Category Archives: Socialized medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generous Joe: More “Free” Healthcare For Illegals Needed

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

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

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

Answer: A lot.

The Question, The Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cost of Illegal-Alien Healthcare

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

But that’s beside the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYC Promises ‘Guaranteed’ Healthcare for All Residents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The threat is even more real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Texas case, Trump could lose by winning.

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

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

Trump seems unfazed by the potential risks.

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

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

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

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

— “Obamacare” Repeal

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

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

— Medicaid Work Requirements

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

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

— Small Business Health Plans

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

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

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

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

And A Few More Suggestions to Fix the Affordable Care Act- Keep improving healthcare quality

 

 

clueless145[458]Republican response to Trump’s declaration of war on the Affordable Care Act-McConnell to Trump: We’re not repealing and replacing ObamaCare
This last week Alexander Bolton reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told President Trump in a conversation Monday that the Senate will not be moving comprehensive health care legislation before the 2020 election, despite the president asking Senate Republicans to do that in a meeting last week.
McConnell said he made clear to the president that Senate Republicans will work on bills to keep down the cost of health care, but that they will not work on a comprehensive package to replace the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration is trying to strike down in court.
“We had a good conversation yesterday afternoon and I pointed out to him the Senate Republicans’ view on dealing with comprehensive health care reform with a Democratic House of Representatives,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday, describing his conversation with Trump.
“I was fine with Sen. Alexander and Sen. Grassley working on prescription drug pricing and other issues that are not a comprehensive effort to revisit the issue that we had the opportunity to address in the last Congress and were unable to do so,” he said, referring to Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and the failed GOP effort in 2017 to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
“I made clear to him that we were not going to be doing that in the Senate,” McConnell said he told the president. “He did say, as he later tweeted, that he accepted that and he would be developing a plan that he would take to the American people during the 2020 campaign.”
After getting the message from McConnell, Trump tweeted Monday night that he no longer expected Congress to pass legislation to replace ObamaCare and still protect people with pre-existing medical conditions, the herculean task he laid before Senate Republicans at a lunch meeting last week.
“The Republicans are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare,” Trump wrote Monday night in a series of tweets after speaking to McConnell. “In other words, it will be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House.”
Trump blindsided GOP senators when he told them at last week’s lunch meeting that he wanted Republicans to craft legislation to replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
The only heads-up they got was a tweet from Trump shortly before the meeting, saying, “The Republican Party will become ‘The Party of Healthcare!’”
The declaration drew swift pushback from Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), who said the administration’s efforts to invalidate the entire law were “a mistake.”
Other Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), said they wanted to first see a health care plan from the White House.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) on Tuesday said the chances of getting comprehensive legislation passed while Democrats control the House are very slim.
“It’s going to be a really heavy lift to get anything through Congress this year given the political dynamics that we’re dealing with in the House and the Senate,” he said. “The best-laid plans and best of intentions with regard to an overhaul of the health care system in this country run into the wall of reality that it’s going to be very hard to get a Democrat House and a Republican Senate to agree on something.”
Back to our/my suggestions to improve the Affordable Care Act.
Healthcare organizations like the Cleveland Clinic have made front-end investments to change their approaches to care delivery.
Another writer on healthcare reported that the GOP’s proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act have so far focused on health insurance coverage, cutting federal aid for Medicaid and targeting subsidies for those who purchase private insurance through the health insurance marketplace.
But there’s a lot more to the ACA than health insurance. Republican lawmakers would do well to take a closer look at other parts of the healthcare reform law, which focus on how the United States can deliver high-quality care even while controlling costs.
The ACA helped spur the transition away from fee-for-service reimbursement models that rewarded providers for treating large numbers of patients to value-based care payments, which reward providers who deliver evidence-based care with a focus on wellness and prevention.
And any revisions to the law should continue to support these endeavors—such as programs to reduce hospital readmissions and hospital-acquired conditions—that aim to improve patient outcomes while lowering overall healthcare costs.
It’s true that some physicians are reluctant to embrace value-based contracts, which they argue increase their patient loads and hold them responsible for overall wellness, which is often beyond their typical scope of practice or beyond their control if patients aren’t compliant. Smaller hospitals and health systems may have trouble implementing quality-improvement changes, too.
But it’s too soon to give up on a model of care that strives to meet the Triple Aim and improve individual care, boost the health of patient populations and reduce overall costs.
The country must do something to address the quality of its healthcare. Although the United States spends more on healthcare than other wealthy nations do, we rank last in quality, equity, access, efficiency and care delivery. And we’ve come in dead last in quality for the past 13 years.
But it’s not for lack of trying.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is still experimenting with advanced payment models that reward providers for quality of care. Although the results have been a mixed bag, there are signs of progress.
Yes, several of the Pioneer accountable care organizations exited the model early on after suffering financial losses and struggling to meet the demands of the program. But other participants of the Pioneer model and the Shared Savings Program reported clinical successes as well as significant savings.
In response, CMS has adapted the models, offering providers options for lower and higher risk tracks.
Whereas some healthcare organizations took a wait-and-see approach to value-based care until one successful model emerged, many leaders say it takes time to see results and that what works in one region or for one organization won’t necessarily work somewhere else.
But the organizations that have made front-end investments to change their approaches to care delivery and have stuck with it are beginning to see their efforts pay off.
Donald Berwick, M.D. noted that Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, for instance, has standardized care pathways to reduce variations in care, lower costs and increase quality. Its stroke care pathway has led to a 43% decrease in stroke mortality and a 25% decline in the cost of care.
And California-based Dignity Health has developed community partnerships to discharge homeless patients to a recuperation shelter and address the social determinants of health via a referral program to connect patients in need with outside agencies.
“All three [aims] are achievable, all three show progress and all three are vulnerable,” Donald M. Berwick, M.D., president emeritus and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, said recently.
“It seems to me incumbent upon those who claim to lead healthcare and healthcare systems to defend that progress against threats.”
Improve payment models and cut costs
We must all remember there is no silver bullet that will cut costs and improve care. But allowing the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation to keep working on it is key.
Reporter Paige Minemyer went on to state that if they really want to repair the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers must focus on the transition to value-based care, which has accelerated under healthcare reform.
The first step? Support the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) as it tests new payment models that will cut costs. There is no silver bullet that will cut costs and improve care. But allowing CMMI to keep working on it is key.
Payment model innovation
Providers that have seen the benefits of CMMI’s initiatives, including bundled payments, say they’re sticking with it regardless of what the White House or Congress decide. Helen Macfie, chief transformation officer for Los Angeles-based Memorial Care Health System, is taking that route: She says her organization is “bullish” on continuing the model voluntarily.
Bundled payments get specialists together with providers “to do something really cool,” she says.
Providers have seen mixed success in accountable care organizations (ACOs), the most complex advanced payment model (APM) there is. But their longevity requires commitment to reduced regulations.
On that point, the Donald Trump White House and the healthcare industry agree: Less is sometimes more. A reduced regulatory burden can also make it easier for providers to balance multiple APMs at once, which can improve the effectiveness of each.
Providers that have found success with ACOs may not see the benefits immediately, studies suggest, but the savings instead compound over time. ACO programs may require significant startup costs upfront.
However, the evidence is growing that these advanced value-based care models do pay off in both cost reduction and quality improvement, even if there’s still much for researchers to learn about what really makes an ACO model succeed.
Cost-cutting measures
Also lost in the debate over insurance reform is the growing cost of healthcare in the U.S., which far outpaces that of other developed nations despite lagging behind in quality. An element of this that is totally untouched in Republican-led reform is drug pricing, which providers argue is one of the major drivers of increased costs.

And now a suggestion from President Donald Trump!
As part of the party’s updated platform for 2018, Democrats unveiled plans to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. The suggestion has been championed both by former President Barack Obama and by President Donald Trump, whose vacillating views on health policy have been known to buck the party line.
But not everyone is convinced that this is the best solution. Experts at the Kaiser Family Foundation noted that negotiating drug prices could have a limited impact on savings, and even the Congressional Budget Office has been skeptical.
And if you ask pharmaceutical companies, they’re not the problem when it comes to rising healthcare costs, anyway; hospitals are.
Harness the power of Medicaid
Leslie Small noted that for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma is a big advocate for expanding the use of state innovation waivers to reimagine Medicaid. (Office of the Vice President)
By now, a laundry list of studies chronicles all the benefits of expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to a previous Supreme Court decision, the remaining 19 states aren’t obligated to follow suit, but now that legislative attempts to repeal the ACA have failed, they would be foolish not to.
Not only have Medicaid expansion states experienced bigger drops in their uninsured rates relative to nonexpansion states, but hospitals in these states have also seen lower uncompensated care costs. In addition, low-income people in Medicaid expansion states were more likely than those in nonexpansion states to have a usual source of care and to self-report better health, among other metrics.
Crucially, the Trump administration has even given GOP governors who might be worried about the political fallout a convenient reprieve, as it’s signaled openness to approving waivers that design Medicaid expansion programs with a conservative twist.
Previous HHS Secretary Tom Price suggestion had a suggestion.
“Today, we commit to ushering in a new era for the federal and state Medicaid partnership where states have more freedom to design programs that meet the spectrum of diverse needs of their Medicaid population,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in a joint statement in March.
In fact, Vice President Mike Pence and Verma both designed such a program in Indiana, which requires beneficiaries to pay a small amount toward their monthly premiums.
Other states, meanwhile, have applied for a more controversial Medicaid tweak—enacting work requirements for beneficiaries—and it remains to be seen whether those experiments will be approved and if so, face backlash.
But under the 1332 and 1115 waivers in the ACA, states have plenty of latitude to dream up other ways to better serve Medicaid recipients, such as integrating mental and physical health services for this often-challenging population.

So, I have laid out a number of real options to improve the health acre bill that was passed already and by all data imputed it seems to be working with reservations. My biggest reservation is that over time the Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare needs definite tweaking and needs revenue of some sort to make the healthcare system affordable and sustainable without putting the burden on our young healthy hard-working Americans.
I’ve heard the suggestion that all big government has to do is print more money. Ha, Ha, this sounds like the suggestions of the new socialists like Ocasio-Cortez and all her buddies. Maybe we can keep borrowing money as we have in the past from Social Security Funds, Medicare or shifting funding for other projects like the Pentagon. I am kidding, but there are people in high places who would suggest these options not knowing much about what comes out of there ignorant mouths or social media posts.
We as a Country have to get smart, ignore the idiots yelling and screaming about their poorly thought out suggestions to get re-elected or just elected as potential presidential hopefuls, gather the intelligent forces in healthcare to come up with solutions and get Congress to come to their senses to achieve a bipartisan solution for the good of all Americans. It seems as though both political parties are truly clueless, especially the Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats who have taken over power in Congress, and yes both the House and the Senate!
Next on the agenda is looking more into Medicare For All, Single Payer Healthcare Systems and Socialized Healthcare. And even more on the status of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare. Joy, Joy!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stabilize the individual marketplaces

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

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

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

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

Other viable steps to stabilize the individual marketplaces include:

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

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

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

Implementing a stabilization mechanism

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

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

Encouraging more young, healthy enrollees

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

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

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

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

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

Justice Dept. Files Letter in ACA Case

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

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

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

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

Next week more suggestions!

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

 

Five Worrisome Trends in Healthcare and the VA Seeks to Redirect Billions of Dollars into Private Care and the VA Access to Healthcare

50065252_1872612819535035_7021591760191094784_nAs the idiots in Congress still fight over the wall and continue to act like spoiled children we, the intelligent voters should be looking at healthcare delivery reality. What can we expect from these liberals and their cultural revolution? Joyce Frieden, the News Editor of MedPage Today pointed out last year that a reckoning is coming to American healthcare, said Chester Burrell, outgoing CEO of the CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield health plan, here at the annual meeting of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

Burrell, speaking on Friday, told the audience there are five things physicians should worry about, “because they worry me”:

  1. The effects of the recently passed tax bill.“If the full effect of this tax cut is experienced, then the federal debt will go above 100% of GDP [gross domestic product] and will become the highest it’s been since World War II,” said Burrell. That may be OK while the economy is strong, “but we’ve got a huge problem if it ever turns and goes back into recession mode,” he said. “This will stimulate higher interest rates, and higher interest rates will crowd out funding in the federal government for initiatives that are needed,” including those in healthcare.

Burrell noted that Medicaid, 60 million by Medicare, currently covers 74 million people and 10 million by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), while another 10 million people are getting federally subsidized health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) insurance exchanges. “What happens when interest’s demand on federal revenue starts to crowd out future investment in these government programs that provide healthcare for tens of millions of Americans?”

  1. The increasing obesity problem.”Thirty percent of the U.S. population is obese; 70% of the total population is either obese or overweight,” said Burrell. “There is an epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, and coronary artery disease coming from those demographics, and Baby Boomers will see these things in full flower in the next 10 years as they move fully into Medicare.”
  2. The “congealing” of the U.S. healthcare system. This is occurring in two ways, Burrell said. First, “you’ll see large integrated delivery systems [being] built around academic medical centers — very good quality care [but] 50%-100% more expensive than the community average.”

To see how this affects patients, take a family of four — a 40-year-old dad, 33-year-old mom, and two teenage kids — who are buying a health insurance policy from CareFirst via the ACA exchange, with no subsidy. “The cost for their premium and deductibles, copays, and coinsurance [would be] $33,000,” he said. But if all of the care were provided by academic medical centers? “$60,000,” he said. “What these big systems are doing is consolidating community hospitals and independent physician groups, and creating oligopolies.”

Another way the system is “congealing” is the emergence of specialty practices that are backed by private equity companies, said Burrell. “The largest urology group in our area was bought by a private equity firm. How do they make money? They increase fees. There is not an issue of quality but there is a profound issue on costs.”

  1. The undermining of the private healthcare market. “Just recently, we have gotten rid of the individual mandate, and the [cost-sharing reduction] subsidies that were [expected to be] in the omnibus bill … were taken out of the bill,” he said. And state governments are now developing alternatives to the ACA such as short-term duration insurance policies — originally designed to last only 3 months but now being pushed up to a year, with the possibility of renewal — that don’t have to adhere to ACA coverage requirements, said Burrell.
  2. The lackluster performance of new payment models.”Despite the innovation fostering under [Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation] programs — the whole idea was to create a series of initiatives that might show the wave of the future — ACOs [accountable care organizations] and the like don’t show the promise intended for them, and there is no new model one could say is demonstrably more successful,” he said.

“So beware — there’s a reckoning coming,” Burrell said. “Maybe change occurs only when there is a rip-roaring crisis; we’re coming to it.” Part of the issue is cost: “As carbon dioxide is to global warming, the cost is to healthcare. We deal with it every day … We face a future where cutbacks in funding could dramatically affect the accessibility of care.”

“Does that mean we move to move single-payer, some major repositioning?” he said. “I don’t know, but in 35 years in this field, I’ve never experienced a time quite like this … Be vigilant, be involved, be committed to serving these populations.”

VA Seeks to Redirect Billions of Dollars into Private Care

Jennifer Steinhauer and Dave Phillipps reported that The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing to shift billions of dollars from government-run veterans’ hospitals to private health care providers, setting the stage for the biggest transformation of the veterans’ medical system in a generation.

Under proposed guidelines, it would be easier for veterans to receive care in privately run hospitals and have the government pay for it. Veterans would also be allowed access to a system of proposed walk-in clinics, which would serve as a bridge between V.A. emergency rooms and private providers, and would require co-pays for treatment.

Veterans’ hospitals, which treat seven million patients annually, have struggled to see patients on time in recent years, hit by a double crush of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and aging Vietnam veterans. A scandal over hidden waiting lists in 2014 sent Congress searching for fixes, and in the years since, Republicans have pushed to send veterans to the private sector, while Democrats have favored increasing the number of doctors in the V.A.

If put into effect, the proposed rules — many of whose details remain unclear as they are negotiated within the Trump administration — would be a win for the once-obscure Concerned Veterans for America, an advocacy group funded by the network founded by the billionaire industrialists Charles G. and David H. Koch, which has long championed increasing the use of private sector health care for veterans.

For individual veterans, private care could mean shorter waits, more choices and fewer requirements for co-pays — and could prove popular. But some health care experts and veterans’ groups say the change, which has no separate source of funding, would redirect money that the current veterans’ health care system — the largest in the nation — uses to provide specialty care.

Critics have also warned that switching vast numbers of veterans to private hospitals would strain care in the private sector and that costs for taxpayers could skyrocket. In addition, they say it could threaten the future of traditional veterans’ hospitals, some of which are already under review for consolidation or closing.

 President Trump, who made reforming veterans’ health care a major point of his campaign, may reveal details of the plan in his State of the Union address later this month, according to several people in the administration and others outside it who have been briefed on the plan.

The proposed changes have grown out of health care legislation, known as the Mission Act, passed by the last Congress. Supporters, who have been influential in administration policy, argue that the new rules would streamline care available to veterans, whose health problems are many but whose numbers are shrinking, and also prod the veterans’ hospital system to compete for patients, making it more efficient.

“Most veterans chose to serve their country, so they should have the choice to access care in the community with their V.A. benefits — especially if the V.A. can’t serve them in a timely and convenient manner,” said Dan Caldwell, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America.

In remarks at a joint hearing with members of the House and Senate veterans’ committees in December, Mr. Wilkie said veterans largely liked using the department’s hospitals.

“My experience is veterans are happy with the service they get at the Department of Veterans Affairs,” he said. Veterans are not “chomping at the bit” to get services elsewhere, he said, adding, “They want to go to places where people speak the language and understand the culture.”

Health care experts say that whatever the larger effects, allowing more access to private care will prove costly. A 2016 report ordered by Congress, from a panel called the Commission on Care, analyzed the cost of sending more veterans into the community for treatment and warned that unfettered access could cost well over $100 billion each year.

A fight over the future of the veterans’ health care system played a role in the ousting of the department’s previous secretary, David J. Shulkin, center.

Tricare costs have climbed steadily, and the Tricare population is younger and healthier than the general population, while Veterans Affairs patients are generally older and sicker.

Though the rules would place some restrictions on veterans, early estimates by the Office of Management and Budget found that a Tricare-style system would cost about $60 billion each year, according to a former Veterans Affairs official who worked on the project. Congress is unlikely to approve more funding, so the costs are likely to be carved out of existing funds for veterans’ hospitals.

At the same time, Tricare has been popular among recipients — so popular that the percentage of military families using it has nearly doubled since 2001, as private insurance became more expensive, according to the Harvard lecturer Linda Bilmes.

“People will naturally gravitate toward the better deal, that’s economics,” she said. “It has meant a tremendous increase in costs for the government.”

A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Curt Cashour, declined to comment on the specifics of the new rules.

“The Mission Act, which sailed through Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support and the strong backing of veterans service organizations, gives the V.A. secretary the authority to set access standards that provide veterans the best and most timely care possible, whether at V.A. or with community providers, and the department is committed to doing just that,” he said in an email.

Veterans’ services organizations have largely opposed large-scale changes to the health program, concerned that the growing costs of outside doctors’ bills would cannibalize the veterans’ hospital system.

Dr. Shulkin, the former secretary, shared that concern. Though he said he supported increasing the use of private health care, he favored a system that would let department doctors decide when patients were sent outside for private care.

The cost of the new rules, he said, could be higher than expected, because most veterans use a mix of private insurance, Medicare and veterans’ benefits, choosing to use the benefits that offer the best deal. Many may choose to forgo Medicare, which requires a substantial co-pay if Veterans Affairs offers private care at no charge. And if enough veterans leave the veterans’ system, he said, it could collapse.

Robert L. Wilkie, the secretary of veterans’ affairs, has repeatedly said his goal is not to privatize veterans’ health care.

One of the group’s former senior advisers, Darin Selnick, played a key role in drafting the Mission Act as a veterans’ affairs adviser at the White House’s Domestic Policy Council and is now a senior adviser to the secretary of Veterans Affairs in charge of drafting the new rules. Mr. Selnick clashed with David J. Shulkin, who was the head of the V.A. for a year under Mr. Trump and is widely viewed as being instrumental in ending Mr. Shulkin’s tenure.

Mr. Selnick declined to comment.

Critics, which include nearly all of the major veterans’ organizations, say that paying for care in the private sector would starve the 153-year-old veterans’ health care system, causing many hospitals to close.

“We don’t like it,” said Rick Weidman, executive director of Vietnam Veterans of America. “This thing was initially sold as to supplement the V.A., and some people want to try and use it to supplant.”

Members of Congress from both parties have been critical of the administration’s inconsistency and lack of details in briefings. At a hearing last month, Senator John Boozman, Republican of Arkansas, told Robert L. Wilkie, the current secretary of Veterans Affairs, that his staff had sometimes come to Capitol Hill “without their act together.”

Although the Trump administration has kept details quiet, officials inside and outside the department say the plan closely resembles the military’s insurance plan, Tricare Prime, which sets a lower bar than the Department of Veterans Affairs when it comes to getting private care.

Tricare automatically allows patients to see a private doctor if they have to travel more than 30 minutes for an appointment with a military doctor, or if they have to wait more than seven days for a routine visit or 24 hours for urgent care. Under current law, veterans qualify for private care only if they have waited 30 days, and sometimes they have to travel hundreds of miles. The administration may propose for veterans a time frame somewhere between the seven- and 30-day periods.

Mr. Wilkie has repeatedly said his goal is not to privatize veterans’ health care, but would not provide details of his proposal when asked at a hearing before Congress in December.

Access to VA Health Services Now Better Than Private Hospitals?

So, the question is with the shift of funding to the privatization of VA care is access better? Nicole Lou, contributing writer for the MedPage noted that efforts to stir up access to Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals have cut down on wait times for new patient appointments, according to a report.

In 2014, the average wait for a new VA appointment in primary care, dermatology, cardiology, or orthopedics was 22.5 days, compared with 18.7 days in private sector facilities (P=0.20). Although these wait times were statistically no different in general, there was a longer wait for an orthopedics appointment in the VA that year (23.9 days vs 9.9 days for private sector, P<0.001), noted David Shulkin, MD, former VA secretary under President Trump, and now at the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, and colleagues.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, found that wait times in 2017 favored VA medical centers (17.7 days vs 29.8 days for private sector facilities, P<0.001). This was observed for primary care, dermatology, and cardiology appointments — but not orthopedics, which continued to produce appointment lags in the VA system (20.9 days vs 12.4 days, P=0.01), the authors stated.

“Although the results reflect positively on the VA, we intend to continue improving wait times, the accuracy of the data captured, and the transparency of reporting information to veterans and the public,” the researchers wrote.

Their study included VA medical centers in 15 major metropolitan areas and compared them with private sector facilities. Wait times were calculated differently based on VA records and secret shopper surveys, respectively, which was a limitation of the study, the team said.

Shulkin and colleagues found that VA wait times trended toward improvement in 11 of 15 regions, whereas private medical centers had significant increases in wait times in 12 of the 15.

Prompting the scrutiny over VA hospital wait times was a 2014 report showing that at least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix VA Health Care System in Arizona. Even worse, the wait times had apparently been deliberately manipulated to look better than they were.

“This incident damaged the VA’s credibility and created a public perception regarding the VA health care system’s inability to see patients in a timely manner,” Shulkin and co-authors said. “In response, the VA has worked to improve access, including primary care, mental health, and other specialty care services.”

Meanwhile, VA medical centers continue to suffer from staffing issues such as high turnover and employee vacancies in the tens of thousands.

The study authors noted a modest increase in the number of patients going to VA hospitals for the four services studied, although that number still stayed around five million per year.

From 2014 to 2017, patient satisfaction scores also increased by 1.4%, 3.0%, and 4.0% for specialty care, routine primary care, and urgent primary care, respectively (P<0.05 for all).

Another problem with the methodology of the study was that it failed to address how easily established patients could obtain return appointments, noted an accompanying editorial by Peter Kaboli, MD, MS, of Iowa City Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, and Stephan Fihn, MD, MPH, of the University of Washington in Seattle and JAMA Network Open’s deputy editor.

Furthermore, they pointed out, a patient returning for a 6-month follow-up visit may show up in the scheduling system as having a long delay.

“As this study highlights, measuring access to healthcare remains dodgy. Even so, the seven million veterans who receive care from the VA seem able to obtain routine and urgent care in a time frame that is on par for other Americans despite increasing demand, although there are and always will be exceptions,” Kaboli and Fihn noted.

“As resources in the VA are increasingly diverted to purchase care in the community, it remains to be seen if access to healthcare services can be maintained while access in the private sector continues to deteriorate,” they continued, adding that virtual care may be one way to improve access given the non-infinite supply of face-to-face appointments.

The VA experience seems to say that privatization of healthcare delivery is the way to go with improved access to care. So, onward to discuss universal healthcare and single payer systems of health care delivery. What would they all look like and what are the strategies to develop any of these systems.