Category Archives: Pre-existing conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generous Joe: More “Free” Healthcare For Illegals Needed

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

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

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

Answer: A lot.

The Question, The Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cost of Illegal-Alien Healthcare

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

But that’s beside the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYC Promises ‘Guaranteed’ Healthcare for All Residents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These estimates come from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The estimated increase in Medicare payment rates paid to medical providers

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

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

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

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

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

How much lower would prescription costs be?

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

The estimated reduction in drug spending

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

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

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

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

How much more would people use the health care system?

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

The estimated increase in the use of health care

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

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

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

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

What would Medicare for all cost to run?

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

Estimated administrative costs as a share of all spending

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

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

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

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

But what will it cost me?

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

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

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

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

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

About the estimates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KEY POINTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Four Types of Plans

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

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

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

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

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

How to Pay Providers?

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

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

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

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

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

A Public/Private Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing the Discussion on How to Fix the Affordable Care Act. With all the liberals in the Democrat Party declaring Free everything for All our President has stepped in to create more confusion!

college147GOP senators were blindsided by Trump on ObamaCare this week. This past week as President Trump was feeling good and relieved about the Mueller report so what does he do? He starts the promise to throw out Obamacare! And what does that do to all the Republicans trying to support him and about to campaign for another term? Confusion?

Republican lawmakers were caught completely off guard by President Trump’s renewed push to repeal and replace ObamaCare and privately complain it’s a dumb political strategy heading into the 2020 election. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), whose panel has jurisdiction over health care, said he received no heads-up from Trump or the White House that the president would call Tuesday for the GOP to become “the party of health care.”

“I don’t think there was any heads-up on anything that he was going to say,” said Grassley, who added that he didn’t even know Trump was meeting with the GOP conference on Tuesday until Monday night.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of another key panel that handles health care, said he didn’t know about Trump’s new health care push until the president tweeted about it at 11:58 a.m. Tuesday, shortly before he walked into a Republican conference lunch to announce it in person.

If Trump had told GOP senators of his plans, they say they would have sought to convince him not to throw their party back into a war over health care — the issue Democrats believe was instrumental to their takeover of the House in last year’s midterms.

A safe 2018 Senate map that had Republican incumbents defending just a handful of seats and Democrats trying to protect senators in deep-red states helped the GOP overcome the blue wave in the House. Republicans actually gained two seats in the Senate.

But the 2020 map is seen as more challenging, and many in the GOP can’t understand why Trump would plunge them into a fight over health care just as he was surfing a wave of good news brought by the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“It doesn’t seem to make sense politically,” said one Republican senator, who questioned why Trump would give Democrats a new avenue of attack.

Another Republican senator said, “We would be crazy to try to go through what we went through again,” referring to the failed 2017 effort to repeal ObamaCare, which fell one vote short in the Senate.

A third Republican senator expressed hope that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will join House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in pressing Trump to back off his aggressive push to defeat the 2010 health care law in court.

“I would think McConnell and crew would be using their influence to get the administration to stop this,” the source said.

The lawmaker said Trump is “throwing down a challenge in advance of the elections which makes it even more difficult,” describing the current politic environment as “toxic” for passing ambitious legislation.

“If you look at past history, we don’t really know how to do it,” the senator added, referring to broad health care legislation.

McCarthy urged Trump in a phone call to drop his administration’s effort to have the law struck down in the courts, arguing the strategy makes little sense after Democrats won control of the House in November after campaigning on health care, according to reports Wednesday by Axios and The Washington Post.

Trump, nevertheless, doubled down on his position Wednesday. He defended the Justice Department’s argument for striking down the law he called a “disaster,” arguing that it had sent premiums soaring and has turned out to be “far too expensive for the people, not only for the country.”

“If the Supreme Court rules that ObamaCare is out, we’ll have a plan that is far better than ObamaCare,” the president promised at the White House on Wednesday.

Trump told Republican senators at the Tuesday meeting that he wants GOP lawmakers to come up with a health care package to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) if the courts strike down former President Obama’s signature law.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is up for reelection in a state Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, said Trump’s bold promise that Republicans will have a plan to replace ObamaCare if it’s struck down by the Supreme Court has “got the cart before the horse.”

She said, “There are some very important, good provisions of the ACA that have helped to expand health insurance for low-income Americans” and also “provide important consumer protections to virtually all of us, and I would not want to see those abandoned.”

“For the administration to advocate for invalidating a duly enacted law is a mistake, in my view,” she added.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is also up for reelection in a state that voted for Clinton in 2016, declined to comment on whether he agrees with the administrative support for striking down protections for people with pre-existing conditions and other ACA reforms.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) warned that the issue of health care reform hasn’t worked for Republicans in the past.  “It’s historically probably not been a great issue for Republicans,” he said.

Thune did say the GOP could turn it around “if we’re providing solutions that create lower premiums and copays and deductibles for people.”

Alexander said he had not planned to grapple with the thorny problem of insurance reform this Congress and instead wanted to focus on finding ways to lower health care costs by looking at prescription drug costs, surprise billing and the 340B drug pricing program.

Grassley said he had planned to work primarily on prescription drug costs — not finding a new plan to replace ObamaCare.

McConnell has counseled colleagues that it is smarter to play offense by attacking Democrats for their most liberal proposals, such as providing Medicare for all, instead of playing defense on the GOP’s own plan, said a Republican senator familiar with McConnell’s advice on the subject.

Republican senators say the onus should be on Trump to come up with a health care plan since it’s his idea.

“I’d like to see what the administration brings forward. The first step is to see what the president and the White House have with regard to their health care plan and be able to respond to that,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who is up for reelection next year, agreed that it would be “reasonable” for the White House to take the lead on health care reform.

“What we don’t want to do is start working in 50 different directions this Congress and not have it supported by the administration,” she said.

Republicans face an uphill battle in their bid to fulfill President Trump’s prophecy that the GOP will become “the party of health care.”

The presidential directive, handed down in a tweet on Tuesday, came at an inopportune time for Republicans, less than a day after the Trump administration called for the courts to invalidate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in its entirety.

Taken together, that announcement and Trump’s ambitious call to resurface a campaign promise that has eluded Republicans for years underscores the political peril facing the GOP in 2020, as well as the long road the party faces if it hopes to, in fact, become “the party of health care.”

“People already believe that Republicans have the wrong approach to health care,” Doug Thornell, a longtime Democratic strategist, and adviser, said. “When the White House makes the kind of announcement it just did, it reinforces that.”

For Democrats, the GOP’s posture on health care has already proven to be one of their most incisive lines of attack, helping them win 40 House seats in the 2018 midterm elections.

With 2020 fast approaching, Democrats are eager to revive the issue.

“I would love it if the Republicans want to make this campaign about health care,” Thornell said. “That would be fantastic. I think any Democrat would love to have that debate.”

By and large, available polling data shows Democrats with an edge in the health care debate. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released earlier this month found that 56 percent of respondents see Democratic positions on health care as being “in the mainstream,” compared to only 38 percent who said the same of the Republican Party’s views on the issue.

A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released exclusively to The Hill this week brought similarly good news for Democrats.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents in that survey said they trust the Democratic Party more to handle health care. Meanwhile, 48 percent said they trust Republicans on the matter.

The polls are reflective of a larger trend in public opinion.

Democrats have largely seen support for their handling of health care tick upwards in recent years, available polling data shows. For Republicans, the numbers have either remained stagnant or trended downwards.

Despite those trends, Republicans have sought to turn the tables in recent months as some in the Democratic Party, including several presidential hopefuls, lurch to the left on health care and embrace a single-payer, Medicare for All approach.

That approach, favored by the party’s progressive and activist base, has received mixed receptions among the broader electorate.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found 45 percent of Americans opposing Medicare for All and 43 percent backing the proposal.

“That’s the rhetoric that really scares a lot of voters – I would think a lot of independent voters, a lot of suburban voters, voters that Dems did really well with last time,” Doug Heye, a Republican strategist, said.

While Republicans had hoped to seize on public unease with such sweeping reforms, Heye said that the Trump administration’s legal shift on the ACA could complicate that effort by putting the onus on Republicans to stake out their own position on health care.

“It’s why the announcement from the White House was surprising,” said Heye, who also served as an aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “If your opponent is running off a cliff, it’s best to stay out of their way.”

It also forces the party to wrestle with a frustrating reality for many of its members: After multiple failed attempts to repeal the ACA, Republicans are still largely divided on exactly how to replace former President Obama’s signature health care law, which has seen its favorability tick upwards in recent years.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found that 55 percent of Americans support improving the country’s current health care system, rather than replacing it entirely.

If Republicans ultimately decide to take another crack at replacing the ACA, it’s unclear where such a plan will originate.

Marc Short, a former White House aide who is now Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, said on CNN Wednesday that Trump will submit a plan to Congress sometime “this year.”

But Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chair of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, said on Thursday that any plan to replace the ACA would be in collaboration with congressional Republicans.

“It’s my impression there will be a plan the president and White House endorses, but I think it will be a collaborative effort between House and Senate Republicans,” Meadows said.

Heye said that if Trump wants to define the Republican Party with a robust health care agenda, it would have to be the White House —rather than GOP lawmakers — that takes the lead.

“We were never able to agree on a white paper — and that’s when we had the [House] majority,” Heye said. “If we weren’t able to do that on our own, the only way that this gets done is if the White House goes all in and long term.”

“Is the White House prepared to do that? We haven’t really seen a whole lot of other examples of where they have.”

It brings up one of last week’s suggestion for repairing the Affordable Care Act, which applies to whatever we design for a health care system-Listen to the Doctors. Doctor’s Orders: Don’t Repeal Obamacare/Affordable Healthcare Act Until You Have A Plan To Replace It!

Jonathan Cohn noted that a major physicians group is also asking GOP leadership to preserve the law’s historic coverage gains. The largest and most influential organization of American physicians has sent two stark messages to the Republican Party: Don’t mess with Obamacare until you know what you’re putting in its place.

And don’t do anything that would backtrack on the law’s most important accomplishment ― bringing the number of uninsured Americans to a historic low.

The American Medical Association delivered these messages on Tuesday, in an open letter addressed to congressional leaders of both parties. But its intended audience was GOP leadership and members President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration who have said repealing the Affordable Care Act would be their first order of business.

Two days into the new congressional session, GOP leaders have already started the legislative process that would eventually allow them to kill Obamacare, by stripping out it’s funding and spending with simple majority votes in both houses.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence met with GOP leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, on Wednesday to discuss strategy and rally rank-and-file members.

But Republicans have promised for nearly seven years that they could replace Obamacare with something better, and even party leaders acknowledge that they have no consensus on how to do that.

In the letter, AMA CEO and vice president James Madara warned Republicans not to repeal the law until they could “layout for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies.”

Patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform. AMA CEO James Madara announced that with its warning against a hasty repeal vote, the AMA joins a chorus that includes other industry groups and even some well-known conservative experts on health policy. But the AMA’s letter was striking in two key respects.

One was its explicit call for Republicans not to let the number of uninsured Americans increase again. “In considering opportunities to make coverage more affordable and accessible to all Americans, it is essential that gains in the number of Americans with health insurance coverage be maintained,” Madara wrote.

None of the serious Obamacare alternatives circulating in conservative think tanks or on Capitol Hill could meet that standard, except perhaps by offering insurance that left individuals more exposed to crippling medical bills.

The other striking element of the AMA letter was its insistence that Republicans reveal their replacement plan before repealing the law ― not simply to avoid the insurance chaos that a quick repeal vote could unleash, but also to give the public an opportunity to decide whether it actually prefers GOP-style health care to what exists now.

“We … recognize that the ACA is imperfect and there a number of issues that need to be addressed,” Madara wrote.

But, Madara went on to say, “patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform.”

Doctors speaking up for expansions of health insurance might sound like the ultimate dog-bites-man story. But until relatively recently, the AMA hasn’t been a big cheerleader for government-run or government-managed health care plans.

On the contrary, in two of history’s biggest fights over health care reform ― President Harry Truman’s failed effort to create national health insurance in the 1940s and President Lyndon Johnson’s successful effort to create Medicare in the 1960s ― the AMA was among the most vocal and effective opponents of new laws.

Sentiments shifted over time, however, and the AMA, like most of the health care industry, ended up supporting the ACA. But the AMA still has a conservative streak ― it issued a quick, if ultimately controversial, endorsement of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump’s nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services.

Price, an orthopedist, is a leader of the GOP’s conservative wing. In addition to seeking Obamacare repeal, he has called for turning Medicare into a voucher program and dramatically downsizing Medicaid. Posted by:  The Wealthy Doctor

Summary: The largest and most influential organization of American physicians has sent two stark messages to the Republican Party: Don’t mess with Obamacare until you know what you’re putting in its place. And don’t do anything that would backtrack on the law’s most important accomplishment ― bringing the number of uninsured Americans to a historic low.

Stabilize the individual marketplaces

Leslie Small noted that getting young, healthy people to purchase coverage on the ACA exchanges is a tough sell and was the reason for the rejection of the Individual Mandate by President Trump and the Republicans and for good reason.

With Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act all but dead, both Democrats and some GOP lawmakers have acknowledged that now is the time to try to make changes that will help shore up the law’s individual marketplaces.

The most obvious step, which healthcare industry groups, policy experts, politicians, and actuaries have all endorsed, is to continue funding cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments. Though a recent appeals court decision allows state attorneys general to defend these subsidies’ legality, the Trump administration could still stop funding them, and insurers likely can’t count on receiving the payments as they file their rates for next year.

Congress could settle the issue by passing a bill to appropriate the funds, but that approach would likely face an uphill battle. And it may come too late to prevent major premium hikes and insurer exits next year.

Other viable steps to stabilize the individual marketplaces include:

Enforcing the individual mandate but have reasonable premiums that don’t increase by 75-125% each year, which is nonsustainable!!

As long as the ACA is the law of the land, its signature individual exchanges depend upon the “three-legged stool” comprised of the individual mandate (which requires all citizens to have health coverage or pay a fine), guaranteed issue (which bans insurers from denying coverage based on health status) and community rating (which bans insurers from charging higher premiums based on health status).

One surefire way to help stabilize the ACA exchanges is to have the IRS enforce the individual mandate. Knock out one of those legs, and the resulting adverse selection collapses the whole system, likely leading to the much-feared “death spiral.” Enforcing the individual mandate is simple: The Trump administration just has to direct the IRS to keep assessing tax penalties on the uninsured—politically unpopular as that may be.

Implementing a stabilization mechanism

The most popular option among policy experts seems to be the creation of a reinsurance program—or recreation since the ACA implemented a temporary one. It works by issuing payments to insurers that have enrollees whose costs exceed a certain level, and its market-stabilization potential is already on display in Alaska, which recently got the go-ahead from CMS to extend its reinsurance program.

A popular idea among some conservatives, meanwhile, is to create a high-risk pool for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Pre-ACA, Maine did this successfully, but the secret ingredient to its program was adequate funding—a feature that did not characterize other states’ attempts.

Encouraging more young, healthy enrollees

Just like the individual exchanges depend upon having an individual mandate, they also require younger, lower risk individuals to purchase coverage to balance out the risk pool. But getting them to actually purchase coverage is a tough sell, requiring robust outreach efforts and the availability of affordable options—the latter made even tougher by premium spikes likely to result from uncertainty over CSRs.

One idea that policy experts might endorse—but nearly everyone else would hate—would be to nix the ACA’s provision that allows young adults to stay on a parent’s plan until age 26, effectively forcing those without job-based insurance into Medicaid or the individual markets.

And now Joyce Frieden noted that what I already mentioned when I began this post, President Trump delivered a rousing healthcare message to his followers at a Thursday night rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, capping off a week of other presidential actions on healthcare.

“We’re going to get rid of Obamacare,” the president told the cheering crowd. “And I said it the other day, the Republican Party will become the party of great healthcare. It’s good; it’s important.”

Trump was referring to comments he made Tuesday to reporters shortly before a meeting with Senate Republicans. A reporter asked him what his message was to Americans concerned about their healthcare. “Let me tell you exactly what my message is: The Republican Party will soon be known as the ‘Party of Healthcare,'” he said. “You watch.”

Justice Dept. Files Letter in ACA Case

The reporter asked the question in the wake of a letter filed Monday by the Justice Department relating to a lawsuit by a group of Republican attorneys seeking to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA). A federal district court judge in Texas sided with the attorneys, declaring that because Congress had reduced the fine to zero, people were required to pay if they didn’t have health insurance — a provision is known as the “individual mandate” — and the rest of the law was now invalid.

That decision was appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which is now considering the case. In its letter, the Justice Department said it “has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed.” This was a change from the department’s earlier position, which was that only certain provisions of the law — including the individual mandate, the provision requiring insurers to cover preexisting conditions, and the provision requiring insurers to issue policies to anyone who applies for them — should be struck down. Whatever the appeals court decides, the case is widely expected to make its way to the Supreme Court.

“We won the case; now it has to be appealed, and then we’ll go to the United States Supreme Court. We have a chance of killing Obamacare,” Trump said at the rally. “We almost did it [in Congress], but somebody, unfortunately, surprised us with a thumbs down, but we’ll do it a different way.” Trump was presumably referring to the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who cast the deciding vote against a Republican effort to repeal and replace the ACA. (Two other GOP senators also voted against it.)

Again, I ask what the other doctors are asking-why try to destroy Obamacare if you all have no workable alternative?

Next week more suggestions!

So Why Do the Democrats Running for President Promote Medicare for All When there is Still Obamacare? Shouldn’t We All Be Able to Fix Obamacare?

 

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Here is my question for the week, with all this talk of Medicare for All what happened to Obamacare the pride of the Democratic Party and the Golden Trophy of President Obama?

This was and still is a great idea to provide health care for many/all and was designed by very smart people. The only big problem was how to pay for it and therefore how to make it sustainable, especially after removing the Individual Mandate. Why then Medicare for All with all of its own problems? Susannah Luthi wrote that the Centrist House Democrats on Wednesday launched a push to revive Obamacare stabilization talks, two hours after their progressive wing unveiled new Medicare for All legislation.

But Now Some of the Moderate Democrats revive talks to fund CSRs, reinsurance

The 101-strong New Democrat Coalition wants to fund reinsurance and cost-sharing reduction payments in a package that closely resembles the deal struck last Congress by Senate health committee leaders Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

That bill, known colloquially as Alexander-Murray, fell apart at the last minute following a GOP-Democratic dispute over including anti-abortion language.

“Well, we would call it Schrader-Bera-Kuster,” joked Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), one of the co-chairs of the coalition’s healthcare task force as he referred to fellow co-chairs Reps. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Annie Kuster (D-N.H.).

He said the group wants to take another run at it, as this is a “different Congress, with different makeup,” and voters gave Congress a mandate to make the individual market more affordable.

To prod leadership into action, the group sent a letter urging prompt committee action to key committee leaders—Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) of Energy and Commerce, Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) of Ways and Means, and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) of Education and Labor.

“Building upon your work and the work of the New Democrat Coalition last Congress, we urge your committees to deliver on the promises made to our constituents by prioritizing strengthening the ACA and continuing the path toward universal affordable coverage,” the group wrote.

The group hopes numbers are on their side. It’s now the largest ideological caucus in Congress and owes its swelling ranks to the 40 Democratic freshmen who swept into office largely with the ACA on their platform.

The coalition announced its healthcare policy wish list two hours after progressive Democrats’ 70-minute press conference unveiling the new Medicare for All or single payer legislation.

Coalition members downplayed their role as opposing single payer—highlighting instead the pragmatism of lowering ACA individual market premiums as action Congress can take immediately for people who remain unsubsidized.

They also said they want to discuss public options, such as a policy to allow people to buy into Medicare or Medicaid.

Democratic leaders have pushed support for the ACA as a key part of their agenda, but proposals so far this Congress haven’t included funding for CSRs—whose cut-off led to the silver-loading that boosts premiums for people who can’t get subsidies—or reinsurance.

The Pallone-Neal-Scott proposal from last year includes reinsurance and CSRs, but enthusiasm for funding CSRs has waned since last year. Liberal advocates like the fact that the CSR cut-off led to bigger subsidies for low-income people.

And while insurers hope stabilization talks resurface, their profitability on the exchanges is soaring.

On Wednesday, Pallone told an audience at an Atlantic Live event that he’s most interested in growing the subsidies—increasing the pool of people who qualify for them and raising what’s available for people who currently receive them.

“It’s clear now that people at the higher income level, who were not eligible for those subsidies before, that we need to raise that, for people with a higher income, because there are people now making over $85, $90k a year who don’t get any subsidy,” Pallone said Wednesday morning. “In a place like New Jersey, that’s not a lot of income for a family of four.”

He also confirmed that the House will push back against the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term, limited duration plans.

Pallone was pressed on the cost problem: that an increase in subsidies puts the government on the hook for most of the high premiums, he pointed to his proposal to set up a reinsurance pool.

On whether Congress could overcome last year’s dispute over abortion language, Schrader was optimistic.

However, a Republican aide for the Senate health committee responded by referring to a comment made to Modern Healthcare last week.

“The only way Congress could pass an appropriation for CSRs is if Democrats reverse course and agree to apply the Hyde Amendment which applies to all other healthcare appropriations,” the staffer said.

Dems hit GOP on health care with additional ObamaCare lawsuit vote

At the beginning of January, Jessie Hellmann reported that in the first week of this year the House passed a resolution backing the chamber’s recent move to defend ObamaCare against a lawsuit filed by GOP states, giving Democrats another opportunity to hit Republicans on health care.

GOP Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), John Katko (N.Y.) and Tom Reed (N.Y.) joined with 232 Democrats to support the measure, part of Democrats’ strategy of keeping the focus on the health care law heading into 2020. The final vote tally was 235-192.

While the House voted on Friday to formally intervene in the lawsuit as part of a larger rules package, Democrats teed up Wednesday’s resolution as a standalone measure designed to put Republicans on record with their opposition to the 2010 law.

A federal judge in Texas last month ruled in favor of the GOP-led lawsuit, saying ObamaCare as a whole is invalid. The ruling, however, will not take effect while it is appealed.

Democrats framed Wednesday’s vote as proof that Republicans don’t want to safeguard protections for people with pre-existing conditions — one of the law’s most popular provisions.

“If you support coverage for pre-existing conditions, you will support this measure to try to protect it. It’s that simple,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) before the vote.

Most Republicans opposed the resolution, arguing it was unnecessary since the House voted last week to file the motion to intervene.

“At best, this proposal is a political exercise intended to allow the majority to reiterate their position on the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep.Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “At worst, it’s an attempt to pressure the courts, but either way, there’s no real justification for doing what the majority wishes to do today.”

The Democratic-led states defending the law are going through the process of appealing a federal judge’s decision that ObamaCare is unconstitutional because it can’t stand without the individual mandate, which Congress repealed.

Democrats were laser-focused on health care and protections for people with pre-existing conditions during the midterm elections — issues they credit with helping them win back the House.

The Trump administration has declined to defend ObamaCare in the lawsuit filed by Republican-led states, which argue that the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions should be overturned. It’s unusual for the DOJ to not defend standing federal law.

The House Judiciary Committee, under the new leadership of Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), plans to investigate why the Department of Justice decided not to defend ObamaCare in the lawsuit.

“The judiciary committee will be investigating how the administration made this blatantly political decision and hold those responsible accountable for their actions,” Nadler said.

Democrats are also putting together proposals to undo what they describe as the Trump administration’s efforts to “sabotage” the law and depress enrollment.

“We’re determined to get that case overruled, and also determined to make sure the Affordable Care Act is stabilized so that the sabotage the Trump administration is trying to inflict ends,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over ObamaCare.

One of the committee’s first hearings this year will focus on the impacts of the lawsuit. The hearing is expected to take place this month.

The Ways and Means Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass), will also hold hearings on the lawsuit and on protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Those two committees, along with the Education and Labor Committee, are working on legislation that would shore up ObamaCare by increasing eligibility for subsidies, blocking non-ObamaCare plans expanded by the administration and increasing outreach for open enrollment.

And Now the House Democrats Decry ‘Junk Plans’ and are introducing bills to reverse Trump-inflicted ACA “sabotage”

Shannon Firth noted that the Democrats blasted attempts by the Trump administration to “sabotage” the Affordable Care Act during a House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

“We’re inviting people back into a world with mirrors and trap doors, which was exactly the place we wanted to get away from when we passed the ACA,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who called on his colleagues to “push back against these junk plans.”

House Democrats introduced four bills to roll back administration efforts to loosen or circumvent the ACA’s insurance requirements. In the very unlikely event that they pass the Republican-controlled Senate and gain the president’s signature, they would:

  • Require all short-term health plans to include a warning explicitly stating which benefits are included and which aren’t
  • Restore marketing and outreach funding for ACA exchanges
  • Rescind a regulation that extended the allowable duration of short-term plans (including renewals) to just under 3 years
  • Cancel the administration’s new guidance around 1332 waivers, which relaxed certain “guard rails”

Republicans complained that ACA plans are unaffordable for middle-income Americans who don’t receive subsidies, and argued that the Trump administration’s actions allow those same Americans more options for cheaper health plans.

“They’re really trying to give consumers new options, particularly those who were shut out of the market because of costs,” said Grace-Marie Turner, a witness at the hearing and president of the Galen Institute, a conservative think tank, in defense of the administration.

Republicans also pushed back on criticism of the administration’s 1332 waiver guidance, saying Democrats were denying states the right to innovate their programs and instead of trying to impose the will of Washington.

Turner stressed that states are better positioned to regulate their own local health insurance markets.

Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Texas), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said that none of the bills being discussed would increase the availability of “reasonably priced plans.”

Are Short-Term Plans Junk?

Much of Wednesday’s discussion focused on short-term plans, which are cheaper than ACA exchange plans but offer a shrunken set of benefits.

In August, the Trump administration issued a final rule extending the duration of these plans for just under 12 months and made plans eligible for renewals for nearly 3 years. Previously, the plans were available for just under 3 months at a maximum.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who introduced a bill to rescind the short-term plan rule, said she’s worried “the public is being snookered here.”

Hearing witness Katie Keith, JD, MPH, of Georgetown University, highlighted “post-claims underwriting” as a major risk to buyers of short-term plans.

“Maybe you were healthy when you signed up. Then, something happens — you have a big medical claim. It triggers an alarm and [the insurers] go back and look at your application, and pull all your medical records again and go, ‘Oh, you should have told us about this,'” she told MedPage Today after the hearing.

Even in cases where a patient was not diagnosed with an illness prior to enrollment, insurers find ways to justify cancellation, she said.

Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) offered one example, a Chicago businessman who was encouraged to buy a short-term plan by a broker even after disclosing symptoms of serious back pain. After he enrolled, the businessman was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Insurers then reviewed his medical records and determined that the businessman’s cancer was a pre-existing condition because he had visited a chiropractor in the past, leaving him with over $800,000 in medical bills after 6 months, Barragán said.

“You would never expect your cancer treatment to be denied because you’ve had bad back pain,” Keith said. “That’s something that, I think, disclosures can’t fix.”

Jessica Altman, Pennsylvania Insurance Department commissioner, pointed out that short-term plans may not cover ACA-defined “essential health benefits.” She cited a study showing that less than 60% cover mental health, only about one-third cover treatment for substance use disorder or prescription drugs, and none included maternity benefits.

Altman also noted that short-term plans aren’t required to abide by the ACA’s medical loss ratio requirements. The two largest short-term plan vendors, which control 80% of the market, spend less than half of each premium dollar on “actual medical care,” she said.

But Turner said short-term plans are meant to serve as “bridge plans” for individuals such as early retirees, people in the gig economy, and young entrepreneurs starting a business, who would convert before long to more comprehensive coverage. Turner also emphasized the plans’ affordability — with premiums less than half of what an ACA plan would cost — and stressed that consumers understand the plans aren’t permanent.

Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) pointed out that states are allowed to impose limits on short-term plans or ban them altogether.

“I think it’s important to note that we’re not forcing anyone into this. We’re giving flexibility to the states,” he said.

He suggested bringing in witnesses from states where plans are available to learn their true impact.

New Waiver Guidance

Another bill, explored at the hearing, would revoke the administration’s changes to 1332 waivers, which loosened standards for what qualifies as healthcare coverage. The administration’s waiver also allows ACA subsidies to be spent on short-term plans.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who chairs the full Energy & Commerce Committee, said the changes “turn the statute on its head,” exceeding the administration’s authority and “contrary to congressional intent.”

Keith agreed. She said the guidance was inconsistent with the statute itself. Instead of improving access to healthcare, the guidance “undermines” it. In particular, subsidizing short-term health plans “flies in the face of 1332,” she said.

Several Republicans, including Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), ranking member for the full committee, highlighted the successful implementation of reinsurance programs in states such as Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon, and others, claiming that Democrats oppose state innovation.

Keith clarified that the reinsurance programs were approved under the 1332 rules as written by the previous administration, without the Trump administration’s changes.

Any waivers approved under the Trump administration’s new guidance would likely trigger a lawsuit, she said. As for short-term health plans, several patient advocacy groups have already filed a lawsuit targeting the administration’s new guidance for those plans.

So, I am not going to pursue this issue anymore because I want all of us to consider my first question-Why are Bernie Saunders and most of the multiple Democrat candidates running for President in 2020 touting Medicare for All instead of coming up with fixes for the Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare?

Let us discuss possible fixes to Obamacare next week.

And to a lighter side:

You can now buy an actual hospital room on Amazon

  • Amazon is increasingly moving into the business of selling supplies to hospitals.
  • Now, that includes “smart” hospital rooms that can be purchased on its marketplace as of Thursday.
  • The units are targeted to hospitals and are made by a company called EIR Healthcare.

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MedModular

You can buy almost everything on Amazon. And that includes, as of Thursday, a “smart” hospital room in a box.

A New York-based company called EIR Healthcare is now selling units of its hospital room, dubbed MedModular, for $814 a square foot on Amazon.com, which the company claims are more affordable than traditional construction. The design is customizable but all the rooms come with a bathroom and a bed.

These rooms don’t come cheap at $285,000 per unit, but they are targeted to business buyers that are increasingly flocking to Amazon.

So who would buy the units?

“We’re targeting hospitals and health systems,” said Grant Geiger, CEO of EIR Healthcare, the company selling the units. “There’s a trend towards bringing more transparency in the health care space,” he added.

Geiger said he’s currently seeing an uptick in interest from hospitals in using the units for things like simulation labs, or urgent care facilities.

Geiger has also considered looking into potential customers in the military.

But hospital administrators are an obvious place to start, he said, as Amazon is already selling them medical supplies ranging from bedpans to syringes. Previously, large hospital systems would buy everything through group purchasing organizations, or GPOs, which provided discounts but also a lack of transparency around costs.

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MedModular

Now, Amazon is looking to carve out its own slice of that lucrative business with its own growing portfolio of medical supplies.

Geiger said he talked to that group for months before he got permission to sell his units on Amazon’s marketplace. He also needed the company’s approval to ship and deliver the product, which involves transporting the units in giant shipping containers down the freeway.

Incidentally, you can also buy tiny houses on Amazon.

 

 

House Panel Mulls ACA Fixes, Responses to Trump Policies and Healthcare is a Big Player in State of the Union Speech

50872986_1884394221690228_3042478004111409152_nPresident Trump proposes plans to end AIDS, fight childhood cancer.

Actually, I thought that President Trump did a good job even being conciliatory in his State of the Union speech even covering various aspects of healthcare. Joyce Frieden the News Editor of MedPage stated that Healthcare played a major part in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, with President Trump covering a wide variety of health-related topics.

Only a few minutes into the speech, the president foreshadowed some of his healthcare themes. “Many of us have campaigned the same core promises to defend American jobs and … to reduce the price of healthcare and prescription drugs,” Trump said. “It’s a new opportunity in American politics if only we have the courage together to seize it.”

A few minutes later, he touted some of his administration’s actions so far. “We eliminated the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty,” Trump said. “And to give critically ill patients access to lifesaving cures, we passed — very importantly — the right to try.”

Drug Prices a Major Player

The subject of drug prices occupied a fair amount of time. “The next major priority for me, and for all of us, is to lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs and to protect patients with preexisting conditions,” he said. “Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts in 2018, drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years. But we must do more. It’s unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place.”

“This is wrong; this is unfair, and together we will stop it, and we’ll stop it fast,” he said. “I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients, finally.”

He then turned to several other health topics. “We should also require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices, to foster competition, and bring costs way down,” Trump said. He quickly moved on to the AIDS epidemic. “In recent years we’ve made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once distant dream within reach. My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.”

“We have made incredible strides, incredible,” he added to applause from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. “Together we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond.”

Childhood Cancer Initiative

Although the remarks on HIV had been expected, the president also announced another health initiative that wasn’t as well-known: a fight against childhood cancer. “Tonight I’m also asking you to join me in another fight all Americans can get behind — the fight against childhood cancer,” he said, pointing out a guest of First Lady Melania Trump: Grace Eline, a 10-year-old girl with brain cancer.

“Every birthday, since she was 4, Grace asked her friends to donate to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital,” Trump said. “She did not know that one day she might be a patient herself [but] that’s what happened. Last year Grace was diagnosed with brain cancer. Immediately she began radiation treatment, and at the same time she rallied her community and raised more than $40,000 for the fight against cancer.”

“Many childhood cancers have not seen new therapies in decades,” he said. “My budget will ask Congress for $500 million over the next 10 years to fund this critical life-saving research.”

These health initiatives met with mixed reactions. “President Trump is taking a bold step to design an innovative program and strategy, and commit new resources, to end HIV in the United States … Under the President’s proposal, the number of new infections can eventually be reduced to zero,” Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of The AIDS Institute, said in a statement. Michael Ruppal, the institute’s executive director, added, “While we might have policy differences with the president and his administration, this initiative if properly implemented and resourced, can go down in history as one of the most significant achievements of his presidency.”

But the Democratic National Committee (DNC) wasn’t quite so enthusiastic; it sent an email calling the goal of ending HIV by 2030 “notable” but added, “The Trump administration has consistently undermined advancements in HIV/AIDS research, attacked people living with HIV/AIDS, and sabotaged access to quality healthcare at every opportunity.” Among other things, the administration redirected money from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to help fund the separation of immigrant families, and proposed cutting global HIV/AIDS funding by over $1 billion, which could cause 300,000 deaths per year, the DNC said.

Abortion in the Spotlight

As for the childhood cancer initiative, “$500 million over 10 years to solve childhood cancer is … not a lot,” one Bloomberg reporter tweeted. However, Gail Wilensky, Ph.D., a senior fellow at Project HOPE, in Bethesda, Maryland, pointed out that this amount ” is in addition to the National Institutes of Health budget [for cancer] … A lot of money is going to cancer anyway [already] and the National Cancer Institute been one of the more protected parts of government, so it’s not like they have a big deficit to make up.”

Overall, “it was a surprisingly good speech,” said Wilensky, who was the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President George H.W. Bush. “It covered a lot of areas, and there were a number of issues that were very hard not to applaud … I thought he did a pretty admirable job of forcing applause and a sense of togetherness by the country, talking about compromise and the common good.”

The president also touched on a more controversial area of healthcare: abortion. He referred to a recent abortion bill that passed in New York State and another that failed in Virginia — both of which dealt with abortion late in pregnancy — adding, “I’m asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in a mother’s womb. Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.”

That appeal to the anti-abortion movement “is a position that Republicans have taken in the past, which is the importance of life right after birth and life right before birth,” said Wilensky. Abortion later in pregnancy “is an area that tends to engender a more unified response than most others, even for people who are ambivalent or more supportive of abortion rights. Very late-term abortion makes people uncomfortable … It’s easy to understand why people get uneasy.”

“Already, the biggest move the Trump administration has made to control health care costs and access has been on the regulatory front,” said Bob Laszewski, founder of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, an Alexandria, Virginia, consulting firm, citing the announcement of proposed regulations to end drug rebates under Medicare and Medicaid kickback rules and rules for short-term health plans. “I take it from Trump’s remarks that they will continue with this regulatory approach instead of waiting for any bipartisanship in the Congress,” he said.

“The only area there now seems to be a hint of bipartisanship is over the issue of drug prices being too high,” Laszewski added. “It was clear from Trump’s remarks, and the Democrats’ positive response on this one issue, that this could become an area for cooperation.”

No Large-Scale Reforms Offered

Rosemarie Day, a healthcare consultant in Somerville, Massachusetts, said in an email that the president “certainly did not propose any large-scale reforms to the healthcare system during the speech, and he was short on specifics for most of it. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, health care is the number one issue among voters so this may appear to some as a missed opportunity. It’s increasingly looking like Republicans are leaving the big health care reform ideas to the Democratic presidential candidates.”

The ideas he did propose “were mostly noncontroversial and somewhat vague,” Day continued. “The more interesting proposal was lowering the cost of healthcare and drugs, which is a high priority for consumers. The way he discussed going about it was by requiring drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices. This raises many questions, such as what does a ‘real’ price mean? … This will be an interesting area to watch, since ‘real prices’ are currently closely held secrets, and a legal requirement to disclose them would constitute a significant change from the status quo.”

In the Democratic response to the speech, Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully last year for governor of Georgia, lashed out against enemies of Obamacare. “Rather than suing to dismantle the Affordable Care Act as Republican attorneys general have, our leaders must protect the progress we’ve made and commit to expanding healthcare and lowering costs for everyone,” said Abrams, the first black woman to deliver the rebuttal to a State of the Union address.

She also spoke of her personal struggle with healthcare costs for her family. “My father has battled prostate cancer for years. To help cover the costs, I found myself sinking deeper into debt because, while you can defer some payments, you can’t defer cancer treatment. In this great nation, Americans are skipping blood pressure pills, forced to choose between buying medicine and paying rent.”

She also pushed back against state governors and legislators who continue their resistance to Medicaid expansion. “In 14 states, including my home state, where a majority want it, our leaders refused to expand Medicaid which could save rural hospitals, save economies and save lives.”

With Dems now in charge, repeal-and-replace no longer on the table!

Former Rep. John Dingell Left An Enduring Health Care Legacy

If anyone is interested in healthcare and its history here in the U.S. one must include the legacy of former Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who holds the record as the longest-serving member of the U.S. House, died Thursday night in Michigan. Julie Rovner reviewed his history last week after his death. He was 92.

And while his name was not familiar to many, his impact on the nation, and on health care, in particular, was immense.

For more than 16 years Dingell led the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the U.S. Public Health Service, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

Dingell served in the House for nearly 60 years. As a young legislator, he presided over the House during the vote to approve Medicare in 1965.

As a tribute to his father, who served before him and who introduced the first congressional legislation to establish national health insurance during the New Deal, Dingell introduced his own national health insurance bill at the start of every Congress.

And when the House passed what would become the Affordable Care Act in 2009, leaders named the legislation after him. Dingell sat by the side of President Barack Obama when he signed the bill into law in 2010.

Dingell was “a beloved pillar of the Congress and one of the greatest legislators in American history,” said a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Yet, among the vast array of historic legislative achievements, few hold greater meaning than his tireless commitment to the health of the American people.”

He was not always nice. Dingell had a quick temper and a ferocious demeanor when he was displeased, which was often. Witnesses who testified before him could feel his wrath, as could Republican opponents and even other committee Democrats. And he was fiercely protective of his committee’s territory.

In 1993, during the effort by President Bill Clinton to pass major health reform, as the heads of the three main committees that oversee health issues argued over which would lead the effort, Dingell famously proclaimed of his panel, “We have health.”

Dingell and his health subcommittee chairman, California Democrat Henry Waxman, fought endlessly over energy and environmental issues. Waxman, who represented an area that included western Los Angeles, was one of the House’s most active environmentalists. Dingell represented the powerful auto industry in southeastern Michigan and opposed many efforts to require safety equipment and fuel and emission standards.

In 2008, Waxman ousted Dingell from the chairmanship of the full committee.

But the two were of the same mind on most health issues, and together during the 1980s and early 1990s they expanded the Medicaid program, reshaped Medicare and modernized the FDA, NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It was always a relief for me to know that when he and I met with the Senate in the conference, we were talking from the same page, believed in the same things, and we were going to fight together,” Waxman said in 2009.

Dingell was succeeded in his seat by his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, herself a former auto industry lobbyist.

House Panel Mulls ACA Fixes, Responses to Trump Policies

Now to the article of the week, Ryan Basen, a writer for MedPage noted that focusing on preventive care, expanding subsidies, and regulating association health plans (AHPs) were among the solutions proposed Tuesday to aid Americans with pre-existing health conditions, as the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee held its first hearing under the new Congress.

While the hearing was entitled “Protecting Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions,” much discussion centered around the policies within the Affordable Care Act, Republican efforts to repeal it, and recent reforms that tweaked American healthcare. Many lawmakers used their allotted time to blast other party members for either being too supportive of the ACA or attempting to “sabotage” it. Some lawmakers, however, promised to work together with members of the opposing party to help patients with pre-existing conditions — which some noted includes themselves and family members.

“Protections for people with pre-existing conditions has become the defining feature of the Affordable Care Act,” said witness Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation; she noted that these protections also enjoy widespread public support.

The ACA forced insurance plans to accept and retain members with pre-existing conditions, many of whom could not afford plans before the legislation was enacted. But Trump administration policies and other reforms worry some experts and lawmakers that the millions of American with pre-existing conditions — ranging from moderate mental health diagnoses to cancer — are gradually being priced out of the healthcare system again, they said.

Protecting patients with pre-existing conditions are linked to controlling costs throughout American healthcare, many said. Recent legislation led to “artificial” cost increases for ACA marketplace plans and pushed some insurers to leave the market altogether, Pollitz said. These policies also have driven up premium prices.

“What we have here is an infrastructure problem,” Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said. “The disagreements are over how to pay for it.”

“All we are really debating here is who gets to pay,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) said. “It’s time for radical rethinking: Are you [Democrats] willing to work with us to break down the barriers to having cost disruption?”

Several who spoke Tuesday offered potential solutions. Witness Keysha Brooks-Coley, of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, suggested lawmakers strengthen the ACA by addressing its so-called “family glitch” and eliminating the “subsidy cliff”; both policies currently withhold subsidies from many Americans who need them to pay for healthcare, she said.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, DPM (R-Ohio), called for turning lawmakers’ focus from squabbling about politics to studying preventative care. “There’s no part of me as a doctor that doesn’t want Americans to have access to quality healthcare,” the podiatrist said. “But I don’t necessarily agree with the direction (the ACA) went.”

“Let’s talk about incentivizing health: What do we have not only for the patient but for the physician?” he added. “Think about who gets rewarded in today’s system. Do we recognize the doctor who prevented the patient from needing open-heart surgery? That’s where we need to go if you want to talk about the cost curve.”

One solution is actually quite simple, according to witness Rob Roberston, secretary-treasurer for the Nebraska Farm Bureau: regulate AHPs and encourage individuals to band together in groups to reduce premium costs, as many farmers and ranchers have in Nebraska. “This is not a political issue,” he said. “This is an issue of hardship, and we need to fix these individual markets and protect pre-existing conditions at the same time.”

Alas, judging by many lawmakers’ tone during a hearing that stretched over four hours, this does appear to be a political issue. “It’s really this long debate over Obamacare,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said. “We really need to work for a solution because Obamacare wasn’t a solution.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) then got into it. “What has led us here has been eight years of Republican persistence in trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “It’s great to hear they [Republicans] want to work with us and I hope they do.” The ACA is not perfect, Doggett acknowledged, but he quipped that perhaps “the most pre-existing condition” present Tuesday was “the political amnesia of those who have forgotten what it was like before the Affordable Care Act.”

Raising his voice, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) echoed the point: “If we would have been working together for the last six years to refine the Affordable Care Act, costs would be lower, coverage would be better.”

Many witnesses spoke against the Administration’s policy to loosen regulations on cheaper short-term plans that do not have to abide by ACA strictures. “The expansion of these plans does not help the consumer,” Brooks-Coley said. “It puts them at increased risk. … They are only less expensive upfront because they don’t cover [serious conditions].” In addition, Pollitz noted, many of these plans drop patients once they become ill and “have been shown to increase costs of ACA-compliant plans.”

The witnesses were asked to gauge what would happen if protections for patients with pre-existing conditions were to be removed. Younger women would pay more than men the same age, Pollitz said, and all pre-existing patients “would find it much more difficult to find coverage.”

“True harm would come,” Andrew Stolfi, Oregon Division of Financial Regulation’s insurance commissioner, told the committee. He cited Oregon’s pre-ACA experience: “You were lucky if you were even given the choice to take an insurer’s limited terms.”

Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) ended the hearing with optimism: “Today I heard a lot of members on the other side of the aisle say they support [requiring coverage for] pre-existing conditions, and I welcome that and hope we can work together.”

So, now what do the physicians think is needed to improve our health care system? Next week let’s discuss.

What the New Democratic House majority might actually pass on health care; and It Looks Like VA Healthcare Maybe Improving!

 

 

18670832_1206383419491315_6469395384583311089_nI had prepared two posts for tonight and wanted to hold off on the recent shootings until next week as we digest what the effect really is in our country and the future strategies. Now let’s discuss the effect of the election and in looking at the House Democrats, who have a lot to figure out on their signature issue.

Healthcare carried House Democrats to victory on Election Day. But what now?

Remember my past post reminding the Republicans the importance of healthcare in the midterm elections? We, it looks like it was an important factor in the outcomes of the “wave”. Dylan Scott spent some time looking at his prediction of what the new majority will bring to our health care system. In interviews this fall with half a dozen senior House Democratic aides, health care lobbyists, and progressive wonks, it became clear the party is only in the nascent stages of figuring out its next steps on health care.

The new House Democratic majority knows what it opposes. They want to stop any further efforts by Republicans or the Trump administration to roll back and undermine the Affordable Care Act or overhaul Medicaid and Medicare.

But Democrats are less certain about an affirmative health care agenda. Most Democrats campaigned on protecting preexisting conditions, but the ACA has already done that. Medicare-for-all is energizing the party’s left wing, but nobody expects a single-payer bill to start moving through the House. Drug prices offer the rare opportunity for bipartisan work with Senate Republicans and the Trump White House, but it is also a difficult problem with few easy policy solutions — certainly not any silver bullet that Democrats could pull out of the box and pass on day one, or even month one, of the next Congress.

Winning a House majority to ensure Obamacare’s safety is an important turning point after so many years in which health care hurt Democrats much more than it helped.

But the path forward for the party on their signature issue is surprisingly undefined.

The likely first item on the Democratic agenda: Obamacare stabilization

Democrats do have some ideas, of course. Democratic aides emphasized the various investigations they could launch into Trump’s health department, not only looking into any efforts by the White House to sabotage Obamacare but also focusing on more obscure issues like Medicare payment rates.

But wonky oversight inquiries probably aren’t the big-ticket item that new Democratic members and their voters are looking for, especially heading into the 2020 presidential election.

After campaigning in defense of Obamacare, warning about Republicans rolling back preexisting conditions protections and the Trump administration’s sabotage of the health care law, a bill to stabilize the Obamacare insurance markets would be the obvious first item for the new Democratic majority’s agenda.

Several sources pointed to a bill by Democratic Reps. Richard Neal (MA), Frank Pallone (NJ), and Bobby Scott (VA) — who have been serving as the top Democrats on leading health care-related committees — as the likely starting point. The plan is designed to build off Obamacare’s infrastructure to expand federal assistance while reversing the recent Republican efforts to undermine the law.

That bill would expand Obamacare’s premium subsidies, both by extending federal assistance to more people in lifting the current eligibility cutoff and by increasing the size of the tax credits people receive. It would also bolster the cost-sharing reduction subsidies that people with lower incomes receive to reduce their out-of-pocket costs while extending eligibility for those subsidies to people with higher incomes.

The Pallone-Neal-Scott bill would reverse the Trump administration’s recent regulations intended to funnel more people to insurance plans that are not required to meet all of Obamacare’s rules for preexisting conditions. It would also pump more money back into enrollment outreach, cut by the Trump administration, and establish a new program to compensate insurers for high-cost patients, with the hope of keeping premiums down.

Two things stick out about this bill: It would be the most robust expansion of Obamacare since the law first passed, and it is just narrow enough that, with a few sweeteners for Senate Republicans, it could conceivably have a chance to pass. Democrats are waiting to see how the GOP majority in the upper chamber reacts to losing the House.

“Undoing sabotage and bringing stabilization to the ACA markets, that’s something we should really be thinking about,” one House Democratic aide told me. “It depends on what kind of mood the Republicans are in. Maybe they’ll say that actually now that the tables are turned, we should probably sit down.”

Senate Republicans and Democrats did come very close to a narrow, bipartisan deal — it wasn’t even as robust as the Pallone-Neal-Scott bill — to stabilize Obamacare in 2017. It fell apart, ostensibly after a tiff over abortion-related provisions, but that near miss would be the reason for any optimism about a bipartisan deal on the divisive health care law.

Then again Senate Republicans might have no interest in an Obamacare compromise after gaining some seats. Democrats would still likely work on stabilization to send a message to voters on health care ahead of the 2020 campaign.

Shoring up Obamacare is a good start, but what next?

In the case, the Pallone-Neal-Scott bill might be a nice starting point — no Democrat really disagrees about whether they should help the law work better in the short term — but it still lacks any truly ambitious provisions. It is just about as narrowly tailored as an Obamacare stabilization bill offered by Democrats could be, a fact that aides and activists will privately concede.

Missing are any of the bolder policy proposals animating the left. Not even a hint of Medicare-for-all single-payer health care, which is or isn’t a surprise, depending on how you look at it.

Medicare-for-all is quickly becoming orthodoxy among many in the party’s progressive grassroots, and a single-payer bill proposed this Congress in the House (similar to the one offered by Bernie Sanders over in the Senate) has 123 sponsors.

But House Democratic leaders probably don’t want to take up such a potentially explosive issue too soon after finally clawing back a modicum of power in Trump’s Washington.

Still, the current stabilization bill doesn’t even include a Medicare or Medicaid buy-in, the rebranded public option that never made it into Obamacare but would allow Americans to voluntarily join one of the major government insurance programs. It is an idea that even the more moderate Democratic members tend to support, and polls have found three-fourths of Americans think a Medicare buy-in is a good idea.

The plain truth is House Democrats haven’t reached a consensus yet about what they want to do to cover more Americans. They agree Obamacare was an important first step, and they agree the status quo is unacceptable. But the exact mechanism for achieving those goals — single-payer, a robust public option, or simply a buffed-up version of Obamacare — is still very much up for debate.

“People will want to do something, but any further action is going to be a consensus-building process,” a senior House Democratic aide told me. “Democrats have lots of different ideas on how to continue working to reduce the uninsured.”

That is all well and good, but few issues are exciting the Democratic grassroots right now like Medicare-for-all. During the midterm campaigns, Democratic candidates and even grassroots leaders were happy to let those words mean whatever voters wanted them to mean. For some people, it meant single-payer; for others; it might mean a Medicare buy-in or something more limited.

The unreservedly progressive members who were just elected to Congress will only wait so long before they start pressing Democratic leaders to take more aggressive steps to pick up one of their top campaign issues. That pressure will only intensify as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up and Democrats debate what kind of platform they should run on as they seek to take back the White House.

For now, Democrats have tried to put off a difficult debate and focus on what unites them. But the debate is still coming.

The riddle of high drug prices still needs to be solved too

Even with Obamacare and preexisting conditions mobilizing Democratic voters this year, prescription drug prices remain a top concern for many Americans. That’s another area where Democrats know they want to act but don’t know yet exactly what they can or should do.

The issue could be an opening for serious dealmaking: Trump himself has attacked big pharma since his presidential campaign. His administration has actually launched some interesting initiatives to rein in drug costs — approving a record number of generic drugs, trying to even the playing field between America and foreign countries — that have some policy wonks intrigued, even if the impact is still to be determined.

Democrats have mostly stuck to slamming Trump for feigning to act on drug prices while cozying up to the drug industry. But it’s a top priority for both parties, and there could be some room for compromise. One progressive policy wonk thought a drug prices bill might actually be the first Democratic priority. It helps that drug prices are a populist issue that the new House majority might really be able to pass a bill on.

But first, Democrats have to figure out what exactly they are for — and what would actually make a difference.

The rallying cry for Democrats on drug prices has been letting Medicare directly negotiate prices with drug manufacturers, a proposal that Trump also embraced as a candidate, though he has since softened as president. The problem is the Congressional Budget Office doesn’t think Medicare negotiations would save any money unless the government is willing to deny seniors coverage for certain medications. But adding such a provision would surely invite attacks that Democrats are depriving people’s grandparents of the medications they need.

There are a lot of levers to pull to try to reduce drug prices: the patent protections that pharma companies receive for new drugs, the mandated discounts when the government buys drugs for Medicare and Medicaid, existing hurdles to getting generic drugs approved, the tax treatment of drug research and development. Lawmakers and the public view pharmacy benefits managers, the mysterious middlemen between health insurers and drugmakers, skeptically.

But none of those are silver bullets to lower prices, and they will certainly invite pushback from the politically potent pharmaceutical lobby, focused on the concerns about how much cracking down on drug companies to discourage them from developing new drugs. Democrats also don’t know yet what specific policies could win support from Senate Republicans or the Trump White House.

“How do you take this gargantuan Chinese menu of things and figure out how things fit together in a way that stem some of the abuses?” is how one Democratic aide summarized the dilemma.

It is a problem bedeviling Democrats on more than just drug prices. Health care was a winner on election night this year, and it has always been a priority for Democrats. Now they just need to figure out what to do.

Because tomorrow is Veterans Day I thought that I would include this article.             After A Year Of Turmoil, New VA Secretary Says ‘Waters Are Calmer’ 

Quil Lawrence in his Twitter post reported on a wide-ranging interview with NPR, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said his department is on the mend after a tumultuous 2018.”I do think it is better because the turmoil of the first half of this year is behind us, the waters are calmer. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re heading in that direction,” he said.

Early in Donald Trump’s presidency, the VA was considered an island of stability in an unpredictable administration.

Secretary David Shulkin was a hold-over from the Obama administration, already familiar with the VA’s massive bureaucracy. Bipartisan reforms moved through Congress with relative speed, and Trump could point to a list of legislative accomplishments.

But the president fired Shulkin last March after weeks of intrigue during which VA political appointees plotted openly to oust him. Trump’s first nominee to replace Shulkin, Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, sank under accusations of misconduct (which are still being investigated by the Pentagon).

Numerous high-ranking officials left the department, and records showed that friends of the president outside of government – who weren’t even veterans – had been lobbying Trump at Mar-a-Lago on how to run the VA.

After a stint as acting VA secretary, Robert Wilkie was confirmed by the Senate last July. Since then, Wilkie says he’s been “walking the post,” visiting as many VA facilities as he can. And he’s reached the same conclusion as many of his predecessors.

“I have been incredibly impressed by the caliber of VA employee I’ve encountered everywhere, from Alaska to Massachusetts to Florida,” Wilkie told NPR’s, Steve Inskeep.

“I have no quarrel with the quality of medical care our veterans receive. My biggest problem is actually getting them into the system so that they can receive that care, which means the problems are primarily administrative and bureaucratic,” said Wilkie, himself a veteran of the Navy and a current Air Force reservist, who counts generations of veterans in his family.

“I am the son of a Vietnam soldier. I know what happened when those men and women came home,” Wilkie said. “So that is incredibly important to me.”

Wilkie is navigating an important moment for the VA – while Congress has already passed major reforms, he’s the one who has to implement them. And plenty of political controversy hides in the details.

The VA Mission Act of 2018 was signed into law in June. It’s intended to consolidate about a half-dozen programs The VA uses to buy veterans private healthcare at a cost of billions of dollars, into one streamlined system.

Critics fear that leaning too much on private care will bleed the VA’s own medical centers, and lead to a drop in quality there – and amounts to a starve-the-beast strategy of privatization.

Wilkie says that won’t happen and is not President Trump’s goal, but he has yet to present a budget for expanded private care to the White House and to Congress.

“You’re not going to privatize this institution. I certainly have never talked about that with anyone in this administration,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie also maintains that he has had little contact with the group of outside advisers who meet with the president at Mar-a-Lago, including CEO of Marvel Comics Ike Perlmutter and Florida doctor Bruce Moscowitz. Records show they had extensive communication with the previous VA secretary, sometimes influencing policy decisions.

“I met with them when I was visiting the West Palm Beach VA – my first week as acting (secretary), and have not had any meetings with them ever since that day,” Wilkie said. “I’ll be clear. I make the decisions here at the department, in support of the vision of the president.”

Despite rumors that Wilkie would clear out many of the Trump political appointees who clashed with former secretary Shulkin, he said he didn’t expect more staffing changes.

The one notable departure is Peter O’Rourke, who was acting secretary for two months while Wilkie went through the confirmation process. O’Rourke clashed repeatedly with Congress and the VA’s inspector general. Wilkie himself cited a Wall Street Journal reports that O’Rourke is poised to go and said he’s “on leave.”

“I think there will be an announcement soon about a move to another department in the federal government – I know that he’s looking for something new,” said Wilkie, “He’s on leave.”

Another major new plan that Wilkie must implement is a $10 billion, 10-year plan to make the VA’s medical records compatible with the Pentagon’s.

He once again mentioned his father’s experience as a wounded combat vet.

“He had an 800-page record, and it was the only copy, that he had to carry with him for the rest of his life. He passed away last year,” said Wilkie.

“One of the first decisions I made as the acting secretary was to begin the process of creating a complete electronic healthcare record that begins when that young American enters the military entrance processing station to the time that that soldier, sailor, airman, Marine walks into the VA.”

But that process has actually been underway for a decade – with little to show and about a billion dollars already spent on the effort. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office says it’s in part because neither the Pentagon nor the VA was put in charge of the effort — which is still the case. Wilkie says he has signed an agreement with the Pentagon to jointly run it with clear lines of authority.

“I think we’ll have more announcements later in the year when it comes to one belly-button to push for that office,” he said.

As for staff shortages, another perennial complaint at the VA, Wilkie acknowledged there are 35- to 40,000 vacancies at the agency.

“We suffer from the same shortages that the private sector and other public health services suffer from, particularly in the area of mental health,” he said.

New legislation passed this year gives Wilkie the authority to offer higher pay to medical professionals.

“I’m using it to attract as many people as we can into the system,” said Wilkie

But Wilkie also added that he was shocked, upon taking the post, that it’s not clear how many additional people are needed – because it’s not even clear how many people are working at VA.

“I had two briefings on the same day and two different numbers as to how many people this agency employs.”

Wilkie says he’s in the process of finding out the answer to that question, and many others, as he starts his second 100 days in office.

And to end this post I must include this note. I was raised in the Bronx, New York and are truly embarrassed to acknowledge that the new Congresswoman Cortes-Ortes who was elected, and not sure how when you look at her qualifications and knowledge. But more, she is a socialist and expects everything to be given to all and the government will foot the bill and now listen to this.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, new youngest Congresswoman, says she can’t afford D.C. apartment

Ashley May, a reporter for the USA TODAY noted that the upset primary win in New York by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a huge moment for the Democratic Party because it shows the left-wing base is energized heading into the midterms, according to AP National Politics Reporter Steve Peoples. (June 27) AP

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman elected to Congress in the midterm elections, is struggling to pay rent, according to a recent interview.

Ocasio-Cortez, 29, told The New York Times she’s not sure how she will be able to afford an apartment in Washington, D.C., without a salary for three months in an interview published online Wednesday.

She told the Times she has some savings from her job earlier this year as a bartender at a Union Square restaurant, and she’s hoping that will hold her over. Living without a paycheck is something she said her and her partner tried to plan for, but it’s a hardship that’s still “very real.”

“We’re kind of just dealing with the logistics of it day by day, but I’ve really been just kind of squirreling away and then hoping that gets me to January,” she told the Times.

Ocasio-Cortez is a New York activist and Democrat who will represent the 14th Congressional district, which covers the Bronx and Queens.

Thursday, she pointed to her lack of income as a reason why some people are not able to work in politics.

“There are many little ways in which our electoral system isn’t even designed (nor prepared) for working-class people to lead,” she said.

She said she hopes she can change that.

Yes, and now if she plays her cards right she has a job, paying better than any job that she is really qualified for life.

Buck it up Ocasio-Cortez, live outside of DC and take public transportation like most people do!

How did you fund your campaign? I don’t want to hear your sob story and yes I am ashamed that the borough of the Bronx has you for their representative. What a joke! You said that when you got to DC you were going to sign a whole lot of bills and laws to make things better. Do you even know anything about the process and have you ever taken a Civics course. You are in for some big surprises… called reality!

On a better note-Happy Veterans Day and thank you all who have served in our military and those who are still out there helping to make this world a better place to live and protecting our freedoms.