Category Archives: Medical costs

American life has been transformed in a few short weeks and the Cost to Economies and the Ethics in Decision Making in a Pandemic

Italy a country at the heart of the Corona virus outbreak in Europe — watched its number of cases and deaths due to the novel Corona virus astronomically leap once again, up 793 deaths with 6,557 newly confirmed cases recorded in just 24 hours.

Saturday’s jump marks the worst day for fatalities since the crisis began just four months ago. The country now counts 53,578 diagnosed infections, up 13.9 percent, with 4,825 deaths — the highest in the world.

More than 60 percent of the most recent deaths occurred in the northern region of Lombardy. Hospitals in the area have been reeling under a staggering caseload that has left intensive care beds scarce and respirators in extremely limited supply.

According to the Financial Times, 2,857 people were in intensive care in Lombardy on Saturday, up from 2,655 on Friday. The new increases come almost two weeks into a nationwide lock down in an attempt to stop the COVID-19 virus in its tracks there.

There were also 943 full recoveries tallied yesterday — another record for the country.

On Thursday, Italy was witness to yet another grim milestone in its fight against the deadly disease by overtaking China to become the country with the highest number of deaths.

On Friday the government banned the last types of outdoor exercise Italians were able to participate in under the lock down measures by deciding that running and bicycle rides were no longer permitted. In addition, the Italian military has also been dispatched to Milan to ensure that citizens follow the new lock down measures.

The Italian interior ministry reported that more than 223,633 people were inspected by the Italian police nationwide on Friday, with 9,888 people reported for breaking the lock down measures and 260 for false declarations about why they were outside.

Across the Atlantic, the number of cases in the United States has now exceeded 22,000 with more than 270 deaths. New York tops the list with at least 10,000 confirmed cases; Washington state follows with just over 1,500 cases, and California is in tow with more than 1,200.

Thus far, the global pandemic has infected more than 287,000 people and killed over 11,900. More than 90,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

The Associated Press and The Financial Times contributed to this report.

I found this article in the Economist discussing what the economic influence would be from the COVID-19 pandemic. The titular conceit of “28 Days Later”, as with many contagion-style horror films, is of a man waking up after a month-long coma only to find society upended by a rampaging virus. Many Americans are experiencing something similar. On March 3rd there were just 122 confirmed cases of COVID-19—the disease currently sweeping the world—and only seven deaths. By March 17th there were 7,786 confirmed cases (even these were a sure underestimate given the dearth of testing) and 118 deaths. Twenty-eight days later, on March 31st, what might America look like?

cap.gifp-a8GHW19EK4IzY.gif“We don’t know whether we’re going to look like Italy or the provinces outside Hubei” in China where the spread of COVID-19 was fairly effectively contained, says David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a health-policy think-tank. “But the likelihood is—given the slowness with which we responded to the epidemic—that we look more like Italy,” he adds. Jerome Adams, the surgeon-general, has warned of the same.

Can America’s health system cope? The structural problems that make pandemic response more difficult—lack of paid sick pay, a large uninsured population and a significant number of insured people nonetheless worried about out-of-pocket medical bills—cannot be mended overnight. Instead, public-health experts and doctors are increasingly worried about sheer capacity constraints. In China, 5% of those diagnosed needed intensive care. There are roughly 97,000 beds in intensive care units (ICUs), of which one-third are empty. Though America has relatively few total hospital beds per person compared with other countries, it ranks among the highest for ICU beds per person, with nearly three times as many as Italy.

“The real limiting factors are likely to be the ventilators or the staff,” says Greg Martin, a professor of medicine at Emory University and president-elect of the Society of Critical Care Medicine. There are roughly 50,000 physicians trained in critical care and 34,000 similarly specialized nurses and assistants. This could be insufficient in the face of hundreds of thousands of cases at peak rates of infection.

Then there is the problem of kit. In China, half of those in critical care required the use of ventilators, machines that help people breathe. There are thought to be 62,000 full-featured mechanical ventilators in the country, many of which are already in use. Older stocks of perhaps 100,000 devices—including CPAP machines used for those with sleep apnea—could be called upon if needed, but would provide only basic functions. Ramp-ups in ventilator production are being pondered, including through emergency powers given to the president under the Defense Production Act of 1950, but there has been little actual action yet. On a phone call with state governors, President Donald Trump urged “respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment—try getting it yourselves”, which could spark an unhelpful competition between states for scarce resources.

“Under almost any basic scenario, things look tough. Hospital beds will be completely full many times over if we don’t substantially spread the load,” warns Ashish Jha, director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard. To head that off, Mr Jha has called for an Italy-style national quarantine, lasting for at least two weeks, in which all non-essential businesses are closed and gatherings of more than five people are barred to give time for testing to become widespread. After a dismally slow start to testing, the numbers are finally heading up—although the best estimates come not from public-health agencies, but volunteer trackers using a Google sheet—to an estimated 12,535 tests conducted on March 17th. Given the expected scope of the disease, and the reported obstacles to people with symptoms actually getting tested, much more will be needed.

Most hospitals are making contingency plans. There are plans to add physical beds by cancelling elective surgeries that can be postponed, converting recovery rooms into added beds and building tents to house some patients. The Cleveland Clinic, a prominent hospital, says it has plans in place to add 1,000 beds of capacity within 72 hours if needed. Teams of doctors and nurses with other specialties could be conscripted into critical-care work, supervised by critical-care doctors who handle the trickiest cases—like respiratory distress coupled with organ failure in the kidneys or heart. If this is insufficient, recently retired doctors could be drafted into service. Some teaching hospitals are using simulation centers to prepare medical staff for the inevitable surge in cases.

Testing? Testing?

Whether it will come to all this is still unclear. Testing capacity remains constrained, limiting the information epidemiologists have to feed both their models and their willingness to speculate. Their policy recommendations—social distancing, closure of schools and large gatherings—are nevertheless clear. One team of researchers has concluded that an epidemic resembling that of Wuhan, where the novel Corona virus first broke out, would overwhelm hospitals many times over, while one resembling Guangzhou, a city that locked down in the early days of the virus, could be dealt with.

On March 16th, however, a team of scientists based at Imperial College London, who have been advising the British government, also published forecasts of the epidemic’s trajectory in America. As with Britain, the figures look grim. Without any mitigation, America would experience 2.2m deaths, they predict. Even in the case of some mitigation—isolation of the sick, social distancing for the elderly, but an otherwise normal society—American hospital and ICU capacity would be exceeded eight times over, and the country would be on track for at least 1.1m deaths. Averting this through “suppression”—isolation of sick, closing of schools and universities, social distancing for everyone—would require months until therapeutics or vaccines can be developed.

America is therefore turning towards suppression of the virus. Millions of pupils and university students have been sent home and left to take classes online. Mr. Trump has advised that people not congregate in gatherings of more than ten people. San Francisco and surrounding counties have issued a “shelter-in-place” order that requires 7m to remain in their homes unless necessary. New York City is expected to do the same for its 8m residents. In 22 states, bars and restaurants have been ordered to close their seating and only serve takeaway. The state of New York is setting up drive-through testing centers, starting in New Rochelle, a commuter town in Westchester County that was one of the early sites of a COVID-19 cluster, and is urging federal troops to build emergency, temporary hospital facilities. New Rochelle’s mayor says he is surviving the lock down there on “adrenalin, coffee and M&Ms”.

The goal is to increase general hospital capacity by a factor of two and ICU capacity by a factor of ten within two months. Elections have been postponed in a few states for the Democratic primary, which now seems a dull, distant affair. America’s devolved system means that the shuttering will happen at different rates in different places, but the trajectory is clear. “You want a single national response. But when the federal government completely fails, as it has so far, then you can get states and cities to step up,” says Mr. Jha.

The question is how long this can go on for. Unmitigated, the epidemic would not peak for at least another three months. Suppression can reduce the spread of the disease, as China’s experiment with locking down most of its population showed, but relaxing these measures will inevitably bring another surge in cases. Mr. Trump, who a few weeks ago was suggesting the virus was the latest hoax invented to damage him, is now warning that this could be the start of a months-long reorientation in American life. And while these extraordinary actions should smother the disease, they will also smother the economy.

The dismal economic forecasts will require further action from Congress. It spent the last week haggling over a bill that would make testing for the disease free, increase the flow of safety-net benefits and grant paid sick leave to more workers (though this provision appears to be hollowing out with every iteration). Even before that bill was finalized, Washington’s attention had already turned to the even bigger economic stimulus package that must come next. Senators, both Democrats and Republicans, are tripping over themselves issuing plans to send cash directly to American families.          

The total package, which could be worth $1trn or more, dwarfs the $100bn-or-so bill recently signed into law and every other stimulus package in history. The Trump administration has proposed sending $500bn in direct cash to taxpayers, $300bn to keep firms afloat, and $200bn to bail out critical industries like airlines. The typical partisan bickering from Congress and even from Mr. Trump has been muted. Every politician seems to now realize that the country faces an unprecedented crisis, first of public health and then of the economy, that will last for months. Whether this action will look sufficient 28 days later is, as with seemingly every aspect of the Covid-19 pandemic, deeply uncertain. ■

Ethicists agree on who gets treated first when hospitals are overwhelmed by Corona virus 

As a member of our Ethics Committee I thought that the decisions that physicians and staff in other countries were facing regarding who gets the ventilators was an interesting conundrum. This article contributed by Oliva Goldhill in her article, The Aging Effect, is a great introduction into the decisions that we may have to make here in the US. Pandemics bring ethical dilemmas into sharp, terrible focus. Around the world, hospitals have been unable to cope with the millions who need treatment for Corona virus. China created makeshift hospitals and denied treatment to those who needed non-Corona virus care; Italians wait an hour on the phone to get through to emergency services. Few countries will fare better: The United States has fewer than 100,000 ICU beds, and is expected to need a minimum of 200,000 to cope with Corona virus; the UK has just 8,200 ventilators and is getting an extra 3,800.

As health care systems are overwhelmed with more patients than they can feasibly treat, medical personnel are forced to decide who should get the available ventilators and ICU beds. Quartz spoke with eight ethicists, all of whom agreed that in such dire situations, those who have the best chance of surviving get priority. Despite the unanimity, all agreed that this decision is far from easy and should not be taken lightly.

Different moral theories, same answer

The decision to prioritize those with good survival odds is reinforced by several moral theories. Utilitarianism, for example, argues that morality is determined by the consequences of actions, and so we should strive to create the maximum good for the maximum number of people. “If we give scarce treatments to those who don’t stand to benefit (and have a high chance of dying anyway), then not only will they die, but those with higher likelihood of survival (but require ventilator support) will also die,” says Lydia Dugdale, professor of medicine and director of the center for clinical medical ethics at Columbia University. “It’s not fair to distribute scarce resources in a way that minimizes lives saved.”

A contrarian theory, which bases ethics on the social contract we would agree to if we didn’t know our status in society, arrives at the same conclusion. Joshua Parker, a trainee general practitioner (primary care doctor) who co-wrote an article on the ethics of Corona virus care for the Journal of Medical Ethics, points to philosopher John Rawls’ concept of a “veil of ignorance” as a way to determine the just action: “Behind the veil of ignorance, I am stripped of any knowledge of my position. I don’t know if I’ll be old, young, rich, poor, well, unwell, male or female; and I don’t know if I will catch COVID-19 or if I do, what resources I will need,” he writes in an email to Quartz. This thought experiment makes it easier to judge what’s fair for society as a whole. Alex John London, director of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, agrees: “Such agents might agree that in a pandemic, when not everyone can be saved, health care systems should use their resources to save as many lives as possible—because that is the strategy that allows each person a fair chance of being able to pursue their life plan.”

Even typically diverging ethical theories are likely to point to this conclusion. Utilitarianism, which focuses on the consequences of an action, is typically opposed to deontology, which says morality is determined by the act itself. “The deontologist might well start with a justice argument: each person is individually valuable and should have an equal chance of health care,” says Anders Sandberg, a philosopher at the Future of Humanity Institute at the Oxford University. But if this is simply impossible, then the theory doesn’t hold. “As Kant said, “ought implies can,” and if one cannot do an action it cannot be obligatory.” A deontologist approach to treat everyone equally falls short when there simply isn’t enough medical equipment to treat everyone; if some will have access and some won’t, then we have to face the question of who gets preferential treatment. And so “even the most die-hard deontologist will usually agree” that it’s wrong to treat people who are unlikely to benefit while others are in need, agrees Brian D. Earp, associate director of the Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics and Health Policy at Yale University and The Hastings Center.

Doctors have reckoned with the need to allocate resources in the face of overwhelming demand long before Corona virus. Dugdale points out that the New York department of health’s ventilator allocation guidelines, published in November 2015 to address the issue amid a flu epidemic, states that first-come first-serve, lottery, physician clinical judgment, and prioritizing certain patients such as health care workers were explored but found to be either too subjective or failed to save the most lives. Age was rejected as a criterion as it discriminates against the elderly, and there are plenty of cases in which an older person has better odds of survival than someone younger.

So the decision was to “utilize clinical factors only to evaluate a patient’s likelihood of survival and to determine the patient’s access to ventilator therapy.” In tie-breaking circumstances, though, they did approve treating children 17 and younger over an adult where both have an equal odds of surviving. Dugdale adds that there’s talk of applying these guidelines to address Corona virus treatment in New York.

No good answer

The dire consequences of any decision made under such extreme circumstances means that, despite agreement, the best course of action is hardly favorable. “I would say that leaving some to die without treatment is NOT ethical, but it may be necessary as there are no good options,” David Chan, philosophy professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, writes. “Saying that it is ethical ignores the tragic element, and it is better that physicians feel bad about making the best of a bad situation rather than being convinced that they have done the right thing.”

Rather, it’s simply the least bad option. Alternatives, such as a lottery system or prioritizing the sickest, are likely to lead to more deaths. “There is a good chance that we invest resources into patients who don’t survive, and we have thus doomed not just the patient we tried to save, but also the patient who was passed over for care, because the resources have been used up,” says Vanessa Bentley, philosophy professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Lives that could have been saved were lost.”

Although there’s broad agreement on the best approach, the nuances of applying this decision will always be difficult. Not only must doctors accurately assess and prioritize those with the best chance of survival, but there could also be times when the hospital doesn’t have enough equipment to help even those with equal odds. Italy has prioritized treatment for those with “the best chance of success” but adds as a second criterion those “who have more potential years of life.” This secondary factor is not so easily agreed upon but, in the face of Corona virus, it’s an ethical question doctors will have to face.

Governments are spending big to keep the world economy from getting dangerously sick

The help is targeted at companies and individuals. More will be needed

In the recent edition of the Economist Today it was noted a character in a novel by Ernest Hemingway once described bankruptcy as an experience that occurs “two ways: gradually, then suddenly”. The economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic has followed this pattern. For weeks policymakers dithered, even as forecasts for the likely economic damage worsened. But in the space of just a few days the rich world has shifted decisively. Many governments are now on a war footing, promising massive state intervention and control over economic activity.

The new phrase on politicians’ lips is “whatever it takes”—a line borrowed from Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank (ECB) in 2011-19. He used it in 2012 to convince investors he was serious about solving the euro-zone crisis, and prompted an economic recovery. Mr Draghi’s promise was radical enough. Politicians are now proposing something of a different magnitude: sweeping, structural changes to how their economies work.

There are unprecedented promises. On March 16th President Emmanuel Macron of France declared that “no company, whatever its size, will face the risk of bankruptcy” because of the virus. Germany pledged unlimited cash to businesses hit by it. Japan passed a hastily compiled spending package in February, but on March 10th supplemented it with another one that included over ¥430bn ($4bn) in spending and almost four times as much in cheap lending. Britain has said it will lend over £300bn (15% of GDP) to firms. America may enact a fiscal package worth well over $1trn (5% of GDP). The most conservative estimates of the total extra fiscal stimulus announced thus far put it at 2% of global GDP, more than was shoveled out in response to the global financial crisis of 2007-09.

That sinking feeling

In part this radical action is motivated by the realization that the Corona virus, first and foremost a public-health emergency, is also an economic one. The jaw-dropping bad economic data coming out of China hint at what could be in store for the rest of the world. In the first two months of 2020 all major indicators were deeply negative: industrial production fell by 13.5% year-on-year, retail sales by 20.5% and fixed-asset investment by 24.5%. GDP may have declined by as much as 10% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020. The last time China reported an economic contraction was more than four decades ago, at the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Grim numbers are starting to pile up elsewhere, not so much in the official statistics, which take time to be published, as in “real-time” economic data produced by the private sector. Across the world, attendance at restaurants has fallen by half, according to OpenTable, a booking platform. International-passenger arrivals at the five biggest American airports are down by at least 30%. Box-office receipts have crumpled (see chart 2).

The disruption to international travel will hurt trade, since over half of global air freight is carried in the bellies of passenger planes. The combination of disrupted supply chains and depressed demand from shoppers should hit trade far harder than overall GDP, if the experience of the last financial crisis is anything to go by. Already, the American Association of Port Authorities, an alliance of the ports of Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States, has warned that cargo volumes during the first quarter of 2020 could be down by 20% or more from a year earlier.

Official data are now starting to drip out. The Empire manufacturing index, a monthly survey covering New York state, in March saw its steepest drop on record, and the lowest level since 2009. In February Norway’s jobless rate was 2.3%; by March 17th it was 5.3%. State-level numbers from America suggest that unemployment there has been surging in recent days.

All this is fueling grim forecasts. In a report on March 17th Morgan Stanley, a bank, estimated that GDP in the euro area will fall by an astonishing 12% year-on-year in the second quarter of the year. The Japanese economy is forecast to contract by 2% this quarter and 2% next. Most analysts see global GDP shrinking in the first half of the year, with barely any growth over 2020 as a whole—the worst performance since the financial crisis of 2007-09.

Even that is likely to prove optimistic. On March 17th analysts at Goldman Sachs noted that they had “not yet built a full lock down scenario” into their forecasts for advanced economies outside Europe. Forecasts for America, which is at an earlier stage than Europe and Asia when it comes to the outbreak, remain Panglossian; very slow growth in China and a big recession in Europe could by itself be enough to send the world’s largest economy the same way. Steven Mnuchin, America’s treasury secretary, warned this week that the country’s unemployment rate could reach 20% unless Congress passes a stimulus package. A negotiating ploy? With shopping malls emptying, factories grinding to a halt and financial markets buckling, lawmakers may be loath to challenge the claim.

Despite stomach-churning declines in GDP in the first half of this year, and especially the second quarter, most forecasters assume that the situation will return to normal in the second half of the year, with growth accelerating in 2021 as people make up for lost time. That judgment is in part informed by China’s experience. More than 90% of its big industrial firms are officially back in business. Its stock market had been one of the world’s worst performers in early February but is now the best (or rather, least bad). There remains, however, a risk that global containment and suppression of the virus will need to continue for a year or longer. If so, global economic output could be dragged down for much longer than most people expect.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of the global financial crisis was that it paid to act decisively and to act big, convincing markets and households that policymakers were serious about countering the slump. If done right, central banks and governments can end up doing a lot less than they actually promised. A pledge to bail out banks makes it less likely savers will withdraw deposits and make a rescue necessary.

This time around, central banks sprang into action. Since February the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates by 1.5 percentage points. Other central banks have followed suit. Further deep rate cuts are not possible, though; interest rates were very low long before the virus began to spread.

Let’s get fiscal

Not all central banks are acting as boldly as they can. China has room to cut interest rates—its benchmark rate is 1.5%—but has held back in part because inflation is quite high (largely as a result of African swine fever, which hit pig stocks, raising prices). Central banks could try more creative policies. On March 19th the ECB’s governing council agreed to launch a €750bn bond-buying program, covering both sovereign and corporate debt. But the real action is now taking place on the fiscal front.

Governments are falling over each other to offer bigger and better stimulus packages. All countries are spending more on health care, both in an effort to find vaccines and cures and to increase hospital capacity. However, the bulk of the extra spending is on companies and people.

Take companies first. China, where the outbreak has slowed, is now trying to get people out and buying things. Foshan, a city in Guangdong province, has launched a subsidy program for people buying cars. Some cities have started giving out coupons that can be spent in local shops and restaurants. Nanjing this month gave out e-vouchers worth 318m yuan ($45m).

Most countries, however, are in or about to enter the worst part of the outbreak. As customers dry up, many firms will go bust without government help. Calculations by The Economist suggest that 40% of consumer spending in advanced economies is vulnerable to people shunning social situations. Firms in leisure and hospitality are especially rattled. The Moor of Rannoch hotel, in about as rural a part of Scotland as it is possible to find, says its insurer will not be paying out a penny for lost custom, since COVID-19 is a new disease and thus not covered under its policy.

One approach is to reduce firms’ fixed costs, largely rent and labor. China’s finance ministry will exempt companies from making social-security contributions for up to five months. The government has also temporarily cut the electricity price for most companies by 5% and enacted short-term value-added-tax cuts. The British government has extended a one-year business-rates holiday to all companies operating in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. Yet for many firms, no matter how much the government helps them reduce costs, revenues are likely to fall further.

So, measures may be needed to allow firms to maintain cash flow. Many banks are offering hefty overdrafts to tide corporate clients over. To encourage banks to keep lending, Britain has promised them cheap funding and state guarantees against losses. For very small firms, many of which do not borrow at all, it is offering non-repayable cash grants of up to £25,000.

Other countries are enacting similar plans. The Japanese government is helping small firms by mobilizing its state-owned lenders to provide up to ¥1.6trn of emergency loans, much of it free of interest and collateral requirements. Small firms qualify for help if their monthly sales fall at least 15% below a normal month’s takings. Bavaria, a rich state in Germany, announced on March 16th that small and medium-sized companies with up to 250 employees could receive an immediate cash injection of between €5,000 and €30,000. The European Commission has already relaxed state-aid rules so that governments can channel help to ailing companies.

The second part of the fiscal response is about helping people, and in particular protecting them from being made unemployed or suffering a drastic drop in income if that does happen. Ugo Gentilini of the World Bank counts more than 25 countries that are using cash transfers as part of their economic response to the virus. Brazil will give informal workers, who make up roughly 40% of the labor force, 200 Reais ($38) each. Small businesses will be allowed to delay tax payments and pensioners will get year-end benefits early. Australia is instituting a one-time cash payment of A$750 ($434) to pensioners, veterans and people on low incomes.

Northern Europe has led the way on implementing policies that make it less likely firms lay off workers. Germany has relaxed the criteria for Kurzarbeit (“short-time work”), under which the state pays 60-67% of the forgone wages of employees whose hours are reduced by struggling firms. Applications are going “through the roof”, according to the federal labor agency. The use of Kurzarbeit probably halved the rise in unemployment during the recession of 2008-09. More firms are now eligible to use it, temporary workers are covered, and the government will also reimburse the social-security contributions companies make on behalf of affected workers.

Bringing home, the Danish bacon

In Denmark firms that risk losing 30% or more of their workforce will see the government pay 75% of the wages of employees who would otherwise be laid off, until June. Norway’s government has beefed up unemployment benefits, guaranteeing laid-off workers the equivalent of their full salary for the first 20 days. Freelancers whose work vanishes for more than a fortnight will get payments equivalent to 80% of their previous average income. In Sweden the state will cover half of the income of workers who have been let go, with employers asked to cover most of the rest.

So far America has passed more modest legislation. Federal funding for Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor, is likely to boost spending by about $30bn, assuming it remains in place until the end of December, reckons Oxford Economics, a consultancy. America also has a new paid-sick-leave policy for some 30m workers, including 10m who are self-employed, worth just over $100bn. But in that regard America is merely catching up with other rich countries, which have far more generous sick-leave policies. America also has fewer automatic economic stabilizers, such as generous unemployment insurance, than most other rich countries. As a result, its discretionary fiscal boost needs to be especially large to make a difference.

It might be. The Trump administration’s plan to funnel money directly to households, if approved by Congress, is the most significant policy. It bears some resemblance to a scheme that was introduced in February in Hong Kong, in which the government offered HK$10,000 ($1,290) directly to every permanent resident. Mr. Mnuchin is thought to favor a check of $1,000 per American—roughly equal to one week’s average wages for a private-sector worker—with the possibility of a second check later. Some $500bn-worth of direct payments could soon be in the post.

Some economists are leery about such a policy. For one thing, it would do little to prevent employers from letting people go, unlike the plans in northern Europe. Another potential problem, judging by Hong Kong’s experience, is administration of the plan: the territory’s finance secretary hopes to make the first payments in “late summer”, far too far away for people who lost work last week. Mr. Mnuchin promises that payments will happen much sooner.

Checkered past

America has done something similar before, with results that were not entirely encouraging. The government sent out checks in both 2001 and 2008 to head off a slowdown. The evidence suggests that people saved a large chunk of it. The psychological reassurance of a bit of extra cash could be significant for many Americans, but the sums involved are not especially impressive. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential contender, is not known for his smart economic policy making, but his suggestion of $2,000 per household per month until the crisis is over is probably closer to what is required.

Indeed, more fiscal stimulus will be needed across the world, especially if measures to contain the spread of the virus fall short. After the Japanese government passes the budget for next fiscal year at the end of this month, it can begin work on a supplementary budget that takes the virus into full account. Britain’s Parliament has given Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer, carte blanche to offer whatever support he deems necessary, without limit.

How much further can fiscal policy realistically go? Last year the 35-odd rich countries tracked by the IMF ran combined fiscal deficits of $1.5trn (2.9% of GDP). On the not-unrealistic assumption that the average deficit rose by five percentage points of GDP, total rich-country borrowing would rise to over $4trn this year. Investors have to be willing to finance that splurge. The yield on ten-year Treasury bonds, which had fallen as low as 0.5% as fears of the virus took hold and traders sought havens, has recently risen above 1%. This is probably due to firms and investors selling even their safest assets to raise cash, but might reflect some anxiety over the scale of planned government borrowing.

Jesse Watters began “Waters’ World” on Saturday by delivering a message of positivity to his audience, saying he’s sure America can overcome the devastation from the coronovirus. “The United States of America is rolling into a recession or a depression. What we do now will determine which one it’ll be. First, we have to stop the spread. You know what to do. Wash your hands, stay clean and practice social distancing,” Watters said, reminding people of the guidelines given to keep people safe from exposure to the virus.

“If you can stay inside this week, work from home if you can. Don’t fly if you don’t have to. The virus is mostly in 10 large counties. A very high percentage in New York, California and Washington state,” he continued. “Some of these areas recognize the threat and are shutting down everything. All of them need to do that.”

Watters talked about where the country stands medically and scientifically, assuring people the “brightest” are on the case. “All the brightest scientists in America [are] working around the clock to find a vaccine. Our people are the most innovative in the world,” Watters said.

The host also addressed the president’s leadership, urging him and American industry leaders to do whatever they can. “The president should be invoking every possible law and power available to him. He should be mobilizing the military and declaring war on the coronavirus. Rally the country around the mantra ‘made in America,'” Watters said. “Every American industry should have all hands-on deck. This isn’t a time for weakness. This is a time for strength.”

“Our country’s fighting an invisible enemy within our borders,” Watters added. “We’ll dull the spike and kill it if we all work together.” Watters expressed his optimism toward an American rebound. “We’ve had to come together by staying apart. I know one thing for sure, we’ll stop it and we’ll kill it and we’ll be a better country for it. Tough times are ahead,” Watters said. “The American character shining bright, loving our families and our neighbors and working nonstop to save lives. It’s now in your hands. We have a great spirit and we shall overcome.”

Italy reported a second successive drop in daily deaths and infections from a coronavirus that has nevertheless claimed more than 6,000 lives in a month.The Mediterranean country has now seen its daily fatalities come down from a world record 793 on Saturday to 651 on Sunday and 601 on Monday.

The number of new declared infections fell from 6,557 on Saturday to 4,789 on Monday. The top medical officer for Milan’s devastated Lombardy region appeared on television smiling for the first time in many weeks. “We cannot declare victory just yet,” Giuglio Gallera said. “But there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Fed Chair Jerome Powell calls out massive US health spending, says Americans are ‘getting nothing’ in return; and What are Pete Buttigieg’s Plan for Health care? More on the Coronavirus and health care costs.

Josepj Zeballos-Roig reported that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said at a Senate hearing on Wednesday that Americans were “getting nothing” in return for what the US spends on healthcare.

“The outcomes are perfectly average for a first-world nation, but we spend 6% to 7% of GDP more than other countries,” he said. “So, it’s about the delivery. That’s a lot of money that you are effectively spending and getting nothing.”

Studies have indicated that the US spends far more on healthcare than other developed countries, only to achieve worse outcomes.

One study published last year in a medical journal estimated that nearly a quarter of the US’s $3.6 trillion health spending was wasteful.

Why the heck is this true??

The United States is one of the highest spenders on healthcare for its citizens, but it has very little to show for it, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said on Wednesday.

Powell made the brutal comments during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on monetary policy.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska asked the Fed chair to weigh in on the effect of healthcare spending on the economy, and Powell said the US was spending at far higher levels without much to show for it.

“The outcomes are perfectly average for a first-world nation, but we spend 6% to 7% of GDP more than other countries,” he said. “So, it’s about the delivery. That’s a lot of money that you are effectively spending and getting nothing.”

The Fed chair added that developed countries had been more successful in delivering quality healthcare for much less to their citizens.

“It’s not that these benefits are fabulously generous — they’re just what people get in Western economies,” Powell said.

It’s not the first time Powell has weighed in on the rising price tag of healthcare in America. In a 2018 interview with Yahoo Finance, he warned that it could hurt the country’s economy in the future.

“It’s no secret: It’s been true for a long time that with our uniquely expensive healthcare delivery system and the aging of our population, we’ve been on an unsustainable fiscal path for a long time,” the Fed chair said.

US health spending grew by 4.6% in 2018, reaching over $3.6 trillion, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And it has been swelling for decades.

The US spent about $10,000 per person for healthcare in 2017, about twice as much as other developed countries, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. But it has ranked poorly in health outcomes, particularly on infant mortality and deaths from preventable causes under age 75.

One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year estimated that nearly a quarter of that spending — up to $935 billion a year— was wasteful, with failures of care delivery and coordination eating up most of the nation’s mismanaged health expenditures.

How do we change this and will a government run system solve these problems?

‘A godsend to my old industry’: A former insurance executive says Pete Buttigieg’s healthcare plan would keep huge profits for insurers and bankrupt Americans

I thought that as Pete Buttigieg is surging in the polls that we should look at his health care strategies. Joseph Zeballos-Roig further reported that Wendell Potter, a former insurance executive, ripped into Pete Buttigieg’s health plan in an interview with Business Insider.

Potter said he believes the plan is a “godsend” for the insurance industry and will allow it to maintain its grip over American healthcare.

“They’d be happy as clams on the Pete Buttigieg health plan,” he told Business Insider.

The Buttigieg campaign defended the plan in statement and noted the insurance industry has also spent millions attacking it.

A former insurance executive says Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s proposed healthcare plan would be “a godsend” for insurers and allow it to exert outsize power in the debate around healthcare reform.

Wendell Potter, President of Medicare for All, an advocacy organization, tweeted on Tuesday that Buttigieg’s effort to continue attacking a proposal to insure everyone in the US in the Democratic primary would massively benefit the health industry.

“This will thrill my old pals in the insurance industry, as Pete’s plan preserves the very system that makes them huge profits while bankrupting & killing millions,” Potter wrote.

He resigned from his position as a senior communications executive at Cigna in 2008 and went on to testify against the insurance industry in Congress.

In an interview with Business Insider, the former healthcare executive said he believed Buttigieg’s plan would be a “godsend” for the industry in a system designed to maximize profits at the expense of consumers.

“They’d be happy as clams on the Pete Buttigieg health plan,” he said. “It doesn’t change much.”

Potter criticized a mandate in the proposal compelling people to carry health insurance which could saddle people with multi-thousand-dollar fines at the end of the year, given a provision to cap premiums at 8.5% of income. It resembles the least popular part of the Affordable Care Act that Congress repealed under the 2017 Republican tax law.

The former Cigna executive has sought to generate support for universal healthcare, and met with the Sanders and Warren presidential campaigns. But he doesn’t plan on endorsing a candidate in the competitive primary.

The Buttigieg health plan mirrors the one that former Vice President Joe Biden unveiled last year, another moderate. Both candidates have faced off against Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s support to create a single-payer system in the US, which would cost over $30 trillion over a decade.

Buttigieg’s $1.5 billion health proposal is a middle-of-the-road approach. It would create a government-managed plan for people who want it while allowing others to maintain their private insurance. He’s touted it as a “glide path” towards universal health coverage.

What the heck does that mean?

In a statement to Business Insider, Sean Savett, a spokesperson for the Buttigieg campaign, defended the plan and noted insurers have also spent millions of dollars slamming it.

“Pete’s ‘Medicare for All Who Want It’ plan would make some of the boldest, most progressive changes to our health care system in decades in order to achieve universal coverage for all Americans,” Savett said. “It has also been attacked by the health insurance industry because it would create competition and force insurers to lower costs and improve care or lose customers — so that claim doesn’t hold up.”

In recent months, the health industry has spearheaded a multimillion-dollar effort to throttle proposals for Medicare for All.

It often lumps modest attempts at reform — such as Buttigieg’s plan — alongside universal healthcare and industry groups warn it could lead to a “one size fits all” system with hospital closures and longer wait times to receive medical care.

Still, the effectiveness of a public option depends on its strength. It would likely still shake up the healthcare system and empower the government to negotiate with providers for lower costs.

Larry Levitt, executive vice president for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said to the New York Times last year: “The political appeal of the public option is it preserves the choice of private insurance. But the better it works, then the less likely it is to actually preserve a private insurance market.”

The glaring question continues to be how will the $1.6 billion be paid?

John Legend calls Pete Buttigieg’s ‘Medicare for All Who Want It’ plan a ‘trap’

Further, we had Eliza Relman of the BusinessInsider report that John Legend took issue with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s healthcare-reform proposal in a series of tweets on Thursday, saying the 2020 candidate’s plan doesn’t go far enough to protect Americans.

As if John Legend is someone whose evaluation on health care should be valued!

Buttigieg’s “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan would essentially add a public option to Obamacare. 

“It’s a trap for progressives to try to talk about healthcare as some sort of free market like they’re talking about TVs or cell phones,” Legend tweeted. “Healthcare is a necessity and there’s very little choice when you’re actually sick. You need treatment and you need it to not bankrupt you.”

Critics of a public option, including those who favor “Medicare for All,” say it wouldn’t adequately rein in healthcare costs and would leave the insurance industry with significant influence over Americans’ healthcare coverage.  

John Legend took issue with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s healthcare-reform proposal in a series of tweets on Thursday in which he said the 2020 candidate’s plan didn’t go far enough to protect Americans.

“This myth of freedom and choice sounds wonderful til you realize your boss has the freedom and choice to fire you from this union job,” the singer wrote, retweeting Buttigieg’s message promoting his “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan for union workers. 

Buttigieg’s plan, like the one proposed by former Vice President Joe Biden, would essentially add a public option to Obamacare, opening up Medicare for those who don’t have or want private insurance. Critics of a public option, including those who favor “Medicare for All,” say it wouldn’t adequately rein in healthcare costs and would leave the insurance industry with significant influence over Americans’ healthcare coverage.  

“It’s a trap for progressives to try to talk about healthcare as some sort of free market like they’re talking about TVs or cell phones,” Legend said. “Healthcare is a necessity and there’s very little choice when you’re actually sick. You need treatment and you need it to not bankrupt you.”

He added, “And the so-called ‘market’ for healthcare is so opaque, there are few if any perfectly informed consumers. And no one can predict what healthcare they’ll need in the future.” 

Spokespeople for Buttigieg’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Health Insurance Premiums Continue to Increase. What Can You Do?

MoneyWise noted that according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual employer benefits survey, the average annual health insurance premium for family coverage for employer-sponsored health plans was over $20,000 in 2019. That’s the first time premiums have reached the milestone. Premiums were 5% higher than the year before.

Meanwhile, a 2018 report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners noted that the health insurance industry was continuing its “tremendous growth trend,” going from a profit margin of 2.4% in 2017 to 3.3% in 2018.

The numbers haven’t come in yet for 2019, but insurers in 2019 have posted record profits, and many individuals and families have experienced climbing health insurance premiums in recent years.

Why health insurance premiums are climbing

While a number of factors contribute to the rising cost, Melissa Thomasson, department chair and professor of economics at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, has identified two main reasons for rising health insurance premiums: consolidation and billing.

Consolidation

Thomasson says that the increasing consolidation of health care is the main driver of rising premiums.

“People can look around, and they see physicians’ practices being purchased by hospitals. Well, every time that happens, those bills increase,” Thomasson says.

This is what you likely learned in high school economics class. “When competition is lowered, prices go up,” Thomasson says. “As hospitals merge, they have less competition and more leverage with the insurers, and the discounts get lower. Consolidation forces health care prices to go up.”

Billing

The second factor is “surprise billing,” Thomasson says. Every health care bill may seem like a surprise, given how you often don’t know what you’ll be charged. But Thomasson says that it’s becoming more common for consumers to receive extremely large bills for out-of-network care — even though they thought they were receiving care within their health insurance network.

“It doesn’t always occur to you to ask, ‘How much will it cost for somebody to read that X-ray?’” Thomasson says.

What you can do about rising health insurance premiums

Often, when you ask experts what can be done about rising insurance premiums, the answer is “not much.” But there are a few strategies you can use to try to tame your costs.

Tinker with your health insurance plan

Keep your plan, but talk to your insurance agent or the insurer directly about making changes.

Choosing a higher deductible and higher copays will lower your premium, says Matt Oves, an employee benefits account manager at Sahouri Insurance, an independent insurance brokerage located in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

“If you are healthy and do not anticipate any major health concerns, it may be smart to select a plan with higher deductibles,” Oves says.

However, it may not be a good idea if you often go to the doctor, or you anticipate needing to see a physician frequently in the near future. If you’re paying a smaller monthly premium but you’re shelling out higher copays two or three times a month throughout the year, you might wish you had kept your premium as it was.

Consider a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA)

This is one strategy that I have suggested to my family. Oves suggests taking advantage of an HSA or FSA if you can. Some people with high-deductible health insurance plans, as defined by the government, qualify for health savings accounts. Each year, you decide how much to contribute to your HSA, and that money is usually not subject to federal income tax. If you don’t use the money, it rolls over to the next year. That will help cover out-of-pocket costs. There are also investment options for HSA funds, providing an added bonus to those with high-deductible plans.

Flexible spending accounts are similar to HSAs, but the money doesn’t roll over to the next year and the account is owned by the employer. FSA contributions are deducted from your salary with pre-tax dollars. The employee usually receives a debit card to use for qualified health expenses. If you qualify for both an HSA and an FSA, you’ll likely find more flexibility and benefit from an HSA.

Look into a short-term health insurance plan

Adam Hyers, who owns Hyers and Associates, Inc., an insurance agency in Columbus, Ohio, says that many of his healthy clients have enrolled in short-term insurance plans that can last 12 months or longer.

“These policies now look much like what insurance plans did pre-ACA and can cover the insured for unknown, catastrophic types of issues. In many cases, premiums for short-term plans can be half as much as ACA-type policies,” Hyers says.

However, Hyers cautions, “short-term plans aren’t the solution for everyone as they don’t cover preexisting conditions, but they are a good option for those who just want to cover a bigger event that could happen throughout the year.”

In other words, it’s a stop-gap solution if you need a health plan while you look for a plan you can afford, you’re between jobs or you need coverage in case of an emergency.

Stay healthy

Eating your fruits and vegetables, exercising and not doing unhealthy activities, like smoking, can help lower your insurance costs today and over time. Obesity and other conditions can increase your costs over time. Using your preventative health insurance every once in a while, can help keep your health care costs lower in the future.

“Get routine checkups to catch health problems early and avoid paying for complex surgeries later,” Oves says.

Think of your body as a car. If you never change the oil because it’s expensive, eventually you’ll destroy your engine and be out far more money. If you don’t get an annual physical, you may pay for it later in a big way.

Talk to your representatives

Call your senator. Call your member of Congress. Thomasson recommends this if you’re looking for health care premium relief in the long run. If you feel that the government should be working to bring health care prices to more manageable levels — for you and your employer — then make your voice heard.

Your wages may be paying for insurance premiums

Thomasson notes that if your wages haven’t risen much lately, it may be due to your employer-provided health plan. “If your employer is paying for your higher and higher premiums, then you’re receiving compensation for that. And that’s the raise that your employer can’t give you,” Thomasson says.

There’s the chicken-and-egg irony in all of this. Your health plan is getting more expensive, which keeps your employer from offering you a higher salary, which makes your health plan even harder to pay for.

While it may be challenging to combat rising insurance premiums, knowing your options and taking small actions can help save you money today and in the future. While you may not be able to lower your premium, you can make changes to help offset the costs, or even inspire change in your workplace or community by understanding how insurance premiums work.

And now more on the Corona virus, or COVID-19!

More than 1,700 healthcare workers in Wuhan have gotten the coronavirus. A study found that 29% of infections were in medical staff.

Holly Secon reported that as the new coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, continues to spread, hundreds of healthcare workers are getting sick.

China’s National Health Commission announced Friday that 1,716 health workers had contracted the new virus. Six have died.

One study found that nearly a third of the patients involved were healthcare workers.

Healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak are getting sick by the hundreds.

China’s National Health Commission said on Friday that 1,716 healthcare workers nationwide had been infected by the virus. Of that total, 87.5% are in the Hubei province, where the outbreak began.

In addition, Chinese authorities confirmed for the first time that six healthcare workers have died. That includes doctor Li Wenliang, who was censored by Chinese authorities after warning colleagues about the new virus.

The South China Morning Post Tuesday that at least 500 healthcare workers in Wuhan hospitals had contracted the virus, and approximately 600 more cases were suspected, but the official numbers reveal that the risk to medical staff is even more dire.

Research published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that of 138 total patients studied, 29% were healthcare workers. In one case, a patient admitted to a hospital in Wuhan infected at least 10 medical workers and four other patients.

Together, these reports highlight a concerning threat both to the individuals working to curb this outbreak and to Wuhan’s already overstressed healthcare system.

Healthcare workers at risk

The coronavirus has infected more than 64,000 people and killed nearly 1,400. It has spread to 25 countries beyond China.

Healthcare workers are particularly vulnerable for a handful of reasons. First, the coronavirus is highly contagious, and medical staff members are exposed to more viral particles than the general public. Second, they’re facing shortages of supplies as the tide of patients rises. Third, a combination of stress and long hours could make their immune systems more vulnerable than normal. 

A lack of data and information about the new coronavirus is a fourth challenge. Gastrointestinal symptoms, for example, were not initially recognized as potential early indicators. That’s the reason one Wuhan patient infected 10 medical workers: The person came into the hospital with abdominal issues but was placed in a surgical ward, since the symptoms didn’t match known coronavirus red flags. Four other patients in the ward then caught the virus, too.

The threat to hospital staff isn’t limited to China: Two of four new coronavirus cases in the UK are healthcare workers, officials announced Monday.

“We are now working urgently to identify all patients and other healthcare workers who may have come into close contact, and at this stage we believe this to be a relatively small number,” Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, said in a statement. 

At the Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, California, meanwhile, five employees were sent home and told to self-isolate for about two weeks after they came into contact with a patient later confirmed to have coronavirus.

Infection among healthcare workers has been a problem during outbreaks of other coronaviruses as well, including SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). Around 20% of people who got SARS were medical workers. One highly contagious patient — a “super-spreader” — infected 50 doctors and nurses.

“We’ve seen this before with MERS, we’ve seen this before in SARS,” Mike Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said in a press conference on Friday. “If you look at the percentage of overall cases, although it’s a tragic situation for the health workers … it is a lower percentage than has occurred in other coronavirus outbreaks.” 

Overwhelmed by the coronavirus outbreak 

In Wuhan, where nearly 20,000 cases have been documented, hospitals have reported running out of beds, testing kits, and protective gear.

Chinese authorities sent 10,000 additional medical workers and more protective gear to the hospitals in the city and rapidly built two new hospitals there as well. Hotels, sports centers, exhibition spaces, and other local venues are also serving as temporary treatment centers.

But a doctor at one major hospital in China — who was kept anonymous due to fears about losing his job — told the South China Morning Post that curbing the outbreak and treating patients is exponentially more difficult when healthcare workers are getting sick. 

“Just a very rough estimate, 100 nurses and doctors can look after 100 ordinary beds and 16 ICU beds,” he said. “If they are sick, not only do they occupy 100 beds, but the staff taking care of 100 beds are gone. That means a hospital loses the capacity of 200 beds. That is why the authorities have to keep sending medics over to Wuhan, not only because there are not enough beds, but because of a lack of health doctors and nurses to take care of the sick beds.”

Hospitals and healthcare workers in other countries are preparing

In the US, which has confirmed 15 cases, many hospitals are preparing for potential coronavirus cases. 

“A lot of our patients are from many different countries and travel,” Kim Leslie, an emergency-department nursing director at Swedish Hospital in Chicago, previously told Business Insider. “The likelihood of us coming across it is high, so we’re trying to have a plan for what to do.”

Health authorities worldwide recommend standard preventative measures for healthcare providers: hand-washing, avoiding touching one’s face, and wearing a surgical mask when around sick patients.

The Central Hospital of Wuhan via Weibo/Reuters

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that hospital staff put potentially infected patients in an airborne infection isolation room, wear eye protection, and immediately notify the CDC about any person under investigation.

Plus, US hospitals are already facing a bad flu season. At least 22 million people have gotten the flu since October 1, 2019, and 12,000 have died.

“It’s really hard because so much of US screening is relying on travel history, but it shows the importance of following the standard procedure of basic infection control practices,” Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist specializing in infection prevention, told Business Insider, adding, “if you could put a mask on everyone who had a cough and fever, that would be huge.”

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.

‘I owe the American people an apology’: A former healthcare executive says he’s sorry for devising the biggest argument against Medicare for All and Some Additional Thoughts

As the politicians are getting ready for the Senate impeachment trial, I realize how much time has been wasted on non-health care, non-immigration, non-education improvement, non-environmental issues. Both parties, Democrats and Republicans have wasted and multiple millions of our taxpayer dollars. Pathetic. These are the people that we voter for to do our bidding…improve our lives. Instead they fight and embarrass all of us. Pathetic!

And again, what about Medicare for All? Zeballos-Roig noted that Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive and now pro-Medicare for All activist, apologized for his role in designing the biggest argument against industry reform in a New York Times op-ed published Tuesday.

He was referring to the idea of choice, or put another way, the freedom of Americans to pick their own health insurance plans and which doctors they want to see.

The activist called it “a PR concoction,” one filling him with “everlasting regret.”

A former executive at a prominent health insurance company had one thing to say recently: I’m sorry.

Wendell Potter, once a vice president for corporate communications at Cigna and now a pro-universal healthcare activist, laid out his apology in the New York Times on Tuesday for crafting one of the biggest arguments used against the creation of a single-payer system in the United States.

He was referring to the idea of choice, or put another way, the freedom of Americans to pick their own health insurance plans and which doctors they want to see.

It’s a common argument the health industry employs to oppose any attempt to change the system. Most recently, its spearheaded a multimillion-dollar effort to throttle proposals for Medicare for All, which would enroll everyone in the US onto a government insurance plan and virtually eliminate the private insurance sector.

“When the candidates discuss health care, you’re bound to hear some of them talk about consumer ‘choice,'” Potter wrote, referring to the Democratic primary field. “If the nation adopts systemic health reform, this idea goes, it would restrict the ability of Americans to choose their plans or doctors, or have a say in their care.

He called it “a good little talking point,” effective at casting any reform proposal expanding the government’s role in healthcare as drastically damaging.

But Potter said that defense was ultimately “a P.R. concoction,” and one that filled him with “everlasting regret.”

“Those of us in the insurance industry constantly hustled to prevent significant reforms because changes threatened to eat into our companies’ enormous profits,” Potter wrote.

Potter resigned his position at Cigna in 2008. And he testified to Congress a year later about the practices of an industry that “flouts regulations” and “makes promises they have no intention of keeping.” He’s since become a leading reform advocate.

Get this, the activist said in the Times op-ed that healthcare executives were well aware their insurance often severely limited the ability of Americans to personally decide how they accessed and received medical care, unless they wanted to pay huge sums of money out of their own pockets.

Do you all believe this?

“But those of us who held senior positions for the big insurers knew that one of the huge vulnerabilities of the system is its lack of choice,” Potter said. “In the current system, Americans cannot, in fact, pick their own doctors, specialists or hospitals — at least, not without incurring huge ‘out of network’ bills.”

The “choice” talking point, Potter wrote, polled well in focus groups that insurers set up to test their messaging against reform plans, leading them to adopt it.

Now he is shocked to see an argument that he had a hand in engineering used among Democrats battling to claim their party’s nomination to face off against President Trump in the 2020 election — and Potter says the insurers likely see it as a huge victory for them.

“What’s different now is that it’s the Democrats parroting the misleading ‘choice’ talking point — and even using it as a weapon against one another,” Potter wrote. “Back in my days working in insurance P.R., this would have stunned me. It’s why I believe my former colleagues are celebrating today.”

One of the biggest divides among Democratic candidates is on health reform.

The progressive wing of the party, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, largely supports enacting Medicare for All. So does Sen. Elizabeth Warren, though she’s tempered her rhetoric backing it in the last few months after rolling out her own universal healthcare plan and drawing criticism for its hefty $20.5 trillion price tag.

Moderates like former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg are pushing to create an optional government insurance plan for Americans instead. They’ve argued that a single-payer system could kick millions of Americans off their private insurance and restrict their ability to manage their care — echoing the line of attack used by the healthcare industry.

Potter had a warning for voters as they head to the polls in this year’s election.

“My advice to voters is that if politicians tell you they oppose reforming the health care system because they want to preserve your ‘choice’ as a consumer, they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re willfully ignoring the truth,” Potter wrote in the op-ed. “Either way, the insurance industry is delighted. I would know.”

Humana CEO talks M&A, government-controlled health care

More from another healthcare executive. Reporter Chris Larson noted that Louisville-based Humana Inc. — a giant in the health insurance market — expects its long-term success to be based in providing health services to keep its members from needing more care.

Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said as much — and much more — on Monday in two appearances at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco.

Appearing beside Humana Chief Financial Officer Brian Kane, the duo answered a wide range of questions (which you can hear for yourself here). Below are a few takeaways from their remarks.

Humana’s core business is expected to grow despite market leader status

Administering Medicare Advantage, a privately administered version of the federal health plan Medicare, is at the heart of Humana’s (NYSE: HUM) business: it has about 4.1 million members on individual or group Medicare Advantage plans, according to the company’s latest financial disclosure.

One analysis shows that Humana holds about 18 percent of the Medicare Advantage market, the second largest share in the nation.

Presentation moderator Gary Taylor, a managing director and senior equity analyst with J.P. Morgan, noted that continued growth in a market-leading position is not typical and noted that continued growth in the Medicare Advantage business is possible because more seniors are using it rather than traditional Medicare.

Taylor said that about one-third of Medicare enrollees are on Medicare Advantage plans. Broussard said that he expects that portion to grow to one-half in the next seven to 10 years.

“We’re seeing just both a great consumer attraction, but, more importantly, great health outcomes by being able to serve someone more holistically,” Broussard said.

Broussard added that Humana’s growth in Medicare Advantage depends on brand recognition and customer experience. He added he expects that the company can grow along with the popularity of Medicare Advantage in the Midwest and Texas specifically.

Public policy: Americans want a private option

Some Democratic presidential candidates say they would push for expanded health benefits from the government while others — notably Vermont Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders — want to see private insurance eliminated altogether. Broussard largely downplayed the likelihood that these proposals would become policy.

He referred to polling, the company’s experience and the increased popularity of Medicare Advantage — a privately administered version of a government health plan — as proof that people want private options in health care.

Humana’s M&A plans will focus on clinical capabilities

Broussard said clinical capabilities were key to the company’s success and later added that its merger and acquisition activity would largely focus on that.

“What we see long term is the ability to compete in this marketplace will be really determined on your clinical capabilities — helping members stay out of the health care system as well as what we’ve done in past in managing costs in the traditional managed care way,” Broussard said.

Broussard added later in the presentation: “As we think about growth, we really think about how do we build the health care services side more. We’ll still buy plans especially on the Medicaid side and the markets that we want to be in. But for the most part, I think our capital deployment is expanding the capabilities we have.”

He added that there are only a few options for additional blockbuster mergers in the health care industry given the current regulatory environment.

Humana was the subject of such a merger a few years ago with Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna Inc. But that deal fell apart and Aetna has since merged with Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health Inc.

Humana was party to a $4.1 billion acquisition that took Louisville-based Kindred Healthcare private and separated Kindred At Home into a standalone entity.

How an insured pro athlete ended up with $250,000 in medical debt

With all the concern regarding patients without health care insurance that there are people with insurance who due to the complexities of the system still end up with huge bills sometimes ending in bankruptcies. In the U.S., going bankrupt because of medical bills and debt is something that doesn’t just happen to the unlucky uninsured, but also to people with insurance.

Though health plans have an “out of pocket max” – the most you’d be required to pay for medical services in a given year – that’s no guarantee that number will ensure a safety net.

This is what pro cyclist Phil Gaimon discovered after a bad crash in Pennsylvania last June that left him with his collarbone, scapula, and right ribs broken. The bills totaled $250,000.

“I have good insurance,” Gaimon told Yahoo Finance. “I pay a lot of money for it. I just haven’t gotten good explanations for any of this.”

Gaimon pays $500 a month for a plan with a $10,000 deductible, and is fighting the bills.

This type of medical debt isn’t uncommon. The Kaiser Family Foundation, a healthcare think tank, has reported that insurance can be incomplete and that the complexity of the system often leaves people seeking treatment in financial hardship. In a survey KFF found that 11% of consumers with medical bill problems have declared bankruptcy, and cited the medical bills as at least a partial contributor. Another report found that medical problems contributed to 66.5% of all bankruptcies. (Currently, there’s some legislation addressing surprise billing issues.) 

Gaimon was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital after his crash. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an out-of-network hospital. Gaimon told Yahoo Finance that he thought it would be okay, because the emergency nature could be seen as an extenuating circumstance. His insurer, Health Net, has an appeals process for situations like that.

Gaimon figured the no-other-option aspect of the situation would solve the problems, and believed it enough to post on Instagram soon after that people should donate to No Kid Hungry, a children’s food insecurity charity, rather than a GoFundMe for his bills.

“I said, ‘Hey, I crashed, what would you donate to my GoFundMe if i didn’t have health insurance? Take that money and give it to this instead,’” said Gaimon. “We raised around $40,000 in 48 hours.”

The $103,000 raised in the next few months would have taken a big chunk out of his medical bills, but Gaimon has no regrets. “Someone out there needs more help than I do,” he said.

Medical bills are fun!

It’s hard to comparison shop when you’re in physical pain

Things may have been easier if it would have been possible for Gaimon to steer the ambulance towards an in-network hospital. But an ambulance isn’t a taxi — it’s a vehicle designed to bring a patient to health care providers in the least amount of time possible.

Also consider that Gaimon, as he put it, was in “various states of consciousness” following his accident — hardly in a position to check which hospitals are in his insurer’s network.

Gaimon may be able to win the appeals process with his insurer for the out-of-network hospital. But that’s just the beginning of his insurance woes.

The cyclist’s scapula break was complex enough to require a special surgeon, and Gaimon said the hospital was unable to find someone capable. 

“I was laying in the hospital for three days hitting the morphine,” Gaimon said. Multiple times a potential surgeon would come to examine him only to say that they weren’t up to the task. 

After multiple cycles of fasting before a surgery only to be told that the surgeons couldn’t operate, Gaimon took matters into his own hands. Eventually he found a surgeon in New York to do it, and even though it was out-of-network as well, he figured the fact that there was seemingly no other alternative would mean his insurer would cover the surgery. 

So the track race didn’t go very well. Broken scapula, collarbone, 5 ribs, and partially collapsed lung.  What if I told you that I don’t have health insurance? Would you donate do help me out? How much?

Okay well I do have health insurance and I’m fundamentally alright, so I ask you to take that money and give it to @ChefsCycle @nokidhungry who need it more than I do. I’m in a lot of pain and this is all I can think to cheer me up. Link in profile and updates as I have them. Xo

Six months later, Gaimon finds out that it did not, and is fighting the charges. He’s hired a lawyer to help, as has had mixed results with the system so far. 

“No one talks prices until it’s over — that’s the other horrible flaw,” he said. 

Gaimon said that he’s numb to things at this point, though he doesn’t know what will happen.

“Ultimately I’m going to have to negotiate with that hospital, or the health insurance will choose to cover,” said Gaimon. “Or they’ll have to sue me and I’ll go bankrupt — the traditional way you deal with medical stuff.” 

Gaimon’s sarcasm aside, sky-high health care costs are a central issue in the current presidential election and a frequent talking point for Democratic candidates. In this week’s Democratic debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders highlighted the issue. “You’ve got 500,000 people going bankrupt because they cannot pay their medical bills,” Sanders said. “We’re spending twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country.”

The whole ordeal has shown Gaimon how fragile the healthcare system really is. 

“The whole idea that you could be in a car accident and you wake up in a hospital and owe $100,000 — and that could happen to anyone — that’s a ridiculously scary thing,” he said. “I was making no decisions, I was on drugs, and in fetal-position-level pain. Every decision was made to live. And then you emerge and you’re financially ruined.”

Medicare for All? A Public Option? Health Care Terms, Explained

Now, a review of some of the terms that we keep discussing. As I complete a chapter in my new book, I thought that it would worth taking the time to review some of the terms. Yahoo Finance’s Senior writer, Ethan Wolff-Mann reported that if the last few Democratic presidential debates are any guide, tonight’s will likely delve into health care proposals. Do voters know what we’re talking about when we talk about various plans and concepts, including “Medicare for All?” Or any of the other health policy terms that get thrown around?

Pretty much no.

According to one poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 87% of Democrats support “Medicare for All,” while 64% of Democrats support “single-payer health care.” Here’s the catch — those two phrases describe almost the same thing. The language in this debate is murky, confusing and hugely consequential. So, we’re laying out some key terms to help you keep up.

Single-payer

This is a kind of health care system where the government provides insurance to everyone. Think about it as if you’re a doctor: a patient comes in, and you treat them. Who’s paying you for that care? Under our current system, it could be a variety of payers: state Medicaid programs, Medicare, or a private insurance company like Aetna or Cigna or Blue Cross and Blue Shield — each with different rates and different services that they cover. Instead, under the single-payer model, there’s just one, single payer: the government.

Medicare for All

If single-payer is fruit, Medicare for All is a banana. In other words, single-payer is a category of coverage, and Medicare for All is a specific proposal, originally written by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (as he often reminds us). It envisions the creation of a national health insurance program, with coverage provided to everyone, based on the idea that access to health care is a human right. Private health insurance would mostly go away, and there would be no premiums or cost-sharing for patients.

Important note: it would not actually just expand Medicare as it exists now for all people (as you might guess from the name). Medicare doesn’t cover a whole lot of things that this proposed program would cover, like hearing and vision and dental and long-term care.

Public option

The idea of a “public option” was floated back in 2009 when the Affordable Care Act was being debated. The idea is that along with the private health insurance plans that you might have access to through your employer or through the individual insurance exchanges, there would be an option to buy into a government-run insurance program, like Medicare. Private insurance would still exist, but people could choose to get a government insurance plan instead.

There are many kinds of public option proposals, and different presidential candidates have their own ideas on how it would work, whether it’s lowering the age for Medicare access or creating a new program that’s not Medicare or Medicaid that people could buy into, among others. The idea is that the government might be able to offer a more affordable option for people, which could push down prices in the private insurance world.

Pete Buttigieg’s plan — “Medicare for All Who Want It” — is his version of a public option. And Elizabeth Warren announced November 15 that she’d start with a public option plan before trying to push the country toward Medicare for All.

“Government-run” health care

Many opponents of Medicare for All and other health proposals use the term “government-run” as a dig against them, including President Trump. (Sometimes the term “socialized medicine” is used as well.) In the U.K. and some other places, the government doesn’t just pay people’s health care bills, it also owns hospitals and employs doctors and other providers — that’s a government-run health care system. The single-payer concept being discussed in this country’s presidential campaign would not operate like that — the industry would still be mostly private, but the government would pay the bills. How the government would generate the money to pay those bills is subject to debate.)

Universal coverage

This isn’t a plan, it’s a goal that everyone has health insurance — that health insurance coverage is universal. The Affordable Care Act made a system for states to expand Medicaid and created the individual health insurance exchanges, , both of which significantly cut down on the number of uninsured people, but currently 27 million Americans do not have health insurance, and the rate of people who lack insurance is rising. Most Democratic presidential candidates would like to achieve universal coverage — the debate is about the best approach to get there.

Medicare for All Would Save US Money, New Study Says

Reporter Yuval Rosenberg, The Fiscal Times noted that a Medicare for All system would likely lower health care costs and save the United States money, both in its first year and over time, according to a review of single-payer analyses published this week in the online journal PLOS Medicine. You have to read on to understand the flimsy data and weak argument to try to convince us all to adopt the Medicare for All program, especially those of us who really know the reality of living with a Medicare type of healthcare program and the reality of restrictions in needed care for the patients.

The authors reviewed 18 economic analyses of the cost of 22 national and state-level single-payer proposals over the last 30 years. They found that 19 of the 22 models predicted net savings in the first year and 20 of 22 forecast cost reductions over several years, with the largest of savings simplified billing and negotiated drug prices.

“There is near-consensus in these analyses that single-payer would reduce health expenditures while providing high-quality insurance to all US residents,” the study says. It notes that actual costs would depend on the specifics features and implementation of any plan.

The peer-reviewed study’s lead author, Christopher Cai, a third-year medical student at the University of California, San Francisco, is an executive board member of Students for a National Health Program, a group that supports a single-payer system.

Questions about methodology: “This might be the worst ‘academic’ study I’ve ever read,” tweeted Marc Goldwein, head of policy at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “It’s a glorified lit review of 22 studies – excluding 6 of the most important on the topic and including 11 that are redundant, non-matches, or from the early 90s.” The results would look quite different if the authors had made different choices about what analyses to include in their review.

What other studies have found: Other recent analyses have been far less conclusive about how health care spending might change under a single-payer system. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said last year that total national health care spending under Medicare for All “might be higher or lower than under the current system depending on the key features of the new system, such as the services covered, the provider payment rates, and patient cost-sharing requirements.”

An October analysis by the Urban Institute and the Commonwealth Fund, meanwhile, found that a robust, comprehensive single-payer system would increase national health spending by about $720 billion in its first year, while federal spending on health care would rise by $34 trillion over 10 years. But a less generous single-payer plan would reduce national health spending by about $210 billion in its first year. Remember the costs that Elizabeth Warren spouted?? $52 trillion over a decade! Can we all afford this?

Drug prices rise 5.8% on average in 2020, Obamacare and True Economics and the opinions of Delaney!

The Holidays are finally over and Rudolf was just arrested for assaulting his teammate reindeers for calling him names and laughing at him. Was this a hate crime??? Oh, how sensitive these days!! Poor, poor Rudolf!

As I was picking up a prescription today I was reminded of this article, one copy sent to me by a friend, I then went to pay for the prescription with my GoodRx card though which I was given an 80% discount. This brings up the question how will we all be able to pay for the future drugs with their outrageous prices? 

It also brings up the question, how do organizations like GoodRx and Singlecare give people the discount. And what is the true value of prescription drugs and what prices should be charged in order for the always-profitable pharmaceutical companies to make an acceptable profit and what is an acceptable profit?

Consider this report published in MarketWatch by Jared S. Hopkins.

Pharmaceutical companies started 2020 by raising the price of hundreds of drugs, according to a new analysis, though the increases are relatively modest this year as scrutiny grows from patients, lawmakers and health plans.

Pfizer Inc. led the way, including increasing prices by over 9% on more than 40 products. The drug industry traditionally sets prices for its therapies at the start of the year and again in the middle of the year.

More than 60 drugmakers raised prices in the U.S. on Wednesday, according to an analysis from Rx Savings Solutions, which sells software to help employers and health plans choose the least-expensive medicines. The average increase was 5.8%, according to the analysis, including increases on different doses for the same drug.

The average is just below that of a year ago, when more than 50 companies raised the prices on hundreds of drugs by an average of more than 6%, according to the analysis.

Pfizer said that 27% of the drugs Pfizer sells in the U.S. will increase in price by an average of 5.6%. More than 90 of the New York-based company’s products rose in price, according to the Rx Savings Solutions analysis. Among them are Ibrance, which sold nearly $3.7 billion globally through the first nine months last year, and rheumatoid arthritis therapy Xeljanz.

A Pfizer spokeswoman said that nearly half of its drugs whose prices went up are sterile injectables, which are typically administered in hospitals, and the majority of those increases amount to less than $1 per product dose.

Pfizer’s largest percent increases, 15%, are on its heparin products, which are generic blood thinners typically administered in hospitals.

Pfizer said the heparin increases are to help offset a 50% increase in the cost of raw materials and expand capacity to meet market demand. The company said it is monitoring the global heparin supply, which has been challenged by the impact of African swine flu in China, as the drug is derived from pig products and disruption could lead to a shortage. Pfizer said that its U.S. heparin supply is not sourced from China.

Overall, the increases by drugmakers Wednesday affect “list prices,” which are set by manufacturers, although most patients don’t pay these prices, which don’t take into account rebates, discounts and insurance payments. Drugmakers have said prices are increased in conjunction with rebates they give to pharmacy-benefit managers, or PBMs, in order to be placed on the lists of covered drugs known as formularies.

In fact, drugmakers have said that their net prices have declined because of large rebates to PBMs, which negotiate prices in secret with their clients, such as employers and labor unions.

Pfizer said its price increases will be offset by higher rebates paid to insurers and middlemen. The company said the net effect on revenue growth in 2020 will be 0%, which is the same percentage expected for 2019. The company said the average net price of its drugs declined by 1% in 2018.

In 2018, Pfizer was assailed by President Trump after the company raised the prices on some 40 drugs. Pfizer temporarily rolled back the increases, but raised prices again later.

In Washington, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress have drawn up proposals for lowering drug costs, while the Trump administration recently introduced a plan for importing drugs from Canada.

“Prices go up but demand remains the same,” said Michael Rea, CEO of Rx Savings Solutions. Clients of the Overland Park, Kan., company include Target Corp. and Quest Diagnostics Inc. “Without the appropriate checks and balances in place, this is a runaway train. Consumers, employers and health plans ultimately pay the very steep price.”

While some increases in his firm’s analysis were steep, most product prices rose by less than 9%.

AbbVie Inc. raised the price of rheumatoid arthritis treatment Humira, the world’s top-selling drug, by 7.4%, according to the analysis. Through the first nine months of 2019, Humira sales totaled nearly $11 billion.

AbbVie didn’t respond to a request for comment.

GlaxoSmithKline PLC raised the prices on more than two dozen different therapies, although none by more than by 5%. That includes its shingles vaccine, Shingrix, which sold about $1.7 billion globally in the first nine months of 2019.

A Glaxo spokeswoman confirmed the increases and said net prices for its U.S. products fell about 3.4% on average annually the past five years.

Other major companies that raised prices included generic drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., which raised the price of more than two dozen products, but none by more than 6.4%, according to the analysis. Sanofi S.A. raised prices on some of their therapies, but none by more than 5%, while Biogen Inc. took increases that didn’t exceed 6%, including on multiple-sclerosis therapy Tecfidera.

Teva didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A Sanofi spokeswoman confirmed the increases and said that the changes are consistent with its pledge to ensure price increases don’t exceed medical inflation. A Biogen spokesman confirmed the price changes and said adjustments are made to products for which it continues to invest in research, and otherwise increases follow inflation.

In addition to Pfizer’s increases on heparin, companies increased prices for several therapies by more than 10%, according to the analysis.

Cotempla XR-ODT, which is approved in the U.S. to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children between 6 and 17 years old, increased by more than 13% to $420 for a month supply. The therapy is sold by Neos Therapeutics Inc., based in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Representatives for Neos didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Democrats ask U.S. Supreme Court to save Obamacare

Lawrence Hurley of Reuters reported that the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives and 20 Democratic-led states asked the Supreme Court on Friday to declare that the landmark Obamacare healthcare law does not violate the U.S. Constitution as lower courts have found in a lawsuit brought by Republican-led states. 

The House and the states, including New York and California, want the Supreme Court to hear their appeals of a Dec. 18 ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that deemed the 2010 law’s “individual mandate” that required people to obtain health insurance unconstitutional. 

The petitions asked the Supreme Court, which has a 5-4 conservative majority, to hear the case quickly and issue a definitive ruling on the law, formally called the Affordable Care Act, by the end of June. 

Texas and 17 other conservative states – backed by President Donald Trump’s administration – filed a lawsuit challenging the law, which was signed by Democratic former President Barack Obama in 2010 over strenuous Republican opposition. A district court judge in Texas in 2018 found the entire law unconstitutional. 

“The Affordable Care Act has been the law of the land for a decade now and despite efforts by President Trump, his administration and congressional Republicans to take us backwards, we will not strip health coverage away from millions of Americans,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said. 

Obamacare, considered Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, has helped roughly 20 million Americans obtain medical insurance either through government programs or through policies from private insurers made available in Obamacare marketplaces. Republican opponents have called it an unwarranted government intervention in health insurance markets. 

Congressional Republicans tried and failed numerous times to repeal Obamacare. Trump’s administration has taken several actions to undermine it. 

In 2012, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld most Obamacare provisions including the individual mandate, which required people to obtain insurance or pay a financial penalty. The court defined this penalty as a tax and thus found the law permissible under the Constitution’s provision empowering Congress to levy taxes. 

In 2017, Trump signed into law tax legislation passed by a Republican-led Congress that eliminated the individual mandate’s financial penalty. That law means the individual mandate can no longer be interpreted as a tax provision and therefore violates the Constitution, the 5th Circuit concluded. 

In striking down the individual mandate, the 5th Circuit avoided answering the key question of whether the rest of the law can remain in place or must be struck down, instead sending the case back to a district court judge for further analysis. 

That means the fate of Obamacare remains in limbo. The fact that the litigation is still ongoing may make the Supreme Court, which already has a series of major cases to decide in the coming months, less likely to intervene at this stage. 

John Delaney: On health care, bold vision with pragmatism is what America needs

Pulitzer prize winning editor, Art Cullen noted that in living rooms and coffee shops across all of Iowa’s 99 counties, I am forever reminded that health care is the paramount issue facing Americans. Our current system is deeply broken, and our country needs a bold vision and a pragmatic approach for improving health care. In many ways, a candidate’s approach to health care defines their governing and leadership style. It answers important questions about their values, vision, pragmatism and management style. 

The Democratic Party should have as its true north universal access — where every American has health care coverage as a right of citizenship. We should support plans that encourage innovation — curing diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s — and that create a framework for getting costs under control. My Better Care Plan uniquely achieves all of these goals.

Universal access needs to be realistic

Currently, only three candidates have detailed plans for universal access — Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and I. Universal access is the right answer, both morally and economically. The plans advocated by Warren and Sanders, however, call for an extreme “single-payer” system, where the government is the only provider of coverage. 

Aside from the extraordinary practical, fiscal and political issues associated with eliminating and replacing over 180 million private insurance plans, a single-payer system will massively underfund the health care system. Today, government reimbursement is dramatically less than reimbursements paid by insurance companies. Making the government the only payer in health care would underfund hospitals, particularly in rural America, resulting in hospital closures, practitioners closing up shop, and a reduction of investment in innovation.  

On the other hand, most other candidates are advocating for a “public option” as our way forward. This is a modest proposal, insufficient for the challenges of our broken health care system. A public option is simply another insurer that is government-run. It will have co-payments, deductibles, and premiums. And it relies on people choosing to sign up. While it would provide more options than are currently available in the marketplace, undoubtedly helping many, it would not address the tragedy of the uninsured in our country.

Under BetterCare we achieve the ambition of universal coverage without the negatives of a single-payer system. 

Under BetterCare, Medicare is left alone, because it works, and every American from birth to 65 (seniors are on Medicare) is auto-enrolled in a free federal health care plan that covers basic health care needs. This ensures every American has health care coverage. But unlike the single-payer Medicare for All, Americans could still choose private insurance. They could “opt out” of the BetterCare plan and buy private insurance or receive insurance from their employer. If they “opt out” they would receive a health care tax credit to offset the cost of health care they purchase or that their employer provides. 

Alternatively, they could use the BetterCare plan and enhance it with supplemental plans, similar to how Medicare beneficiaries acquire supplemental plans. BetterCare is like Medicare. It provides guaranteed coverage but allows our seniors to have supplemental plans or “opt out” and accept a Medicare Advantage Plan.  

BetterCare is similar to the plans of most developed nations that have universal coverage. As Art Cullen wrote, it provides “universal coverage while not eliminating private insurance.” By providing universal access, choice, protecting provider reimbursements, and encouraging innovation, BetterCare is bold, ambitious, practical and a political winner. Importantly, it can be fully paid for by applying the Obamacare subsidies and current federal and state Medicaid payments and by eliminating the corporate deductibility of health care.

It is bold, yet practical, and reflective of my approach to governing. As a former entrepreneur, CEO of two public companies and member of Congress, I bring a unique approach and real leadership experience, which is why I respectfully ask for your support. 

Use Simple Economics to Contain Health Care Costs

Gary Shilling wrote for Bloomberg and makes so much sense when he looked at health care costs in terms of simple economics. (Bloomberg Opinion) — Spending on U.S. health care is out of control, expanding steadily from 5% of GDP in 1960 to 18% in 2018.  There are, however, ways to curb the explosion in costs from both the demand and the supply side.

Health care costs per capita in the U.S. are almost double those of other developed countries, but life expectancy is lower than many, even South Korea, according to the CIA and Eurostat. Without restraint, costs will accelerate as more and more postwar babies age. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects Medicare spending alone will leap from 3% of GDP to 8% by 2090.

Medical costs are understandably high since the system is designed to be the most expensive possible for four distinct reasons. First, with the constantly improving but increasingly expensive modern technology, the best is none too good when your life or mine is at stake. Also, few patients have the knowledge to decide whether a recommended procedure will be medically much-less cost-effective. The medical delivery system encourages a gulf between the providers who supposedly know what’s needed and their patients who don’t.

Second, patients are quite insensitive to costs since their employers or governments pay most health care bills. And those who are privately insured want to get their money’s worth from their premiums, especially since Obamacare does not allow insurers to set premiums on a health risk basis.

Third, the pay-for-service system encourages medical providers to over-service. After my dermatologist burned off the pre-cancerous growths on my face, he wanted me back in two weeks to be sure, but also to bill another office visit.

Finally, domestic training programs and facilities for medical personnel are inadequate. As a result, many MD residents and nurses come from abroad, while medical schools of dubious quality in the Caribbean train U.S.-born physicians.

To control costs on the demand side, use the appeal of money. The importance of their health to most Americans means they will spend proportionally more on medical services than other goods and services, but they’ll think twice if it’s money they otherwise can keep. Increasing deductibles and co-payments are moving in that direction. In 1999, employees on average paid $1,500, or 22%, of $6,700 in family health coverage premiums, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The total rose to $26,600 in 2019, but employees’ share has climbed to $6,000, or 29%.

Medical savings accounts also make patients more aware of costs. Companies give employees a set amount of money and they can keep what they don’t spend on health care. 

Accountable Care Organizations, now authorized by Medicare, attack the fee-for-service problem. The medical providers who participate are encouraged to be efficient since they can retain part of any savings due to cost controls as long as they provide excellent care.

To increase the supply of medical personnel, American medical and nursing schools can be expanded with government help. Also, shortening the whole training process would save time and get huge student debts under control. Does a physician need a four-year bachelor’s degree before beginning medical school?

Cartels among hospital medical specialties can be attacked. Now, physicians in, say, the general surgery department limit competition by controlling who has the privileges to use their institution’s facilities.

In another development, the entrepreneurial model of a small group of MDs operating a practice is fading in the face of high costs of medical record-keeping and other regulatory requirements. Over half of physicians now work for hospitals, either on their main campuses or in satellite facilities. This may shift the emphasis of many from money to medicine. 

Limiting malpractice insurance premiums, a major outlay for medical providers, can also cut medical costs. Texas placed a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, i.e., pain and suffering, in 2003. Texas Department of Insurance data reveals that medical malpractice claims, including lawsuits, fell by two-thirds between 2003 and 2011, and the average payout declined 22% to $199,000.

Also, average malpractice insurance premiums plunged 46%, according to the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, a coalition of health care providers and physician liability insurers. And physicians were then attracted to Texas. The Texas Medical Association reports that in the decade since malpractice awards were capped, 3,135 physicians came to the Lone Star State annually, 770 more than the average in the prior nine years.

At present, Americans basically pay the development costs of new drugs while other countries with centralized pharmaceutical-buying skip the expenses of R&D, field trials, etc., and only pay the much-lower marginal cost of production. Allowing Medicare to join Medicaid to negotiate drug prices could reduce costs if foreigners can be convinced to share development costs. Otherwise, new drug development would be curtailed. The Trump administration’s new rules that force health insurers and hospitals to publish their negotiated prices may force costs to the lowest level.

One approach that doesn’t work in easing the burden on consumers of medical costs is increasing overall government subsidies. They tend to be offset by higher costs, much as higher college tuition and fees often dissipate more scholarship aid. Ever notice that the most modern, prosperous institutions in town tend to be hospitals, hugely subsidized by governments?

Health care is critical, but that doesn’t mean its costs aren’t subjected to supply and demand. Then how do we assess the value as well as the costs and cost limitations? Are drug companies as well as insurance companies making way too much in profits by taking advantage of we the honest patients?? 

There many parts of the eventual answer to our need for a health care program which can service all at reasonable costs and each “part” needs thorough investigation and real solutions and that just addressing only one or two of these “parts” will never be sustainable!!

US Health-Care Prices Are Off the Charts, Pros and Cons of Public vs Private healthcare and possible Financing of Medicare for All

After listening to the debates and the House debating and finally voting to approve the Articles of Impeachment I can actually say that I am embarrassed for we Americas and our Country. We all look like such fools! I say this because I have read critically the transcripts of the phone call that President Trump made to the President of Ukraine, listened to the witnesses in the case and have found no credible data to support an Impeachment. But how can one argue with the Hate of the party that lost the 2016 election? But on to discuss additional information on healthcare.

Michael Rainey of the Fuscal Times reported that a CT scan of the abdomen typically costs more than $1,000 in the U.S., but the same procedure in the U.K. costs $470, while in the Netherlands it costs just $140. Those numbers come from a new report, released Tuesday by the Health Care Cost Institute and the International Federation of Health Plans, that compares private insurance health-care prices in the U.S. to those in a sample of other wealthy countries – and finds that the U.S. is just about always the most expensive.

“The median prices paid by private insurance for health care services in the United States was almost always higher than the median prices in the eight other countries included in the iFHP study,” the report says. “Figure 1 [below] shows the prices paid for medical services in each country as a percent of the US price.”

Note that U.S. prices are marked by the red dots. In almost every case, the prices in other countries are just a fraction of the U.S. price. (Avoid getting cataract surgery in New Zealand, apparently.) 

The report also looks at drug prices, and finds that with only one exception, prices in the U.S. are the highest in the group. Harvoni, used to treat hepatitis C, costs $4,840 in South Africa and $12,780 in the Netherlands, but it costs more than twice that ($31,620) in the U.S. Similarly, a Humira pen, used to treat arthritis, costs $860 in the U.K., but $4,480 in the U.S.

“Drug prices for most countries were less than half the US price for most of the administered and prescription drugs included in the study,” the report says.

Writing about the report Tuesday, Vox’s Dylan Scott said that high medical prices in the U.S. have many causes, but one in particular stands out: “The US is still the wealthiest country in the world. It’s home to the world’s leading biopharmaceutical industry. It tends to have the most cutting-edge treatments. All this contributes to higher prices here than elsewhere. But one big and unavoidable culprit is the lack of price regulation.”

American health care is a farce

Rick Newman reported that the cost of private health insurance is skyrocketing. Medicare will run short of money soon. About 28 million Americans still lack health insurance.

Are your elected officials on it? NOPE! Why should they be. They get generous coverage through a choice of plans and enjoy taxpayer subsidies covering most of the cost. So they’ve taken care of themselves, which is the only thing that matters in Washington.

Wait, that’s not quite correct. Republicans are also determined to keep hacking away at the Affordable Care Act, now in place for 9 years. A GOP lawsuit—backed by the Trump administration—claims the entire ACA is unconstitutional, because in 2017 Congress repealed the penalty for people who lack insurance. It’s a convoluted argument, yet an appeals court recently upheld part of the case and sent the rest back to a lower-court judge, to assess which other parts of the ACA to kill. The law isn’t dead yet, and it might ultimately survive, but it could take the Supreme Court to rescue the ACA from its third or fourth near-death experience.

So here’s the story: There’s a health care crisis in the United States, with millions of people lacking care and many millions more facing costs that are rising far faster than their incomes. Health care costs are devouring both the family and the federal budget. And many workers stay in jobs they’re not suited for simply for the health benefits. Yet Republicans are trying to take care away from about 18 million Americans, and repeal the ACA’s prohibition against denying coverage to people with preexisting coverage. Their answer to giant problems of access and affordability is to make coverage even harder to obtain and drive up costs even more.

The Democrats have answers! Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to annihilate the private insurance system and create a government program, Medicare for All, which would be 15 times larger than the ACA Republicans hate so much. Sure, that’ll work. In response to obstinate political opposition, peddle a fantasy plan that generates even more furious resistance. And tell voters you refuse to compromise because it’s more important to stand for the right thing than to actually accomplish something that could improve people’s lives.

There are better ideas out there. Democrats such as Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar favor enhancements to the ACA and a new public option that would provide coverage to nearly all the uninsured while leaving private insurance in place, for those who want to stick with that. It will never get Republican support, since Republicans favor the law of the jungle over government aid. But a Bidenesque plan could happen in the unlikely event a few reddish states grow momentarily sensible and elect a few pragmatic Democrats, including a majority in both the House and Senate.

If that doesn’t happen, we can look forward to posturing on both sides that will fool some voters into thinking politicians care, without accomplishing anything likely to help. The Trump administration is pushing a new plan that would allow states to import prescription drugs from Canada, which enforces price controls that make drugs cheaper. Great idea, as long as Canada has no problem diverting drugs meant for Canadians back to America, where many of the drugs come from in the first place. Why doesn’t America just impose its own price controls? Because pharmaceutical companies own Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many other members of Congress, who won’t let it happen. So Trump is hoping more principled Canadian legislators will help Americans gets cheaper drugs made in America by American companies.

At least you’ll be free of all these worries once you turn 65, and Medicare kicks in. Except Medicare is going to run short of money starting in 2026, and will eventually be able to pay only about 77% of its obligations. So here’s the real health care plan: Don’t get sick until you turn 65, and then, get just 77% as sick as you would have otherwise. Or just move to Canada.

Pros and cons of private, public healthcare

A study by Flinders University found that the rising cost of private health cover and public hospital standards raise concerns among heart patients to obtain the best outcomes.

In one of the few direct comparisons, medical researchers in South Australia have analyzed data from pacemaker and defibrillator implant surgeries in all public and private hospitals in New South Wales and Queensland between 2010 and 2015 to make an assessment of medical safety outcomes, including infection levels and mortality.

Overall the outcomes were quite similar, says lead researcher Flinders cardiologist and electrophysiologist Associate Professor Anand Ganesan, who joined other Flinders University and University of Adelaide researchers in a new article just published in the Royal Australasian College of Physicians Internal Medicine Journal.

“There is growing community interest in the value of private health insurance and, to date, there are few head-to-head studies of the outcomes of care in public and private hospitals to compare the same service with adjustments for differences in patient characteristics,” says Associate Professor Ganesan, a Matthew Flinders Research Fellow and National Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow.

“We believe our results are of community interest for patients to assess the value and benefit of private health insurance, as well as for policymakers who decide on resource allocations between the public and private healthcare systems.”

He stressed that further “head-to-head” studies are needed across all major medical procedures to provide patients and clinicians in both the public and private system with the most up-to-date safety information.

The population level study of pacemaker complications found few key differences in overall major safety issues, although there were slightly higher infection rates in public hospitals but slightly lower acute mortality rates compared to the private hospital system.

This could be connected to the greater number of older, frail patients relying on private health cover—and greater number of people in the public system—although further studies were needed to explain these differences.

Associate Professor Ganesan says more regular comparative assessments of public versus private hospital care quality are very important, particularly for Australian health consumers.

Australia’s hospitals account for more than 40% of healthcare spending with a cumulative cost exceeding $60 billion per annum. Hospital care in Australia is delivered by a combination of 695 public (or 62,000 beds) and 630 private sector hospitals (33,100 beds).

The research paper, “Complications of cardiac implantable electronic device placement in public and private hospitals” has been published in the Internal Medicine Journal.

Budget watchdog group outlines ‘Medicare for All’ financing options

So, one of my oppositions to the program Medicare for All has been the question as to financing the program. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) on Monday released a paper providing its preliminary estimates for various ways to finance “Medicare for All,” as the issue of how to pay for such a health plan has taken center stage in the Democratic presidential primary.

“Policymakers have a number of options available to finance the $30 trillion cost of Medicare for All, but each option would come with its own set of trade-offs,” the budget watchdog group wrote. 

The issue of how to pay for Medicare for All — single-payer health care that eliminates premiums and deductibles — has become a key discussion topic in the Democratic presidential race.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), one of the top tier 2020 hopefuls, recently said that she would release a financing plan for her Medicare for All proposal after being criticized by some of her rivals in the primary race for refusing to give a direct answer about whether she’d raise taxes on the middle class to pay for the massive health care overhaul. 

CRFB said most estimates find that implementing Medicare for All would cost the federal government about $30 trillion over 10 years.

“How this cost is financed would have considerable distributional, economic, and policy implications,” the group wrote.

CRFB provided several options that each could raise the revenue needed to pay for Medicare for All. These included a 32 percent payroll tax, a 25 percent surtax on income above the standard-deduction amount, a 42 percent value-added tax, mandatory premiums averaging $7,500 per capita, and more than doubling all individual and corporate tax rates.

The group estimated that Medicare for All could not be fully financed just by raising taxes on the wealthy.

CRFB also estimated that cutting all nonhealth spending by 80 percent, or by more than doubling the national debt, so that it increased to 205 percent of gross domestic product, could finance Medicare for All.

The group said that the financing options it listed could be combined, or that policymakers could reduce the cost of Medicare for All by making it less generous.

“Adopting smaller versions of several policies may prove more viable than adopting any one policy in full,” CRFB wrote. 

CRFB said that most of the financing options it listed would on average be more progressive than current law, but most of the financing options would also shrink the economy.

Out-of-pocket costs for Medicare recipients will rise in the New Year

Dennis Thompson reviewed the future costs of Medicare since the Democratic primary discussion seems to point to Medicare or All. He noted that the standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B would rise $9.10, to $144 a month, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced.

The annual deductible for Part B also will increase $13 to $198 per year, CMS said.

Both increases are relatively large compared to 2019, when the Part B premium rose $1.50 a month and the deductible $2 for the year.

“This year there’s an unusual tick up in the Part B premium that could be a real concern for people living on a fixed income,” said Tricia Neuman, director of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s Program on Medicare Policy.

The Part B premium increase will affect people enrolled in original Medicare as well as those who are covered under Medicare Advantage, said David Lipschutz, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

“One thing I definitely wanted to make clear is that the increase in the Part B premium itself also applies to everyone on Medicare Advantage,” he said. “People on Medicare Advantage have to continue to pay the part B premium.”

Some, but not all, Medicare Advantage plans cover the Part B premium as part of their package, Lipschutz added.

The annual inpatient hospital deductible for Medicare Part A is also increasing to $1,408 a year, up $44. In 2019, the increase was $24.

These cost increases will wipe out much of the 1.6% cost-of-living (COLA) increase for Social Security benefits in 2020, CBS News reported. The COLA amounts to about $24 extra a month for the average retiree.

Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital stays, nursing facility care and some home health care services. Part B covers doctor visits, outpatient hospital treatment, durable medical equipment, and certain home health care and medical services not covered by Part A.

Unless Congress acts, the prescription benefit in Medicare Part D also will start drawing a lot more money out of the pockets of seniors taking pricey drugs, the experts added.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) included a provision that limited how much a senior with Part D would pay out-of-pocket after reaching a “catastrophic coverage” threshold, Neuman and Lipschutz said.

Once they reach that threshold, seniors pay 5% of their prescription costs. Until then, they pay 25% of the costs for brand-name drugs and 37% of generic drug costs.

But that ACA provision expires this year. When that happens, the catastrophic coverage threshold will jump $1,250, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates. People will have to pay $6,350 out-of-pocket before reaching the threshold.

“There will be a jump up in the threshold, which means that people with high drug spending will have to pay more before they can get this extra help,” Neuman said.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have bills in the works that could address this Part D increase, but it’s hard to predict whether Congress will be able to cooperate on a solution, Neuman and Lipschutz said.

“No matter what your allegiances are, everyone agrees something should be done about the high cost of prescription drugs,” Lipschutz said.

It’s not all bad news, however.

Folks with Medicare Advantage are expected to pay lower premiums, even with the increase in Part B, according to the CMS.

On average, Medicare Advantage premiums are expected be at their lowest in the past 13 years, and 23% lower than in 2018, the CMS said.

Medicare Advantage enrollees also will have more plans to choose from. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the average beneficiary will have access to 28 plans, compared with a low of 18 in 2014.

Original Medicare is the traditional fee-for-service program offered by the federal government, while Medicare Advantage plans are an alternative provided through private insurance companies.

Medicare beneficiaries spent an estimated $5,460 out-of-pocket for health care in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. About 58% went to medical and long-term care services, with the remainder spent on premiums for Medicare and supplemental insurance.

So, the ultimate question is :

Equal health care for all: A philosopher’s answer to a political question

The University of Pennsylvania staff asked the question-Should access to health care, especially in life-threatening situations, depend on whether you can afford it? Absolutely not, says Robert C. Hughes, Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics, who compared health care systems in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He writes about this question and other issues in a recent paper titled, “Egalitarian Provision of Necessary Medical Treatment.”

Hughes identifies two key features of an egalitarian health care system. First, he argues, it would protect people’s liberty to ensure that access to money does not decide if people get the health care they need. Second, it would promote stability and encourage people to be law abiding. “The central finding of [my research] is that it’s morally necessary to make sure that people’s finances don’t affect their ability to get truly medically necessary treatment,” he says.

Hughes favors universal health care coverage in the U.S. Further, in order to ensure that everybody has access to the medical care they need, he says one option is to eliminate private health insurance for coverage provided under “Medicare for All,” the solution that Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed. Hughes explores what legislators, the pharmaceutical industry, and other health care providers could do to ensure a fair health care system where private parties don’t get to decide who is eligible for what treatments.

I mentioned my embarrassment and disappointment in our political system we all have to give thanks for all the good things in our lives. As Christmas approaches we all should reflect on the good in our lives and enjoy the Holiday including family and friends. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa! And I hope Santa leaves coal in all the stockings of our politicians who can’t even do the job that we the voters asked them to do when we voted them in. Oh, how you are making a mockery of the system in the games that you all are playing!

I have been avoiding the discussion regarding single payer system, what it is, how it would work and what are the consequences, etc.? More to come! 

Waiting to Be Saved: A Health Care Fairy Tale and Why Most Americans Can’t Afford to Get Sick and is Health Insurance Affordable?

17308963_1134320833364241_8656274778864181034_nLindsey Woodworth of the National Interest recently noted that the wait times in emergency rooms are so out of control that researchers recently tested whether aromatherapy would make waiting in the ER more tolerable.

It didn’t.

Over a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine offered an ominous warning: “Underneath the surface, a national crisis in emergency care has been brewing and is now beginning to come into full view.”

Now the view is quite clear. ERs are packed and wait times are growing longer each year. In fact, even if you’re having a heart attack, you may have to wait to get to the doctor.

The problem is, patients get sicker the longer they wait.

Oh, by the way, sicker patients cost more to care for.

I am an economist at the University of South Carolina. In a new study, I analyzed how ER wait times affect health care costs. I found that a 10-minute increase in ER wait time among the most critical patients will increase the hospital’s cost to care for the patient by an average of 6%. Some critical patients are currently waiting close to an hour, according to my study.

Costs grow a little more slowly among patients who begin their wait in a better condition.

An intriguing relationship

Health care costs are an issue of national concern. Presidential candidates have focused on health care reform as a major issue in the 2020 presidential election.

One complication in lowering health care costs, however, is that reductions in health care spending could compromise patient outcomes – spend less on health care, and you might very well jeopardize health.

Yet, this is exactly what makes the finding that ER wait times exacerbate costs so intriguing. It suggests that targeting ER wait times could both improve patient outcomes and lower the cost of care. A double win like this hardly ever occurs in health care.

Longer wait = higher costs

One major challenge in measuring the effect of ER wait times on costs is that ERs prioritize sicker patients. This means that relatively healthy patients have longer waits. The sickest patient in the ER will always get treated first. A lot of resources will probably get poured into this patient, making his costs quite high. On the other hand, a patient who arrives at the ER with a splinter will wait in the ER for hours. Treating this patient will be super cheap.

This creates a persistent correlation between long waits and low costs. On the surface, this correlation can deceptively send the signal that longer ER wait times reduce health care costs.

To uncover the real effect of ER wait times on costs, I needed to use a “trick” in my research to untangle the mess. The “trick” I used was to leverage something in the ER that slightly bumps patients’ wait times but has nothing to do with their health at their time of arrival. Triage nurses provided the answer.

These nurses are the people who determine the order in which patients are seen. Yet, because triage nurses are not robots, they sometimes differ in terms of their judgments. This means that some triage nurses are “tougher” than others – at least “tougher” in the sense that they’ll look at a problem and not see it as quite so urgent. This causes their patients to have longer wait times, on average.

It is effectively a coin toss whether a patient will get a tough triage nurse, so the patients who get a tough triage nurse look remarkably similar to the patients who do not, in terms of their health at arrival. Yet, the patients who get a tough triage nurse have to wait in the ER longer.

The study revealed that the patients who had longer wait times only because they coincidentally got a tough triage nurse had higher health care costs by the end of their visits. In other words, longer ER wait times cause health care costs to go up.

Why? It seems that patients’ health deteriorates the longer they wait. Therefore, by the time they get to the doctor, it takes more resources to get their health up to speed.

What’s the treatment?

How might ER wait times be reduced and costs lowered?

Fixing ER wait times will require taking a step out of the emergency room and looking at the whole health care system.

Drs. Arthur L. Kellermann and Ricardo Martinez recently wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine: “The quickest way to assess the strength of a community’s public health, primary care, and hospital systems is to spend a few hours in the emergency department.”

ER overcrowding often occurs when people are blocked from care elsewhere. For instance, when people with Medicaid are unable to find primary care physicians who accept their insurance, they often resort to ERs instead.

Another contributor to ER overcrowding is a recent shift in how patients are admitted to hospitals. It used to be that primary care physicians directly admitted their sick patients to the hospital if inpatient care was required. Now, many first recommend that their patients go first to the emergency room.

Inpatient wards inside hospitals can also contribute to ER overcrowding. Often inpatient wards get filled with high-paying, elective-case patients. These patients take up valuable bed space, leaving little room for ER patients who need to be hospitalized. As a result, the ER patients who have already been seen by the ER doctor end up staying in the ER waiting for an inpatient bed to become available. This practice of “ER boarding” generates a log jam inside the emergency room. Patient volumes balloon and the overcrowding prolongs all patients’ waits.

Growth in ER wait times shows no sign of slowing. Therefore, policymakers should consider system-level changes that would take the pressure off of ERs. It is time to turn the tide on ER wait times given their impact on both patient outcomes and the overall cost of care.

Why Most Americans Can’t Afford to Get Sick

Simon F. Haeder reviewed the financial costs of health care finding that Americans are being bankrupted by the costs of providing health care. Medical bankruptcy has been a talking point for many Democratic candidates as they make their individual cases for health care reform. This begs a few questions about how widespread these bankruptcies are and what causes them.

  1. How big a problem is medical bankruptcy?

Medical bankruptcy, which refers to situations where individuals were forced into bankruptcy because of medical bills, loss of income due to sickness or accident, or both, is widespread in the U.S.

While the exact contribution of medical bills to the number of bankruptcies is difficult to determine, one important study prior to the Affordable Care Act found that medical debt was the single biggest contributor to bankruptcies for well over 60% of Americans. Even today, while the overall number of bankruptcies has been cut in half over the last decade to roughly 750,000 in 2018, a recent study indicated that two-thirds of bankruptcies are connected to medical bills.

It is interesting to note that the concept of medical bankruptcy is entirely alien to Europeans.

  1. How did the Affordable Care Act help?

Individuals have gained coverage via the Medicaid expansion, their parents’ insurance or the insurance marketplaces. Moreover, other ACA insurance regulations have added protections for all Americans with insurance.

  1. Who’s still vulnerable?

Close to 30 million Americans remain uninsured. While a significant number are eligible for varying degrees of public support, the refusal by many states to expand their Medicaid programs creates challenges. It is important to note that while the ACA expanded coverage to millions, it did little to reign in the biggest contributor to medical bankruptcy: high medical costs.

Even Americans with insurance are not immune to the specter of medical bills. While the ACA limited deductibles and out-of-pocket payments, many insurance plans still require consumers to pay tens of thousands of dollars annually.

Similarly, many Americans may incur bills ranging in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from so-called surprise bills. Inaccurate provider directories can compound these problems, misleading patients to believe they seek care from a provider in their network.

Finally, evidence from ACA and commercial plans, as well as Medicare Advantage, has highlighted problems with regard to “artificial local provider deserts,” situations in which providers are located in the area but excluded from the network. These situations might force patients into seeking costly out-of-network carefully aware of the potential financial consequences.

  1. How do concerns about medical costs affect Americans beyond medical bankruptcy?

Half of Americans have less than US$1,000 in savings. This lack of financial security has implications for how Americans access medical care. A study found that costs have kept 64% of Americans from seeking medical care. Millions of Americans are skipping their medications for the same reason. Avoiding needed medical care often has implications for people’s health and well-being. Of course, it may also ultimately force them to seek care in more expensive settings, like emergency departments or at advanced stages of the disease.

New medical bankruptcy study: Two-thirds of filers cite illness and medical bills as contributors to financial ruin

Physicians for a National Health Program looked at the contributors to financial ruin and found that medical problems contributed to 66.5% of all bankruptcies, a figure that is virtually unchanged since before the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a study published yesterday as an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health. The findings indicate that 530,000 families suffer bankruptcies each year that are linked to illness or medical bills.

The study carried out by a team of two doctors, two lawyers, and a sociologist from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP), surveyed a random sample of 910 Americans who filed for personal bankruptcy between 2013 and 2016, and abstracted the court records of their bankruptcy filings. The study, which is one component of the CBP’s ongoing bankruptcy research, provides the only national data on medical contributors to bankruptcy since the 2010 passage of the ACA. Bankruptcy debtors reported that medical bills contributed to 58.5% of bankruptcies, while illness-related income loss contributed to 44.3%; many debtors cited both of these medical issues.

These figures are similar to findings from the CBP’s medical bankruptcy surveys in 2001 and 2007, which were authored by three researchers in the current study (Himmelstein, Thorne, and Woolhandler), and then-Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. As in those earlier studies, many debtors cited multiple contributors to their financial woes.

The current study found no evidence that the ACA reduced the proportion of bankruptcies driven by medical problems: 65.5% of debtors cited a medical contributor to their bankruptcy in the period prior to the ACA’s implementation as compared to 67.5% in the three years after the law came into effect. The responses also did not differ depending on whether the respondent resided in a state that had accepted ACA’s Medicaid expansion. The researchers noted that bankruptcy is most common among middle-class Americans, who have faced increasing copayments and deductibles in recent years despite the ACA. The poor, who were most helped by the ACA, less frequently seek formal bankruptcy relief because they have few assets (such as a home) to protect and face particular difficulty in securing the legal help needed to navigate formal bankruptcy proceedings.

Relative to other bankruptcy filers, people who identified a medical contributor were in worse health and were two to three times more likely to skip needed medical care and medications.

Dr. David Himmelstein, the lead author of the study, a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Hunter College and Lecturer at Harvard Medical School commented: “Unless you’re Bill Gates, you’re just one serious illness away from bankruptcy. For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection. Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, co-payments, and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse. And even the best job-based health insurance often vanishes when prolonged illness causes job loss—just when families need it most. Private health insurance is a defective product, akin to an umbrella that melts in the rain.”

In the article, the authors note that “medical bills frequently cause financial hardship, and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that they were by far the most common cause of unpaid bills sent to collection agencies in 2014, accounting for more than half of all such debts.”

The study’s senior author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, an internist in the South Bronx, Distinguished Professor at CUNY/Hunter College and Lecturer in Medicine at Harvard commented: “The ACA was a step forward, but 29 million remain uncovered, and the epidemic of under-insurance is out of control. We need to move ahead from the ACA to a single-payer, Medicare for All system that assures first-dollar coverage for everyone. But the Trump administration and Republicans in several states are taking us in reverse: cutting Medicaid, threatening to gut protections for the more than 61 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, and allowing insurers to peddle stripped-down policies that offer no real protection.”

Study co-author Robert M. Lawless, the Max L. Rowe Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law noted: “In the Supreme Court’s words, bankruptcy is a fresh start for the ‘honest but unfortunate debtor.’ Our study shows that for many bankruptcy debtors, the misfortune continues to come from the way we pay for health care. Bankruptcy may provide a fresh start, but it comes at a high financial and emotional cost for those who file. Filing for bankruptcy can stop the financial bleeding that the health care system imposes, but curing that system’s ills is the only lasting solution.”

Health insurance is becoming more unaffordable for Americans

Megan Henny of FOX Business pointed out that Americans who receive health insurance through their employers are finding it increasingly unaffordable, as out-of-pocket costs continue to outpace wage growth, according to a new study.

Over the past decade, the combined cost of premiums and deductibles grew quicker than the median income in every single state, according to a study released Thursday by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for expanded health insurance coverage.

Last year, on average, middle-income workers spent 6.8 percent of their income on employer premium contributions, or fixed costs they pay every month. Deductibles, which you pay before your health insurance kicks in, accounted for 4.7 percent of median income on average.

That number is even higher in some states, however. In nine states — Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas — premium contributions accounted for 8 percent or more of median income, reaching a high of 10 percent in Louisiana.

In Louisiana, on average, employees pay more than $5,000 in premiums. The state’s median household income is $46,145.

Workers in the majority of states put between 6 to 8 percent of median household income toward premiums, although in thirteen states — Alaska, Washington, Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire — workers paid as little as 4.1 percent.

Worse for workers is that despite the high premiums, they’re still “potentially exposed to high out-of-pocket costs because of large deductibles,” the study said.

Last year, the average deductible for single-person coverage plans was $1,846, with average deductibles ranging from $1,308 in Washington, D.C., to $2,447 in Maine. Across the country, average deductibles compared to median income were more than 5 percent in 18 states, but ranged as high as 6.7 percent in Mississippi.

In 2018, the combined cost of premiums and deductibles exceeded 10 percent of median income in 42 states, compared to seven states in 2008. That means people could spend more than 16 percent of their incomes on premiums and deductibles in Mississippi, which has the second-lowest median income in the U.S., compared to an average cost burden of 8.4 percent in Massachusetts, which has a median income among the nation’s highest.

“Higher costs for insurance and health care have consequences,” the study said. “People with low and moderate incomes may decide to go without insurance if it competes with other critical living expenses like housing and food.”

So, in the midst of all this discussion of Medicare for All and modifications of the Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare the question is, is a single-payer health care system the answer and how is it created, managed and financed?