Category Archives: Medicaid

Red and Blue America see eye-to-eye on one issue: the nation's health care system needs fixing and What is Missing in Medicare for All and What is Stressing Us All?

USA TODAY’s Jayne O’Donnell noted that Health care is one of the most divisive issues of the 2020 presidential campaign, with candidates disparaging insurers and polarizing labels creating deep divisions even among Democrats. But remove the buzzwords from the policies, and voters who will decide the election aren’t so far apart in their own positions, new research shows. But remember what I have been questioning for the last at least 6 months- with all the concern why hasn’t neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have done anything when they had control, i.e. had the majorities in the House or the Senate? And will Mike Bloomberg come to the Democrats’ recur and solve everyones’ problems?

Regardless of party affiliation, nearly everyone wants to see the nation’s health care system improved, and a majority want big changes. That includes people for whom the system is working well, and those who may be political opposites. 

That’s the big picture finding of a new Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos survey of Americans’ attitudes on health care. The survey is part of the Hidden Common Ground 2020 Initiative, which seeks to explore areas of agreement on major issues facing the nation.

The nationally representative survey of 1,020 adult Americans 18 years and older was conducted December 19-26, 2019. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. 

The survey removed politically charged language such as “Medicare for All” and “Obamacare” and simply explained the basics of health care approaches in an effort to capture voters’ true opinions. 

“There’s the making of a public conversation about this and it does not need to be around ideology,” said Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and public engagement organization. “People just aren’t so set on what they want.”

The sharpest divides were on the size of government and taxes. 

In general, Democrats were more comfortable with a larger role for the federal government, such as the single-payer government insurance program also called Medicare for All, or a public option.

Instead of saying “public option” though, pollsters asked respondents how strongly they agreed with the concept of a new federal health insurance program that gives people a new choice beyond the current private insurance market.

Any adult could buy into the program on a sliding scale, they were told, and 48% were in favor. A survey released last week by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found similar support, with the same percentage of Americans favoring such an option.

When described in general terms, 46% of respondents said they would support market-based plans and 45% could back Medicare for All-type plans.  

Five goals were rated by more than 90% of those surveyedas very or somewhat important: making health care more affordable for ordinary Americans; lowering the cost of prescription drugs; making sure people with preexisting medical conditions can get affordable health insurance; covering long-term care for the elderly and disabled; and making sure all communities have access to enough doctors and hospitals.

So why the gridlock?

“There are these sort of flashpoints with politicized terminology that send people to their partisan corners,” said former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican who is on the board of the bipartisan, nonprofit United States of Care. “If we avoid them, we’re going to be more successful.”

John Greifzu, a survey respondent and school janitor in Fulton, Illinois, used to be a Democrat and “almost middle of the road.” Now, after being a single father of three children until his recent marriage, health insurance costs have made him distrust his party.

His wife is “paying an arm and a leg” — up to a third of a paycheck — for “bottom of the barrel” insurance that comes with a $2,000 deductible through her retail job. And even on the Medicaid plans that cover his children, there are things that aren’t covered, he said.

Greifzu watched his insurance costs rise as it became offered to the unemployed. 

“I work hard for what I’ve got,” said Greifzu. “I’m not going to give up more money for people who don’t do anything.” 

Emily Barson, United States of Care’s executive director, said the survey “validates our worldview … that people agree more than the current political rhetoric would have you believe.” 

It also shows success at the state level is particularly promising, Barson added.

Before the midterm congressional elections, some Republican members of Congress avoided unscripted town halls with voters as concerns rose about the fate of the Affordable Care Act and protections for people with preexisting conditions. In states, Douglas said governors and state officials can’t avoid voters — or each other. 

State officials need to get elected too, but “more importantly, we (states) have to balance our budgets every year,” said Douglas, now a political science professor at Middlebury College.

Friedman noted, however, that voters made it clear in their responses that they don’t want policymakers to leave health care issues to the states. When queried on the specifics, respondents said they didn’t want moving from state to state to make health care any more complicated.  

“In terms of the overarching solution, the public would like to see it solved nationally,” he said. 

Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said most of all it’s clear voters want something done about the prices they pay. 

“Americans across the political spectrum desperately want relief from health care costs,” Levitt said, “and at some point they’re going to hold political leaders to account for not delivering.”

Obamacare, Medicare and more 

The findings from the Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll are part of an election-year project by USA TODAY and Public Agenda. The Hidden Common Ground initiative explores areas of agreement on major issues facing the nation.

The survey of 1,020 adult Americans 18 years and older was taken December 19-26, 2019. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percentage points for Democrats, plus or minus 6.2 percentage points for Republicans and plus or minus 5.7 percentage points for independents. 

The Hidden Common Ground project is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The Kettering Foundation serves as a research partner to the Hidden Common Ground initiative.

Cost of health care, lack of data security stress us out. It’s time to claim our rights.

USA TODAY opinion contributor, Jane Sarasohn-Kahn reported that Americans are stressed out about health care.

Whether it concerns costs, access to treatment or ability to navigate the system, the American Psychological Association, in its 2019 Stress in America survey, found that 69% of people in the United States say health care is a major source of stress in their life.

We’re also stressed about privacy and data security. We live with a patchwork quilt of laws but no overarching protection that allows us to control our personal information.

As Americans, we need to demand our health citizenship. What does this mean? That people claim health care and data privacy as civil rights.

Polls show that most Americans, from top income earners to people living with much less, believe that it’s unfair for wealthier people to have access to better health care.

In an election year where there seems to be little consensus, two issues on which most American voters agree is the need to lower prescription drugs costs and to protect patients with preexisting conditions. These are priorities that cross party lines in 2020.

What’s driving this cross-party consensus? It’s the reality of patients spending increasingly higher amounts of household income on high-deductible health plans, medical services and prescription drugs. Forcing patients to have more financial “skin in the game” has led millions of Americans to forgo care altogether or to self-ration care by not getting recommended tests and not filling prescriptions.

The second driver for the declaration of health citizenship is the urgent need to protect our personal health information.

In 1996, when the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted, the introduction of the iPhone was 11 years away. The internet was dial up to AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy. And per-capita spending on health care averaged $3,759 (in 2018, it was $11,172).

Health care in 2020 is digitally based, with most physicians and hospitals in America using electronic health records and providers conducting care online via web-based services. Health care is quickly moving to the home, to our cars and even inside our bodies with implants. Wearable technology, remote health monitoring and mobile apps increasingly support our self-care and shared-care with clinicians.

Our health data is vulnerable

Those interactions create new data points. So do daily interactions with our phones and retail purchases. That information, when mashed up with our health care data, can be used to predict our health status, identify emergent conditions like a heart attack or stroke, and customize medications for patients.

But the data generated by our daily lives, outside of HIPAA-covered entities such as doctors, hospitals and pharmacies, is not for the most part covered by existing laws. We are exposed to third-party brokers who monetize our data without telling us how it’s used and without sharing the revenue they make from our personal information.

Universal care is basic right

What would a new era of health citizenship look like? Every American would be covered by a health plan — however we fashion it.

Universal health care, American-style, could come in many forms, including through proposals under debate during the election cycle. All residents in our peer nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development enjoy some form of health care plan. Most of these countries spend less on health care per person and realize better health outcomes.

One reason is that those nations spend more per person on social factors that help determine a person’s health.

Education, for example, is a major predictor of people’s health. Sir Angus Deaton and Anne Case’s research into the “deaths of despair” in America identified lack of education as a risk factor. Lawmakers need to “bake” health into food and agriculture, transportation, housing and education policies to improve the health of all Americans regardless of income or education levels.

We also need to help people understand the growing role of data in everyday life. Virtually everyone leaves digital dust in the use of mobile phones, credit cards and online transactions. Our peers in Europe enjoy the privacy protection afforded by the General Data Protection Regulation, which defends the “right to be forgotten.” In the United States, we lack laws that sufficiently protect our personal data.

Voting is part of health citizenship, too. The Stress in America survey cited the 2020 presidential election as a major source of Americans’ stress. Let’s make the act of voting a part of our pursuit of good health’

Medicare for All is really missing the point: Experts say program needs work

Ken Alltucker of USA TODAY, reported that when Robert Davis’ prescription medication money ran out weeks ago, he began rationing a life-sustaining $292,000-per-year drug he takes to treat his cystic fibrosis.

Tuesday, the suburban Houston man and father of two got a lifeline in the mail: a free 30-day supply of a newer, even more expensive triple-combination drug with an annual cost of $311,000.

The drug will bring him relief over the next month, but he’s uncertain what will happen next. Although the 50-year-old has Medicare prescription drug coverage, he can’t afford copays for it or other drugs he must take to stay healthy as he battles the life-shortening lung disorder. 

Davis is among millions of Americans with chronic disease who struggle to pay medical bills even with robust Medicare benefits. More than one in three Medicare recipients with a serious illness say they spend all of their savings to pay for health care. And nearly one in four have been pressured by bill collectors, according to a study supported by the Commonwealth Fund.

As Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and others tout “Medicare for All” to change the nation’s expensive and inequitable health care system, some advocates warn the Medicare program is far from perfect for the elderly and disabled enrolled in it. 

The word “Medicare” was mentioned 17 times during Wednesday night’s debate in the context of a national health plan or a public option people could purchase. However, there’s been little to no discussion among the candidates in debates about the actual status of the health program that covers about 60 million Americans.Ad

One in two Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents want to hear more about how candidates’ plans would affect seniors on Medicare, making it the top health-related concern they’d like candidates to discuss, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Wednesday. 

“We fear the debate about ‘Medicare for All’ is really missing the point,” says Judith Stein, director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “What most people don’t know is the current Medicare program has a lot of problems with it. We need to improve Medicare before it becomes a vehicle for a broad group of people.”

Medicare for All faces broad political challenges. About 53% support a national Medicare for All plan, but that support drops below 50% with more details about paying taxes to support a single-payer system, according to the Kaiser poll.

Nearly two in three moderate voters in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are skeptical of a plan to use Medicare as a vehicle for comprehensive health coverage, another Kaiser and Cook Political Report poll released this month shows. A group funded by pharmaceutical companies, health insurers and hospitals has lobbied against Medicare for All, and a survey released by HealthSavings Administrators reported participating employers oppose the plan.

This month, Warren released more details about her health plan, calling for a public option within the first 100 days of her presidency. She said it was not a retreat from Medicare for All, even as a Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed her support in Iowa dropped to 16%.

Stephen Zuckerman is a health economist and co-director of the Urban Institute Health Policy Center. He says the Medicare for All proposals expand coverage beyond what Medicare beneficiaries get.

“If you hear about Medicare for All, you might think it’s the current Medicare program for all people,” Zuckerman said. “But that’s not what the Medicare for All proposals are presenting. They are looking at plans that are far more generous, in terms of the benefits they cover and to some extent the cost sharing.”

The fundamental promise of Medicare for All builds on a public program that works well for adults over 65 and people who are unable to work because of disability. Although Medicare rates high in satisfaction among most who have it, a portion of people who need frequent, expensive care struggle financially.

The Commonwealth Fund-supported survey of 742 Medicare beneficiaries reported 53% of those with “serious illness” had a problem paying a medical bill. The study defined serious illness as one requiring two or more hospital stays and three or more doctor visits over three years.

Among these seriously ill patients, the most common financial hardship involved medication. Nearly one in three people reported a serious problem paying for prescriptions. People had problems paying hospital, ambulance and emergency room bills, according to the survey.

Eric Schneider, a Commonwealth Fund senior vice president for policy and research, says the survey’s findings show seriously ill Medicare recipients face “significant financial exposure.

“The expectation is that people would be relatively well-covered under Medicare,” Schneider says. “We’re seeing it has gaps and holes, particularly considering the level of poverty many elderly still live in.”

‘More illness, more sickness’

Davis, the Houston-area man, has rationed expensive but critical modulator drugs, which seek to improve lung function by targeting defects caused by genetic mutations. 

When he ran out of the drug Symdeko last November, he coughed up blood, had digestive problems and was hospitalized for a week. This month, he took half the amount he was prescribed, hoping he’d have enough pills to last through the year.  

“It alters my breathing a lot,” Davis says. “I’m more congested. I start slowing down, more illness, more sickness.”

Davis has Medicare prescription coverage, but he couldn’t afford Symdeko’s $1,200 monthly copay. He needs to pay an additional $600 each month for a less expensive drug, pulmozyme, which breaks down and clears mucus from his lungs. The medication he takes is critical to keep his lungs functioning and to limit infections. 

A private foundation offers copay assistance up to $15,000 each year, a threshold Davis reached this month. Like a year ago, as rent, food and utility bills took most of his disability income, the math didn’t work. He could no longer afford drugs when the foundation’s annual help ran out.

A 30-day supply of the newer drug, Trikafta, was provided by the drug’s manufacturer free of charge. Davis worries he will run into the same problem when he’s again forced to cover a copay he can’t afford.

His Medicare coverage is sufficient for doctor visits and hospital stays, but he says drug costs for cystic fibrosis patients are “out of control.” 

“Research is expensive – I understand that,” Davis says. “They are making lifesaving drugs that very few cystic fibrosis patients can afford and that a lot of insurance plans will balk at.”

Vertex Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes Symdeko and Trikafta, says the drugs’ list prices are appropriate.

“Our CF medicines are the first and only medicines to treat the underlying cause of this devastating disease and the price of our medicines reflect the significant value they bring to patients,” the company says in a statement. 

Vertex provides financial assistance to patients such as Davis who need the company’s medications. 

“Our highest priority is making sure patients who need our medicines can get them,” the company says. “Every patient situation is different, and our (patient-assistance) team works individually with patients who are enrolled in the program to evaluate their specific situations and determine what assistance options are available.” 

‘Public Medicare plan is withering’

Advocates such as Stein want presidential candidates to address Medicare’s coverage gaps and other challenges mill

ions of beneficiaries face.

The Commonwealth Fund survey did not report whether participants had traditional Medicare plans or Medicare Advantage plans, which are administered by private insurance companies such as Aetna or UnitedHealthcare. The report did not ask participants whether they had supplemental insurance, which covers out-of-pocket medical expenses not capped by Medicare. 

People on Medicare typically have robust coverage for hospital stays and doctor charges. But even with “Part D” prescription drug coverage, Davis and others who must take expensive drugs are responsible for copays.

“What is happening is the public Medicare program is withering,” Stein says. “The private, more expensive, less valuable Medicare Advantage program is being pumped up.”

More than one-third of Americans choose private Medicare plans, which entice consumers through add-on services such as vision and dental coverage and perks such as gym memberships. A survey commissioned by the Better Medicare Alliance, which is backed by the private insurance industry, reported 94% of people in private Medicare plans are satisfied with their coverage.

Private Medicare plans restrict the network of available doctors, hospitals and specialists people can see. Traditional Medicare plans allow people to see any doctor or hospital that takes Medicare.

Stein says tailored networks can be problematic for seniors who travel out of state and encounter a medical emergency.

She says private plans frequently change doctors and hospital networks from year to year. Such frequent network changes can surprise Medicare recipients and force them to switch doctors.

“There’s too much confusion, too little standardization,” Stein says. “The inability, when you are really ill or injured, to get the care where you want it and from whom you want it, I think that is completely lost in the discussion.”

This month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order “protecting and improving” Medicare, but some worry it could push more consumers into private plans and lead to more expensive medical bills. Among other things, the order calls for Medicare to pay rates closer to those paid by private insurers. Medicare typically pays doctors less than what private commercial plans pay.

The federal rules based on the executive order haven’t been finalized, so it’s unclear how it might be implemented. 

The executive order “doesn’t seem all that well thought out,” Zuckerman says. Raising Medicare’s payment rates to be on par with private insurance would make the program more expensive and potentially financially vulnerable, he says.

“Public opinion wants to see that program preserved,” Zuckerman says. “At a minimum, I don’t think anyone wants to see Medicare contract.”

US health care system causing ‘moral injury’ among doctors, nurses

Megan Henney of FOX Business noted that the emphasis on speed and money — rather than patient care — in emergency medicine is leading to mass exasperation and burnout among clinicians across the country.

According to a new report published by Kaiser Health News, a model of emergency care is forcing doctors to practice “fast and loose medicine,” including excessive testing that leaves patients burdened with hefty medical bills; prioritizing speed at the cost of quality care and overcrowding in hospitals, among other issues.

“The health system is not set up to help patients,” Dr. Nick Sawyer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California-Davis, told Kaiser Health. “It’s set up to make money.”

In October, a 312-page report published by the National Academy of Medicine, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., found that up to half of all clinicians have reported “substantial” feelings of burnout, including exhaustion, high depersonalization and a low sense of personal accomplishment.

Physician burnout can result in increased risk to patients, malpractice claims, clinician absenteeism, high employee turnover and overall reduced productivity. In addition to posing a threat to the safety of patients and physicians, burnout carries a hefty economic cost: A previous study published in June by the Annals of Internal Medicine estimated that physician burnout costs the U.S. economy roughly $4.6 billion per year, or $7,600 per physician per year.

Physicians suffering from burnout are at least twice as likely to report that they’ve made a major medical error in the last three months, compared to their colleagues, and they’re also more likely to be involved in a malpractice litigation suit, the report found. Each year, about 2,400 physicians leave the workforce — and the No. 1 factor is burnout.

The authors of the report, who spent 18 months studying research on burnout, found that between 35 and 54 percent of nurses and doctors experience burnout. Among medical students and residents, the percentage is as high as 60 percent.

“There is a serious problem of burnout among health care professionals in this country, with consequences for both clinicians and patients, health care organizations and society,” the report said.

But the issue in emergency medicine goes beyond burnout. A 2018 report published by Drs. Wendy Dean and Simon Talbot found that physicians are facing a “profound and unrecognized threat” to their well-being: moral injury.

The term “moral injury” was first used to describe soldiers’ response to war and is frequently diagnosed as post-traumatic stress. It represents “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”

At the crux of moral injury in physicians is their inability to consistently meet patient’s needs, a symptom of a health-care environment that’s increasingly focused on maximizing profit that leaves clinicians trapped between navigating an ethical path or “making a profit from people at their sickest and most vulnerable.”

“The moral injury of health care is not the offense of killing another human in the context of war,” Dean and Talbot wrote. “It is being unable to provide high-quality care and healing in the context of health care.”

In the one year since they published their paper, Dean and Talbot sparked an international conversation among health care professionals about the moral foundations of medicine, receiving a flood of responses.

“All of us who work in health care share, at least in the abstract, a single mission: to promote health and take care of the ill and injured. That’s what we’re trained to do,” they wrote. “But the business of health care — the gigantic system of administrative machinery in which health care is delivered, documented, and reimbursed — keeps us from pursuing that mission without anguish or conflict.”

And as I am watching the New Hampshire Primary results I am amazed that Bernie is heading the Dems, as they are saying, based on his push for Medicare for All. Just a flawed proposal and evidently there are many that believe this Socialist. I am truly worried.

Health care spending hit $3.6 trillion in 2018 due to ACA tax, The GDP and Again My Worry Concerning Rural Hospitals

bus559National spending on health care is rising, fueled in part by the reinstatement of an Affordable Care Act tax on insurers, according to a new federal report.

Total national health expenditures last year increased by 4.6 percent to $3.6 trillion last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said. The U.S. spent about $11.172 per person, and national health care spending accounted for about 17.7 percent of the total U.S. economy last year, compared with 17.9 percent in 2017. It was roughly the same as in 2016.

By household, health care spending, which includes out-of-pocket spending, contributions to private health insurance premiums and contributions to Medicare through payroll taxes and premiums, also grew by 4.4 percent.

Private businesses, meanwhile, shelled out $726.8 billion on health care, a 6.2 percent increase from the year-ago period. Most of that goes toward employers’ contributions for insurance premiums. At 20 percent, it absorbed the second-largest shares of health care spending, preceded only by the federal government and households.

Overall, spending by Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance grew faster because of the health insurance tax; an annual fee on all health insurers intended to help fund the estimated $1 trillion cost of the ACA. Congress suspended the tax in 2017 and 2019. It was expected to raise $14.3 billion in 2018, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

“It was responsible for a significant portion of the rise we saw,” Micah Hartman, the report’s lead author, told The Wall Street Journal.

As baby boomers age, the pace of health care spending is only expected to grow. Health care’s share of the economy is projected to climb to 19.4 percent by 2027 from 17.9 percent in 2017, according to a previous CMS study cited by the Journal.

The number of uninsured Americans rose by 1 million for the second year in a row to 30.7 million in 2018. The rate of people without health insurance held steady under 10 percent.

The report could draw the ire of Democrats, who have criticized the Trump administration for its attacks on the ACA. The future of the Obama-era health law is in limbo as a panel of three federal appeals court judges weighs whether it’s unconstitutional after Republicans stripped it of the individual mandate in 2017.

Rare Dip in Healthcare’s Share of GDP in 2018

CMS report shows growth in spending on physician services fell slightly

Joyce Frieden, the News Editor of the MedPage points out that overall U.S.healthcare spending increased by 4.6% in 2018 — higher than the 4.2% growth in 2017, but still representing a slight drop in healthcare’s percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said Thursday.

The increase left the U.S. with health spending of $3.6 trillion in 2018, or $11,172 per person. Some of the spending increase was attributed to growth in private health insurance and Medicare spending due to collection of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance tax — postponed from 2017 — which raised $14.3 billion in 2018, said Micah Hartman, a statistician in CMS’s Office of the Actuary, during a press briefing hosted by Health Affairs. (The figure for the tax revenue came from the Internal Revenue Service, not CMS.) Other growth drivers included faster growth in healthcare prices. Because the overall economy’s 5.4% growth in 2018 outpaced healthcare spending, the percentage of GDP spent on healthcare dropped slightly, from 17.9% in 2017 to 17.7% in 2018, Hartman said.

Paul Hughes-Cromwick, MA, co-director of Sustainable Health Spending Strategies at Altarum, a healthcare consulting firm here, said in an email that he found the decrease in percentage of GDP “encouraging,” but added that “we can safely predict that this will return to near 18% in 2019 with mildly accelerating health spending and weakening GDP growth.” And “despite all the talk and support for social determinants of health (SDOH) across the political spectrum, government public health activities only grew at 2.4%, the second slowest in the past 7 years (though it is expected that much SDOH activity lies outside formal public health spending).”

Jamie Hall, a research fellow in quantitative analysis at the Heritage Foundation here, said in a phone interview that the decrease in the percentage of GDP “is the first time that’s happened since before Obamacare. So it’s a good sign that some of the Trump administration policies that are oriented toward containing costs are having an effect” — things like short-term, limited-duration insurance policies and efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs. “We’re sort of more at equilibrium and it’s somewhat more of a stable system at this point,” he said.

Growth in Spending on Physicians Declines

Spending on physician care and other clinical services increased by 4.1% in 2018, down from 4.7% the year before. This was due in part to slower growth in private health insurance, Medicaid, and “residual use and intensity” — the number and intensity of clinician visits — and was not offset by faster growth in healthcare prices, said Aaron Catlin, deputy director in the Office of the Actuary.

Healthcare prices are accelerating from an all-time low measured in 2015, Hughes-Cromwick noted. “If health care price growth returns to a historical pattern, i.e., significantly higher than economy-wide inflation, healthcare spending will definitely accelerate,” consistent with CMS’s long-run projections, he said.

The percentage of uninsured Americans grew by one million people, from 29.7 million to 30.7 million, according to CMS; that was on top of a previous one-million-person increase from 28.7 million in 2016. “We can’t track individuals, so we can’t say where those people came from and the status of their coverage before and after becoming uninsured … but we do show decreases in private health insurance and reductions in other directly purchased insurance,” said Catlin.

This increase in the uninsured “is a huge issue,” said Dan Mendelson, founder and former CEO of Avalere, a healthcare consulting firm here, in a phone interview. “The numbers are on an upward march and it will be a major electoral issue going into 2020.”

But Hall said the uninsured numbers were “quite misleading.” “Of the folks officially considered uninsured, the overwhelming majority of these folks have access to some type of coverage but have chosen not to enroll,” he said. “It’s important that folks not equate a lack of insurance with lack of access to coverage or lack of access to care.”

Private Insurance Enrollment Down

Private health insurance enrollment declined by 1.6 million people, with the drop coming primarily from those enrolled in private plans outside the ACA’s health insurance marketplaces, said Anne Martin, an economist in the Office of the Actuary. The number of enrollees who purchased employer-sponsored health insurance also fell slightly, from 175.6 million to 175.2 million. Medicare enrollment, on the other hand, grew from 57.2 million in 2017 to 58.7 million in 2018, while Medicaid enrollment also rose slightly during the same time period, from 72.1 million to 72.8 million.

Despite the enrollment drop, spending on private health insurance grew by 5.8%, to $1.2 trillion, up from 4.9% the prior year, Martin continued. “The most significant factor in insurance spending was the increase in the net cost of health insurance, which was influenced by the health insurance tax.”

Retail prescription drug spending rose by 2.5% in 2018, to $335 billion, up from a 1.4% increase in 2017. “This faster rate of growth was driven by non-price factors, such as the use and mix of drugs consumed, which more than offset a decline of 1% in prices for retail prescription drugs,” the agency said in a press release. This spending category does not take into account spending on physician-administered drugs or drugs administered in the hospital.

Home Healthcare Spending Up

“The fact that drug spending at the pharmacy is attenuating is a big deal, and it appears to be a combination of the mix of drugs being used,” Mendelson said. “It shows that consumers are using drugs more efficiently, which is good news. I think that change of behavior has been happening for quite some time; it’s durable and it’s a positive effect.”

However, he added, “The other thing is that healthcare costs are still rising much more rapidly than wages, and what it shows is that while costs have attenuated, the fact that they’re still rising faster than wages is squeezing consumers significantly … The fact we’re seeing macro[-level] progress doesn’t help the patient who is facing a $5,000 deductible and trying to figure out how to pay for their healthcare.”

In terms of personal healthcare spending, some of the largest increases were in-home healthcare (up 5.2%), durable medical equipment (up 4.7%), and dental services (up 4.6%). Spending on hospital care in 2018 rose 4.5% to $1.2 trillion, down slightly from a 4.7% increase the year before. The slower growth was attributed to a decrease in out-of-pocket hospital spending growth, decreased residual use and intensity, a slowing in inpatient days in hospitals, and a drop in the growth of hospital spending by the Defense Department.

Overall, 33% of healthcare expenditures in 2018 went for hospital care, 20% went for physician care and other clinician services, 13% to other services, 9% to retail prescription drugs, 8% to government administration and net cost of health insurance, and 5% to nursing care and continuing care retirement communities, according to the agency.

Sally Pipes: Sanders, Warren wants ‘Medicare-for-all’ like Canada – But Canadian health care is awful

Sally Pipes of the Fox News reported that the Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want you to believe Canada’s health care system is a dream come true. And they want to make the dream even better with their “Medicare-for-all” plans. Don’t believe them.

In truth, Canada’s system of socialized medicine is actually a nightmare. It has left hospitals overcrowded, understaffed and unable to treat some patients. Americans would face the same dismal reality if Canadian-style “Medicare-for-all” takes root here.

Canada’s health care system is the model for the “Medicare-for-all” plan that both Sanders, I-Vt., and Warren, D-Mass., embrace.

North of the border, all residents have taxpayer-funded, comprehensive health coverage. In theory, they can walk into any hospital or doctor’s office and get the care they need, without a co-pay or deductible.

Sanders and Warren would one-up Canada by providing all Americans with free prescription drugs, free long-term care, free dental care, free vision care, and free care for people with hearing problems.

Who could possibly object to all that free care?

Well, politicians in Canada object. They say even their country can’t do what Sanders and Warren want because all this free care would cost too much and cause other problems.

But for Sanders and Warren, money is no object. They can just raise taxes as higher and higher and higher. And the huge tax increases needed to fund “Medicare-for-all” would hit us all – there aren’t enough millionaires and billionaires to foot the bill.

It’s true that everyone in Canada has health coverage. But that coverage doesn’t always secure care. According to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, patients waited a median of nearly 20 weeks to receive specialist treatment after referral by a general practitioner in 2018. That’s more than double the wait patients faced 25 years ago.

In Nova Scotia, patients faced a median total wait time of 34 weeks. More than 6 percent of the province’s population was waiting for treatment in 2018.

Waiting for care is perhaps better than not being able to seek it at all. The hospital emergency department in Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia recently announced that it would simply close on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There aren’t enough doctors available to staff the facility.

Canadians can’t escape waits like these unless they leave the country and payout of pocket for health care abroad. Private health insurance is illegal in Canada.

Private clinics in Canada are not allowed to charge patients for “medically necessary” services that the country’s single-payer plan covers. And the government has deemed just about every conceivable service “medically necessary.”

For the past decade, Dr. Brian Day, an orthopedic surgeon who runs the private Cambie Surgery Centre in British Columbia, has tried to offer Canadians a way out of the waits by expanding patient access to private clinics. He’s been battling his home province in court for a decade to essentially grant patients the ability to pay providers directly for speedier care.

During closing arguments in Day’s trial before the British Columbia Supreme Court at the end of November, Dr. Roland Orfaly of the British Columbia Anesthesiologists’ Society testified that over 300 patients in the province died waiting for surgery from 2015 to 2016 because of a shortage of anesthesiologists. And that was in just one of the province’s five regional health authorities!

Shortages of crucial medical personnel and equipment are common throughout Canada. The country has fewer than three doctors for every 1,000 residents. That puts it 26th among 28 countries with universal health coverage schemes. If current trends continue, the country will be short 60,000 full-time nurses in just three years.

In 2018, Canada had less than 16 CT scanners for every million people. The United States, by comparison, had nearly 45 per million.

These shortages, combined with long waits, can lead to incredible suffering.

In 2017, one British Columbia woman who was struggling to breathe sought treatment in an overcrowded emergency room. She was given a shot of morphine and sent home. She died two days later.

That same year, a Halifax, Nova Scotia, man dying of pancreatic cancer was left in a cold hallway for six hours when doctors couldn’t find him a bed. Yes, people must sometimes be treated on hallway floors because of severe overcrowding.

In fact, some Canadian hospital emergency rooms look like they belong in poverty-stricken Third World countries.
WBUR Radio, Boston’s NPR station, documented these terrible conditions in a story about a hospital in Nova Scotia earlier this month.

Americans who find the promise of free health care difficult to resist would do well to take a hard look north.

Sure, “Medicare-for-all” as pitched by Sanders and Warren sounds good. But the reality is far from what these two far-left candidates are promising. Like a drug that helps you in one way but causes even more serious problems, “Medicare-for-all” has dangerous side effects that can be hazardous to your health.

Rural hospital acquisitions may reduce patient services

I have already discussed the outcome of Medicare for All on physicians and especially rural hospitals. Beware, especially when we hear of what is happening already! Last week it was reported that one of the hospital systems in Chicago fired 15 physicians and hired NP’s/nurse practitioners to take over their patient care responsibilities.

Also, Carolyn Crist of Reuters noted that although hospitals can improve financially when they join larger health systems, the merger might also reduce access to services for patients in rural areas, according to a new study.

After an affiliation, rural hospitals are more likely to lose onsite imaging and obstetric and primary care services, researchers report in a special issue of the journal Health Affairs devoted to rural health issues in the United States.

“The major concern when you think about health and healthcare in rural America is access,” said lead study author Claire O’Hanlon of the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California.

More than 100 rural hospitals in the U.S. have closed since 2010, the study authors write.

“Hospitals in rural areas are struggling to stay open for a lot of different reasons, but many are looking to health-system affiliation as a way to keep the doors open,” she told Reuters Health by email. “But when you give up local control of your hospital to a health system, a lot of things can change that may or may not be good for the hospital or its patients.”

Using annual surveys by the American Hospital Association, O’Hanlon and colleagues compared 306 rural hospitals that affiliated during 2008-2017 with 994 nonaffiliated rural hospitals on 12 measures, including quality, service utilization, and financial performance. The study team also looked at the emergency department and nonemergency visits, long-term debt, operating margins, patient experience scores, and hospital readmissions.

They found that rural hospitals that affiliated had a significant reduction in outpatient non-emergency visits, onsite diagnostic imaging technologies such as MRI machines, and availability of obstetric and primary care services. For instance, obstetric services dropped by 7-14% annually in the five years following affiliation.

“Does this mean that patients are getting prenatal care in their community at a different location, traveling to receive prenatal care at another location of the same health system, or forgoing this care entirely?” O’Hanlon said. “Trying to figure out the extent to which the observed changes in the services available onsite at rural hospitals reflect real changes in patient access is an important next step.”

At the same time, the affiliated hospitals also experienced an increase in operating margins, from an average baseline of -1.6%, typical increases were 1.6 to 3.6 percentage points, the authors note. The better financial performance appeared to be driven largely by decreased operating costs.

Overall, patient experience scores, long-term debt ratios, hospital readmissions, and emergency department visits were similar for affiliating and non-affiliating hospitals.

“Research on these mergers has been mixed, with some suggestions they are beneficial for the community (access to capital, more specialty services, keep the hospital open) and other evidence that there are costs (employment reductions, loss of local control, increase in prices),” said Mark Holmes of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Mergers can have a large impact on a community, so understanding the effect on the resultant access, cost and quality of locally available services is important,” he told Reuters Health by email.

A limitation of the study is that the surveys capture affiliation broadly and don’t specifically describe the arrangements, the study authors’ note. Future studies should investigate the different types of affiliations, such as a full acquisition versus a clinically integrated hospital network, which may show different outcomes, said Rachel Mosher Henke of IBM Watson Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who also wasn’t involved in the study.

For instance, certain types of rural hospital affiliations may be better for the community than a full hospital closure, she said.

“However, it’s important to evaluate the potential for negative consequences for the community in terms of reduced service offerings,” she told Reuters Health by email. “New payment models such as all-payer global payments that allow rural hospitals to continue to operate independently with consistent cash flow may be an alternative to affiliation to consider.” But it may not fix the impossible especially if the system pays all at Medicare or Medicaid rates?

Next is to discuss the basis of single-payer healthcare systems and look who is back trying to hold his lead in the Democratic-run for President a guy who can’t even remember where he is, dates, or where he is going, Joe Biden!!!

 

Some Hospitals Sue Opioid Makers For Costs Of Treating Uninsured For Addiction. Who is Really Treating Our Patients and Words for CMS Administrator Seema Verma. Really??

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 11.44.45 PMI had a brother who basically tried to destroy our family with his drinking and his use of drugs. I remember having to home from college and medical school to rescue him many times after my parents were feed up with his abuses and problems with the police. Finally he and his girlfriend wrapped his car around a telephone phone resulting his death. So, I understand the opioid problem but have minimal empathy. We all make our own choices in life and need to stop blaming everyone else but those that use, steal, lie and continue to use opioids. Now, what are the real numbers?

Blake Farmer reported that while thousands of cities and counties have banded together to sue opioid makers and distributors in a federal court, another group of plaintiffs has started to sue on their own: hospitals.

Hundreds of hospitals have joined up in a handful of lawsuits in state courts, seeing the state-based suits as their best hope for winning meaningful settlement money.

“The expense of treating overdose and opioid-addicted patients has skyrocketed, straining the resources of hospitals throughout our state,” said Lee Bond, chief executive officer of Singing River Health System in Mississippi in a statement. His hospital is part of a lawsuit in Mississippi.

Hospitals may find there are downsides to getting involved in litigation, says Paul Keckley, an independent health analyst.

“The drug manufacturers are a soft target,” he says. But the invasive nature of litigation may generate “some unflattering attention” for hospitals, he adds. They’d likely have to turn over confidential details about how they set their prices, as well as their relationships with drug companies.

So despite representing the front lines of the opioid epidemic, most hospitals have been hesitant to pile on.

Just about every emergency room has handled opioid overdoses, which cost hospitals billions of dollars a year, since so many of the patients have no insurance. But that’s just the start. There are also uninsured patients, like Traci Grimes of Nashville, who end up spending weeks being treated for serious infections related to their IV drug use.

“As soon as I got to the hospital, I had to be put on an ice bath,” Grimes says of her bout with endocarditis over the summer, when bacteria found its way to her heart. “I thought I was going to die, literally. And they said I wasn’t very far away from death.”

Grimes is in recovery from her opioid addiction but still getting her energy back after spending a month being treated through a special intravenous line to her heart at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Most patients could be sent home with a PICC line, but not someone with a history of illicit IV drug use who could misuse it to inject other substances. Vanderbilt and other academic medical centers have recognized this problem and established special clinics to manage these complex patients.

Grimes, 37, says she’s grateful for the care she received, which also included multiple procedures and treatment for pneumonia, hepatitis A and hepatitis C. But like most patients in her situation, she’s uninsured and strapped for cash.

“I can’t pay a thing. I don’t have a dime,” she says. “So they do absorb all that cost.”

Hospitals estimate treating complicated patients like Grimes costs an average of $107,000 per person, according to court documents. The total costs to U.S. hospitals in one year, 2012, exceeded $15 billion, according to a report cited in the suits. And most patients either couldn’t pay or were covered by government insurance programs.

The expense is a leading reason cited by the hospitals that’ve banded together in a handful of lawsuits in Tennessee, Texas, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia. These suits are all separate from the big consolidated federal case in Ohio that includes cities and counties around the country. But the most prominent hospitals in those states, like Vanderbilt, have opted not to join the litigation.

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, who oversees the state’s largest hospital system, has been urging others to join the suits. He and former Ohio Governor John Kasich established an organization meant to highlight the harm done to hospitals by the opioid crisis.

“I think the more hospitals we have that want to be involved in this in some way, the better off we are,” he says. “You know, there’s always safety in mass.”

By “safety,” Gee acknowledges a central concern for hospitals weighing the risk versus reward of going to court. They may have the tables turned on them by the pharmaceutical companies, since until recently, patients in the hospital were often prescribed large quantities of opioids, contributing to the epidemic.

“I suspect there are some hospitals … who are afraid that if they get into it, those who on the defense side will point out, well, maybe hospitals were really the problem,” he says.

The lead defendant in the suits, Purdue Pharma, did not respond to requests for comment.

Gee says hospitals can claim they were victims of dubious opioid marketing.

Still many high-profile hospitals are sitting out the lawsuits, even though they’re typically the ones that treat the most complicated and expensive patients.

Paul Keckley says if hospitals join the litigation, they may be forced to cough up actual totals for their opioid-related financial damages. That could force hospitals to reveal how much more they charge for some services, compared to the actual costs of providing the care.

“Hospitals basically have charged based on their own calculations and the underlying cost of delivering that care has been virtually non-transparent,” Keckley says. “Then you open a whole new can of worms.”

Keckley says especially big academic medical centers have relationships with drugmakers that they may not want publicly highlighted.

Still, hospitals might benefit without having to put their names on lawsuits and exposing themselves to risk. In Oklahoma, the state won an early opioid lawsuit in August. The payout does not direct money to hospitals, per se. However, Patti Davis, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association, says they’re happy to see some of the money was earmarked for treatment.

“When we see treatment, we get very excited because it’s our hospitals providing a lot of the treatment,” she says.

But nationally, hospitals can’t count on potential settlement money to trickle down to their bottom lines, says attorney Don Barrett. He’s a Mississippi litigator helping hospitals sue in state courts.

Two decades ago, when the target of litigation was Big Tobacco, Barrett was working for states. He says hospitals didn’t join in, to his surprise. And when the states won those suits and started getting paid damages, hospitals missed out. Only about a third of the money was even spent on health or tobacco control, according to one watchdog’s estimate.

“I guess they thought that the states were going to take care of them, that these local governments were going to take this money and give it to the hospitals where it would do some good,” he says. “Of course, they didn’t give them a damn penny.”

Some states did set up trust funds that might help patients in the hospital stop smoking. But many are using the money to fill potholes, pay teachers and otherwise close gaps in state budgets.

Though not detailed in the lawsuits, many of the participating hospitals are in varying levels of financial distress, and not always primarily because of the opioid epidemic. Facilities owned by Community Health Systems make up a large share of the hospitals suing in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. The investor-owned hospital chain, based in Franklin, Tenn., has been struggling mostly because of an outsized debt load taken on during a rapid period of expansion.

A CHS spokesperson declined to comment, citing a policy not to talk about pending litigation.

But Barrett says he expects more hospitals to join the cause rather than relying on states to determine how settlement money is spent.

“We’re not going to allow that to happen this time,” he says. “We can’t afford to allow it to happen this time.”

The Real Cost Of The Opioid Epidemic: An Estimated $179 Billion In Just 1 Year

SelenaSimmons-Duffin reported that there’s a reckoning underway in the courts about the damage wrought by the opioid crisis and who should pay for it.

Thousands of cities and counties are suing drugmakers and distributors in federal court. One tentative dollar amount floated earlier this week to settle with four of the companies: $48 billion. It sounds like a lot of money, but it doesn’t come close to accounting for the full cost of the epidemic, according to recent estimates — let alone what it might cost to fix it.

Of course, there’s a profound human toll that dollars and cents can’t capture. Almost 400,000 people have died since 1999 from overdoses related to prescription or illicit opioids. Since 2016, the number of opioid deaths per year rivals or has exceeded the number from traffic accidents. These are lives thrown into chaos, families torn apart — you can’t put a dollar figure on those things.

But the economic impact is important to understand. The most recent estimate of those costs comes from the Society of Actuaries and actuarial consulting firm Milliman in a report published this month.

“We pride ourselves that this is objective, nonpartisan research,” says Dale Hall, managing director of research at the Society of Actuaries. He adds, “We’re not here to influence any court proceedings.” As actuaries, they calculate financial numbers associated with risks, for instance, for insurance companies.

So how much did the epidemic cost in just one year, 2018? The total number they came to was $179 billion. And those are costs borne by all of society — both by governments providing taxpayer-funded services (estimated to be about a third of the cost) and also individuals, families, employers, private insurers and more.

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 11.49.53 PMWhen you start to break that number apart, a picture emerges of how opioid addiction ripples out into communities and across generations.

Overdose deaths: $72.6 billion

It makes sense that the biggest contributor to the costs of the epidemic comes from overdose deaths, according to Stoddard Davenport of Milliman, one of the report’s authors.

“When you think about the course of a person’s life that struggles with opioid use disorder, early mortality is the most significant adverse event that can happen, and I think that bears out when you look at the economic impact,” he says.

Every day, 130 people die from opioid overdoses. Most of them are in the 25-55-age range, right in the middle of their prime working years, and lost earning potential accounts for most of those costs.

“The mortality costs have a small component of end of life health care, coroner expenses and things like that,” he says. “The grand majority of it, however, is composed of lost lifetime earnings.”

Preliminary data suggest overdose deaths dipped in 2018 for the first time in years, but many experts say it’s too early to say whether that marks a turnaround.

Hall points out that whether the annual death toll stays as high as 47,000 in coming years “will be certainly a driver of what these overall economic costs will be.”

Health care: $60.4 billion

The next biggest amount comes from health care costs. The researchers took several large databases of insurance claims that had been scrambled to hide the identity of the patients and flagged people who had been coded as having opioid use disorder. Then the researchers calculated their overall health care costs — not just directly related to their addiction, but any additional costs — and compared them to similar patients without addiction.

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 11.50.26 PMNearly one-third ($60.4 billion) of the estimated economic burden of the opioid

“Looking at the difference in costs gives us a sense for how much more complicated is their overall health care picture and what those additional expenses look like for two otherwise comparable people,” Davenport explains.

Opioid addiction is linked to other health problems. Patients might have chronic pain or mental illness that underlies their addiction; infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C can spread among injection drug users; and there can also be higher costs for other conditions like anemia, liver disease, and pulmonary heart disease, according to another Milliman analysis from earlier this year.

There are also health costs for people who live in the same household as someone with an opioid use disorder — their lives might be more complicated and their mental and physical health can suffer as a result.

Then there are the costs for infants born dependent on opioids — what’s called neonatal abstinence syndrome. “The epidemic effect is starting to create a second generation that extends down to children and unfortunately newborns as well,” Hall says. In 2018 those costs were $800 million, but they estimate this year they could be almost $1 billion.

There are still more costs the report could not capture, including elevated costs for patients whose opioid use disorder is undiagnosed and potential ongoing expenses for children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome as they grow up.

Lost productivity: $26.5 billion

When someone is addicted to opioids, they might not be able to apply for or hold down a job, or they might be incarcerated and unable to work. The researchers broke this section out into reduced labor force participation, absenteeism, incarceration, short and long term disability, and workers’ compensation.

“What we’re trying to capture is the amount of time that folks are spending not doing economically productive activities,” Davenport says. Other productivity costs — like “presenteeism,” when someone shows up at work but isn’t as productive as they otherwise would be — were not included here.

It’s also worth noting, many of these costs fall to private employers, for instance, and families who have a family member not bringing home income.

“It’s around 30% falling on the federal state and local governments,” he says. “The rest [falls to] the private sector and then of course to individuals.”

Criminal justice: $10.9 billion

Measuring this part of the costs of the epidemic is a different beast. The researchers captured costs related to police, court cases, correctional facilities and property lost to crime, Davenport explains. They drilled down into criminal justice expenses to see “what proportion of those total budgets involve substance use disorders, and then what proportion of that is represented by opioids.”

Having an opioid addiction dramatically increases the chance of being caught up in the criminal justice system. As NPR has reported, only 3% of the general population reported being recently arrested, on parole or on probation. For people with opioid use disorder, that jumped up to nearly 20%.

Child and family assistance and education: $9 billion

The team took a similar approach to calculate the costs for things like food assistance, child welfare, income, and housing assistance, and education. They took those total costs, figured out what portion was related to substance use, and what part of that was related to opioid use.

The epidemic has a profound impact on families and communities — parents with opioid use disorder have to navigate treatment and sometimes battle for custody of their kids; the state has to handle child welfare cases and find new homes for foster kids; and schools are providing counseling for kids with addicted parents.

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 11.50.53 PM“Typically an epidemic will start in one place but then it broadens out,” says Hall. “We’re starting to see a broadening out of the impact of the opioid epidemic into some second-generation effects.”

Hall adds there are also “the costs of educating people about the epidemic and ways to prevent future opioid use disorder.” Those costs — mostly from federal grants for elementary and secondary education programs — came out to $1.2 billion last year.

What’s missing: Turning the crisis around

These are some solid numbers that capture the current economic burden of the epidemic. Estimating what it’s going to cost to fix the crisis — to treat those who are addicted, to reduce overdose deaths, and more — is another story.

“The notion of abatement is that we want to deal with the problem that exists but also to begin to remedy it,” says Christopher Ruhm, professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia. He worked for several years on a 30-year abatement plan for Oklahoma as part of that state’s case against several drug companies.

For Oklahoma, Ruhm estimated treatment; prevention, education and surveillance for one year would cost $836 million. The judge in the case made his own calculations and ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million, though the amount has since been adjusted, and the case is currently being appealed.

If you scale Ruhm’s numbers up from that one state to the whole country, you get $69 billion to fund a year’s worth of abatement programs.

“I’m not saying that’s an appropriate calculation in the sense that things could be different in Oklahoma from other places,” Ruhm cautions. There are also costs that might come up on the federal level that wouldn’t be factored in for Oklahoma, such as research into effective addiction treatments.

Still, it gives you a rough idea, as society starts to take stock of what this epidemic is costing already, how much it will cost to try to fix it and who should ultimately pay.

Why Are Insurance Executives Treating Our Patients?

Kevin Campbell believes that peer-to-peer consults waste time and harm patients, I’m wondering where this opinion comes from, his medical degree?

Kevin Campbell reported that in two recent surveys, physicians said that pre-authorizations are burdensome to their practice and that they could lead to adverse patient outcomes. Kevin Campbell, MD, agrees that the insurance companies shouldn’t be part of patient practice, and says that the peer-to-peer review process is even worse.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Insurance companies have been granted far too much control over patient care over the last several decades. Nowhere is it more apparent than when physicians are asked to obtain “pre-approval” for guideline-based, medically necessary procedures. According to one survey from the Medical Group Management Association, 83% of those surveyed said prior authorizations are “very” or “extremely” burdensome to their practice and their staff. Another survey conducted of physicians found that nearly one-third of doctors believe that spending time obtaining pre-authorizations actually led to adverse patient outcomes.

Ninety percent of those practice managers have indicated that the amount of pre-authorizations have significantly increased over the last year. To illustrate the sheer volume of this work, there were 182 million pre-authorization transactions conducted last year alone.

While Congress has given lip service to this issue by hosting a hearing with doctors in September, no real changes have occurred. In fact, the insurance companies have lobbied Congress that these pre-authorizations are needed to reduce costs and prevent unneeded treatments.

I find this practice offensive. Who are insurance executives to decide who needs or does not need a procedure? Who are they to determine the appropriateness of a procedure? Did they go to medical school? Have they ever looked a patient in the eyes and told them they cannot have a life-saving procedure done because it costs too much?

Worse than the pre-authorization is the peer-to-peer consultations. As an electrophysiologist, I spent nearly a decade training at Duke in order to become an expert in the implantation of pacemakers and ICDs and performing ablations. When I have a pre-auth denied, I have to get on the phone and argue my case for the procedure — which is based on ACC and HRS guidelines — to someone who has NEVER even seen a pacemaker, and almost always does not even understand how a pacemaker functions! Often these are retired pathologists, pediatricians, or other non-specialists that are making decisions about MY clinical judgment. In fact, an EP colleague of mine recently told me that he had to do a peer-to-peer consult to argue the appropriateness of an ICD implantation. When he began the consultation, the insurance company representative, who was supposedly an MD, said that he could not justify putting ACID into a patient. The trick here is that this guy did not even know that it was an AICD or a defibrillator and not ACID. This just illustrates the level of incompetence of the reviewing doctors that insurance companies hire to review the appropriateness of procedures.

We cannot stand for this any longer. Insurance companies are working around the clock to avoid paying for care. Our patients and our employers pay insurance companies for coverage. The physicians that care for patients every day — by and large — provide evidence-based care and do what is indicated for patients based on guidelines. It is insulting and frankly disgusting to have someone who has no knowledge of a particular specialty making a determination of care appropriateness on a patient that they have never evaluated and with no expert knowledge on the topic. Moreover, these reviewing MDs are actually compensated for NOT approving procedures.

Our patients are suffering. Our staff is becoming overworked in dealing with pre-authorizations. Our doctors are wasting valuable time on the phone arguing with ignorant MD reviewers employed and incentivized by insurance companies. Let’s take medicine back — contact your congressman or congresswoman today.

Verma to Democrats: Some insurance ‘better than no insurance at all’

Michael Brady noted that CMS Administrator Seema Verma on Wednesday defended the Trump administration’s actions on healthcare, telling the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee that her agency is trying to provide greater access to care in the face of rising healthcare costs.

Verma touted the CMS’ efforts on a range of healthcare issues from health IT interoperability to opioid abuse throughout her testimony, but the committee’s Democratic members met her with fierce criticism. They said that under the Trump administration, the healthcare system is heading in the wrong direction and that the Affordable Care Act is succeeding “despite” the administration’s best efforts to undermine it.

The Democrats were especially concerned about the CMS’ expansion of short-term, limited-duration insurance, a recent drop in the number of people with insurance, waivers for Medicaid work requirements and the administration’s unwillingness to share information about what it’ll do if a court throws out the ACA.

The CMS loosened restrictions on short-term, limited-duration insurance last year to provide more affordable coverage options to consumers who don’t have employer-sponsored insurance but earn too much to receive subsidies for plans offered through ACA exchanges or qualify for federal programs like Medicaid. Unlike plans sold on the exchanges, they don’t have to meet the ACA’s mandates.

Critics, including the committee’s Democratic members, argue that these plans are affordable because they don’t cover as much as ACA-approved plans that have caps of cost-sharing and require payers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. Throughout the hearing, several committee members called them “junk” health plans. And the representatives repeatedly confronted Verma on the lack of ACA protections for consumers.

“What are people with these junk plans supposed to do when they need vital healthcare services that are not covered by these junk plans?” said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.).

Verma responded that when the other plans available to people are unaffordable, the short-term plans are “better than no insurance at all.”

“If there were more affordable options available under Obamacare, people wouldn’t have to make compromises,” Verma said.

Several committee members also took aim at the Trump administration for a recent falloff in the number of people who have health insurance. Nearly 2 million more people lacked health insurance in 2018 compared with the year before, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau. The report showed that a dropoff in Medicaid coverage caused most of the decline.

“Under this administration, thousands of children and families have lost coverage of basic health services … the numbers just don’t lie,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).

But the worries about Medicaid weren’t limited to Democrats; Republicans had concerns too.

“How do we ensure that the populations, some of the most vulnerable in our communities, are actually getting the care that we have promised to them?” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).

Committee Democrats also brought up the administration’s approval of Medicaid work requirement waivers, which seem increasingly likely to get struck down by the courts because of HHS’ failure to consider their effects on coverage. Low-income, working-age adults in Arkansas were less likely to have health insurance, work or participate in community engagement activities after the state’s work requirement went into effect, according to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine. That’s despite Arkansas’ unemployment rate declining over that period.

“Can you point me to one study that says a work requirement makes people healthier?” asked Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.). “Healthier people might work, but working doesn’t necessarily make people healthier.”

Several members of the committee also wanted to know what the administration would do if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were to uphold a lower court ruling that would invalidate the ACA entirely. They were especially frustrated that HHS had “stonewalled” them on their requests for documents about the administration’s contingency plans, especially those related to likely coverage losses and protections for pre-existing conditions.

Committee members also wanted to know why the administration didn’t ask the courts to safeguard the parts of the law that the administration says it supports. They asked about protections for pre-existing conditions or allowing kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26 years old.

“Did the administration file some kind of motion in the Texas case to say that the pre-existing conditions should be maintained?” DeGette asked.

“We will maintain what works and we will try to address the problems that we’re having with the ACA,” Verma replied.

She added that people with pre-existing conditions “don’t have the protections today” if they can’t afford the coverage.

“Where is the plan?” asked Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

An analysis by the left-leaning Urban Institute estimates that roughly 20 million people will lose coverage if the courts toss out Obamacare altogether.

And hopefully, we will hear from Ms. Warren regarding how she proposes to pay for Medicare for All, her answer for the Democrats’ new health care system. I can’t wait to hear how all their plans are going to be paid for.

Happy Halloween to All you Goblins, Devils, Witches and Yes you Politicians that act like Goblins and Devils and Witches and Donkeys!

Rise in health uninsured may be linked to immigrants’ fears but still they get free health care. Health care cost without insurance and another medical school offers free tuition!

hydrant442[3418]As I caught a ride from the San Diego airport to my hotel in Little Italy, I heard my driver relate to me her and her family’s woes regarding health care. She and her husband were planning of leaving California just as soon as their youngest son finished high school. And they were very tired of the ever-increasing taxes and fees. She was most annoyed that the illegal immigrant families would get free health care and her husband and she can’t afford basic health care. But they have found a way to use urgent care clinics to cover their needs. Alonso-Zaldivar noted that when the Census Bureau reported an increase in the number of people without health insurance in America, it sent political partisans reaching for talking points on the Obama-era health law and its travails. But the new numbers suggest that fears of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown may be a more significant factor in the slippage.
Overall, the number of uninsured in the U.S. rose by 1.9 million people in 2018, the agency reports this past week. It was the first jump in nearly a decade. An estimated 27.5 million people, or 8.5% of the population, lacked coverage the entire year. Such increases are considered unusual in a strong economy.
The report showed that a drop in low-income people enrolled in Medicaid was the most significant factor behind the higher number of uninsured people.
Hispanics were the only major racial and ethnic category with a significant increase in their uninsured rate. It rose by 1.6 percentage points in 2018, with nearly 18% lacking coverage. There was no significant change in health insurance for non-Hispanic whites, blacks and Asians.
“Some of the biggest declines in coverage are coming among Latinos and noncitizens,” said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, who tracks trends in health insurance coverage. “These declines in coverage are coming at a time when the Trump administration has tried to curb immigration and discourage immigrants from using public benefits like Medicaid.”
Health care is the defining issue for Democrats vying for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Candidates wasted no time in Thursday’s debate highlighting the split between progressives such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren , who favor a government-run system for all, including people without legal permission to be in the country, and moderates like former Vice President Joe Biden. He supports building on the Affordable Care Act and adding a new public plan option, open to U.S. citizens and legal residents.
Although the candidates did not dwell on the uninsured rate, Democratic congressional leaders have said the census figures show the administration’s “sabotage” of the Obama health law.
The administration issued a statement blaming the law’s high premiums, unaffordable for solid middle-class people who do not qualify for financial assistance. “The reality is we will continue to see the number of uninsured increase until we address the underlying issues in Obamacare that have failed the American people,” the statement said.
While the report found an increase in the uninsured rate among solid middle-class people the Trump administration wants to help, there was no significant change in employer coverage or in plans that consumers purchase directly. Those are the types of health insurance that middle-class workers tend to have. Other patterns in the data pointed to an immigration link.
Health economist Richard Frank of Harvard Medical School said the data “suggest that we are dealing with immigration health care crisis potentially in some unexpected ways.” Frank was a high-ranking health policy adviser in the Obama administration.
The uninsured rate for foreign-born people, including those who have become U.S. citizens, also rose significantly, mirroring the shift among Hispanics.
Frank noted that immigrant families often include foreign-born and native-born relatives, “and you can imagine the new approach to immigration inhibiting these people from doing things that would make them more visible to public authorities,” such as applying for government health care programs.
Immigrants’ fears may also be part of the reason for a significant increase in the number of uninsured children in 2018, said Katherine Hempstead, a senior health policy expert with the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which works to expand coverage. Among immigrant children who have become citizens, the uninsured rate rose by 2.2 percentage points in 2018, to 8.6%. The increase was greater among kids who are not citizens.
“There are a lot of kids eligible for public coverage but not enrolled because of various things that make it less comfortable for people to enroll in public coverage,” said Hempstead.
The administration’s “public charge” regulation, which could deny green cards to migrants who use government benefits such as Medicaid was finalized this year. But other efforts to restrict immigration, including family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, were occurring in the period covered by the report.
“People are interpreting ‘public charge’ broadly and even though their kids are eligible for Medicaid because they were born in this country, they are staying away,” said Hempstead. Children’s coverage often follows their parents’ status.
Other factors could also be affecting the numbers:
—The report found a statistically significant increase in solid middle-class people who are uninsured. Health care researcher and consultant Brian Blase, who until recently served as a White House adviser, said it appears to reflect people who cannot afford high ACA premiums. Blase said Trump policies rolled out last year should provide better options for this group. The changes include short-term health insurance plans, health reimbursement accounts and association health plans.
—Experts are debating the impact of a strong job market on the decline in Medicaid enrollment. It’s possible that some Medicaid recipients took jobs that boosted their earnings, making them ineligible for benefits. But if those jobs did not provide health benefits, then the workers would become uninsured. The Census Bureau report showed no significant change in workplace coverage.
Physicians Struggle to Care for Migrants on U.S.-Mexico Border
Elizabeth Hlavinka, Staff writer for MedPage spoke with physicians providing care to migrants in border cities and points out the experiences of providers in El Paso Texas. These stories are evidence of the increasing health care problem facing the migrants and the health care workers attempting to care for the large population.One was the experience of a 17-year-old girl who came into his clinic dizzy, fatigued, and dehydrated, but Carlos Gutierrez, MD, expected that, knowing she’d recently traveled 2,000 miles from Guatemala.
He told her to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. She had just been released from a detention center and the next part of her journey would begin the following day, traveling east to stay with relatives.
But then she mentioned the diabetes medication she started taking back home, which she stopped before starting her trip.
Alarmed she would go into diabetic ketoacidosis without insulin, Gutierrez checked her blood sugar. It was 700 mg/dL, enough to send her into a coma or worse if she went any longer without treatment.
“It just goes to show that if you had adequate personnel, something like that should have been picked up,” Gutierrez told MedPage Today. “How can you ignore this condition that is deadly if you don’t treat it aggressively?”
Many doctors and healthcare providers have been drawn in by the border crisis, hoping to provide relief to patients in need. Although recent immigration policies have led to dwindling numbers of refugees in the U.S., federal detention center deaths have been reported, and physicians in El Paso contacted by MedPage Today described troubling cases in which medical care was lacking.
The Guatemalan teenager is one of hundreds of patients Gutierrez has seen as a volunteer for Annunciation House, a non-profit organization in El Paso that provides hospitality services to migrants released from detention who are seeking asylum.
There was also the 10-year-old child with congenital adrenal hyperplasia who’d gone without hydrocortisone for a week, and dozens of adults have presented with blood pressure readings upwards of 200/120 mm Hg as a result of not having their hypertension medication, Gutierrez said.
Why Care Goes Awry?
When migrants crossing the border are apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), their belongings — including belts, shoelaces, and medication — are confiscated. Migrants are not intended to stay in CBP custody for more than 72 hours, just enough time to allow for initial processing before they are transferred to detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
All ICE detainees then undergo an initial screening, and those whose medications have been confiscated can be issued new prescriptions, an ICE official told MedPage Today. They also get a comprehensive physical exam within two weeks of arrival, and their belongings are returned to them upon release, he said.
But parts of a medical history can be lost in translation if migrants speak less common native languages and are relying on a child as a translator. In other situations, migrants could be released before they get their medication, causing them to go days without it.
Ramon Villaverde, a medical student and Annunciation House volunteer, said migrants may also withhold medical information for fear that revealing health conditions could keep them in detention longer.
“There is this thing looming over their heads, an uncertainty, and because of this uncertainty they might not be comfortable enough to approach these physicians under the facilities,” Villaverde told MedPage Today. “That’s one of the most significant obstacles to providing care.”
An ICE official told MedPage Today that their detention centers staff registered nurses, mental health providers, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and a physician. There are currently about 200 contract medical providers at CBP facilities, a spokesperson said.
One July job posting for an ICE physician got widespread media attention for stating applicants should be “philosophically committed to the objectives of the facility,” and required physicians to sign nondisclosure agreements upon hiring.
Challenges to Continuity of Care
ICE is required to keep medical records that can be made available to outside healthcare providers once migrants are released, but physicians treating migrants who have been released from detention say they struggle to communicate with providers operating within facility walls.
As a result, patient handoffs are far from seamless, said José Manuel de la Rosa, MD, who also volunteers with Annunciation House, specifically when providers don’t communicate about medications that are needed.
“We’re set up to provide medication to migrants, but we don’t hear about [the need] until they’ve been off medication for two or three days and are beginning to get ill,” he said. “That kind of access to the centers would really help our process.”
As a result, providers are left to gauge what’s happening on the inside, by evaluating the conditions the migrants present with, said Roberto “Bert” Johansson, MD, another Annunciation House volunteer.
Lisa Ayoub-Rodriguez, MD, a pediatrician at a local hospital, has cared for 20 to 30 children hospitalized while in immigration custody since January.
In the winter months, many came in with respiratory problems, pneumonia, or influenza, all of which were complicated by a state of dehydration, she said.
Others were admitted for prolonged refractory seizures due to missing doses of medication. One child, for example, required combination therapy and came into the hospital with a new filled prescription of one medication, but was missing the other, she said.
Hardest on Children
It’s unclear whether pediatricians are staffed at CBP or ICE facilities, but 130,000 family units have been detained in the 2019 fiscal year to date — more than a 300% increase from the same time period in the previous fiscal year.
Because some illnesses present more subtly in children, EMT-trained personnel or even general practitioners may miss certain conditions upon an initial screening, Johansson said.
For example, last year, two children died from sepsis — one bacterial case and the other stemming from influenza — both of which could have initially presented with symptoms similar to the common cold, he said.
“When you look at both of these cases, there was a failure to recognize what could happen,” Johansson said.
Mark Ward, MD, vice president of the American Academy of Pediatrics Texas Chapter, was permitted to have a planned and supervised visit to two McAllen, Texas, CBP facilities in the Rio Grande Valley in June. He also toured a center run by Catholic Charities that provides care for recently released migrants.
At the non-profit, he came across a 16-month-old girl with congenital heart problems who had recently been released from detention with her mother. But her condition had been missed in the screening, such that by the time she arrived at the shelter, she was having heart failure and had to be taken to the ICU.
In May, a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador who crossed the border alone in March also had congenital heart defects, and ultimately died after being passed from hand to hand and undergoing a series of complications. She was one of six migrant children to die while in U.S. custody.
“The CBP is a policing agency and they’re not there to take care of children, so it’s not surprising they aren’t capable of doing a great job of it,” Ward told MedPage Today. “Really the focus is, we’ve got children in U.S. custody who have done nothing wrong, and they should be treated well, in a way that doesn’t damage their health.”
Becoming a Silent Problem?
CBP apprehensions along the border peaked in May at 144,255, but those numbers have been decreasing in recent months, with just 64,000 apprehended in August.
In the fall, physician volunteers treated thousands of migrants each day in more than 25 makeshift clinics across El Paso, including rented out rooms in the Sol y Luna hotel. But today, there are two main centers in operation: one known as Casa Oscar Romero and another large, newly converted warehouse called Casa del Refugiado.
Part of the reason there are fewer migrants on this side of the border is the Migrant Protection Protocol or “Remain in Mexico” policy, which was implemented in January. This policy sends individuals who enter the U.S. illegally, as well as certain asylum seekers, back to Mexico to wait for the duration of their immigration proceedings.
As of Sept. 1, some 42,000 people had been returned to Mexico under the policy, including more than 13,000 asylum seekers who were sent to Juárez. Moreover, only a certain number of asylum claims can be taken up in the U.S. per day, a process known as “metering.”
Taken together, these policies have caused the overflow of migrants traveling into the U.S. to pile up on the Mexican side of the border.
“Right now, we’re in the eye of the hurricane,” Johansson said. “Remain in Mexico has reduced the number of immigrants in the U.S., but they’re still there.”
Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed another Trump administration restriction that turns away migrants coming from Central American countries, where the vast majority begin their journey, unless they’ve already applied for asylum before entering the U.S.
Ayoub-Rodriguez said she’s concerned that fewer patients in El Paso means more in Mexico who may not have adequate access to care.
“I’m worried that now it’s becoming a silent problem, that people won’t pay attention and the kids will still suffer without the voice,” Ayoub-Rodriguez told MedPage Today. “That’s my biggest fear — that the harm is still happening and we just aren’t seeing it.”

Wait, Health Care Costs HOW Much Without Insurance?!
Alice Oglethorpe reviewed some of the numbers for those having health insurance but is there an advantage? You might think the financial benefit of having health insurance is mostly tied to major moments—your appendix bursts, you break a leg snowboarding, you’re having a baby—but that’s really just the tip of the bill-lowering iceberg.
Having insurance can also help bring down what you have to pay for everyday: things like that flu shot you’ve been meaning to get or the throat culture you need to rule out strep. Ready for the most surprising part? This is true even if you’re nowhere near hitting your deductible and have to pay the entire bill yourself.
The behind-the-scenes sale
Here’s how it works: “Every hospital and doctor’s office has something called a charge master, which is a list of rates they charge for every single procedure,” says David Johnson, CEO of 4 Sight Health, a thought leadership and advisory company based in Chicago. “But those amounts are somewhat made up, and almost nobody pays them.”
That’s because insurance companies negotiate with the hospitals and doctor’s offices in their network to come up with their own lower rates for literally every procedure. It’s why you tend to see a discount on any doctor’s bill you get—even if you’re responsible for the whole thing because you haven’t hit your deductible yet.
One thing to keep in mind: Those discounted rates are only for in-network doctors and hospitals. Even if you have health insurance, you’ll end up paying the higher master charge rate if you go out-of-network.
While the price the insurance company negotiates can vary (they tend to be about half of the charge master cost), one thing tends to be certain: Anyone who doesn’t have insurance is going to end up paying a ton more. “If you don’t have coverage, it defaults to the charge master rate,” says Johnson. It’s no wonder one out of five uninsured people skip treatment because of cost.
Watch your wallet
All of this can add up quickly, even if you aren’t getting anything too major done. While it’s impossible to say what your cost for different procedures would be with insurance (that changes based on everything from where you live and who your insurer is to your deductible and co-insurance rates), here are some of the average charge master rates for common procedures in the U.S., according to an International Federation of Health Plans report:
• MRI: $1,119
• Cataract surgery: $3,530
• Day in the hospital: $5,220
• Giving birth: $10,808
• Appendix removal: $15,930
• Knee replacement: $28,184
Did someone say free?
On top of the discount you get just for having an insurance plan, there are some procedures and visits that are absolutely free if you have insurance. That’s right: They don’t cost a dime. These services fall under the umbrella of preventive care, and after the Affordable Care Act was passed, they became fully covered for anyone with insurance.
Unfortunately, if you don’t have coverage, you’re stuck paying for them. Here’s how much these otherwise-free services might run you:
• Flu shot: This life-saving vaccine will run you about $40 at your local Rite-Aid pharmacy.
• Screenings for diabetes and cholesterol: CityMD, a chain of urgent care facilities in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, offers these services for about $125 to $200, plus additional lab fees.
• Annual wellness visits: On average, this costs $160, according to a John Hopkins study.
• HPV vaccine: You need this shot twice, and it will cost you about $250 each time, according to Planned Parenthood.
• Birth control pills: The monthly packs will add up to $240 to $600 a year.
The bottom line: With the average employer-sponsored plan costing you $119 a month, that $1,400 or so a year will pay for itself in just a few doctor’s visits or prescriptions. And if something serious happens—like a sprained ankle or a suspicious mole your dermatologist wants to remove—you know you’re covered.
Cornell medical school to offer full scholarships for students who qualify for financial aid
Ryan W. Miller a writer for USA Today wanted us to know some positive news regarding progress in the goal for a financial sustainable education system for the education of our physicians. More future doctors at Cornell University’s medical school, just like the program designed at NYU medical school, will graduate debt-free after the university announced Monday that it would eliminate loans for its students who qualify for financial aid.
Weill Cornell Medicine’s new program will replace federal and school loans in students’ financial aid packages with scholarships that cover tuition, housing and other living expenses.
The program is set to begin this academic year, “then every year thereafter in perpetuity,” the school said in a statement.
Multiple donations that total $160 million will fund the new financial aid policy, Cornell said, though additional fundraising will be needed to ensure the program can continue.
“It is with extraordinary pride that we are able to increase our support of medical education for our students, ensuring that we can welcome the voices and talents of those who are passionate about improving human health,” Augustine M.K. Choi, the school’s dean and provost for medical affairs at Cornell University, said in a statement.
Sanders’ student loan plan: What’s different about Bernie Sanders’ student loan plan? It would help more rich people
More than half of Weill Cornell Medicine medical students qualified for financial aid last academic year, the school said. Based in New York City, the institution’s cost of attendance averages $90,000 a year.
First-year students in the Class of 2023 who qualify for aid will have loans replaced by scholarships for the entirety of their education, and returning students will have their loans replaced this year and the years moving forward, Cornell said.
Like most universities, Cornell uses a formula to determine how much students and their families can contribute to the cost of attendance. Only need-based scholarships will be used to meet the remaining amount, the school said.
Students in a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program will receive full tuition and stipends for living expenses from the National Institutes of Health and Weill Cornell Medicine.
Cornell joins a growing list of medical schools that offer similar programs. Last year, as I mentioned, New York University announced all medical students would receive full-tuition scholarships. Columbia University offers a program similar to Cornell’s to replace loans with scholarships. The University of California-Los Angeles offers a full ride for 20% of its students.
Several top universities offer similar loan-free financial aid for undergraduates.
The issue of mounting debt has increasingly plagued medical students. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, about three-quarters of medical students take out loans for their education, resulting in a median debt level at graduation of about $200,000.
So, we need some way to either pay for the migrant population’ heath care needs, how it would be financed as well as to decide on the best immigration policy for our country!
Also, as I have mentioned before none of this will be accomplished while the parties and the President are at war and the next Presidential election will not settle any of these issues unless we can all work together! At least Bidden is not following the herd with their Medicare for All solution. But what is his solution….Obamacare or a modification of it?

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

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

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

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

Americans get insurance from four main sources.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Africa puts initial universal healthcare cost at $17 billion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“TAX BURDEN”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rural hospitals take the spotlight in the coverage expansion debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

As the President of the American Medical Association stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEDICARE FOR ALL

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

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

BUILDING ON OBAMACARE

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

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

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

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

THE NEW ENTRANT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These Are the Health-Care Questions That Matter Most

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 12.14.52 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biden v. Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Bold?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on Medicare

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

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

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

More to Come!

Governors Weigh Health Care Plans as They Await Court Ruling, the Future of the ACA and San Francisco Experience with Healthcare Insurance and, Yes, More on Medicare

Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 8.29.30 PMBrady McCombs reported that as they gather at a conference in Utah, governors from around the U.S. are starting to think about what they will do if an appeals court upholds a lower court ruling overturning former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

More than 20 million Americans would be at risk of losing their health insurance if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with a Texas-based federal judge who declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional last December because Congress had eliminated an unpopular tax is imposed on people who did not buy insurance.

The final word on striking down the law will almost certainly come from the Supreme Court, which has twice upheld the 2010 legislation.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, signed a bill earlier this year prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage to patients due to pre-existing conditions, a pre-emptive move in case the Affordable Care Act was struck down.

He said this week in Salt Lake City at the summer meeting of the National Governors Association that he would ask his recently created patient protection commission to come up with recommendations for how to ensure patients don’t lose coverage if the law is overturned, which would impact about 200,000 people enrolled in Medicaid expansion in Nevada.

“To rip that away from them would be devastating to a lot of families,” Sisolak said.

Nevada is among a coalition of 20 Democratic-leaning states led by California that appealed the lower court ruling and is urging the appeals court to keep the law intact.

At a news conference Thursday, Democrats touted the protections they’ve passed to prevent people from losing health coverage.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed laws this year that enshrine provisions of the Affordable Care Act into state law, including guarantees to insurance coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and access to contraception without cost-sharing. She said half of the state’s residents use Medicaid, prompting New Mexico officials to research creating a state-based health care system.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said his state is already deep in contingency planning because five million people could lose health insurance if the law is struck down and the state doesn’t have enough money to make up for the loss of federal funds. He said the decision this year to tax people who don’t have health insurance, a revival of the so-called individual mandate stripped from Obama’s model, was the first step. That tax will help pay for an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, the joint state, and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

Newsom said the state is looking at Massachusetts’ state-run health care program and investigating if a single-payer model would work as possible options if the law were spiked.

“The magnitude is jaw-dropping,” Newsom said. “You can’t sit back passively and react to it.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said states need Congress to be ready to quickly pass a new health care plan if the court overturns Obama’s law since doing so would cut off federal funding for Medicaid expansion.

A court decision in March blocked Arkansas from enforcing work requirements for its Medicaid expansion program, which has generated seemingly annual debate in that state’s Legislature about whether to continue the program.

“Congress can’t just leave that out there hanging,” Hutchinson said.

The 2018 lawsuit that triggered the latest legal battle over the Affordable Care Act was filed by a coalition of 18 Republican-leaning states including Arkansas, Arizona, and Utah.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said he wants to see how the court rules before he makes any decisions about how his state would deal with the loss of Medicaid funds but that Arizona has backup funds available.

“They’re going to rule how they’re going to rule and we’ll deal with the outcome,” Ducey said. “The best plans are to have dollars available.”

It is unknown when the three-judge panel will rule.

The government said in March that 11.4 million people signed up for health care via provisions of the Affordable Care Act during open enrollment season, a dip of about 300,000 from last year.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said if the law is overturned, it would provide a perfect opportunity for Congress to try to craft a better program with support from both political parties.

He said his state, which rolled out its partial Medicaid expansion in April, probably will not start working on a contingency plan for people who would lose coverage until the appeals court rules.

“It’s been talked about for so long, people are saying ‘Why to worry about it until it happens?'” Herbert said. “I think there’s a little bit more of a lackadaisical thought process going on.”

President Donald Trump, who never produced a health insurance plan to replace Obama’s health care plan, is now promising one after the elections.

Newsom warned Americans not to rely on that.

“God knows they have no capacity to deal with that,” Newsom said. “The consequences would be profound and pronounced.”

Appeals Court Judges Appear Skeptical About ACA’s Future

Alicia Ault noted that if its line of questioning serves as a barometer, a three-judge panel of the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals here seemed to be more favorably inclined toward the arguments of a group of 18 Republican states and two individuals seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) than to those bent on defending the law.

“I think the plaintiffs had a better day than the defendants,” Josh Blackman, an associate professor of law at the South Texas College of Law, Houston, told Medscape Medical News.

“I think they found that the plaintiffs had standing,” said Blackman, who attended the arguments. The judges also seemed to believe the plaintiffs have been injured by the ACA, and that the individual mandate still demanded that people buy health insurance, even though Congress has eliminated the penalty, he said.

“Short news is it went very badly,” said Ian Millhiser, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, on Twitter, after attending the hearing.

“The two Republican judges appear determined to strike Obamacare,” he said, adding, “There is a chance they will be too embarrassed to do so, but don’t bet on it.”

At the outset, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod asked Samuel Siegel, a lawyer with the California Department of Justice representing the 20 states and Washington, DC, who are defending the ACA, “If you no longer have the tax, why isn’t [the ACA] unconstitutional?”

Only two of the three judges on the panel asked questions during the 1-hour-and-46-minute hearing — Elrod, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007, and Kurt Engelhardt, appointed by President Donald J. Trump in 2018. Carolyn Dineen King, appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, did not ask a single question.

The defendants — led by California — were first to argue. They were given 45 minutes to make their case that District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas had erred in December when he ruled that the ACA should be struck down because Congress had eliminated the penalty associated with the requirement that individuals buy health insurance.

Essentially, said Judge O’Connor, the mandate could not be severed from the rest of the ACA. O’Connor did not grant the plaintiffs’ request that the ACA be halted while the case made its way through the courts.

The plaintiffs — led by Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins — also had 45 minutes before the appellate court judges.

Is the ACA Now a “Three-Legged Stool?”

Both Judges Elrod and Engelhardt interrupted Siegel several times while arguing for the ACA to ask him to explain why California and the other states had the standing to defend the federal law. Siegel said that if the law were to be struck down it would cost the defendants hundreds of billions of dollars.

The two judges seemed intent on getting both sides to explain why Congress would have eliminated the penalty that went along with the individual mandate but left the rest of the law standing. The plaintiffs contend that the law could not be severed into parts, that it lived or died with the mandate and its penalty.

When asked to assess congressional intent, Hawkins said, “I’m not in the position to psychoanalyze Congress.” But he said the US Supreme Court had already settled the question, ruling in King v Burwell that the ACA was like a three-legged stool without the penalty. And, he said, even without the penalty, the individual mandate remained part of the law, which he called “a command to buy insurance.”

Douglas Letter, the general counsel to the US House of Representatives, arguing in defense of the ACA, said the opposite: that the Supreme Court had determined in NFIB v Sebelius that the ACA presented a choice of buying health insurance or facing a penalty. Without the penalty, “The choice is still there,” said Letter, adding that individuals could choose to maintain insurance or not.

“We know definitively that ‘shall’ in this provision does not mean must,” Letter said.

Engelhardt disagreed and said that Congress perhaps should have revised the ACA after the penalty was removed. He also asked Letter why the Senate was not also a party to the defense of the ACA. “They’re sort of the 800-pound gorilla not in the room,” Engelhardt said.

What’s Next?

The judges are not expected to rule for several months and will be addressing several issues, including whether the Democratic states and the House of Representatives have proper standing to defend the law and whether the plaintiffs have the standing to challenge the law.

They also will address whether the individual mandate is still constitutional, and if the mandate is ruled unconstitutional, whether it can be severed from the rest of the ACA, or, on the other hand, whether other provisions of the ACA also must be invalidated, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The court could dismiss the appeal and vacate O’Connor’s judgment, “in which case there wouldn’t be any decision in the case at all,” Timothy S. Jost, professor emeritus at the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia, told Medscape Medical News ahead of today’s hearing.

At the hearing, Texas’ Hawkins said it was wrong to say the plaintiffs were trying to strike the law. “There’s an erasure fallacy,” he told the judges. “We’re not asking the court to erase anything.”

Still, O’Connor did say in his ruling that the ACA was unconstitutional. The Trump administration announced in March that it would not defend the law, but said it would continue to enforce the ACA. August E. Flentje, a US Department of Justice lawyer, reiterated that position at the Fifth District hearing today.

But, in a briefing before the hearing, the administration argued that, if ultimately the law is ruled unconstitutional, it should only be struck down in the states seeking to overturn the law. Any ultimate judgment “should not declare a provision unlawful if it doesn’t impact the plaintiff,” Flentje said.

Douglas Letter, for the defendants, was agog. “The DOJ position makes no sense,” he said, noting, for instance, that that would mean that the US Food and Drug Administration — which is required to speed biosimilar drugs to market under the ACA — would approve drugs in California, but not Arizona.

Elrod pressed the point by asking Flentje, “What is the government planning to do?” if the ACA is halted.

“A lot of this has to get sorted out — it’s complicated,” he said.

Despite the outcome of today’s hearings, the case is still ultimately expected to go before the Supreme Court again, according to multiple legal experts.

Advocates: The Stakes Are Astronomical

Shortly after the hearing ended, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a statement predicting disaster for American healthcare if the appeals court agrees that the ACA is unconstitutional. If that happens, “Millions of Americans could be forced to delay, skip, or forego potentially life-saving healthcare,” he said.

“Our state coalition made it clear: on top of risking lives, gutting the law would sow chaos in our entire healthcare system,” Becerra said, vowing to “fight the Trump administration tooth and nail.”

Physicians, consumer and patient advocates, and healthcare groups have voiced their support of the law through friend-of-the-court briefs, starting in June 2018, when the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry joined together in a brief.

Other organizations have also voiced their support for the ACA through amicus briefs, including: the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Association of American Medical Colleges, Americas Health Insurance Plans, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Families USA, AARP, the Children’s Partnership, 483 federally recognized tribal nations, and 35 cities, counties, and towns.

A coalition led by the American Cancer Society, and including the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Epilepsy Foundation, the Hemophilia Federation of America, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the March of Dimes, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, the National Hemophilia Foundation, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and The Kennedy Forum also filed an amicus brief and issued a joint statement ahead of the hearing.

“If allowed to stand, the lower court’s ruling would once again mean people could be charged more or denied coverage based on their health history,” said the statement. “Insurance plans could impose arbitrary annual and lifetime limits on patients’ coverage and could exclude whole categories of care — like prescription drugs — from their plans,” they said, adding that striking the law from the books would jeopardize tax credits used by 8 million Americans to buy health insurance on the individual market.

Millions more could be dropped from Medicaid, the coalition stated. In total, the groups said that some 27 million people could lose health insurance — a figure they said was calculated by the Congressional Budget Office.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that 19 million people could lose insurance. Also at stake: requiring private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid expansion coverage of preventive services with no cost-sharing, and a phase-out of the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” coverage gap.

“All of these provisions could be overturned if the trial court’s decision is upheld, and it would be enormously complex to disentangle them from the overall health care system,” Kaiser said.

The Urban Institute estimated that if the ACA were overturned, the number of uninsured would increase by 65% — 20 million people; state spending on Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would fall by $9.6 billion — and that uncompensated care would rise by $50.2 billion, an increase of 82%.

Health Insurance for All: Learning From San Francisco

This last article is an interview with Dr. George Lundberg and the San Francisco healthcare insurance. Hello and welcome. I’m Dr. George Lundberg and this is At Large at Medscape.

You can pay me now or you can pay me later. Perhaps best known as a commercial promoting automobile maintenance, this statement could also apply to healthcare.

Everybody gets sick. If left alone, most acute human maladies fix themselves (automobiles don’t), but people with chronic diseases do better if managed sensibly, including with professional help. Some serious illnesses are fully preventable. The effects of many potentially serious diseases can be ameliorated by early diagnosis and intervention.

Who pays? In whose best interest is it for payment to be assured?

Medical expense insurance in the United States began in Dallas, Texas, in 1929 and Sacramento, California, in 1932. Hospitals needed to be paid; surgeons were particularly motivated early on to assure not only that patients who needed surgery would get it, but also that the surgeons would get paid. Surgical fees often exceeded more typical fees for medical care, so out-of-pocket costs (the normal way doctors and hospitals were paid back then) were more difficult for many patients to afford. Usual medical care did not cost much, but then again, neither did it offer much.

Growing up in small-town, lower Alabama in the 1930s and ’40s, I did not know anyone who had medical expense insurance. Oddly, many people had burial insurance, which was aggressively marketed and sold.

Once medical (health) insurance became common, medical services (and costs) increased and then flourished—an early example of supply-induced demand. Of course, there were benefits for many.

The enactment of Medicare and Medicaid legislation poured gasoline on the already upward-spiraling healthcare cost fire. That is how we arrived at nearly 20% of the US annual gross domestic product going to healthcare.

Our American Medical Association actually warned the country about that risk.[1] The incipient medical-industrial complex developed an insatiable capacity to transfer money by greatly increasing costs, often to gain small, incremental improvements.

Yet, lifesaving medical and surgical interventions do occur, they are often expensive, and someone has to pay for them. Ergo, health insurance. Everyone should have it. Why not?

I live in Silicon Valley. Many of the key innovations that have revolutionized how the world functions day by day have been begun and are headquartered here. Think Google, Apple, Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, Twitter, YouTube, Salesforce, Oracle, Intel, Cisco, Netflix, etc.

So why would it not make sense for San Francisco to pioneer healthcare for all via innovation?

Residents of San Francisco are expected to have health insurance coverage via employment-based insurance, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Medi-Cal, if eligible, just like all other Americans, with all the pluses and minuses of those programs. But if they don’t, Healthy San Francisco is available regardless of immigration status, employment status, or preexisting medical conditions.

The 2008 Health Care Security Ordinance created the authority that underpins the Healthy San Francisco program. It requires businesses to pay a minimum set amount of money on healthcare benefits for their employees.

Restaurant users learn of this expense of doing business by seeing the note, “In response to employer mandates, including the San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance, a 4% surcharge will be added to all food and beverage sales.”

Healthy San Francisco is administered by the San Francisco Department of Public Health and delivered via designated Medical Homes. Eligible annual income is set at 500% of the federal poverty limit.

Health insurance is not, a panacea it is not. It is a safety net below the other safety nets. By July 2010, 50,000 people had enrolled, but by 2019, that number declined to about 14,000. The drop probably represents both low unemployment and the success of California’s robust implementation of the ACA via Covered California.

Any other city or county in the United States that would like to provide economic access to basic medical care for its people, without such care being forgone, termed charity, or simply written off as bad debt by providers, could do well by learning from San Francisco’s experience.

Read through the last few paragraphs, especially as we consider elimination, i.e. the uncertain future of the ACA and the possibility of Medicare for All. Also, as I have pointed out in the past few weeks as I have discussed the history of Medicare and Medicaid remember the inability of the administration to accurately predict the true costs. The following addition to the discussion on Medicare and Medicaid will further emphasize the huge costs and expenses of the programs. The next question would be how would the additional up-ward healthcare spiraling costs/expenses be paid for.

Back to our Medicare and Medicaid discussion:

Remember as I just mentioned, that last week I discussed the underestimation of the Medicare program and even more increases which occurred in the Medicaid program. Remember also that because of the wording of Title XIX where the federal government had an open-ended obligation to help underwrite the costs of medical care for the wide range of services to such a large number of recipients, which made it very difficult to accurately predict the ultimate cost.

Then in 1965, the House Ways and Means Committee had estimated that if all of the states were to take advantage of the Medicaid program, including all of the services, that the additional federal costs of medical assistance would amount to $238,000,000. However, in the fiscal year 1967, the total cost of Medicaid payments amounted to $1,944,000,000. Realize that half of these payments were federal funds and realize that the program was operating in only twenty-eight states. Also, interestingly even with the decline in usage and expenditures of other programs by the end of the year 1968 forty-one states had opted into the Medicaid program the total expenditures amounted to $3,783,000,000. Compare this to the total federal outlays for all medical assistance programs in the fiscal year 1965, prior to the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid, amounted to $1,239,000,000.

The goal of the House and Ways Committee when they met in 1971 discussed the need to contain the spiraling costs of Medicare and Medicaid. Members of the individuals testifying were members of the Nixon administration who suggested a whole series of cost-control measures, among them that the new legislation promote a system of capitation payments to health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and that Medicaid introduces cost-sharing while Medicare expands its own cost-sharing policies. Interestingly many of these cost-saving recommendations eventually found their way into the final bill to reform these programs, which became law in October1972.

So, among these changes to the Medicare program was:

  • The inclusion of the totally disabled as eligible for Medicare benefits. Workers of any age and widows and disabled dependent widowers over the age of fifty were eligible to receive Medicare benefits after having received APTD (Aid to Permanently and Totally Disabled) assistance for twenty-four months. This added approximately 1,700,000 beneficiaries to Medicare rolls and was the first instance of any group under the age of sixty-five being made eligible benefits;
  • Beneficiaries of Part B (Supplementary Medical Insurance) who otherwise were ineligible for Part A (Hospital Insurance) by virtue of not qualifying for Social Security coverage could now voluntarily enroll in Part A by paying a monthly premium;
  • Provision was made for capitation payments to HMOs and certain limits were placed on the items that a health care facility could include in calculating its cost.

However, the most significant change in the Medicare program contained in the 1972 amendments was the repeal of a provision contained in the original legislation that made it mandatory that each state expands its Medicaid program each year until it offered comprehensive coverage for all the medically needy by 1977. Remember that when Medicare and Medicaid were first introduced, Congress had hoped to establish a universal hospital and medical insurance scheme for the needy using Medicaid as its foundation but largely as a result of the swelling costs of the program this design was abandoned in1972.

So, let’s see how this week’s set of debates evolve as the candidates make more promises for the answer to the health care problem. How will Kamala Harris pay for her health care system and will private insurance be a thing of the past?