Category Archives: Obamacare

Medicare for All Discussion Spirals Into Squabble; and What about Obamacare?

Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 8.30.22 PM.pngThose of you that were able to stick it out and watch the latest Democrat debates were observers to the shouting match, which erupted between Biden and Castro. I really wonder whether any of the candidates understand health care and what they are all proposing as the solutions!

Shannon Firth the Washington Correspondent for MedPage noted that whether Americans really want a Medicare for All health system, what it would cost, and who among the remaining Democratic presidential candidates has the best plan might have made a thoughtful discussion at Thursday night’s third debate. Americans didn’t see much of that, however.

Instead, the event quickly devolved into personal squabbling that often left the moderators’ and each others’ questions unanswered.

It was the first debate to include only 10 candidates, due to more rigid qualifying requirements set by the Democratic National Committee.

Participants included former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and businessman Andrew Yang.

Biden led in most polls ahead of the debate, although Warren tied with him in one, and Sanders beat him in another, according to RealClearPolitics.

Paying for Medicare for All

It was Biden, the front-runner, who took the first shot at his opponents when asked whether Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, which Warren also supports, was “pushing too far beyond” what the Democratic party wants.

Biden said voters themselves would decide what the Democratic party wants.

“I know that the senator says she’s for Bernie,” said Biden of Warren. “Well, I’m for Barack,” he said, referring to former President Barack Obama and his landmark Affordable Care Act. “I think the Obamacare worked,” Biden declared.

His plan would “replace everything that’s been cut [under President Trump], add a public option,” and guarantee affordable insurance for everybody. He said it would cost $740 billion. “It doesn’t cost $30 trillion,” he said, alluding to Sanders’ 10-year plan.

“That’s right, Joe,” Sanders responded, confirming his plan would cost that much. But he quickly added, the “status quo over 10 years will be $50 trillion.”

“Every study done shows that Medicare for All is the most cost-effective approach to providing healthcare,” Sanders asserted.

He stressed that his plan would “eliminate all out of pocket expenses, all deductibles, all copayments,” and that no American would pay more than $200 for prescription drugs under his bill.

Biden said that, under his plan, the most an individual would pay out-of-pocket would be $1,000. Under Sanders’ plan, a middle-class individual with three kids would ultimately pay $5,000 more for insurance and 4% more on income taxes.

ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos pressed Warren on whether she would raise taxes for the middle class in order to fund a full Medicare for All plan.

“On Medicare for All, costs are going to go up for wealthier individuals and costs are going to go up for giant corporations, but for hardworking families across this country, costs are going to go down,” Warren replied, without addressing the tax question directly.

Biden also argued that his own plan would not take away health insurance from the 160 million people satisfied with what they have now. Klobuchar, who also wants to keep private insurance available, also attacked Sanders’ and Warren’s plan, suggesting an estimated 149 million Americans would lose their commercial health insurance in 4 years.

“I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think it’s a bad idea,” Klobuchar said.

“I’ve actually never met anybody who likes their health insurance company,” Warren shot back, to hearty applause.”I’ve met people who like their doctors. I’ve meet people who like their nurses. I’ve met people who like their pharmacists… What they want is access to healthcare.”

Sanders pointed out, too, that 50 million Americans change or lose health insurance every year, when they quit, lose or change jobs, or their employers change policies.

Shouting match

But the substantive debate may not linger in memory as much as a shouting match between Biden and Castro over one aspect of the former vice president’s plan and his statements about it.

The quarrel was short-lived but sent Twitter aflutter for hours. Viewers wondered whether Castro’s remarks were a veiled critique of Biden’s age — Biden is 76, Castro is 44 — as well as whether the criticisms were fair or true.

Castro told ABC News in a post-debate interview, “I wasn’t taking a shot at his age.”

Harris had tried earlier, without much success, to steer the debate toward the candidates’ differences from President Trump, rather than each other.

“Everybody on this stage … is well-intentioned and wants that all Americans have coverage and recognizes that right now 30 million Americans don’t have coverage,” she said. “So, let’s talk about the fact that Donald Trump came into office and spent almost the entire first year of his term trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. We all fought against it and then the late, great John McCain, at that moment at about 2 o’clock in the morning, killed his attempt to take healthcare from millions of people in this country.”

That did not put an end to the current administration’s efforts to end the ACA, however, and Harris pointed to the Department of Justice’s moves in court to have it declared unconstitutional.

“But let’s focus on the end goal, if we don’t get Donald Trump out of office, he’s gonna get rid of all of it,” she said.

The other Democrats, however, let the subject drop.

Disabled Activist Calls Out Kamala Harris Over Huge Holes Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is holding steadfast in her belief that her version of “Medicare for All” is indeed “the best,” as she said during an August forum.

But, the presidential hopeful’s unwavering defense of her self-drafted health care plan didn’t deter progressive activist, lawyer and author Ady Barkan from pointing out what he found to be glaring flaws in her proposal.

In a nine-minute video capturing his discussion (below) with Harris released on Monday, Barkan, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2016, took Harris to task when he asked her why she was using the phrase “Medicare for All” to describe her plan, when to him, it sounded more like something “closer to a combination of private and public options rather than a single-payer ‘Medicare For All.’”

Unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) single-payer bill that Harris had previously supported, the California senator’s proposal would give Americans the option of keeping their private health insurance plans. Harris’ plan also includes a 10-year transitory period to phase out privatized insurance, which critics say is too long.

In response, Harris explained that with her plan, “everybody will be covered … and it will be a Medicare system” in which private insurers “have to be in our system … and it will be by our rules.”

That’s when Barkan decided to share why he thinks Sanders’ single-payer bill — which senators and presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also support — is the best approach for reforming the country’s health care system.

Under Harris’ plan, Barkan said, “millions of people like me will still be denied care by their for-profit insurance company” during the 10-year transition period and possibly afterwards. Because of this, Barkan said he believes that people “will avoid getting needed care because of high co-pays and deductibles.”

In his opinion, Sanders’ single-payer plan would drive down “billions of dollars per year in administrative and billing costs,” which are a result of the for-profit system.

“That will not happen if providers still have to bill numerous insurance companies,” he added.

“Finally, there is the political reality,” Barkan concluded. “The insurance industry is going to do everything it can to block any of these proposals, including yours, which means the only way to win is with a huge grassroots movement, and from what I can see, that enthusiasm only exists for ‘Medicare for All.’ So, where am I wrong?”

In response, Harris said that with her “Medicare for All” plan, on Day 1, “you can get into the system of ‘Medicare for All’ and have a public plan, you don’t have to do a private plan. It’s your choice.”

Harris’ answer echoed what she has said in the past of her plan, but many people on Twitter still seemed to enjoy watching Barkan make compelling arguments about what he considered to be holes in her bill.

Doctors alarmed by Trump’s health care plan but confused by Democratic presidential candidates’ plans

Alexander Nazaryan pointed out that a day before Democratic presidential candidates converged here for a primary debate, a half-dozen doctors affiliated with the Committee to Protect Medicare and Affordable Care, a progressive group, held a rally to denounce President Trump and Republicans for what they charged were harmful proposals to strip Americans of health care coverage.

“We are here in Houston because the world is watching,” said Dr. Rob Davidson, the Michigan-based founder of the committee. “The world is watching to see whether the United States, the most powerful country in the world, is going to choose affordable, quality care or they’re going to peel back the social safety net from the elderly, the sick and the middle class.”

He said that Trump administration decisions — such as repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate — had led to 7 million people losing their health care coverage.

At the same time, some of those doctors expressed confusion and even dismay with Democratic plans. That suggested that while many in the medical community do oppose Trump’s plan to repeal and replace the ACA, they are ambivalent about the plans of his political opponents. And they hoped that, when it came time to debate on Thursday night, those candidates would offer substance instead of platitudes.

“I have to be honest, out of all the politicians I hear talk about health care,” said Davidson, “I don’t know that any of them quite have the grip on it that doctors have.”

Doctors, though, are hardly in agreement. A few, though not many, supported Trump’s ultimately unsuccessful 2017 effort to repeal the ACA, which was President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. The American Medical Association has come out against a fully federalized health care system, the proposal of Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Some doctors, though, do believe that such a fix is not just possible but necessary.

“I don’t want a single-payer for all of America,” said Dr. Lee Ben-Ami, a Houston family practice doctor who is also affiliated with a local progressive group but was speaking as a private individual. She said she was “a little worried” about the Democratic Party moving toward the Sanders plan, even as she said it was necessary to provide health care to uninsured Americans. Centrist candidates like Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado have offered such proposals, with a public option, but even though that was regarded as a radical solution during the Obama administration, many progressives now see it as a conservative concession.

Such friction could spell trouble for Democrats, who in the 2018 midterm congressional elections successfully ran on protecting health care from cuts by Republicans. At the time, a tight focus on preserving the ACA allowed for victories even in unlikely districts like the 14th in Illinois, a Republican stronghold won by Lauren Underwood, a first-time candidate who was trained as a nurse. Her opponent had voted to repeal the ACA as a House member.

Even though the doctors at the Houston rally expressed dismay at the Trump administration’s approach to health care, there was no explicit endorsement of a Democratic policy. “I’m very unclear what some of the Democrats believe,” said Ben-Ami, speaking to Yahoo News before the rally. “We’ve got some people saying ‘Medicare for all,’ and what does that mean? And then I have some Democrats where I can’t pinpoint their policy.”

Davidson also lamented the lack of specifics from candidates. “I hope we get more into the weeds” during Thursday’s debate, he told Yahoo News. He hoped candidates avoid “little sound bites that play well on the news.”

Those present at the rally agreed that any Democratic president would be a better custodian of the nation’s complex medical system than Trump. Davidson noted that Republicans have spoken to the president about cutting Medicare as a “second-term project,” should he win reelection next November.

The doctors held their rally on the edge of the Texas Medical Center, the largest such facility in the world. The center is home to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center — where immunologist James P. Allison was recently awarded a Nobel Prize — as well as five dozen other institutions. At the same time, 22 percent of Houston residents are uninsured, according to the Urban Institute.

Just the day before the rally on Houston’s vast medical campus, Texas was found to be “the most uninsured state in the nation,” as the Texas Tribune put it, describing just-released statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. The ACA allowed Texas to expand Medicaid, but it was one of 14 states — almost all of them controlled by conservative governors and legislatures — to decline the federal government’s help. That prevented 1.8 million Texans from receiving coverage, Ben-Ami said on Thursday.

Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, an Austin doctor who is running for Congress, agreed that any plan would be better than Trump’s: “Physicians could care less about the semantics of plans.”

Gandhi said he would endorse any Democrat who would push for the uninsured to have insurance. “All we want is for folks who don’t have insurance to get insurance,” he said.

Most Democrats want that too, even if they are deeply divided about how to get there.

Poll of the Day: Democrats Increasingly Favor Obamacare

Yuval Rosenberg of the Fiscal Times reviewed a poll showing that more than eight in 10 Democrats — 84% to be precise — say they view the Affordable Care Act favorably in the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking polls. That’s the largest share of Democrats supporting the law in the nine years the tracking poll has been conducted. (Overall, 53% of Americans view the law favorably.) Support for the law among Democrats has risen 11 percentage points since President Trump took office.

The poll also finds that 55% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they’d prefer a candidate who wants to build on the ACA to expand coverage and lower costs, while 40% say they’d prefer a candidate who wants to replace the law with a national Medicare-for-All system.

Majorities across party lines agree that Congress’s top health care priorities should be lowering prescription drug costs, maintaining protections for patients with pre-existing conditions and reducing what people pay for care. But a partisan split emerges when people are asked to choose whether it’s more important for lawmakers to make sure all Americans have health insurance or to lower health care costs.

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CDC, states update number of cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping. What is going to take us all to ban these e-cigarettes at least from our youth. How many kids’ death does it take?

Media Statement

CDC today announced the updated number of confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping. The new case count is the first national aggregate based on the new CDC definition developed and shared with states in late August.

Cases

  • As of September 11, 2019, 380 confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping, were reported by 36 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • The previous case count released by CDC was higher because it reported possible* cases that were still under investigation by states. The current number includes only confirmed** and probable*** cases reported by states to CDC after classification.
  • CDC is no longer reporting possible cases or cases under investigation and states have recently received the new CDC case definition to classify cases. The classification process requires medical record review and discussion with the treating healthcare providers. The current number is expected to increase as additional cases are classified.
  • CDC will continue to report confirmed and probable cases as one number because the two definitions are very similar and this is the most accurate way to understand the number of people affected.

*A possible case is one still under investigation at the state level.

**A confirmed case is someone who recently used an e-cigarette product or vaped, developed a breathing illness, and for whom testing did not show an infection. Other common causes of illness have been ruled out as the primary cause.

***A probable case is someone who recently used an e-cigarette product or vaped, developed a breathing illness, and for whom some tests have been performed to rule out infection. Other common causes of illness have been ruled out as the primary cause.

Deaths

  • Six total deaths have been confirmed in six states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, and Oregon.

What the CDC is doing

CDC is currently coordinating a multistate investigation. In conjunction with a task force from the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists and affected states, interim outbreak surveillance case definitions, data collection tools, and a database to collect relevant patient data have been developed and released to states.

CDC continues to provide technical assistance to states, including working closely with affected states to characterize the exposures and the extent of the outbreak.

CDC is providing assistance in epidemiology, disease surveillance, pathologic consultation, clinical guidance development, and communication.

CDC also continues to work closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to collect information about recent e-cigarette product use, or vaping, among patients and to test the substances or chemicals within e-cigarette products used by case patients.

So, we can still see that there are really no solutions to the health care problem. Even the Republicans who had the majorities in both the House and the Senate made any headway, even though they promised to come up with a solution. The President also keeps on promising a solution, but nowhere do I see any progress. As you all my have figured out Medicare for All is not the correct solution unless there are clarity on realistic financing, tort reform and how to provide financial assistance for medical education. Help!!

More to come in this discussion.

What Single Payer Healthcare Would Do For American Families; and Do We Need Medicare for All?

medicare360Lizzy Francis of Fatherly noted that Every Democratic frontrunner in the 2020 election has some sort of universal health care plan akin to Medicare for All. While all of their plans “possibly” answer a real question — how to fix a health insurance system that is expensive, confusing, and mired in bureaucracy — they differ in many ways. Meanwhile, pundits and moderate politicians have called single-payer unrealistic and expensive, while arguing that many people really like their private insurance and don’t want to be kicked off of it. Others worry about what it would do to the private health care system, which would be gutted. But the costs of considering single-payer are too big to ignore including the cost of establishing and running a system such as what the Democrats advertise as their solutions.

Today, individually insured middle class families spend about 15.5 percent of their income on health care — not counting what their employees cover in premiums before their pay even hits their paycheck. Meanwhile, the wealthiest Americans actually receive such great tax exemptions for their health care spending that they receive a surplus of .1 percent to .9 percent on top of their income.

“Overall health expenditures throughout the whole economy will go down, due to the efficiencies of a single-payer system,” says Matt Bruenig, lawyer, policy analyst, and founder of the People’s Policy Project, a think tank that studies single-payer healthcare. “And the distribution of those expenditures and who pays for those expenditures will be shifted up the income ladder. Middle class families can expect at least thousands of dollars of savings a year from not having to pay premiums or co-pays,” he says.

Today, families that make about $60,000 a year spend about $10,000 of their pay on health care. Under universal health care, they would pay less than $1,000 in taxes (really??) and no longer have to pay deductibles, deal with surprise billing, or contend with the fact that a major medical event could bankrupt them.

Aside from costs, there are more reasons our current healthcare system is failing families. For example, even someone on employer-sponsored health insurance who might like their health insurance has a one in four chance of getting kicked off of it over the course of any given year. And given that today the average worker has about 11 jobs from age 18 to 50, per Bruenig, health insurance turnover is all but inevitable for the modern worker.

The numbers on insurance turnover are alarming, starting with the fact that about 28 million Americans have no insurance at all. All of these people likely got kicked off of their insurance: the 3.7 million people who turned 65 in 2017, the 22 million people who were fired in 2018, the 40.1 million people who quit their jobs in 2018, and the employees who work at 15 percent of companies with employer-sponsored health insurance that switched carriers, the latter of which changes the providers that employees can see and causes a lot of paperwork. Then one must consider the 1.5 million people who got divorced in 2015 and 7.4 million people who moved states and the 35 percent of people on Medicaid had their income increase to the point where they were too well off for Medicaid but not well off enough to afford other insurance plans.

Beyond that, insurers are constantly changing what providers they work with, which means the doctor that someone sees in April might not be on their plan three months later. Employees and families often feel stuck to their jobs that may have a bad work-life balance, pay poorly, or otherwise not be a good fit because the costs of trying to get on another health care plan or the risks of leaving a job due to the health care plan it offers are far too high when kids are in the mix.

“Having consistency is key, even for people who have jobs,” says Bruenig. “That job will only last so long before they’re off to another one. They could get fired, the company could close down. Being in the labor force and having the security that [your insurance will] follow you no matter which job you go to is useful,” says Bruenig.

It’s especially useful for parents, who have more than their own health to worry about. And even people who have health insurance through their private plan or employer go bankrupt with alarming frequency. Out of pocket spending for people with employer-provided health insurance has increased by more than 50 percent in the last 10 years; half of all insurance policyholders have a deductible of at least $1,000; and most deductibles for families near $3,000. When more than 40 percent of Americans say they cannot afford an emergency expense of $400 or more, it’s a wonder to think how they could ever meet that deductible before their health insurance coverage kicks in. About one in four Americans in a 2015 poll said they could not afford medical bills, and another poll showed that half of those polled had received a medical bill that they could not afford to pay. Medical debt affects 79 million Americans or about half of working-age people.

Two thirds of people who file for bankruptcy say that their inability to pay their medical bills is why they are doing so. These are often people who are insured. These are people who should be protected. They pay into an insurance program — sometimes 20 percent of their income — in order to protect them and their families from this, but insurance companies do not protect them.

One reason is that in medical emergencies, ambulances often take people to the nearest possible hospital. That hospital might not be in their network. Or it might be, but the attending doctor might not be in their network. When the bill comes due, Americans are gutted. That would never happen under a single-payer system.

The average American middle class family spends about 15-20 percent of their income on health care each year. That would shrink to just around 5 percent under many versions of the payment plan, with out-of-pocket costs completely eliminated from the equation and no deductible to discourage families from getting the medical help they need. They could continue to see the providers they like without worrying that their provider will stop working with their insurer. People don’t like to wade through the bureaucracy of their employer sponsored or private insurance plans: they like their doctors. They like having relationships with them. They like to be able to see them without being surprise billed or being told their insurance only covers half of their visits.

But what about business? What single-payer would do to the overall economy is hard to say. Retirement portfolios would surely be affected by the change. The stock market would be affected. People in the health insurance industry could lose their jobs. But many of the companies, which still sell medications and medical tech, would survive, even if the scope of their business would radically change. And for businesses that spend money to insure their employees, there would either be a slight reduction in the cost of business or very little change in cost at all, says Bruenig.

Today, businesses, which help insure 155 million Americans, spend about $1 trillion in premiums to the private health insurance industry. That actually probably wouldn’t change under a single-payer system, per Bruenig.

“The question of the bottom line for businesses, money-wise, is a little bit uncertain. But the idea is not to necessarily save them money — it’s more of a question of flexibility. The objective savings that employers would realize in terms of not having to hire staff to talk to insurers and enroll people in insurance go down a lot. But in general, we want to keep them [paying into the system] instead of trying to shift them off to some other person.”

That’s how employer-sponsored insurance basically works today. What many people don’t realize is that part of the premiums that employers pay for their employees is set aside as part of their salary when they are hired. So, per Bruenig, if someone makes $50,000 a year, that means that about $15,000 on average is set aside from the employer perspective (that employees don’t know about) to pay into the health insurance system while employees cover about 30 percent of that premium cost through their paycheck, not including deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.

While that wouldn’t change under Medicare for All, instead of paying premiums to private insurers, employers would pay those premiums to the government. In the meantime, their costs associated with HR, payroll, and the time spent poring over health care plans would be eliminated.

There are a few ways this can be handled: one is called a ‘maintenance of effort approach,’ which is where employers pay what they were paying under private insurance to the government every year, accounting for inflation.

Another oft-cited method of payment is through an increase in the payroll tax — a tax employers already pay — to the government to help fund government-sponsored health care. Other plans include making the federal income tax more progressive and raising the marginal tax rate to 70 percent to those who make more than $10 million a year and establishing an extreme wealth tax like that proposed by Elizabeth Warren.

Estimates show that Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All plan would save $5.1 trillion of taxpayer and business money over a decade while cutting out-of-pocket spending on health care. While total health care spending will indeed need to increase as more people will be covered by health care, the overall savings in expenses would bring that cost back down so much that the government only needs to raise about 1 trillion dollars to fund Medicare for All when met with taxpayer money and private business investment. This number has been proven incorrect. The cost is about $40 trillion over 10 years.

But the reasons that it would help employers often go beyond the strictly financial, much how the reasons for universal health care being so great for families to go beyond the financial benefits as well.

“In the current system, mandates trigger based on if someone is a full-time employee. To the extent that that goes away, you would expect that you won’t have a big employer making sure people only work 29 hours so that [they don’t get benefits.],” argues Bruenig. “Essentially, those “cliffs,” where if you take one extra step, and work 30 hours [instead of 29], the cost goes way up at the margin. Those would get eliminated, and would give businesses more flexibility, and would seemingly help workers at the same time who might want more hours.”

Families could switch jobs without worrying about what they would do during a probationary period at their new job before their health benefits kick in, and people with chronic medical conditions wouldn’t have to spend hours a day on the phone haggling with their health insurance providers to get essential services covered by them. From a cost perspective, yes, a single-payer system is cheaper than what we operate today. But from a time-saved perspective, from worrying-about-money-perspective, and from a can-I-take-my-kid-to-the-pediatrician? perspective, this works better. The time spent poring over confusing health care documents? Gone. Deductibles? Gone. What’s simpler is simpler — and for businesses and families, a seamless single-payer-system would lessen a lot of headaches and prevent a lot of pain.

Majority of U.S. doctors believe ACA has improved access to care

Sixty percent of U.S. physicians believe that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has improved access to care and insurance after five years of implementation, according to a report published in the September issue of Health Affairs.

Lindsay Riordan, from the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, and colleagues readministered elements of a previous survey to U.S. physicians to examine how their opinions of the ACA may have changed during the five-year implementation period (2012 to 2017). Responses were compared across surveys. A total of 489 physicians responded to the 2017 survey.

The researchers found that 60 percent of respondents believed that the ACA had improved access to care and insurance, but 43 percent felt that it had reduced coverage affordability. Despite reporting perceived worsening in several practice conditions, in 2017, more physicians agreed that the ACA “would turn the United States health care in the right direction” compared with 2012 (53 versus 42 percent). In the 2017 results, only political party affiliation was a significant predictor of support for the ACA after adjustment for potential confounding variables.

“A slight majority of U.S. physicians, after experiencing the ACA’s implementation, believed that it is a net positive for U.S. health care,” the authors write. “Their favorable impressions increased, despite their reports of declining affordability of insurance, increased administrative burdens, and other challenges they and their patients faced.”

And remember my suggestion was to improve the failures in the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare instead of this Medicare for All solution which is so short-sighted if anybody out there is on Medicare realizes….and it is not FREE!!

Walmart, CVS, Walgreen health clinics can fill a need, but there’s a hitch: Dr. Marc Siegel

Matthew Wisner reported that Walmart is opening its first health clinic in Georgia with plans to offer everything from shots to X-rays, dental and even eye care.

“You go to Walmart and you’re going to be able to get psychotherapy now. Labs, X-rays as you mentioned, immunizations, medications, there are nurses there, doctors there. They’re opening up in Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina,” Fox News medical correspondent Dr. Marc Siegel told the FOX Business Network’s “Varney & Co.”

According to Siegel, Walmart is trying to compete against the big pharmacy chains heading in the same direction.

“It’s also to compete with CVS/Aetna right, who is going to be opening 1,500 of these locations around the country. And, Walgreens as well, with Humana and United Healthcare. So all of these big pharmacy chains are getting into the stand-alone health-care model,” Siegel said.

Siegel says these types of clinics will offer access to health care that some consumers may not have, but he said there is a downside.

“But what happens to the results? Where is the follow-up? I don’t really want a Walmart doing all of the, or CVS, or Walgreens doing all of the follow-ups. I’m worried about someone coming in for one-stop shopping and not having follow up,” explained Siegel.

Lindsay Riordan, from the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, and colleagues readministered elements of a previous survey to U.S. physicians to examine how their opinions of the ACA may have changed during the five-year implementation period (2012 to 2017). Responses were compared across surveys. A total of 489 physicians responded to the 2017 survey.

The researchers found that 60 percent of respondents believed that the ACA had improved access to care and insurance, but 43 percent felt that it had reduced coverage affordability. Despite reporting perceived worsening in several practice conditions, in 2017, more physicians agreed that the ACA “would turn the United States health care in the right direction” compared with 2012 (53 versus 42 percent). In the 2017 results, only political party affiliation was a significant predictor of support for the ACA after adjustment for potential confounding variables.

“A slight majority of U.S. physicians, after experiencing the ACA’s implementation, believed that it is a net positive for U.S. health care,” the authors write. “Their favorable impressions increased, despite their reports of declining affordability of insurance, increased administrative burdens, and other challenges they and their patients faced.”

Opinion: The U.S. can slash health-care costs 75% with 2 fundamental changes — and without ‘Medicare for All’. Dr. Ben Carson suggested using HSA’s to solve the health care problem and this article looks at funding the HSA deductible, as Indiana and Whole Foods do, and put real prices on everything

Sean Masaki Flynn noted that as the Democratic presidential candidates argue about “Medicare for All” versus a “public option,” two simple policy changes could slash U.S. health-care costs by 75% while increasing access and improving the quality of care.

These policies have been proven to work by ingenious companies like Whole Foods and innovative governments like the state of Indiana and Singapore. If they were rolled out nationally, the United States would save $2.4 trillion per year across individuals, businesses, and the government.

The first policy—price tags—is a necessary prerequisite for competition and efficiency. Under our current system, it’s nearly impossible for people with health insurance to find out in advance what anything covered by their insurance will end up costing. Patients have no way to comparison shop for procedures covered by insurance, and providers are under little pressure to lower costs.

By contrast, there is intense competition among the providers of medical services like LASIK eye surgery that aren’t covered by health insurance. For those procedures, providers must compete for market share and profits by figuring out ways to improve efficiency and lower prices. They must also advertise to get customers in the door and must ensure high quality to generate customer loyalty and benefit from word of mouth.

That’s why the price of LASIK eye surgery, as just one example, has fallen so dramatically even as quality has soared. Adjusted for inflation, LASIK cost nearly $4,000 per eye when it made its debut in the 1990s. These days, the average price is around $2,000 per eye and you can get it done for as little as $1,000 on sale.

By contrast, ask yourself what a colonoscopy or knee replacement will cost you. There’s no way to tell.

Price tags also insure that everybody pays the same amount. We currently have a health-care system in which providers charge patients wildly different prices depending on their insurance. That injustice will end if we insist on legally mandated price tags and require that every patient be charged at the same price.

As a side benefit, we will also see massively lower administrative costs. They are currently extremely high because once a doctor submits a bill to an insurance company, the insurance company works hard to deny or discount the claim. Thus begins a hideously costly and drawn-out negotiation that eventually yields the dollar amount that the doctor will get reimbursed. If you have price tags for every procedure and require that every patient be charged the same price, all of that bickering and chicanery goes away. As does the need for gargantuan bureaucracies to process claims.

What happened in Indiana?

The second policy—deductible security—pairs an insurance policy that has an annual deductible with a health savings account (HSA) that the policy’s sponsor funds each year with an amount equal to the annual deductible.

The policy’s sponsor can be either a private employer like Whole Foods (now part of Amazon.AMZN, -0.39%), which has been doing this since 2002 or a government entity like the state of Indiana, which has been offering deductible security to its employees since 2007.

While Indiana offers its workers a variety of health-care plans, the vast majority opt for the deductible security plan, under which the state covers the premium and then gifts $2,850 into each employee’s HSA every year.

Since that amount is equal to the annual deductible, participants have money to pay for out-of-pocket expenses. But the annual gifts do more than ensure that participants are financially secure; they give people skin in the game. Participants spend prudently because they know that any unspent HSA balances are theirs to keep. The result? Massively lower health-care spending without any decrement to health outcomes.

We know this because Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels ordered a study that tracked health-care spending and outcomes for state employees during the 2007-to-2009 period when deductible security was first offered. Employees choosing this plan were, for example, 67% less likely to go to high-cost emergency rooms (rather than low-cost urgent care centers.) They also spent $18 less per prescription because they were vastly more likely to opt for generic equivalents rather than brand-name medicines.

Those behavioral changes resulted in 35% lower health-care spending than when the same employees were enrolled in traditional health insurance. Even better, the study found that employees enrolled in the deductible security plan were going in for mammograms, annual check-ups, and other forms of preventive medicine at the same rate as when they were enrolled in traditional insurance. Thus, these cost savings are real and not due to people delaying necessary care in order to hoard their HSA balances.

By contrast, the single-payer “Medicare for All” proposal that is being pushed by Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris would create a health-care system in which consumers never have skin in the game and in which prices are hidden for every procedure.

That lack of skin in the game will generate an expenditure explosion. We know this because when Oregon randomized 10,000 previously uninsured people into single-payer health insurance starting in 2008, the recipients’ annual health-care spending jumped 36% without any statistically significant improvements in health outcomes.

Look at Singapore

By contrast, if we were to require price tags in addition to deductible security, the combined savings would amount to about 75% of what we are paying now for health care.

We know this to be true because while price tags and deductible security were invented in the United States, only one country has had the good sense to roll them out nationwide. By doing so, Singapore is able to deliver universal coverage and the best health outcomes in the world while spending 77% less per capita than the United States and about 60% less per capita than the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and other advanced industrial economies.

Providers post prices in Singapore, and people have plenty of money in their HSA balances to cover out-of-pocket expenses. As in the United States, regulators set coverage standards for private insurance companies, which then accept premiums and pay for costs in excess of the annual deductible. The government also directly pays for health care for the indigent.

The result is a system in which government spending constitutes about half of all health-care spending, as is the case in the United States. But because prices are so much lower, the Singapore government spends only about 2.4% of GDP on health care. By contrast, government health-care spending in the United States runs at 8% of GDP.

With Singapore’s citizenry empowered by deductible security and price tags, competition has worked its magic, forcing providers to constantly figure out ways to lower costs and improve quality. The result is not only 77% less spending than the United States but also, as Bloomberg Businessweek reports, one of the healthiest populations in the world.

If we are going to be serious about squashing health-care costs and improving the quality of care, we need to foster intense competition among health-care providers to win business from consumers who are informed, empowered and protected from financial surprises. Price tags and deductible security are the only policies that accomplish all of these goals.

I hope that politicians on both sides of the aisle will get behind these proven solutions. But realize that all these programs are missing a number of important parts of the equation to make the programs work: tort reform, the cost of medical education and the cost of drugs. These issues need to be included in the final solution and the eventual program. Washington should not be a place where good ideas go to die.

Poll: Dems more likely to support the ​candidate who backs Medicare for All over fixing Obamacare, Maybe and then there is Biden!

69477871_2236925356437111_1822674667475828736_nAitlin Oprysko noted that as the Democratic presidential field continues to grapple with plans to address health care, a significant majority of Democratic voters are more likely to back a 2020 primary candidate who supports “Medicare for All” than building on the Affordable Care Act, a new poll found.

According to the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll out Wednesday, 65 percent of Democratic primary voters would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to institute a single-payer health care system like Medicare for All; 13 percent said they’d be less likely to back a candidate based on that support.

While the Democratic base has essentially demanded that it’s White House hopefuls offer up a plan for universal health care, the party has devolved into infighting over the nuances of such plans, centering almost entirely on the role of private insurers in the health care market.

“Democrats are increasingly more inclined to back a 2020 candidate who supports Medicare for All versus revamping Obamacare,” said Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult’s vice president. “In January, 57 percent of Democrats said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who backs a Medicare for All health system over expanding the Affordable Care Act. That number has now risen to 65 percent.”

The issue has been one of the more contentious policy divides rippling through the extensive primary field. White House hopefuls like former Vice President Joe Biden, former Rep. John Delaney, and Sen. Michael Bennet have railed against the idea, arguing instead for building on Obamacare.

Biden’s front-runner status thus far has come close to being threatened by only Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two of the most vocal proponents of Medicare for All, while some of the idea’s most vocal detractors have failed to gain traction in the race or have already dropped out.

But Biden this week made his most forceful case yet against scrapping one of the signature achievements of his tenure as vice president, dropping a one-minute ad in which he explains that health care is “deeply personal” to him.

“Obamacare is personal to me,” he says at the end of the spot, in which he invokes the unexpected death of his first wife and daughter and the cancer fight of his late son. “When I see the president try to tear it down, and others proposing to replace it and start over, that’s personal to me, too.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Kamala Harris’ faltering in recent polls has coincided with greater scrutiny and wavering when it comes to the role of private insurers in a potential Harris administration. Her plan has drawn criticism from both ends of the spectrum even as it’s been praised by health policy experts and former Obama administration officials.

On the left flank, Sanders and Warren have defended the proposal in the face of criticism from the center lane of the primary, and Sanders’ campaign has aggressively seized on Harris’ muddled messaging.

Overall, 53 percent of voters support Medicare for All, though fewer — 45 percent — say a candidate’s support for Medicare for All would make them more likely to vote for that candidate in a general election over one who would prioritize improving on Obamacare. The survey suggests a level of public support for single-payer health care that could take some sting out of Republicans’ plans to make Medicare for All a four-letter word they can wield against Democrats up and down the ballot in 2020.

The POLITICO/Morning Consult survey was conducted online Aug. 23-25 among a national sample of 1,987 registered voters, including 768 Democratic voters. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 points.

Morning Consult is a nonpartisan media and technology company that provides data-driven research and insights on politics, policy and business strategy. But here is a slightly different view on the desires of those Democrats!

Democrats Want Medicare for All … or Maybe Not

Yuval Rosenberg of the Fiscal Times reported that a new Morning Consult/Politico poll finds support among Democrats rising for candidates that favor Medicare for All overbuilding on the Affordable Care Act. The survey found a 52-point margin of support — the share of those who said they would be more likely to back a candidate minus the share who said they would be less likely — for a candidate that backs Medicare for All, up from 35 points in January.

The poll surveyed 1,987 registered voters, including 768 Democratic voters, and had an overall margin of error of 2 percentage points. The Democratic subsample has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

The Morning Consult results are similar to the findings of a new Monmouth University poll in which 58% of Democratic voters say it is very important to them that the party nominate someone who supports “Medicare for All.” But the poll also found that most voters, 53%, say they want a system that allows people to opt into Medicare while maintaining a private insurance market — what policy experts call a “public option.” Just 22% say they want to switch to a system where a government-run health plan replaces private insurance.

That may help explain why the Morning Consult poll finds that former vice president Joe Biden, who favors expanding the ACA by adding a public option, holds a 13-point advantage over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has championed Medicare for All.

Another explanation: Voters have other issues on their minds. Leslie Dach, campaign chair for health care advocacy group Protect Our Care, told Morning Consult that the latest poll results showing continued support for Biden demonstrate that Democratic voters are driven by a desire to remove President Trump from the office more than by questions about health care. And on the issue of health care, they’re more responsive to pocketbook issues like drug costs and protections for people with pre-existing conditions than to broader questions about the future structure of the U.S. health care system.

Bernie Sanders calls for eliminating all medical debt at the South Carolina event

Bernie Sanders teases plan to eliminate all medical debt and how ridiculous it sounds and really is!!

Andrew Craft or Fox News reported that the Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told an audience in South Carolina Friday that he is working on legislation that would “eliminate medical debt in this country.”

Sanders made the remark during a question-and-answer period following a town hall meeting in Florence on “Medicare-for-All.” A female attendee explained to Sanders that she doesn’t make enough money to qualify for ObamaCare and has a large amount of medical debt not covered by insurance.

When the woman asked Sanders if he had a plan for that, the self-described democratic socialist told her: “In another piece of legislation that we’re offering, we’re gonna eliminate medical debt in this country.”

The Sanders campaign confirmed to Fox News that the proposal was new, but details were scant.

“We are introducing legislation that would end all medical debt in this country,” Sanders told reporters as he departed the town hall. “The bottom line is it is an insane and cruel system, which says to people that they have to go deeply into debt or go bankrupt because of what? Because they came down with cancer or they came down with heart disease or they came down with Alzheimer’s, or whatever …

“In the midst of a dysfunctional healthcare system, we have to say to people that you cannot go bankrupt or end up in financial duress,” Sanders added. “That is cruel and something we’ve gotta handle. This is something that we’re working on and that we will introduce.”

Sanders has long touted his “Medicare-for-All” proposal, which would replace job-based and individual private health insurance with a government-run plan that guarantees coverage for all with no premiums, deductibles and only minimal copays for certain services. Health care has become a key issue in South Carolina, which is among the Republican-led states that turned down Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Sanders’ legislation does not specify new revenues, instead of providing a separate list of “options” that include higher taxes on the wealthy, corporations and employers while promising the middle class will be better off.

“You’re going to be paying more in taxes,” Sanders said Friday to a man asking how he’d benefit from Medicare for All if his employer currently pays for most of his premiums. “But at the end of the day, you’re going to be paying less for health care than you are right now. It will be comprehensive.”

The healthcare industry has become a favorite whipping boy for Sanders, who told his audience Friday: “Thirty years from now your kids and your grandchildren will be asking you was it really true? That there were people in America who could not go to the doctor when they wanted to? Was it really true that people went bankrupt because they could not pay their healthcare bills? And you will have to tell them, ‘Yes, it was.’ But together we are going to end that obscenity and we’re going to end it in the next few years.”

The new proposal is not the only debt that Sanders has called for canceling. He has repeatedly called for the elimination of $1.6 trillion in student loan debt as well and calling for public college and universities to be tuition-free.

According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Sanders is the second choice among Democrats nationwide, garnering 17.1 percent of the vote. Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a comfortable lead with 28.9 percent support, while Elizabeth Warren is narrowly behind Sanders in third place at 16.5 percent support.

Sanders: Medicare for All means more taxes, better coverage

Meg Kinnard of the Associated Press reported that health care was the focus of Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’ second day of campaigning in pivotal early-voting South Carolina, where lack of Medicaid expansion has left thousands unable to obtain health coverage.

The Vermont senator focused on “Medicare for All,” his signature proposal replacing job-based and individual private health insurance with a government-run plan that guarantees coverage for all with no premiums, deductibles and only minimal copays for certain services.

“While this health care system is not working for working families, it is working for one group of people,” Sanders told a crowd of 300 on Friday. “The function of a rational health care system is not to make billions for insurance companies and drug companies. It is to provide health care to every man woman and child as a human right.”

Health care and how to reform the nation’s system is a critical debate among the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. It’s under intense focus in states like South Carolina, home to the first-in-the-South 2020 primary, which is among the Republican-led states that turned down Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

As a result of that decision, according to healthinsurance.org, a health insurance industry watchdog, about 92,000 South Carolinians are in the “coverage gap,” without access to insurance. This group of mostly low-income residents doesn’t qualify for subsidies on the exchange and is heavily reliant on emergency rooms and community clinics for care.

The lack of expansion has also had institutional ramifications, leading to the closures of hospitals in rural areas, tasked with serving a wide-reaching population and heavily reliant on Medicaid funds. According to the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina, 113 rural hospitals have closed since January 2010. Four of those facilities were in South Carolina.

While the overall notion of “Medicare for All” remains popular, some recent polling has shown softening support for the single-payer system, with hesitation at the idea of relinquishing private coverage altogether. Under Sanders’ legislation, it would be unlawful for insurers or employers to offer coverage for benefits provided by the new government-run plan.

Nationwide, 55% of Democrats and independent voters who lean Democratic said in a poll last month they’d prefer building on President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act instead of replacing it with Medicare for All. The survey by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 39% would prefer Medicare for All. Majorities of liberals and moderates concurred.

Sanders’ legislation does not specify new revenues, instead of providing a separate list of “options” that include higher taxes on the wealthy, corporations and employers while promising the middle class will be better off.

“You’re going to be paying more in taxes,” Sanders said Friday to a man asking how he’d benefit from Medicare for All if his employer currently pays for most of his premiums. “But at the end of the day, you’re going to be paying less for health care than you are right now. It will be comprehensive.”

Sanders tallied up other personal expenses that would go away under his plan, including co-pays and medication costs over a $200-per-year cap. Sanders said he was also working on a proposal to eliminate medical debt, which he called the leading cause of consumer bankruptcy.

His campaign provided more details on Saturday, saying the plan would cancel an existing $81 billion in existing, past-due medical debt, with the federal government negotiating and paying off bills in collections. Sanders is proposing changes to a 2005 bankruptcy bill, which he blames for further hampering Americans’ abilities to regain their financial footing.

In early states including South Carolina, some voters continue to voice confusion as to exactly what various candidates in the vast Democratic field mean when they advocate for pieces of a Medicare for All plan. California Sen. Kamala Harris’ new plan would preserve a role for private insurance. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is open to step-by-step approaches.

Others including former Vice President Joe Biden have been blunt in criticizing the government-run system envisioned by Sanders.

Biden health plan aims far beyond the legacy of ‘Obamacare’

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press noted that wrapping himself in the legacy of “Obamacare,” Joe Biden is offering restless Democrats a health care proposal that goes far beyond it, calling for a government plan almost anybody can join but stopping short of a total system remake. But why does he propose a health care plan, Obamacare, that he was sooooo proud of??

Recent polls show softening support for the full government-run system championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Biden is pitching his approach in a new ad aimed at Democrats in Iowa. His “public option” would give virtually everyone the choice of a government plan like Medicare, as an alternative to private coverage, not a substitute.

“The fact of the matter is health care is personal to me,” Biden says in the ad, recalling his own family experiences with illness and loss. “Obamacare is personal to me. When I see the president try to tear it down and others propose to replace it and start over, that’s personal to me, too. We’ve got to build on what we did because every American deserves affordable health care.”

Biden’s health care gambit puts him somewhere center-left on the spectrum of ideas from Democratic presidential candidates.

Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are solidly behind “Medicare for All,” the government-run “single-payer” approach. California Sen. Kamala Harris is offering to retain private plans within a government system. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet who is proposing a limited public option focused on areas with little insurer competition, calls it “the most effective way to cover everyone and lower costs.”

Sanders, in a veiled swipe, has accused Biden of “tinkering around the edges.” But Biden’s more ambitious public option would be open to people around the country, including those with employer coverage. That would set up a competition between a government plan and the mainstay of private coverage in the U.S.

“The Biden plan is modest in comparison to ‘Medicare for All,’ but it is by no means modest by historical standards,” said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “It goes well beyond even the most progressive proposals during the Affordable Care Act debate. It does show how the health care debate has shifted when this is considered a moderate proposal.”

Here’s a look:

THE BLUEPRINT

President Barack Obama’s former vice president builds on the ACA to address what former Democratic Senate aide John McDonough calls its “shortcomings, weaknesses, and pain points.”

Biden would provide more generous subsidies for “Obamacare’s” private policies, also lowering deductibles and copays. He’d let solidly middle-class people qualify for help paying their premiums, responding to complaints that they’re now priced out.

That’s for starters.

Biden adds his public option plan, something Obama couldn’t get through Congress when Democrats controlled it.

Biden’s version would be modeled on Medicare and open to just about any U.S. citizen or legal resident. One of its goals would be to provide free coverage for low-income people in states that have refused the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, including Texas and Florida.

And in a landmark change, Biden would open the public plan to people with access to job-based insurance if that’s what they want. Most workers don’t have such a choice now.

Campaign policy director Stef Feldman said Biden feels strongly that people with workplace coverage should have another choice.

It’s unclear how many people would switch from employer coverage to the public option, but the Kaiser Foundation’s Levitt notes, “It would be a voluntary shift on the part of workers.”

Under the plan, people who qualify for ACA subsidies would be able to use that money for public option premiums. “The public option and private insurance will hold each other accountable,” Feldman said.

But even as it gives consumers more choices, the public plan could undermine employer coverage, particularly if it draws away younger and healthier workers.

A coalition of insurers, hospitals and drug makers formed to fight “Medicare for All” is trying to derail the public option as well.

“It would be a dramatic policy change,” said McDonough, who teaches at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The prospect of payments pegged to Medicare’s lower rates “is already alarming the provider community.”

Another part of Biden’s plan would tackle the high cost of prescription drugs, an issue that President Donald Trump has sought to address.

His most significant idea would limit launch prices for cutting-edge drugs that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He’d also hold pharmaceutical price increases to the inflation rate, allow Medicare to negotiate with drugmakers, and clear the way for patients to import drugs from abroad.

Overall, Biden’s campaign estimates his plan would cover 97% of those eligible.

He’d also restore Obama’s unpopular fines on people who go without health insurance, which were repealed by Congress.

THE POOR AND THE MIDDLE CLASS

“Obamacare” and the Republican backlash against it had unintended consequences both for low-income uninsured people and for middle-class consumers who once purchased their own policies but can no longer afford the high premiums.

Many GOP-led states have turned down the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. Nationally, nearly 5 million low-income people would gain coverage if all states expanded Medicaid. Biden would enroll them in the public option at no cost to them or their state.

That might well upset leaders in mostly Democratic states that embraced the Medicaid expansion and are helping pay for it. But campaign policy director Feldman says Biden “is done with” letting state politics interfere with coverage.

For middle-class people who buy their own health insurance, Biden would lift the ACA’s income limit on subsidies to help pay premiums.

ACA critic Robert Laszewski calls that a welcome fix. “Biden has done what needed to be done,” said Laszewski, a consultant and blogger. “The fundamental problem is that the middle class can’t afford the Obamacare policy.”

THE COST

After expected savings on prescription drugs and elsewhere, the Biden campaign estimates the plan’s net cost at $750 billion over 10 years, paid for by raising taxes on upper-income people and on investment income.

By comparison, “Medicare for All” is projected to cost $30 trillion to $40 trillion over 10 years.

While Biden’s plan clearly would cost less, health economist Gail Wilensky says she’s skeptical of the campaign number.

“Campaigns want to underestimate the cost and overestimate the benefits and make the financing sound easier than it will be,” said Wilensky, a longtime Republican adviser.

And on and on the discussion goes as to what the eventual Democratic presidential candidate will actually stick with and possibly what we all may have to live with. More on this discussion in the many weeks before and after the 2020 election.

Hoping that you all are enjoying your Labor Day weekend and the “end” of summer!

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

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

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

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

Americans get insurance from four main sources.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Africa puts initial universal healthcare cost at $17 billion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“TAX BURDEN”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rural hospitals take the spotlight in the coverage expansion debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newsom warned Americans not to rely on that.

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

Appeals Court Judges Appear Skeptical About ACA’s Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advocates: The Stakes Are Astronomical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Insurance for All: Learning From San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to our Medicare and Medicaid discussion:

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

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

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

So, among these changes to the Medicare program was:

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

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

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

2020 Dems Grapple with How to Pay for ‘Medicare for All’ and the Biden and Sanders Argument, and Yes, More on Medicare

rights328I recently spoke with a friend in the political world of Washington and his comment was that “there is a war here in D.C.” After listening to whatever news reports that you and yes I, listen to I can certainly believe it!! I’m wondering who is really in charge!!

Reporter Elena Schor noticed that the Democratic presidential candidates trying to appeal to progressive voters with a call for “Medicare for All” are wrestling with the thorny question of how to pay for such a dramatic overhaul of the U.S. health care system.

Bernie Sanders, the chief proponent of Medicare for All, says such a remodel could cost up to $40 trillion over a decade. He’s been the most direct in talking about how he’d cover that eye-popping amount, including considering a tax hike on the middle class in exchange for healthcare without co-payments or deductibles — which, he contends, would ultimately cost Americans less than the current healthcare system.

His rivals who also support Medicare for All, however, have offered relatively few firm details so far about how they’d pay for a new government-run, a single-payer system beyond raising taxes on top earners. As the health care debate dominates the early days of the Democratic primary, some experts say candidates won’t be able to duck the question for long.

“It’s not just the rich” who would be hit with new cost burdens to help make single-payer health insurance a reality, said John Holahan, a health policy fellow at the nonpartisan Urban Institute think tank. Democratic candidates campaigning on Medicare for All should offer more specificity about how they would finance it, Holahan added.

Sanders himself has not thrown his weight behind a single strategy to pay for his plan, floating a list of options that include a 7.5% payroll tax on employers and higher taxes on the wealthy. But his list amounts to a more public explanation of how he would pay for Medicare for All than what other Democratic presidential candidates who also back his single-payer legislation have offered.

Kamala Harris, who has repeatedly tried to clarify her position on Medicare for All, vowed this week she wouldn’t raise middle-class taxes to pay for a shift to single-payer coverage. The California senator told CNN that “part of it is going to have to be about Wall Street paying more.”

Her contention prompted criticism that she wasn’t being realistic about what it would take to pay for Medicare for All. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a rival Democratic presidential candidate, said Harris’ claim that Medicare for All would not involve higher taxes on the middle class was “impossible,” though he stopped short of calling her dishonest and said only that candidates “need to be clear” about their policies.

A Harris aide later said she had suggested a tax on Wall Street transactions as only one potential way to finance Medicare for All, and that other options were available. The aide insisted on anonymity in order to speak candidly about the issue.

Another Medicare for All supporter, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, would ask individuals to pay between 4% and 5% of their income toward the new system and ask their employers to match that level of spending. Gillibrand’s proposal, shared by an aide who requested anonymity to discuss the campaign’s thinking, could supplement the revenue generated by that change with options that hit wealthy individuals and businesses, including a new Wall Street tax.

Gillibrand is a cosponsor of Sanders’ legislation adding a small tax to financial transactions, while Harris is not.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who also has signed onto Medicare for All legislation but said on the campaign trail that he would pursue incremental steps as well, could seek to raise revenue for the proposal by raising some individual tax rates, changing capital gains taxes or expanding the estate tax, according to an aide who spoke candidly about the issue on condition of anonymity.

The campaign of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who used last month’s debate to affirm her support for Sanders’ single-payer health care plan, did not respond to a request for more details on potential financing options for Medicare for All.

Meanwhile, Sanders argued during a high-profile Medicare for All speech this week that high private health insurance premiums, deductibles, and copayments, all of which would be eliminated by his proposal, amount to “nothing less than taxes on the middle class.”

Medicare for All opponents are also under pressure to explain how they’d pay for changes to the health insurance market. Former Vice President Joe Biden is advocating for a so-called “public option” that would allow people to decide between a government-financed plan or a private one. He would pay for his $750 billion proposals by repealing tax cuts for the wealthy that President Donald Trump and the GOP cut in 2017, and by raising capital gains taxes on the wealthy.

Inside Biden and Sanders’ Battle Over Health Care—and the Party’s Future

Sahil Kapur noted that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are engaged in open warfare over health care that could harden party divisions and play into the hands of President Donald Trump.

In the latest iteration of the battle, Biden’s communications director posted an article on Saturday, entitled “Let’s Get Real About Health Care,” that delved into the potential costs of the proposals favored by the Democratic party’s left flank.

The tension points to a broader power struggle in Washington and on the campaign trail that pits long-dominant moderates like Biden against an insurgent wing led by Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But a prolonged battle risks entrenching bitterness between the factions that threatens party unity heading into the general election.

Many prominent Democrats fear that backing an end to private health insurance means defeat in the presidential race and the competitive districts that won the party a House majority in 2018. They prefer more modest legislation to expand government-run insurance options.

Biden favors that approach, calling for largely preserving the popular Obamacare while adding a “public option” that would compete with private insurers. Sanders, a Vermont senator and the chief architect of a Medicare for All plan that would cover everybody under a single government plan, wants to replace the 2010 law.

Aimee Allison, who runs She the People, an activist group that seeks to elevate women of color and recently hosted a Democratic presidential forum, said young voters and minorities are eager for change.

“The Democratic Party leadership is more concerned about moderate to conservative Democratic voters, who are a shrinking and less reliable part of the party base than they are about people of color, women of color, younger voters who are inspired by these kinds of ideas,” Allison said.

“That decision led to the loss in 2016,” she said. “There were plenty of black voters who could be inspired to vote and weren’t — and that’s why we lost.”

Climate Change

The split extends far beyond health care. Democrats also differ on how aggressively to tackle climate change and whether to support mass cancellation of student debt.

Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said the differences among Democrats reflect meaningful policy disagreements rather than just political calculations.

“Bernie Sanders should be applauded for pushing the debate” about how bold to be, Pfeiffer said in an email. “But I do think some of the opposition among the candidates to Sanders’ version is about policy as much as politics.”

The health care debate grew heated earlier this week when Biden, who as vice president helped steer the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, through Congress, told voters that the “Medicare For All Act” authored by Sanders “means getting rid of Obamacare — and I’m not for that.” He said the bill would end private insurance and ensure that “Medicare goes away as you know it.”

Fear-Mongering’

Sanders responded by accusing Biden of “fear-mongering” and parroting the “lies” of Trump and the insurance industry. His campaign website posted a “who said it” quiz on health care mocking Biden as being aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump.

Biden argues that Medicare for All would cancel plans for the 150 million people on private insurance and that he’d give them the option to keep their plan. Sanders says adding a public option to Obamacare would be less effective at covering the 27 million uninsured Americans or cutting costs. While a tax increase would be required to pay for single-payer, eliminating premiums and out-of-pocket costs would offset it, he says.

Biden pressed his argument Thursday, insisting he wasn’t criticizing Sanders but rather conveying what his plan would do.

“Bernie’s completely honest about saying he’s going to raise taxes on the middle class and just straightforward about it,” the former vice president told reporters in Los Angeles.

The Biden campaign went after Sanders’ plan again on Saturday in a Medium.com post, saying that defending Obamacare is a way for Democrats to win in 2020.

“We all understand the appeal of Medicare for All, but before we go down that road we should take a clear-eyed and honest look at what the plan actually says and what it will cost,” wrote Biden communications director Kate Bedingfield. She suggested Biden’s view would prevail “once voters look beyond Twitter and catch-phrases.”

A similar power struggle is unfolding in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi and moderate Democrats have clashed with the “Squad” of newly elected progressive women – Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

The new lawmakers have used their large social media followings to elevate far-reaching ideas while challenging party leaders to be more tactically aggressive with Trump on issues like immigration and impeachment.

“The Squad — they’re a proxy for the millions of us who want to see a bolder, more progressive set of policies and changes,” Allison said, arguing that limiting the Democratic Party’s vision based on what appears politically possible would prevent new voters from getting engaged and turning out.

Conditional Support

Polling on Medicare for All illustrates the party’s dilemma. Surveys indicate that a majority of Americans favor the idea. But support plummets when people are told the program would eliminate private insurance and rises again when they are told that switching to a government-run plan doesn’t necessarily mean losing their doctors and providers.

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders back Biden’s approach. 2020 rivals Warren, and Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand cosponsor sanders’ single-payer plan. Harris says she prefers single-payer but has also cosponsored legislation for a public option as a route to extending coverage.

Ocasio-Cortez said Americans she talks to “like their health care, they like their doctor,” but that they aren’t “heartbroken” about the prospect of having to transition off an Aetna or Blue Cross Blue Shield plan.

Trump and his allies have sought to make the Squad the face of the Democratic Party, believing that they alienate moderate voters. House GOP campaign chairman Tom Emmer called the four women the “red army of socialists” at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast for reporters.

The four women are among the 114 cosponsors of the Medicare For All Act in the House, but the legislation has stalled out and is unlikely to be brought to a vote, which suggests that the moderate wing is winning the battle in Washington.

Andy Slavitt, a former acting head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Obama, said Democrats unanimously agree on the goal of universal coverage but differ on how best to get there.

“Primaries are about calling out differences in approach. There should be sufficient oxygen to say how would Joe Biden or Michael Bennet do it versus how would Bernie Sanders do it,” he said in an interview.

Slavitt warned that while a debate was healthy, Democrats shouldn’t lose sight of the ultimate goal.

“It’s important that we don’t get so overwhelmed with the distinctions around ‘how’ that we forget there is a massive gulf between what the visions are,” Slavitt said, “between Democrats and the president’s position to repeal the ACA, make coverage more expensive.”

Surprise! Here’s Proof That Medicare for All Is Doomed

Ramesh Ponnuru discovered that there’s a high-profile debate over health care playing out in the presidential race, and a lower-profile one taking place in Congress. Several Democratic presidential candidates are telling us that they are going to provide health care that is free at the point of service to all comers. In little-noticed congressional mark-ups, members of both parties are demonstrating why these promises will not be met.

The legislation under consideration is aimed at so-called surprise medical bills” – charges a patient assumes were covered by insurance but turn out not to have been. My family got one last year: The hospital where my wife delivered our son was in our insurer’s network, but an anesthesiologist outside the network-assisted. The bill had four digits.

Surprise bills seem to be something of a business model for some companies. A 2017 study showed how bills rose when EmCare Inc. took over hospitals’ emergency rooms, with the percentage of visits incurring out-of-network charges jumping “like a light switch was being flipped on.”

Policy experts from across the political spectrum have devised ways to prevent this sticker shock. Benedic Ippolito and David Hyman have a short paper for the American Enterprise Institute (where I am a fellow) that suggests providers of emergency medicine should have to contract with hospitals, reaching agreement on prices and folding them into the total bill, rather than sending separate bills to patients and their insurers. In incidents where the surprise bill is the result of an emergency involving treatment by an out-of-network hospital (or transportation by an out-of-network ambulance), their solution would be to cap payments at 50% above the level that in-network providers get paid on average. In both cases, prices would be determined by negotiation among parties that are informed and not in the middle of a medical emergency.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, has introduced a bill that includes a version of that cap. But provider trade groups favor a different measure introduced by Representative Raul Ruiz, a Democrat from California, which would create a 60-day arbitration process to determine what insurers should pay out-of-network providers, and instructs arbiters to first consider the 80th percentile of list prices for a service in a given market. It is a generous approach that analysts with the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy conclude “would likely result in large revenue increases for emergency and ancillary services, paid for by commercially-insured patients and taxpayers.” It would, therefore, mean higher premiums and federal deficits, while Alexander’s alternative has been estimated to reduce both. Ruiz has 52 co-sponsors who range from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans.

Turn from this dispute, for a moment, to the Medicare for All proposal (which has some of the same co-sponsors as the Ruiz bill). It envisions sharp cuts in payments to providers – as high as 40%. Those cuts enable advocates to say they will cover the uninsured and provide added coverage to the insured while reducing national health spending.

Is this at all likely? The Alexander bill would try to rein in billing by one subset of providers in cases where the bills are especially unpopular. But the House Energy and Commerce Committee is watering down its surprise-billing legislation, accepting a provider-backed Ruiz amendment to add arbitration. It’s not as generous as Ruiz’s own bill, but its effect would be to keep payments at today’s rates.

The House is following a long line of precedents. For years, bipartisan majorities in Congress voted down planned cuts in provider-payment rates under Medicare; ultimately, they got rid of the planned cuts altogether. Now even modest measures like Alexander’s face determined and effective resistance.

There is, in short, very little appetite for cutting payments to providers. If medical-provider lobbies can force Congress to back off from addressing surprise bills – which are, in the grand scheme of our health-care system, a small kink – what are the odds lawmakers will force a much larger group of providers, including the powerful hospitals lobby, to accept the much larger reductions that Medicare for All would have to entail? Maybe the Democratic presidential hopefuls should be asked that question at the next debate so that we can judge whether Medicare for All is a fantasy or a fraud.

Those of us who are covered by Medicare, we realize the limitations of coverage as well as the discounted reimbursements paid to physicians, hospitals, nursing facilities, etc. Do we think that Medicare for All is going to make it any better for “All”?

Back to Medicare History

By 1972 the costs associated with Medicare had spiraled out of control to such a rate that even the administration and Congress were expressing concern as I pointed before. Then as a consequence, a number of studies were undertaken to examine what were the causes. The conclusions were that this rise was due to hospital service charges that rose much faster than the Consumer Price Index and especially the medical care component of the index as well as physicians’ charges over the first five years of Medicare ending in 1971. The charges rose 39 percent as compared with a 15 percent rise in the five years before the advent of Medicare. If you adjust for the increase in CPI, the Medicare physicians’ charges rose by 11 percent during that first five years of Medicare.

Also as important is that the proportion of total health care expenditures of the elderly that originated in public sources rose far more sharply than had been expected prior to Medicare’s passage. In fact in the fiscal year 1966, the government programs provided 31 percent of the total expended on health care for the elderly and just one year later this proportion had risen to 59 percent. Also, consider that Medicare alone accounted for thirty-five cents of every dollar spent on health services by or for those over the age of 65. There were even more dramatic increases occurred in the Medicaid program during its first few years.

The wording of Title XIX provided that the federal government had an open-ended obligation to help underwrite the costs of medical care for a wide range of services to a large number of possible recipients, depending on state legislation. Therefore, there was no accurate way of predicting the ultimate costs of the program and I will leave this discussion here. Why? Because age we have an older and older population we will have a bigger group in which Medicare will cover. Now if we enlarge the demographic to include “All” Americans the main question is how will we pay for that program?

 

Kamala Harris Says ‘Medicare for All’ Wouldn’t End Private Insurance. It Would! and More on Healthcare and the Democratic Debate!

harris314Sahil Kapur reported that Kamala Harris says she supports “Medicare for All,” and she has cosponsored legislation with Bernie Sanders. But unlike her Democratic presidential rival, she says the plan wouldn’t end private insurance.

That’s misleading. The measure would outlaw all private insurance for medically necessary services but allow a sliver to remain for supplemental coverage. It would force the roughly 150 million Americans who are insured through their employer to switch to a government-run program.

Harris is trying to find a narrow path between two competing constituencies in the Democratic Party. On one side are progressives who passionately support so-called single payer insurance and are pushing the party to the left. On the other is the party establishment, which believes that calling for an end to private insurance for millions would be political suicide against President Donald Trump in 2020.

Her attempts to please both camps could become a vulnerability for a campaign that is surging after a strong performance in last week’s debates, though allies say her rhetoric about a role for private insurance would be more politically viable in a general election.

Misunderstood Question

The issue has tripped up the California senator almost from the moment she began her candidacy. During the debates in Miami last week, Harris and Sanders raised their hands when NBC’s Lester Holt asked which candidates would “abolish their private health insurance in favor of a government-run plan.” She retreated the next day, saying she thought Holt was referring to her personal insurance plan and answered “no” when asked if private coverage insurance should end.

She ran into a similar problem in January, when her campaign walked back a comment she made at a CNN town hall calling for getting “rid of” private insurance structures.

Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said the intent of the Sanders bill is clear.

“As a practical matter, Senator Sanders’ Medicare for all bill would mean the end of private health insurance,” he said. “Employer health benefits would no longer exist, and private insurance would be prohibited from duplicating the coverage under Medicare.”

Splitting Hairs

Sanders last week criticized Harris for splitting hairs, without mentioning her by name.

“If you support Medicare for All, you have to be willing to end the greed of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries,” he said. “That means boldly transforming our dysfunctional system by ending the use of private health insurance, except to cover non-essential care like cosmetic surgeries.”

In an email, Harris spokesman Ian Sams responded: “Kamala’s position is and has always been every American would get insurance through the single payer plan, and private insurance would exist to cover anything supplemental, as is expressly outlined in the Medicare for All bill. Seems like Bernie is saying that, too.”

Other 2020 candidates — Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand — also cosponsored Sanders’s bill.

‘I’m With Bernie’

Warren has given a far more direct endorsement than Harris of the idea of eliminating private insurance.

“I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All,” she said on the first night of the Democratic debates. “There are a lot of politicians who say, oh, it’s just not possible, we just can’t do it, have a lot of political reasons for this. What they’re really telling you is they just won’t fight for it.”

At the other end of the spectrum is former Vice President Joe Biden, who said he wants to build on Obamacare by adding a government-run plan to the menu of options, a provision that progressives tried and failed to add in 2009 amid opposition from centrist Democrats.

“Everyone, whether they have private insurance or employer insurance and no insurance, they, in fact, can buy in the exchange to a Medicare-like plan,” Biden said in the debate.

Hedging her position, Harris has also cosponsored “Medicare X” legislation by Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, another Democratic presidential candidate who’s running as a moderate. That measure would preserve private coverage while allowing Americans to buy into a government-run plan. But she said Friday on MSNBC she favors single payer with only supplemental private insurance.

An issue that united the party in 2018 has the potential to fracture it in 2020.

Abby Goodnough and Thomas Kaplan reported on the Democratic party debate and that It was a command as much as a question, intended to put an end to months of equivocating and obfuscating on the issue: Which of the Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage supported abolishing private health insurance in favor of a single government-run plan? Show of hands, please.

Just four arms went up over the two nights — Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York on Wednesday, and Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California on Thursday — even though five candidates who kept their hands at their sides have signed onto bills in Congress that would do exactly that.

And after the debate, Ms. Harris said that she had misunderstood the question, suggesting she had not meant to raise her hand either.

The response and ensuing confusion reflected one of the deepest fault lines among Democrats heading into 2020 — on an issue the party hopes to use as a cudgel against President Trump as effectively as it did last fall when their vow to protect the Affordable Care Act helped them recapture the House.

Though Democrats owned the health care issue in 2018, pointing a way forward — tear up the current system and start over or build on gains in coverage and care that the Obama health law achieved — is proving tricky for the party’s presidential candidates.

The challenge is to avoid alienating both the progressives, whose support they will need in the primary and the more moderate voters, without whom they cannot survive the general election.

We surveyed all the candidates for details of their positions on health care. Here’s what they said:

‘Medicare for All’ vs. ‘Public Option’: The 2020 Field Is Split, Our

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In shooting up her hand and saying, “I’m with Bernie,” Ms. Warren seemed to have made the calculation that proving herself as unequivocal as Mr. Sanders in the quest for universal government-run health insurance was crucial to building the left-wing support she needs, including from some of his loyalists.

During the early months of the Democratic primary race, Ms. Warren has gained attention with her steady stream of detailed policy plans on a variety of subjects. But before Wednesday’s debate, she had been less than crystal clear about how she would expand access to health care— and particularly on the role, that private insurers should play under the type of Medicare-for-all system that she is calling for.

“I think lots of progressives were very happy to see her clarify her position,” said Waleed Shahid, the communications director for Justice Democrats, a group that seeks to elect progressive House candidates.

Ms. Harris had more overtly waffled on the future of private insurance before the debates, yet raised her hand just as quickly as Mr. Sanders when one of the moderators asked who favored abolishing it.

After the debate, she immediately walked it back, saying she understood the question to be asking whether she would give up her own private insurance.

Asked point-blank on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday morning whether she believed that private insurance should be eliminated in the United States, Ms. Harris responded, “No.”

“I am a proponent of ‘Medicare for all,’” she said. “Private insurance will exist for supplemental coverage.” Mr. Sanders’s Medicare for All Act, which she co-sponsored, would allow private coverage for elective procedures, like cosmetic surgery, not covered by the government plan.

John Delaney, a former Maryland congressman who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, is taking every possible opportunity to warn that the party is at risk of turning health care from a winning issue into a liability.

“We won on health care in 2018, and if we go down the path with Medicare for all, we’ll lose on it in 2020,” he said in an interview. “Right now, about half of our citizens have private insurance and most of them like it. And you just can’t win elections on taking something away from the American people that they like. It’s just not common sense.”

Ironically, support for universal government-run health insurance could provoke the same counterattack from Republicans that the Democrats used so potently after the Trump administration tried to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“Trump and the Republicans will spend a billion dollars telling the American people that the Democrats want to take away your health insurance,” Mr. Delaney said, “and he would be correct.”

Mr. Trump appears to be adopting just such a strategy. In a recent Rose Garden appearance, he warned that more than 120 Democrats had signed onto Medicare for all legislation — a “massive government takeover of health care,” as he put it — that would expand Medicare to cover all Americans, make the program’s benefits more generous and eliminate most deductibles and co-payments.

“That’s going to hurt a lot of people,” Mr. Trump said. “Their plan would eliminate Medicare as we know it and terminate the private health insurance of 180 million Americans.”

Remaining imprecise on the issue could have been a vulnerability for Ms. Warren in particular as she tries to compete with Mr. Sanders. “Elizabeth Warren Has a Plan for Everything — Except Health Care,” read the headline of a recent article published by Jacobin, the socialist magazine.

But her outright call for eliminating private coverage would create new risks if she were to become the Democratic nominee.

“She didn’t have to fall into that trap,” said Paul Starr, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton who was a health policy adviser in the Clinton White House.

Not only would abolishing private insurance disrupt coverage for many people who are satisfied with their private coverage, Mr. Starr said, but generating the revenue needed to finance a single-payer health care system “would be just an overwhelming political task.”

“If in coming weeks and months it’s that raising of the hand that gets replayed again and again, then I think it’s going to damage her,” he said.

With Mr. Trump and his surrogates likely to step up their attack in the coming months, it was not particularly surprising to hear most of the Democrats walk a more cautious line — even the ones who have co-sponsored Mr. Sanders’s single-payer bill or a House version that would, in fact, put everyone into government-run coverage, including Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

All three were more vague when questioned about eliminating private insurance. Mr. Booker said he favored keeping it but did not explain why and Ms. Gabbard said merely that it deserved “some form of a role.”

Many candidates — including some who say their ultimate goal is a government-run system — support a system in which people would have the option to buy into Medicare or a similar public insurance program, but private insurers could still compete for their business.

Ms. Gillibrand was eager to point out that she had written the portion of the Sanders bill allowing four years for Americans to transition to their new government coverage by providing such a choice.

“I believe we need to get to universal health care as a right and not a privilege — to single-payer,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “The quickest way you get there is you create competition with the insurers. God bless the insurers. If they want to compete, they can certainly try.”

More likely, though, she contended, is that “people will choose Medicare, you will transition, we will get to Medicare for all.”

The hesitancy to fully embrace the abolition of private insurance isn’t surprising considering the polling on the issue, which has consistently found that support for Medicare for all drops off quickly when voters are told it would eliminate their private, employer-provided plans and most likely raise taxes.

The poll results also help explain why so many candidates — including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas — say they would keep private insurance but add a “public option” to buy coverage in a government-run health plan that would create competition and potentially drive down prices.

Some candidates support bills that would allow people who do not get insurance through a job, or those 50 and older, to pay a premium to buy a Medicare plan that would be the same as what is now available to people 65 and older. Others prefer the idea of setting up a new public plan, run by the government, that anyone could buy — a “Medicare-for-all-who-want-it” approach.

Mr. Buttigieg used that very phrase on Thursday and suggested he was fine with keeping private insurance for everything but the most basic care.

“Let’s remember,” he said, “even in countries that have outright socialized medicine — like England — even there, there’s still a private sector. That’s fine. It’s just that for our primary care, we can’t be relying on the tender mercies of the corporate system.”

Mr. Biden noted that creating a public option to compete with private insurance could be done much quicker than a complete overhaul of the health care system.

“Urgency matters,” Mr. Biden said, referring to people like his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015. “We must move now.”

How might Medicare for All reshape health care in the U.S.?

As the Democrats pummel us all with their various forms of a single-payer, Medicare for All, healthcare systems, Sharita Forrest noted that a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll indicates that support for a single-payer health system is increasing among American consumers, but many people are confused about how a program like “Medicare for All” would actually affect them. University of Illinois professor emeritus of community health Thomas W. O”Rourke, an expert on health policy analysis, spoke with News Bureau research editor Sharita Forrest.

How might a single-payer system such as Medicare for All differ from what we have now?

Under a true single-payer program, coverage would be universal, with every resident covered from birth to death. Health care would become a public service funded through taxes, much like the public schools, the fire department and the military.

It would detach health care from employment. Most Americans receive private health insurance under a shared-cost arrangement with their employers or through Medicare. If you lose or change your job, you may lose your insurance and access to care unless you can pay the full cost yourself.

Coverage would be portable and accessible across the country, without geographical, economic or bureaucratic obstacles such as narrow provider networks.

Various politicians are proposing different types of health care programs. What are the key differences to watch for?

Many politicians and think tanks have proposed plans that are not actual single-payer plans but have similar-sounding names such as “Medicare Extra.”

The key questions to ask are: Who is covered? What benefits are included? How is it funded? Who pays? And what are the roles of the government and the private sector in controlling and managing costs?

A true single-payer plan:

  • Provides universal coverage for everyone.
  • Covers all medically necessary care—including inpatient and outpatient services, drugs, mental health, reproductive health, dental, vision, and long-term care—and virtually every provider is in the network.
  • Covers 100 percent of costs without premiums, copays or deductibles.
  • Maximizes administrative efficiencies and exerts cost-control measures such as global budgeting for hospitals, negotiated fee schedules, and drug prices, and bulk purchasing of drugs and other supplies.
  • Is nonprofit and does not include a role for private health insurance except that private insurers could offer supplemental plans that pay for extras like cosmetic surgery that aren’t covered by the government plan.

What would the federal government’s role be in a single-payer system?

The government would finance the system, but, importantly, not own or operate it. It would be publicly funded but privately operated.

There are many options for funding it, including payroll taxes, taxes on Wall Street trades, increased taxes on high-income earners or taxes on investments and interest.

If the program followed other countries’ examples, it would reduce costs by consolidating administrative tasks and eliminating insurers’ profits. Because there would be one payer instead of multiple payers with thousands of plans, the government could leverage its purchasing power to exert cost controls that currently don’t exist.

Critics argue that a single-payer program would end up costing consumers more. Can such comprehensive care be provided without burdensome tax hikes?

It would require a modest tax increase, true, but eliminating health insurance premiums, copays, high out-of-pocket costs would offset that and runaway price increases. The taxes would be progressive, based on income. Therefore, many families would experience broader coverage with comparable or reduced expenditures.

Our current system wastes hundreds of billions of dollars annually, in part because providers have to deal with many different insurance carriers and bill each patient individually.

A 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that administrative costs are responsible for 31 percent of U.S. health care costs, compared with about 17 percent in Canada. Through simplified administration and greater efficiency, some researchers estimate that Medicare for All would save more than $500 billion a year.

According to a Commonwealth Fund report, the U.S. ranks last among 11 industrialized countries on health care quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and outcomes such as infant mortality and longevity.

If the U.S. were in the Health Olympics, we would never make it to the medal podiums.

By 2025, health care costs in the U.S. are expected to rise to one-fifth of our economy. Some people say we can’t afford to provide universal coverage when actually we can’t afford not to provide it.

Opponents deride single-payer plans as socialized medicine that facilitates greater government encroachment into their lives and deprives them of choice. Is that an accurate depiction?

Americans are concerned about affordability, access, and quality. They value their relationship with their clinicians, not their health insurance companies.

Currently, we have the illusion of choice. Our employers choose our health plan, and our insurance companies determine which providers we can see and when—unless we want to cover all of the costs ourselves.

Under a true Medicare for All program, choice and access would expand.

What are the main obstacles to implementing a single-payer system?

There seems to be a lack of public understanding. Health care is a complex topic, and there are so many different proposals and so much misinformation and disinformation. Expect much more in the months ahead.

Entrenched interests—including insurers, many health care providers, the pharmaceutical industry and medical device makers—don’t want to give up their profits. We’re already seeing the pushback in the media.

Many lawmakers aren’t going to get behind a single-payer plan until it’s politically expedient.

There was an interesting comment made this past week, President Trump can’t win the 2020 election but the Democratic Party policies will be responsible for their loss, where they reach into all of our pockets and pick every cent and dollar that we have earned. How true!!

Some more history regarding Medicare and now, Medicaid!

Title XIX: Medicaid. The 1965 legislation provided states a number of options regarding their level of participation in Medicaid, ranging from opting out of the program entirely to including all covered services for all eligible classes of persons. The federal government provided matching funds for two of the three groups stipulated in the legislation (the “categorically needy” and those “categorically linked,”) while in the case of the third group (“not categorically linked but medically indigent”) only administrative funds (and no medical expenses) were matched. Each state was required to include members of the first group, the categorically needy, in the medical care program acceptable to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, while the inclusion of the other groups was optional. Eligibility standards varied (and continued to vary) from state to state, depending on the state legislation. The three groups were:

  1. The Categorically Needy. This group included all persons receiving federally matching public welfare assistance, including Families and Dependent Children, the permanently and totally disabled, the blind, and the elderly whose resources fell below welfare-stipulated levels. The federal government matched state expenditures from 50 to 80 percent, depending on the state’s per capita income.
  2. The Categorically Linked. This class included persons who fell into one of the four federally assisted categories whose resources exceeded the ceiling for cash assistance. Should the state designate members of this class as medically indigent, benefits had to be extended to all four subgroups. The amount of federal matching funds was determined by the same formula as was used for the Categorically Needy.
  3. Not Categorically Linked but Medically Indigent. Members of this group could include those eligible for the statewide general assistance and those between the ages of twenty-one and sixty-five deemed medically indigent. State operating expenses were not matched by the federal government, who confined their grants to match the costs of administering the program if the benefits extended to members of this group were comparable to those provided to other groups.

Next, I will cover the benefits that the various states were required to provide recipients.

These all sound like great ideas unless one realizes the limitations of reimbursements to hospitals, physicians and other care givers.