (APM) there is. But their longevity requires commitment to reduced regulations.
On that point, the Donald Trump White House and the healthcare industry agree: Less is sometimes more. A reduced regulatory burden can also make it easier for providers to balance multiple APMs at once, which can improve the effectiveness of each.
Providers that have found success with ACOs may not see the benefits immediately, studies suggest, but the savings instead compound over time. ACO programs may require significant startup costs upfront.
However, the evidence is growing that these advanced value-based care models do pay off in both cost reduction and quality improvement, even if there’s still much for researchers to learn about what really makes an ACO model succeed.
Cost-cutting measures
Also lost in the debate over insurance reform is the growing cost of healthcare in the U.S., which far outpaces that of other developed nations despite lagging behind in quality. An element of this that is totally untouched in Republican-led reform is drug pricing, which providers argue is one of the major drivers of increased costs.

And now a suggestion from President Donald Trump!
As part of the party’s updated platform for 2018, Democrats unveiled plans to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. The suggestion has been championed both by former President Barack Obama and by President Donald Trump, whose vacillating views on health policy have been known to buck the party line.
But not everyone is convinced that this is the best solution. Experts at the Kaiser Family Foundation noted that negotiating drug prices could have a limited impact on savings, and even the Congressional Budget Office has been skeptical.
And if you ask pharmaceutical companies, they’re not the problem when it comes to rising healthcare costs, anyway; hospitals are.
Harness the power of Medicaid
Leslie Small noted that for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma is a big advocate for expanding the use of state innovation waivers to reimagine Medicaid. (Office of the Vice President)
By now, a laundry list of studies chronicles all the benefits of expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to a previous Supreme Court decision, the remaining 19 states aren’t obligated to follow suit, but now that legislative attempts to repeal the ACA have failed, they would be foolish not to.
Not only have Medicaid expansion states experienced bigger drops in their uninsured rates relative to nonexpansion states, but hospitals in these states have also seen lower uncompensated care costs. In addition, low-income people in Medicaid expansion states were more likely than those in nonexpansion states to have a usual source of care and to self-report better health, among other metrics.
Crucially, the Trump administration has even given GOP governors who might be worried about the political fallout a convenient reprieve, as it’s signaled openness to approving waivers that design Medicaid expansion programs with a conservative twist.
Previous HHS Secretary Tom Price suggestion had a suggestion.
“Today, we commit to ushering in a new era for the federal and state Medicaid partnership where states have more freedom to design programs that meet the spectrum of diverse needs of their Medicaid population,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in a joint statement in March.
In fact, Vice President Mike Pence and Verma both designed such a program in Indiana, which requires beneficiaries to pay a small amount toward their monthly premiums.
Other states, meanwhile, have applied for a more controversial Medicaid tweak—enacting work requirements for beneficiaries—and it remains to be seen whether those experiments will be approved and if so, face backlash.
But under the 1332 and 1115 waivers in the ACA, states have plenty of latitude to dream up other ways to better serve Medicaid recipients, such as integrating mental and physical health services for this often-challenging population.

So, I have laid out a number of real options to improve the health acre bill that was passed already and by all data imputed it seems to be working with reservations. My biggest reservation is that over time the Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare needs definite tweaking and needs revenue of some sort to make the healthcare system affordable and sustainable without putting the burden on our young healthy hard-working Americans.
I’ve heard the suggestion that all big government has to do is print more money. Ha, Ha, this sounds like the suggestions of the new socialists like Ocasio-Cortez and all her buddies. Maybe we can keep borrowing money as we have in the past from Social Security Funds, Medicare or shifting funding for other projects like the Pentagon. I am kidding, but there are people in high places who would suggest these options not knowing much about what comes out of there ignorant mouths or social media posts.
We as a Country have to get smart, ignore the idiots yelling and screaming about their poorly thought out suggestions to get re-elected or just elected as potential presidential hopefuls, gather the intelligent forces in healthcare to come up with solutions and get Congress to come to their senses to achieve a bipartisan solution for the good of all Americans. It seems as though both political parties are truly clueless, especially the Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats who have taken over power in Congress, and yes both the House and the Senate!
Next on the agenda is looking more into Medicare For All, Single Payer Healthcare Systems and Socialized Healthcare. And even more on the status of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare. Joy, Joy!!

Special Report—8 ways to fix the Affordable Care Act

psycho097Gienna Shaw back in August of 2017 stated that even former President Barack Obama knew that his signature healthcare reform law, the Affordable Care Act, had problems.

Democrats can fix the Affordable Care Act, so how come they are now touting Medicare for All?

So, the Mueller report is out but the fighting will go on with the Psychos of both parties will continue to destroy our system and continue to hate and refuse to be civil and do what we the voters paid them to do. I don’t know about any of you out there on the Internet, but I am really tired of the lack of process improvement, especially since I just published a book on process improvement. I should probably go down to D.C. and give every member of the House and the Senate a copy. But back to our topic of discussion the fixes for the Affordable Care Act!

Jon Kingsdale in his review last December noted that Federal District Judge Reed O’Connor’s determination last Friday overturning the entire Affordable Care Act won’t actually affect much — unless it is upheld at the Supreme Court, probably not until 2020 — but it ought to spark a substantive legislative response from House Democrats.

President Trump was quick to gloat and to invite Democrats to negotiate a replacement. With more and more Democrats dreaming of “Medicare-for-all” and the remaining Republicans in Congress after 2018 representing the far right, the prospects for “negotiating” a replacement are nil. This is simply an opportunity to blame Democrats for failing to “step up” and negotiate their own defeat.

Which is one reason that newly empowered House Democrats should use O’Connor’s radical decision as a call to action — specifically, to pass a bill they can put on the table now and campaign on in 2020.

That’s smart politics. There’s a substantive reason to act as well. Unfortunately, ACA enrollment has peaked, leaving 28 million Americans uninsured, and marketplace enrollment in private plans now falling. Premiums are too high and consumer choice too limited in many parts of the country.

It is time to put a real fix on the table, recognizing that this probably cannot become law until Democrats regain control of the Senate and White House. Simply proposing Medicare-for-all may galvanize the Democratic base, but it might not even pass the House and could well cost Democrats dearly in the 2020 election. But Medicare is popular, and the ACA can be improved by borrowing from it.

First, let’s be clear about objectives: The ACA needs to cover more people and bring down premiums. Both goals require addressing the root cause of runaway health care spending: prices.

The United States spends twice the average per person of our peer countries, not because we use more medical services, but because of higher prices for the medical services we do use. In fact, we see the doctor far less often, use half the hospital days, and swallow roughly the same number of pills as Europeans and Canadians. We pay on average twice what other advanced economies do for each visit, day, operation, scan, or pill.

Medicare-for-all would change that, but it is still a bridge too far for many voters, even moderate Democrats. Having come so close with the ACA — 91 percent of Americans are covered — a wholesale switch would be very disruptive. Rather, a reinvigorated ACA should build on tested elements of existing federal programs, just as the ACA built on tested elements of Massachusetts’ reform, to achieve the twin goals of coverage and cost.

To start with here are three relatively simple fixes that would materially improve the ACA, building on some of the best policies in other programs:

First, concede the individual mandate. Get rid of this unpopular “stick” and increase the ACA’s carrots. For 12 years now, Massachusetts has offered higher subsidies than the ACA’s national schedule of tax credits. As a result, nearly everyone (97 percent) in the Commonwealth is covered. So let’s replace the mandate with more generous premium subsidies under the ACA and, if some sort of stick is still required, then the ACA should allow insurers to surcharge premiums for those who wait until they get sick to buy coverage, just as Medicare drug plans do now.

Second, to ensure competition and choice in marketplaces across the country, bring back the “public option” that was originally considered for the ACA. This doesn’t have to be government-run insurance; rather, we could deploy private Medicare Advantage plans on the ACA marketplace. These private plans now enroll half of all newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries. They combine competition and relatively low (Medicare) pricing levels for hospitals, doctors, and other care providers. (Remember, it’s high pricing that accounts for our high total medical spending.) So let’s have these same Medicare replacement plans compete for younger individuals in the ACA marketplace.

Third, let the government negotiate drug prices, as the Veterans Affairs department and so many of our peer countries do, both for Medicare and private Medicare replacement plans. The VA pays far less than commercial insurers for the same drugs. Let’s share those savings with current Medicare enrollees and the individuals who chose Medicare replacement plans in the ACA marketplace.

These are three easy-to-understand, workable fixes for the ACA. Are they controversial? Of course. Lowering the costs of coverage means taking money away from powerful interests, including people who save lives for a living. We revere them — when we’re not cursing them for overcharging.

But America now faces the choice of making coverage affordable or halting recent coverage gains — likely to slide backward in the next recession. Or we can build on the ACA, using some proven health policies from the federal tool chest.

No one is saying the Affordable Care Act is perfect. As the introduction to this post stated, even former President Barack Obama admitted Obamacare has its shortcomings. So why have efforts to repeal, replace or repair it failed in such spectacular fashion?

Part of the problem is that healthcare is hard. (Who knew?) It’s a big, expensive, complex and highly regulated industry that accounts for one-sixth of the nation’s economy and, quite literally, involves matters of life and death.

As the summer winds down and Congress prepares to get back to business, we hope that healthcare reform doesn’t fall off the agenda. President Donald Trump vacillates between demanding that Congress take immediate action—suggesting he’ll sign just about anything that crosses his desk—and threatening to let the ACA fail.

Neither tactic is viable.

In this special report, FierceHealthcare’s editors—experts on the business of healthcare who cover hospitals, health systems, physician practices, insurance companies, health information technology, and healthcare finance every day—outline some of the ideas, programs and reforms that hold the most potential to heal the nation’s healthcare system.

It starts with politics, as in knock off the bipartisan bickering and gets to work. Hold hearings and get input from the people who are the heart of healthcare, from doctors and nurses to health insurance executives to patients and their advocates.

And while the nature of compromise is that no one will be totally happy with the outcome, buy-in is more likely when there’s real dialogue, transparency, and honesty.

That dialogue can start with the ideas presented in this report, which explains how the U.S. can:

  • Work to find common ground and easy wins … and cool off the political rhetoric.
  • Stabilize the individual insurance marketplace while lowering premiums and staving off the “death spiral.”
  • Fix healthcare regulations so they free, rather than strangle, those who are trying to make the system better.
  • Continue to build reimbursement models that encourage providers to improve quality and lower costs.
  • Harness the power of technology and innovation to cut costs and improve access to care.
  • Reform how—and control how much—the country pays for healthcare, including tests, procedures, and prescriptions.
  • Ask industry stakeholders for the input—especially the clinicians who are the heart of the healthcare system.
  • Let states lead the way with Medicaid innovation and other reforms.

The most important thing to fix the ACA is to find a bipartisan solution

         The Affordable Care Act has problems, but the right and the left must work together to find a solution. Over the next few weeks, I am going to expand on the 8 suggestions for improving the Affordable Care Act. But it has to come from both parties and not be a battle to get reelected or to shame former President Obama or to shame and embarrass president Trump and the Republicans.

Gienna Shaw noted in August of 2017 that in the 7 years after it was passed in October 2009, the House of Representatives voted more than 50 times to repeal or amend the Affordable Care Act. As the count climbed toward 40, the editors at FierceHealthcare began to debate whether we should continue to write about each and every House effort, knowing that no bill would ever pass the Senate, let alone get by then-President Barack Obama’s veto pen.

This year, the GOP—with majorities in the House and the Senate and a Republican in the White House—came closer to repeal (or at least “skinny repeal”) than ever before. But they still haven’t managed to repeal or replace the healthcare reform law, which has been steadily growing in popularity among voters.

Over the years, the debate shifted focus from intrusive big-government boondoggle to the right to affordable and equitable healthcare. Yet many lawmakers are reluctant to recognize that and change gears.

But here’s the thing: The Affordable Care Act really does need to be fixed. Premiums for individual insurance plans really are skyrocketing. The United States really does spend more on health care than other wealthy nations, yet ranks dead last on equity, access, efficiency, care delivery, and healthcare costs.

The only way to reverse those trends and fix the Affordable Care Act is for Republicans and Democrats to come together and find a bipartisan solution.

Even Obama has said the healthcare reform law needs a bipartisan fix, although, at the time, Republicans panned that overture. Perhaps that attitude is changing in the wake of more failed efforts to repeal the ACA and the emergence of a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who’ve dubbed themselves the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Co-chaired by Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., they’ve already come up with a set of recommendations that draws on ideas from both sides of the aisle. “The last great hope for this country is that Republicans and Democrats prove they can work together,” Reed said recently.

It’s a good start, but fixing healthcare will require a dedicated, sustained effort, and that starts with two immediate steps:

Tone down the rhetoric

The right uses “Obamacare” as a pejorative, and “Trumpcare” is a dig when it comes from the left. President Donald Trump is fond of calling Democrats obstructionists and has said they have “no good ideas.”

And although it’s difficult to participate in the debate when you’re largely barred from deliberations, Democrats could stand to be more open about the ACA’s problems and must be very clear about what policies and solutions they’re willing to back, taking steps beyond their opposition to full-on repeal.

And let’s not forget that both sides have suffered their share of marketing missteps. (Think Obama saying, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell describing one version of his own party’s repeal efforts as a “pig in a poke.”)

Hold hearings

It’s astounding that this even has to be said, but rather than crafting legislation behind closed doors and asking members to vote for it even if they do not want it to ever become law, it’s time to let the sunshine in.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, has promised that the Senate Health Committee will hold bipartisan hearings on how to repair the individual insurance market, but talks need to go much further than that. And testimony should come from health insurance industry leaders and providers, including the nurses, doctors and other clinicians who are at the heart of the healthcare system. Listen to health information technology innovators, from the big-name companies to the scrappy startups that are trying to improve care quality and lower costs, and don’t forget to include employers.

And take a best-practice lesson from those in the healthcare industry: Focus your discussions around caring for patients, always.

Many organizations have a patient advisory board or put patients on their boards of trustees. Some payers and providers even have rules that every meeting must include at least one patient. Patients and their advocates need a seat at the table in Washington, too.

Consider tax, regulatory relief

Some lawmakers want to raise the employer mandate threshold so that businesses with fewer than 500 employees don’t have to provide coverage to their employees.

Starting with the first suggestion Leslie Small suggested that if lawmakers want to tweak the Affordable Care Act without kicking up too much controversy, they could consider targeting some of the law’s wonkier provisions.

There’s common ground to be found in several of the law’s taxes, which are unpopular with the healthcare industry and politicians. There are plenty of provisions that are easy to hate.

One low-hanging fruit: the medical device tax, which is largely reviled by device manufacturers and was set to be done away with in several iterations of Republicans’ Affordable Care Act repeal bills.

Insurance companies would be happy if lawmakers did away with the health insurance tax, which they say contributes to higher premiums. Even some conservative groups have recently begun to call for a repeal of this tax.

Employer groups, meanwhile, have called for a full repeal of the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans. That tax is so unpopular that it’s never actually been implemented: It was delayed for 2 years as part of a 2016 spending bill that also delayed the health insurance tax and the medical device tax for a year.

Speaking of employer-sponsored coverage, some business groups would likely approve of an idea floated by the self-dubbed Problem Solvers Caucus composed of GOP and Democratic lawmakers.

The caucus wants to change the employer mandate so that only those with 500 employees or more—rather than 50 or more—are required to provide coverage to their employees. Proponents argue that would stimulate the economy: Small businesses accounted for 64% of the net new jobs created between 1993 and 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The current employer mandate places a regulatory burden on smaller employers and acts as a disincentive for many small businesses to grow past 50 employees,” the caucus said in an announcement.

Ramp up technology, innovation, and data

Healthcare reforms aren’t likely to succeed without accounting for health IT innovations like telemedicine and data analytics.

Evam Sweeney continued the discussion in that there’s no question the Affordable Care Act is in need of some legislative fixes, but underneath those policy bandages, technology is already transforming the way the industry treats patients and pays for care.

That undercurrent of innovation could use some nurturing as well, particularly as payers and providers look for ways to provide more efficient, value-based care.

The rise of telehealth is a perfect example. This year alone, lawmakers have submitted half a dozen bills to expand or reform telehealth payment in some way. Medicare and Medicaid coverage for telehealth services is still sorely lacking, and the nation’s top insurance companies have been pleading with the feds to remove the barriers to telehealth reimbursement.

States have made some progress when it comes to paying for telehealth and enacting parity laws, but those laws aren’t keeping pace with the relentless advancements of virtual care.

That’s not stopping providers from investing in telehealth technology, and most healthcare executives will admit that even though reimbursement is a struggle, the thought of being left behind is even more unsettling.

Admittedly, the CBO scores for telehealth bills are messy, but there’s little doubt that virtual care brings a slew of benefits by keeping patients at home and opening up access in rural parts of the country, where patients would otherwise spend hours traveling to the nearest medical center or forgo care altogether. Expanding payment models—a notably bipartisan issue—will provide support to local initiatives that are already well underway.

At the same time, data have become tools that both payers and providers can’t live without. The problem: Most healthcare data are still unusable.

Quantity is not an issue—there’s a seemingly endless stream of healthcare data, and more on the way as patient-generated data gain a bigger foothold. The problems boil down to quality and usability.

Solving these two issues will be critical as the industry turns to data analytics to improve care, reduce costs and validate new payment models. Although there have been pockets of success thanks to burgeoning data-sharing partnerships between payers and providers, medical data are still difficult to untangle, and cleaning patient data is still incredibly burdensome.

Obtaining clean, usable data will serve as the backbone to deploying predictive analytics and machine learning that can predict illnesses, reduce unnecessary hospital visits, support population health initiatives, streamline care and reveal the best treatment options for patients with chronic illnesses.

Better data-sharing arrangements between payers, providers, researchers, government agencies and patients will speed the discovery of cutting-edge treatment options and advance precision medicine. But all of those efforts will be slow to mature without concerted (and coordinated) efforts to standardize data collection and dissemination across multiple platforms.

Ask the doctors

How would doctors fix the Affordable Care Act? It’s time to ask them. Joanne Finnegan asked the question How would doctors fix the ACA? The politicians in Washington have struggled and failed to come to an agreement about how to fix the Affordable Care Act. Now it’s time to call the doctor. Why? Because you can’t fix the healthcare system without involving the physicians, nurses and others who are at its very heart.

“Would you want to fly in a plane with no input from a pilot?” Matthew Moeller, M.D., a gastroenterologist, asked in a post on the popular doctor’s blog KevinMD. “Or design a curriculum without a teacher’s input?”

Throughout the fight over the ACA, physicians—or at least the medical organizations that represent more than half a million frontline doctors—have stood in opposition to plans that would result in patients losing healthcare coverage.

Doctors want a healthcare system that supports the physician-patient relationship that drew most of them to medicine in the first place.

While they are strong advocates for their patients, doctors can still make a difference in controlling costs. If you want to change the “more is more” culture in medicine, doctors can help.

Physicians are the ones who order tests, write prescriptions, hand out referrals and perform complex treatments. They can adjust their clinical practices to accommodate cost considerations without shortchanging patient care.

Does a patient with high blood pressure really need to come to the doctor’s office every 3 months? Wouldn’t it make economic sense to teach a capable patient how to check his or her own blood pressure at home and fax or email results into the office?

In fact, some of the most revolutionary healthcare reform ideas center on doctors. For example, Jody Tallal, a personal finance manager, says the country could ensure healthcare for low-income Americans by offering tax credits to doctors. Instead of reimbursing doctors through Medicare and Medicaid, the country could provide a dollar-for-dollar income tax credit to doctors who provide care for the poor.

Many doctors like the idea of a single-payer system, even if it’s a pipe dream for now.

Fred N. Pelzman, M.D., of Weill Cornell Internal Medicine Associates in New York City, for instance, says it’s time the country moves toward providing Medicare for everyone in order to provide a baseline level of care, which could be supplemented by private insurance for those who want and can afford it.

“This country needs a safety net that is a little less exclusive,” he says. “You should be able to get the care you need and if you want to see the world’s greatest heart surgeon, you figure that out.”

Doctors are already central to one reform movement: the change away from fee-for-service medicine to value-based payment. They’re in the first year of a new Medicare payment system established under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which will determine how clinicians get reimbursed under the Medicare program.

But the regulatory and administrative burdens continue to increase. For many doctors, the start of any healthcare reform needs to ensure there is less regulation, with its demoralizing administrative requirements dictating how they provide care, drowning them in paperwork and leaving them struggling with poorly designed electronic health record systems.

Doctors have long complained that all of it takes them away from providing care for their patients. The goal of any healthcare reform legislation should be to ensure that the patient-provider relationship remains sacrosanct.

Next week I will continue the discussion on fixing the ACA/ Obamacare!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More $$ for Gun Violence Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Community Health Centers

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

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

The Prototype Community Health Center – Delivery of Care

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

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

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

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

The Prototype Community Health Center – Staffing

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

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

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

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

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

How to get “there” from “here”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

House Panel Mulls ACA Fixes, Responses to Trump Policies and Healthcare is a Big Player in State of the Union Speech

50872986_1884394221690228_3042478004111409152_nPresident Trump proposes plans to end AIDS, fight childhood cancer.

Actually, I thought that President Trump did a good job even being conciliatory in his State of the Union speech even covering various aspects of healthcare. Joyce Frieden the News Editor of MedPage stated that Healthcare played a major part in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, with President Trump covering a wide variety of health-related topics.

Only a few minutes into the speech, the president foreshadowed some of his healthcare themes. “Many of us have campaigned the same core promises to defend American jobs and … to reduce the price of healthcare and prescription drugs,” Trump said. “It’s a new opportunity in American politics if only we have the courage together to seize it.”

A few minutes later, he touted some of his administration’s actions so far. “We eliminated the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty,” Trump said. “And to give critically ill patients access to lifesaving cures, we passed — very importantly — the right to try.”

Drug Prices a Major Player

The subject of drug prices occupied a fair amount of time. “The next major priority for me, and for all of us, is to lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs and to protect patients with preexisting conditions,” he said. “Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts in 2018, drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years. But we must do more. It’s unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place.”

“This is wrong; this is unfair, and together we will stop it, and we’ll stop it fast,” he said. “I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients, finally.”

He then turned to several other health topics. “We should also require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices, to foster competition, and bring costs way down,” Trump said. He quickly moved on to the AIDS epidemic. “In recent years we’ve made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once distant dream within reach. My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.”

“We have made incredible strides, incredible,” he added to applause from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. “Together we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond.”

Childhood Cancer Initiative

Although the remarks on HIV had been expected, the president also announced another health initiative that wasn’t as well-known: a fight against childhood cancer. “Tonight I’m also asking you to join me in another fight all Americans can get behind — the fight against childhood cancer,” he said, pointing out a guest of First Lady Melania Trump: Grace Eline, a 10-year-old girl with brain cancer.

“Every birthday, since she was 4, Grace asked her friends to donate to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital,” Trump said. “She did not know that one day she might be a patient herself [but] that’s what happened. Last year Grace was diagnosed with brain cancer. Immediately she began radiation treatment, and at the same time she rallied her community and raised more than $40,000 for the fight against cancer.”

“Many childhood cancers have not seen new therapies in decades,” he said. “My budget will ask Congress for $500 million over the next 10 years to fund this critical life-saving research.”

These health initiatives met with mixed reactions. “President Trump is taking a bold step to design an innovative program and strategy, and commit new resources, to end HIV in the United States … Under the President’s proposal, the number of new infections can eventually be reduced to zero,” Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of The AIDS Institute, said in a statement. Michael Ruppal, the institute’s executive director, added, “While we might have policy differences with the president and his administration, this initiative if properly implemented and resourced, can go down in history as one of the most significant achievements of his presidency.”

But the Democratic National Committee (DNC) wasn’t quite so enthusiastic; it sent an email calling the goal of ending HIV by 2030 “notable” but added, “The Trump administration has consistently undermined advancements in HIV/AIDS research, attacked people living with HIV/AIDS, and sabotaged access to quality healthcare at every opportunity.” Among other things, the administration redirected money from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to help fund the separation of immigrant families, and proposed cutting global HIV/AIDS funding by over $1 billion, which could cause 300,000 deaths per year, the DNC said.

Abortion in the Spotlight

As for the childhood cancer initiative, “$500 million over 10 years to solve childhood cancer is … not a lot,” one Bloomberg reporter tweeted. However, Gail Wilensky, Ph.D., a senior fellow at Project HOPE, in Bethesda, Maryland, pointed out that this amount ” is in addition to the National Institutes of Health budget [for cancer] … A lot of money is going to cancer anyway [already] and the National Cancer Institute been one of the more protected parts of government, so it’s not like they have a big deficit to make up.”

Overall, “it was a surprisingly good speech,” said Wilensky, who was the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President George H.W. Bush. “It covered a lot of areas, and there were a number of issues that were very hard not to applaud … I thought he did a pretty admirable job of forcing applause and a sense of togetherness by the country, talking about compromise and the common good.”

The president also touched on a more controversial area of healthcare: abortion. He referred to a recent abortion bill that passed in New York State and another that failed in Virginia — both of which dealt with abortion late in pregnancy — adding, “I’m asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in a mother’s womb. Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.”

That appeal to the anti-abortion movement “is a position that Republicans have taken in the past, which is the importance of life right after birth and life right before birth,” said Wilensky. Abortion later in pregnancy “is an area that tends to engender a more unified response than most others, even for people who are ambivalent or more supportive of abortion rights. Very late-term abortion makes people uncomfortable … It’s easy to understand why people get uneasy.”

“Already, the biggest move the Trump administration has made to control health care costs and access has been on the regulatory front,” said Bob Laszewski, founder of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, an Alexandria, Virginia, consulting firm, citing the announcement of proposed regulations to end drug rebates under Medicare and Medicaid kickback rules and rules for short-term health plans. “I take it from Trump’s remarks that they will continue with this regulatory approach instead of waiting for any bipartisanship in the Congress,” he said.

“The only area there now seems to be a hint of bipartisanship is over the issue of drug prices being too high,” Laszewski added. “It was clear from Trump’s remarks, and the Democrats’ positive response on this one issue, that this could become an area for cooperation.”

No Large-Scale Reforms Offered

Rosemarie Day, a healthcare consultant in Somerville, Massachusetts, said in an email that the president “certainly did not propose any large-scale reforms to the healthcare system during the speech, and he was short on specifics for most of it. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, health care is the number one issue among voters so this may appear to some as a missed opportunity. It’s increasingly looking like Republicans are leaving the big health care reform ideas to the Democratic presidential candidates.”

The ideas he did propose “were mostly noncontroversial and somewhat vague,” Day continued. “The more interesting proposal was lowering the cost of healthcare and drugs, which is a high priority for consumers. The way he discussed going about it was by requiring drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices. This raises many questions, such as what does a ‘real’ price mean? … This will be an interesting area to watch, since ‘real prices’ are currently closely held secrets, and a legal requirement to disclose them would constitute a significant change from the status quo.”

In the Democratic response to the speech, Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully last year for governor of Georgia, lashed out against enemies of Obamacare. “Rather than suing to dismantle the Affordable Care Act as Republican attorneys general have, our leaders must protect the progress we’ve made and commit to expanding healthcare and lowering costs for everyone,” said Abrams, the first black woman to deliver the rebuttal to a State of the Union address.

She also spoke of her personal struggle with healthcare costs for her family. “My father has battled prostate cancer for years. To help cover the costs, I found myself sinking deeper into debt because, while you can defer some payments, you can’t defer cancer treatment. In this great nation, Americans are skipping blood pressure pills, forced to choose between buying medicine and paying rent.”

She also pushed back against state governors and legislators who continue their resistance to Medicaid expansion. “In 14 states, including my home state, where a majority want it, our leaders refused to expand Medicaid which could save rural hospitals, save economies and save lives.”

With Dems now in charge, repeal-and-replace no longer on the table!

Former Rep. John Dingell Left An Enduring Health Care Legacy

If anyone is interested in healthcare and its history here in the U.S. one must include the legacy of former Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who holds the record as the longest-serving member of the U.S. House, died Thursday night in Michigan. Julie Rovner reviewed his history last week after his death. He was 92.

And while his name was not familiar to many, his impact on the nation, and on health care, in particular, was immense.

For more than 16 years Dingell led the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the U.S. Public Health Service, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

Dingell served in the House for nearly 60 years. As a young legislator, he presided over the House during the vote to approve Medicare in 1965.

As a tribute to his father, who served before him and who introduced the first congressional legislation to establish national health insurance during the New Deal, Dingell introduced his own national health insurance bill at the start of every Congress.

And when the House passed what would become the Affordable Care Act in 2009, leaders named the legislation after him. Dingell sat by the side of President Barack Obama when he signed the bill into law in 2010.

Dingell was “a beloved pillar of the Congress and one of the greatest legislators in American history,” said a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Yet, among the vast array of historic legislative achievements, few hold greater meaning than his tireless commitment to the health of the American people.”

He was not always nice. Dingell had a quick temper and a ferocious demeanor when he was displeased, which was often. Witnesses who testified before him could feel his wrath, as could Republican opponents and even other committee Democrats. And he was fiercely protective of his committee’s territory.

In 1993, during the effort by President Bill Clinton to pass major health reform, as the heads of the three main committees that oversee health issues argued over which would lead the effort, Dingell famously proclaimed of his panel, “We have health.”

Dingell and his health subcommittee chairman, California Democrat Henry Waxman, fought endlessly over energy and environmental issues. Waxman, who represented an area that included western Los Angeles, was one of the House’s most active environmentalists. Dingell represented the powerful auto industry in southeastern Michigan and opposed many efforts to require safety equipment and fuel and emission standards.

In 2008, Waxman ousted Dingell from the chairmanship of the full committee.

But the two were of the same mind on most health issues, and together during the 1980s and early 1990s they expanded the Medicaid program, reshaped Medicare and modernized the FDA, NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It was always a relief for me to know that when he and I met with the Senate in the conference, we were talking from the same page, believed in the same things, and we were going to fight together,” Waxman said in 2009.

Dingell was succeeded in his seat by his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, herself a former auto industry lobbyist.

House Panel Mulls ACA Fixes, Responses to Trump Policies

Now to the article of the week, Ryan Basen, a writer for MedPage noted that focusing on preventive care, expanding subsidies, and regulating association health plans (AHPs) were among the solutions proposed Tuesday to aid Americans with pre-existing health conditions, as the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee held its first hearing under the new Congress.

While the hearing was entitled “Protecting Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions,” much discussion centered around the policies within the Affordable Care Act, Republican efforts to repeal it, and recent reforms that tweaked American healthcare. Many lawmakers used their allotted time to blast other party members for either being too supportive of the ACA or attempting to “sabotage” it. Some lawmakers, however, promised to work together with members of the opposing party to help patients with pre-existing conditions — which some noted includes themselves and family members.

“Protections for people with pre-existing conditions has become the defining feature of the Affordable Care Act,” said witness Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation; she noted that these protections also enjoy widespread public support.

The ACA forced insurance plans to accept and retain members with pre-existing conditions, many of whom could not afford plans before the legislation was enacted. But Trump administration policies and other reforms worry some experts and lawmakers that the millions of American with pre-existing conditions — ranging from moderate mental health diagnoses to cancer — are gradually being priced out of the healthcare system again, they said.

Protecting patients with pre-existing conditions are linked to controlling costs throughout American healthcare, many said. Recent legislation led to “artificial” cost increases for ACA marketplace plans and pushed some insurers to leave the market altogether, Pollitz said. These policies also have driven up premium prices.

“What we have here is an infrastructure problem,” Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said. “The disagreements are over how to pay for it.”

“All we are really debating here is who gets to pay,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) said. “It’s time for radical rethinking: Are you [Democrats] willing to work with us to break down the barriers to having cost disruption?”

Several who spoke Tuesday offered potential solutions. Witness Keysha Brooks-Coley, of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, suggested lawmakers strengthen the ACA by addressing its so-called “family glitch” and eliminating the “subsidy cliff”; both policies currently withhold subsidies from many Americans who need them to pay for healthcare, she said.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, DPM (R-Ohio), called for turning lawmakers’ focus from squabbling about politics to studying preventative care. “There’s no part of me as a doctor that doesn’t want Americans to have access to quality healthcare,” the podiatrist said. “But I don’t necessarily agree with the direction (the ACA) went.”

“Let’s talk about incentivizing health: What do we have not only for the patient but for the physician?” he added. “Think about who gets rewarded in today’s system. Do we recognize the doctor who prevented the patient from needing open-heart surgery? That’s where we need to go if you want to talk about the cost curve.”

One solution is actually quite simple, according to witness Rob Roberston, secretary-treasurer for the Nebraska Farm Bureau: regulate AHPs and encourage individuals to band together in groups to reduce premium costs, as many farmers and ranchers have in Nebraska. “This is not a political issue,” he said. “This is an issue of hardship, and we need to fix these individual markets and protect pre-existing conditions at the same time.”

Alas, judging by many lawmakers’ tone during a hearing that stretched over four hours, this does appear to be a political issue. “It’s really this long debate over Obamacare,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said. “We really need to work for a solution because Obamacare wasn’t a solution.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) then got into it. “What has led us here has been eight years of Republican persistence in trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “It’s great to hear they [Republicans] want to work with us and I hope they do.” The ACA is not perfect, Doggett acknowledged, but he quipped that perhaps “the most pre-existing condition” present Tuesday was “the political amnesia of those who have forgotten what it was like before the Affordable Care Act.”

Raising his voice, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) echoed the point: “If we would have been working together for the last six years to refine the Affordable Care Act, costs would be lower, coverage would be better.”

Many witnesses spoke against the Administration’s policy to loosen regulations on cheaper short-term plans that do not have to abide by ACA strictures. “The expansion of these plans does not help the consumer,” Brooks-Coley said. “It puts them at increased risk. … They are only less expensive upfront because they don’t cover [serious conditions].” In addition, Pollitz noted, many of these plans drop patients once they become ill and “have been shown to increase costs of ACA-compliant plans.”

The witnesses were asked to gauge what would happen if protections for patients with pre-existing conditions were to be removed. Younger women would pay more than men the same age, Pollitz said, and all pre-existing patients “would find it much more difficult to find coverage.”

“True harm would come,” Andrew Stolfi, Oregon Division of Financial Regulation’s insurance commissioner, told the committee. He cited Oregon’s pre-ACA experience: “You were lucky if you were even given the choice to take an insurer’s limited terms.”

Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) ended the hearing with optimism: “Today I heard a lot of members on the other side of the aisle say they support [requiring coverage for] pre-existing conditions, and I welcome that and hope we can work together.”

So, now what do the physicians think is needed to improve our health care system? Next week let’s discuss.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s move on,” she added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to discuss.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Seeks Action To Stop Surprise Medical Bills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pew Charitable Trusts

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

Now, voters will decide for themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extending Benefits to Childless Adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘That Is Socialism’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their beliefs about expansion don’t fly with him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The burden of Uncompensated Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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