Category Archives: President Trump

Whistleblower Alleges Fraud At A Large Medicare Advantage Plan In Seattle and on and on about the last Democrat Debate and more on Medicare for All

72488737_2301802426616070_6529440653267435520_nWhat a unique world we live in. Bernie Sanders, a man running for the position of President, ignores his symptoms of heart disease, has a heart attack, needs stents for his coronary arteries which are obstructed and a few weeks later is back on the difficult road to running for President. What a jerk who I am sure is ignoring his doctor’s advice, who I’m sure has discussed his post-procedure heart disease restrictions including taking stress, etc. easy for at least 6 weeks, or that what is what I would tell my patient. And this is the man who is telling us all how we should all be deciding our health care system. Unbelievable!! Now, with all the whistleblowers coming out of the woodworks, Fred Schulte points out another whistleblower. Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, one of the United States’ oldest and most respected nonprofit health insurance plans, is accused of bilking Medicare out of millions of dollars in a federal whistleblower case.

Teresa Ross, a former medical billing manager at the insurer, alleges that it sought to reverse financial losses in 2010 by claiming that some patients were sicker than they were or by billing for medical conditions that patients didn’t actually have. As a result, the insurer retroactively collected an estimated $8 million from Medicare for 2010 services, according to the suit.

Ross filed suit in federal court in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012, but the suit remained under a court seal until July and is in its initial stages. The suit also names as defendants two medical coding consultants — consulting firm DxID of East Rochester, N.Y., and Independent Health Association, an affiliated health plan in Buffalo, N.Y. All denied wrongdoing in separate court motions filed late Wednesday to dismiss the suit.

The Justice Department has thus far declined to take over the case but said in a June 21 court filing that “an active investigation is ongoing.”

The whistleblower suit is one of at least 18 such cases documented by Kaiser Health News that accuses Medicare Advantage managed care plans of ripping off the government by exaggerating how sick their patients were. The whistleblower cases have emerged as a primary tool for clawing back overpayments. While many of the cases are pending in courts, five have recovered a total of nearly $360 million.

“The fraudulent practices described in this complaint are a product of the belief, common among [Medicare Advantage] organizations, that the law can be violated without meaningful consequence,” Ross alleges.

Medicare Advantage plans are a privately run alternative to traditional Medicare that often offers extra benefits such as dental and vision coverage but limits the choice of medical providers. They have exploded in popularity in recent years, enrolling more than 22 million people, just over 1 in 3 of those eligible for Medicare.

Word of another whistleblower alleging Medicare Advantage billing fraud comes as the White House is pushing to expand enrollment in the plans. On Oct. 3, President Trump issued an executive order that permits the plans to offer a range of new benefits to attract patients. One, for instance, is partly covering the cost of Apple watches as an inducement.

Group Health opened for business more than seven decades ago and was among the first managed care plans to contract with Medicare. Formed by a coalition of unions, farmers and local activists, the HMO grew from just a few hundred families to more than 600,000 patients before its members agreed to join California-based Kaiser Permanente. That happened in early 2017, and the plan is now called the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington. (Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

In an emailed statement, a Kaiser Permanente spokesperson said: “We believe that Group Health complied with the law by submitting its data in good faith, relying on the recommendations of the vendor as well as communications with the federal government, which has not intervened in the case at this time.” Ross nods to the plan’s history, saying it has “traditionally catered to the public interest, often highlighting its efforts to support low-income patients and provide affordable, quality care.”

The insurer’s Medicare Advantage plans “have also traditionally been well regarded, receiving accolades from industry groups and Medicare itself,” according to the suit.

But Ross, who worked at Group Health for more than 14 years in jobs involving billing and coding, says that from 2008 through 2010, the company “went from an operating income of almost $57 million to an operating loss of $60 million.” Ross says the losses were “due largely to poor business decisions by company management.”

The lawsuit alleges that the insurer manipulated a Medicare billing formula known as a risk score. The formula is supposed to pay health plans higher rates for sicker patients, but Medicare estimates that overpayments triggered by inflated risk scores have cost taxpayers $30 billion over the past three years alone.

According to Ross, a Group Health executive in 2011 attended a meeting of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, where he heard from a colleague at Independent Health about an “exciting opportunity” to increase risk scores and revenue. The colleague said Independent Health “had made a lot of money” using its consulting company, which specializes in combing patient charts to find overlooked diseases that health plans can bill for retroactively.

In November 2011, Group Health hired the firm DxID to review medical charts for 2010. The review resulted in $12 million in new claims, according to the suit. Under the deal, DxID took a percentage of the claims revenue it generated, which came to about $1.5 million that year, the suit says.

Ross says she and a doctor who later reviewed the charts found “systematic” problems with the firm’s coding practices. In one case, the plan billed for “major depression” in a patient described by his doctor as having an “amazingly sunny disposition.” Overall, about three-quarters of its claims for higher charges in 2010 were not justified, according to the suit. Ross estimated that the consultants submitted some $35 million in new claims to Medicare on behalf of Group Health for 2010 and 2011.

In its motion to dismiss Ross’ case, Group Health called the matter a “difference of opinion between her allegedly ‘conservative’ method for evaluating the underlying documentation for certain medical conditions and her perception of an ‘aggressive’ approach taken by Defendants.”

Independent Health and the DxID consultants took a similar position in their court motion, arguing that Ross “seeks to manufacture a fraud case out of an honest disagreement about the meaning and applicability of unclear, complex, and often conflicting industry-wide coding criteria.”

In a statement, Independent Health spokesman Frank Sava added: “We believe the coding policies being challenged here were lawful and proper and all parties were paid appropriately.”

Whistleblowers sue on behalf of the federal government and can share in any money recovered. Typically, the cases remain under a court seal for years while the Justice Department investigates.

How would Warren pay for ‘Medicare for All’? Enough evasion, it’s past time for answers.

Chris Truax points out that the last 2 months al anyone who watches the politicians suggesting that Medicare for all is the solution to the healthcare crisis has bombarded the news. Medicare for All will create winners and losers. It’s all very well to say you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs unless you’re the egg.

When it comes to doing things, Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything — and she’s happy to tell you all about it. But when it comes to paying for things, I’m sorry to say, the Massachusetts senator dodges and deflects like a Donald Trump defender.

It’s estimated that “Medicare for All” will cost the federal government an extra $3 trillion a year. That’s more than $9,000 annually from every man, woman, and child in America. Despite being asked, again and again, Warren refuses to acknowledge that paying for this is going to require an across-the-board tax increase — and a pretty massive one, at that. Instead, she keeps talking about how “costs” will go down before she changes the subject to how stressful it is to have your insurance canceled when you get sick or when you have to cope with your mom having diabetes. That’s very true, I’m sure. But we’re talking fiscal policy here.

Warren To Release Plan To Pay For ‘Medicare For All’

Yuval Rosenberg of The Fiscal Times noted that now, just last week Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Sunday she will roll out a plan to pay for an expansive single-payer health care system in the coming weeks, promising the plan would decrease overall costs for the middle class.

“I plan over the next few weeks to put out a plan that talks, specifically, about the cost of ‘Medicare for All’ and how we pay for it,” Warren said at the end of a town hall here at Simpson College. “I will not sign a bill into law that does not reduce the cost of health care for middle-class families.”

Warren’s aides have long suggested she was studying ways to pay for the health care plan originally backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of her leading rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In recent days, Warren has faced criticism from lower-profile candidates in the race — especially South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — for her failure to explain how she would pay for the ambitious plan, which would replace private health insurance with generous, universal coverage paid for by the federal government.

“Everybody who is running for president right now knows that families are getting crushed by the high cost of health care,” Warren told the crowd of nearly 500 people. “They also know that the cheapest possible way to make sure that everyone gets the health care that they need is Medicare for All.”

Warren’s statement came after her standard 40-minute stump speech and three questions from attendees, none of whom asked about Medicare for All. The addition appeared to be an attempt to short-circuit recent criticisms of her health care plan.

Warren has previously promised, most recently at the Oct. 15 debate, that no middle-class family would see an increase in overall health care costs. And her aides have said since at least September that she was evaluating ways to pay for Medicare for All. She does not plan to significantly alter the details of the legislation she’s co-sponsored with Sanders in the way Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) did with her own health care proposal over the summer. Warren said she had been working on the problem of how to pay for the legislation for “months and months.”

“It’s just a little more work until it’s finished,” she said.

For a campaign that has long prided itself on detailed policy proposals, releasing a plan to pay for Medicare for All — which is sure to generate intense scrutiny from the media and her rivals for the nomination — is a high-risk but likely necessary move. Whether or not a plan for Medicare for All would lower costs for the middle class would rely heavily on complicated details, including how progressive the tax system supporting the plan is and how aggressively the government is able to control the cost of health care.

Estimates of how much the plan would cost vary wildly, as do estimates of how much switching to a single-payer system would increase or decrease overall health care costs.

Buttigieg, in particular, has aggressively questioned how Warren would pay for the plan, and said she is being dishonest by not saying whether or not taxes would go up for middle-class families. Sanders has said taxes would likely go up, while overall costs would drop. But Warren has resisted the question, arguing that admitting taxes would rise is equal to accepting a dishonest Republican framing of the issue. Warren has also attacked Buttigieg’s plan for failing to cover every American, dubbing it “Medicare for all who can afford it.”

“Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything. Except this,” Buttigieg said at the debate. “No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Senator Warren is putting forward.”

Soon, Buttigieg will get his answer.

She ended your last weekend rally asking the “people” to give her a little more time and she will announce how she proposes to pay for it. More important, is her plan, probably an increase of taxes for all, including Middle Americans, to pay for it…. realistic???? Remember, nothing in any of the political “experts” proposals are ever free. Someone, you and I, have to pay for it in some way or another!!

Winners and losers in Medicare for All

There’s a very unpleasant collectivist feel to this. It’s all very well to say you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs … unless you’re the egg. About 56% of Americans — more than 180 million — have private health insurance through an employer. Medicare for All would sweep that all away, whether the people who have that insurance like it or not, in the name of the common good. Perhaps worse, as Warren knows perfectly well but steadfastly refuses to admit, there are going to be winners and losers. Costs might go down in the aggregate, but individuals and families aren’t aggregates.

Elizabeth Warren’s choice: ‘Medicare for All’ purity or a path to beating Trump?

For example, Warren keeps saying that the total you pay for health care would end up being less under Medicare for All because it will eliminate out-of-pocket costs like premiums and copays. That’s an oversimplification at best, especially since she hasn’t said how she would finance this enormously expensive project.

But it is a given that everyone will pay higher taxes, and it’s older people who spend more on premiums and out-of-pocket health care costs — a lot more. Consequently, older people will be far more likely to see these higher taxes offset by a decrease in the cost of their health care. By contrast, younger people and families at healthier stages of their lives would still be paying new taxes but will see fewer benefits.

 Your Two-Minute Summary of Tuesday’s Democratic Medicare-for-All Debate

Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate once again highlighted the candidate’s deep divides over Medicare for All. After opening questions related to the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump, the debate quickly turned to the health care reform plan backed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Warren again tried to reframe the question of whether she would raise middle-class taxes to pay for the plan. “Costs will go up for the wealthy. They will go up for big corporations. And for middle-class families, they will go down,” she said. “I will not sign a bill into law that does not lower costs for middle-class families.”

Pete Buttigieg, who last month called Warren “extremely evasive” on the tax question, pounced. “No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for all plan that Senator Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in,” he said, touting his “Medicare for All Who Want It” proposal as a better alternative. “I don’t understand why you believe the only way to deliver affordable coverage to everybody is to obliterate private plans, kicking 150 million Americans off of their insurance in four short years,” he said to Warren. “Why unnecessarily divide this country over health care when there’s a better way to deliver coverage for all?”

Warren jabbed back at Buttigieg, saying his “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan is really “Medicare for All Who Can Afford It.”

Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar, both of whom support building on the Affordable Care Act with a public option, also attacked Medicare for All as expensive and impractical. “The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done,” Klobuchar said. “And we can get this public option done.”

Sanders defended his plan — and opened the door for further attacks on Warren. “At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of people will save money on their health care bills,” Sanders said. “But I do think it is appropriate to acknowledge that taxes will go up. They’re going to go up significantly for the wealthy. And for virtually everybody, the tax increase they pay will be substantially less than what they were paying for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.”

Klobuchar took the opportunity to criticize Warren again. “At least Bernie is being honest here, and saying how he’s going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up,” she said. “And I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that, and I think we owe the American people to tell them where we will send the invoice.”

A political strategy: The attacks on Warren are widely seen as a sign that she’s now the Democratic frontrunner — and they’re likely a sign that, as tiresome as the repeated tax question might get, Warren is going to keep getting asked it by the media, Democratic rivals, and Republicans. She’s pointedly not willing to answer directly (or take the bait) and say that she will raise taxes, even as she continues to argue that overall costs under Medicare for All will go down for the middle class. Her caginess on the question suggests she thinks that higher taxes on the middle class, or the very word “taxes,” might be toxic in an election campaign against Trump. But her dodging hasn’t hurt her so far.

What the polls say: The latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 51% of those surveyed favor Medicare for All, while 47% oppose it. A majority of Democrats and about half of independents support a national Medicare-for-all plan, while more than 70% of Republicans oppose the idea. Support for a public option is higher, at 73%. A CBS News poll released Tuesday found that 59% of voters believe that a government-run plan should “compete with private insurance” as under a public option, while 32% said they would want it to replace private insurance. But polls have also found that support for Medicare for All or other health plans can shift significantly depending on the arguments presented.

The bottom line: Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation reminds us that there is no simple answer to the question of ultimate costs, and that a wide variety of outcomes are possible depending on how Medicare for All is implemented. “A Medicare for all plan could be designed so that many people, including those who are middle class, pay less in taxes than they are paying now in premiums, deductibles, and copays,” Levitt tweeted Tuesday. “It depends entirely on the details.”

J&J Pulls Baby Powder From Market

FDA testing reveals chrysotile fibers in one lot of embattled product of the J&J babypowder, which the courts are suggested cause ovarian cancer.

John Gever the managing editor of the MedPage reported that Johnson  & Johnson is recalling one lot of its famous baby powder because of possible asbestos contamination, the FDA announced Friday.

“FDA testing has found that a sample from one lot of the product contains chrysotile fibers, a type of asbestos,” the agency said in a press release. “Consumers who have Johnson’s Baby Powder lot #22318RB should stop using it immediately and contact Johnson & Johnson for a refund.”

Although Johnson & Johnson agreed to initiate the recall, it stopped short of admitting that the product really was contaminated. It questioned “the integrity of the tested sample and the validity of the test results,” suggesting that it might not even be a genuine Johnson & Johnson product.

The company has consistently denied that its baby powder — on the market for more than a century — has ever been contaminated with asbestos, but the company has faced numerous lawsuits from consumers alleging that they or loved ones developed cancer because of asbestos in talc components. The baby powder is popular not only for use on babies; many women have used it to reduce “feminine odors” as well.

The FDA said it has tested some 50 cosmetic products since 2018 for asbestos contamination, including two lots of Johnson’s Baby Powder. One was negative and the other was positive. This lot of baby powder is not the first to test positive and the FDA has previously issued alerts on others.

“The FDA expects to issue the full results from this survey, including all tested products having both positive and negative results, by the end of the year,” the agency said.

 

The Big Push for Medicare Advantage, Trump’s Counter Health Care Proposal and Dumb Bernie!

rights328Michael Rainey reported that Medicare is shaping up as one of the most important issues in the 2020 election, with several leading Democrats offering proposals that would significantly expand the program. President Trump jumped into the fray with an executive order last week that he claimed would protect and improve the Medicare system, in part by promoting broader use of private Medicare Advantage plans. Those plans are quite lucrative for the private insurers that sell them, Bloomberg’s John Tozzi said Wednesday, and they’ll be pushing hard to sell more of them when Medicare enrollment begins next week.

Enrollment in Medicare Advantage has more than tripled in the last 20 years, and now about a third of all Medicare beneficiaries get coverage through private plans. If current trends continue, more than half of all beneficiaries will be in Medicare Advantage by 2025, according to Tozzi.

How it works: Those who sign up for Medicare Advantage pay the same monthly premiums as regular plans but agree to certain limits imposed by the insurers, such as a restricted network of doctors, and also receive a wider range of benefits, which can include drugs plans and dental care. Insurers get a fee from the government for each person who signs up and is responsible for managing their plans to ensure a profit. In 2019, the average fee for each of the roughly 22 million participants was $11,545 – which comes to a total of about $254 billion.

Big numbers for insurers: Insurers see Medicare Advantage as “as a lucrative market they can’t afford to pass by,” Tozzi said, especially as sales of traditional, employer-based insurance plans slow. Medicare is now the biggest part of UnitedHealthcare’s business and the insurance giant is expanding to reach 90% coverage of the market next year. Other major players including Humana and Aetna are also expanding their coverage, and competition in the space is growing.

More generous benefits: Recent rule changes have allowed private insurers to offer new benefits within Medicare Advantage, such as meal delivery, air-conditioners, and in-home help. Regular fee-for-service Medicare doesn’t offer such options due to concerns about fraud.

A potential political battle ahead: Insurers increasingly rely on the revenues and profits from Medicare Advantage and can be expected to fight any effort to restrict – or, as some Democrats are calling for, eliminate – the existing private system. And as the plans become more generous – and, as critics have pointed out, more expensive for the government – seniors are likely to resist changes as well, complicating any Democratic effort to enact sweeping changes in the Medicare system.

Targeting ‘Medicare For All’ Proposals, Trump Lays Out His Vision For Medicare

Selena Simmons reported that President Trump gave a speech and signed an executive order on health care Thursday, casting the “Medicare for All” proposals from his Democratic rivals as harmful to seniors.

His speech, which had been billed as a policy discussion, had the tone of a campaign rally. Trump spoke from The Villages, a huge retirement community in Florida outside Orlando, a deep-red part of a key swing state.

His speech was marked by cheers, standing ovations and intermittent chants of “four more years” by an audience of mostly seniors.

Trump spoke extensively about his administration’s health care achievements and goals, as well as the health policy proposals of Democratic presidential candidates, which he characterized as socialism.

The executive order he signed had previously been titled “Protecting Medicare From Socialist Destruction” on the White House schedule but has since been renamed “Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors.”

“In my campaign for president, I made you a sacred pledge that I would strengthen, protect and defend Medicare for all of our senior citizens,” Trump told the audience. “Today I’ll sign a very historic executive order that does exactly what — we are making your Medicare even better, and … it will never be taken away from you. We’re not letting anyone get close.”

The order is intended, in part, to shore up Medicare Advantage, an alternative to traditional Medicare that’s administered by private insurers. That program has been growing in popularity, and this year, premiums are down and plan choices are up.

The executive order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to develop proposals to improve several aspects of Medicare, including expanding plan options for seniors, encouraging innovative plan designs and payment models and improving the enrollment process to make it easier for seniors to choose plans.

The order includes a grab bag of proposals, including removing regulations “that create inefficiencies or otherwise undermine patient outcomes”; combating waste, fraud, and abuse in the program; and streamlining access to “innovative products” such as new treatments and medical devices.

The president outlined very little specific policy in his speech in Florida. Instead, he attacked Democratic rivals and portrayed their proposals as threatening to seniors.

“Leading Democrats have pledged to give free health care to illegal immigrants,” Trump said, referring to a moment from the first Democratic presidential debate in which all the candidates onstage raised their hands in support of health care for undocumented migrants. “I will never allow these politicians to steal your health care and give it away to illegal aliens.”

Health care is a major issue for voters and is one that has dominated the presidential campaign on the Democratic side. In the most recent debate, candidates spent the first-hour hashing out and defending various health care proposals and visions. Only two candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — between a Medicare for All system — support the major divide and a public option supported by the rest of the field.

Trump brushed those distinctions aside. “Every major Democrat in Washington has backed a massive government health care takeover that would totally obliterate Medicare,” he said. “These Democratic policy proposals … may go by different names, whether it’s single-payer or the so-called public option, but they’re all based on the totally same terrible idea: They want to raid Medicare to fund a thing called socialism.”

Toward the end of the speech, he highlighted efforts that his administration has made to lower drug prices and then suggested that drugmakers were helping with the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. “They’re very powerful,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if … it was from some of these industries, like pharmaceuticals, that we take on.”

Drawing battle lines through Medicare may be a savvy campaign move on Trump’s part.

Medicare is extremely popular. People who have it like it, and people who don’t have it think it’s a good thing too. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than 8 in 10 Democrats, independents and Republicans think of Medicare favorably.

Trump came into office promising to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something better. Those efforts failed, and the administration has struggled to get substantive policy changes on health care.

On Thursday, administration officials emphasized a number of its recent health care policy moves.

“[Trump’s] vision for a healthier America is much wider than a narrow focus on the Affordable Care Act,” said Joe Grogan, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, at a press briefing earlier.

The secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, said at that briefing that this was “the most comprehensive vision for health care that I can recall any president putting forth.”

He highlighted a range of actions that the administration has taken, from a push on price transparency in health care to a plan to end the HIV epidemic, to more generic-drug approvals. Azar described these things as part of a framework to make health care more affordable, deliver better value and tackle “impassable health challenges.”

Without a big health care reform bill, the administration is positioning itself as a protector of what exists now — particularly Medicare.

“Today’s executive order particularly reflects the importance the president places on protecting what worked in our system and fixing what’s broken,” Azar said. “Sixty million Americans are on traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage. They like what they have, so the president is going to protect it.”

Trump’s New Order For Medicare Packs Potential Rise In Patients’ Costs

Julie Appleby reported that vowing to protect Medicare with “every ounce of strength,” President Donald Trump last week spoke to a cheering crowd in Florida. But his executive order released shortly afterward includes provisions that could significantly alter key pillars of the program by making it easier for beneficiaries and doctors to opt-out.

The bottom line: The proposed changes might make it a bit simpler to find a doctor who takes new Medicare patients, but it could lead to higher costs for seniors and potentially expose some to surprise medical bills, a problem from which Medicare has traditionally protected consumers.

“Unless these policies are thought through very carefully, the potential for really bad unintended consequences is front and center,” said economist Stephen Zuckerman, vice president for health policy at the Urban Institute.

While the executive order spells out few details, it calls for the removal of “unnecessary barriers” to private contracting, which allows patients and doctors to negotiate their own deals outside of Medicare. It’s an approach long supported by some conservatives, but critics fear it would lead to higher costs for patients. The order also seeks to ease rules that affect beneficiaries who want to opt-out of the hospital portion of Medicare, known as Part A.

Both ideas have a long history, with proponents and opponents duking it out since at least 1997, even spawning a tongue-in-cheek legislative proposal that year titled, in part, the “Buck Naked Act.” More on that later.

“For a long time, people who don’t want or don’t like the idea of social insurance have been trying to find ways to opt-out of Medicare and doctors have been trying to find a way to opt-out of Medicare payment,” said Timothy Jost, emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia.

The specifics will not emerge until the Department of Health and Human Services writes the rules to implement the executive order, which could take six months or longer. In the meantime, here are a few things you should know about the possible Medicare changes.

What are the current rules about what doctors can charge in Medicare?

Right now, the vast majority of physicians agree to accept what Medicare pays them and not charge patients for the rest of the bill, a practice known as balance billing. Physicians (and hospitals) have complained that Medicare doesn’t pay enough, but most participate anyway. Still, there is wiggle room.

Medicare limits balance billing. Physicians can charge patients the difference between their bill and what Medicare allows, but those charges are limited to 9.25% above Medicare’s regular rates. But partly because of the paperwork hassles for all involved, only a small percentage of doctors choose this option.

Alternatively, physicians can “opt-out” of Medicare and charge whatever they want. But they can’t change their mind and try to get Medicare payments again for at least two years. Fewer than 1%of the nation’s physicians have currently opted out.

What would the executive order change?

That’s hard to know.

“It could mean a lot of things,” said Joseph Antos at the American Enterprise Institute, including possibly letting seniors make a contract with an individual doctor or buy into something that isn’t traditional Medicare or the current private Medicare Advantage program. “Exactly what that looks like is not so obvious.”

Others said eventual rules might result in lifting the 9.25% cap on the amount doctors can balance-bill some patients. Or the rules around fully “opting out” of Medicare might ease so physicians would not have to divorce themselves from the program or could stay in for some patients, but not others. That could leave some patients liable for the entire bill, which might lead to confusion among Medicare beneficiaries, critics of such a plan suggest.

The result may be that “it opens the door to surprise medical billing if people sign a contract with a doctor without realizing what they’re doing,” said Jost.

Would patients get a bigger choice in physicians?

Proponents say allowing for more private contracts between patients and doctors would encourage doctors to accept more Medicare patients, partly because they could get higher payments. That was one argument made by supporters of several House and Senate bills in 2015 that included direct-contracting provisions. All failed, as did an earlier effort in the late 1990s backed by then-Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who argued such contracting would give seniors more freedom to select doctors.

Then-Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) opposed such direct contracting, arguing that patients had less power in negotiations than doctors. To make that point, he introduced the “No Private Contracts To Be Negotiated When the Patient Is Buck Naked Act of 1997.”

The bill was designed to illustrate how uneven the playing field is by prohibiting the discussion of or signing of private contracts at any time when “the patient is buck naked and the doctor is fully clothed (and conversely, to protect the rights of doctors, when the patient is fully clothed and the doctor is naked).” It, too, failed to pass.

Still, the current executive order might help counter a trend that “more physicians today are not taking new Medicare patients,” said Robert Moffit, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.

It also might encourage boutique practices that operate outside of Medicare and are accessible primarily to the wealthy, said David Lipschutz, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

“It is both a gift to the industry and to those beneficiaries who are well off,” he said. “It has questionable utility to the rest of us.”

Elizabeth Warren Has Many Plans, But on Health Care, She’s ‘With Bernie’

Sahil Kaput noted that Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything — but on the crucial 2020 issue of health care, she’s borrowing from a rival and fellow progressive — Bernie Sanders.

The presidential candidate who made a mark with her signature “I have a plan for that!” is the only one of the five top-polling Democrats without a sweeping proposal of her own to remake the health care system. She has instead championed Sanders’ legislation to replace private insurance by putting every American in an expanded Medicare program.

“I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All,” Warren said recently in New Hampshire when asked if she’d devise a blueprint of her own. “Health care is a basic human right. We need to make sure that everybody is covered at the lowest possible cost, and draining money out for health insurance companies to make a lot of profits, by saying no.”

Warren’s deference to a rival is unusual for a candidate who has styled herself as the policy wonk with a program for everything from cradle to grave. It has allowed her to attract many liberal voters who supported Sanders in 2016, leading her to a dead heat with former vice president Joe Biden for the top spot in the Democratic field. And if Sanders were to eventually drop out of the race before Warren, her embrace of his most popular plan could keep his supporters in her camp.

Sean McElwee, a left-wing activist, and researcher with Data For Progress said that Warren cannot afford to go soft on Medicare for All.

“It’s the best option for the campaign to stay in alignment with Sanders on health care through the general election,” he said. “These Sanders voters have the highest risk of voting third party or staying home, and you have to keep them mobilized.”

Weeks before Warren, a Massachusetts senator, announced that she was exploring a presidential run last December, she sounded less wedded to the Sanders proposal, describing a three-step approach to health care.

“Our first job is to defend the Affordable Care Act. Our second is to improve it and make changes, for example to families’ vulnerability to the impact of high-priced drugs,” she told Bloomberg News. “And the third is to find a system of Medicare available to all that will increase the quality of care while it decreases the cost of all of us.”

As Warren was rising in the polls, her allies began to pick up signals that Sanders supporters were questioning her commitment to progressive ideas. Since June, Warren has given them little ammunition to claim she’s going soft on Medicare for All, a defining issue for many left-wing voters.

“The biggest concern Warren has from the left is this idea that, at the end of the day, Sanders is the one true progressive,” McElwee said. “If your main issue is Medicare for All, and that’s a central tenet of your politics, Warren probably can’t win you. But she doesn’t want you to hate her. She wants to be your fallback option.”

At the same time, Warren faces attacks from Biden for supporting a plan that would replace Obamacare, which Democrats bitterly fought for in 2009 and 2010. “The senator says she’s for Bernie. Well, I’m for Barack,” the former vice president said in the third Democratic debate in September. “I think Obamacare worked.”

Biden’s plan would build out Obamacare and have a public option for those who want it.

Health care consistently ranks as the top issue for Democratic voters. Government-run health care is popular among Democrats and Americans overall, but that support dips once voters are given the arguments against it, including that it would require higher middle-class taxes and abolish employer-sponsored coverage.

Medicare for All, which lay at the heart of Sanders’ stronger-than-expected 2016 campaign, has become a litmus test for some progressive activists and voters. To them, it indicates a candidate’s belief in universal health care and willingness to take on private insurers who they say are gouging consumers for profit.

In Los Angeles on Friday, Warren was asked if her health care vision would raise middle-class taxes. She evaded the question and said working families would see their overall medical costs reduced, referring to the end of premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. “The very wealthy and big corporations will see their costs go up, but middle-class families will see their costs go down,” she said.

Surveys show that Sanders voters clearly prefer Warren as their second choice. But it doesn’t cut both ways — Warren’s supporters are more split among Sanders, Biden and Kamala Harris as their second choice.

Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant based in Boston, said that if Warren believes Sanders has the best plan, she has to “be all in on it — and if she’s got elements of her own to put in it, she needs to do that.”

The Sanders health care plan tracks with the “big structural change” Warren has called for, a message that also appeals to mainstream Democrats who backed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Maintaining that cross-section of support is critical to Warren’s path to the nomination. Biden is dominating with moderate and conservative Democrats, some of whom worry that running on Medicare for All will cost Democrats the general election.

“By supporting Bernie Sanders’ health care plan, Elizabeth Warren improves the chances of Bernie Sanders voters supporting her if she’s the nominee, thereby avoiding some for the heartburn Bernie gave Clinton and her supporters all the way through Election Day,” Marsh said.

A voter at her event in Keene, New Hampshire, asked Warren how she would handle the transition from private insurance to a government-run system.

“What we’ve got on Medicare for All is a framework,” she said. “And it doesn’t have the details, and you’re right to be antsy.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sahil Kapur in Washington at skapur39@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, John Harney

Pete Buttigieg explains why he’s against Medicare for All

As reported by Adriana Belmont, Mayor Pete Buttigieg stands apart from other Democratic presidential candidates when it comes to health care policy. Unlike frontrunners Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), he does not support for Medicare for All, but rather an alternative.

“I am a candidate who believes Medicare for All is not as attractive as Medicare for All Who Want It,” Buttigieg said at The New Yorker Festival. “Because it gives people a choice.”

Through Buttigieg’s plan, everyone would automatically be involved in universal health care coverage for those who are eligible. It would also expand premium subsidies for low-income individuals, cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare, and limit what health care providers charge for out-of-network care at double what Medicare pays for the same service. However, those who still want to stay on private insurance can do so.

When asked whether or not this is a matter of “having your cake and eating it too,” Buttigieg responded: “Why not?”

“This is how public alternatives work,” Buttigieg said. “They create a public alternative that the private sector is then forced to compete with.”

This differs from other candidates like Sanders and Warren, both vocal supporters of a single-payer health system. Sanders has even gone so far as to call for the elimination of private insurance companies. Buttigieg, however, sees his plan as an opportunity for private insurance companies to step up.

“The way I come at it is with a certain humility about what’s going to happen,” Buttigieg said. “Because one of two things will happen. Either, there’s really no private option that’s as good as the public one we’re going to create … which means pretty soon everyone migrates to it and pretty soon it’s Medicare for all.”

“Or, some private plans are still better, in which case we’re going to be really glad we didn’t command the American people to abandon them whether they want to or not,” Buttigieg said. “I’m neutral on which one of those outcomes happen.”

According to Politico, although there is no official cost for what Medicare for All Who Want It would cost, a campaign adviser said the federal spending would “be in the ballpark” of $790 billion.

“The core principle is not whether or not the government is your health insurance provider,” Buttigieg said. “The core principle for me is you get covered one way or the other. That’s what Medicare for All Who Want It entails.”

Bernie Sanders admits he was ‘dumb’ for ignoring symptoms ahead of heart attack

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is turning his heart attack into a PSA.

The 2020 candidate was hospitalized last week with what his doctors later said was a heart attack, leading Sanders to suspend his campaign events and a forthcoming Iowa ad buy. Sanders hasn’t said if he’ll resume campaigning before the Oct. 15 primary debate, but he does have a universally agreeable message in the meantime.

Sanders gave a health update at his home on Tuesday, telling reporters he was on his way to meet with a new cardiologist. “I must confess, I was dumb,” he said. Despite being “born” with “a lot of energy” and usually handling multiple rallies a day without a problem, “in the last month or two,” Sanders said he’d been “more fatigued than I usually have been.” “I should’ve listened to those symptoms,” Sanders continued, and then advised listeners to do the same “when you’re hurting when you’re fatigued when you have pain in your chest.”

Bernie Sanders is meeting a cardiologist this morning. A new doctor he has not met with before. Before he left he told reporters that he was “dumb” and should’ve listened to the warning signs his body was sending him prior to his heart attack.

Sanders first tied his hospitalization to his campaign in a tweet last week expressing his thanks for “well wishes,” “great doctors,” and “good health care.” “No one should fear going bankrupt” if they experience a medical emergency, he continued, and added in a call for “Medicare for All!”

What a dumb comment but it seems to follow how dumb Bernie is to neglect his heart disease however, he is telling us all about health care. And remember that Bernie has Congressional Blue Cross Blue Shield health care insurance, the best in the world!

 

Death toll from vaping-linked illness now at 19 in the ​US. Trump’s answer for Medicare and Bernie’s health issue!

bernie465Why aren’t more people interested in the severity of the vaping complications in our youth? We are now up to 19 deaths, and this is just the reported deaths. We haven’t figured the long-term severity of chronic vaping inhalation, a form of COPD-chronic obstructive pulmonary disease!

The death toll in the United States from illnesses linked to e-cigarette use has risen to at least 19, health authorities say, as more than 1,000 others have suffered lung injuries probably linked to vaping.

Officials have yet to identify the cause for the outbreak, which dates back to March and is pursuing multiple lines of investigation.

A report by clinicians in North Carolina last month pointed to the inhalation of fatty substances from aerosolized oils, but a new study by the Mayo Clinic published this week found patients’ lungs had been exposed to noxious fumes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that 18 deaths in 15 states had now been positively linked to vaping, from a total of 1,080 cases of people sickened —a jump of 275 since last week.

Connecticut officials also announced the first death in the state, bringing the total to at least 19.

The CDC attributed the sharp increase to a combination of new patients becoming ill in the past two weeks and recent reporting of previously identified patients.

“I think we really have the feeling right now that there may be a lot of different nasty things in e-cigarette or vaping products, and they may cause different harms in the lung,” Anne Schuchat, a senior official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a call with reporters.

Among a group of 578 patients interviewed on substances they had used, 78 percent reported using tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive substance of marijuana, with or without nicotine products.

Another 37 percent reported exclusive use of THC products, and 17 percent said they had only used nicotine-containing products.

About 70 percent of patients are male, and 80 percent are under 35 years old.

Skyrocketing use

E-cigarettes have been available in the US since 2006.

It is not clear whether the outbreak is only happening now—or if there were cases earlier that were wrongly diagnosed.

Initially conceived as a smoking cessation device, e-cigarette use has skyrocketed among teens, with preliminary official data for 2019 showing more than a quarter of high school students using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

They were until recently perceived as a less harmful alternative to smoking because they do not contain the 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes, dozens of which are known to cause cancer.

Only one case of lung injury has been reported abroad, making the outbreak more mysterious still.

Canadian authorities said in September a youth had been hospitalized, but so far no other countries have reported anything similar.

Public and political opinion appears to be hardening, however, with the administration of US President Donald Trump announcing in September that it would ban in the coming month’s flavored e-cigarette products, which are particularly attractive to young people.

India has issued an outright ban on all e-cigarette products, as has the US state of Massachusetts.

E-cigarettes: five things to know about vaping linked deaths and illnesses in the U.S.

E-cigarettes have become hugely popular in the past decade but a rash of vaping-linked deaths and illnesses in the United States is feeding caution about a product, already banned in some places.

Here are five things to know about electronic cigarettes.

Around for two decades

Early designs for an electronic cigarette were drawn up in the United States in the 1960s but Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik is acknowledged as the inventor of a viable commercial version in the early 2000s.

Hon, who was trying to quit his own pack-a-day habit, took out patents between 2003 and 2005. But his devices would soon be overtaken as the international market exploded.

How do they work?

A battery powers a coil that heats a liquid containing various amounts of nicotine as well as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, which mimic tobacco smoke when heated.

This “e-juice” can also contain flavorings and other substances, such as THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

E-cigarettes are mostly draw-activated, with the puffing releasing vapor.

They do not produce tar or carbon monoxide—two of tobacco’s most noxious elements and associated with cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Harmful to health?

E-cigarettes were initially touted as less damaging than tobacco, which causes around eight million deaths a year.

In 2015 public health authorities in England said best estimates showed they were 95 percent less harmful than tobacco.

“Even if it is difficult to quantify precisely the long-term toxicity of electronic cigarettes, there is evidence that it is significantly lower than traditional cigarettes,” the French Academy of Medicine said the same year.

However, concern has been growing.

On October 3, 2019, US health authorities reported 18 vaping-related deaths and more than 1,000 cases of damage since March, the cause of which had not been identified.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on September 2019 that many of the cases involved the use of black-market marijuana products.

In July 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that electronic smoking devices were “undoubtedly harmful and should, therefore, be subject to regulation”.

Another worry is that the vaping flavors are particularly attractive to teenagers and an enticement to pick up the habit.

Exponential growth

The number of vapers worldwide has leaped from seven million in 2011 to 41 million in 2018, according to leading market researcher Euromonitor International.

By comparison, there were 1.1 billion tobacco smokers on the planet in 2016, according to the latest WHO figures on its website.

The largest markets for e-cigarettes are the United States followed by Britain, France, Germany, and China.

The increase in vaping has been particularly dramatic among teenagers.

Moving towards regulation

In September 2019 India became the latest country to ban the import, sale, production, and advertising of e-cigarettes, citing in particular concerns about its youth.

The devices are already banned in several places, such as Brazil, Singapore, Thailand and the US state of Massachusetts, but elsewhere legislations are inconsistent.

In June 2019 San Francisco became the first major US city to effectively ban the sale and manufacture of electronic cigarettes.

In September New York followed Michigan in banning flavored e-cigarettes.

Trump woos seniors with an order to boost Medicare health program

Reporter Jeff Mason pointed out that U.S. President Donald Trump sought to woo seniors on Thursday with an executive order aimed at strengthening the Medicare health program by reducing regulations, curbing fraud, and providing faster access to new medical devices and therapies.

The order, which Trump discussed during a visit to a retirement community in Florida known as The Villages, is the Republican president’s answer to some Democrats who are pushing for a broad and expensive expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans.

Trump referred to such proposals as socialist and pledged to prevent them from coming to fruition, a political promise with an eye toward his 2020 re-election campaign in which healthcare is likely to be a major issue.

“They want to raid Medicare to fund a thing called socialism,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd in Florida, a political swing state that is critical to his goal of keeping the White House.

The executive order follows measures his administration rolled out in recent months designed to curtail drug prices and correct other perceived problems with the U.S. healthcare system. Policy experts say the efforts are unlikely to slow the tide of rising drug prices in a meaningful way.

Trump suggested that drug companies were backing impeachment efforts in Washington, which he considers a “hoax,” as a way to sabotage his efforts to make prescriptions affordable.

“We’re lowering the cost of prescription drugs, taking on the pharmaceutical companies. And you think that’s easy? It’s not easy… I wouldn’t be surprised if the hoax didn’t come from some of the people that we’re taking on,” he said.

Medicare covers Americans who are 65 and older and includes traditional fee-for-service coverage in which the government pays healthcare providers directly and Medicare Advantage plans, in which private insurers manage patient benefits on its behalf.

Seniors are a key political constituency in America because of a high percentage of the vote.

The order pushes for Medicare to use more medical telehealth services, which is care delivered by phone or digital means, leading to cost reductions by reducing expensive emergency room visits, an administration official told Reuters ahead of the announcement.

The order directs the government to work to allow private insurers that operate Medicare Advantage plans to use new plan pricing methods, such as allowing beneficiaries to share in the savings when they choose lower-cost health services.

It also aims to bring payments for the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program in line with payments for Medicare Advantage.

Trump’s plans contrast with the Medicare for All program promoted by Bernie Sanders, a Democratic socialist who is running to become the Democratic Party’s nominee against Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Sanders’ proposal, backed by left-leaning Democrats but opposed by moderates such as former Vice President Joe Biden, would create a single-payer system, effectively eliminating private insurance by providing government coverage to everyone, using the Medicare model.

“Medicare for All is Medicare for none,” said Seema Verma, the administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, on a conference call with reporters, calling the proposal a “pipe dream” that would lead to higher taxes.

Sanders has argued that Americans would pay less for healthcare under his plan.

The White House is eager to show Trump making progress on healthcare, an issue Democrats successfully used to garner support and take control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections. Trump campaigned in 2016 on a promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, his predecessor President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law also known as “Obamacare.” So far he has not repealed or replaced it.

In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it would propose a rule for imports of cheaper drugs from Canada into the United States. A formal rule has not yet been unveiled.

The administration also issued an executive order in June demanding hospitals and insurers make prices they charge patients more transparent. Another in July encouraged novel treatments for kidney disease.

Trump considered other proposals that did not reach fruition.

A federal judge in July shot down an executive order that would have forced drugmakers to display list prices in advertisements, and Trump scrapped another planned order that would have banned some rebate payments drugmakers make to payers.

The administration is mulling a plan to tie some Medicare reimbursement rates for drugs to the price paid for those drugs by foreign governments, Reuters reported.

Targeting ‘Medicare For All’ Proposals, Trump Lays Out His Vision For Medicare

Faced with the pressure from the Democrats and their proposal for health care, Medicare for All President Trump gave a speech and signed an executive order on health care Thursday, casting the “Medicare for All” proposals from his Democratic rivals as harmful to seniors.

His speech, which had been billed as a policy discussion, had the tone of a campaign rally. Trump spoke from The Villages, a huge retirement community in Florida outside Orlando, a deep-red part of a key swing state.

His speech was marked by cheers, standing ovations and intermittent chants of “four more years” by an audience of mostly seniors.

Trump spoke extensively about his administration’s health care achievements and goals, as well as the health policy proposals of Democratic presidential candidates, which he characterized as socialism.

The executive order he signed had previously been titled “Protecting Medicare From Socialist Destruction” on the White House schedule but has since been renamed “Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors.”

“In my campaign for president, I made you a sacred pledge that I would strengthen, protect and defend Medicare for all of our senior citizens,” Trump told the audience. “Today I’ll sign a very historic executive order that does exactly what — we are making your Medicare even better, and … it will never be taken away from you. We’re not letting anyone get close.”

The order is intended, in part, to shore up Medicare Advantage, an alternative to traditional Medicare that’s administered by private insurers. That program has been growing in popularity, and this year, premiums are down and plan choices are up.

The executive order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to develop proposals to improve several aspects of Medicare, including expanding plan options for seniors, encouraging innovative plan designs and payment models and improving the enrollment process to make it easier for seniors to choose plans.

The order includes a grab bag of proposals, including removing regulations “that create inefficiencies or otherwise undermine patient outcomes”; combating waste, fraud, and abuse in the program; and streamlining access to “innovative products” such as new treatments and medical devices.

The president outlined very little specific policy in his speech in Florida. Instead, he attacked Democratic rivals and portrayed their proposals as threatening to seniors.

“Leading Democrats have pledged to give free health care to illegal immigrants,” Trump said, referring to a moment from the first Democratic presidential debate in which all the candidates onstage raised their hands in support of health care for undocumented migrants. “I will never allow these politicians to steal your health care and give it away to illegal aliens.”

Health care is a major issue for voters and is one that has dominated the presidential campaign on the Democratic side. In the most recent debate, candidates spent the first-hour hashing out and defending various health care proposals and visions. The major divide is between a Medicare for All system — supported by only two candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — and a public option supported by the rest of the field.

Trump brushed those distinctions aside. “Every major Democrat in Washington has backed a massive government health care takeover that would totally obliterate Medicare,” he said. “These Democratic policy proposals … may go by different names, whether it’s single-payer or the so-called public option, but they’re all based on the totally same terrible idea: They want to raid Medicare to fund a thing called socialism.”

Toward the end of the speech, he highlighted efforts that his administration has made to lower drug prices and then suggested that drugmakers were helping with the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. “They’re very powerful,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if … it was from some of these industries, like pharmaceuticals, that we take on.”

Drawing battle lines through Medicare may be a savvy campaign move on Trump’s part.

Medicare is extremely popular. People who have it like it, and people who don’t have it think it’s a good thing too. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than 8 in 10 Democrats, independents and Republicans think of Medicare favorably.

Trump came into office promising to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something better. Those efforts failed, and the administration has struggled to get substantive policy changes on health care.

On Thursday, administration officials emphasized a number of its recent health care policy moves.

“[Trump’s] vision for a healthier America is much wider than a narrow focus on the Affordable Care Act,” said Joe Grogan, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, at a press briefing earlier.

The secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, said at that briefing that this was “the most comprehensive vision for health care that I can recall any president putting forth.”

He highlighted a range of actions that the administration has taken, from a push on price transparency in health care to a plan to end the HIV epidemic, to more generic-drug approvals. Azar described these things as part of a framework to make health care more affordable, deliver better value and tackle “impassable health challenges.”

Without a big health care reform bill, the administration is positioning itself as a protector of what exists now — particularly Medicare.

“Today’s executive order particularly reflects the importance the president places on protecting what worked in our system and fixing what’s broken,” Azar said. “Sixty million Americans are on traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage. They like what they have, so the president is going to protect it.”

Sanders presidential campaign pivots health scare to Medicare for All message

And now Bernie Sander’s health becomes an issue! Simon Lewis reported that Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential election campaign on Wednesday sought to use news the candidate had a heart procedure to highlight the benefits of his trademark Medicare for All healthcare plan.

Sanders’ campaign canceled campaign events and pulled TV ads after the 78-year-old U.S. senator had two stents inserted into an artery after he experienced discomfort during a campaign visit to Nevada on Tuesday.

The candidate would rest for a few days after the relatively common procedure, his campaign for the November 2020 presidential election said.

Sanders’ speechwriter, David Sirota, said in a daily newsletter that the unexpected medical procedure was “a perfect example of why the United States needs to join the rest of the world and pass Bernie’s Medicare for All legislation.”

Sirota cited a 2018 paper by researchers at the London School of Economics that found cardiac implant devices cost up to six times more in the United States than in some European countries with government-run healthcare systems.

Sanders advocates an approach that would extend the existing Medicare program for Americans aged over 65 to all Americans and largely eliminate the private insurance industry.

Sirota argued the gulf in price was in part due to the U.S. healthcare system’s “complex web of payers – rather than a single-payer Medicare for All system that can negotiate better prices.”

As many as 1 million Americans a year get stents, a procedure that involves inserting a balloon-tipped catheter to open the blockage and deploy tiny wire-mesh tubes to prop open the artery.

“I’m feeling good. I’m fortunate to have good health care and great doctors and nurses helping me to recover,” Sanders tweeted on Wednesday afternoon, his first public statement since the procedure.

“None of us know when a medical emergency might affect us. And no one should fear going bankrupt if it occurs. Medicare for All!”

News of Sanders’ health scare sparked mean-spirited jokes pointing out the U.S. senator was treated by the healthcare system he wants to overhaul.

“Any bets on whether he’ll be going to Cuba for their great communist medical care? Get well soon Bern. #SocialismSucks!” tweeted Ben Bergquam, a right-wing California radio host.

Sanders’ supporters also took to social media to post #GetWellBernie messages.

The senator from Vermont’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, retweeted one message from a supporter that read, “take my heart, Bernie!!”

Another issue, which his campaign manager refuses to point out is did Bernie used his Medicare insurance to cover his diagnostic studies, his stenting procedure or his post-op care? As they are touting Medicare for All after Bernie had a quick diagnosis and stenting of his coronary artery disease we should all remember that Bernie, as well as all of the candidates for the presidency, don’t have Medicare for their health care insurance. No, they all have Congressional Blue Cross and Blue Care. So, don’t fall for their politicization of healthcare. Again, I point out, how can you promote Medicare for all when you all have no idea of the impact on patients of being insured under Medicare and the multiple restrictions and the true expense of Medicare insurance!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paying for Medicare for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shouting match

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other Democrats, however, let the subject drop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poll of the Day: Democrats Increasingly Favor Obamacare

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

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

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

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

Media Statement

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

Cases

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

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

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

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

Deaths

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

What the CDC is doing

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

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

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

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

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

More to come in this discussion.

Fact Check: Are there ‘more gun deaths by far’ in America than any other country? And what is the GOP going to do about IT?

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 9.19.29 PMThis is another very long post but gun violence and the solutions need to be center stage going forward. We in health care see the results of gun violence every day in our hospitals, ERs, and offices. Texan Beto O’Rourke joined nine other Democrats on stage in Detroit on Tuesday for the second round of debates in the Democratic presidential primary contest. All of the candidates made questionable statements — take a look at some fact-checking from the night — including O’Rourke, who was asked to respond to a comment about gun violence from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

Bullock said that Washington, D.C., “is captured by dark money” and political influence from the likes of the NRA and Koch Industries, making it hard for lawmakers to tackle issues like gun safety.

“That’s the way we’re actually going to make a change on this, Don, is by changing that system,” Bullock said, addressing moderator Don Lemon of CNN. “And most of the things that folks are talking about on this stage we’re not going to address until we kick dark money and the post-Citizens United corporate spending out of these elections.”

Lemon asked O’Rourke to respond to Bullock’s point.

“How else can we explain that we lose nearly 40,000 people in this country to gun violence, a number that no other country comes even close to, that we know what all the solutions are, and yet nothing has changed?” O’Rourke said. “It is because, in this country, money buys influence, access and, increasingly, outcomes.”

We assumed O’Rourke was talking about the number of gun deaths in the United States in the past year, a figure supported by federal data. But is O’Rourke right that no other country comes close to the number of deaths by gun violence in the United States? We took a look.

By Chris Nichols on Tuesday, August 6th, 2019 at 5:32 p.m.

Following the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, California and El Paso, Texas, and just hours before a separate mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein made a sweeping statement about the number of guns and gun deaths in America.

“There are more guns in this country than people and more per capita than any other country in the world. And there are more gun deaths by far,” Feinstein, a strong advocate for gun control, said on Twitter on Aug. 3, 2019. “I continue to hope that opponents of commonsense gun reform laws will come to their senses and join the effort to save lives.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, posted this tweet on Aug. 3, 2019.

As of early this week, 22 people were killed in the El Paso shooting, nine in Dayton and three in Gilroy. The suspected gunmen in Dayton and Gilroy also died.

We examined each part of Feinstein’s statement but found we couldn’t place a Truth-O-Meter rating on the first two parts because there’s no official count on the number of guns in America and there are competing estimates on how many exist.

We did place a rating on the last portion about America having “more gun deaths by far” than any other country.

We’ll provide analysis on each piece of Feinstein’s statement below.

Feinstein on guns

First, here’s some background on the senator. In 1994, she authored the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was signed by President Bill Clinton. It prohibited the manufacture of 19 specific kinds of military-style, semi-automatic firearms, often called assault weapons.

It also banned the manufacture and sale of gun magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.

The bill expired in 2004 after efforts to extend it failed in Congress.

Its restrictions did not apply to any semi-automatic weapons or magazines made before the ban’s effective date: Sept. 13, 1994.

Feinstein has remained an advocate for gun control. In February of this year, she introduced a bill that would pay for states to create their own extreme-risk protection laws, also known as red flag laws.

Those would allow family members to petition for a court order to “grant law enforcement the authority to temporarily take weapons from dangerous individuals who present a threat to themselves or others,” according to Feinstein’s office.

California, Maryland, and Florida have already enacted similar laws.

“There are more guns in this country than people” 

There are no official count of the number of firearms in the United States, only widely varying estimates, as PolitiFact has reported in the past.

As the Pew Research Center has observed: “Gun ownership is one of the hardest things for researchers to pin down.”

We found estimates as low as 265 million civilian guns in the U.S. in January 2015 — to as high as 393 million in a report last year.

Researchers say estimates can include guns that no longer work, leading to an overcount. Meanwhile, some survey respondents will understate the number of guns they own, leading to an undercount.

With no definitive tally, we decided not to place a rating on this portion of Feinstein’s statement.

“More (guns) per capita than any other country in the world”

This second part of the claim is generally on the right track, whether looking at the high estimates for guns in America or the lower ones. But again it relies on a topic for which there’s no settled data.

Taking the estimate of 393 million civilian firearms, there would be 120.5 guns for every 100 residents in the United States. As The Washington Post reported, that’s twice the per capita rate of the next-highest nation, Yemen, with just 52.8 guns per 100 residents.

Using the lower estimate of 265 million guns in 2015 would still produce about 83 guns for every 100 Americans that year.

While this part of Feinstein’s claim is likely more accurate, the per capita rate doesn’t mean all Americans own guns. Instead, gun ownership is concentrated among a minority of the US population — as surveys from the Pew Research Center and General Social Survey suggest, according to the Post.

“More gun deaths by far” in the United States?

This part of Feinstein’s statement is not supported. We found the United States experiences more firearm injury deaths than other countries of similar socioeconomic standing. But that’s not what Feinstein claimed. She suggested it had “more gun deaths by far” than any other country.

In 2017, Brazil had the most overall gun deaths of any country at 48,493, including homicides, suicides and unintentional gun deaths, according to a June 2018 report by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The United States had the second most overall gun deaths at 40,229, though it had the highest suicide by a gun total of any nation, at nearly 25,000. Data from the report showed Brazil had the most overall gun deaths at least from 2015 through 2017.

“Yes, Brazil is highest by number” for overall gun deaths, the study’s author, Professor Moshen Naghavi, said by email.

“We believe 2018 and 2019 will be higher,” Naghavi said in a follow-up phone interview, citing decisions made by Brazil’s new president to make firearms more accessible.

Feinstein’s office did not respond to our request for information supporting this portion of her statement.

PolitiFact Texas fact-checked a similar claim last week by former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and rated it Mostly False. O’Rourke said at the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit that “we lose nearly 40,000 people in this country to gun violence, a number that no other country comes even close to.” It cited the University of Washington study and noted that more than a dozen countries had more firearm deaths per capita than the United States in 2016.

Our rating

Sen. Dianne Feinstein claimed, “There are more guns in this country than people and more per capita than any other country in the world. And there are more gun deaths by far.”

We could not place a rating on the first two parts because there are no official count of guns in America, only widely varying estimates.

The last part of her statement, however, is not supported. A recent study showed Brazil, not the United States, had the most overall gun deaths of any country over the last several years. America, however, had the highest total of suicides by firearm of any nation.

In the end, she was wrong that there are “more gun deaths by far” in the United States than any other country in the world.  Here are two charts/tables with data.

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We rate that portion of her claim False.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

America’s gun culture in charts

Two mass shootings within 24 hours, leaving 31 people dead, has once again brought the spotlight on gun ownership in the United States.

An attack on a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas on Saturday left 20 dead, while nine died in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio on Sunday.

But where does America stand on the right to bear arms and gun control?

What do young people think about gun control?

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When looking at the period before the Parkland school shooting in 2018, it is interesting to track how young people have felt about gun control.

Support for gun control over the protection of gun rights in America is highest among 18 to 29-year-olds, according to a study by the Pew Research Centre, with a spike after the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016. The overall trend though suggests a slight decrease in support for gun control over gun rights since 2000.

Pew found that one-third of over-50s said they owned a gun. The rate of gun ownership was lower for younger adults – about 28%. White men are especially likely to own a gun.

How does the US compare with other countries?

I included two charts in the previous discussion and here are two more.

About 40% of Americans say they own a gun or live in a household with one, according to a 2017 survey, and the rate of murder or manslaughter by firearm is the highest in the developed world. There were almost 11,000 deaths as a result of murder or manslaughter involving a firearm in 2017.

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Homicides are taken here to include murder and manslaughter. The FBI separates statistics for what it calls justifiable homicide, which includes the killing of a criminal by a police officer or private citizen in certain circumstances, which are not included.

In about 13% of cases, the FBI does not have data on the weapon used. By removing these cases from the overall total of gun deaths in the US, the proportion of gun-related killings rises to 73% of homicides.

Who owns the world’s guns?

While it is difficult to know exactly how many guns civilians own around the world, by every estimate the US with more than 390 million is far out in front.

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Switzerland and Finland are two of the European countries with the most guns per person – they both have compulsory military service for all men over the age of 18. The Finnish interior ministry says about 60% of gun permits are granted for hunting – a popular pastime in Finland. Cyprus and Yemen also have military service.

How do US gun deaths break down?

There have been more than 110 mass shootings in the US since 1982, according to the investigative magazine Mother Jones.

Up until 2012, a mass shooting was defined as when an attacker had killed four or more victims in an indiscriminate rampage – and since 2013 the figures include attacks with three or more victims. The shootings do not include killings related to other crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence.

The overall number of people killed in mass shootings each year represents only a tiny percentage of the total number.

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Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there were a total of more than 38,600 deaths from guns in 2016 – of which more than 22,900 were suicides. Suicide by firearm accounts for almost half of all suicides in the US, according to the CDC.

A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found there was a strong relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in a state and higher firearm suicide rates for both men and women.

Attacks in the US become deadlier

The Las Vegas attack in 2017 was the worst in recent US history – and eight of the shootings with the highest number of casualties happened within the past 10 years.

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What types of guns kill Americans?

Military-style assault-style weapons have been blamed for some of the major mass shootings such as the attack in an Orlando nightclub and at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut.

Dozens of rifles were recovered from the scene of the Las Vegas shooting, police reported.

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A few US states have banned assault-style weapons, which were totally restricted for a decade until 2004.

However, most murders caused by guns involve handguns, according to FBI data.

How much do guns cost to buy?

For those from countries where guns are not widely owned, it can be a surprise to discover that they are relatively cheap to purchase in the US.

Among the arsenal of weapons recovered from the hotel room of Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock were handguns, which can cost from as little $200 (£151) – comparable to a Chromebook laptop.

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Assault-style rifles, also recovered from Paddock’s room, can cost from around $1,500 (£1,132).

In addition to the 23 weapons at the hotel, a further 19 were recovered from Paddock’s home. It is estimated that he may have spent more than $70,000 (£52,800) on firearms and accessories such as tripods, scopes, ammunition, and cartridges.

Who supports gun control?

US public opinion on the banning of handguns has changed dramatically over the last 60 years. Support has shifted over time and now a significant majority opposes a ban on handguns, according to polling by Gallup.

But a majority of Americans say they are dissatisfied with US gun laws and policies, and most of those who are unhappy want stricter legislation.

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Some states have taken steps to ban or strictly regulate ownership of assault weapons. Laws vary by state but California, for example, has banned around 75 types and models of an assault weapon.

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Some controls are widely supported by people across the political divide – such as restricting the sale of guns to people who are mentally ill, or on “watch” lists.

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But Republicans and Democrats are much more divided over other policy proposals, such as whether to allow ordinary citizens increased rights to carry concealed weapons – according to a survey from Pew Research Center.

Who opposes gun control?

The National Rifle Association (NRA) campaigns against all forms of gun control in the US and argues that more guns make the country safer.

It is among the most powerful special interest lobby groups in the US, with a substantial budget to influence members of Congress on gun policy.

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In total, about one in five US gun owners say they are members of the NRA – and it has especially widespread support from Republican-leaning gun owners, according to Pew Research.

In terms of lobbying to influence gun policy, the NRA’s spending jumped from about $3m per year to more than $5m in 2017.

The chart shows only the recorded contributions to lawmakers published by the Senate Office of Public Records.

The NRA spends millions more elsewhere, such as on supporting the election campaigns of political candidates who oppose gun controls.

GOP Waits to See if Trump Will Protect It From the NRA Before Moving on Gun Laws

Sam Brodey Noted that just over a week since mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Senate Republicans are waiting to see if President Trump walks away from the issue again or forces their hand before trying to do anything about potentially expanding background checks for gun purchases.

He’s walked away before. Following the Parkland school massacre last year, the president promised that he was “going to be very strong on background checks,” only to retreat after holding private meetings with National Rifle Association officials at the White House. The NRA, a key ally of Trump’s, has spent big money lobbying against background-checks expansion legislation, and last week reminded him of its staunch opposition.

After the latest shootings, Trump told reporters that there is great “appetite” on the Hill to finally get something done on background checks but his GOP allies in the Senate are holding off, unwilling to burn political capital with the gun lobby and conservative-base voters on the issue if Trump isn’t going to burn some of his.

However, the president’s prior inaction, and the media coverage he incurred for it, may force him to make at least a slightly harder run at background checks this time around, even if only in his messaging and bluster. Two people who’ve spoken to the president in recent days say that he has referenced, during conversations about how he could possibly bend the NRA to his will in this case, his annoyance at media coverage of his post-Parkland about-face that suggested he was all talk and no action on the issue, and easily controlled by the NRA. One of the sources noted that Trump’s aversion to being seen as “controlled” by anyone or any organization makes it much more likely that the president will dwell on the issue for longer than he did last year.

Trump’s influence could well make or break legislation, since Republicans are unlikely to support anything without his blessing but will be just as hesitant to immediately reject a bill he puts his full support behind.

“Many Hill Republicans are waiting to see what Trump will get behind,” said a Senate GOP aide. “He gives them political cover. I don’t think you’re going to see any one bill or one proposal get any momentum until the President publicly endorses it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Thursday that he and the president are actively discussing possible avenues for gun legislation. “He’s anxious to get an outcome and so am I,” said McConnell on a radio show in Kentucky.

The GOP leader stressed that the president was open to a discussion on gun legislation, from background checks to “red flag” bills: “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.”

A spokesman for McConnell declined to elaborate on the Senate leader’s conversations with the president.

Democrats aren’t holding their breath, given that McConnell won’t call the Senate back from its recess for gun bills and that Trump has backtracked before on the issue after outcry from pro-gun factions of his base.

Democratic aides have been mindful of Sean Hannity’s reaction to the background checks push, since Trump’s position has been known to change based on the broadcasts or private counsel of Hannity and other top Fox personalities.

White House aides are similarly waiting on Trump, and talking up how he’s also been reaching out across the aisle to find a potential solution, even if nobody knows what that would look like yet. “The president has been actively talking to Republicans and Democrats on the matter of background checks, and just being able to have meaningful, measurable reforms that don’t confiscate law-abiding citizens’ firearms without due process, but at the same time keep those firearms out of people who have a propensity toward violence,” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, said on this week’s Fox News Sunday.

One of those Democratic politicians, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said in a call with reporters on Wednesday he had spoken to the president twice since the shootings in Dayton and El Paso and that he was “committed to getting something done.”

While “everything is on the table,” Manchin said, Trump’s sign-off on any plan will be key to getting it through the Senate. The proposal introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Manchin in the months after the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary made modest adjustments to background check system by extending checks to gun shows and internet sales, but exempted gun transactions between friends and family members. It also provided additional funding to states to put critical information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in order to prevent people who should not have guns from obtaining them, and created a commission to study the causes of gun violence.

It’s a bill that’s failed twice, once in 2013 and again after the mass shooting in a San Bernardino office park in 2015. Both times it drew very limited support from Republican senators.

Asked what had changed since the last time the bill failed on the Senate floor, Manchin said, “The political will wasn’t there.”

Manchin said he was told by some colleagues who opposed the bill that they really didn’t object to the substance of the bill but they weren’t convinced the “Obama administration wouldn’t go further [and try] taking more of their guns away from them.”

Manchin said he tried to explain that would be unconstitutional, but to no avail.

Some Trump allies say that this president, given his record and rhetoric, might have just enough credibility among Second Amendment enthusiasts to drag them along, if he so chooses.

“If only Nixon could go to China, then maybe only Trump can address the chasm between gun owners and those who want gun control,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, told The Daily Beast. “He’s so strong on the Second Amendment he can truly do something to make a change when it comes to these mass shootings.”

Caputo, who in 2013 and 2014 advised Trump on pro-gun voters and the NRA when the celebrity businessman was weighing a run for New York governor, said that even years ago, “We talked about mass shootings and what that means to the United States, and the importance [to voters] of the Second Amendment, and I know the president has been thinking about this issue for a long time: How you balance gun rights versus gun atrocities.”

Trump’s former adviser added, “If the president pursues broader background checks… perhaps it’s because he knows that is something only he can do. He may lose the support of some of the most pro-gun members of his base, but the vast majority of us understand there are some reasonable measures to be taken.”

I will be very interested to see what happens in D.C. when Congress comes back from their vacation. Will they all together come up with realistic guns laws without the concern for the NRA? That includes the President and yes, both parties in both houses!

Firearm-Related Injury and Death in the United States: A Call to Action From the Nation’s Leading Physician and Public Health Professional Organizations; Politics and Solutions!

rifles364I have been so upset with the recent mass shootings and the lack of action to start the real discussion and solutions I thought that I would dedicate a few posts to this subject. The President and Congress had better get something done because the voters are pretty sick and tired of inaction and the GOP being afraid of the NRA. Get over it and do the right thing and come up solutions and more important, stop making it political!!!

Robert McLean, Patricia Harris, John Cullen, etc. of the AMA noted that shortly after the November publication of the American College of Physicians’ policy position paper on reducing firearm injury and death, the National Rifle Association tweeted:

Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.

Within hours, thousands of physicians responded, many using the hashtags #ThisIsOurLane and #ThisIsMyLane, and shared the many reasons why firearm injury and death is most certainly in our lane. Across the United States, physicians have daily, firsthand experience with the devastating consequences of firearm-related injury, disability, and death. We witness the impact of these events not only on our patients, but also on their families and communities. As physicians, we have a special responsibility and obligation to our patients to speak out on prevention of firearm-related injuries and deaths, just as we have spoken out on other critical public health issues. As a country, we must all work together to develop practical solutions to prevent injuries and save lives.

In 2015, several of our organizations joined the American Bar Association in a call to action to address firearm injury as a public health threat. This effort was subsequently endorsed by 52 organizations representing clinicians, consumers, families of firearm injury victims, researchers, public health professionals, and other health advocates. Four years later, firearm-related injury remains a problem of epidemic proportions in the United States, demanding immediate and sustained intervention. Since the 2015 call to action, there have been 18 firearm-related mass murders with 4 or more deaths in the United States, claiming a total of 288 lives and injuring 703 more.

With nearly 40 000 firearm-related deaths in 2017, the United States has reached a 20-year high according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We, the leadership of 6 of the nation’s largest physician professional societies, whose memberships include 731 000 U.S. physicians, reiterate our commitment to finding solutions and call for policies to reduce firearm injuries and deaths. The authors represent the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association. The American Public Health Association, which is committed to improving the health of the population, joins these 6 physician organizations to articulate the principles and recommendations summarized herein. These recommendations stem largely from the individual positions previously approved by our organizations and ongoing collaborative discussion among our leaders.

Background

In 2017, a total of 39 773 people died in the United States as a result of firearm-related injury—23 854 (59.98%) were suicides, 14 542 (36.56%) were homicides, 553 (1.39%) were the result of legal intervention, 486 (1.22%) were subsequent to unintentional discharge of a firearm, and 338 (0.85%) were of undetermined origin. The population-adjusted rates of these deaths are among the highest worldwide and are by far the highest among high-income countries. Firearm-related deaths now exceed motor vehicle–related deaths in the United States. Further, estimates show that the number of nonfatal firearm injuries treated in emergency departments is almost double the number of deaths. Firearm-related injury and death also present substantial economic costs to our nation, with total societal cost estimated to be $229 billion in 2015.

While mass shootings account for a small proportion of the nearly 109 firearm-related deaths that occur daily in the United States, the escalating frequency of mass shootings and their toll on individuals, families, communities, and society make them a hot spot in this public health crisis. Mass shootings create a sense of vulnerability for everyone, that nowhere—no place of worship, no school, no store, no home, no public gathering place, no place of employment—is safe from becoming the venue of a mass shooting. Mass shootings have mental health consequences not only for victims, but for all in affected communities, including emergency responders. Studies also show that mass shootings are associated with increased fear and decreased perceptions of safety in indirectly exposed populations. Preventing the toll of mass firearm violence on the well-being of people in U.S. cities and towns demands the full resources of our health care community and our governments.

Our organizations support a multifaceted public health approach to prevention of firearm injury and death similar to approaches that have successfully reduced the ill effects of tobacco use, motor vehicle accidents, and unintentional poisoning. While we recognize the significant political and philosophical differences about firearm ownership and regulation in the United States, we are committed to reaching out to bridge these differences to improve the health and safety of our patients, their families, and communities, while respecting the U.S. Constitution.

A public health approach will enable the United States to address culture, firearm safety, and reasonable regulation consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Efforts to reduce firearm-related injury and death should focus on identifying individuals at heightened risk for violent acts against themselves or others. All health professionals should be trained to assess and respond to those individuals who may be at heightened risk of harming themselves or others.

Screening, diagnosis, and access to treatment for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders is critical, along with efforts to reduce the stigma of seeking this mental health care. While most individuals with mental health disorders do not pose a risk for harm to themselves or others, improved identification and access to care for persons with mental health disorders may reduce the risk for suicide and violence involving firearms for persons with tendencies toward those behaviors.

In February 2019, 44 major medical and injury prevention organizations and the American Bar Association participated in a Medical Summit on Firearm Injury Prevention. This meeting focused on building consensus on the public health approach to this issue, highlighting the need for research, and developing injury prevention initiatives that the medical community could implement. Here we highlight specific policy recommendations that our 7 organizations believe can reduce firearm-related injury and death in the United States.

Background Checks for Firearm Purchases

Comprehensive criminal background checks for all firearm purchases, including sales by gun dealers, sales at gun shows, private sales, and transfers between individuals with limited exceptions should be required.

Current federal laws require background checks for purchases from retail firearm sellers (Federal Firearms License [FFL] holders); however, purchases from private sellers and transfer of firearms between private individuals do not require background checks. Approximately 40% of firearm transfers take place through means other than a licensed dealer; as a result, an estimated 6.6 million firearms are sold or transferred annually with no background checks. This loophole must be closed. In 2017, of the 25 million individuals who submitted to a background check to purchase or transfer possession of a firearm, 103 985 were prohibited purchasers and were blocked from making a purchase. While it is clear that background checks help to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals at risk of using them to harm themselves or others, the only way to ensure that all prohibited purchasers are prevented from legally acquiring firearms is to make background checks a universal requirement for all firearm purchases or transfers of ownership.

Need for Research on Firearm Injury and Death

Research to understand health-related conditions underpins the modern practice of medicine. In brief, medical research saves lives and improves health. Yet, despite bipartisan agreement that there are no prohibitions on the CDC’s ability to fund such research, research that would inform efforts to reduce firearm-related injury and death has atrophied over the last 2 decades. Consequently, we lack high-quality nationwide data on the incidence and severity of nonfatal firearm injuries. It is critical that the United States adequately fund research to help us understand the causes and effects of intentional and unintentional firearm-related injury and death in order to develop evidence-based interventions and make firearm ownership as safe as possible. Research should be nonpartisan and free of data restrictions to enable robust studies that identify robust solutions. Many of our organizations have affiliated with the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a nonprofit organization of health care professionals and researchers working to provide private funding for research related to firearm injury and its prevention. Both private and public funding are key to building a powerful evidence base on this important issue. Research for firearm injury and its prevention should be federally funded at a level commensurate with its health burden without restriction. To move from atrophy to strength requires not just allowing research, but also naming, appropriating, and directing funding for it and for the establishment of comprehensive data collection platforms to document the epidemiology of this growing public health crisis.

Intimate Partner Violence

Currently, federal laws prohibiting domestic abusers from accessing firearms do not apply to dating partners, even though almost half of intimate partner cases involved current dating partners. Federal law restricts firearm purchases by individuals who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or have protective orders against them if they are a current or former spouse; a parent or guardian of the victim; a current or former cohabitant with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian; are similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim; or have a child with the victim. It does not apply to dating partners, stalkers, or individuals who commit violence against another family member. This loophole in the background check system must be closed.

Safe Storage of Firearms

Keeping a firearm locked, keeping it unloaded, storing ammunition locked, and storing it in a separate location have all been associated with a protective effect. A 2018 study found that an estimated 4.6 million U.S. children are living in homes with at least 1 loaded and unlocked firearm. A large number of unintentional firearm fatalities occurred in states where firearm owners were more likely to store their firearms loaded, with the greatest risk in states where loaded firearms were more likely to be stored unlocked. Therefore, our organizations support child access prevention laws that hold accountable firearm owners who negligently store firearms under circumstances where minors could or do gain access to them. These laws are associated with a reduction of suicides and unintentional firearm injuries and fatalities among children.

Mental Health

The great majority of those with a mental illness or substance use disorder are not violent. However, screening, access, and treatment for mental health disorders play a critical role in reducing risk for self-harm and interpersonal violence. This is particularly of concern for adolescents, who are at high risk for suicide as a consequence of their often impulsive behavior. Access to mental health care is critical for all individuals who have a mental health or substance use disorder. This must include early identification, intervention, and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, including appropriate follow-up. Those who receive adequate treatment from health professionals are less likely to commit acts of violence and individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. Early identification, intervention, and access to treatment may reduce the risk for suicide and violence involving firearms for persons with tendencies toward those behaviors.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Several states have enacted ERPO or ERPO-style laws, and numerous other states are considering them. We support the enactment of these laws as they enable family members and law enforcement agencies to intervene when there are warning signs that an individual is experiencing a temporary crisis that poses an imminent risk to themselves or others while providing due process protections.

Physician Counseling of Patients and “Gag Laws”

Confidential conversations about firearm safety can occur during regular examinations when physicians have the opportunity to educate their patients and answer questions. Such conversations about mitigating health risks are a natural part of the patient–physician relationship. Because of this, our organizations oppose state and federal mandates that interfere with physicians’ right to free speech and the patient–physician relationship, including laws that forbid physicians from discussing a patient’s firearm ownership. Patient education using a public health approach will be required to lower the incidence of firearm injury in the United States. Our organizations are working on programs and strategies that engage firearm owners in devising scientifically sound and culturally competent patient counseling that clinicians can apply broadly.

In the privacy of an examination room, physicians can intervene with patients who are at risk of injuring themselves or others due to firearm access. They can also provide factual information about firearms relevant to their health and the health of their loved ones, answer questions, and advise them on the best course of action to promote health and safety. Providing anticipatory guidance on preventing injuries is something physicians do every day, and it is no different for firearms than for other injury prevention topics. To do so, physicians must be allowed to speak freely to their patients without fear of liability or penalty. They must also be able to document these conversations in the medical record just as they are able and often required to do with other discussions of behaviors that can affect health.

Firearms With Features Designed to Increase Their Rapid and Extended Killing Capacity

The need for reasonable laws and regulations compliant with the Second Amendment regarding high-capacity magazine–fed weapons that facilitate a rapid rate of fire is a point of active debate. Although handguns are the most common type of firearm implicated in firearm-related injury and death, the use of firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity during mass violence is common. As such, these weapons systems should be the subject of special scrutiny and special regulation. There are various strategies to consider, and our organizations look forward to a greater engagement and partnership with responsible firearm owners to determine how best to achieve this goal.

Conclusion

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

Understanding gun violence and mass shootings

Columbia University studies showed that public mass shootings, once a rare event, now occur with shocking frequency in the United States. According to the Washington Post, four or more people are killed in this horrific manner every 47 days. The most recent mass shootings, in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, occurred less than a day apart and resulted in the loss of 31 lives.

With each fresh assault, politicians and the public have become more firmly entrenched in their beliefs about the root causes of mass shootings and about possible solutions, from more restrictive gun control laws to better mental health care.

Researchers across Columbia University’s campuses have put these theories to the test in an effort to identify effective strategies for preventing mass shootings and other forms of gun violence.

Mental Illness

Mental illness has long been suspected as a primary cause of gun violence and mass shootings in particular. But only 3% to 5% of violent events are attributable to mental illness, writes Paul Appelbaum, MD, director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, in an opinion article in JAMA Psychiatry. “Much of the increased risk [of violence] in people with mental disorders is attributable to other variables rather than to the disorders themselves. Substance abuse, for example, accounts for a large proportion of the incremental risk.”

Further, Appelbaum writes, “compilations of incidents of mass shootings suggest that people with severe mental disorders may be overrepresented among the perpetrators, but given the possibility of bias in the nonsystematic collection of such data, firm conclusions are impossible at this point.”

Video Games

With little funding to study gun violence, “we tend to fall back on conclusions unsupported by evidence,” says Sonali Rajan, EdD, assistant professor of health education at Columbia University Teachers College in an interview published on the school’s website.

In a study published in PLOS ONE, Rajan and colleagues from NYU Langone found no association between video games and other types of screen time and gun ownership among teens. The researchers analyzed data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System—which surveyed tens of thousands of teens about 55 different behaviors over a period of 10 years—to identify factors associated with carrying a firearm. “Among the 5% to 10% of American teens who report regularly carrying a firearm, there is a much stronger association with substance use, engagement in physical fighting, and exposure to sexual violence than with any poor mental health indicator,” explains Rajan.

Gun Laws

States with more permissive gun laws and greater ownership of firearms had higher rates of mass shootings than states with more restrictions on gun ownership, according to a recent study by Columbia researchers in the British Medical Journal. “Our analyses reveal that U.S. gun laws have become more permissive in past decades, and the divide between permissive states and those with more stringent laws seems to be widening in concert with the growing tragedy of mass shootings in the U.S.,” says senior author Charles Branas, Ph.D., chair of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in an article on the school’s website.

“What happened in Las Vegas saddens me deeply,” Branas says in a previous interview for the Mailman School website. “But this is only the tip of a much larger gun-violence iceberg in the U.S. On the same day, hundreds more people across the U.S. were shot, adding up to somewhere around 100,000 shootings a year.

“We need to think beyond simply guns and people, and start thinking about the environment that is promoting these shootings in the first place,” writes Branas, whose research also has focused on transforming abandoned housing and other signs of urban and rural blight to improve community health and safety.

In other countries, the implementation of laws restricting the purchase of and access to guns in other countries has also been associated with reductions in gun-related deaths, according to a study from researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “While the research did not conclusively prove that restrictions, or relaxation of laws, reduce gun deaths, the results indicate that gun violence tended to decline after countries passed new restrictions on gun purchasing and ownership,” says co-author Sandro Galea, Ph.D., in an interview for the school’s website.

Aftereffects

Recent suicides among survivors of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Parkland High School show that the effects of such violent events are long-lasting and entrenched.

“The public may be affected [by mass shootings] even if they were not in immediate proximity, because the media reifies the effects of a mass violent incident,” says Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a recent video interview for Medscape.

For survivors of violent events, “reminders such as anniversaries can prolong complicated grief or even reactive grief and trauma,” writes Kathleen Pike, Ph.D., director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University, in an article published on the center’s website. “Community supports matter not only in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events but also for individuals who continue to suffer over time.”

GOP Waits to See if Trump Will Protect It From the NRA Before Moving on Gun Laws

Sam Brodey, Asawin Suebsaeng and Jackie Kucinich reported that just over a week since mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Senate Republicans are waiting to see if President Trump walks away from the issue again or forces their hand before trying to do anything about potentially expanding background checks for gun purchases.

He’s walked away before. Following the Parkland school massacre last year, the president promised that he was “going to be very strong on background checks,” only to retreat after holding private meetings with National Rifle Association officials at the White House. The NRA, a key ally of Trump’s, has spent big money lobbying against background-checks expansion legislation, and last week reminded him of its staunch opposition.

After the latest shootings, Trump told reporters that there is great “appetite” on the Hill to finally get something done on background checks but his GOP allies in the Senate are holding off, unwilling to burn political capital with the gun lobby and conservative-base voters on the issue if Trump isn’t going to burn some of his.

However, the president’s prior inaction, and the media coverage he incurred for it, may force him to make at least a slightly harder run at background checks this time around, even if only in his messaging and bluster. Two people who’ve spoken to the president in recent days say that he has referenced, during conversations about how he could possibly bend the NRA to his will in this case, his annoyance at media coverage of his post-Parkland about-face that suggested he was all talk and no action on the issue, and easily controlled by the NRA. One of the sources noted that Trump’s aversion to being seen as “controlled” by anyone or any organization makes it much more likely that the president will dwell on the issue for longer than he did last year.

Trump’s influence could well make or break legislation, since Republicans are unlikely to support anything without his blessing but will be just as hesitant to immediately reject a bill he puts his full support behind.

“Many Hill Republicans are waiting to see what Trump will get behind,” said a Senate GOP aide. “He gives them political cover. I don’t think you’re going to see any one bill or one proposal get any momentum until the President publicly endorses it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Thursday that he and the president are actively discussing possible avenues for gun legislation. “He’s anxious to get an outcome and so am I,” said McConnell on a radio show in Kentucky.

The GOP leader stressed that the president was open to a discussion on gun legislation, from background checks to “red flag” bills: “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.”

A spokesman for McConnell declined to elaborate on the Senate leader’s conversations with the president.

Democrats aren’t holding their breath, given that McConnell won’t call the Senate back from its recess for gun bills and that Trump has backtracked before on the issue after outcry from pro-gun factions of his base.

Democratic aides have been mindful of Sean Hannity’s reaction to the background checks push, since Trump’s position has been known to change based on the broadcasts or private counsel of Hannity and other top Fox personalities.

White House aides are similarly waiting on Trump, and talking up how he’s also been reaching out across the aisle to find a potential solution, even if nobody knows what that would look like yet. “The president has been actively talking to Republicans and Democrats on the matter of background checks, and just being able to have meaningful, measurable reforms that don’t confiscate law-abiding citizens’ firearms without due process, but at the same time keep those firearms out of people who have a propensity toward violence,” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, said on this week’s Fox News Sunday.

One of those Democratic politicians, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said in a call with reporters on Wednesday he had spoken to the president twice since the shootings in Dayton and El Paso and that he was “committed to getting something done.”

While “everything is on the table,” Manchin said, Trump’s sign-off on any plan will be key to getting it through the Senate. The proposal introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Manchin in the months after the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary made modest adjustments to background check system by extending checks to gun shows and internet sales, but exempted gun transactions between friends and family members. It also provided additional funding to states to put critical information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in order to prevent people who should not have guns from obtaining them, and created a commission to study the causes of gun violence.

It’s a bill that’s failed twice, once in 2013 and again after the mass shooting in a San Bernardino office park in 2015. Both times it drew very limited support from Republican senators.

Asked what had changed since the last time the bill failed on the Senate floor, Manchin said, “The political will wasn’t there.”

Manchin said he was told by some colleagues who opposed the bill that they really didn’t object to the substance of the bill but they weren’t convinced the “Obama administration wouldn’t go further [and try] taking more of their guns away from them.”

Manchin said he tried to explain that would be unconstitutional, but to no avail.

Some Trump allies say that this president, given his record and rhetoric, might have just enough credibility among Second Amendment enthusiasts to drag them along, if he so chooses.

“If only Nixon could go to China, then maybe only Trump can address the chasm between gun owners and those who want gun control,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, told The Daily Beast. “He’s so strong on the Second Amendment he can truly do something to make a change when it comes to these mass shootings.”

Caputo, who in 2013 and 2014 advised Trump on pro-gun voters and the NRA when the celebrity businessman was weighing a run for New York governor, said that even years ago, “We talked about mass shootings and what that means to the United States, and the importance [to voters] of the Second Amendment, and I know the president has been thinking about this issue for a long time: How you balance gun rights versus gun atrocities.”

Trump’s former adviser added, “If the president pursues broader background checks… perhaps it’s because he knows that is something only he can do. He may lose the support of some of the most pro-gun members of his base, but the vast majority of us understand there are some reasonable measures to be taken.”

I do have more data comparing the gun violence in the U.S.A. to other countries, which I will save until next week. But the most important point of this post is that those who can make the difference, i.e. the President and Congress have to ignore the NRA and do the right things. I have included a number of options and most important is that we all can not wait for another media circus as they cover the next mass shooting or jus any shooting, especially where the offending weapon is an assault weapon.

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

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

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

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

Americans get insurance from four main sources.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Africa puts initial universal healthcare cost at $17 billion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“TAX BURDEN”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rural hospitals take the spotlight in the coverage expansion debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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