Category Archives: Senator Bernie Sanders

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dems hit GOP on health care with additional ObamaCare lawsuit vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Short-Term Plans Junk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Waiver Guidance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us discuss possible fixes to Obamacare next week.

And to a lighter side:

You can now buy an actual hospital room on Amazon

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

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MedModular

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

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

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

So who would buy the units?

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

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

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

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

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MedModular

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

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

Incidentally, you can also buy tiny houses on Amazon.

 

 

Congress Must Pony Up to Improve Nation’s Health, Doc Groups Say and Our Politicians Need to Change the Conversation

52585272_1914340792028904_751869742112833536_nIt was an interesting week on so many levels. I guess that we don’t have to worry about another government shut down…. until next September but now Congress, the Senate and the President will fight and get nothing done… Probably not even getting the full wall.

Can any progress be made on health care if we have all this anger, incivility and progressive socialism?!? Let’s have progress in health care and vows to work for a better future!

Medical society leaders come to Capitol Hill to push their funding priorities

News Editor of MedPage, Joyce Frieden remarked that Congress needs to do a better job of funding public health priorities and improving the healthcare system, a group of six physician organizations told members of Congress.

Presidents of six physician organizations — the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Osteopathic Association, and the American Psychiatric Association — visited members of Congress as a group here Wednesday to get their message across. The American Medical Association, whose annual Washington advocacy conference takes place here next week, did not participate.

The physician organizations had a series of principles that they wanted to emphasize during their Capitol Hill visits, including:

  • Helping people maintain their insurance coverage
  • Protecting patient-centered insurance reforms
  • Stabilizing the insurance market
  • Improving the healthcare financing system
  • Addressing high prescription drug prices

The group also released a list of proposed 2020 appropriations for various federal healthcare agencies, including:

  • $8.75 billion for the Health Resources and Services Administration
  • $7.8 billion for the CDC
  • $460 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
  • $41.6 billion for the National Institutes of Health
  • $3.7 billion for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

One of the group’s specific principles revolves around Medicaid funding. “Policymakers should not make changes to federal Medicaid funding that would erode benefits, eligibility, or coverage compared to current law,” the group said in its priorities statement.

This would include programs like the work requirements recently approved in Arkansas and other states; the Kaiser Family Foundation reported in January that more than 18,000 Arkansans have been dropped from the Medicaid rolls for failing to meet the work requirements there.

“Our group is very, very supportive of innovation,” said Ana Maria López, MD, MPH, president of the American College of Physicians, at a breakfast briefing here with reporters. “We welcome testing and evaluation, but we have a very strong tenet that any effort should first do no harm, so any proposed changes should increase — not decrease — the number of people who are insured. Anything that decreases access we should not support.”

That includes work requirements, said John Cullen, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “When waivers are used in ways that are trying to get people off of the Medicaid rolls, I think that’s a problem,” he said. “What you want to do is increase coverage.”

Lydia Jeffries, MD, a member of the government affairs committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agreed. “We support voluntary efforts to increase jobs in the Medicaid population, but we strongly feel that mandatory efforts are against our principal tenets of increasing coverage.”

More $$ for Gun Violence Research

Gun violence research is another focus for the group, which is seeking $50 million in new CDC funding to study firearm-related morbidity and mortality prevention. Kyle Yasuda, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, explained that gun research stopped in 1997 after the passage of the so-called Dickey Amendment, which prevented the CDC from doing any “gun control advocacy” — that is, accepting for publication obviously biased articles and rejecting any articles that found any positive benefits to gun ownership. Although the amendment didn’t ban the research per se, the CDC chose to comply with it by just avoiding any gun violence research altogether.

Recently, however, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, “have provided assurances that the language in the Dickey Amendment would allow for [this] research,” said Yasuda. “We didn’t have research to guide us and that’s what we need to go back to.”

The research is important, said Altha Stewart, MD, president of the American Psychiatric Association, because “in addition to the physical consequences related to gun violence, there’s a long-term psychological impact on everyone involved — both the people who are hurt and the people who witness that hurt. It’s a set of concentric circles that emerges when we talk about the psychological effects of trauma. We often think of [these people] as outliers, but for many people, we work with, this has become all too common in their lives.

“This is definitely our lane as physicians and I’m glad we’re in it,” she said, referring to a popular hashtag on the topic.

Yasuda said the effects of gun violence are nothing new to him because he spent half his career as a trauma surgeon in Seattle. “It’s not just the long-term effect on kids, it is the next generation of kids … It’s the impact on future generations that this exposure to gun violence has on our society, and we just have to stop it.”

The high cost of prescription drugs also needs to be addressed, López said. “We see this every day; people come in and have a list of medications, and you look and see when they were refilled, and see that the refill times are not exactly right … People will say, ‘I can afford to take these two meds on a daily basis, these I have to take once a week’ … They make a plan. [They say] ‘I can fill my meds or I can pay my rent.’ People are making these sorts of choices, and as physicians, it’s our job to advocate for their health.”

One thing the group is staying away from is endorsing a specific health reform plan. “We’re agnostic as far as what a plan looks like, but it has to follow the principles we’ve outlined on consumer protection, coverage, and benefits,” said Cullen. “As far as a specific plan, we have not decided on that.”

Also, Politicians Need To Change The Conversation On How To Fix Health Care

Discussions about Medicare for all, free market care, and Obamacare address one issue – how we pay for health care. The public is tired of these political sound bites and doesn’t have faith in either public or private payment systems to fix their health care woes. Changing the payer system isn’t going to fix the real problem of the underlying cost of care and how it is delivered.

The current system is rotting from the inside. Fee for service payment started the trend with rewarding health care providers for the amount of care they deliver. Through the decades, health care organizations learned how to manipulate the system to maximize profit. Remember, at no time has an insurer lost money. They just increase premiums and decrease reimbursements to health care facilities and caregivers and constrict their coverage. Insurers retaliated by creating more hoops to jump through to get services covered. This includes both Medicare and private insurance.

Who is left to deal with the quagmire? The patients. Additionally, the health care professionals who originally entered their profession to take care of people became burned out minions of the health care machine. Now we are left with an expensive, fragmented health care system that costs three times more than the average costs of other developed countries and has much poorer health outcomes.

Our country needs a fresh conversation on how to fix our health care system. The politicians who can simplify health care delivery and provide a plan to help the most people at a reasonable cost will win the day. There are straightforward fixes to the problem.

Provide taxpayer-funded primary care directly and remove it from insurance coverage

About 75% of the population needs only primary care. Early hypertension, diabetes, and other common chronic issues can be easily cared for by a good primary care system. This will reduce the progression of a disease and reduce costs down the line.  Unfortunately, the fee for service system has decimated our primary care workforce through turf wars and payment disparities with specialty care and we now have a severe primary care shortage. Patients often end up with multiple specialists which increases cost, provides unsafe and fragmented care, and decreases patient productivity.

Insurance is meant to cover only high cost or rare events. Primary care is inexpensive and is needed regularly, so it is not insurable. We pay insurance companies  25% in overhead for the privilege of covering our primary care expenses. Plus, patients and their doctors often must fight insurance companies to get services covered. The lost productivity for patients and care providers is immeasurable.

In a previous article, the author shared the proposal of creating a nationalized network of community health centers to provide free primary care, dental care, and mental health care to everyone in this country.

  • Community health centers currently provide these services for an average cost of less than $1,000 per person per year. By providing this care free to all, we can remove primary care from insurance coverage, which would reduce the cost of health insurance premiums.

Free primary care would improve population health, which will subsequently reduce the cost of specialty care and further reduce premiums.

  • Community health centers can serve as treatment centers for addiction, such as our current opioid crisis, and serve as centers of preparedness for epidemic and bioterrorist events.

People who do not want to access a community health center can pay for primary care through direct primary care providers.

  • This idea is not unprecedented – Spain enacted a nationwide system of community health centers in the 1980s. Health care measures, patient satisfaction, and costs improved significantly.

By providing a free base of primary care, dental care, and mental health care to everyone in this country, we can improve health, reduce costs, and improve productivity while we work toward fixing our health care payment system.

Current Community Health Centers

Community health centers currently serve approximately 25 million low-income patients although they have the structural capacity to serve many more. This historical perspective of serving low-income individuals may be a barrier to acceptance in the wider population. In fact, when discussing this proposal with a number of health economists and policy people, many felt the current variability in the quality of care would discourage use of community health centers in all but a low-income population. Proper funding, a culture of care and accountability, and the creation of a high functioning state of the art facilities would address this concern.

There are currently a number of community health centers offering innovative care, including dental and mental health care. Some centers use group care and community health workers to deliver care to their communities. Many have programs making a serious dent in fighting the opioid epidemic. Taking the best of these high functioning clinics and creating a prototype clinic to serve every community in our nation is the first step in fixing our health care system

The Prototype Community Health Center – Delivery of Care

Community health centers will be built around the patient’s needs. Each clinic should have:

  • Extended and weekend hours to deliver both acute and routine primary care, dental care, and mental health care. This includes reproductive and pediatric care.
  • Home visits using community health workers and telemedicine to reach remote areas, homebound, and vulnerable populations such as the elderly.
  • Community and group-based education programs for preventive health, obesity prevention and treatment, smoking cessation, and management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, musculoskeletal problems, chronic pain, asthma, and mental health.
  • A pharmacy that provides generic medications used for common acute and chronic illnesses. Medication will be issued during the patient’s visit.
  • There will be no patient billing. Centers will be paid globally based on the population they serve.

The standard of care will be evidence-based for problems that have evidence-based research available. If patients desire care that is not evidence based, they can access it outside the community health system and pay for that care directly. For problems that do not have evidence-based research, basic standards of care will apply.

It will be very important that both providers and patients understand exactly what services will be delivered. By setting clear expectations and boundaries, efficiency can be maintained and manipulation of the system can be minimized.

The Prototype Community Health Center – Staffing

The clinics would be federally staffed and funded. Health care providers and other employees will receive competitive salary and benefits. To attract primary care providers, school loan repayment plans can be part of the compensation package.

The “culture” of community health centers must be codified and will be an additional attraction for potential employees. A positive culture focused on keeping patients AND staff healthy and happy, open communication, non-defensive problem solving, and an attitude of creating success should be the standard. Bonuses should be based on the quality of care delivery and participation in maintaining good culture.

One nationalized medical record system will be used for all community health centers. The medical records will be built solely for patient care. Clinical decision support systems can be utilized to guide health care providers in standards of diagnosis and treatment, including when to refer outside the system.

Through the use of telemedicine, basic consultation with specialists can be provided but specialists will consult with the primary care physicians directly. One specialist can serve many clinics. For example, if a patient has a rash that is difficult to diagnose, the primary care doctor will take a picture and send it to the dermatologist for assistance.

For services beyond primary care and basic specialty consultation, insurance will still apply. The premiums for these policies will be much lower because primary care will be excluded from coverage.

How to get “there” from “here”

Think Starbucks – after the development of the prototype design based on currently successful models, with proper funding, centers can be built quickly. Attracting primary care providers, dentists, and mental health care providers will be key to success.

Basic services can be instituted first – immunizations, preventive care, reproductive care, and chronic disease management programs can be standardized and easily delivered by ancillary care providers and community health workers. Epidemic and bioterrorist management modules can be provided to each center. As the primary care workforce is rebuilt, further services can be added such as acute care visits, basic specialty consultations, and expanded dental and mental health care.

With the implementation of this primary care system, payment reform can be addressed. Less expensive policies can immediately be offered that exclude primary care. Ideally, we will move toward a value-based payment system for specialty care. The decision on Medicare for all, a totally private payer system, or a public and private option can be made. Thankfully, during the political discourse, 75% of the population will have their needs fully met and our country will start down the road to better health.

Well, this Fox & Friends Twitter poll on “Medicare for All” didn’t go as planned

Christopher Zara reported that in today’s edition of “Ask and Ye Shall Receive,” here’s more evidence that support for universal health care isn’t going away.

The Twitter account for Fox & Friends this week ran a poll in which it asked people if the benefits of Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for All” plan would outweigh the costs. The poll cites an estimated cost of $32.6 trillion. Hilariously, 73% of respondents said yes, it’s still worth it—which is not exactly the answer you’d expect from fans of the Trump-friendly talk show.

Granted, this is just a Twitter poll, which means it’s not scientific and was almost certainly skewed by retweets from Twitter users looking to achieve this result.

At the same time, it’s not that far off from actual polling around the issue. In March, a Kaiser Health tracking poll revealed that 6 in 10 Americans are in favor of a national healthcare system in which all Americans would get health insurance from a single government plan. Other polls have put the number at less than 50% support but trending upward.

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

Should we all be even concerned about any of these health care problems if AOC is right and the world ends in 12 years? Good young Ocasio Cortez, if she only had ahold on reality!! Her ideas will cost us all trillions of dollars, tax dollars, which we will all pay! Are we all ready for the Green Revolution?

 

 

 

 

Poll: Support for ‘Medicare-for-all’ fluctuates with details and Medicaid. What is the Answer​?

50065252_1872612819535035_7021591760191094784_nSo, one of the options that the Democrats are pushing is “Medicare-for-All.” But do the voters like the idea? Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar noted that Americans like the idea of “Medicare-for-all,” but support flips to disapproval if it would result in higher taxes or longer waits for care. Then how will the plan be financed?

That’s a key insight from a national poll released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. It comes as Democratic presidential hopefuls embrace the idea of a government-run health care system, considered outside the mainstream of their party until Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders made it the cornerstone of his 2016 campaign. President Donald Trump is opposed, saying “Medicare-for-all” would “eviscerate” the current program for seniors.

The poll found that Americans initially support “Medicare-for-all,” 56 percent to 42 percent.

However, those numbers shifted dramatically when people were asked about the potential impact, pro, and con.

Support increased when people were told “Medicare-for-all” would guarantee health insurance as a right (71 percent) and eliminates premiums and reduce out-of-pocket costs (67 percent).

But if they were told that a government-run system could lead to delays in getting care or higher taxes, support plunged to 26 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Support fell to 32 percent if it would threaten the current Medicare program.

“The issue that will really be fundamental would be the tax issue,” said Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who reviewed the poll. He pointed out those state single-payer efforts in Vermont and Colorado failed because of concerns about the tax increases needed to put them in place.

There doesn’t seem to be much disagreement that a single-payer system would require tax increases since the government would take over premiums now paid by employers and individuals as it replaces the private health insurance industry. The question is how much.

Several independent studies have estimated that government spending on health care would increase dramatically, in the range of about $25 trillion to $35 trillion or more over a 10-year period. But a recent estimate from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst suggests that it could be much lower. With significant cost savings, the government would need to raise about $1.1 trillion from new revenue sources in the first year of the new program.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., has asked the Congressional Budget Office for a comprehensive report on single-payer. The CBO is a nonpartisan outfit that analyzes the potential cost and impact of legislation. Its estimate that millions would be made uninsured by Republican bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act was key to the survival of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Mollyann Brodie, director of the Kaiser poll, said the big swings in approval and disapproval show that the debate over “Medicare-for-all” is in its infancy. “You immediately see that opinion is not set in stone on this issue,” she said.

Indeed, the poll found that many people are still unaware of some of the basic implications of a national health plan.

For example, most working-age people currently covered by an employer (55 percent) said they would be able to keep their current plan under a government-run system, while 37 percent correctly answered that they would not.

There’s one exception: Under a “Medicare-for-all” idea from the Center for American Progress employers and individuals would have the choice of joining the government plan, although it wouldn’t be required. Sanders’ bill would forbid employers from offering coverage that duplicates benefits under the new government plan.

“Medicare-for-all” is a key issue energizing the Democratic base ahead of the 2020 presidential election, but Republicans are solidly opposed.

“Any public debate about ‘Medicare-for-all’ will be a divisive issue for the country at large,” Brodie said.

The poll indicated widespread support for two other ideas advanced by Democrats as alternatives to a health care system fully run by the government.

Majorities across the political spectrum backed allowing people ages 50-64 to buy into Medicare, as well as allowing people who don’t have health insurance on the job to buy into their state’s Medicaid program.

Separately, another private survey out Wednesday finds the uninsured rate among U.S. adults rose to 13.7 percent in the last three months of 2018. The Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index found an increase of 2.8 percentage points since 2016, the year Trump was elected promising to repeal “Obamacare.” That would translate to about 7 million more uninsured adults.

Government surveys have found that the uninsured rate has remained essentially stable under Trump.

The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll was conducted Jan. 9-14 and involved random calls to the cellphones and landlines of 1,190 adults. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Trump Seeks Action To Stop Surprise Medical Bills

A healthcare reporter, Emmarie Huettman reported that President Trump instructed administration officials Wednesday to investigate how to prevent surprise medical bills, broadening his focus on drug prices to include other issues of price transparency in health care.

Flanked by patients and other guests invited to the White House to share their stories of unexpected and outrageous bills, Trump directed his health secretary, Alex Azar, and labor secretary, Alex Acosta, to work on a solution, several attendees said.

“The pricing is hurting patients, and we’ve stopped a lot of it, but we’re going to stop all of it,” Trump said during a roundtable discussion when reporters were briefly allowed into the otherwise closed-door meeting.

David Silverstein, the founder of a Colorado-based nonprofit called Broken Healthcare who attended, said Trump struck an aggressive tone, calling for a solution with “the biggest teeth you can find.”

“Reading the tea leaves, I think there’s a big change coming,” Silverstein said.

Surprise billing, or the practice of charging patients for care that is more expensive than anticipated or isn’t covered by their insurance, has received a flood of attention in the past year, particularly as Kaiser Health News, NPR, Vox and other news organizations have undertaken investigations into patients’ most outrageous medical bills.

Attendees said the 10 invited guests — patients as well as doctors — were given an opportunity to tell their story, though Trump didn’t stay to hear all of them during the roughly hourlong gathering.

The group included Paul Davis, a retired doctor from Findlay, Ohio, whose daughter’s experience with a $17,850 bill for a urine test after back surgery was detailed in February 2018 in KHN-NPR’s first Bill of the Month feature.

Davis’ daughter, Elizabeth Moreno, was a college student in Texas when she had spinal surgery to remedy debilitating back pain. After the surgery, she was asked to provide a urine sample and later received a bill from an out-of-network lab in Houston that tested it.

Such tests rarely cost more than $200, a fraction of what the lab charged Moreno and her insurance company. But fearing damage to his daughter’s credit, Davis paid the lab $5,000 and filed a complaint with the Texas attorney general’s office, alleging “price gouging of staggering proportions.”

Davis said White House officials made it clear that price transparency is a “high priority” for Trump, and while they didn’t see eye to eye on every subject, he said he was struck by the administration’s sincerity.

“These people seemed earnest in wanting to do something constructive to fix this,” Davis said.

Dr. Martin Makary, a professor of surgery and health policy at Johns Hopkins University who has written about transparency in health care and attended the meeting, said it was a good opportunity for the White House to hear firsthand about a serious and widespread issue.

“This is how most of America lives, and [Americans are] getting hammered,” he said.

Trump has often railed against high prescription drug prices but has said less about other problems with the nation’s health care system. In October, shortly before the midterm elections, he unveiled a proposal to tie the price Medicare pays for some drugs to the prices paid for the same drugs overseas, for example.

Trump, Azar, and Acosta said efforts to control costs in health care were yielding positive results, discussing, in particular, the expansion of association health plans and the new requirement that hospitals post their list prices online. The president also took credit for the recent increase in generic drug approvals, which he said would help lower drug prices.

Discussing the partial government shutdown, Trump said Americans “want to see what we’re doing, like today we lowered prescription drug prices, the first time in 50 years,” according to a White House pool report.

Trump appeared to be referring to a recent claim by the White House Council of Economic Advisers that prescription drug prices fell last year.

However, as STAT pointed out in a recent fact check, the report from which that claim was gleaned said “growth in relative drug prices has slowed since January 2017,” not that there was an overall decrease in prices.

Annual increases in overall drug spending have leveled off as pharmaceutical companies have released fewer blockbuster drugs, patents have expired on brand-name drugs and the waning effect of a spike driven by the release of astronomically expensive drugs to treat hepatitis C.

Drugmakers were also wary of increasing their prices in the midst of growing political pressure, though the pace of increases has risen recently.

Since Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives this month, party leaders have rushed to announce investigations and schedule hearings dealing with health care, focusing in particular on drug costs and protections for those with preexisting conditions.

Last week, the House Oversight Committee announced a “sweeping” investigation into drug prices, pointing to an AARP report saying the vast majority of brand-name drugs had more than doubled in price between 2005 and 2017.

The Ground Game for Medicaid Expansion: ‘Socialism’ or a Benefit for All?

One of the other options is that of expanding Medicaid but is that socialism or a benefit for all. Michael Ollove noted that a yard sign in Omaha promotes Initiative 427, which would expand Medicaid in Nebraska. Voters in the red states of Idaho and Utah also will decide whether to join 33 states and Washington, D.C., in extending Medicaid benefits to more low-income Americans as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act. Montana voters will decide whether to make expansion permanent.

Nati Harnik noted that on a sun-drenched, late October afternoon, Kate Wolfe and April Block are canvassing for votes in a well-tended block of homes where ghosts and zombies compete for lawn space with Cornhusker regalia. Block leads the way with her clipboard, and Wolfe trails behind, toting signs promoting Initiative 427, a ballot measure that, if passed, would expand Medicaid in this bright red state.

Approaching the next tidy house on their list, they spot a middle-aged woman with a bobbed haircut pacing in front of the garage with a cellphone to her ear.

Wolfe and Block pause, wondering if they should wait for the woman to finish her call when she hails them. “Yes, I’m for Medicaid expansion,” she calls. “Put a sign up on my lawn if you want to.” Then she resumes her phone conversation.

Apart from one or two turndowns, this is the sort of warm welcome the canvassers experience this afternoon. Maybe that’s not so surprising even though this is a state President Donald Trump, an ardent opponent of “Obamacare,” or the Affordable Care Act, carried by 25 points two years ago.

Although there has been no public polling, even the speaker of the state’s unicameral legislature, Jim Scheer, one of 11 Republican state senators who signed an editorial last month opposing the initiative, said he is all but resigned to passage. “I believe it will pass fairly handily,” he told Stateline late last month.

Anne Garwood (left), a tech writer, and April Block, a middle school teacher, review voter lists in preparation for canvassing an Omaha neighborhood in favor of Initiative 427, which would expand Medicaid in Nebraska.

The Pew Charitable Trusts

Bills to expand eligibility for Medicaid, the health plan for the poor run jointly by the federal and state governments, have been introduced in the Nebraska legislature for six straight years. All failed. Senate opponents said the state couldn’t afford it. The federal government couldn’t be counted on to continue to fund its portion. Too many people were looking for a government handout.

Now, voters will decide for themselves.

Nebraska isn’t the only red state where residents have forced expansion onto Tuesday’s ballot. Idaho and Utah voters also will vote on citizen-initiated measures on Medicaid expansion. Montana, meanwhile, will decide whether to make its expansion permanent. The majority-Republican legislature expanded Medicaid in 2015, but only for a four-year period that ends next July.

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Polling in those three states indicates a majority supports expanding Medicaid. Like Nebraska, all are heavily Republican states easily captured by Trump in 2016.

Last year’s failed attempt by Trump and congressional Republicans to unravel Obamacare revealed the popularity of the ACA with voters. Health policy experts said it also helped educate the public about the benefits of Medicaid, prompting activists in the four states to circumvent their Republican-led legislatures and take the matter directly to the voters.

Activists also were encouraged by the example of Maine, where nearly 60 percent of voters last year approved Medicaid expansion after the state’s Republican governor vetoed expansion bills five times.

“Medicaid has always polled well,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown. “When you explain what it does, they think it’s a good idea. What has changed is the intensity and growing recognition that states without expansion are falling further behind, especially in rural areas where hospitals are closing at an alarming rate.

“And all of the states with these ballot initiatives this year have significant rural populations.”

For many in Nebraska, the argument — advanced in one anti-427 television ad — that Medicaid is a government handout to lazy, poor people simply doesn’t square with what they know.

“These aren’t lazy, no-good people who refuse to work,” said Block, a middle school teacher, in an exasperating tone you can imagine her using in an unruly classroom. “They’re grocery store baggers, home health workers, hairdressers. They are the hardest workers in the world, who shouldn’t have to choose between paying for rent or food and paying for medicine or to see a doctor.”

Extending Benefits to Childless Adults

The initiative campaign began after the Nebraska legislature refused to take up expansion again last year. Its early organizers were, among others, a couple of Democratic senators and a nonprofit called Nebraska Appleseed.

Calling itself “Insure the Good Life,” an expansion of the state slogan, the campaign needed nearly 85,000 signatures to get onto the ballot. In July, the group submitted 136,000 signatures gathered from all 93 Nebraska counties.

The initiative would expand Medicaid to childless adults whose income is 138 percent of the federal poverty line or less. For an individual in Nebraska, that would translate to an income of $16,753 or less. Right now, Nebraska is one of 17 states that don’t extend Medicaid benefits to childless adults, no matter how low their income.

Under Medicaid expansion, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the health care costs of newly eligible enrollees, and the state would be responsible for the rest. The federal match for those currently covered by Medicaid is just above 52 percent.

The Nebraska Legislative Fiscal Office, a nonprofit branch of the legislature, found in an analysis that expansion would bring an additional 87,000 Nebraskans into Medicaid at an added cost to the state of close to $40 million a year. The current Medicaid population in Nebraska is about 245,000.

The federal government would send an additional $570 million a year to cover the new enrollees. An analysis from the University of Nebraska commissioned by the Nebraska Hospital Association, a backer of the initiative, found the new monies also would produce 10,800 new jobs and help bolster the precarious financial situation of the state’s rural hospitals.

For economic reasons alone, not expanding makes little sense, said state Sen. John McCollister, one of two Republican senators openly supporting expansion and a sponsor of expansion bills in the legislature, over coffee in an Omaha cafe one day recently.

“Nebraska is sending money to Washington, and that money is being sent back to 33 other states and not to Nebraska,” he said. “It’s obviously good for 90,000 Nebraskans by giving them longevity and a higher quality of life, but it also leads to a better workforce and benefits rural hospitals that won’t have to spend so much on uncompensated care.”

He said the state could easily raise the necessary money by increasing taxes on medical providers, cigarettes and internet sales. If 427 passes, those will be decisions for the next legislature.

Among the measure’s opponents are Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian advocacy group funded by David and Charles Koch that has been running radio ads against the initiative. Jessica Shelburn, the group’s state director in Nebraska, said her primary concern is that expansion would divert precious state resources and prompt cutbacks in the current optional services Medicaid provides.

“While proponents have their hearts in the right place,” Shelburn said, “we could end up hurting the people Medicaid is intended to help.”

Georgetown’s Alker, however, said that no expansion state has curtailed Medicaid services.

When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, it mandated that all states expand Medicaid, but a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made expansion optional for the states. As of now, 33 states and Washington, D.C., have expanded, including states that tend to vote Republican, such as Alaska, Arkansas, and Indiana.

Expansion is not an election issue only in the states with ballot initiatives this year. Democratic gubernatorial candidates are making expansion a major part of their campaigns in Florida and Georgia.

Ashley Anderson, a 25-year-old from Omaha with epilepsy, is one of those anxiously hoping for passage in Nebraska. A rosy-faced woman, she wears a red polo shirt from OfficeMax, where she works part-time for $9.50 an hour in the print center. She aged out of Medicaid at 19, and her single mother can’t afford a family health plan through her employer.

Since then, because of Anderson’s semi-regular seizures, she says she can’t take a full-time job that provides health benefits, and private insurance is beyond her means.

Because Anderson also can’t afford to see a neurologist, she is still taking the medication she was prescribed as a child, even though it causes severe side effects.

Not long ago, Anderson had a grand mal seizure, which entailed convulsions and violent vomiting, and was taken by ambulance to the emergency room. That trip left her $2,000 in debt. For that reason, she said, “At this point, I won’t even call 911.”

Anderson might well qualify for Social Security disability benefits, which would entitle her to Medicaid, but she said the application process is laborious and requires documentation she does not have. As far as she is concerned, the initiative is her only hope for a change.

“You know what, I even miss having an MRI,” she said. “I’m supposed to have one every year.” She can’t remember the last time she had one.

For the uninsured, the alternatives are emergency rooms or federally qualified health centers, which do not turn away anyone because of poverty.

While the clinics provide primary care, dental care, and mental health treatment, they cannot provide specialty care or perform diagnostic tests such as MRIs or CAT scans, said Ken McMorris, CEO of Charles Drew Health Center, the oldest community health center in Nebraska, which served just under 12,000 patients last year.

Almost all its patients have incomes below 200 percent of poverty, McMorris said. Many have little access to healthy foods and little opportunity for exercise.

William Ostdiek, the clinic’s chief medical officer, said he constantly sees patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease whose symptoms are getting worse because they cannot afford to see specialists.

“It’s becoming a vicious cycle,” he said. “They face financial barriers to the treatments they need, which would enable them to have full, productive lives. Instead, they just get sicker and sicker.”

Expansion, McMorris said, would make all the difference for many of those patients.

Some county officials also hope for passage. Mary Ann Borgeson, a Republican county commissioner in Douglas County, which includes Omaha, said her board has always urged the legislature to pass expansion. “Most people don’t understand — for counties, the Medicaid is a lifeline for many people who otherwise lack health care.”

Consequently, she said, the county pays about $2 million a year to reimburse providers for giving care to people who don’t qualify for Medicaid and can’t afford treatment, money that would otherwise be in the pockets of county residents.

‘That Is Socialism’

Insure the Good Life has raised $2.2 million in support of 427, according to campaign finance reports and Meg Mandy, who directs the campaign. Significant contributions have come from outside the state, particularly from Families USA, a Washington-based advocacy organization promoting health care for all, and the Fairness Project, a California organization that supports economic justice.

Both groups are active in the other states with expansion on the ballot. Well-financed, the proponents have a visible ground game and a robust television campaign.

The opposition, much less evident, is led by an anti-tax Nebraska organization called the Alliance for Taxpayers, which has filed no campaign finance documents with the state.

Marc Kaschke, former mayor of North Platte, said he is the organization’s president, but referred all questions about finances to an attorney, Gail Gitcho, who did not respond to messages left at her office.

Gitcho had previously told the Omaha World-Herald that the group hadn’t been required to file finance reports because its ads only provided information about 427; it doesn’t directly ask voters to cast ballots against the initiative.

Last week, the Alliance for Taxpayers began airing its first campaign ads. One of them complains that the expansion would give “free health care” to able-bodied adults. It features a young, healthy-looking, bearded man, slouched on a couch and eating potato chips, with crumbs spilled over his chest.

In a phone interview, Kaschke made familiar arguments against expansion. He said the state can’t afford the expansion, that it would drain money from other priorities, such as schools and roads. He said he fears the federal government would one day stop paying its share, leaving the states to pay for the whole program.

He also said, repeating Shelburn’s claim, that with limited funds, the state would be forced to cut back services to the existing population.

“We feel the states would be in a better position to solve this problem of health care,” Kaschke said. He didn’t offer suggestions on how.

Outside influence ruffles many Nebraska voters. Duane Lienemann, a retired public school agricultural teacher from Webster County near the Kansas line, said he resents outside groups coming to the state telling Nebraskans how to vote.

And he resents “liberals” from Omaha trying to shove their beliefs down the throats of those living in rural areas.

Their beliefs about expansion don’t fly with him.

“I think history will tell you when you take money away from taxpayers and give it to people as an entitlement, it is not sustainable,” Lienemann said. “You cannot grow an economy through transferring money by the government. That is socialism.”

It’s a view shared by Nebraska’s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts. He is on record opposing the expansion, repeating claims that it would force cutbacks in other government services and disputing claims, documented in expansion states, that expansion leads to job growth. But Ricketts has not made opposition to expansion a central part of his campaign.

Whether he would follow in the path of Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, and seek to block implementation of the expansion if the initiative passed, is not clear. Ricketts’ office declined an interview request and did not clarify his position on blocking implementation.

For his part, Scheer, the speaker of the legislature, said he would have no part of that. “We’re elected to fulfill the wishes of the people,” he said. “If it passes, the people spoke.”

Rural Hospitals in Greater Jeopardy in the Non-Medicaid Expansion States

Michael Ollove reported that after marching 130 miles from rural Belhaven, North Carolina, to the state Capitol in Raleigh, protesters in 2015 rally against the closing of their hospital, Vidant Pungo. Medicaid expansion could be the difference between survival and extinction for many rural hospitals.

In crime novelist Agatha Christie’s biggest hit, “And Then There Were None,” guests at an island mansion die suspicious deaths one after another.

So you can forgive Jeff Lyle, a big fan of Christie’s, for comparing the 36-bed community hospital he runs in Marlin, Texas, to one of those unfortunate guests. In December, two nearby hospitals, one almost 40 miles away, the other 60 miles away, closed their doors for good.

The closings were the latest in a trend that has seen 21 rural hospitals across Texas shuttered in the past six years, leaving 160 still operating.

Lyle, who is CEO, can’t help wondering whether his Falls Community Hospital will be next.

“Most assuredly,” he replied when asked whether he could envision his central Texas hospital going under. “We’re not using our reserves yet, but I can see them from here.”

It’s not just Texas: Nearly a hundred rural hospitals in the United States have closed since 2010, according to the Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill. Another 600-plus rural hospitals are at risk of closing, according to an oft-cited 2016 report by iVantage Health Analytics.

Texas had the most hospitals in danger of closing (75), the health metrics firm said. And Mississippi had the largest share of hospitals at risk (79 percent).

Neither state has expanded Medicaid eligibility to more of its low-income residents under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. In fact, the closures and at-risk hospitals are heavily clustered in the 14 states that have not expanded.

Those state decisions not to expand have deprived rural hospitals, which already operate with the slimmest of margins, of resources that could be the difference between survival and closure.

That is why Lyle and administrators of other rural hospitals in Texas and other non-expansion states are so adamant about their states joining the ranks of those that have expanded.

“It would mean a fair number of people we see who have no insurance would have insurance,” Lyle said. “And for us, a dollar is better than no dollar.”

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In Texas, the expansion would make 1.2 million more people eligible for Medicaid, according to a 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. An Urban Institute study in 2014 estimated that not expanding Medicaid would deprive Texas hospitals of $34.3 billion in federal reimbursements over 10 years.

Without that money, many rural hospitals in Texas and other non-expansion states have closed obstetrics units and other expensive services, forcing patients to travel long distances to seek treatment at the next-closest hospital, which is sometimes hours away.

By shedding those services, the hospitals diminish their reason for existing, said Maggie Elehwany, head of government affairs and policy for the National Rural Health Association.

The office of Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the most recent Republican chairmen of the health committees in the Texas legislature (the legislature has yet to make committee assignments for the current legislative session), Sen. Charles Schwertner and Rep. Four Price, did not return calls requesting comment for this story.

But not everyone believes Medicaid expansion is the answer to the problems facing rural hospitals. “Medicaid is as likely to prop up inefficient and wasteful hospitals as anything else,” said Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Another rural hospital in Texas, Goodall-Witcher in Clifton, which also operates two community health clinics and a nursing room, risked closing until residents of Bosque County voted in November to create a hospital taxing district.

“I’m not saying we would have closed the day after the election,” said Adam Willmann, the hospital’s CEO, “but I don’t know how much longer we could have gone.”

The additional taxes will bring the hospital an estimated $2.5 million a year and perhaps take it out of the red, but they won’t necessarily lift Goodall-Witcher out of financial peril, Willmann said.

“Medicaid expansion,” Willmann said. “That is one of the key things we could do to help us deal with the tough financial demands we face.”

The burden of Uncompensated Care

As envisioned by the ACA when it passed Congress in 2010, expansion states would extend benefits to all adults — including childless adults — whose income was at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. (In 2019, that would be an average individual income of $12,140, depending on the state.)

Initially, the federal government paid 100 percent of the health care costs of the expansion population. The federal share falls to 90 percent in 2020.

To date, 36 states plus Washington, D.C., have expanded Medicaid. By 2017, expansion under the ACA had covered 17 million new enrollees. Roughly another 4 million people would qualify in the remaining states, according to a 2018 Kaiser report.

Instead, many of those low-income residents remain uninsured or underinsured in plans with high deductibles and copayments.

But that doesn’t mean people don’t receive health care. Without health insurance, low-income people are less likely to get preventive care, which often results in worsening health conditions that frequently bring them to hospitals where they are guaranteed treatment. Under federal law, hospitals must stabilize and treat anyone showing up at the emergency room, regardless of their ability to pay.

Rural hospitals, like their urban counterparts, are forced to absorb those costs. But unlike bigger hospitals, their patient volumes, and operating margins are so low that “uncompensated care” burdens can be crippling.

For instance, Willmann said his hospital’s uncompensated tab last year was about $4.2 million, or 11 to 12 percent of his overall budget.

According to the Oklahoma Hospital Association, the state’s rural hospitals carried about $170 million in bad debt from charitable care and patients’ unpaid bills. Five rural hospitals have closed in the state since 2016.

A 2018 study in the journal Health Affairs found that the rate of closures of rural hospitals increased significantly in non-expansion states after 2014 when states began implementing the expansion. At the same time, closure rates decreased in expansion states.

Many administrators of rural hospitals are quick to say that Medicaid expansion alone will not solve their financial problems. Rural hospitals faced steep challenges long before the ACA.

Rural Americans tend to be older, in poorer health and less insured than those living elsewhere, the latter resulting in a greater share of uncompensated care for rural hospitals. Because of declining populations in rural areas, hospitals there often have empty beds, which means less revenue.

“It’s been a long, slow bleed,” said Fred Blavin, a health policy expert at the Urban Institute.

Automatic federal budget cuts beginning in 2013 (known as sequestration) reduced Medicare reimbursements, which are a particularly important source of revenue for hospitals. Congress has cut back on the amount hospitals can deduct for bad debt. Congress, in its budget tightening, reduced other forms of assistance to rural hospitals as well.

“You can put a Band-Aid on, but you still have 99 other wounds,” Willmann said.

Elehwany, of the National Rural Health Association, said that rural communities where hospitals are forced to close might be able to meet residents’ health needs by opening a new urgent care facility or maternal care center.

The loss of rural hospitals not only means patients having to travel longer distances to the next medical providers, but the closures also can often have a crippling effect on the local economy.

Goodall-Witcher Hospital is the largest employer in Bosque County. “Our payroll is bigger than the county’s entire budget,” Willmann said. “Can you imagine what it would do to this county to lose $9 million from the economy a year?”

A Health Services Research journal report found that when a rural area’s only hospital closes, income per capita falls by 4 percent and unemployment rises by 1.6 percent.

Willmann was relieved voters in his district supported the measure to create a hospital taxing district, but he acknowledged that it wasn’t a good deal for his county’s taxpayers. Their federal taxes help pay for the expansion in other states but not in Texas.

“Basically, you’re asking them to pay twice,” he said.

Rural hospital officials appear not to have the slightest hope that the deep red Texas legislature and the governor will get behind expansion.

“There is no likelihood of Medicaid expansion in Texas in the near term,” said John Henderson, CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals.

The government shutdown is over, but for how long? The New York Times finally got it correct when they wrote:

‘Our Country Is Being Run by Children’: Shutdown’s End Brings Relief and Frustration

 

HHS chief dismisses ‘Medicare for all’ as ‘too good to be true’ and the Black Hole that Our Politicians are Creating!

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Apologies to all those that read my posts for not posting Sunday evening. My home computer finally crashed. So, here is the weekly post for your review.

These last two weeks have convinced me that both the Republicans and Democrats are flawed and no longer deserve our support. More on that later!

But back to Medicare for All and the confirmation that it may not be the best offer for our health care system.  Nathaniel Weixel wrote that the Trump administration’s top health official on Thursday dismissed “Medicare for all” as a promise that’s too good to be true.

“When you drill down into the details, it’s clear that Medicare for all is a misnomer. What’s really being proposed is a single government system for every American that won’t resemble Medicare at all,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during a wide-ranging speech in Nashville, Tenn.

Azar said embracing Medicare for all would mean ignoring the mistakes of ObamaCare, which he called a failure.

“The main thrust of Medicare for all is giving you a new government plan and taking away your other choices,” Azar said.

This was not the first time a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services has tried to discredit the idea of Medicare for all. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma in July called it socialized medicine that would put seniors at risk.

Medicare for all has become increasingly popular among Democrats and is now favored by many of the party’s potential 2020 presidential candidates.

However, many congressional Democrats have yet to completely embrace the idea, and while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has sponsored a “Medicare for all” bill, there’s no real push for it in Congress.

Republicans have been pointing to Democratic calls for single-payer as a key rebuttal in this year’s midterm campaign, part of an effort to push back against Democratic attacks on GOP bills to repeal ObamaCare.

Aside from attacking Medicare for all, Azar in his speech praised President Trump as a better steward of ObamaCare than former President Obama ever was.

“The president who was supposedly trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act has proven better at managing it than the president who wrote the law,” Azar said.

He said premiums have been decreasing and there are more plans available for consumers to choose from on state exchanges.

According to Azar, premiums for the typical ObamaCare plan will decrease in 2019 by an average of 2 percent nationwide.

But insurance experts say the main reason premiums are either stable or decreasing this year is because they were so high in 2018. Insurers overpriced their plans this year, driven by the uncertainty over how the Trump administration would handle ObamaCare.

In addition, studies have shown premiums would also be decreasing much more if not for Trump administration policies like the elimination of the individual mandate penalty and expansion of short-term plan.

And now some good, positive news on the healthcare front!

Congress Passes Healthcare Appropriations Bill

Includes funding increase for NIH, $$ for opioid disorder treatment and research

  • Our friend Joyce Frieden of MedPage wrote that Congress has passed a major appropriations bill that increases funding for medical research and opioid disorder treatment and research.

The bill, which includes a $2-billion increase in the National Institutes of Health budget, passed the House Wednesday evening; the Senate passed it last Tuesday. The $674 billion measure, which also includes funding for the departments of Labor and Defense, now heads to the White House, where President Trump is expected to sign it before Oct. 1, in time to avoid a government shutdown.

Medical groups praised the bill’s passage. “We applaud congressional approval of the FY19 Labor-HHS/Defense spending bill which ensures increased funding for innovative research and public health initiatives to address deadly and disabling diseases,” Mary Woolley, CEO of Research!America, a trade group for medical research organizations, said in a statement. “Passage of the measure before the end of the current fiscal year is also noteworthy and congressional leaders should be commended for their commitment to advancing the bill in a timely fashion. The $2-billion increase for the National Institutes of Health builds on the momentum to accelerate research into precision medicine, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other health threats.”

In addition, she noted, “The measure will also enable the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to step up efforts to combat antibiotic resistance, and the opioid epidemic through research, treatment, and prevention.”

The appropriations bill also includes $317 million for various rural health initiatives, including $20 million for the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Grant Program for quality improvement and adoption of health information technology, and up to $1 million for telehealth services, “including pilots and demonstrations on the use of electronic health records to coordinate rural veterans’ care between rural providers and the Department of Veterans Affairs electronic health record system,” according to the conference report on the bill that was worked out between the House and Senate.

Other health-related provisions of the bill include:

  • $1.5 billion for State Opioid Response Grants
  • $765 million to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for fighting fraud
  • $338 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which had been targeted for closure by the Trump administration
  • $120 million for the Rural Communities Opioids Response Program

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) also applauded the bill’s passage. In addition to the NIH funding bump, “funding for the Health Resources and Services Administration’s workforce and pipeline programs will help create a strong and culturally competent health care workforce to provide those cures and treatments to vulnerable patients and those living in underserved communities,” AAMC president and CEO Darrell Kirch, MD, said in a statement.

In her statement about the bill’s passage, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) singled out the healthcare provisions in particular. “I am particularly pleased that [Health and Human Services] programs received such robust funding in this Conference agreement,” she said. “The bill increases funding for three of my top legislative priorities: fighting underage drinking, supporting newborn screening, and reducing maternal mortality.”

In addition, “at a time when this country is experiencing the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases in history, this bill restores both the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program and all Title X Family Planning dollars that help our teens gain critical access to reproductive health care and education.”

But not everyone was happy with the bill. “We’re pleased policymakers have likely avoided a shutdown and actually appropriated most of this year’s discretionary budget on time,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, in a statement. “But let’s not forgot that Congress did so without a budget and had to grease the wheels with $153 billion to pass these bills. That isn’t function; it’s a fiscal free-for-all.

“Policymakers should not be budgeting by borrowing more; they should put in place a full budget with a plan to bring our borrowing down, not up,” she continued. “Let’s stop patting ourselves on the back for adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit in an orderly manner. Let’s instead work together to stabilize the nation’s finances.”

 ‘Indelible in the Hippocampus’: Christine Blasey Ford Explains Science Behind Her Trauma

The teaching psychologist Dr. Ford explained the uneven memories of sexual assault survivors to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Anna Almendria wrote that while recounting her allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford said the judge had covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming during an assault while the two were teenagers in high school. In follow-up questions, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Blasey how she could be so sure that it was Kavanaugh who did it.

Blasey, who is a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, offered a lesson in neuroscience in reply.  “The same way that I’m sure that I’m talking to you right now, just basic memory functions,” Blasey told Feinstein in response. “And also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that sort of, as you know, encodes ― that neurotransmitter encodes memories into the hippocampus, and so the trauma-related experience then is kind of locked there whereas other details kind of drift.”

Norepinephrine and epinephrine are two hormones released when the body experiences stress. When a person is experiencing a threat like a sexual assault, these stress neurotransmitters flood the brain and help encode details like the environment and the people who you’re with on the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that’s responsible for creating and retrieving memories.

Later on in the hearing, she again referred to the hippocampus when responding to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) question about her most vivid memory of the alleged assault, which Blasey said took place in the early 1980s.

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two,” she said, referring to Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, the other person Blasey alleges was in the room when the assault took place. “And their having fun at my expense.”

In pairing the retelling of her traumatic experience with explanations of the way assault affects the brain, Blasey is educating the public about how survivors process and store violent memories and can recall them years later.

Sabrina Segal, a psychology professor at Cal State University, Channel Islands, says that Blasey was making a distinction between everyday memories that the brain records during calm, relaxed moments and traumatic memories that the brain encodes during periods of high stress and fear for one’s life.

“The hippocampus is a structure in the brain that we know basically converts short-term memory traces into long-term memory traces,” Segal said, a term that psychologists use to describe the physical change that takes place in the brain when it stores a memory. “We know this because of studies where this part of the brain was removed, and it altered a person’s ability to do that.”

This bit of biology explains why Blasey would be certain of some details like Kavanaugh’s face, or the environment of the room and less so of other details that occurred before the alleged assault, such as the owner of the home where the incident took place. In moments where she feared for her life and was in “fight or flight” mode, she would have details “seared” into her memory, Segal said.

The full mechanics of this response also involve the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain, which perceives and responds to danger.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that your body releases adrenaline, which is a stress hormone, and almost simultaneously your brain will release [norepinephrine] in the amygdala,” Segal said. “It’s a potency maker in terms of being able to strengthen the memory.”

Research shows that it is common for survivors of sexual trauma to strongly remember the details of the event itself but not have many memories of other details around the event.

“When something is incredibly traumatic and emotional, that [norepinephrine] is going to make specific details etched in, and you will never forget them,” Segal said. “The fact that she’s had these memories for 20 years is not shocking to me in any way.”

Negar Fani, an assistant professor at Emory University who specializes in the neurobiology of post-traumatic stress disorder, says that this traumatic memory-storing process has a strong evolutionary purpose.

“It’s so that you can avoid things that could potentially harm you in the future,” Fani said. “When you encounter and encode these contextual aspects of the memory, you’ll avoid things that even remotely relate to that trauma memory.”

Fani said this could explain why Blasey requested that Kavanaugh not be present in the room during her testimony. “This person who assaulted her produces that same fight or flight reaction,” Fani said. “Because he’s a critical part of the threat context, it’s going to arouse her fight or flight system, and it’s hard to think clearly when that fight or flight system is engaged.”

But there is a lesson for Dr. Ford, and these experts, who has accused the supreme court nominee, Judge Kavanaugh, of sexual harassment saying that the norepinephrine and epinephrine levels in her hipocampus basically cements that memory 100% in her hippocampus. Interesting!! If that were true how come that she doesn’t remember where it took place, when it took place and how she got home.

Well, the last article the “professionals” tries to explain these differences. Alas, this “expert”, along with those others, who are not medical doctors with no training in neurology or medicine don’t understand the effect of alcohol has on the levels of norepinephrine in the hippocampus or chose not to mention these facts. Study up Doc/PhD, before you try to sound so sure of yourself.

Now also remember the Prosecutor that the Republicans brought in to question Ford and Kavanaugh. Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor who questioned Christine Blasey Ford on behalf of Republican senators last week during an emotional hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a memo late Sunday detailing why no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Brett Kavanaugh given the “evidence” that exists against him.

“A ‘he said, she said’ case is incredibly difficult to prove. But this case is even weaker than that,” Mitchell said, explaining the case’s “bottom line.”

Ironically, Mitchell’s language mirrors the vernacular of former FBI Director James Comey, who similarly argued in July 2016 that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server.

The career Arizona prosecutor, who specializes in sex-related crimes, goes on to outline eight reasons why no “reasonable prosecutor would bring this case,” explaining the evidence fails to “satisfy the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.”

  1. Ford has not offered a consistent account of when the alleged assault happened

Mitchell explained that initially Ford said the assault occurred in the “mid-1980s,” but later changed the date to the “early 80s.” But when she met with the polygraph administrator, Ford crossed out the word “early” for unknown reasons.

Ford has also described the incident occurring in the “summer of 1982” and her “late teens” — despite claiming it happened when she was 15.

“While it is common for victims to be uncertain about dates, Dr. Ford failed to explain how she was suddenly able to narrow the time frame to a particular season and particular year,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford has struggled to identify Judge Kavanaugh as the assailant by name

Mitchell explained Ford neither identified Kavanaugh by name during marriage counseling in 2012 or individual counseling in 2013. Ford’s husband claims she identified Kavanaugh in 2012, but Mitchell noted that Kavanaugh’s name was widely circulated as a potential Supreme Court pick should then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have won the presidency.

“In any event, it took Dr. Ford over thirty years to name her assailant,” Mitchell wrote. “Delayed disclosure of abuse is common so this is not dispositive.”

  1. When speaking with her husband, Ford changed her description of the incident to become less specific

According to Mitchell, Ford told her husband before they married that she had been the victim of a “sexual assault,” but told the Washington Post that she told her husband she was a victim of “physical abuse.”

“She testified that, both times, she was referring to the same incident,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford has no memory of key details of the night in question — details that could help corroborate her account

Mitchell explained:

  • Ford does not remember who invited her to the “party, how she heard about it, or how she got there”
  • Ford does not remember whose house the assault occurred or where the house is located with any specificity
  • Ford remembers very specific details about that night that are unrelated to the assault, such as how many beers she consumed and whether or not she was on medication

Perhaps the most significant hole in Ford’s memory, Mitchell said, is the fact that Ford does not remember how she returned home from the party.

Factually speaking, the location of the party that Ford identified to the Washington Post is a 20-minute drive from her childhood home. And it was only during her testimony last week that she agreed for the first time that someone had driven her somewhere that night. Ford remembers locking herself in a bathroom after the alleged assault, but cannot identify who drove her home.

Significantly, no one has come forward to identify themselves as the driver.

“Given that this all took place before cellphones, arranging a ride home would not have been easy. Indeed, she stated that she ran out of the house after coming downstairs and did not state that she made a phone call from the house before she did, or that she called anyone else thereafter,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford’s account of the alleged assault has not been corroborated by anyone she identified as having attended — including her lifelong friend

As widely reported, Mitchell explained that each individual Ford identified as having been at the party has submitted sworn statements — under penalty of felony — that they do not remember the party and cannot recall or corroborate any detail that Ford alleges.

  1. Ford has not offered a consistent account of the alleged assault

Ford claimed in her letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that she heard Kavanaugh and Mark Judge talking downstairs while hiding in a bathroom after the assault. But she testified that she could not hear anyone, and only “assumed” people were talking.

Meanwhile, Ford’s therapist’s notes show that she said there were four boys in the bedroom when she was assaulted. However, she told the Washington Post it was only two, and blamed the error on her therapist. Also, in Ford’s letter to Feinstein she said there were “me and 4 others” at the party. However, in her testimony, she said there were “four boys” at the party in addition to herself and Leland Keyser, her female friend.

Additionally, “Dr. Ford listed Patrick ‘PJ’ Smyth as a ‘bystander’ in her statement to the polygrapher and in her July 6 text to the Washington Post, although she testified that it was inaccurate to call him a bystander. She did not list Leland Keyser even though they are good friends. Leland Keyser’s presence should have been more memorable than PJ Smyth’s,” Mitchell said.

     7. Ford has struggled to recall important recent events relating to her allegations, and her testimony regarding recent events raises further questions about her memory

Mitchell explained that Ford is unable to accurately remember her interactions with the Washington Post, such as what she told reporters or whether or not she provided them with a copy of her therapist’s notes.

Also of significance is Ford’s claim that she wished to remain confidential since she submitted her assault allegations to a person operating the Washington Post’s tip line. She testified that she did this due to a “sense of urgency,” claiming she did not know how to contact the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, she was unable to explain how she knew to contact the offices of Feinstein and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

Also, Ford cannot recall if she was recorded, via audio or video, during the administration of her polygraph, nor can she remember if the polygraph was administered on the same day as her grandmother’s funeral or the day after.

“It would also have been inappropriate to administer a polygraph to someone who was grieving,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford’s description of the psychological impact of the event raises questions

Ford testified that she suffers from anxiety, PTSD, and claustrophobia, which explains her fear of flying. However, she testified that she has flown many times in the last year, and flies on a regular basis for her hobbies and work.

Meanwhile, Ford testified that the assault affected her academically in college. However, she never claimed it affected her in high school after the assault allegedly occurred.

“It is significant that she used the word ‘contributed’ when she described the psychological impact of the incident to the Washington Post. Use of the word ‘contributed’ rather than ’caused’ suggests that other life events may have contributed to her symptoms. And when questioned on that point, said that she could think of ‘nothing as striking as’ the alleged assault,” Mitchell explained.

Finally, Mitchell said the “activities of congressional Democrats and Dr. Ford’s attorneys likely affected Dr. Ford’s account.”

And now we are going to have the FBI do an additional investigation after they have already vetted this candidate 6 times. That’s right, 6 times for his other judicial positions!

Besides this expert and witness to the horrible things that the judge has done, the behavior of most of the Democrats especially, but also some of the Republicans really sickens me. It represents childish, uncivil and I think truly unethical behavior, which has no place in this confirmation hearing. Do you all remember all that you did in high school and or college? I doubt it and some of these allegations can be interpreted in various ways. But trust me I am no fan of sexual aggressive behavior on anyone’s part but some of these allegations have to be taken in context and timing and in lieu of the behaviors of the time and grouping behaviors. Really??

I remember college gals exposing themselves when drunk or even after only one or two drinks as well as “men and women” away from home in college who were so drunk that they fell on each other, etc.

But that being what it is I am still angrier with our Senators and Representatives who by their behavior and lack of respect for Judge Kavanaugh and their anger for President Trump have created a circus. All this horrible behavior, the anger, hatred and the vitriol has convinced me to vote for independents and not anyone from each of our popular parties, unless it only leaves me the Republican as my only choice.

I was even going to vote for a Democrat in our Senate race because of the lack of any positive input or suggestions for health care decisions from the two term physician who has filled that spot. But now it will be the independent gentleman who gets my vote. I hope that many of you out there when you get to vote in November carefully make your choices. We the voters are the only people that can turn this black era in our society’s history around. The Democrats are pitting Democrats against Republicans, whites against Afro-Americans, “straights against gays/LGTBXXX and finally men against women. For what?  They want control of our government and to get on with their agenda. Horrifying!!

And now here is another insult by our politicians. I had an interesting experience on Friday afternoon while waiting for our train to New York City. Our Acela train was delayed by 1 ½ hours so that Senator Coons could give interviews in D.C. regarding the Kavanaugh hearing. Yes, they held up the train in D.C. Union Station, so that the senator could complete his interviews and claim the Business Car for him and his troop. Unbelievable!!

Next, more discussion on single payer health care choices and if there are other alternatives to consider.

 

Free tuition for all NYU medical students – a $55,018-a-year surprise but a Possible Solution!

38940385_1662028083926844_2145790176754925568_nSo, finally, medical schools, or really one medical school, is looking at one important aspect of the cost of healthcare and an impediment to a sustainable single-payer system, affordable healthcare or whatever you may want to call health care for all and now with the midterm elections around the corner.

Joel Shannon of USA TODAY wrote that all current and future students enrolled in New York University School of Medicine’s MD degree program will receive full-tuition scholarships, the school announced Thursday.

The scholarships are granted independently of merit or financial need for all enrolled students, the university said. Sticker price for tuition at the school is $55,018 a year.

The school has an acceptance rate of 6 percent, according to Princeton Review.

Students will still be responsible for books, fees, housing and other costs. The school estimates those education and living-related expenses will total about $27,000 for a 10-month term.

“No more tuition … The day they get their diploma, they owe nobody nothing,” said Kenneth G. Langone, the board of trustees chairman for NYU Langone Medical Center. The center is named for Langone and his wife, Elaine.

“(Students) walk out of here unencumbered, looking at a future where they can do what their passion tells them.” The school announced the news in a surprise end to its White Coat Ceremony, where new students receive lab coats. NYU Langone says Thursday’s announcement comes as the medical community reckons with the moral impact of higher education costs.

Medical students who face debt burdens that can reach well into six figures may be more likely to pick lucrative specialties, which may not be in the public’s interest, a release from NYU Langone says. The cost can also discourage some students from pursuing a career in the medical field at all.

The increasing cost of higher education has sparked action from employers, politicians, and schools around the country. Often those efforts are focused on financial need, as in the case of a “debt-free graduation” program announced by Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in April.

The move—which it said was financed by the generosity of the university’s “trustees, alumni, and friends,” amounts to a reduction of $55,018 in annual fees, regardless of financial needs or academic merit. It does not cover living and administrative costs averaging $27,000 a year. So, it isn’t entirely free!!

“A population as diverse as ours is best served by doctors from all walks of life, we believe, and aspiring physicians and surgeons should not be prevented from pursuing a career in medicine because of the prospect of overwhelming financial debt,” said Dr. Robert Grossman, dean of the NYU School of Medicine.

In its statement, NYU also pointed out that high student debt was putting graduates off pursuing less lucrative specializations including pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the median debt of a graduating medical student in the US is $202,000—while 21 percent of doctors who graduate from a private school such as NYU face over $300,000.

“Our hope—and expectation—is that by making medical school accessible to a broader range of applicants, we will be a catalyst for transforming medical education nationwide,” said Kenneth Langone, chair of the Board of Trustees of NYU Langone Health.

Thursday’s announcement came as a surprise ending to the school’s annual white coat ceremony, which marks the start of first-year students’ medical careers. Those 93 students will benefit from the scholarship, along with 350 others enrolled further along in the program.

NYU said it is the only top 10-ranked medical school in the US to offer such an initiative and I believe that their acceptance rate is 6% of applicants!!!

Rising higher education costs have led some to question the value of college broadly. More than half of undergrads do not think the “value of a college education has kept up with the cost,” a July Ascent Student Loans study found.

5 Key Questions About NYU’s Tuition-Free Policy for Medical School

Beckie Supiano in the consideration of free tuition at NYU Medical School added with pertinent questions. In these days of near-universal concern about tuition prices and student-loan debt, colleges promote new affordability efforts pretty frequently. But when New York University announced on Thursday that it would offer full-tuition scholarships to “all current and future students” in its doctor-of-medicine program “regardless of need or merit,” it left college-pricing experts a bit stunned.

“It’s hard to fathom how you go from charging this high price to zero,” said Sandy Baum, a nonresident fellow in the Education Policy Program at the Urban Institute, who wondered if the program would even, be sustainable. NYU has said it would raise $600 million to endow the effort, which it estimates will cost $24 million a year.

Announcing that a program will be tuition-free is guaranteed to make a splash, said Lucie Lapovsky, a principal of Lapovsky Consulting and a former college president. “It’s a much clearer message,” she said, than a price cut or waiving tuition for particular students. “It’s a bold move.”

In its announcement, the medical school — among the top-ranked in the country — cast going tuition-free as a way to address two concerns: the lack of socioeconomic diversity among medical students, and their tendency to choose prestigious and well-paid specialties that don’t align with the need to provide basic health care in large swaths of the country.

Could NYU’s program move the needle on those problems? And what lessons might it offer higher ed more generally? Let’s consider some key questions.

Why don’t more institutions do something like this?

Plenty of commenters on social media wanted to know why other medical schools — or colleges generally — don’t stop charging tuition. The short answer? “If enough money drops out of a helicopter, they can,” said Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. Few of the country’s colleges, he pointed out, have institutional endowments as large as the $600 million that NYU is raising just for this effort and my question is it sustainable in the future?

Few colleges have the same fund-raising opportunities, either, said Amy Li, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Northern Colorado. The alumni base of an elite private university’s medical school has unusually deep pockets.

Another reason most colleges won’t waive tuition: They need this revenue to keep the lights on. Among the many data points, the federal government collects in its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System is one that looks at how much of an institution’s core revenue comes from tuition. Not many colleges could feasibly abandon that income stream, said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University, who has analyzed those data.

“Harvard could,” Baum said. “It would sound great, but it wouldn’t be socially beneficial.”

Even the Harvards of the world use the tuition revenue they bring in, and they spend it on things that presumably make the educational experience they provide worthwhile to the many families that can and do pay full price to attend. They also offer significant financial aid to support their less-advantaged undergraduates. At such colleges, this category refers to family incomes that reach into the six figures.

But even a student paying full freight at Harvard is receiving a subsidy from the endowment, said Donald Hossler, a senior scholar at the Center for Enrollment Research Policy at the University of Southern California’s education school. Their tuition is expensive, but it doesn’t cover what the university is spending to educate them.

Endowments also come with strings, Boeckenstedt said: “People think of endowments as a big pool of money you can use to do whatever you want,” but most of the funds are set aside for specific purposes.

Could NYU’s announcement pressure other institutions to try something similar? Higher education is a competitive industry, so other top medical schools no doubt have taken notice. While they are likely to do something in response, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll try to replicate the program, experts said.

While elite medical schools are already out there asking for donations, NYU’s announcement might push them to consider raising money for an affordability initiative — which is bound to receive lots of favorable buzz — instead of launching yet another cancer-research center, said Boeckenstedt.

“It’ll be interesting to see if other schools jump on the bandwagon,” said Lapovsky, who suspects that other med schools will be inclined to show that they, too, are doing something to promote affordability.

The financial pressures of becoming a doctor weigh disproportionately on women and underrepresented minorities, she said. And those are two populations that medical schools may be especially keen to attract.

NYU’s program is expensive and hard to replicate, Baum said. If it had instead reduced the price for low-income students, the idea would stand a better chance of being adopted by more medical schools, much the way “no loan” financial-aid policies, in which loans are not included in the aid packages of some or all undergraduates, have become ubiquitous among elite colleges.

Colleges will probably also discuss the possibility of an undergraduate version of the program, Hossler said. But he doesn’t expect that to result in the birth of “no tuition” programs at the undergraduate level. A boost in financial aid, he thought, is more likely.

Is this the best way to spend $600 million? Baum, for one, was struck by the fact that, out of all the students it educates, NYU had decided to raise this much money to support medical students — a group that’s disproportionately likely to both come from and ends up in the high end of the income spectrum. After all, she pointed out, NYU often finds itself in the news for the significant loan burden faced by its undergraduates.

A $600-million effort could go a long way, she said, toward making their education more affordable. “You have to ask, from a university perspective, what their priorities are.”

Even if the goal were to help medical students, in particular, Baum said, NYU’s program is untargeted. There’s no requirement that students be low-income to have their tuition waived. An effort that raised $600 million for scholarships that low-income students could use at the medical school of their choice, she said, would do a great deal more to improve the profession’s diversity.

But it’s not as if the university got to decide its donors’ intentions, Lapovsky said. Given the apparent interest of big donors in supporting medical-school affordability, she said, this was “an exciting way to do it.”

When policymakers design a program that will use tax dollars, it makes sense to ask whether they’re using those dollars as efficiently as possible, said Beth Akers, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute. But that concern is not as pressing when private donors are putting their own money toward something they value.

Will this make the NYU medical school’s student body more diverse?

One medical school getting rid of tuition might not much change the socioeconomic diversity of the country’s doctors. Still, diversity is an important goal in its own right: Colleges argue that all students receive a better education when their classmates come from varied backgrounds.

But would NYU’s new scholarships make the med school itself more diverse? It could go either way. Going tuition-free could make diversity harder for NYU’s medical school to achieve, Hossler said. The school is bound to see an increase in applications and to receive applications from even more of the country’s top applicants. Whatever other factors its admissions process might consider, it’s not easy to turn away applicants with top grades and test scores, Hossler said. And for a host of reasons that may have little to do with ability, students from financially privileged backgrounds are more likely to have those.

Kelchen is more optimistic. With a larger pool of students to choose from and no revenue expectations, NYU’s medical school would have more power to shape its class as it sees fit. If it wanted to become more diverse, he thinks, it could.

A parallel can be found in elite colleges’ “no loan” policies. They come in two main flavors, said Kelly Rosinger, an assistant professor of education-policy studies at Pennsylvania State University, who has studied them.

Some colleges stopped packaging loans for all students, while others designed their programs for students with family incomes up to a certain cap. In neither case, Rosinger and her co-authors found did the programs do much to increase the enrollment of low-income students.

The universal programs, however, did bring in more middle and upper-middle income students. “I sort of worry,” Rosinger said, “about the same thing happening at the graduate level.” Enrollment at graduate and professional schools is already less socioeconomically diverse than at the undergraduate level, Rosinger said. “The barriers to elite education,” she said, “aren’t just financial.”

Perhaps NYU’s program could chip away at some of those other barriers, Lapovsky said. The university is now in a position to be able to tell younger students who assumed that medical school was financially out of reach that it need not be.

Will the decision change the career choices of NYU’s medical graduates? One thing NYU’s program does is send a signal that the medical school has an interest in its graduates’ paths beyond their prestige or earnings potential, Akers said. “Society can value things in a different way than the market values them.”

In its news release, NYU cited sobering statistics about medical students’ debt: 75 percent of them graduate in debt, with a median burden of more than $200,000. Such debt loads, some in the profession worry, push graduates into high-paid specializations at the expense of general practice.

NYU’s medical school is not the first entity to worry that starting out in that kind of hole might shape students’ career choices. “The federal government already has a program that’s supposed to help doctors go into general practice,” Kelchen said. “It’s called income-driven repayment.”

Indeed, Baum said, because of their high debt levels, many doctors will see a significant portion of their loans forgiven under the government’s income-driven repayment and public-service loan-forgiveness programs. Besides, she said, while $200,000 sounds like a lot of money, it’s dwarfed by the earnings difference between, say, pediatricians and neurosurgeons. Money is probably a factor in doctors’ decisions of what to specialize in, but education loans are just a small piece of that financial equation.

Our doctors are too educated. Should We Reform Our Education System?

Dr. Akhilesh Pathipati at Massachusetts Eye and Ear related his feeling on the education of our doctors. I had just finished an eye examination for one of my patients and swiveled around to the computer. It was clear that he needed cataract surgery; he was nearly blind despite his Coke-bottle glasses. But even before I logged in to the scheduling system, I knew what I was going to find: He wouldn’t be able to get an appointment with an ophthalmologist for more than three months. Everyone’s schedule was full.

Moments like these are far too common in medicine. An aging population with numerous health needs and a declining physician workforce has combined to create a physician shortage — the Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortfall of up to 100,000 doctors by 2030.

Policymakers have proposed many solutions, from telemedicine to increasing the scope of nurse practitioners. But I can think of another: Let students complete school and see patients earlier. U.S. physicians average 14 years of higher education (four years of college, four years of medical school and three to eight years to specialize in a residency or fellowship). That’s much longer than in other developed countries, where students typically study for 10 years. It also translates to millions of dollars and hours spent by U.S. medical students listening to lectures on topics they already know, doing clinical electives in fields they will not pursue and publishing papers no one will read.

Decreasing the length of training would immediately add thousands of physicians to the workforce. At the same time, it would save money that could be reinvested in creating more positions in medical schools and residencies. It would also allow more students to go into lower-paying fields such as primary care, where the need is greatest.

These changes wouldn’t decrease the quality of our education. Medical education has many inefficiencies, but two opportunities for reform stand out. First, we should consolidate medical school curriculums. The traditional model consists of two years of classroom-based learning on the science of medicine (the preclinical years), followed by two years of clinical rotations, during which we work in hospitals.

Both phases could be shortened. In my experience, close to half of the preclinical content was redundant. Between college and medical school, I learned the Krebs cycle (a process that cells use to generate energy) six times. Making college premedical courses more relevant to medicine could condense training considerably.

Meanwhile, the second clinical year is primarily electives and free time. I recently spoke with a friend going into radiology who did a dermatology elective. While he enjoyed learning about rashes, we concluded it did little for his education.

In the past decade, several schools have shown the four-year model can be cut to three. For instance, New York University offers an accelerated medical degree with early, conditional admission into its residency programs. The model remains controversial. Critics contend that three years is not enough time to learn medicine. Yet a review of eight medical schools with three-year programs suggests graduates have similar test scores and clinical performance to those who take more time.

Finally, we can reform required research projects. Research has long been intertwined with medical training. Nearly every medical school offers student projects, and more than one-third require them. Many residencies do as well. Students have responded: The number pursuing nondegree research years doubled between 2000 and 2014, and four-year graduation rates reached a record low. Rather than shortening training, U.S. medical education is becoming longer. The additional years aren’t even spent on patient care.

Done right, this could still be a valuable investment. Intellectual curiosity and inquiry drive scientific progress. But that’s not why most students take research years. I conducted a study showing that less than a quarter do so because of an interest in the subject matter. The most common reason was instead to increase their competitiveness for residency applications.

And because having more research published represents greater achievement in academic medicine, students are presented with a bad incentive to publish a large amount of low-quality research. Many of my peers have recognized this, producing more papers than many faculty members. It’s no surprise that there has been an exponential increase in student publications in the past few decades, even though a majority are never cited.

Medical schools need to realign incentives. This starts with the recognition that students can do valuable work even if it doesn’t end up in a journal. It’s time we get them out of school and in front of patients.

Another  Suggestion-Training U.S. doctors faster by cutting out college                                                                                                                               Abdullah Nasser, a neurobiology degree candidate at Harvard University related something the most foreign schools have found that the U.S.A. education for physicians is flawed. Consider two young people, similar in many respects. Both were outstanding secondary school students. Both wanted to help others. Both dreamed of becoming doctors and worked very hard to achieve that goal.

One took his SATs in high school and was accepted by his state university. He fulfilled his premedical requirements while pursuing a liberal arts degree in biology. After four years, he took the Medical College Admission Test and, following graduation, spent a year volunteering in rural Kenya to improve his odds of getting into medical school. He then applied and was accepted, matriculating as a first-year medical student at age 25.                                                 By that time, the second young person had already earned the right to have the letters MD after her name. In fact, she had graduated from medical school two years earlier and was well on her way to opening her own clinic. Over her lifetime, she can expect to practice medicine for four to five more years than her peer.    The only difference between them? The first person is American, while the second is British. Their stories are not the exception; they are the norm in their respective countries.

Medical degrees in the United States are being issued to older and older students. Data compiled by the Association of American Medical Colleges show that the percentage of first-year medical school students who are age 24 or younger has gone from 75 percent in 2001 to 50 percent last year. The average age of these first-year students in 2011 was 23 for women and 24 for men, a whopping five to six years older than our British friends — and most of the rest of the world.

A majority of the world’s countries, including Brazil, China, and Denmark, considers an MD to be an undergraduate degree. Five to six years after receiving their high school diplomas (or their national equivalent), students in these countries are seeing real patients while their U.S. counterparts are still struggling with verbal-comprehension passages on the MCAT. It is time for the United States to recognize the traditional pre-med path for what it is: a colossal waste of time and potential that is costing this nation millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Proponents of the status quo often argue that U.S.-educated doctors are renowned for their excellence and professionalism, but there is little evidence that earning an undergraduate degree before medical school produces better or more mature doctors. Put another way, there is no reason to believe that U.S. doctors are “better” than French, Finnish or German doctors — all of whom enrolled in medical programs straight out of high school. But there is some evidence that U.S. doctors may be worse. An international study in 2007 estimated the rate of medical errors in the United States to be higher than that in the six other countries examined: Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Others might argue that U.S. high school graduates are not prepared for the international approach to medical training. But performance on Advanced Placement tests suggests a growing minority would be able to handle the medical school course load.

A reasonable, and relatively cheap, way to address the issue is to allow a two-stream medical education system: one stream — similar to what we have now — for college-graduate entry into medical school; and one that is slightly longer for students straight out of high school (say, five or six years). This sort of model has been shown to work in several countries, including Australia and Britain.

Some U.S. medical schools, notably including New York University’s, are revamping their curriculums and offering shorter paths to graduation. This is a change in the right direction. The hybrid approach too would allow the United States to catch up with the rest of the world and reduce the critical demand for doctors without increasing our reliance on doctors with degrees from other countries or pushing our medical schools to their limit and would decrease the cost of medical education. How important is that? Consider that when Bernie Sanders suggests that Medicare for All can be financed partially by reducing salaries to our practicing physicians!!

My prediction is that NYU, as well as other medical schools that adopt a tuition-free policy will not have the sustainable endowment for future classes and the state government, will be forced to shoulder the burden. And there go our taxes!!

 

Five Doctors and Surgeons Tell Us What They Really Think About Medicare-for-all and the Trump Administration Continues to Change the Present Medicare System!

38631154_1656169364512716_8196802800739418112_nSome doctors support single-payer health care — even if that means a lower salary. I’m wondering more and more, about who is Cookoo, Cookoo today?? I know that Bernie, Nancy and many of our politicians are crazy or Cookoo, but educated physicians?

Remember last week when I discussed the explanation that if we adopt Medicare for All that one of the outcomes of this system would be a reduction in physician salaries. Dylan Scott reviewed the feedback regarding the Medicare for All plan as he reported from the muscle of the health industry lobby — pharma, health plans, doctors, and hospitals — some of which is gathering to stop proposed single-payer systems.

The Hill’s Peter Sullivan had the report on Friday morning. The industry’s influence can’t be underestimated: It stopped Clintoncare. And, for better or worse, it was a boon for passing Obamacare that the industry mostly supported the legislation.

The industry’s disparate interests fight over a lot of issues, but Medicare-for-all unites them. That is going to be a factor if we get to 2021 with a Democratic Congress and president, and they decide to pursue single-payer health care.

That moment really might come. A sign times are changing: A Republican health care lobbyist called me recently to ask whether all-payer rate setting would be a better alternative to single payer, by causing less disruption. (I quibbled that you would need some kind of coverage component, given the moral urgency that is animating the left on health care.)

Still, a Republican almost endorsing price controls. That is a pretty strong indicator of where our health care debate seems to be heading.

Payment cuts for health care providers, if we eliminate private insurance and move everybody to Medicare rates, are going to come up a lot in this debate.

Those cuts are an easy thing for industry lobbyists to target and for Republicans to run ads on. Cuts could be overstated, depending on how much legitimate waste single payer can actually eliminate by consolidating the administration of health care, but the projections for Medicare for All plans are going to anticipate big cuts.

That explains the industry’s lobbying position. But the reality on the ground is more complicated than that. There are absolutely health care providers who support single payer. Quite a few of them sent me emails after I asked for their thoughts last week.

Here are some of the most interesting responses. From a registered Republican working at a next-gen gene sequencing company:

Medicare is, without question, the most reliable, most predictable payer that we deal with. And for somebody like me, it would be a dream to only have to deal with them. Yes, they are pretty heavily regulated. And yes, they have pretty strict guidelines for who to cover. But unlike other payers, who make life virtually impossible for smaller providers because they’re in the for-profit game (the not paying for care game), Medicare at least adheres to a clear set of rules. Other payers put up an endless set of traps against reimbursement, contracting, and other parts of the revenue lifecycle that add substantial cost to services and thus increase the cost to the consumer. I can say with near certainty that parties in my industry would provide services at a materially lower price and with more predictable out of pocket costs if every payer was as reliable and consistent as Medicare.

As such, I’m now, despite growing up a conservative afraid of such government largesse as “Medicare for all,” convinced that a single public payer, either as rate setter or as a true single-payer, is needed. In contrast, I remain a staunch defender of private medical care, where companies such as my own and our competitors do battle to increase quality and lower patient cost.

So I guess you could count me as pro-Medicare for all, a sentence I never thought I’d write 15 years ago.

From a retired neurosurgeon, who had also thought of himself as a Republican:

I practiced neurosurgery in Texas and retired 20 years ago. I started out as a pretty solid, but non-thinking, Republican, opposing perceived intrusions of Medicare into my practice. I read Himmelstein and Woolhandler’s NEJM articles and thought they were Harvard hippie Communists. Over time, I came to see that they were right, that we really need a universal health care system, as so many of my patients weren’t getting needed care. I was a bit embarrassed making as much money as I did and would have done it for half of that.

From a radiation oncologist of more than 20 years, in Chicago and for the military:

I left full-time medicine a few years ago after getting fed up with continuously fighting insurance companies for pre-authorization and for the right to practice medicine the way I was trained within the standard published guidelines. I now work part-time seeing primarily uninsured and Medicaid patients.

A 2011 Health Affairs study found that the average US physician spends nearly $83,000 a year interacting with insurance plans. And a 2010 American Medical Association Study found the average doctor spent 20 hours a week on pre-authorization activities. This has only gotten more expensive and much worse. Under a single-payer plan, this would be much easier and far less expensive.

In addition, we know that the major cost of malpractice coverage is for the continued medical care of the patient that was harmed. A single-payer system would ensure that any such patient would be covered for the rest of their lives and as a result, malpractice coverage would also be dramatically lower.

While reimbursement under a single payer plan most likely would be less, so would the headaches and administrative hassles and costs. And I would be able to see far more patients instead of being on the phone fighting with a case manager, while my office and malpractice coverage costs would be far less.

From a Texas oncologist still early in their career:

My general view of Medicare-for-all is that it would moderately contribute to remedying our health care spending problem, but by no means fix it.

My understanding is that the biggest savings would come from getting rid of the huge administrative dead weight in our private insurance system. However, that in and of itself would not fix the fact that billing rates are through the roof here in the US. Saving a few percents on overhead would be great, but MRIs and appendectomies are still going to cost 2x-4x here than in other OECD countries.

I am definitely heterodox among physicians in believing that our salaries (mainly among specialists such as myself) ought to be significantly lower. The greater bargaining power than a single, government payer might have could potentially rein in some of that.

On the other side, from an anesthesiologist intern in Chicago, fiscally liberal but socially conservative, who has some concerns about how single payer would handle Catholic hospitals:

The one part of a more single-payer system that worries me relates to the socially conservative opinions I have. I’m sure you have seen the series FiveThirtyEight has had the past week on the effects of Catholic hospitals coming to predominate in more rural areas and even some cities. (As someone who grew up in a small town, I can say the main healthcare provider in the area is a Catholic hospital.) I don’t fear a single-payer system would result in individual providers being required to provide services they individually oppose for religious beliefs.

However, I do worry about whether or not there would be requirements for Catholic hospitals to provide services contrary to Catholic teaching, generally surrounding abortion or end of life care, in order to be eligible for billing Medicare. I do presume a Medicare-for-All system would pass on a party-line vote with only Democrat support and could see them trying to expand abortion coverage–either directly in a law or through regulation like many abortion coverage issues have been changed–at the same time since that issue has also grown much more partisan in the past decade.

Again I believe that even these physicians fail to see reality. My question is are you willing to accept Medicare for All as the new health care system including the lower reimbursements and lower salaries, and when will it stop? Will the salaries see continual reductions to make the huge debt to continue the program? And how will the newly trained physicians pay off their loans and pay for their required malpractice insurance?

The real problem here is that these experts touting the Medicare for All programs is that they don’t realize that in order to make a universal health care/ single payer health care program to work tort reform and the cost of education of health care workers has to be part of the solution. If not the new program, whatever it is, will fail or become so expensive and expand out of control.

The solution to the health care crisis is not one factor but an equation that needs to have a solution to each factor!

And Trump continues to change the present system. Consider this article in USA TODAY:

Trump administration takes aim at the Obama-era Medicare program for 10.5 million seniors

Ken Alltucker of USA TODAY published a recent article of President’s Trump’s continued attack on Obama’s modification of the Medicare program.

The Trump administration on Thursday moved to tighten controls over an Obama-era health program by making doctors and hospitals take on greater financial risk for 10.5 million Medicare patients.

Seema Verma, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator who has been critical of the Affordable Care Act, said the changes are necessary because the Medicare program had “weak incentives” for health-care providers to slow spiraling costs.

Under proposed changes, hospitals and doctors would adhere to a more aggressive timetable to save money while maintaining the quality of care. Medicare, the federal health program mainly for adults who are 65 and over, projects the changes would save the federal government $2.2 billion over 10 years.

Untitled.Trump and Medicare changes

“Pathways to Success” shortens the maximum amount of time ACOs are not subject to performance-based risk to 2 years or 1 year for existing shared savings only ACOs.

“After six years of experience, we feel we know what works and what doesn’t,” Verma said. “We want to focus on delivering value for patients and taxpayers.”

Verma said, without changes, that the nation is on pace to spend $1 out of every $5 on health care by 2026, an unsustainable path that will harm families, businesses and the economy.

The Obama program, part of the Affordable Care Act, encouraged hospitals and doctors to band together as “accountable care organizations” to coordinate medical care and cut down on unnecessary tests and procedures. The idea is that if these organizations could deliver care at a lower-than-projected cost, they could collect bonus payments from the federal government.

However, CMS said that 82 percent of 561 accountable-care organizations chose a risk-free version of the program that provided little incentive to reduce spending. These organizations recouped savings if they cost Medicare less than projected, but they faced no financial penalty if they billed more than expected.

The upshot: Congressional Budget Office projections that the Obama-era program would save Medicare $5 billion through 2019 never materialized.

Under Verma’s changes, participants would be limited to two years in the risk-free version of the program. The current regulations allow these organizations to stay for 6 years.

The likely result will be hospitals and doctors dropping from the program.

CMS projects that nearly 20 percent of participants will drop out of the voluntary program due to the more aggressive timetable. However, an industry organization called the National Association of ACO’s predicts 71 percent will drop from the program.

The American Hospital Association said the proposed changes “ignores the reality” that hospitals are at a different point in transiting to this type of “value-based care.”

“The proposed rule fails to account for the fact that building a successful ACO, let alone one that is able to take on financial risk, is no small task,” the hospital group said in a statement. “It requires significant investments of time, effort, and finances.”

Verma also will require doctors and hospitals to notify Medicare patients if they are enrolled in such a program. Medicare recipients also could earn bonuses, such as gift cards, if they meet preventive care milestones, Verma said.

And now:

Well, this Fox & Friends Twitter poll on “Medicare for All” didn’t go as planned

Christopher Zara reported that in today’s edition of “Ask and Ye Shall Receive,” here’s more evidence that support for universal health care isn’t going away.

The Twitter account for Fox & Friends this week ran a poll in which it asked people if the benefits of Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for All” plan would outweigh the costs. The poll cites an estimated cost of $32.6 trillion. Hilariously, 73% of respondents said yes, it’s still worth it—which is not exactly the answer you’d expect from fans of the Trump-friendly talk show.

Granted, this is just a Twitter poll, which means it’s not scientific and was almost certainly skewed by retweets from Twitter users looking to achieve this result.

At the same time, it’s not that far off from actual polling around the issue. In March, a Kaiser Health tracking poll revealed that 6 in 10 Americans are in favor of a national health care system in which all Americans would get health insurance from a single government plan. Other polls have put the number at less than 50% support but trending upward.

More on Medicare for All!

Yes, Medicare for All is expensive. That’s not the point but who loses?

37913774_1639263202869999_2457300851903954944_nI’m more confused as I read more and more about Medicare for All. Who is telling the truth? Diane Archer, founder and former president of the Medicare Rights Center and president of JustCareUSA.org. recently wrote that something interesting is happening in the age of Trump: 63 percent of Americans support a national health insurance plan, or Medicare for All, in which the federal government would guarantee health insurance for everyone in the country.

Mounting support for Medicare for All has left conservatives hyperventilating. Commercial insurers and their Republican allies are working overtime to convince Congress and the electorate that we simply can’t “afford” Medicare for All. A report by the Mercatus Center’s Charles Blahous, who spearheaded President George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security, is the latest entry in this fuzzy math sweepstakes.

Happily, for those of us who seek health-care security for all Americans, Blahous and his friends miss the point. Our commercial health insurance system is crazy and unsustainable, and Medicare for All is the only realistic path to reduce national health spending and improve the quality of our health-care system.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All proposal improves and expands the current Medicare program, replacing commercial health insurance with federally administered coverage for all Americans. The proposal eliminates premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, and includes new coverage for vision, hearing and dental care. It allows everyone to use the doctors and hospitals they know and trust, anywhere in the country, without the restrictive networks, arbitrary denials and high out-of-pocket costs that go hand in hand with commercial insurance.

Medicare for All, like Social Security, is social insurance, designed to pool and broadly distribute the costs of care across the entire population. At its core, Medicare for All gives doctors and hospitals the freedom to compete for patients without insurers getting in the way.

Blahous writes that Medicare for All is expensive. That’s correct, but it’s the wrong starting point. The current commercial health insurance system is much more expensive than Medicare for All and is unsustainable by any measure.

We spend more than $3.3 trillion a year on health care — about 18 percent of the gross domestic product. That’s twice as much per capita on health care as the average of other high-income countries. In return, we get health-care outcomes that rank dead last among our peers. Health-care costs in this country are projected to increase by 5.5 percent a year over the next eight years. You do the math: The status quo doesn’t work. Period.

Medicare for All, by contrast, provides a compelling path to keeping health-care costs in check. To begin with, Medicare for All would eliminate the administrative waste and profit margins created by the commercial insurance system with hundreds of insurers negotiating different agreements with thousands of health-care providers. Total annual savings on administrative costs under Medicare for All are estimated as high as $500 billion a year (far more than Blahous estimates in his report).

Most important, Medicare for All would empower the federal government to use the collective bargaining power of 330 million Americans to reduce the cost of health care, something that commercial insurers have been unable to do. Blahous himself estimates that the extension of current Medicare rates to all health-care services coupled with lower prescription drug prices under Medicare for All would eliminate $445 billion in annual costs in 2022.

In all, Blahous concedes that Medicare for All would reduce national health spending by $2 trillion over 10 years; even after accounting for the cost of guaranteeing everyone coverage and offering better benefits. (And again, many health economists would say Medicare for All would drive far greater savings.)

Blahous’s concern is that Medicare for All will transfer the rest of the cost of health care from the private sector to the federal government. Okay. So how will we pay for Medicare for All? The same way we pay for the defense budget and everything else: through taxes. Does that mean that ordinary Americans will pay more under Medicare for All that they pay for healthcare today? No.

Think about it. Today, the typical family of four spends more than $28,000 on health care a year. Individuals pay that cost indirectly through lower wages (which fund the employer’s share of health insurance) and directly through out-of-pocket costs. Under Medicare for All, the typical family will see higher wages and lower expenses and spend much less on health care than it does today.

To be sure, the transition to Medicare for All will disrupt the health-care marketplace. Insurers will wind down. Pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers likely will see their profits drop. Hospitals and doctors will need to work smarter and more efficiently; they will see an overall reduction in their rates, but they will save on administrative costs and their bills will all be paid.

There are always winners and losers in policy reform. Today, commercial insurers and other corporate interests in the health-care industry are the winners, and the American people are the losers. Medicare for All flips that paradigm. We can’t afford to live without it.

But at what cost to patient and caregiver?

Bernie Sanders Supporters Admit His Socialized Medicine Plan Will Ration Care

If Bernie Sanders wants to take a ‘victory lap’ for a study arguing that millions of health workers will receive the same amount of money for more work, I have four words: Good luck with that.

Christopher Jacobs noted that the move to enact single-payer health care in the United States always suffered from major math problems. This week, it revived another: Common sense.

On Monday, the Mercatus Center published an analysis of single-payer legislation like that promoted by socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). While conservatives highlighted the estimated $32.6 trillion price tag for the legislation, liberals rejoiced.

Sanders even released a video thanking Mercatus for its study, claiming that it showed how his bill would reduce overall national health expenditures by $2 trillion. In other words, Sanders claims his bill will provide more health care coverage to more Americans, and at less cost.

Riiiiiigggggggghhhhhhhhhttttt. As the old saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Given that even single-payer supporters have now admitted that the plan will lead to rationing of health care, the public shouldn’t just walk away from Sanders’ plan—they should run.

National Versus Federal Health Spending

Sanders’ claim arises because of two different terms the Mercatus paper uses. While Mercatus emphasized the way the bill would increase federal health spending, Sanders chose to focus on the study’s estimates about national health spending.

Essentially, the $32.6 trillion figure—the amount of taxes that a single-payer bill must raise over its first decade—represents the cost of bringing the entire health-care system on to the federal government’s books. While bringing the health-care system on-budget will obviously require massive tax increases, the Mercatus paper assumes that doing so will cause overall national health spending to drop slightly.

Although it sounds large in absolute terms, the Mercatus paper assumes only a slight drop in health spending in relative terms. It estimates a total of $2.05 trillion in lower national health expenditures over a decade from single-payer. But national health expenditures would total $59.7 trillion over the same time span—meaning that, if Mercatus’ assumptions prove correct, single-payer would reduce national health expenditures by roughly 3.4 percent.

Four Favorable Assumptions Skew the Results

However, to arrive at their estimate that single-payer would reduce overall health spending, the Mercatus paper relies on four highly favorable assumptions. Removing any one of these assumptions could mean that instead of lowering health care spending, the single-payer legislation would instead raise it.

First, Mercatus adjusted projected health spending upward, to reflect that single-payer health care would cover all Americans. Because the Sanders plan would also abolish deductibles and co-payments for most procedures, study author Chuck Blahous added an additional factor reflecting induced demand by the currently insured, because patients will see the doctor more when they face no co-payments for doing so.

But the Mercatus study did not consider whether providing completely free health care to all U.S. residents will induce additional migration, adding even more costs to the system. As Hillary Clinton testified before Congress in 1993: “We do not think the comprehensive health care benefits should be extended to those who are undocumented workers and illegal aliens. We do not want to do anything to encourage more illegal immigration into this country. We know now that too many people come in for medical care, as it is.”

Second, the Mercatus study assumes that a single-payer plan can successfully use Medicare reimbursement rates. However, the non-partisan Medicare actuary has concluded that those rates already will cause half of the hospitals to have overall negative total facility margins by 2040, jeopardizing access to care for seniors.

Expanding these lower payment rates to all patients would jeopardize even more hospitals’ financial solvency. But paying doctors and hospitals market-level reimbursement rates for patients would raise the cost of a single-payer system by $5.4 trillion over ten years—more than wiping away any supposed “savings” from the bill.

Third, by its own admission, Mercatus assumes “virtually perfect success” for a single-payer system in replacing brand-name drug usage with generics. If the government cannot achieve “virtually perfect success” in increasing generic drug utilization—and a cynic might ask whether the government has achieved even imperfect success in anything—or greater government “negotiating” power has little effect in jawboning down prices, then the estimated costs of single-payer will rise.

Finally, the Mercatus paper “assumes substantial administrative cost savings,” relying on “an aggressive estimate” that replacing private insurance with one single-payer system will lower health spending. Mercatus made such an assumption even though spending on administrative costs increased by nearly $26 billion, or more than 12.3 percent, in 2014, Obamacare’s first year of full implementation.

Likewise, government programs, unlike private insurance, have less incentive to fight fraud, as only the latter face financial ruin from it. The $60 billion problem of fraud in Medicare provides more than enough reason to doubt many administrative savings from a single-payer system.

Apply the Common Sense Test

But put all the technical arguments aside for a moment. As I noted above, whether a single-payer health-care system will reduce overall health expenses rests on a relatively simple question: Will doctors and hospitals agree to provide more care to more patients for the same amount of money?

Whether single-payer will lead to less paperwork for doctors remains an open question. Given the amount of time people spend filing their taxes every year, I have my doubts that a fully government-run system would generate major improvements.

But regardless of whether providers get any paperwork relief from single-payer, the additional patients will come to their doors seeking care, and existing patients will demand more services once the government provides them for “free.” Yet doctors and hospitals won’t get paid any more for providing those additional services. The Mercatus study estimates that spending reductions due to the application of Medicare’s price controls to the entire population will all but wipe out the increase in spending from new patient demand.

If Sanders wants to take a “victory lap” for a study arguing that millions of health care workers will receive the same amount of money for doing more work, I have four words for him: Good luck with that.

Also, consider the health care workers, especially the physicians.                        Libertarian think tank: Providers would pay for Medicare for All                     Susannah Luthi reviewed libertarian take on the Medicare for All concept further and found that the Medicare for All plan backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders would put the brunt of the proposals costs on provider pay cuts.
In a white paper released Monday by the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, senior research strategist Charles Blahous claimed healthcare spending constraints laid out in the plan from the Vermont independent senator fall almost totally on providers. The plan could save the U.S. more than $2 trillion over 10 years in national health care spending but could increase the federal government’s costs to nearly $33 trillion above current levels, according to Blahous’ calculations.
Nearly all the savings for national health spending come from across-the-board Medicare rate cuts, which Blahous projects would reduce provider payments by $384 billion in the first year, and by nearly $660 billion in 2030.
This analysis will likely push single-payer advocates to hone their message on healthcare pricing to make their proposal viable, said Benedict Ippolito, a health economist with the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.
“Provider payment cuts are doing a lot of heavy lifting here,” Ippolito said. “Changes to provider payments, whether you love them or not, have real consequences. And those real consequences extend beyond a budgetary score.”
While the U.S. healthcare system does need to grapple with the “right price to pay for healthcare,” Ippolito said, proponents of the Sanders plan and others like it need to determine what the right rate could be and how it will impact provider behavior, which determines major components of the healthcare system—investments in equipment and buildings, patient access and health outcomes.
“It’s easy to think about prices as one piece of a broader market, but the thing that’s special about prices is that it’s the key that unlocks the whole thing,” he added. “Whatever price you set will be highly consequential for the entire market. The decision you make for good or bad is extremely consequential, and you can’t get around that.”
Single-payer advocates lauded the paper’s findings that the projected provider cuts would roughly pay for universal coverage. The Mercatus analysis also estimated the health care system would save billions every year on drug spending since the Sanders Medicare for All plan allows the HHS secretary to negotiate prescription drug prices with the manufacturers—and presumably refuse to buy certain high-priced drugs.
But Blahous warned that the Sanders blueprint for coverage would likely lead to a huge spike in overall healthcare utilization, not only because more people would automatically be covered for services like dental and vision care but also because it bans any co-pays or deductibles.
“As a general rule, the greater the percentage of an individual’s health care that is paid by insurance … the more healthcare services an individual tends to buy,” Blahous wrote.
Blahous maintained that the jury is still out on whether MACRA effectively reins in provider costs, warning that the Medicare for All transition could disrupt access to health care as universal coverage goes into effect. He also noted that while some Medicaid-dependent providers would see a pay boost in the early years as their traditionally much-lower Medicaid reimbursements would rise to Medicare rates, they would start losing money soon after.
To back up his warning, Blahous cited the CMS’ Office of the Actuary’s projections that current payments would lead to negative operating margins for nearly half of hospitals by 2040. By 2019, over 80% of hospitals will lose money treating Medicare patients. A dramatic structural change to reimbursement structure could shutter many provider doors, Blahous wrote.
The paper acknowledged that phasing out employer-sponsored health care would translate into a huge increase in taxable wages, as it would free individuals, families, and employers from hefty healthcare spending. States would also no longer have to fund Medicaid, consistently their largest budget item.
“These offsetting effects should be considered when weighing the implications of requiring federal taxpayers to finance the enormous federal expenditure increases under M4A,” Blahous wrote. “These estimates should be understood as projecting the added federal cost commitments under M4A, as distinct from its net effect on the federal deficit. To the extent that the cost of M4A is financed by new payroll taxes, premium collections, or other revenue increases, the net effect on the federal budget deficit would be substantially less.”
The picture the Mercatus study paints for utilization in the healthcare system runs counter to the latest House Republican push to leverage health savings accounts to cut spending on superfluous services.
Last week, the House passed a packet of bills originally projected to cost more than $90 billion to expand the use of HSAs. In a subsequent speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation, HHS Secretary Alex Azar praised HSAs as a way to lower unnecessary spending, saying that from his own behavior when he had an HSA he was much more cautious about the number and manner of services on which he was willing to spend a limited number of dollars.
The Democratic Party at large is keeping Sanders’ Medicare for All plan at arm’s length, but its principles are gaining traction within the party. Prominent Democratic senators including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California and New Jersey’s Cory Booker have signed onto Sanders’ bill.
In the House, progressive Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal founded a Medicare for All caucus to try to hammer out a comprehensive, streamlined platform over the next conference. More than 60 House Democrats have joined Jayapal’s group.
But Ippolito said the new paper highlights that single-payer proponents will need to acknowledge the political fight on their hands.
“In my time of listening to these single-payer proposals, a lot of emphases is on administrative savings—they appeal to that because they don’t rile up constituencies,” he said. “But going after provider payment rates means taking on one of the most well-organized constituencies in domestic policy. When I read this, it struck me as: this really wants to pick a fight. It promises the moon, but it does set up, surely, that something’s got to give here.”                                                                                                                                Health Care Rationing Ahead                                                                                                       I’ll give the last word too, of all things, a “socialist perspective.” One blog post yesterday actually claimed the Mercatus study underestimated the potential savings under single-payer: “[The study] assumes utilization of health services will increase by 11 percent, but aggregate health service utilization is ultimately dependent on the capacity to provide services, meaning utilization could hit a hard limit below the level [it] projects” (emphasis mine).                                                                                                                                 In other words, spending will fall because so many will demand “free” health care that the government will have to ration it. To socialists who yearningly long to exercise such power over their fellow citizens, such rationing sounds like their utopian dream. But therein lies their logic problem, for any American with common sense.

More to follow next week as we get closer to the truth.