Category Archives: Medicare for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are the Worst Patients in the World?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on the History of Medicare and Other Healthcare Reforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to come next week!

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

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

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

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

But “father” is different.

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

Then, two years became three.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I went to the market

Where all the families shop

I pulled out my Ka-bar

And started to chop

Your left right left right left right kill

Your left right left right you know I will

-Military cadence

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

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

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

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

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

Other soldiers didn’t end up as lucky.

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

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

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

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

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

This eases the tension and he smiles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2019-05-25 at 8.13.38 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise! House, Senate Tackle Hospital Billing

Senate bill also addresses provider directories, drug maker competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More next week!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medicaid waiver loophole sparks transparency concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Industry enters new battle phase over surprise billing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to come!!

The Democrats’ single-payer trap and Why Not Obamacare?? Let’s Start the Discussion of Medicare!!

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Richard North Patterson’s latest article started off with the statement- back in 2017-Behold the Republican Party, Democrats — and be warned.

The GOP’s ongoing train wreck — the defeat of its malign health care “reform,” the fratricidal troglodyte Roy Moore, and Donald Trump’s serial idiocies — has heartened Democrats. But before commencing a happy dance, they should contemplate the mirror.

They will see the absence of a compelling message. The party desperately needs a broad and unifying economic agenda — which includes but transcends health care — to create more opportunity for more Americans.

Instead, emulating right-wing Republicans, too many on the left are demanding yet another litmus test of doctrinal purity: single-payer health care. Candidates who waver, they threaten, will face primary challenges.

As regarding politics and policy, this is gratuitously dictatorial — and dangerously dumb.

The principle at stake is universal health care. Single-payer is but one way of getting there — as shown by the disparate approaches of countries that embrace health care as a right.

Within the Democratic Party, the discussion of these choices has barely begun. Senator Bernie Sanders advocates “Medicare for all,” expanding the current program for seniors. This would come at considerable cost — Sanders includes a 7.5 percent payroll tax among his list of funding options; others foresee an overall federal tax increase of 25 percent. But the dramatically increased taxes and the spending required, proponents insist, would be offset by savings in premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

Skeptics worry. Some estimate that Sanders’s proposal would cost $1.4 trillion a year — a 35 percent increase in a 2018 budget that calls for $4 trillion overall. It is not hard to imagine this program gobbling up other programs important to Democrats, including infrastructure, environmental protection, affordable college, and retraining for those dislocated by economic change.

For these reasons, most countries aspiring to universal care have multi-payer systems, which incorporate some role for private insurance, including France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. The government covers most, but not all, of health care expenditures. Even Medicare, the basis for Sanderscare, allows seniors to purchase supplemental insurance — a necessity for many.

In short, single-payer sounds simpler than it is. Yet to propitiate the Democratic left, 16 senators have signed on to Sanders’s proposal, including potential 2020 hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Less enthused are Democratic senators facing competitive reelection battles in 2018: Only one, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, has followed suit.

This is the harrowing landscape the “single-payer or death” Democrats would replicate. Like “repeal and replace,” sweeping but unexamined ideas are often fated to collapse. Sanderscare may never be more popular than now — and even now its broader appeal is dubious.

Democrats must remember how hard it was to pass Obamacare. In the real world, Medicare for all will not become law anytime soon. In the meanwhile, the way to appeal to moderates and disaffected Democrats is not by promising to raise their taxes, but by fixing Obamacare’s flaws.

To enact a broad progressive agenda, the party must speak to voters nationwide, drawing on both liberals and moderates. Thus candidates in Massachusetts or Montana must address the preferences of their community. Otherwise, Democrats will achieve nothing for those who need them most.

Primary fights to the death over single payer will accomplish nothing good — including for those who want to pass single-payer. Parties do not expand through purges.

Democrats should be clear. It is intolerable that our fellow citizens should die or suffer needlessly, or be decimated by financial and medical calamity. A compassionate and inclusive society must provide quality health care for all.

The question is how best to do this. The party should stimulate that debate — not end it.

Generous Joe: More “Free” Healthcare For Illegals Needed

Now, R. Cort Kirkwood notes that Presidential candidate Joe Biden wants American taxpayers to pay for illegal alien healthcare. Indeed, he doesn’t just want us to pay for their healthcare, he says we are obliged to pay for their healthcare.

That’s likely because Biden thinks illegals are American citizens and doesn’t much care how many are here as long as they vote the right way.

What Biden didn’t explain when he said we must pay for illegal-alien healthcare is how much such beneficence would cost.

Answer: A lot.

The Question, The Answer

Biden’s demand that we pay for illegal-alien healthcare answered a question earlier this week from a reporter who wanted to know whether the “undocumented” deserve a free ride.

The question was this: “Do you think that undocumented immigrants who are in this country and are law-abiding should be entitled to federal benefits like Medicare, Medicaid for example?”

Answered Biden, “Look, I think that anyone who is in a situation where they are in need of health care, regardless of whether they are documented or undocumented, we have an obligation to see that they are cared for. That’s why I think we need more clinics in this country.”

Biden forgot to put “free” before clinics, but anyway, the candidate then suggested that Americans who disagree likely have a nasty hang-up about the border-jumping illegals who lie with the facility of Pinocchio when they apply for “asylum.”

“A significant portion of undocumented folks in this country are there because they overstayed their visas,” he continued. “It’s not a lot of people breaking down gates coming across the border,” he falsely averred.

Then came the inevitable. “We” need to watch what we say about all those “undocumented folks.”

“The biggest thing we’ve got to do is tone down the rhetoric,” he continued, because that “creates fear and concern” and ends in describing “undocumented folks” in “graphic, unflattering terms.”

Biden thinks those “undocumented folks” are citizens, as Breitbart noted in its report on his generosity with other people’s money.

In 2014, Biden told the worthies of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that entering the country illegally isn’t a problem, and Teddy Roosevelt would agree.

“The 11 million people living in the shadows, I believe they’re already American citizens,” Biden said. “Teddy Roosevelt said it better, he said Americanism is not a question of birthplace or creed or a line of dissent. It’s a question of principles, idealism, and character.”

Illegals “are just waiting, waiting for a chance to be able to contribute fully. And by that standard, 11 million undocumented aliens are already American.”

Roosevelt also said that “the one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities,” but that inconvenient truth aside, Biden likely doesn’t grasp just what his munificence — again, with our money — will cost.

The Cost of Illegal-Alien Healthcare

I mentioned the cost of healthcare for the illegal-alien population and  Biden is right that visa overstays are a big problem: 701,900 in 2018, the government reported. But at least those who overstay actually entered the country legally; border jumpers don’t.

But that’s beside the point.

The real problem is the cost of the healthcare, which Forbes magazine estimated to be $18.5 billion, $11.2 billion of it federal tax dollars.

In 2017, the Federation for American Immigration Reform reported a figure of $29.3 billion; $17.1 in federal tax dollars, and $12.2 billion in state tax dollars. More than $15 billion on that total was uncompensated medical care. The rest fell under Medicaid births, Medicaid fraud, Medicaid for illegal-alien children, and improper Medicaid payouts.

The bills for the more than half-million illegals who have crossed the border since the beginning of fiscal 2019 in October are already rolling in.

Speaking at a news conference in March, Brian Hastings, operations chief for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), said about 55 illegals per day need medical care, and that 31,000 illegals will need medical care this year, up from 12,000 last year. Since December 22, he said, sick illegals have forced agents to spend 57,000 hours at hospitals or medical facilities. Cost: $2.2 million in salaries. Between 25 percent and 40 percent of the border agency’s manpower goes to the care and maintenance of illegals, he said.

CBP spent $98 million on illegal-alien healthcare between 2014 and 2018.

Hastings spoke before more than 200,000 illegals crossed the border in March and April.

NYC Promises ‘Guaranteed’ Healthcare for All Residents

Program to bring insurance to 600,000 people, including some who are undocumented

As the Mayor of New York City considers whether he wants to run for President and join the huge group of 21 candidates Joyce Frieden noted that the city of New York is launching a program to guarantee that every resident has health insurance, as well as timely access to physicians and health services, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.

“No one should have to live in fear; no one should have to go without the healthcare they need,” de Blasio said at a press conference at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. “In this city, we’re going to make that a reality. From this moment on in New York City, everyone is guaranteed the right to healthcare — everyone. We are saying the word ‘guarantee’ because we can make it happen.”

The program, which will cost $100 million annually, involves several parts. First, officials will work to increase enrollment in MetroPlus, which is New York’s public health insurance option. According to a press release from the mayor’s office, “MetroPlus provides free or affordable health insurance that connects insurance-eligible New Yorkers to a network of providers that includes NYC Health + Hospitals’ 11 hospitals and 70 clinics. MetroPlus serves as an affordable, quality option for people on Medicaid, Medicare, and those purchasing insurance on the exchange.”

The mayor’s office also said the new effort “will improve the quality of the MetroPlus customer experience through improved access to clinical care, mental health services, and wellness rewards for healthy behavior.”

For the estimated 600,000 city residents who don’t currently have health insurance — because they can’t afford what is on the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange; because they’re young and healthy and choose not to pay for insurance, or because they are undocumented — the city will provide a plan that will connect them to reliable care at a sliding-scale fee. “NYC Care will provide a primary care doctor and will provide access to specialty care, prescription drugs, mental health services, hospitalization, and more,” the press release noted.

NYC Care will launch in summer 2019 and will roll out gradually in different parts of the city, starting in the Bronx, according to the release. It will be fully available to all New Yorkers across the city’s five boroughs in 2021.

Notably, the press release lacked many details on how the city will fund the plan and how much enrollees would have to pay. It also remained unclear how the city will persuade the “young invincibles” — those who can afford insurance but believe they don’t need it — to join up. Nor was arithmetic presented to document how much the city would save on city-paid emergency and hospital care by making preventive care more accessible. At the press conference, officials mostly deflected questions seeking details, focusing instead on the plan’s goals and anticipated benefits.

“Every New Yorker will have a card with [the name of] a… primary care doctor they can turn to that’s their doctor, with specialty services that make a difference, whether it’s ob/gyn care, mental health care, pediatric care — you name it, the things that people need will be available to them,” said de Blasio. “This is going to be a difference-maker in their lives. Get the healthcare you need when you need it.” And because more people will get preventive care, the city might actually save money, he added. “You won’t end up in a hospital bed if you actually get the care you need when the disease starts.”

People respond differently when they know something is guaranteed, he continued. “We know that if people don’t know they have a right to something, they’re going to think it’s not for them,” de Blasio said. “You know how many people every day know they’re sick [but can’t afford care] so they just go off to work and they get sicker?… They end up in the [emergency department] and it could have been prevented easily if they knew where to turn.”

As to why undocumented residents were included in the program, “I’m here to tell you everyone needs coverage, everyone needs a place to turn,” said de Blasio. “Some folks are our neighbors who happen to be undocumented. What do they all have in common? They need healthcare.”

Just having the insurance isn’t enough, said Herminia Palacio, MD, MPH, deputy mayor for health and human services. “It’s knowing where you can go for care and feeling welcome when you go for care… It’s being treated in a language you can understand by people who actually care about your health and well-being.”

De Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, who started a mental health program, ThriveNYC, for city residents, praised NYC Care for increasing access to mental health services. “For 600,000 New Yorkers without any kind of insurance, mental healthcare remains out of reach [but this changes that],” she said. “When New Yorkers enroll in NYC Care they’ll be set up with a primary care doctor who can refer them [to mental health and substance abuse services], and psychiatric therapy sessions are also included.”

“The umbrella concept is crucial here,” said de Blasio. “If John or Jane Doe is sick, now they know exactly where to go. They have a name, an address… We want it to be seamless; if you have questions, here’s where to call.”

Help will be available at all hours, said Palacio. “Let’s say they’re having an after-hours issue and need understanding about where to get a prescription filled. They can call this number and get real-time help about what pharmacy would be open,” or find out which urgent care center can see them for a sore throat.

Mitchell Katz, MD, president, and CEO of NYC Health and Hospitals, the city’s public healthcare network, noted that prescription drugs are one thing most people are worried about being able to afford, but “under this program, pharmaceutical costs are covered.”

Katz noted that NYC Care is a more encompassing program than the one developed in San Francisco, where he used to work. For example, “here, psychotherapy is a covered benefit; that’s not true in San Francisco… and the current program [there] has an enrollment of about 20,000 people; that’s a New York City block. In terms of scale, this is just a much broader scale.”

In addition, the San Francisco program required employers to pay for some of it, while New York City found a way around that, de Blasio pointed out. The mayor promised that no tax increases are needed to fund the program; the $100 million will come from the city’s existing budget, currently about $90 billion.

Now on to Medicare for All as we look at the history of Medicare. I am so interested in the concept of Medicare for All as I look at my bill from my ophthalmologist, which did not cover any of my emergency visits for a partial loss of my right eye. Also, my follow-up appointment was only partially covered; they only covered $5 of my visit. Wonderful Medicare, right?

The invoice was followed this weekend with an Email from Medicare wishing me a Happy Birthday and notifying me of the preventive services followed with a table outlining the eligibility dates. And the dates are not what my physicians are recommending, so you see there are limitations regarding coverage and if and when we as patients can have the services.

Medicare as a program has gone through years of discussion, just like the Europeans, Germany to start, organized healthcare started with labor. In the book American Health Care edited by Roger D. Feldman, the German policy started with factory and mine workers and when Otto von Bismark in 1883, the then Chancellor of newly united Germany successfully gained passage of a compulsory health insurance bill covering all the factory and mine workers. A number of other series of reform measures were crafted including accident insurance, disability insurance, etc. The original act was later modified to include other workers including workers engaged in transportation, and commerce and was later extended to almost all employees. So, why did it take so long for we Americans form healthcare policies for our workers?

Just like in Germany and then Britain, the discussion of healthcare reform began with labor and, of course, was battered about in the political arena. In 1911, after the passage of the National Health Act in Britain, Louis Brandeis, who was later to be appointed to the Supreme Court, urged the National Conference on Charities and Corrections to support a national program of mandatory medical insurance. The system of compulsory health insurance soon became the subject of American politics starting with Theodore Roosevelt, head of the Progressive or Bull Moose. H delivered his tedious speech, “Confession of Faith”, calling for a national compulsory healthcare system for industrial workers.  The group that influenced Roosevelt was a group of progressive economists from the University of Wisconsin, who were protégés of the labor economist John R. Commons, a professor at the university.

Commons an advocate of the welfare state, in 1906, together with other Progressive social scientists at Wisconsin, founded the American Association for Labor Legislation (AALL) to labor for reform on both the federal and state level. Roosevelt and other members of the Progressive Party pushed for compulsory health insurance, which they were convinced would be endorsed by working-class Americans after the passage of the British national program.

The AALL organization expanded membership and was responsible for protective labor legislation and social issues. One of the early presidents of the organization was William Willoughby, who had authored a comprehensive report on European government health insurance scheme in 1898.

The AALL next turned its attention to the question of a mandatory health insurance bill and sought the support of the American Medical Association. The AMA  was thought to support this mandatory health insurance bill if it could be shown that the introduction of a mandatory health insurance program would in fact profit physicians. This is where things go complicated and which eventually doomed the support of the AMA and all physicians as a universal health insurance plan failed in Congress. Why? Because the model bill developed by the AALL had one serious flaw. It did not clearly stipulate whether physicians enrolled in the plan would be paid in the basis of capitation fee or fee-for-service, nor did it ensure that practitioners be represented on administrative boards.

I discuss more on the influence of the AALL in health care reform and what happened through the next number of Presidents until Kennedy.

More to come! Happy Mother’s Day to all the great Mothers out there and your wonderful influence on all your families with their guidance and love.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These estimates come from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The estimated increase in Medicare payment rates paid to medical providers

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

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

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

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

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

How much lower would prescription costs be?

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

The estimated reduction in drug spending

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

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

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

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

How much more would people use the health care system?

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

The estimated increase in the use of health care

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

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

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

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

What would Medicare for all cost to run?

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

Estimated administrative costs as a share of all spending

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

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

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

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

But what will it cost me?

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

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

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

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

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

About the estimates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Americans don’t want Congress to overhaul health care, despite ‘Medicare for All’ plans, GOP push to repeal Obamacare

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Ashley Turner pointed out in her article that maybe the voters don’t want a whole new healthcare system even though Bernie and the rest are touting Medicare for All.

KEY POINTS

  • A majority of Americans say they don’t think Congress should prioritize revamping the entire U.S. health care system, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
  • Instead, voters would rather see lawmakers focus on protecting pre-existing conditions and tackling rising prescription costs and surprise medical bills.

As Democrats and Republicans battle over which health care proposal should replace the Affordable Care Act, a majority of Americans say they don’t think Congress should revamp the entire U.S. health care system, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Instead, voters would rather see lawmakers focus on a handful of changes, like protecting pre-existing conditions and tackling rising prescription costs and surprise medical bills.

Most Americans felt high drug costs are the most important issue for Congress to address, with 68% of those polled believing lawmakers should take targeted actions on rising prices. 64% believe Congress should focus on protecting pre-existing conditions, while half believe surprise medical bills should also be a “top priority.”

“Everybody is concerned about drug prices because they’re really feeling the pinch here,” Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, said. He said the dramatic rise in drug costs over the last 10 years has made the issue a prime focus for Americans.

Though pre-existing conditions are protected now under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Laszewski said voters became worried after Republicans proposed to replace it in 2017. The legislation included a provision that under certain conditions would have undone Obamacare’s ban on letting insurers charge more for people with those conditions. The bill failed to pass the Senate.

The recent poll shows Americans are more concerned about rising medical costs than access to health care, Ashley Kirzinger, associate director for the Public Opinion and Survey Research team at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said.

The health care debate has taken lawmakers by storm as the 2020 elections approach with both Democrats and Republicans promising to replace Obamacare. Though there have been some issues that have seen bipartisan support, like seeking to lower drug costs, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have otherwise viciously attacked each other’s attempts to reform the health care system.

President Donald Trump and Republicans have pledged to repeal Obamacare, though top Republicans have said the GOP will wait until Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives to unveil a replacement proposal. Republicans currently hold control of the Senate but need 21 more seats in the House to win the majority.

Lawmakers believe Republicans’ failed attempt to overturn Obamacare in 2017 led to Democrats taking control of the House in last year’s midterm elections. The law is now in jeopardy once again after the Trump administration supported a lawsuit questioning its constitutionality.

More than half, 54%, of those polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they don’t want to see the Supreme Court overturn Obamacare.

Meanwhile, some progressive Democrats like presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders are looking to replace Obamacare with “Medicare for All,” which seeks to create a government-run health care plan that would cover every American. The proposal has support from fellow Democratic presidential candidates like Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., though Republicans and centrist Democrats have spoken against Sanders’ legislation.

As lawmakers jockey over which overhaul of the health care system is best, Americans would rather Congress just fix the basics.

Less than a third of the people surveyed think a complete overhaul of the health care system should be a top priority in Congress, according to the poll. More than a third, 31%, think that the implementation of Medicare for All should be Congress’ focus, while 27% think lawmakers should prioritize repealing Obamacare.

Though there has been talk from top politicians about completely redoing the health care system, lawmakers have also looked to fix the issues Americans want them to spotlight.

The Senate Finance Committee earlier this year held two hearings with the nation’s top pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers in an attempt to discover the source of rising drug costs. Protecting pre-existing conditions is also a bipartisan issue, with Democrats touting protections under Obamacare and Republicans offering an alternative protection plan in case the health care law is overturned.

Lawmakers have also introduced legislation to stop patients from getting hit with surprise medical bills and the White House promised to make the issue a priority for the Trump administration to tackle.

Laszewski said protecting pre-existing conditions, Medicaid expansion, providing subsidies for those who can’t afford insurance and tackling rising drug costs are “crucially important” to Americans, but he noted that not every citizen is the same.

“Different people are impacted differently here,” Laszewski said. “We can’t just say all Americans are exactly alike.”

House Dems to hold a hearing on ‘Medicare for All’ next week

The House Rules Committee will hold a hearing on “Medicare for All” legislation next week, a step forward for the legislation that is gaining ground in the progressive wing of the party.

The hearing on Tuesday will examine a bill from Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) that has over 100 co-sponsors in the House.

According to the Rules Committee, the hearing will be the first ever that Congress has held on Medicare for All legislation.

“It’s a serious proposal that deserves serious consideration on Capitol Hill as we work toward universal coverage,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Rules Committee and a co-sponsor of the Medicare for All bill, said in a statement. Notably, the hearing will occur in a committee that is not one of the primary committees overseeing health care.

The main health care panels, the Ways and Means Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee, have so far declined to commit to holding a hearing on Medicare for All, illustrating the divide among House Democrats over the legislation.

But McGovern has been more supportive of the bill, ultimately bringing it to a hearing in the Rules Committee. The House Budget Committee is also expected to hold a hearing.

“Health care is a human right and I’m proud the Rules Committee will be holding this hearing on the Medicare for All Act as this Majority discusses ways to strengthen our health care system for everyone,” Jayapal said in a statement.

While Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supports hearings on Medicare for All, she has declined to support the legislation itself and has raised doubts about the bill, including its price tag. She has also noted she wants to build on her signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. Still, she has not outright opposed Medicare for All, saying that different ideas should be on the table.

Well, this Fox & Friends Twitter poll on “Medicare for All” didn’t go as planned Christopher Zara reported that in today’s edition of “Ask and Ye Shall Receive,” here’s more evidence that support for universal health care isn’t going away. The Twitter account for Fox & Friends a few weeks ago ran a poll in which it asked people if the benefits of Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for All” plan would outweigh the costs. The poll cites an estimated cost of $32.6 trillion. Hilariously, 73% of respondents said yes, it’s still worth it—which is not exactly the answer you’d expect from fans of the Trump-friendly talk show.

Granted, this is just a Twitter poll, which means it’s not scientific and was almost certainly skewed by retweets from Twitter users looking to achieve this result. At the same time, it’s not that far off from actual polling around the issue. In March, a Kaiser Health tracking poll revealed that 6 in 10 Americans are in favor of a national healthcare system in which all Americans would get health insurance from a single government plan. Other polls have put the number at less than 50% support but trending upward.

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

Medicare for All? For Some? Many Plans for Universal Coverage. But nothing likely to happen soon, suggests former CMS chief Tom Scully

News Editor of MedPage Joyce Frieden brings some reality to the discussion. Talk has been heating up on Capitol Hill about how to get to universal coverage, with “Medicare for All” being a popular option. But what exactly does that phrase mean, and what other universal coverage plans are out there?

So far, four different types of universal coverage bills have been introduced, although “nothing is going to happen in the next 2 years,” Tom Scully, partner in the Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe private equity firm here and a former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), predicted at a press briefing Thursday. However, Scully added that he hoped the introduction of the bills would be “based on substance and details.”

The Four Types of Plans

Karen Pollitz, MPP, a senior fellow for health reform and private insurance at the Kaiser Family Foundation, laid out the four types of plans aimed at getting closer to universal coverage.

Medicare for All. Under these plans, private insurance coverage would be replaced by a single federal program; the program would also replace most other public plans such as Medicaid. Benefits would be comprehensive, with some bills offering additional coverage currently not in Medicare, such as dental care, vision care, and long-term care. The program would be taxpayer-funded — requiring substantial tax increases — but would also require few or no premiums and copays. Healthcare would be under a global budget, and a national system for paying providers — at rates yet to be determined — would be set up. Examples of Medicare for All bills include one from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and one from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)

Federal Public Plan Option. Under this set of options, a federally funded health insurance plan would be offered alongside current public and private healthcare The plan would be designed to be affordable — with premium subsidies and cost-sharing subsidies — and would be available to both individuals and employer

The plan would cover all of the Affordable Care Act’s “essential health benefits,” and some bills include additional coverage. Examples of a public plan option include a bill from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one from Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and one from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) Medicare Buy-In for Older Adults. These bills would allow older adults — either ages 55-64 or 50-64, depending on the bill — to buy into the Medicare program. One bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) would allow buy-in from people who also have access to employer-sponsored health coverage, and would permit employers to pay part of all of the premiums for these employees. Both the Higgins bill and one from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) would allow for eligible enrollees to receive subsidies for the buy-in plan from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces. Enrollees could choose between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans

State Medicaid Buy-In Plan. Under this approach, outlined in a bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), states would have the option of allowing state residents to buy into the Medicaid program. The buy-in option would be available through the ACA marketplaces to people of all income levels and would cover the ACA’s essential health benefits. States would receive federal matching funds to cover any costs that are not recouped through premiums and copays. States could vary premiums by the same factors as ACA marketplace plans (age, geography, family size, and tobacco use)

How to Pay Providers?

Panelists at the briefing disagreed on the best way to pay providers under these proposals, most of which don’t offer many specifics on the issue. “The idea of Medicare fee-for-service for all is completely wacky,” Scully said. “The government is [already] moving away from fee-for-service price-fixing because it never works … Paying every doctor the same thing has been shown to be part of the problem.”

Instead, Scully suggested that the government should pay private insurers to run plans, as is done in the Medicare Advantage program. He noted that 85% of Medicaid spending goes to Medicaid managed care plans, with some liberal states such as Oregon being among the first to jump on the Medicaid managed care bandwagon. “Why? Because they’re better off having Kaiser do it,” Scully said. “It’s a better deal with more coverage, so the idea that we should have the government set prices centrally to me is totally counter-intuitive.”

Mark Miller, Ph.D., executive vice president of healthcare at Arnold Ventures, philanthropy here that works on healthcare and other issues, begged to differ. “I’m not arguing that the best method is fee-for-service, but a strong argument is that one thing Medicare has done right controls the prices paid for providers, and for hospitals and physicians in particular; private plans have failed at this,” said Miller, who is also the former executive director of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC).

Linda Blumberg, Ph.D., a fellow at the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank here, said in a phone interview that the idea that price regulation hasn’t worked “is a fallacy because if you look at how the Medicare program works, it’s very successful and has price regulation at its core.”

She noted that studies performed by MedPAC have found that “when you change reimbursement rates, hospitals do adjust their underlying costs … They become more efficient when they’re constrained. That doesn’t mean you can turn down the dial from 200% of Medicare down to 50%, but looking at the enormous variation in pricing going on in the commercial market, we know we can do better than where we are. The system isn’t rational at the moment.”

A Public/Private Alternative

Blumberg and colleagues have developed a plan called Healthy America, which would replace the Medicaid and CHIP programs, as well as the ACA marketplaces, with a public option that would allow people to buy a comprehensive insurance plan that covers hospital care, physician care, prescription drug coverage, and a wide range of other healthcare services. In addition, “other private insurers — which I would expect largely to be managed care organizations — would contract with the federal government and be alternatives to the public option,” she said.

One problem with the ACA’s marketplaces is that in many geographic areas, there are not enough enrollees to make for a competitive marketplace, Blumberg said. So the Healthy America plan pulls in additional people through the Medicaid program and also offers no cost-sharing for very-low-income enrollees, “basically pulling a much larger population into this same pool” in order to increase private-plan competition. The researchers estimate the annual cost of the fully phased-in plan at about $98 billion.

Changing the healthcare system incrementally rather than switching everyone over to a Medicare for All plan offers several advantages, she said. “There are a lot of people who are quite satisfied with their employer-based insurance and also with their Medicare program and when you tell them you’re going to replace it with something new, it causes a lot of anxiety.” In addition, “the federal government costs needed to put a plan like this in place are reduced” compared with Medicare for All.

So, these are some options but what about what all the Democrat presidential hopefuls are touting for the 2020 election?

Next week let’s break down the real cost of health care under Medicare for All.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The threat is even more real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Texas case, Trump could lose by winning.

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

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

Trump seems unfazed by the potential risks.

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

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

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

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

— “Obamacare” Repeal

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

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

— Medicaid Work Requirements

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

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

— Small Business Health Plans

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

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

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

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