Max Nisen for Bloomberg noted that as much as one may not like Obamacare and the sustainability of the system one must appreciate the need for the pre-existing conditions issues. This issue n most insurance policies makes it unaffordable for patients and an out for the insurance companies who always are making money.
Republican Doublespeak on Health Care Starts at the Top
(Bloomberg Opinion) — If anyone needed more evidence that Republicans are nervous about health care’s impact on this year’s midterm elections, the president provided it Thursday afternoon.
All Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions, and if they don’t, they will after I speak to them. I am in total support. Also, Democrats will destroy your Medicare, and I will keep it healthy and well!
In the real world, President Donald Trump’s Justice Department is arguing in court that the Affordable Care Act’s protections for pre-existing medical conditions are unconstitutional and should be nullified. On top of that, his administration explicitly supported a bill passed by House Republicans that would have weakened those protections.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is also trying to have it both ways, claiming this week that Republican Senators universally support protecting people with pre-existing conditions, while voicing his support for the lawsuit and another repeal effort.
Democrats recognize that the GOP is vulnerable and conflicted on health care, and its candidates are devoting millions of dollars worth of ads to it. It’s not the only thing helping to give Democrats a strong chance of taking back the House. But it’s a key driver.
Trump and Senator McConnell are far from alone in touting their support for protecting pre-existing conditions while having voted or worked to dismantle the ACA. Many other candidates are doing the same tap dance, and are even running ads touting their support for the policy. The GOP candidates for Senate in tight races in Missouri and West Virginia are current attorneys general who is supporting the controversial lawsuit.
It’s easy to see why everybody’s anxious. The ACA’s robust protections for people with pre-existing conditions are highly popular. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, more than 70 percent of Americans agreed that it was “very important” that they remain law.
That gets at the heart of Republicans’ dilemma: It’s one thing to promise an end to Obamacare’s burdensome regulations while vowing to lower premiums and maintain patient protections. But it’s actually a phenomenally difficult policy problem, and the GOP hasn’t offered a proposal that solves it.
The ACA prohibits insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and from charging them more for it, ensures that all plans cover a core roster of benefits including mental-health treatment and maternity care, and bans lifetime and annual coverage limits. It supports those protections and insurers by attempting to create a large risk pool and subsidizing insurance for people with lower incomes.
If you cut out any part of that, the door likely opens for insurers to offer skimpier insurance, siphon off healthy people, and leave those with pre-existing conditions with less appealing or more expensive options. The administration is currently doing that on a smaller level by pushing cheaper but less comprehensive short-term insurance plans.
It’s theoretically possible to protect people with pre-existing conditions in other ways. But they almost certainly involve trade-offs. The one that the GOP has generally tended to favor recently is weakening protections for people with pre-existing conditions in order to lower costs for healthy people.
No GOP candidate wants to say that out loud, to admit that their definition of protection is different and less comprehensive than the status quo. Democrats are spending a lot of money to make the distinction clear.
Pre-existing conditions aren’t the only health-care sore spots for the GOP.
In past years, Republicans have run on the idea that Obamacare’s individual market is an irredeemable failure, bolstered by soaring premiums. But premiums have stabilized or declined and insurers are increasingly profitable, making it more difficult to assail the law. Premiums would be lower if the GOP hadn’t spent years deliberately undermining the market.
And referendums on the law’s Medicaid expansion, which has dramatically expanded coverage for vulnerable Americans in more than 30 states, are on the ballot in Utah, Nebraska, and Idaho. It’s implicitly on the ballot in others, where changes in the composition of state governments could push states toward expansion, or in the other direction toward Arkansas-style work requirements that push people off of the program.
If the House flips and Democrats hold Senate seats in West Virginia and Missouri, states that Donald Trump won by 42 and 19 points respectively, it’s a sign that the GOP needs to rethink its approach to health care.
Obamacare is finally working (and Republicans still want to kill it)
Rick Newman noted that President Trump might not mind if people starting calling Obamacare Trumpcare because the controversial health program signed into law in 2010 are finally stabilizing.
After several years of sharp rate hikes, insurance premiums for people participating in Affordable Care Act exchanges are actually due to fall in 2019. The Trump administration says the average premium for a typical plan will drop by 1.5% next year. That’s based on rates insurance companies must file with the states in which they operate. About 9 million Americans buy insurance on an ACA exchange.
“There’s been a lot of tumult under the ACA up till now,” says Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “But there’s no question it’s viable, in the face of significant headwinds. The ACA is embedded in the health care system.”
Insurance still isn’t cheap. The average monthly premium for a mid-level “silver” plan under the ACA will be $406 next year—69% higher than the average premium just three years ago. But steadier rates indicate that insurers have finally figured out how to properly price the policies sold on the exchanges. When the ACA first went into effect in 2014, insurers underpriced their plans. That forced them to impose sharp price hikes in subsequent years. The dramatic price swings might finally be over.
Most ACA participants receive subsidies that protect them from price hikes. But people who earn too much money to qualify for subsidies, and don’t get coverage through an employer, have gotten clobbered with soaring premiums in recent years. A married couple in their 50s can easily pay $25,000 per year in premiums alone. About 6.7 million Americans buy unsubsidized insurance on their own.
The stabilization of the ACA is actually an awkward development for Trump, who campaigned to repeal the law and has boasted that “piece by piece, Obamacare is just being wiped out.” Trump has tried to dismantle the ACA by cutting outreach and educational programs and killing reimbursements to insurance companies meant to cover the cost of low-income enrollees. Last year’s Republican-backed tax-cut bill killed the individual mandate requiring everybody to have health care coverage, effective at the start of 2019. That will probably reduce the number of people with coverage under the ACA.
More consumers approve of the ACA
Republicans, of course, came close to overturning the whole law last year—and may try again, if they retain control of Congress after this year’s midterm elections. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Reuters recently, “if we had the votes, we’d do it.”
The public doesn’t actually want that, however. Approval of the ACA has gradually drifted up from a low of 33% right before the law went into effect in 2014, to 48% in the latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The disapproval rate was 40%, with 11% saying they don’t know. The law could get more popular once the individual mandate is formally gone since that was one of the law’s most controversial measures.
Health care is turning out to be a potent issue in this year’s midterm elections, with 71% of respondents saying in a Kaiser poll that it’s a “very important” factor in terms of who they will vote for. That’s more than any other issue. Jobs and the economy, normally the top concern, came in second, with 64% saying it’s very important.
Democrats think they have the edge on health care, since they generally support the ACA, along with provisions that would make it work better, such as measures to make insurance cheaper for people who don’t qualify for ACA subsidies. And many Democrats now support some version of the Bernie Sanders “Medicare for all” plan, which would extend the health program for seniors to others who don’t have coverage.
Trump, for his part, has allowed more narrow insurance plans, which were generally banned under the ACA, as a way to let some people pay less for less generous coverage. But Trump’s administration has also joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn one of the most popular parts of the ACA—a provision saying insurance companies cannot deny coverage or charge exorbitant fees to enrollees with pre-existing conditions. The details are complicated, but if Trump’s side wins, some states will probably go back to the old rules of allowing insurance companies to charge whatever they want. The politics of health care seems to have a lively future.
Aging undocumented immigrants pose costly health care challenge
Tersea Wiltz working for CNNMoney recently wrote that early on a recent morning, men huddle in the Home Depot parking lot, ground zero for day laborers on the hunt for work. Cars pull into the lot, and the men swarm.
Among them is Marcos, at 65, wiry and bronzed with a silvery smile. He’s been in the country illegally for 20 years. When he’s sick, he just rests, because — like most undocumented workers — he doesn’t have insurance.
“I don’t know if I have high blood pressure,” he said. “Because I don’t check. Doctors, you know, are expensive.”
For decades, the United States has struggled to deal with the health care needs of its undocumented immigrants — now an estimated 11 million — mainly through emergency room care and community health centers. But that struggle will evolve. As with the rest of America, the undocumented population is aging and developing the same health problems that plague other senior citizens.
Many undocumented adults lack health insurance, and even though they’re guaranteed emergency care, they often can’t get treated for chronic issues such as high blood pressure. What’s more, experts predict that many forgo preventive care, making chronic conditions worse — and more expensive to treat.
“They’re hosed. If you’re an undocumented immigrant, you’re paying into Social Security and Medicare, but can’t claim it,” said Steven Wallace of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
When uninsured people end up in the hospital, that pushes up rates for those who have insurance. Or public programs like Emergency Medicaid pick up the tab. This contributes to a game of shifting costs, Wallace said.
“It’ll place a strain on the entire health care system,” Wallace said.
Approximately 10% of the undocumented population is over 55 now, according to the Migration Policy Institute, but researchers agree that their numbers will rise.
“The unauthorized immigrant population has become more settled, and as a result is aging,” said Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center.
Estimates vary on how many undocumented immigrants lack insurance. The Kaiser Foundation estimates 39 percent are uninsured, while the Migration Policy Institute, which analyzes U.S. Census data, estimates as many as 71 percent of undocumented adults do not have insurance.
Like Marcos, older undocumented people tend to be poor. The Affordable Care Act doesn’t cover them, and they don’t qualify for Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security, even though many pay taxes. Few can afford private insurance.
That means most must turn to emergency rooms or community health centers, which provide primary care to poor people, regardless of immigration status. But community health centers can’t provide extensive care, Wallace said. And because Congress has yet to fund them, their future is precarious.
Leighton Ku, professor, and director of the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University said immigrants, both authorized and unauthorized, are much less likely to use health care than are U.S. citizens. Until that is, they’re quite ill.
“Their numbers are going to grow and we’re going to have an epidemic on our hands,” said Maryland state Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, a Democrat. “Who’s going to pay for it?”
A 2014 report by the Texas Medical Association found that undocumented immigrants with kidney disease face considerable barriers to care. By the time they do get help, they need dialysis, costing Texas taxpayers as much as $10 million a year.
Stepping in to help
Many cities have tried to step in. A 2016 Wall Street Journal story noted that 25 counties with large undocumented populations provide some non-emergency health care to these immigrants, at a combined cost of what the paper estimated is more than $1 billion each year.
Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco are among the places where undocumented immigrants can usually get routine care, thanks to locally funded programs.
In Los Angeles, Dr. Christina Hillson, a family practice doctor at the Eisner Health Clinic, said she’s seeing a growing number of elderly undocumented patients, whom she’s treated for everything from ovarian cancer to amputations resulting from untreated diabetes.
Patients who are critically ill are considered emergencies and can get treated at hospitals, she said. Sometimes Hillson will send patients who aren’t as ill to the ER because it’s the only way they can see a specialist.
Snapshot of a population
Most undocumented people immigrated here when they were young and tended to be healthier than native-born citizens, Wallace said. But as they age, they lose that advantage.
Undocumented women are more likely to have family in the U.S., who can help care for them as they age, said Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute. But men are more likely to be single. Because they often work as manual laborers, they’re more likely to get hurt on the job, Capps said.
“They’re going to age faster and become disabled at higher rates,” Capps said. “It’s going to make for a much tougher old age.”
There’s no one easy solution to helping older residents who live in the United States illegally, health and immigration experts say.
“The policy solution for illegals is to enforce the law and encourage them to return home, thereby avoiding the problem,” said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors limiting immigration.
Joe Caldwell of the National Council on Aging, an advocacy group, said federal immigration legislation providing a pathway to citizenship would allow seniors to access care.
Such legislation is unlikely any time soon.
Outside the Home Depot, Marcos and his friends gather in the cold sunshine. He’s been paying taxes for years, Marcos said, and he’s got pages of documents to prove it. He’d love to become documented, “but that’s practically impossible,” he said.
A year ago, Marcos said, he had tightness in his chest. He had no choice but to go to the ER, but he hasn’t followed up. He’d rather stalk the parking lot here, looking for work.
“No work,” Marcos said, “no money.”
Uber Offers In-Hospital Patient Transport with UberGURNEY
I thought that we all needed to take a break from the serious depressing news around us and from this article from a satirical blog site and I hope that it will bring a smile to all. Uber’s success knows no bounds. After infiltrating cities across the world with their groundbreaking online-based transportation service, Uber “is” infiltrating hospital buildings with their new fleet of UberGURNEY vehicles, giving patients more options to get from point A to point B within a hospital. Wow, remember they already offer rides to your physician or clinic or even to your hospital as long as you don’t need special care. So is this the next step?!?“Look, we’ve conquered roads all over the world,” said Uber founder Travis Kalanick. “What’s next? The hospital corridors of the world. Patients and nurses waste precious hours of their lives waiting for patient transport to arrive, whenever that is. Not with UberGURNEY. Just tap the app and we’ll pick you up.”
UberGURNEY does not require downloading a separate app, as UberGURNEY simply appears as another transport choice alongside UberPOOL, UberX, UberXL, and UberBLACK. Trial runs conducted at Uber’s hometown hospital, the University of California at San Francisco, have garnered positive feedback.
Nurse Connie Jenkins explains. “Endoscopy called me that my patient should be sent down. I called for patient transport but no one picked up. My patient had the Uber app, requested an UberGURNEY, and was picked up in 2 minutes. It may not sound like much, but any minute shaved off for someone NPO can save a life.” Jenkins is referring to an unfortunate incident earlier this year when a patient claimed he was starving to death after 1 hour NPO and actually died of hunger 1 hour later.
Feedback from patients has generally been positive as well.
“I really needed a turkey sandwich bad,” explained patient Ollie Nelson, rubbing his tummy with conviction. “I gave UberGURNEY a whirl. In three minutes, a driver picked me up and took me from my room to the cafeteria. It was fantastic.” Nelson did note one issue, however, a complaint about many long-time Uber users. “After I ate my sandwich, it was like 5 PM. Those surge prices are for real! Fifty bucks just to get back to my room! Maybe I should’ve walked.”
UberGURNEY will be rolling out in major academic institutions nationwide, including the Mayo Clinic, who revolutionized the transport game in 2014 with their pneumatic tube system for patient transport. UberGURNEY is in its early stages but should it reproduce the success of its car service, Uber expects to offer an expanded fleet of UberGURNEYs with UberGURNEYBLACK for those who are willing to pay more for a private gurney and UberBODYBAG for those unfortunate patients who have died and wish to head to the morgue immediately.
Now imagine the self-driving cars picking you up and then transporting you around the hospital in driverless gurneys and our patients cared for by robot docs and nurses. Think about computer APPs and telemedicine, which is already here. Unbelievable!! Stay tuned!!