Category Archives: Insurance

Critical condition: The crisis of rural medical care, Guns and Knives and Medicare!

d day257[1467]I wanted to start with this article because our rural area of Maryland is going through the same scenario. We had 3 hospitals serving the mid and upper Delmarva Peninsula but 2 of the hospitals were barely making ends meet. In fact, one of the hospitals will be closed down replaced by an enlarged Urgent care type of facility. Another needs to be shut down and reconfigured as a stabilizing/urgent care center. This last hospital sometimes has an in-hospital census of 1 or 2 patients. You can’t pay the bills with that census and how do you pay your staff, keep the heat and air conditioning and electric running?

Tonopah, Nevada, is about as isolated a place as you can find – 200 miles south of Reno, 200 miles north of Las Vegas, with one road in or out. But to those who call it home, this scenic dot on the desert landscape once had everything they needed.

Emmy Merrow had no concerns about living in such a remote place: “It had a store and a gas station, and I was fine!” she laughed.

Merrow has lived here for four years. She has a two-and-a-half-year-old, Aleyna, and a newborn daughter, Kinzley.

They moved here when her husband got a great job offer from the sheriff’s department. But six weeks before she found out she was pregnant with Aleyna, she also found out Tonopah’s struggling hospital, its only hospital was shutting its doors for good.

“I’m frustrated, I’m mad, I cry, I’m upset about it because we would live less than a mile away from a hospital,” she said.

It was all the more worrisome when, shortly after she was born; Aleyna was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a catastrophic form of epilepsy. “She’s just like any other typical kid, and our day is just like any other day, except for when she has seizures,” Merrow said.

“And how many does she have a day?” asked correspondent Lee Cowan.

“She’s at about 400 now.”

“So, is there anybody within a reasonable distance that can help?

“No.”

When the seizures are bad enough, which is about every six weeks or so, Merrow has to make a mad, desolate dash to the closest hospital, which is across the border in California, some 114 miles away.

She’ll never forget the first time she had to do it: “It was in the middle of the night, so it was dark and I couldn’t see her, so I did stop quite often to just check and make sure she was still breathing.”

“That must have been terrifying,” Cowan said.

“Yeah, I was sobbing the whole way. It is the worst feeling in the world.”

Elaine Minges lives in Tonopah, too. She came here with her husband, Curt, for a high-paying job at the nearby solar plant, and thought they’d retire here one day. “We knew that there was a hospital here and there were a few physicians, and we felt comfortable at the time,” Minges said.

But after the hospital closed, everything changed. “They shut the doors and that was it,” she said.

“And they didn’t give you any warning?”

There were rumors, she said, but “we thought no, that won’t happen. That doesn’t happen. Look, we’re out in the middle of nowhere!”

Curt, who had diabetes, tried not to think about it until one night he suddenly fell very ill. Minges recalled, “He woke up and I thought he was having a heart attack. He was gasping for air. He tried to get up, but he was just too sick.”

He was suffering a serious complication from diabetes. It’s a condition normally survivable with prompt medical attention, but in this case, prompt meant getting a helicopter. “That particular night, the helicopter was 45 minutes out before they could get to the airport, and in that time, he went into cardiac arrest.”

Cowan asked, “Had the hospital here been open, would that have saved your husband?”

“I would like to think so, yeah.”

It’s a grim tale repeating itself all across the country.

Since 2010, 99 rural hospitals like the one in Tonopah have closed; that’s almost one a month.

“Basically about half of the rural hospitals are losing money every year,” said Mark Holmes, a professor of health policy and management at the University of North Carolina, who has been studying the decline for more than a decade.

Cowan asked, “Is there an end in sight?”

“Every time that I’ve said, ‘I think we’re through the worst of it,’ we’ve been surprised,” Holmes replied. “You always have to wonder, who’s next?”

A whole cross-section of America is now facing the very real risk of having no local hospital to turn to. The causes are varied; the population in some of those towns has dwindled to a size that can’t support a hospital anymore.

In others, the hospitals are either mismanaged or they end up as table scraps in mega-mergers. Medicaid expansion would have helped some stay open, Holmes says, but not all, and even so reimbursement rates are often too low for hospitals to break even. Whatever the cause, the impact on the community is almost always the same:

“The hospital closes, the emergency room dries up, all the other services that went with that – home health, pharmacy, hospice, EMS – they leave town as well, and now you’re left with a medical desert,” said Holmes.

That’s exactly the fate residents of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma was worried about. The town, about 60 miles south of Oklahoma City, has only one hospital, but the previous management company had run it into bankruptcy.

The city brought in Frank Avignone to save it. When Cowan visited, Avignone was working the phones to find a generous donor to keep it open: “I’ve got 130 employees here that I’m going to have to tell they have no future,” he said.

“It’s literally day-by-day for this hospital,” Cowan asked.

“It’s minute-by-minute,” he replied.

“How much money do you have in the bank right now?”

“About $7,000.”

“Which gets you how far?”

“The next 15 minutes. I mean, it’s not enough to really make a difference.”

Townspeople rallied, especially those who had been treated here, like Susanne Blake. She and her husband pitched in half of their retirement savings – a gamble that to them, made some good-natured sense. “We got tickled about how much we should give, because he said, ‘Well, without a hospital, we don’t have to worry about as long a retirement!'” she laughed.

Employees were just as passionate. Linda Rutledge, who’s worked in the hospital’s cafeteria for nearly 20 years, baked over a thousand cookies – a bake sale with a lot riding on it.

Asked what will happen should the hospital close, Rutledge replied, “I’m going to cry. That’s just can’t happen.”

But it can happen. And last year, in response to the need for medical care, a massive free health clinic popped up at a fairground in Gray, Tennessee, set up by a non-profit called Remote Area Medical – originally founded to serve third-world countries.

But Chris Hall, the charity’s COO, says a rural hospital closure back in 1992 forced the organization to address the medical needs of the underserved here at home, too.

“Today alone, there’s seven states’ worth of patients that have come to this event,” Hall said. “People have gotten in their car and driven 200 miles to get here today just to be able to get a service that they couldn’t get in their local area, or [couldn’t] afford in their local area.”

Some who lined up overnight in the cold did, in fact, have a hospital; they just didn’t have the insurance to access it. But for others, like Leanna Steele, this is the closest thing they have to an emergency room. Her local hospital, which she used to go to when she got debilitating migraines, also closed.

Cowan asked, “So, what do you do now?”

“Mainly just sit and hope,” Steele said.

Usually, before a hospital closes entirely, administrators will try cutting back on non-emergency services, like maternity wards. That’s happened so often that more than half the rural communities in this country now no longer have labor and delivery units, leaving expectant mothers facing long drives at the worst of times.

  • But in Lakin, Kansas, population 2,200, they tried something different. The only hospital for miles decided to invest in obstetric care instead, the thinking being that babies can be a growth industry. They get patients in the door, and just as Kearny County Hospital’s young CEO Ben Anderson had hoped, they stay … and bring along the rest of the family, too.

“Moms came here and had a great experience, and they said, ‘You know, you’re gonna be my baby’s pediatrician, and you’re gonna be my women’s health physician, and you’re gonna take care of my husband as an internist. We’re all coming to you,'” said Anderson.

And that’s just what’s happened. Dr. Drew Miller has a bulletin board outside his office with pictures of the future patients he’s brought into this world – almost 500 in the last eight years, from all across the state.

“The most rewarding thing of what I get to do is to take care of families of multiple generations,” Dr. Miller said. “I could tell you stories of people I’ve delivered their babies, and taken care of their grandma or their great-grandma. That’s what I love about what I get to do here.”

And another thing: There are no high-priced specialists employed here, not even an OB-GYN. Instead, the hospital is staffed entirely by physicians trained in full-spectrum family medicine instead. “We determined we only have so many dollars to spend at a rural critical access hospital on medical care staff coverage, so it’s important that everybody is trained to do the same thing, and it’s important that everyone is willing to do it equally,” Anderson said.

A typical day for these rural doctors can include doing a colonoscopy in the OR in the morning and removing a skin lesion at a clinic in the afternoon. It’s a flexible, can-do approach to rural medicine that has kept these hospital doors open – at least for now.

“This last year we had the first profitable year in probably two or three decades,” said Anderson. “But we’re riding very, very close. We don’t have the margin for mistakes.”

It’s that razor’s edge that hospitals like the one back in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, had ridden for too long. Cowan was there when CEO Frank Avignone brought the staff together to share some news: “You can only live on borrowed time so long,” he said. The hospital was closing, immediately.

“I’m not sure people really understand what’s going on,” Avignone told Cowan. “The story’s gotta get out. People have to see the faces of the folks in this community and the employees and what they’ve been through. People die because this hospital won’t be open.”

Back in Tonopah, Nevada, Emmy Merrow understands those risks firsthand after one excruciatingly long drive to a hospital with Aleyna that had irreversible consequences. “She fell into a seizure that lasted three hours long; it lasted the whole entire trip,” she said. “So, she has brain damage from that. She wasn’t breathing correctly, she lost oxygen.”

“I think people watching this are going to wonder if it’s that bad, and you’re so far away from a hospital, and you need help basically all the time, why not move?” asked Cowan.

“It would be great if we had the money to be able to move,” she replied. “We make enough to live, but not really enough to save up to be able to make that move.”

As for Elaine Minges, with her husband now gone, the rural life they loved so much is gone, too, and like so many who live in small-town America, she’s at a loss for what to do next.

Cowan asked, “Will you stay here knowing there’s not a hospital?”

“My home is here,” she said. “I feel my husband here.”

“What do you think he’d want you to do? Would he want you to stay?”

“No,” she said.

Right now, we all in our community are considering alternatives and more and more of our patients are going “across the bridge” to University or “better” hospitals. I suspect that this is going to be more of a problem in the future with more talk of Medicare for All.

These next two discussions are in response to a local senseless stabbing/murder in our small town. We were lucky that the murderer wasn’t carrying a gun or the deceased could have numbered in a much higher amount.

Angry young white men charged in America’s latest mass shootings

Annalisa Merelli noted that there have been 25 mass shootings in the US this year. Seventeen of the incidents were deadly and 11 killed three to five victims each—for a total of 45 fatalities.

Last week alone, 17 people (not including the shooters) lost their lives in four mass shootings. Three of the attacks were said to be carried out by 21-year-old white men:

  • Zephen Xaver allegedly shot and killed five women in the lobby of a SunTrust bank branch in Sebring, Florida on Jan. 23.
  • Jordan Witmer killed three in State College, Pennsylvania on Jan. 24.
  • Dakota Theriot has been charged with killing five: his girlfriend, her brother, her father, and both of his own parents in Livingston Parish and Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Jan. 25.

Investigators are still looking into motives yet it’s hard not to note some commonalities: All of these mass shooters were men, and they all targeted women. They had shown violent behavior and tendencies in the past or had been exposed to violence. None of this seemed to have stopped them from being able to acquire guns. It’s an all-too-familiar pattern in the US. The shooters’ identities are also consistent with the overall American trend: Mass shootings are nearly exclusively perpetrated by men, the vast majority of whom are white.

Xaver, ex-girlfriend Alex Gerlach told WSBT-TV, “for some reason always hated people and wanted everybody to die” and “got kicked out of school for having a dream that he killed everybody in his class, and he’s been threatening this for so long.” Gerlach said her warnings about Xaver were not taken seriously, even as he bought a gun it was not considered a warning sign. After the shooting, police chief Karl Hoglund described the targeting of five women a “random act.” Amongst Xaver’s interests were prominent right-wing figures such as Milo Yannopoulos and Alex Jones; when he was arrested, he was wearing a T-shirt with a print of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the New Testament figures of destruction.

Witmer, the Pennsylvania shooter, also took aim at a female victim. He was having drinks with Nicole Abrino, a woman identified a current or former girlfriend when the two argued. Dean Beachy, who was sitting across the bar, tried to break up the fight. Witmer shot him in the head, killing him, then fatally shot Beachy’s son. Witmer also shot Abrino, who survived. Witmer left the bar, later crashing his car and breaking into a home where he shot and killed a fourth person. He then killed himself. Witmer, who didn’t have a history of violent behavior, had recently returned from a three-year stint with the US Army. According to his family, he was planning to become a police officer.

Theriot, targeted his girlfriend of about two weeks, Summer Ernest, police said, and the murder in Louisiana seemed premeditated. The young man was living with Ernest and her family after he had been kicked out of his own home. He is said to have shot her dead, followed by her father and younger brother. Theriot then took the father’s truck, and drove to his parents’ home, police said, killing both of them. He was arrested as he tried to reach his grandmother, still carrying a gun. Theriot, his neighbors said, had a history of trouble with drugs and he had been arrested for minor drug possession. Though authorities say he didn’t have a history of violent behavior, some who knew him to seem to disagree. They say he had pulled a gun out on his mother, which was among the reasons he had been kicked out of the house.

ACCORDING TO THE FBI, KNIVES KILL FAR MORE PEOPLE THAN RIFLES IN AMERICA – IT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE

Columnist Benny Johnson noted that knives kill far more people in the United States than rifles do every year.

In the wake of the horrific school shooting in Florida last week, the debate over guns in America has surged again to the forefront of the political conversation. Seventeen students were killed when a deranged gunman rampaged through the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. Many are calling now for stricter gun laws in the wake of the shooting, specifically targeting the AR-15 rifle and promoting the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.

However, recent statistics from 2016 show that knives actually kill nearly five times as many people as rifles that year.

According to the FBI, 1,604 people were killed by “knives and cutting instruments” and 374 were killed by “rifles” in 2016.

Annotation 2019-06-09 183738

The statistics match the trends seen in previous years, which show knife murders far outnumbering rifle statistics. In 2013, knives were used to kill 1,490 and rifles were used to kill 285. Handguns far outnumber both knives and rifles in American murders. There were 7,105 murders by handgun in America in 2016.

Handguns were not included in the assault weapons ban.

Writing on the issue of handgun violence, The Federalist makes this interesting point:

“But what about handgun murders?” you might ask. “They’re responsible for the majority of gun murders, so why don’t we just ban them and stop worrying about rifles?”

Easy: because gun bans and strict gun control don’t really prevent gun violence. Take, for example, Illinois and California. In 2013, there were 5,782 murders by handgun in the U.S. According to FBI data, 20 percent of those — 1,157 of the 5,782 handgun murders — happened in Illinois and California, which have two of the toughest state gun control regimes in the entire country. And even though California and Illinois contain about 16 percent of the nation’s population, those two states are responsible for over 20 percent of the nation’s handgun murders.

One of the difficulties in the FBI’s statistics is the pinpointing of the exact type of firearm used in the overall number of gun murders. In over 3,000 cases, the firearm is not “stated.” This means it could be a rifle, handgun or shotgun used in the crime.

Certainly, this could potentially add to the number of rifle deaths each year. However, if the ratios of weapons used in the uncategorized 3,000 number reflected the overall sample size, the number of rifle deaths would only rise by a small fraction, not nearly enough to surpass the number of knife deaths.

So, what next? Do we outlaw guns as well as knives? What do we use as cutting utensils……plastic knives????

And More About the Medicare Story!

For Medicare, the best progress was made thanks to Presidential candidate John F Kennedy. Kennedy along with Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico, introduced a measure similar to the previous Forand bill in the Senate the summer of 1960. The measure was defeated in favor of the Kerr-Mills bill, but the Democratic platform contained a provision supporting an extensive hospital insurance strategy for the aged. Kennedy made this proposal a subject of his speeches during his stumping for the presidency and even before his administration took office a White House Conference on Aging again brought the issue of a government health insurance. They seemed to get more and more support, especially since Eisenhower’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare was among several prominent Republicans who were in support of the enactment of a comprehensive measure.

Almost immediately following his inauguration, on February 9, 1961, President Kennedy sent a message to Congress calling for an extension of the social security benefits to cover hospital and nursing home costs. The bill would have covered 14 million recipients over the age of sixty-five was predicted to cost approximately a billion and a half dollars, but didn’t include the cost of medical or surgical treatment. It only covered for ninety days of hospital care, outpatient diagnostic services and a hundred and eighty days of nursing home care. Imagine the cost back then of adding on the medical and surgical treatment costs!

Because of Kennedy’s thin margin of victory in November, it was deemed expedient not to press for passage of the bill until the following year. But along comes the AMA creating the American Medical Political Action Committee, which was joined with the commercial health insurance carriers and Blue Cross-Blue Shield in opposing the bill and questioned the cost put forward by the administration. The opposition mounted a strong campaign against the King-Anderson using posters, pamphlets and radio, and TV extensively. The Association seemed to be angered by included fee schedule for hospitals, nursing homes, and nurses which could serve as a precedent should government insurance be expended to include.

There was a great deal of fighting as the Kennedy administration demonized the AMA, accusing the association of thwarting the public will with the interest of lining the pockets of its membership and of employing scare tactics against the government’s interest and only concern to extend to the aged and infirm needed medical benefits. The administration got support from organized labor and several new organizations which lobbied extensively in favor of the measure.

On and on went the supporters and the opposition until finally after Kennedy’s assassination when Congressional support for Kennedy’s legislation swelled, but that is for another day and next week.

And an impressive celebration of D-day. Thank you again Veterans who fought for us all!!

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

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

I went to the market

Where all the families shop

I pulled out my Ka-bar

And started to chop

Your left right left right left right kill

Your left right left right you know I will

-Military cadence

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

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

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

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

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

Other soldiers didn’t end up as lucky.

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

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

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

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

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

This eases the tension and he smiles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2019-05-25 at 8.13.38 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise! House, Senate Tackle Hospital Billing

Senate bill also addresses provider directories, drug maker competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More next week!

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

memorial235

 

Health Insurance Inflation Hits Highest Point in Five Years and More on Medicare; and What is this about Abortion and SATs?

57358059_1998437466952569_3700281945192660992_nFirst of all, I must yell and scream at the idiots in the States, you know who you are, that have or are in the process of passing the most restrictive abortion bills. This is especially Alabama where Governor Kay Ivey signed the strictest anti-abortion law. Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced in 16 states this year. The Alabama Senate approved a measure on last week that would outlaw almost all abortions in the state, setting up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the case that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy. The legislation bans abortions at every stage of pregnancy and criminalizes the procedure for doctors, who could be charged with felonies and face up to 99 years in prison. It includes an exception for cases when the mother’s life is at serious risk, but not for cases of rape or incest — a subject of fierce debate among lawmakers in recent days. The House approved the measure — the most far-reaching effort in the nation this year to curb abortion rights and was just signed by the Governor.

What the heck are you thinking, not even for rape or incest? You are forgetting the women who bare the brunt of your idiot decisions. Do you think that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe versus Wade, passed in 1973? Get real and attend to the real multiple crises out there!

And diversity scores on the SAT exams??? Again, what are you all thinking? I know to correct the “crises of rich parents who got their “unfortunate” children into the best of colleges. Next, the strategy to get our children into good colleges will be to take courses to improve their test-taking abilities, but now they will have to figure out how to improve their adversity scores. Mom and Dad, we need to move into the ghettos of Scarsdale, get on food stamps, get fired from your high paying jobs and become homeless. I know this all sounds crazy, but that is where we are.

Shelby Livingston wrote that the health insurance inflation rate hit a five-year peak in April, possibly because managed care is rising.

The Consumer Price Index for health insurance in April spiked 10.7% over the previous 12 months—the largest increase since at least April 2014, according to a Modern Healthcare analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unadjusted monthly Consumer Price Index data.

In contrast, the other categories that make up the medical care services index—professional services and hospital and related services—rose 0.4% and 1.4% in April, respectively. The CPI for medical care services in April rose 2.3%, while overall inflation increased 2% year over year.

Screen Shot 2019-05-19 at 11.16.08 AM

Because of the way the BLS calculates the health insurance index, the change year over year does not reflect premiums paid by customers, but “retained earnings” after paying out claims. These earnings are used to cover administrative costs or are kept as profit.

The BLS redistributes the benefits paid out a portion of the health insurance index to other non-insurance medical care categories, such as physician services.

The likely reason health insurance inflation is rising is because of growth in managed care, including Medicare Advantage, Medicaid managed care and commercial insurance, according to Paul Hughes-Cromwick, an economist at Altarum. He noted that added administrative costs increase insurance price growth.

Hughes-Cromwick said the increase in the health insurance index could also be driven by the fact that insurers’ medical loss ratios may be decreasing as high premiums, particular in the individual health insurance exchanges, exceeded anticipated claims.

The medical loss ratio reflects the percentage of every premium dollar spent on medical claims and quality improvement. Insurers must pay at least 80% of premiums on those things and if they don’t, they must issue rebates to plan members, as part of the Affordable Care Act.

In response to rising inflation, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s biggest lobbying group, commented that “consumers deserve the lowest possible total costs for their coverage and care.” She pointed out the medical loss ratio requirements and said health insurers spend 98 cents of every premium dollar on medical care, operating costs that include care management, and preventing fraud, waste, and abuse.

Affordable Care Act exchange insurers hiked premiums higher than necessary in 2018 and now expect to pay out $800 million in rebates to individual market customers this year because they did not meet the medical loss ratio threshold, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis published this month. Because medical loss ratios are declining, health insurers in the individual, small group and large group markets expect to issue $1.4 billion in rebates based on their 2018 performance, the analysis stated.

Still, health insurance profits have been on the rise. The eight largest publicly traded insurers posted net income of $9.3 billion in the first quarter of 2019, an increase of 29.9%. They made a combined $21.9 billion in profits over the course of 2018.

Medicaid waiver loophole sparks transparency concerns

Robert King noted that the CMS is doing a poor job in ensuring the public knows about major changes to Medicaid, including the installation of work requirements, a federal watchdog said Friday.

The Government Accountability Office’s report found that the CMS has limited transparency for amendments to existing Section 1115 waivers. That has allowed some states to score approval for their work requirements while skirting some rules, such as projecting how the changes will impact Medicaid enrollment.

The government watchdog noted that two of the four states it studied did not seek public comment on changes that could significantly impact Medicaid beneficiaries.

The transparency requirements for an amendment are more relaxed than a new waiver application, the GAO said. Arkansas and New Hampshire both added work requirements to their Medicaid programs through amendments to their existing Section 1115 waivers.

Currently, new waivers or extension requests must include whether the state thinks that enrollment will decrease and any spending changes. While amendments must address the impact on beneficiaries and explain the changes, there are fewer requirements for what information must be disseminated to the public.

The GAO also found that the CMS had inconsistent transparency requirements for amendments.

For example, the CMS determined Massachusetts’ amendment to waive non-emergency medical transportation was incomplete because the application didn’t include a revised design plan. However, the CMS-approved Arkansas’ work requirement amendment even though it did not include a revised design plan.

The GAO recommended that the CMS develop standard transparency requirements for new waivers, extension requests, and significant Section 1115 amendments.

In response, HHS said it has already implemented policies to improve transparency. GAO said those changes “do not apply to amendments.”

The CMS also lacks policies for ensuring that major changes to a pending application are transparent.

The report comes as the Trump administration is appealing a federal judge’s decision to strike down Medicaid work requirement programs in Kentucky and Arkansas.

Seven other states have received CMS approval for work requirements. Those states are Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin. Another six states—Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia—have applications pending federal approval.

Industry enters new battle phase over surprise billing

Susannah Luthi reported that the knives are out over legislation to end surprise medical bills and specifics haven’t even been unveiled yet. But will this solve the problems of the healthcare crisis?

The industry is pushing back hard against a particular principle laid out by President Donald Trump last week.

The administration wants all out-of-network charges from a doctor at an in-network hospital to be wrapped into a single bill from the hospital.

How this provision will technically play out in policy is yet to be seen, as the Senate health committee plans to release its legislative package on surprise medical bills this summer.

But the administration’s position has roiled hospital groups and specialty physicians like emergency doctors, radiologists, and anesthesiologists, who don’t always share the same insurance network as hospitals and have higher than average charges.

“Untested proposals such as bundling payments would create significant disruption to provider networks and contract without benefiting patients,” American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack said in a statement shortly after Trump made his remarks. He reiterated the AHA’s position that all Congress needs to do is enact a ban on balance billing and leave the rest to the industry to figure out.

Specialty physicians argue that a single bill will complicate all the billing processes on the back-end with hospitals and insurers.

Dr. Sherif Zaafran, a Texas anesthesiologist, said he doesn’t see room within the White House framework for a policy he could support. He sees it as undercutting specialty physicians’ independence from hospitals. “As a patient, I think a single hospital bill on the surface sounds really good, but in the reality of how most of us practice it’s probably not very practical,” Zaafran said. “A single bill would imply you’re marrying the system for how a physician gets paid with other components that bill completely separately.”

He expects a resulting policy would end up cutting pay for both hospitals and ancillary physicians—hospitals taking a hit as they try to collect the fee and reimburse the physician, and physicians taking a hit if hospitals need to negotiate with insurers on their behalf.

“There are downstream effects that folks haven’t thought through,” Zaafran said.

But the administration’s stance shows how thinking around policy has morphed during months of scrutiny of the issue. And analysts have been documenting the trajectory of high ancillary physician charges in part to lay out the argument for payment bundles.

Discussions started last fall with an initial legislative push from a bipartisan group led by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Cassidy and his co-sponsors introduced a draft proposal to cap out-of-network charges at a regional average. Not long after, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) pitched arbitration to settle disputes between insurers and providers.

As the months passed, the debate transitioned into a look at the underlying contracts between hospitals and insurers—even as policy analysts note that the problem of surprise medical bills is limited to a small number of hospitals.

Experts and economists from think tanks like the Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, and the Urban Institute have weighed in, aided by data from states that have tried to curb the practice in the individual insurance markets that fall under their regulating power.

Several have warned that if lawmakers don’t handle the policy carefully, they could end up inflating overall costs, leading to higher premiums and expenses in an already costly system.

Joyce Frieden pointed out the solutions proposed by the President and hopefully most of the GOP.  President Trump announced an initiative Thursday aimed at ending the problem of surprise medical billing, in which patients undergoing procedures at in-network hospitals receive unexpectedly high bills because one or more of their clinicians was out of network.

Trump called surprise billing as I just outlined, “one of the biggest concerns Americans have about healthcare” and added, “The Republican Party is very much becoming the party of healthcare. We’re determined to end surprise medical billing for American patients and that’s happening right now.” He thanked the mostly Republican group of lawmakers who came to the White House to discuss the initiative, including Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Bill Cassidy, MD (R-La.), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and representatives Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and Greg Walden (R- Ore.).

Trump then announced guidelines that the White House wants Congress to use in developing surprise billing legislation. They include:

  • In emergency care situations, patients should never have to bear the burden of out-of-network costs they didn’t agree to pay. “So-called ‘balance billing’ should be prohibited for emergency care. Pretty simple,” he said
  •  When patients receive scheduled non-emergency care, they should be given a clear and honest bill up front. “This means they must be given prices for all services and out-of-pocket payments for which they will be responsible,” Trump said. “This will not just protect Americans from surprise charges, it will [also] empower them to choose the best option at the lowest possible price”
  •  Patients should not receive surprise bills from out-of-network providers that they did not choose themselves. “Very unfair,” he commented
  •  Legislation should protect patients without increasing federal healthcare expenditures. “Additionally, any legislation should lead to greater competition, more choice, and more healthcare freedom. We want patients to be in charge and in total control,” the president said
  •  All types of health insurance — large groups, small groups, and patients on the individual market should be included in the legislation. “No one in America should be bankrupted unexpectedly by healthcare costs that are absolutely out of control,” said Trump

He noted that “we’re going to be announcing something over the next 2 weeks that’s going to bring transparency to all of it. I think in a way it’s going to be as important as a healthcare bill; it’s going to be something really special.”

Also at the announcement was Martin Makary, MD, MPH, a surgical oncologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “When someone buys a car, they don’t pay for the steering wheel separately from the spark plugs,” he said. “Yet, in healthcare, surprise bills and overpriced bills are commonplace and are crushing everyday folks … People are getting hammered right now.”

Trump also introduced two families who had experienced high medical bills. Drew Calver, of Austin, Texas, said that after a heart attack 2 years ago, “although I had insurance, I was still billed $110,000 … I feel like I was exploited at the most vulnerable time in my life just having suffered a heart attack, so I hope Congress hears this call to take action, close loopholes, end surprise billing, and work toward transparency.”

Paul Davis, MD, of Findlay, Ohio, said that his daughter was billed nearly $18,000 for a urine drug screening test. “She had successful back surgery in Houston and at a post-op visit, because she was given a prescription for narcotic pain relief — which she used as directed — the doctor said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’d like to get a urine specimen.’ Fine; she did it. A year later, a bill showed up for $17,850.”

He noted that her insurance company’s Explanation of Benefits said that the insurer would have paid $100.92 for the test had it been done by an in-network provider. “This type of billing is all too common … The problem of improper billing affects most [of] those who can afford it least. We must put aside any differences we have to work together to solve this problem.”

“Today I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to work together; Democrats and Republicans can do this and I really think it’s something [that is] going to be acted on quickly,” Trump said.

Healthcare groups responded positively to the announcement, with one caveat. “The AHA commends the Administration and Congress for their work to find solutions to this problem,” Rick Pollack, president, and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA), said in a statement. “The AHA has urged Congress to enact legislation that would protect patients from surprise bills. We can achieve this by simply banning balance billing. … Untested proposals such as bundling payments would create significant disruption to provider networks and contracting without benefiting patients.”

“ACEP appreciates the White House weighing in on this important issue and welcomes congressional action to address surprise medical bills,” said Vidor Friedman, MD, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), in a statement. “Emergency physicians strongly support taking patients out of the middle of billing disputes between insurers and out-of-network medical providers.”

“ACEP is concerned about the administration’s call for a single hospital bill,” he continued. “Such a ‘bundled payment’ approach may seem simple in theory for voluntary medical procedures. But if applied to the unpredictable nature of emergency care, this untested idea opens the door to massive and costly disruption of the health care system that would shift greater costs to patients while failing to address the actual root cause of surprise bills — inadequate networks provided by insurers.”

The president also mentioned another one of his administration’s healthcare initiatives. “We may allow states to buy drugs in other countries … because the drug companies have treated us very, very unfairly and the rules and restrictions within our country have been absolutely atrocious,” he said. “So we’ll allow [states], with certain permission, to go to other countries if they can buy them for 40%, 50%, or 60% less. It’s pretty pathetic, but that’s the way it works.”

And now back to Medicare. As you all probably remember the reason that physicians decided not to support the national plan was the confusion regarding reimbursement or payment to physicians. But the insurance companies as well as organized labor who opposed the compulsory system on the grounds that its passage would deprive the labor movement of an extremely effective issue with which to organize workers.

Also, with the entry of America into the First World War the interest in the passage of a compulsory health care bill waned. Because of the anti-German hysteria, the AALL bill opposition became more organized with the biased thoughts that mandatory health insurance was the product of a German conspiracy to impose Prussian values on America.

Renewed interest in mandatory health insurance didn’t emerge until during the New Deal as a consequence of the report of the Committee on Economic Security, the committee appointed by President Roosevelt in 1934. As the Depression worsened the President and his advisors were eager to offer an alternative social welfare package. Roosevelt and his advisors particularly those of the Committee on Economic Security advised the passage of a comprehensive social security system to include unemployment insurance, old-age security, and government-administered-health-care insurance.

The final report by the Committee on the Costa of Medical Care was issued in 1932, by the Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur who was the former Secretary of the Interior and former President of the AMA. The Committee actually concluded that the infrastructure in medicine as well as the medical services in the United States were inadequate and made recommendations for changes. And, despite the favorable climate especially among labor leaders, politicians and social scientists the President’s Committee on Economic Security recommender unemployment insurance and social security but not the passage of a mandatory health insurance bill.

But Roosevelt wanted to keep the subject of health insurance and therefore established an Interdepartmental Committee to Coordinate Health and Welfare Activities immediately following the passage of the Social Security Act and ordered his staff to keep the subject out there before the public. Over the next few years it was the subject of many books and extensive studies by the federal government, but no bill yet.

More to come!!

 

 

bernie168

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These estimates come from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The estimated increase in Medicare payment rates paid to medical providers

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

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

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

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

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

How much lower would prescription costs be?

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

The estimated reduction in drug spending

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

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

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

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

How much more would people use the health care system?

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

The estimated increase in the use of health care

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

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

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

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

What would Medicare for all cost to run?

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

Estimated administrative costs as a share of all spending

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

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

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

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

But what will it cost me?

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

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

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

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

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

About the estimates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”.

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!

Healthcare spending will hit 19.4% of GDP in the next decade, CMS projects; And Where is Healthcare Going?

harris051This past week frustration reigned in my office as I saw more cancer patients in one week than I have ever seen in a week. The big problem is that 2 of these patients with advanced disease have no health care insurance or their insurance that they have will not cover their surgery and further treatment. What to do? Wait for the Democrats running for President to give us Medicare for all??

People have to understand that one of the patients has a type of Medicare, however, her policy will not cover further treatment. Remember this for those of you who still believe that Medicare-for-all will solve all our problems.

The other fairly young patient with advanced cancer has a job but no healthcare insurance. But as a dedicated physician, I am going to operate on her in the office only charging her for supplies, which is probably what I will do for the “Medicare type of coverage.

But doctors can’t do this on a routine basis otherwise they couldn’t pay their bills, pay salaries to their staff and pay for their malpractice, healthcare insurance, pay their mortgage and put food on the table. What then? Less and fewer students would choose to go into medicine and care for us all.

And what happens when both of these patients need chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and or immunotherapy? Who is going to pay for their advanced care?

Harris Meyer reported that Healthcare-spending growth would raise at an annual average of 5.5% over the next decade, slightly faster than in the past few years, due to the aging of the baby boomers and healthcare price growth, the CMS Office of the Actuary projects.
Because that growth will exceed gross domestic product growth, the CMS predicts healthcare’s share of GDP will rise from 17.9% in 2017 to 19.4% in 2027, according to a report in Health Affairs released Wednesday. That’s close to the 19.7% the CMS actuary predicted in its last national health expenditure report a year ago.
Price increases are expected to account for nearly half the growth in personal healthcare spending from 2018 to 2027, with an increase in utilization and intensity of services accounting for an additional third of spending growth. The authors of the report said prices will increase by 2.8% for outpatient prescription drugs, 2.6% for hospitals, and 1.8% for physicians.
Overall outpatient drug spending is projected to increase by an average of 6.1% per year over the next decade, driven by increased utilization of new drugs and a modest increase in prices.
These spending trends could boost public support for policy proposals to regulate prices and boost competition for healthcare services and drugs. For instance, Democratic proposals for Medicare-for-all and public plan options would pay providers at Medicare prices, which generally are significantly lower than what private insurers pay.
“The cost trend will make it easier to fund a Medicare-for-all or public option plan, because the price differential between what Medicare and the private sector pay allows you to save money by paying Medicare rates,” said Gerald Anderson, a health policy professor at Johns Hopkins University.
But he and other experts say the projected spending growth over the next decade—which is sharply less than the 7.3% average annual growth from 1990 to 2007—may not be sufficiently alarming to spur politically thorny policy changes.
“There’s nothing here that ought to catch people by surprise,” said Gail Wilensky, a health economist at Project Hope who formerly served as Medicare administrator. “These (projections) offer no reason to celebrate, but they’re not unreasonable. And they’re probably higher than what we’ll actually see because there will be public or private-sector interventions of some sort.”
The projected 5.5% annual rate of growth from 2018 to 2017 would exceed the 5.3% rate during the Affordable Care Act coverage expansion period from 2014 to 2016, as well as the 3.9% growth rate during the Great Recession period of 2008-2013.

Medicare spending is expected to grow faster than Medicaid or private insurance spending due to the aging of the large Baby Boom population into the program, peaking this year. That will produce a 7.4% average annual Medicare spending growth rate over the next decade, compared with 5.5% for Medicaid and 4.8% for private insurance.
Medicaid expenditures will rise partly because of the new Medicaid expansions in Maine and Virginia and expected expansions in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah.
Per-capita spending growth rates for Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance are expected to be similar, at 4.7%, 4.1%, and 4.6%, respectively.
The 2017 congressional repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s penalty for not buying insurance, effective this year, will moderate national health spending growth by reducing private insurance enrollment, the report said. That repeal is projected to result in a net increase in the number of uninsured Americans by 1.3 million, to 31.2 million in 2019.
Still, 90.6% of Americans are expected to have coverage in 2019, down from 90.9% last year.
Overall price inflation for healthcare goods and services is expected to average 2.5% over the next decade, compared with 1.1% for 2014 to 2017. The CMS actuaries said prices will rise at least partly because of the weakening of restraining factors such as patient cost sharing, selective contracting by insurers, and improvements in productivity in physicians’ offices.
“Half the growth in spending will be price growth in spite of the fact that all these Baby Boomers are entering Medicare,” said Anderson, citing a famous 2003 Health Affairs article he co-authored. “It’s still the prices, stupid.”
Hospital spending will grow an average of 5.7% per year over the next decade, up from 5.1% in 2019, the actuaries said. Hospital prices will rise due to tighter labor markets and continued wage increases for hospital employees, including nurses.
Average annual spending growth for physician and clinical services is projected at 5.4% for the coming decade, as physician pay is driven up by the shortage of doctors to meet the needs of the aging population.
The economists in the Office of the Actuary who wrote the report acknowledged that their projections can be off for various reasons. For instance, last year they projected that healthcare spending in 2018 would increase by 5.3%. In their new report, they projected spending in 2018 grew only 4.4%.
Sean Keehan, one of the authors, said the 2018 projected spending growth was lowered in the new report due to slower-than-expected Medicaid enrollment and spending increases, smaller out-of-pocket spending hikes, and a more sluggish jump in prescription drug costs.
Anderson said the overall takeaway from the new CMS report is that the U.S. still hasn’t seriously bent the cost growth curve. “There’s no turndown,” he said. “We keep waiting for that turning point and the actuaries aren’t seeing that turning point at least through 2027.”

So, what do we do? Do we listen to the Democrats running for President and wrap our arms around Medicare for All or do we fix the Affordable Care Act or do we design another system?

Seattle Mayor signs Medicare-for-all resolution

Can the left’s ‘free-for-all’ Medicare work?

Fox News Brie Stimson noted that as the national health care debate rages on, Seattle has decided to support Medicare-for-all.

Last month, Seattle Rep. Pramila Jayapal introduced a bill, the Medicare for All Act of 2019, that would transition Americans to single-payer government-paid health care but does not explain how the government will pay for the plan.

This week, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed a City Council resolution in support of Jayapal’s bill, making Seattle the first city to back a Medicare-for-all bill.

COST OF ‘MEDICARE-FOR-ALL’ HEALTH CARE PLAN IS ‘A LITTLE SCARY,’ DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGN CHIEF SAYS

“The U.S. has among the worst health outcomes in the developed world despite spending roughly 19 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) on health care,” Seattle Council member. Lorena González said in a statement. “A single-payer system would improve health outcomes while lowering the cost of medical care and insurance.”

Editorial: Medicare for All isn’t the only way to go

Merrill Goozner reported that Healthcare providers and insurers are gearing up to oppose Medicare for All. No surprise there. Insurers can’t look kindly on legislation that would put them out of business. And providers are deathly afraid of losing the high rates from private insurers that cross-subsidize government-funded patients.

But at the same time as they mobilize to defeat M4A, shouldn’t they be outlining what they support?

Here’s what M4A advocates want to achieve. The first is universal coverage. Sadly, we’re again moving away from this basic human right due to actions by the Trump administration to undermine the Affordable Care Act. They want lower prices. Insurance premiums for employers and out-of-pocket expenses for individuals and families continue to rise faster than wages or economic growth.

Finally, they want an end to the frustration engendered by a system that erects roadblocks between physicians and patients. These range from insurer rules requiring prior authorization to seemingly arbitrary limits on what doctors can perform or prescribe.

Is M4A the only way to solve these problems? Of course not. When it comes to covering the uninsured, the ACA worked just fine. Massachusetts, the first state to implement an ACA-like program, had an uninsured rate of 2.5% in 2017. That’s not the 0% of most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, but pretty close.

Politics are at the root of the ACA’s failures—not its Rube Goldberg design. The Supreme Court allowed states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. And when the GOP-controlled Congress eliminated the individual mandate, key to making rates on the exchanges affordable, it reduced sign-ups, raised premiums and stopped the expansion dead in its tracks.

How about service prices? M4A would set prices at Medicare rates, which are well below private insurance rates but higher than Medicaid rates (both Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program are eliminated in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ M4A bill). But that’s not where most of its savings come from.

According to a sympathetic analysis from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, half of M4A’s savings come from reducing provider and insurer administrative overhead. Another quarter comes from lower drug prices.

But these are one-time savings that will do little to stop the upward spiral of hospital and physician costs, which account for two-thirds of all spending. That’s where we get to the third issue supposedly addressed by M4A: the administrative hassles and limits imposed on obtaining care.

These aren’t eliminated by an expanded public system. They simply transfer the policing of waste, fraud, and abuse from private hands to public hands and change the motivation from padding profits to protecting taxpayers. In the past, Medicare has done a better job than private payers for one simple reason: it can impose price controls. Providers have responded by shifting much of the shortfall to their private-paying patients.

There are alternatives for achieving M4A’s goals. They include private companies offering exchange policies with well-defined coverage rules and strict limits on out-of-pocket costs; all-payer rate-setting or global budgets to slow the rate of price increases; merging Medicaid with Medicare (leaving long-term services and supports to the states), which would give private employers and families rate and tax relief; and establishing all-stakeholder oversight councils to develop medically appropriate utilization rules.

There’s more. The point is that in the post-Trump era, the U.S. will once again begin moving toward a healthcare system that is universal and affordable with high-quality care for everyone.

A multipayer approach could be like Germany and Switzerland, which rely on private insurers that are regulated to a much greater extent than currently exists in the U.S. Or it will be a single-payer system like Canada, Great Britain or France. Each delivers better results at a lower cost than the U.S.

I’m agnostic on which way to go. I’m still waiting for providers and insurers to articulate their vision.

Some ‘Cheaper’ Health Plans Have Surprising Costs

Julie Appleby reports that one health plan from a well-known insurer promises lower premiums — but warns that consumers may need to file their own claims and negotiate overcharges from hospitals and doctors. Another does away with annual deductibles — but requires policyholders to pay extra if they need certain surgeries and procedures.

Both are among the latest efforts in a seemingly endless quest by employers, consumers, and insurers for an elusive goal: less expensive coverage.

Premiums for many of these plans, which are sold outside the exchanges set up under Affordable Care Act, tend to be 15 to 30 percent lower than conventional offerings, but they put a larger burden on consumers to be savvy shoppers. The offerings tap into a common underlying frustration.

“Traditional health plans have not been able to stem high-cost increases, so people are tearing down the model and trying something different,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, health management practice leader for benefits consultants Willis Towers Watson.

Not everyone is eligible for a subsidy to defray the cost of an ACA plan, and that has led some people to experiment with new ways to pay their medical expenses. Those experiments include short-term policies or alternatives like Christian-sharing ministries — which are not insurance at all, but rather cooperatives through which members pay one another’s bills.

Now some insurers — such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and a Minnesota startup called Bind Benefits, which is partnering with UnitedHealth Group — are coming up with their own novel offerings.

Insurers say the two new types of plans meet the ACA’s rules, although they interpret those rules in new ways. For example, the new policies avoid the federal law’s rule limiting consumers’ annual in-network limit on out-of-pocket costs. One policy manages that by having no network — patients are free to find providers on their own. And the other skirts the issue by calling additional charges “premiums.” Under ACA rules, premiums don’t count toward the out-of-pocket maximum.

But each plan could leave patients with huge costs in a system in which it is extremely difficult for a patient to be a smart shopper — in part because they have little negotiating power against big hospital systems and partly because the illness is often urgent and unanticipated.

If these alternative plans prompt doctors and hospitals to lower prices, “then that is worth taking a closer look,” says Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “But if it’s simply another flavor of shifting more risk to employees, I don’t think in the long term, that’s going to bend the cost curve.”

Balancing freedom, control, and responsibility

The North Carolina Blue Cross Blue Shield “My Choice” policies aim to change the way doctors and hospitals are paid by limiting reimbursement for services to 40 percent above what Medicare would pay. The plan has no specific network of doctors and hospitals.

This approach “puts you in control to see the doctor you want,” the insurer says on its website. The plan is available to individuals who buy their own insurance and to small businesses with one to 50 employees. It’s aimed at consumers who cannot afford ACA plans, says Austin Vevurka, a spokesman for the insurer. The policies are not sold on the ACA’s insurance marketplace but can be purchased off-exchange from brokers.

With that freedom, however, consumers also have the responsibility to shop around for providers who will accept that amount of reimbursement for their services. Consumers who don’t shop — or can’t because their medical need is an emergency — may get “balance-billed” by providers who are unsatisfied with the flat amount the plan pays.

“There’s an incentive to comparison-shop to find a provider who accepts the benefit,” says Vevurka.

The cost of balance bills range widely but could be thousands of dollars in the case of hospital care. Consumer exposure to balance bills is not capped by the ACA for out-of-network care.

“There are a lot of people for whom a plan like this would present financial risk,” says Levin-Scherz.

In theory, though, paying 40 percent above Medicare rates could help drive down costs over time if enough providers accept those payments. That’s because hospitals currently get about double Medicare rates through their negotiations with insurers.

“It’s a bold move,” says Mark Hall, director of the health law and policy program at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Still, he says, it’s “not an optimal way” because patients generally don’t want to negotiate with their doctor on prices.

“But it’s an innovative way to put matters into the hands of patients as consumers,” Hall says. “Let them deal directly with providers who insist on charging more than 140 percent of Medicare.”

Blue Cross spokesman Vevurka says My Choice has telephone advisers to help patients find providers and offer tips on how to negotiate a balance bill. He would not disclose enrollment numbers for My Choice, which launched Jan. 1, nor would he say how many providers have indicated they will accept the plan’s payment levels.

Still, the idea — based on what is sometimes called “reference pricing” or “Medicare plus” — is gaining attention. Under that method, hospitals are paid a rate based on what Medicare pays, plus an additional percentage to allow them a modest profit.

North Carolina’s state treasurer, for example, hopes to put state workers into such a pricing plan by next year, offering to pay 177 percent of Medicare. The plan has ignited a firestorm of opposition from hospitals in the state.

Montana recently got its hospitals to agree to such a plan for state workers, paying 234 percent of Medicare, on average.

Partly because of concerns about balance-billing, employers aren’t rushing to buy into Medicare-plus pricing just yet, says Jeff Long, a health care actuary at Lockton Companies, a benefits consultancy.

Wider adoption, however, could spell its end.

Hospitals might agree to participate in a few such programs, but “if there’s more take up on this, I see hospitals possibly starting to fight back,” Long says.

What about the bind?

Minnesota startup Bind Benefits eliminates annual deductibles in its “on-demand” plans sold to employers that are opting to self-insure their workers’ health costs. Rather than deductibles, patients pay flat-dollar copayments for a core set of medical services, from doctor visits to prescription drugs.

In some ways, it’s simpler: There is no need to spend through the deductible before coverage kicks in or wonder what 20 percent of the cost of a doctor visit or surgery would be.

But not all services are included. Does this sound familiar? As I started this post with my examples…ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem!!

Patients who discover during the year that they need any of about 30 common procedures outlined in the plan, including several types of back surgery, knee arthroscopy or coronary artery bypass, must “add in” coverage, spread out over time in deductions from their paychecks.

“People are used to that concept, to buy what they need,” said Bind CEO Tony Miller. “When I need more, I buy more.”

According to a company spokeswoman, the add-in costs vary by market, procedure, and provider. On the lower end, the cost for tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy ranges from $900 to $3,000, while lumbar spine fusion could range from $5,000 to $10,000.

To set those additional premiums, Bind analyzes how much doctors and facilities are paid, along with some quality measures from several sources, including UnitedHealth. The add-in premiums paid by patients vary depending on whether they choose lower-cost providers or more expensive ones.

The ACA’s 2019 out-of-pocket maximums — $7,900 for an individual or $15,800 for a family — don’t include premium costs.

The Cumberland School District in Wisconsin switched from a traditional plan, which it purchased from an insurer for about $1.7 million last year, to Bind. Six months in, according to the school district’s superintendent, Barry Rose, the plan is working well.

Right off the bat, he says, the district saved about $200,000. More savings could come over the year if workers choose lower-cost alternatives for the “add-in” services.

“They can become better consumers because they can see exactly what they’re paying for care,” Rose says.

Levin-Scherz at Willis Towers says the idea behind Bind is intriguing but raises some concerns for employers.

What happens, he asks, if a worker has an add-in surgery, owes several thousand dollars, and then changes jobs before paying all the premiums for that add-in coverage? “Will the employee be sent a bill after leaving?” he wonders.

A Bind spokeswoman says the former employee would not pay the remaining premiums in that case. Instead, the employer would be stuck with the bill.

Next week back to finding a way to improve the Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare.