Tag Archives: Obamacare

Election 2020: What Exactly Is Joe Biden’s Healthcare Plan? And Really, Telehealth to Care for Our Patients?

So, first I wanted to relate an experience, which exemplifies the failure of telehealth, or maybe the failure of healthcare workers who are taking advantage of the “new” health care system of patient care.

Consider the case a two weeks ago. As I was about to operate on a cancer surgery patient, I was asked to evaluate a patient healthcare conundrum. One of our nurse teammate’s husband was sick and no one knew what was the problem. He had lost 23 pounds over 3 ½ weeks, was dehydrated, appetite, sore throat, weak and needed to go to the emergency room multiple times for intravenous fluids. Each time he was told that they were very sorry but they had no idea what the problem was.

His Primary care physician would not see him in person, and he had another telehealth visit, which he was charged for and was prescribed an antibiotic with no improvement.

I asked if he had a COVID test which he did and it was negative.

I then asked if I could examine him or if she had any pictures. She had pictures, with no skin rashes except I noticed something interesting on the intraoral pictures, which showed left sided ulcers on his cheeks, left lateral posterior tongue and palate, again-only on the left side.

I asked if this was true in that the ulcers were only on one side of his mouth? When his wife responded with a yes to the question I then responded that he had intraoral shingles involving the nerve to the tongue, cheek, palate ( glossophyngeal nerve ) and sometimes also affected additional nearby cranial nerve, which is probably why he was having some of his stomach problem. She thought that was interesting and wanted to know what to do since he was about to have some gallbladder studies.

I outlined a treatment plan and low and behold he is getting better. My question is why didn’t anyone in the doc’s office or ER never complete a thorough physical exam? Oh, wait- how does one do a complete physical exam through the telehealth system? What about heart or lung disease patients, how does a nurse or physician listen to their heart or lungs, etc?? Are we physicians forgetting our teachings and training regarding the proper approach to physical diagnosis?

And now what about Biden’s proposal for health care?

Leigh Page pointed out that physicians — like all Americans — are trying to size up Joe Biden’s healthcare agenda, which the Democratic presidential nominee has outlined in speeches and on his official website.

Many healthcare professionals, patients, and voters of all political stripes think our current healthcare system is broken and in need of change, but they don’t agree on how it should change. In Part I of this article, we take a look at Biden’s proposals for changing the US healthcare system. Then, we include comments and analysis from physicians on both sides of the fence regarding the pros and cons of these proposed healthcare measures.

Part 1: An Overview of Biden’s Proposed Healthcare Plan

Biden’s proposed healthcare plan has many features. The main thrust is to expand access to healthcare and increase federal subsidies for health coverage.

If elected, “I’ll put your family first,” he said in a speech in June. “That will begin the dramatic expansion of health coverage and bold steps to lower healthcare costs.” He said he favored a plan that “lowers healthcare costs, gets us universal coverage quickly, when Americans desperately need it now.”

Below are Biden’s major proposals. They are followed by Part 2, which assesses the proposals on the basis of comments by doctors from across the political spectrum.

Biden Says We Should Restore the ACA

At a debate of the Democrat presidential candidates in June 2019, Biden argued that the best way to expand coverage is “to build on what we did during the Obama administration,” rather than create a whole new healthcare system, as many other Democratic candidates for president were proposing.

“I’m proud of the Affordable Care Act,” he said a year later in his June 2020 speech. “In addition to helping people with preexisting conditions, this is the law that delivered vital coverage for 20 million Americans who did not have health insurance.”

At the heart of the ACA are the health insurance marketplaces, where people can buy individual insurance that is often federally subsidized. Buyers select coverage at different levels ― Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Those willing to pay higher premiums for a Gold plan don’t have high deductibles, as they would with the Silver and Bronze plans.

Currently, federal subsidies are based on premiums on the Silver level, where premiums are lower but deductibles are higher than with the Gold plan. Biden would shift the subsidies to the Gold plan, where they would be more generous, because subsidies are pegged to the premiums.

In addition, Biden would remove the current limit on subsidies, under which only people with incomes less than 400% of the federal poverty level qualify for them. “Many families making more than 400% of the federal poverty level (about $50,000 for a single person and $100,000 for a family of four), and thus not qualifying for financial assistance, still struggle to afford health insurance,” the Biden for President website states.

Under the Biden plan, there would still be a limit on insurance payments as a percentage of income, but that percentage would drop, meaning that more people would qualify. Currently, the level is 9.86% or more of a person’s income; Biden would lower that level to 8.5%.

“We’re going to lower premiums for people buying coverage on their own by guaranteeing that no American ever has to spend more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance, and that number would be lower for lower-income people,” Biden said in the June speech.

Add a Public Option, but Not Medicare for All

In the primary, Biden parted company from rivals who backed Medicare for All, a single-payer health system that would make the government pay for everyone’s healthcare. “I understand the appeal of Medicare for All,” he said in a video released by his campaign. “But folks supporting it should be clear that it means getting rid of Obamacare, and I’m not for that.” But he nor anyone else who supported Obamacare has come up with a way to finance this type of healthcare system.

However, Biden embraced a “public option” that would allow people to buy into or be subsidized into “a Medicare-like” plan. It is unclear how similar the public option would be to regular Medicare coverage, but the Biden campaign has made it clear that it would not take funds from the Medicare trust fund, which is expected to start losing funds by 2026.

The more than 150 million Americans who have employer-sponsored insurance could keep it, but they could still buy into the public option if they wanted to. In addition, the public option would automatically enroll ― at no cost to them ― some 4.8 million low-income Americans who were excluded from the ACA’s Medicaid expansion when many states chose to opt out of the Medicaid expansion.

In addition, the 37 states that participate in expanded Medicaid could switch coverage to the new public option, provided that they continue to pay their current share of the costs. (In June, Oklahoma became the 37th state to allow the expansion, following the results of a ballot measure.)

“We need a public option now more than ever, especially when more than 20 million people are unemployed,” Biden said in the June speech. “That public option will allow every American, regardless of their employment status, the choice to get a Medicare-like plan.”

Lower the Medicare Age

In spring 2020, Biden proposed lowering the age to qualify for Medicare from 65 to 60. This provision is not included among the official policies listed on the Biden for President website, but it has been cited by many, including the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force.

This provision would bring almost 23 million people into Medicare, including 13.4 million from employer-sponsored coverage, according to one analysis. It’s not clear whether these people would buy into Medicare or simply be covered. Their care would not be paid for by the Medicare Trust Fund but would use tax dollars instead. Oh, finally, we find out that our taxes would go up. How much is the problem as we consider all the other programs that Biden and Harris have promoted.

Provide Relief in the Covid-19 Pandemic

Biden would cover the cost of COVID-19 testing and the cost of health coverage for people laid off during the pandemic.

“Testing unequivocally saves lives, and widespread testing is the key to opening our economy again,” Biden said in his June speech. “To fix the economy, we have to get control over the virus.”

Prescription Drug Reform

Biden would repeal a Bush-era exception that bars the Medicare program from negotiating prescription drug prices for the Part D prescription drug benefit. “There’s no justification for this except the power of prescription drug lobbying,” the Biden for President website states.

In addition, Biden’s prescription drug reform plan would do the following:

• Limit launch prices for drugs. The administration would establish an independent review board that would assess the value of new drugs and would have the power to set limits on their prices. Such drugs are “being abusively priced by manufacturers,” the Biden for President site says.

• Limit price increases to inflation. As a condition of participation in government programs, drug prices could not rise more than the general inflation rate. Biden would impose a tax penalty on drug makers whose prices surpassed inflation.

• Allow consumers to buy prescription drugs from other countries. Biden would allow consumers to import prescription drugs from other countries, provided the US Department of Health and Human Services certifies that those drugs are safe.

• Stop tax breaks for pharma ads: Biden would drop drug makers’ tax breaks for advertising, which amounted to $6 billion in 2016.

Stop Surprise Billing

Biden proposes to stop surprise billing, which occurs when patients receive care from a doctor or hospital that is not in their insurer’s network. In these situations, patients can be surprised with very high bills because no payment limit has been negotiated by the insurer.

Twenty-eight states have enacted consumer protections to address surprise medical billing, but Congress has not passed such a measure. One proposed solution is to require payers to pay for out-of-network services on the basis of a benchmark, such as the average Medicare rate for that service in a specific geographic area.

Closely Monitor Healthcare Mergers

Biden would take a more active stance in enforcing antitrust laws against mergers in the healthcare industry.

“The concentration of market power in the hands of a few corporations is occurring throughout our health care system, and this lack of competition is driving up prices for consumers,” the Biden for President website states.

Overhaul Long-term Care

Biden’s latest plan calls for a $775 billion overhaul of the nation’s caregiving infrastructure. Biden says he would help create new jobs, improve working conditions, and invest in new models of long-term care outside of traditional nursing homes.

Restore Funding for Planned Parenthood

Biden would reissue guidance barring states from refusing Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood and other providers that refer for abortions or that provide related information, according to the Biden for President website. This action would reverse a Trump administration rule.

Boost Community Health Centers

Biden promises to double federal funding for community health centers, such as federally qualified health centers, that provide care to underserved populations.

Support Mental Health Parity

Biden says he supports mental health parity and would enforce the federal mental health parity law and expand funding for mental health services.

Part 2: Physicians’ Opinions on Biden’s Healthcare Plans: Pro and Con

Biden’s plans to expand coverage are at the heart of his healthcare platform, and many see these as the most controversial part of his legislative agenda.

Biden’s Medicare expansion is not Medicare for All, but it can be seen as “Medicare for all who want it.” Potentially, millions of people could enter Medicare or something like Medicare. If the Medicare eligibility age is dropped to 60, people could switch from their employer-sponsored plans, many of which have high deductibles. In addition, poor people who have no coverage because their states opted out of the Medicaid expansion would be included.

The possibility of such a mass movement to government-run healthcare alarms many people. “Biden’s proposals look moderate, but it is basically Medicare for All in sheep’s clothing,” said Cesar De Leon, DO, a family physician in Naples, Florida, and past president of the county’s medical society.

Reimbursements for Doctors Could Fall- No, Will Fall!

A shift of millions of people into Medicare would likely mean lower reimbursements for doctors. For example, the 13.4 million people aged 60 to 65 who would switch from employer-sponsored coverage to Medicare would be leaving some of the best-paying insurance plans, and their physicians would then be reimbursed at Medicare rates.

“Biden’s plan would lower payments to already cash-strapped doctors and hospitals, who have already seen a significant decrease in reimbursement over the past decade,” De Leon said. “He is trying to win the support of low-income voters by giving them lower healthcare prices, which doctors and hospitals would have to absorb.

“Yes, the US healthcare system is dysfunctional,” De Leon added, “but the basic system needs to be fixed before it is expanded to new groups of people.”

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons warns against Biden’s proposed government-run system. “We support expanding health insurance coverage, but the expansion should build on the existing employer-based system,” said Katie O. Orrico, director of the group’s Washington office. “We have consistently opposed a public option or Medicare for All.

“Shifting more Americans into government-sponsored healthcare will inevitably result in lower payments for physicians’ services,” Orrico added. “Reimbursement rates from Medicare, Medicaid, and many ACA exchange plans already do not adequately cover the costs of running a medical practice.”

Prospect of Higher Taxes- Absolutely, grab your wallets and your retirement funds!!

Paying for ambitious reforms means raising taxes. Biden’s plan would not make the Medicare trust fund pay for the expansions and would to some extent rely on payments from new beneficiaries. However, many new beneficiaries, such as people older than 60 and the poor, would be covered by tax dollars.

Altogether, Biden’s plan is expected to cost the federal government $800 billion over the next 10 years. To pay for it, Biden proposes reversing President Trump’s tax cuts, which disproportionately helped high earners, and eliminating capital gains tax loopholes for the wealthy.

“Rather than tax the average American, the Democrats will try to redistribute wealth,” De Leon said.

“The elephant in the room is that taxes would have to be raised to pay for all these programs,” said Gary Price, MD, president of the Physicians Foundation. Because no one likes higher taxes, he says, architects of the Biden plan would try to find ways to save money, such as tamping down reimbursements for physicians, to try to avoid a public backlash against the reforms.

“Physicians’ great fear is that efforts to keep taxes from getting too high will result in cutting physician reimbursement,” he said.

Impact of COVID-19

Perhaps an even larger barrier to Biden’s health reforms comes from the COVID-19 crisis, which didn’t exist last year, when health reform was the central issue in the presidential primary that pitted Biden against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the chief proponent of Medicare for All.

“The top two issues on voters’ minds right now are the pandemic and the economy,” said Daniel Derksen, MD, a family physician who is professor of public health policy at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Any other concerns are pushed down the list.”

The COVID-19 crisis is forcing the federal government to spend trillions of dollars to help businesses and individuals who have lost income because of the crisis. Will there be enough money left over to fund an ambitious set of health reforms?

“It’s not a good time to start reforms,” warned Kevin Campbell, MD, a cardiologist in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Given the current pressures that COVID-19 has placed on physicians, healthcare systems, and hospitals, I don’t believe that we can achieve meaningful change in the near term.”

However, supporters of Biden’s reforms think that now, during the COVID-19 crisis, is precisely the right time to enact healthcare reform. When millions of Americans lost their jobs because of the pandemic, they also lost their insurance coverage.

“COVID-19 has made Biden’s healthcare agenda all the more relevant and necessary,” said Don Berwick, MD, who led the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) under President Obama. “The COVID-19 recession has made people more aware of how vulnerable their coverage is.”

Orrico at the neurosurgeons group acknowledges this point. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed some cracks in the US healthcare system,” she said. “Whether this will lead to new reforms is hard to say, but policymakers will likely take a closer look at issues related to unemployment, health insurance coverage, and healthcare costs due to the COVID-19 emergency.”

Many Physicians Want Major Reform

Although many doctors are skeptical of reform, others are impatient for reform to come and support Biden’s agenda ― especially its goal to expand coverage.

“Joe Biden’s goal is to get everyone covered,” said Alice Chen, MD, an internist who is a leader of Doctors for Biden, an independent group that is not part of the Biden campaign. “What brings Democrats together is that they are united in the belief that healthcare is a right.”

In January, the American College of Physicians (ACP) endorsed both Medicare for All and the public option. The US healthcare system “is ill and needs a bold new prescription,” the ACP stated.

The medical profession, once mostly Republican, now has more Democrats. In 2016, 35% of physicians identified themselves as Democrats, 27% as Republicans, and 36% as independents.

Many of the doctors behind reform appear to be younger physicians who are employed by large organizations. They are passionate about reforming the healthcare system, and as employees of large organizations, they would not be directly affected if reimbursements fell to Medicare levels ― although their institutions might subsequently have to adjust their salaries downward.

Chen, for example, is a young physician who says she has taken leave from her work as adjunct assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, to raise her young children.

She is the former executive director of Doctors for America, a movement of thousands of physicians and medical students “to bring their patients’ experiences to policymakers.”

“Doctors feel that they are unseen and unheard, that they often feel frankly used by large health systems and by insurance companies,” Chen said. “Biden wants to hear from them.”

Many idealistic young physicians look to health system leaders like Berwick. “I believe this nation needs to get universal coverage as fast as we can, and Biden’s policies present a path to get there,” the former CMS director said. “This would be done chiefly through Biden’s public option and his plans to expand coverage in states that have not adopted the ACA Medicaid expansion.”

But what about the potential effect of lowering reimbursement rates for doctors? “The exact rates will have to be worked out,” Berwick said, “but it’s not just about who pays physicians, it’s about how physicians get paid.” He thinks the current fee-for-service system needs to be replaced by a value-based payment system such as capitation, shared savings, and bundled payments.

The Biden-Sanders Task Force

Berwick was a member of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, which brings together supporters of Biden and Sanders to create a shared platform for the Biden campaign.

The task force issued a report in early July that recommended a variety of healthcare reforms in addition to expanding access to care. One of them was to find ways to address the social determinants of health, such as housing, hunger, transportation, and pollution, which can harm health outcomes.

Chen specifically cites this provision. “We need to focus on the social determinants of heath and try to encourage better health,” she said. “I remember as a doctor advising a patient who was a young mother with several small children that she needed to exercise more. She asked me, ‘When am I supposed to exercise, and who will watch my kids?’ I realized the predicament that she was in.”

Price is also glad to see the provision in Biden’s plan. “Social determinants of health has been a key focus of the Physicians Foundation,” he said. “To my knowledge, this is the first time that a political candidate’s healthcare policy has included this point.

“Physicians are not in control of the social determinants of health, even though they affect their reimbursements,” he said. Under Medicare’s Merit-based Incentive Payment System, for example, doctors are penalized when their patients don’t meet certain health standards, such as when diabetes patients can’t get their A1C levels under control, he says.

However, Price fears that Biden, in his efforts to make peace with Sanders supporters, may have to some degree abandoned his moderate stance on health reform.

Is the Nation Ready for Another Health Reform Battle?

Clearly, many Democrats are ready to reform the system, but is the nation ready? “Are American voters ready for another major, Democratic-led health reform initiative?” asked Patricia Salber, MD, an internist and healthcare consultant who runs a blog called The Doctor Weighs In.

“I’ve been around long enough to remember the fight over President Clinton’s health plan and then President Obama’s plan,” she said. Each time, she says, there seemed to be a great deal of momentum, and then there was a backlash. “If Biden is elected, I hope we don’t have to go through the same thing all over again,” Salber said.

Derksen believes Biden’s proposed healthcare reforms could come close to rivaling President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in ambition, cost, and controversy.

He shares Biden’s goal of extending coverage to all ― including paying the cost of covering low-income people. But the result is that “Biden’s agenda is going to be a ‘heavy lift,’ as they say in Washington,” he said. “He has some very ambitious plans to expand access to care.”

Derksen speaks from experience. He helped draft part of the ACA as a health policy fellow in Capitol Hill in 2009. Then in 2011, he was in charge of setting up the ACA’s insurance marketplace for the state of New Mexico.

Now Biden wants to begin a second wave of health reform. But Derksen thinks this second wave of reform could encounter opposition as formidable as those Obama faced.

“Assuming that Biden is elected, it would be tough to get this agenda passed ― even if he had solid Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate,” said Derksen,

According to polls by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), 53% of Americans like the ACA, while 37% dislike it ― a split that has been relatively stable for the past 2 years, since the failed GOP effort to repeal the law.

In that KFF poll, the public option fared better ― 68% of Americans support the public option, including 42% of Republicans. These numbers help explain why the Biden campaign moved beyond its support of the ACA to embrace the public option as well.

Even when Democrats gain control of all the levers of power, as they did in 2009, they still have a very difficult time passing an ambitious healthcare reform bill. Derksen remembers how tough it was to get that massive bill through Congress.

The House bill’s public option might have prevailed in a reconciliation process between the two bills, but that process was cut short when Sen. Ted Kennedy died and Senate Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority. The bill squeaked through as the Senate version, without the public option.

The ACA Has Survived-But at What Cost?

The ACA is much more complex piece of legislation than the public option.

“The ACA has survived for a decade, despite all efforts to dismantle it,” Salber said. “Biden wants to restore a law that the Republicans have been chipping away at. The Republicans eliminated the penalty for not having coverage. Think about it, a penalty of zero is not much of a deterrent.”

It was the loss of the ACA penalty in tax year 2019 that, paradoxically, formed the legal basis for the latest challenge of the ACA before the Supreme Court, in a suit brought by the Trump administration and 18 Republican state attorneys general.

The Supreme Court will make its ruling after the election, but Salber thinks the suit itself will boost both Biden and the ACA in the campaign. “I think most people are tired of all the attempts to repeal the ACA,” she said.

“The public now thinks of the US healthcare system as pathetically broken,” she added. “It used to be that Americans would say we have the best healthcare system in the world. I don’t hear that much anymore.”

Physicians who oppose the ACA hold exactly the opposite view. “Our healthcare system is in shambles after the Obamacare fiasco,” Campbell said. “Even if Biden has a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, I still don’t think that there would be enough votes to pass sweeping changes to healthcare.”

Biden Could Choose Issues Other Than Expanding Access

There are plenty of proposals in the Biden healthcare plan that don’t involve remaking the healthcare system.

These include making COVID-19 testing free, providing extra funding for community health centers, and stopping surprise billing. Proposals such as stepping up antitrust enforcement against mergers would involve administrative rather than Congressional action.

Some of these other proposals could be quite expensive, such as overhauling long-term care and paying for health insurance for laid-off workers. And another proposal ― limiting the prices of pharmaceuticals ― could be almost as contentious as expanding coverage.

“This proposal has been talked about for many years, but it has always met with strong resistance from drug makers,” said Robert Pearl, MD, former CEO of the Permanente Medical Group and now a faculty member at Stanford School of Medicine and Graduate School of Business.

Pearl thinks the first item in Biden’s drug plan ― to repeal a ban against Medicare negotiating drug prices with drug makers ― would meet with Congressional resistance, owing to heavy lobbying and campaign contributions by the drug companies.

In addition, Pearl thinks Biden’s plans to limit drug prices ― barring drug makers from raising their prices above the general inflation rate and limiting the launch prices for many drugs ― enter uncharted legal waters and could end up in the courts.

Even Without Reform, Expect Lower Reimbursements

Although many doctors are concerned that Biden’s healthcare reforms would reduce reimbursements, Pearl thinks reimbursements will decline even without reforms, owing in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employer-based health insurance has been the bedrock of the US healthcare system, but Pearl says many employers have long wanted to get rid of this obligation. Increasingly, they are pushing costs onto the employee by raising deductibles and through premium sharing.

Now, with the pandemic, employers are struggling just to stay in business, and health insurance has truly become a financial burden, he says. In addition, states will be unable to balance their budgets and will try to reduce their Medicaid obligations.

“Before COVID-19 hit, healthcare spending was supposed to grow by 5% a year, but that won’t happen for some time into the future,” Pearl said. “The COVID economic crisis is likely to continue for quite some time, forcing physicians to either accept much lower payments or find better ways to provide care.”

Like Berwick, Pearl believes healthcare will have to move to value-based payments. “Instead of producing more services, doctors will have to preserve resources, which is value-based healthcare,” he said. The primary form of value-based reimbursement, Pearl thinks, will be capitation, in which physicians agree to quality and service guarantees.

Even steadfast opponents of many of Biden’s reforms foresee value-based payments taking off. “Certainly, there are ways to improve the current healthcare system, such as moving to value-based care,” said Orrico at the neurosurgeons’ group.

In short, a wide swath of observers agree that doctors are facing major changes in the payment and delivery of healthcare, regardless of whether Biden is elected and succeeds with his health agenda.

Notice that no one has mentioned tort reform in healthcare. Why Not???????

Trump health officials “not aware” of how he would replace Obamacare; and what about the Vaccines?

Trump health officials “not aware” of how he would replace Obamacare; and what about the Vaccines?

It is truly amazing how out of touch the GOP and, I believe President Trump is, on health care, especially “after” or during this COVID pandemic. Consider the amount of monies spent on caring for the millions of patients diagnosed with COVID-19. One must remember that due to the EMTALA Act, which ensures public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay. Think of all the COVID testing and ICU care that has been provided for all that needed it. This experience, etc. should convince, even the clueless that we need a type of universal health care policy.

They, the GOP and the President, promised us all that they would create, provide a wonderful healthcare for all, better than Obamacare. But have they? No!

And now is the time to produce a well-designed alternative, or consider Obamacare as a well thought out program, except for the lack of financial sustainability. And guess what happened after I had a phone call with a member of the Trump administration. He asked me what I thought Trump’s chances of winning re-election. I responded that I thought he had about a 20% chance of getting re-elected. He pressed me as what I thought that would increase his chances. My response was to finally reveal their, the GOP/Trump’s

, plan and I suggested that they should adopt the Affordable Care Act but outline a plan to sustainably finance the healthcare plan.

My suggestion- embrace the Affordable Care Act as a good starting point and use a federal sales tax to finance it instead of putting the onus on the young healthy workers.

 At a hearing on the coronavirus response, Senator Dick Durbin asked the Trump administration’s top health officials about the president’s comments touting a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. They said they did not know about such a plan.

And a Republican victory in Supreme Court battle could mean millions lose health insurance in the middle of a pandemic.

John T. Bennett noted that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell could soon be forever linked if the late Supreme Court justice’s death leads to the termination of the 44th president’s signature domestic policy achievement: the Affordable Care Act

All sides in the coming battle royal over how to proceed with filling the high court seat she left behind are posturing and pressuring, floating strategic possibilities and offering creative versions of history and precedent. Most Republicans in the Senate want to hold a simple-majority floor vote on a nominee Mr. Trump says he will announce as soon as this week before the end of the calendar year. Democrats say they are hypocrites because the blocked a Barack Obama high court pick during his final year.

It appears Democrats have only extreme options as viable tactics from preventing confirmation hearings and a floor vote before this unprecedented year is up. Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday refused to rule bringing articles of impeachment against the president or even William Barr, his attorney general whom the Democrats say has improperly used his office to help Mr. Trump’s friends and use federal law enforcement unjustly against US citizens.

Unless Ms Pelosi pulls that politically dangerous lever, the maneuvering of the next few weeks most likely will end after Congress returns after the 3 November election with a high court with a 6-3 conservative bend. Analysts already are warning that conservatives appear months away from being able to partially criminalize abortion and also take down the 2011 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama care.

Democrats have sounded off since Ms. Ginsburg’s death to warn that millions of Americans could soon lose their health insurance, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Last year, 8.5m people signed up for coverage using the Affordable Care Act, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“Healthcare in this country hangs in the balance,” Joe Biden, who is the Democratic nominee for president and was vice president when Mr. Obama signed the health plan now linked to his name into law, said on Sunday.

Mr. Biden accused Republicans of playing a “game” by rushing the process to replace Ms. Ginsburg on the court because they are “trying to strip healthcare away from tens of millions of families.”

Doing so, he warned, would “strip away their peace of mind” because insurance providers would no longer be required to give some Americans policies. Should a 6-3 court decide to uphold a lower court’s ruling that the 2011 health law be taken down, those companies would “drop coverage completely for folks with pre-existing conditions,” Mr. Biden warned in remarks from Philadelphia.

“If Donald Trump has his way, the complications from Covid-19 … would become the next deniable pre-existing condition for millions of Americans.” That means they would lose their health insurance and be forced to either pay for care out of their pocket or use credit lines. Both could force millions into medical bankruptcy or otherwise create dire financial hardships.

Mr. Trump about a month ago promised to release a new healthcare plan that, if ever passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law, would replace Obamacare.

So far, however, he has yet to unveil that alleged plan.

Trump Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters last week that the White House’s Domestic Policy Council is leading the work on the plan. But when pressed for more details, she chose to pick a fight with a CNN reporter.

“I’m not going to give you a readout of what our healthcare plan looks like and who’s working on it,” Ms. McEnany said. “If you want to know, if you want to know, come work here at the White House.”

When pressed, Ms. McEnany said “stakeholders here in the White House” are working on a plan the president has promised for several years. “And, as I told you, our Domestic Policy Council and others in the White House are working on a healthcare plan,” she insisted, describing it as “the president’s vision for the next five years.”

The president frequently mentions healthcare during his rowdy campaign rallies, but only in general terms. He promises a sweeping plan that will bring costs down across the board and also protect those with pre-existing conditions. But he mostly brings it up to hammer Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden for pushing a flawed law that he has been forced to tinker with to make it function better for consumers.

Broad brush

His top spokeswoman echoed those broad strokes during a briefing on Wednesday. “In aggregate, it’s going to be a very comprehensive strategy, one where we’re saving healthcare while Democrats are trying to take healthcare away,” she told reporters. “We’re making healthcare better and cheaper, guaranteeing protections for people with preexisting conditions, stopping surprise medical billing, increasing transparency, defending the right to keep your doctor and your plan, fighting lobbyists and special interests, and making healthier and making, finding cures to diseases.”

If there is a substantive plan that would protect millions with pre-existing conditions and others affected by Covid-19, it would have made a fine backbone of Mr. Trump’s August Republican National Committee address in which he accepted his party’s presidential nomination for a second time. But healthcare was not the major focus, even though it ranks in the top two issues – along with the economy – in just about every poll that asks voters to rank their priorities in deciding between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden.

If there is a coming White House healthcare plan that would protect those with pre-existing conditions and prevent millions from losing coverage as the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing, the president is not using his campaign rallies at regional airport hangars to describe or promote it.

“We will strongly protect Medicare and Social Security and we will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” said at a campaign stop Saturday evening in Fayetteville, North Carolina, before pivoting to a completely unrelated topic: “America will land the first woman on the moon, and the United States will be the first nation to land an astronaut on Mars.”

The push to install a conservative to replace the liberal Ms. Ginsburg and the lack of any expectation Mr. Trump has a tangible plan has given Democrats a new election-year talking point less than two months before all votes must be cast.

“Whoever President Trump nominates will strike down the Affordable Care Act,” Hawaii Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono told MSNBC on Sunday. “It will throw millions of people off of healthcare, won’t protect people with pre-existing conditions. It will be disastrous. That’s why they want to rush this.”

 About 1 In 5 Households in U.S. Cities Miss Needed Medical Care During Pandemic

Patti Neighmond noted that when 28-year-old Katie Kinsey moved from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in early March, she didn’t expect the pandemic would affect her directly, at least not right away. But that’s exactly what happened.

She was still settling in and didn’t have a primary care doctor when she got sick with symptoms of what she feared was COVID-19.

“I had a sore throat and a debilitating cough,” she says, “and when I say debilitating, I mean I couldn’t talk without coughing.” She couldn’t lie down at night without coughing. She just wasn’t getting enough air into her lungs, she says.

Kinsey, who works as a federal consultant in nuclear defense technology, found herself coughing through phone meetings. And then things got worse. Her energy took a dive, and she felt achy all over, “so I was taking naps during the day.” She never got a fever but worried about the coronavirus and accelerated her effort to find a doctor.

No luck.

She called nearly a dozen doctors listed on her insurance card, but all were booked. “Some said they were flooded with patients and couldn’t take new patients. Others gave no explanation, and just said they were sorry and could put me on a waiting list.” All the waiting lists were two to three months’ long.

Eventually Kinsey went to an urgent care clinic, got an X-ray and a diagnosis of severe bronchitis — not COVID-19. Antibiotics helped her get better. But she says she might have avoided “months of illness and lost days of work” had she been able to see a doctor sooner. She was sick for three months.

Kinsey’s experience is just one way the pandemic has delayed medical care for Americans in the last several months. A poll of households in the four largest U.S. cities by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds roughly one in every five have had at least one member who was unable to get medical care or who has had to delay care for a serious medical problem during the pandemic (ranging from 19% of households in New York City to 27% in Houston).

We had people come in with heart attacks after having chest pain for three or four days, or stroke patients who had significant loss of function for several days, if not a week.

There were multiple reasons given. Many people reported, like Kinsey, that they could not find a doctor to see them as hospitals around the U.S. delayed or canceled certain medical procedures to focus resources on treating COVID-19.

Other patients avoided critically important medical care because of fears they would catch the coronavirus while in a hospital or medical office.

“One thing we didn’t expect from COVID was that we were going to drop 60% of our volume,” says Ryan Stanton, an emergency physician in Lexington, Ky., and member of the board of directors of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“We had people come in with heart attacks after having chest pain for three or four days,” Stanton says, “or stroke patients who had significant loss of function for several days, if not a week. And I’d ask them why they hadn’t come in, and they would say almost universally they were afraid of COVID.”

Stanton found that to be particularly frustrating, because his hospital had made a big effort to communicate with the community to “absolutely come to the hospital for true emergencies.”

He describes one patient who had suffered at home for weeks with what ended up being appendicitis. When the patient finally came to the emergency room, Stanton says, a procedure that normally would have been done on an outpatient basis “ended up being a very much more involved surgery with increased risk of complications because of that delay.”

The poll finds a majority of households in leading U.S. cities who delayed medical care for serious problems say they had negative health consequences as a result (ranging from 55% in Chicago to 75% in Houston and 63% in Los Angeles).

Dr. Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer of the large public hospital Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, says the number of emergencies showing up in his hospital have been down during the pandemic, too, because patients have been fearful of catching the coronavirus there. One case that sticks in his mind was a middle aged woman with diabetes who fainted at home.

“Her blood sugar was really high, and she didn’t feel well — she was sweating,” the doctor recalls. “The family called the ambulance, and the ambulance came, and she said, ‘No, no, I don’t want to go to the hospital. I’ll be fine.’ “

By the next day the woman was even sicker. Her family took her to the hospital, where she was rushed to the catheterization lab. There doctors discovered and dissolved a clot in her heart. This was ultimately a successful ending for the patient, Mahajan says, “but you can see how this is very dangerous — to avoid going to the hospital if you have significant symptoms.”

He says worrisome reports from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office show the number of people who have died at home in the last few months is much higher than the average number of people who died in their homes before the pandemic.

“That’s yet another signal that something is going on where patients are not coming in for care,” Mahajan says. “And those folks who died at home may have died from COVID, but they may also have died from other conditions that they did not come in to get cared for.”

Like most hospitals nationwide, Harbor-UCLA canceled elective surgeries to make room for coronavirus patients — at least during the earliest months of the pandemic, and when cases surged.

In NPR’s survey of cities, about one-third of households in Chicago and Los Angeles and more than half in Houston and New York with a household member who couldn’t get surgeries or elective procedures said it resulted in negative health consequences for that person.

“Back in March and April the estimates were 80[%] to 90% of normal [in terms of screenings for cancer]” at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, says Dr. Jeffrey Drebin, who heads surgical oncology there.

“Things like mammograms, colonoscopies, PSA tests were not being done,” he says. At the height of the pandemic’s spring surge in New York City, Drebin says, he was seeing many more patients than usual who had advanced disease.

“Patients weren’t being found at routine colonoscopy,” he says. “They were coming in because they had a bleeding tumor or an obstructing tumor and needed to have something done right away.”

In June, during patients’ information sessions with the hospital, Drebin says patients typically asked if they could wait a few months before getting a cancer screening test.

“In some cases, you can, but there are certainly types of cancer that cannot have surgery delayed for a number of months,” he explains. With pancreatic or bladder cancer, for example, delaying even a month can dramatically reduce the opportunity for the best treatment or even a cure.

Reductions in cancer screening, Drebin says, are likely to translate to more illness and death down the road. “The estimate,” he says, “is that simply the reduction this year in mammography and colonoscopy [procedures] will create 10,000 additional deaths over the next few years.”

And even delays in treatment that aren’t a matter of life and death can make a big difference in the quality of a life.

For 12-year-old Nicolas Noblitt, who lives in Northridge, Calif., with his parents and two siblings, delays in treatment this year have dramatically reduced his mobility.

Nicolas has cerebral palsy and has relied on a wheelchair most of his life. The muscles in his thighs, hips, calves and even his feet and toes get extremely tight, and that “makes it hard for him to walk even a short distance with a walker,” says his mother, Natalie Noblitt. “So, keeping the spasticity under control has been a major project his whole life to keep him comfortable and try to help him gain the most mobility he can have.”

Before the pandemic, Nicolas was helped by regular Botox injections, which relaxed his tight muscles and enabled him to wear shoes.

As Nicolas says, “I do have these really cool shoes that have a zipper … and they really help me — because, one, they’re really easy to get on, and two, they’re cool shoes.” Best of all, he says they stabilize him enough so he can walk with a walker.

“I love those shoes and I think they sort of love me, too, when you think about it,” he tells NPR.

Nicolas was due to get a round of Botox injections in early March. But the doctors deemed it an elective procedure and canceled the appointment. That left him to go months without a treatment.

His muscles got so tight that his feet would uncontrollably curl.

“And when it happens and I’m trying to walk … it just makes everything worse,” Nicolas says, “from trying to get on the shoes to trying to walk in the walker.”

Today he is finally back on his Botox regimen and feeling more comfortable — happy to walk with a walker. Even so, says his mom, the lapse in treatment caused setbacks. Nicolas has to work harder now, both in day-to-day activities and in physical therapy.

‘Warp Speed’ Officials Debut Plan for Distributing Free Vaccines

Despite the president’s statements about military involvement in the vaccine rollout, officials said that for most people, “there will be no federal official who touches any of this vaccine.”

Katie Thomas reported that Federal officials outlined details Wednesday of their preparations to administer a future coronavirus vaccine to Americans, saying they would begin distribution within 24 hours of any approval or emergency authorization, and that their goal was that no American “has to pay a single dime” out of their own pocket.

The officials, who are part of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed — the multiagency effort to quickly make a coronavirus vaccine available to Americans — also said the timing of a vaccine was still unclear, despite repeated statements by President Trump that one could be ready before the election on Nov. 3.

“We’re dealing in a world of great uncertainty. We don’t know the timing of when we’ll have a vaccine, we don’t know the quantities, we don’t know the efficacy of those vaccines,” said Paul Mango, the deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is a really quite extraordinary, logistically complex undertaking, and a lot of uncertainties right now. I think the message we want you to leave with is, we are prepared for all of those uncertainties.”

The officials said they were planning for initial distribution of a vaccine — perhaps on an emergency basis, and to a limited group of high-priority people such as health care workers — in the final three months of this year and into next year. The Department of Defense is providing logistical support to plan how the vaccines will be shipped and stored, as well as how to keep track of who has gotten the vaccine and whether they have gotten one or two doses.

However, Mr. Mango said that there had been “a lot of confusion” about what the role of the Department of Defense would be, and that “for the overwhelming majority of Americans, there will be no federal official who touches any of this vaccine before it’s injected into Americans.”

Army Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski said Operation Warp Speed was working to link up existing databases so that, for example, a patient who received a vaccine at a public health center in January could go to a CVS pharmacy 28 days later in another state and be assured of getting the second dose of the right vaccine.

Three drug makers are testing vaccine candidates in late-stage trials in the United States. One of those companies, Pfizer, has said that it could apply for emergency authorization as early as October, while the other two, Moderna and AstraZeneca, have said they hope to have something before the end of the year.

Coronavirus vaccine study by Pfizer shows mild-to-moderate side effects

Pfizer Inc said on Tuesday participants were showing mostly mild-to-moderate side effects when given either the company’s experimental coronavirus vaccine or a placebo in an ongoing late-stage study.

The company said in a presentation to investors that side effects included fatigue, headache, chills and muscle pain. Some participants in the trial also developed fevers – including a few high fevers. The data is blinded, meaning Pfizer does not know which patients received the vaccine or a placebo. Kathrin Jansen, Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, stressed that the independent data monitoring committee “has access to unblinded data so they would notify us if they have any safety concerns and have not done so to date.”

The company has enrolled more than 29,000 people in its 44,000-volunteer trial to test the experimental COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with German partner BioNTech. Over 12,000 study participants had received a second dose of the vaccine, Pfizer executives said on an investor conference call.

The comments follow rival AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trials being put on hold worldwide on Sept. 6 after a serious side effect was reported in a volunteer in Britain.

AstraZeneca’s trials resumed in Britain and Brazil on Monday following the green light from British regulators, but remain on hold in the United States.

Pfizer expects it will likely have results on whether the vaccine works in October. “We do believe – given the very robust immune profile and also the preclinical profile … that vaccine efficacy is likely to be 60% or more,” Pfizer’s Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten said.

Rushing the COVID-19 Vaccine Could Have Serious and Fatal Side Effects

Jason Silverstein noted that States have been told by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention they should prepare for a coronavirus vaccine by “late October or early November,” according to reports last Wednesday. But an untested coronavirus vaccine may have serious and fatal side effects, could even make the disease worse, and may very well have an effect on the election.

What’s the worst that could happen if we give an untested vaccine to millions of people?

We received a reminder today, when one of the leading large coronavirus vaccine trials by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was paused due to a “suspected serious adverse reaction.” There are eight other potential coronavirus vaccines that have reached Phase 3, which is the phase that enrolls tens of thousands of people and compares how they do with the vaccine against people who only get a placebo. Those eight include China’s CanSino Biologics product that was approved for military use without proper testing back in July, and Russia’s coronavirus vaccine that has been tested in only 76 people.

If the CDC distributes an untested coronavirus vaccine this Fall, it would be the largest drug trial in history—with all of the risks and none of the safeguards.

“Approving a vaccine without testing would be like climbing into a plane that has never been tested,” said Tony Moody, MD, director of the Duke Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers. “It might work, but failure could be catastrophic.”

One concern about this vaccine is that it’s tracking to be an “October surprise.” From Henry Kissinger’s “peace is at hand” speech regarding a ceasefire in Vietnam less than two weeks before the 1972 election to former FBI Director James Comey’s letter that he would reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, October surprises have always had the potential to shift elections. But never before have they had the potential to catastrophically shift the health of an already fragile nation.

If there is an October surprise in the form of an untested coronavirus vaccine, it won’t be the first time that a vaccine was rushed out as a political stunt to increase an incumbent president’s election chances.

What happened with the last vaccine rush?

On March 24, 1976, in response to a swine flu outbreak, President Gerald Ford asked Congress for $135 million for “each and every American to receive an inoculation.”

How badly did the Swine Flu campaign of 1976 go? Well, one of the drug companies made two million doses of the wrong Swine Flu vaccine, vaccines weren’t exactly effective for people under 24, and insurance companies said, no way, they didn’t want to be liable for the science experiment of putting this vaccine into 120 million bodies.

By December, the Swine Flu vaccination program was suspended when people started to develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare neurological condition whose risk was seven times higher in people who got the vaccine and which paralyzed more than 500 people and killed at least 25.

What else can go wrong when vaccines are rushed

“Vaccines are some of the safest medical products in the world, but there can be serious side effects in some instances that are often only revealed by very large trials,” said Kate Langwig, Ph.D., an infectious disease ecologist at Virginia Tech.

One of the other possible side effects is known as vaccine enhancement, the very rare case when the body makes antibodies in response to a vaccine but the antibodies help a second infection get into cells, something that has been seen in dengue fever. “The vaccine, far from preventing Covid-19, might turn out to make a patient’s disease worse,” said Nir Eyal, D.Phil., a bioethics professor at Rutgers University.

We do not know whether a coronavirus vaccine might cause vaccine enhancement, but we need to. In 1966, a vaccine trial against respiratory syncytial virus, a disease that many infants get, caused more than 80 percent of infants and children who received the vaccine to be hospitalized and killed two.

All of these risks can be prevented, but safety takes patience, something that an American public which has had to bury more than 186,000 is understandably short on and Trump seems to be allergic to.

“To put this into perspective, the typical length of making a vaccine is fifteen to twenty years,” said Paul Offit, MD, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit’s laboratory developed a vaccine for rotavirus, a disease that kills infants. That process began in the 1980s and wasn’t completed until 2006. The first scientific papers behind the HPV vaccine, for example, were published in the early 1990’s, but the vaccine wasn’t licensed until 2006.

An untested vaccine may also prove a deadly distraction. “An ineffective vaccine could create a false sense of security and perhaps reduce the emphasis on social distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene,” said Atul Malhotra, MD, a pulmonologist at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Other issues with inadequately tested vaccines

Even worse, an untested vaccine may have consequences far beyond the present pandemic. Even today, one poll shows that only 57% of people would take a coronavirus vaccine. (Some experts argue that we need 55 to 82% to develop herd immunity.)

If we don’t get the vaccine right the first time, there may not be enough public trust for a next time. “Vaccines are a lot like social distancing. They are most effective if we work cooperatively and get a lot of people to take them,” said Langwig. “If we erode the public’s trust through the use of unsafe or ineffective vaccines, we may be less likely to convince people to be vaccinated in the future.”

“You don’t want to scare people off, because vaccines are our way out of this,” said Dr. Offit.

So, how will you be able to see through the fog of the vaccine war and know when a vaccine is safe to take? “Data,” said Dr. Moody, “to see if the vaccine did not cause serious side effects in those who got it, and that those who got the vaccine had a lower rate of disease, hospitalization, death, or any other metric that means it worked. And we really, really want to see that people who got the vaccine did not do worse than those who did not.

And finally, don’t forget to get your Flu vaccine, now!

What would a Biden economy look like, and what will healthcare go from here? Also, When Should We Get Vaccinated for the Flu?

As I listened to the Democratic convention, I was horrified by the hate against President Trump, and the in general. My wife doesn’t want me to say it, but the average citizen, especially the socially and history ignorant citizens are basically stupid and believes those of the liberal democrats. As an Independent I don’t believe. But I thought that I would skip the updates regarding the Corvid pandemic and consider the economy and healthcare with former Vice President Biden in control. Oh, Horror!

The Week Staff wrote that if you’re wondering what a Biden presidency would mean for the economy, look to Biden’s last financial crisis, said Jeffrey Taylor at Bloomberg. In 2009, as vice president, Biden approached the crisis from a middle-class, Rust Belt viewpoint, aggressively pushing for an auto bailout while championing tighter restrictions on banks and arguing against Wall Street in key debates. While today’s situation is obviously different from the Great Recession, Biden sees “common threads” that could help him pursue an agenda focused on addressing income inequality and promoting public works. His top priority is a massive $3.5 trillion infrastructure, manufacturing, and clean-energy program “that appears likely to grow substantially if he is elected.” He plans to pay for the program by raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent and increasing taxes on wealthy real-estate investors. In the wake of the pandemic, Biden has “edged away from the moderate economic approach he advocated last year,” but he is still not likely to “embrace punitive demands from the Left.”

“There is nothing ‘moderate’ about Biden’s tax plan,” said Mark Bloomfield and Oscar Pollock at The Wall Street Journal. For taxpayers with income above $1 million, Biden wants to tax capital gains as ordinary income. Combined with an upper-income tax increase, that would make top capital gains tax surge from the current 20 percent to 43 percent, exceeding the rate in “every one of the 10 largest economies.” We are not going to compete with China by adopting “tax policies that discourage those who are best able to invest, take risks, and start companies.”

Certain industries are sure to be in Biden’s crosshairs, said Anne Sraders at Fortune​. “Trump’s fight to lower drug prices will likely be carried on,” meaning “potential headwinds for Big Pharma.” And energy and “environment-sensitive industries” such as oil and gas production could underperform under a Democratic administration. But the naming of Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential nominee “might actually be good for Big Tech” because of her ties to Silicon Valley. For the first time in a decade, Wall Street donors are actually giving more to Democrats than to Republicans, said Jim Zarroli at NPR. Trump “still has friends in finance,” but many investors have “soured on his management style,” which makes it hard for them to make long-term plans.

Whatever the outcome, investors are starting to worry about “stock-market mayhem” surrounding the November election, said Gunjan Banerji and Gregory Zuckerman at The Wall Street Journal. “Markets tend to be volatile ahead of elections,” but pessimism about what might unfold appears “even more intense this time around.” One adviser is urging clients to insure themselves against losses by buying options that will profit if the S&P 500 index plunges more than 25 percent through December; other firms are telling clients to bet on gold. The behind-the-scenes anxiety is unfolding even as markets hit a record high. “October and November tend to be the wildest months of the year” in any case, and market uncertainty could skyrocket if in the days after the election there is no clear winner.

Here’s Where Joe Biden Stands on Every Major Healthcare Issue

Lulu Chang reviewed Biden’s stand on healthcare. The stage is set, the players have been finalized, and the countdown has begun in earnest. In less than three months, voters across the United States will head to the polls (or mail in their ballots) to elect their president.

The Democrats recently finalized their ticket, making history with the inclusion of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick, making her the first African American and Asian woman to appear on a major party ticket. Over the course of the next several weeks, the Biden and Harris team will make clear their platforms and policy suggestions to win over voters. I’ll discuss Harris’s stand on health in the next section of this post. And of course, in the face of a global pandemic, high on the list of priorities for many Americans is the Democratic nominee’s position on healthcare.

We’ve put together a list of where Joe Biden stands on every major health issue to help you make a more informed decision as you mail in your ballot or head to the polls in a few short months.

Medicare

  • No Medicare for All
  • Lower age to 60 (currently 65)
  • Add a public option

Biden supports making Medicare, the federal health insurance program for folks older than 65 and certain younger Americans with disabilities, more readily accessible to a greater swath of the population. He does not, however, support Medicare for All, which would offer complete health care to all Americans regardless of age without out-of-pocket expenses. Instead, Biden advocates for lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to 60, which would certainly expand the program’s reach.

In addition, Biden wants to add a public option to American healthcare, which was discussed during the writing of the Affordable Care Act, but ultimately passed over. A public option would allow folks to select into government-run insurance—like Medicare—instead of a private insurance plan. This too would allow a greater proportion of the population to access government-run healthcare options. As Biden explains on his campaign website, “If your insurance company isn’t doing right by you, you should have another, better choice…The Biden Plan will give you the choice to purchase a public health insurance option like Medicare. As in Medicare, the Biden public option will reduce costs for patients by negotiating lower prices from hospitals and other health care providers.”

Undocumented Immigrants

  • Allow undocumented immigrants to buy into a public option

The Biden Plan emphasizes the importance of providing affordable healthcare to all Americans, “regardless of gender, race, income, sexual orientation, or zip code.” But it is not only Americans who Biden seeks to cover under his policies—rather, his plan would allow undocumented immigrants to purchase the public option, though it would not be subsidized.

Affordable Care Act

  • Strengthen the ACA
  • Increase subsidies
  • Bring back the individual mandate

The Affordable Care Act was passed under the Obama administration, so it comes as little surprise that Biden wants to bring back many of the provisions from the bill that were dismantled under the Trump administration. As he notes in his official platform, Biden seeks to “stop [the] reversal of the progress made by Obamacare…[and will] build on the Affordable Care Act with a plan to insure more than an estimated 97% of Americans.”

This would involve increasing tax credits in order to reduce premiums and offer coverage to a greater swath of Americans. In particular, Biden wants to do away with the 400% income cap on tax credit eligibility, and lower the limit on cost of coverage from today’s 9.86% to 8.5%. In effect, that means that no one purchasing insurance would have to spend any more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance.

Biden would also bring back the individual mandate, which is a penalty for not having health insurance. Trump eliminated this element of the Affordable Care Act in 2017, but Biden claims that the mandate would be popular “compared to what’s being offered.”

Are you kidding? Remember the burden on our healthy young newly employed or new business owners!

Prescriptions

  • Lower prescription drug pricing

The prices of prescription drugs have skyrocketed in recent years, making big pharma companies a common target among presidential candidates. Biden promises to “stand up to abuse of power by prescription drug corporations,” condemning “profiteering off of the pocketbooks of sick individuals.”

The Biden Plan includes a repeal of the exception that allows pharmaceutical companies to avoid negotiations with Medicare over drug prices. Today, nearly 20% of Medicare’s spending is allocated toward prescription drugs; lowering this proportion could save an estimated $14.4 billion in medication costs alone.

Furthermore, Biden would limit the prices of drugs that do not have competitors by implementing external reference pricing. This would involve the creation of an independent review board tasked with evaluating the value of a drug based on the average price in other countries. Biden would also limit drug price increases due to inflation, and allow Americans to buy imported medications from other countries (provided these medications are proven to be safe). Finally, Biden would eliminate drug companies’ advertising tax breaks in an attempt to further lower costs.

Abortion

  • Expand access to contraception
  • Protect a woman’s right to choose

Joe Biden has been infamously inconsistent in his position on abortion; decades ago, Biden supposed a constitutional amendment allowing states to reverse Roe v. Wade. As a senator, Biden voted to ban certain late-term abortions as recently as 2003. But his official position as the Democratic nominee is to protect a woman’s right to an abortion, and increase access to birth control across the spectrum.

Under the Biden Plan, the proposed public option would “cover contraception and a woman’s constitutional right to choose.” Biden would seek to “codify Roe v. Wade” and put an end to state laws that hamper access to abortion procedures, including parental notification requirements, mandatory waiting periods, and ultrasound requirements.

Biden would also restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood, reissuing “guidance specifying that states cannot refuse Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood and other providers that refer for abortions or provide related information.”

Surprise Billing

  • Stop surprise billing

Surprise billing, as the name suggests, allows healthcare providers to send patients unexpected out-of-network bills, often in large sums. Biden’s plan would prevent this practice in scenarios where a patient cannot decide what provider he or she uses (as is often the case in emergency situations or ambulance transport). While ending surprise billing could save Americans some $40 billion annually, it is not entirely clear how Biden would end surprise billing.

The plan suggests that Biden would address “market concentration across our health care system” by “aggressively” using the government’s antitrust authority. By promoting competition, Biden hopes to reduce prices for consumers, and more importantly, improve health outcomes. Next is Kamala’s stand on healthcare.

Kamala Harris’ Stance on Healthcare Is Pretty Different from Biden’s

Katherine Igoe noted that healthcare is also an issue that sees a lot of variety across Democratic candidates, ranging from a single-payer healthcare system (meaning that all health insurance is covered through the government, and everyone is covered) to a more hybrid approach that doesn’t exclude private healthcare companies (half of the American population is currently enrolled in private plans).

At least according to her stance in the past, Harris favors the latter, hybrid approach—and it’s quite different from what Biden has proposed. What is her take, and how may her stance have shifted?

As a presidential candidate, Harris proposed Medicare for All.

The issue is personal for Harris. Citing her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis, she’s said that her interest in improving coverage comes from that relationship: “She got sick before the Affordable Care Act became law, back when it was still legal for health insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. I remember thanking God she had Medicare…As I continue the battle for a better health care system, I do so in her name.”

The details can vary, but the basics of Medicare for All would be to vastly expand the government’s role to include everyone’s healthcare needs. By making Medicare more robust, the program would work to reduce costs for the insured, increase coverage to include those who were previously excluded, and expand upon existing plans in an effort to allow people to keep their existing doctors. But unlike other, more extreme proposals, Harris’ plan would subsequently allow private insurers to participate—in a similar way to the current framework of Medicare Advantage. “Essentially, we would allow private insurance to offer a plan in the Medicare system, but they will be subject to strict requirements to ensure it lowers costs and expands services,” she explained.

The candidates’ stances have had to incorporate what governmental influence would do to the private market, and Harris didn’t favor a plan that would abolish private insurance. She had initially expressed support for something along that lines, but then changed that stance; her perspective on the subject has evolved. She’s also proposed a decade-long “phase-in” period for this new Medicare plan to be put in place.

When they were both presidential candidates, Biden and Harris clashed over healthcare—she said his plan would leave Americans without coverage, he dismissed her plan as nonsensical.

Biden’s take on healthcare is vastly different.

Biden worked with President Obama on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and thus his plans for healthcare would be to expand upon and further develop the ACA, while protecting it from current attacks. People could choose a public plan (i.e., they wouldn’t be mandated to join Medicare) and the government would provide tax benefits. “It would also cap every American’s health-care premiums at 8.5 percent of their income and effectively lower deductibles and co-payments. Biden recently said he also wants to lower the Medicare enrollment age by five years, to 60.”

The plan would separately take on exorbitant pharmaceutical pricing, which is another hot-button issue that hasn’t had any resolution. Multiple bills have been debated in Congress but the House’s recently passed bill is heavily opposed by Republicans.

Harris wasn’t the only one to criticize Biden on his plan, which may still exclude many from coverage. But now that the two are running mates, they may need to come up with a cohesive strategy that incorporates both of their stances (or, Harris may have to adopt a more moderate approach).

Harris has proposed several healthcare solutions for COVID-19.

Harris has been active in proposing economic relief towards individuals, families, and businesses during the pandemic, and healthcare is no exception. She’s proposed the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act, which (among other things) would be designed to address barriers to equitable health care and medical coverage. This is one of the area’s in which she’s pledged to act towards racial justice—and it may be another area in which her stance impacts the Biden-Harris platform.

It’s crucial to get a flu shot this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, doctors say

I just received my yearly flu vaccination this past Wednesday and I have been advising all my patients to get their flu shots now! Adrianna Rodriquez that the message to vaccinate is not lost on Americans calling their doctors and pharmacists to schedule a flu shot appointment before the start of the 2020-2021 season. 

Experts said it’s crucial to get vaccinated this year because the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed hospitals in parts of the country and taken the lives of more than 176,000 people in the USA, according to Johns Hopkins data.

It’s hard to know how COVID-19 will mix with flu season: Will mask wearing and social distancing contain flu transmission as it’s meant to do with SARS-CoV-2? Or will both viruses ransack the nation as some schools reopen for in-person learning? 

“This fall, nothing can be more important than to try to increase the American public’s decision to embrace the flu vaccine with confidence,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told the editor of JAMA on Thursday. “This is a critical year for us to try to take flu as much off the table as we can.”

Here’s what doctors say you should know about the flu vaccine as we approach this year’s season: 

Who should get the vaccine?

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every year. State officials announced Wednesday the flu vaccine is required for all Massachusetts students enrolled in child care, preschool, K-12 and post-secondary institutions.

“It is more important now than ever to get a flu vaccine because flu symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19, and preventing the flu will save lives and preserve health care resources,” said Dr. Lawrence Madoff, medical director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

When should I get my flu shot? 

Dr. Susan Rehm, vice chair at the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Infectious Diseases, said patients should get the influenza vaccine as soon as possible.

CVS stores have the flu vaccine in stock, and it became available Monday at Walgreens.

“I plan to get my flu shot as soon as the vaccines are available,” Rehm said. “My understanding is that they should be available in late August, early September nationwide.”

Other doctors recommend that patients get their flu shot in late September or early October, so protection can last throughout the flu season, which typically ends around March or April. The vaccine lasts about six months.

The CDC recommends people get a flu vaccine no later than the end of October – because it takes a few weeks for the vaccine to become fully protective – but encourages people to get vaccinated later rather than not at all.

Healthy people can get their flu vaccine as soon as it’s available, but experts recommend older people and those who are immunocompromised wait until mid-fall to get their shots, so they last throughout the flu season.

What is the high-dose flu shot for seniors? 

People over 65 should get Fluzone High-Dose, or FLUAD, because it provides better protection against flu viruses.

Fluzone High-Dose contains four times the antigen that’s in a standard dose, effectively making it a stronger version of the regular flu shot. FLUAD pairs the regular vaccine with an adjuvant, an immune stimulant, to cause the immune system to have a higher response to the vaccine. 

Research indicates that such high-dose flu vaccines have improved a patient’s protection against the flu. A peer-reviewed study published in The New England Journal of Medicine and sponsored by Sanofi, the company behind Fluzone High-Dose, found the high-dose vaccine is about 24% more effective than the standard shot in preventing the flu.

An observational study in 2013 found FLUAD is 51% effective in preventing flu-related hospitalizations for patients 65 and older. There are no studies that do a comparative analysis between the two vaccines.

Is the flu vaccine safe?

According to the CDC, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccine over the past 50 years. Common side effects for the vaccine include soreness at the injection spot, headache, fever, nausea and muscle aches.

Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, emphasized that these symptoms are not the flu because the vaccine cannot cause influenza.

“That’s just your body working on the vaccine and your immune response responding to the vaccine,” he said. “That’s a small price to pay to keep you out of the emergency room. Believe me.”

Some studies have found a small association of the flu vaccine with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), but Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said there’s a one in a million chance of that happening.

Not only is the flu vaccine safe, but the pharmacies, doctors offices and hospitals administering it are also safe.

Horovitz and Schaffner said hospitals take all the necessary precautions to make sure patients are protected against COVID-19. Some hospitals send staff out to patients’ cars for inoculation while others allow them to bypass the waiting room. Doctors offices require masks and social distancing, and they are routinely disinfected.

“Call your health care provider to make sure you can get in and out quickly,” Schaffner advised. “It’s safe to get the flu vaccine and very important.”

Will it help prevent COVID-19?

Experts speculate any vaccine could hypothetically provide some protection against a virus, but there’s little data that suggests the flu vaccine can protect against the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

“We don’t want to confuse people of that … because there’s simply no data,” Schaffner said. “Flu vaccine prevents flu; we’re working on a coronavirus vaccine. They’re separate.”

A study in 2018 found that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of being admitted to an ICU with flu by 82%, according to the CDC.

“People perhaps forget that influenza is something that we see every year,” Rehm said. “Tens of thousands of people die of influenza ever year, including people who are very healthy, and hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized every year.”

Doctors said it will be even more hectic this year because some flu and COVID-19 symptoms overlap, delaying diagnosis and possibly care.

What can we expect from this year’s flu season and vaccine?

“Even before COVID, what we say about the flu is that it’s predictably unpredictable,” Rehm said. “There are some years that it’s a light year and some years that it’s horrible.”

Flu experts said they sometimes look at Australia’s flu season to get a sense of the strain and how it spreads, because winter in the Southern Hemisphere started a few months ago. 

According to the country’s Department of Health surveillance report, influenza has virtually disappeared: only 85 cases in the last two weeks of June, compared with more than 20,000 confirmed cases that time last year.

“Australia has had a modest season, but they were very good at implementing COVID containment measures, and of course, we’re not,” Schaffner said. “So we’re anticipating that we’re going to have a flu season that’s substantial.”

The CDC said two types of vaccines are available for the 2020-2021 season: the trivalent and quadrivalent. Trivalents contain two flu A strains and one flu B strain and are available only as high-dose vaccines. Quadrivalents contain those three strains plus an additional flu B strain, and they can be high- or standard-dose vaccines. I made sure that I received the quadrivalent vaccine.

Though some doctors may have both vaccines, others may have only one, depending on their supply chain. Natasha Bhuyan, a practicing family physician in Phoenix, said people should get whatever vaccine is available.

“Vaccines are a selfless act. They’re protecting yourself and your friends through herd immunity,” she said. “Any vaccine that you can get access to, you can get.”

Horovitz said vaccine production and distribution have been on schedule, despite international focus on coronavirus vaccine development. He has received his shipment to the hospital and plans to administer the vaccine with four strains closer to the start of the season.

“I don’t think anything suffered because something else was being developed,” he said. “(The flu vaccine) has been pretty well established for the last 20 to 30 years.”

Producers boosted supplies of the flu vaccine to meet what they expect will be higher demand. Vaccine maker Sanofi announced Monday that it will produce 15% more vaccine than in a normal year.

Redfield told JAMA the CDC arranged for an additional 9.3 million doses of low-cost flu vaccine for uninsured adults, up from 500,000. The agency expanded plans to reach out to minority communities.

What about the nasal spray instead of the shot? 

After the swine flu pandemic in 2009, several studies showed the nasal spray flu vaccine was less effective against H1N1 viruses, leading the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to advise against it.

Since the 2017-2018 season, the advisory committee and the CDC voted to resume the recommendation for its use after the manufacturer used new H1N1 vaccine viruses in production.

Though agencies and advisory committees don’t recommend one vaccine over the other, some pediatricians argue the nasal spray is easier to administer to children than a shot.

Other doctors prefer the flu shot because some of the nasal spray side effects mimic respiratory symptoms, including wheezing, coughing and a runny nose, according to the CDC. Horovitz said anything that presents cold symptoms should probably be avoided, especially among children who are vectors of respiratory diseases.

“Giving them something that gives them cold (symptoms) for two or three days may expel more virus if they’re asymptomatic with COVID,” he said.

So, get vaccinated!!

Politics are Ruining Our Future and Will Keep Us in Purgatory!! Obamacare Is A Political Nightmare That’s Not Going Anywhere. Is there A Solution?

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Some conservatives are unwilling to accept the status quo. They are pushing back against congressional inertia and conservative fatalism as they urge Congress to roll back the Obamacare regime.

I was disgusted last week speaking with a friend who is a very powerful strategist in the Democratic Party. She agreed with me when I suggested to her that the Democrats would Never sign off on either an immigration or health care plan until after the midterm election. I sensed this after the President signed an Executive Order reversing the separation of illegal immigrant children from their illegal parents as the Democrats, especially Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schummer asked him to “pen”.

How can we make any progress at all when there is no cooperation between the parties and the administration? I am truly frustrated and wonder when we all are going to wake up and make these Senators and Representatives to “do their job”! They all only care about their own reelection models…. and impeaching the President. How have we sunk so low, so far??

Congress is still wading through the swampy waters of Obamacare. Congressional Republicans, who ran against Obamacare through four election cycles, have spent most of the past year running away from it. But they are finding the law hard to escape.

Democrats who once shied away from Obamacare now can’t stop talking about it. They are blaming Republicans for the next round of premium increases that will become finalized in the weeks leading up to the November elections.

Republicans will justifiably respond that Obamacare is a mess they didn’t make. Voters may nevertheless hold them accountable for not cleaning up that mess, despite years of campaign promises.

Congress should keep those promises, according to a group of conservative policy analysts, state-based think tanks, grassroots organizations, and GOP governors and state legislators. Tuesday, a group of them announced support for the Health Care Choices Act, a proposal that would repeal Obamacare entitlements and replace them with grants to states to finance consumer-centered reform.

The plan is innovative and bold. The ill-fated bills Congress considered last year kept the federal structure of Obamacare with relatively minor modifications. For example, those proposals modified the federal tax credits that are at Obamacare’s core; the Health Care Choices Act would repeal them. And while last year’s bills would have reduced federal spending on Medicaid coverage of able-bodied adults, the Health Care Choices Act would scuttle the Medicaid expansion policy entirely.

The proposal resembles the successful welfare reform of the 1990s, which repealed the individual entitlement to cash benefits and replaced it with grants to states to assist the needy. The Health Care Choices Act does the same thing with health care, but on a much grander scale. It would repeal an open-ended federal entitlement program expected to cost $1.6 trillion over the next decade and replace it with a block grant. It is welfare reform on steroids.

Block grants are not blank checks. Like welfare reform, which required states to implement policies to encourage work and reduce dependency, the Health Care Choices Act would require states to pursue two important goals: reducing costs and increasing health care choices.

States would be required to spend a portion of their federal allotments on meeting the medical needs of the sick without saddling the healthy with exorbitant premiums. Other stipulations would prevent states from using the money to expand Medicaid or to warehouse the poor in state-contracted managed care plans. States would have to provide low-income people assisted through the through the block grant, as well as Medicaid and State Child Health Insurance (CHIP) recipients, the option of applying the value of their assistance to the plan of their choice. Think of it as school choice for health care.

The new money would be provided through the CHIP statute, which, unlike Obamacare, includes permanent restrictions on the use of funds for abortion. Within those broad guidelines, states would design their own programs, determining who is eligible for assistance and what they’re eligible for. They would be released from Obamacare regulations on essential health benefits, age-related premium variation, and the requirement that insurers enroll the sick and healthy in the same insurance pools. Repealing these regulations would allow states to repair or ameliorate much of the market dislocation Obamacare produced.

In short, the Health Care Choices Act would dismantle two of Obamacare’s pillars and weaken the third: Obamacare’s individual entitlement would be abolished, the employer mandate (like the individual mandate) would be repealed, and federal insurance rules would be diluted.

Some conservatives look at the proposal’s health care reform donut and complain about the hole. They have particularly faulted the plan for not repealing Obamacare’s pre-existing condition rules.

A Republican reaction to last week’s Justice Department motion in a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate these rules is instructive. Democrats attacked the Trump administration – and Congressional Republicans – for opposing pre-existing condition protections.

To stanch the political bleeding, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “Everybody I know in the Senate – everybody – is in favor of maintaining coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

McConnell’s colleagues pointedly did not race to the microphones to distance themselves from their leader. Nor are scores of House and Senate conservative incumbents campaigning on a promise to repeal the popular pre-existing condition requirements.

The message is clear: repealing that requirement does not enjoy anything like majority support even in a GOP Congress. For some conservatives, that is reason enough to leave Obamacare in place. If Congress can’t pass a perfect bill, they argue, then it shouldn’t pass anything at all.

A growing cadre of conservatives is unwilling to accept the status quo. They are pushing back against congressional inertia and conservative fatalism as they urge Congress to roll back an Obamacare regime that continues to raise costs and constrict health care choices.

They view the Health Care Choices Act’s repeal of Obamacare’s entitlements and devolution of power from Washington to the states not as the final word on health care reform, but as an essential component of a broader effort. Expanding health savings accounts is part of that effort. Promoting innovative approaches like health-sharing ministries and direct primary care is another. Trump administration regulatory proposals to allow small businesses and independent contractors form health insurance purchasing groups across state lines also are part of it, as is its plan to expand the sale and renewal of short-term, limited duration policies.

Conservatives who back the Health Care Choices Act prefer real progress to theoretical perfection and the inaction it induces.  They also argue that it is politically better for Republicans to confront Obamacare than to be blamed for its failures.

Republicans are stuck in a Nash equilibrium on Obamacare repeal. Conservative firebrands, Republican moderates, and congressional leadership – each for very different reasons – are content to make Obamacare repeal the new balanced budget, something they talk about to mine money and votes from their base, but never seriously pursue.

The millions of families and thousands of small businesses suffering under Obamacare deserve better.

Obamacare Faces New Life-threatening Conditions

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have been busy. In the midst of several headline-making events on other issues, the Trump administration has instigated two major efforts to effectively do what Congress could not do earlier this year — repeal Obamacare.

The result is a laundry list of warnings for all health care consumers, not just those who buy insurance on the ACA exchanges. Here’s a closer look at the latest changes to the health insurance marketplace:

Expanding association health plans

The administration issued new rules on Tuesday that expand the use of what’s known as association health plans. They allow small businesses and self-employed individuals to buy health insurance collectively through what’s loosely defined as an industry association. By pooling together, members can buy insurance for less expensive group rates, the way employees of large corporations do.

Association plans have been around for a long time, but under the ACA they were restricted. The new rules loosen some of these restrictions and expand the reach of these plans. At the same time, these plans are exempt from many of the protections under the ACA, including coverage of the 10 essential health benefits such as maternity and mental health services, hospitalization and prescription drugs.

In addition, the new rules allow association plans to sell insurance across state lines. States regulate health insurers, and for the most part, insurers must adhere to each state’s regulations for the consumers they serve in those states. But under the new rules, association plans can choose which state they want as their regulatory jurisdiction. That means they could conceivably choose a loosely regulated state as their home base.

Association plans have seen their share of scandals in the past, largely due to this state regulatory confusion.

The new rules aren’t a surprise. The Trump administration has been calling for the expansion of association health plans as a way of offering more options outside of Obamacare and a way for small businesses and individuals to have access to more affordable group insurance.

But advocates worry that the move is a return to the bad old days before insurers had to adhere to standard regulations that protected consumers from paying insurance premiums, only to find coverage wasn’t there when they needed it.

“The new rule will allow groups of businesses to band together to buy insurance across state lines, which will be bad for small firms and their employees because it will lead to higher premiums, unbalanced risk pools and lower-quality insurance,” said John Arensmeyer, founder, and CEO of Small Business Majority.

In addition, the provision may encourage a new batch of healthier people who can get by with skimpier coverage to sign up for association plans instead of the ACA exchange plans. That could leave more sick people in the exchanges without the benefit of younger, healthier people balancing the risk pool. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 6 million people are expected to enroll in expanded association health plans.

If you’re considering one of these plans, many of which are expected to be available in September just before the 2019 ACA open-enrollment period, be sure to read everything you can get your hands about the plan as carefully as you can. You’ll want to be sure you understand any limitations in coverage so you can determine if the plan is right for you.

A threat to preexisting condition coverage — and more

Tuesday’s announcement comes on the heels of another potentially devastating blow to the ACA. Earlier this month the Justice Department announced it would not defend the law against a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Texas and 19 other states.

The suit claims that because the newly enacted tax law eliminates penalties associated with the individual mandate, the ACA requirement that most Americans carry health insurance is no longer constitutional. In addition, the suit contends that consumer insurance protections under the law also aren’t valid.

Since then an outcry has been heard from health care advocates, insurers, congressional Republicans and most recently a group of bipartisan governors from nine states. The protest is focused on the provision in the ACA that requires insurers to provide equal coverage and the same premium rates to people with pre-existing conditions as they provide to people without previous health problems.

The requirement applies to all insurers, not just those in the exchanges, and polls show most Americans — including many who don’t support Obamacare overall — want to preserve it. Even Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell famously said, “Everybody I know in the Senate, everybody, is in favor of maintaining coverage for preexisting conditions.”

Still, the Texas court case would potentially eliminate many more ACA provisions, including the premium subsidies so many exchange customers rely on, essential health benefits and Medicaid expansion, said Eliot Fishman, senior director of health policy at Families USA. That said, Fishman believes the court case will take time, so consumers who are planning on signing up for exchange coverage for 2019 at the end of this year should not be dissuaded from doing so.

Health warning-Obamacare is in legal peril once again! Many legal scholars are dismissing a new case. Don’t listen to them.

Noah Feldman wrote that one shouldn’t turn your back.  Could key portions of the Affordable Care Act be declared unconstitutional – years after the Supreme Court upheld them? The Trump administration’s Department of Justice has just filed a brief saying so in a suit by several states that aims to take down the whole program.

Most mainstream legal commentators think the government’s arguments are unconvincing. But it’s crucial to remember that this was exactly the reaction of the same set of people in 2010 when the original argument was made against the individual mandate by libertarian law professor Randy Barnett. Just two years later, five justices of the Supreme Court embraced Barnett’s argument.

Given the excitement for judicial activism building among conservatives, the Trump administration may have more than a 50 percent chance of success.

Just in case you haven’t thought much about the individual mandate and the Constitution in the last six years, let me provide an update and a brief refresher. The update is that, in 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In the law, Congress repealed the tax penalty associated with the individual mandate that everyone has health insurance.

In other words, the ACA still says you have to have insurance. But if you don’t, nothing happens to you. You may remember that the Obama team was worried about the interaction between the individual mandate and the popular ACA provisions that say insurance companies can’t refuse to cover anybody because of pre-existing conditions and can’t charge you more if you are already sick.

The theory went something like this: If you aren’t compelled to buy insurance when you’re healthy, but you’re allowed to buy it when you find out you are sick, then only sick people would buy health insurance. That, in turn, would create a “death spiral” for insurance under the ACA, as insurance costs went up.

Crucially, President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice relied on this argument in trying to convince the Supreme Court to uphold the individual mandate. This death spiral doesn’t seem to have happened yet, however.

Now comes the new constitutional challenge to the ACA, filed by a group of states led by Texas. Their argument begins with the fact that, when the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate, it did so in a very strange way. The five conservative justices all agreed that, under the commerce clause of the Constitution, Congress did not have the authority to make people buy insurance.

Their reasoning was borrowed from Prof. Barnett, who had proposed in his article that while the Congress has the power to regulate existing commercial activities, it can’t force people to undertake a commercial activity they are not already engaged in. This was the famous broccoli hypothetical: the conservatives argued that the commerce clause wouldn’t allow Congress to pass a law requiring everyone to buy and eat broccoli, even though Congress could lawfully regulate broccoli prices.

Despite this conclusion about the commerce clause, however, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberals to uphold the individual mandate on the ground that it was a tax and therefore fell within Congress’s separate taxing power. The other four conservatives were clearly frustrated with Roberts, but his vote carried the day.

The states are now arguing that once Congress repealed the tax penalty for the individual mandate in the 2017 law, no more constitutional authority exists for Congress to keep the individual mandate in place. The Supreme Court already excludes the commerce clause, and now the tax rationale is gone. Trump’s Department of Justice has agreed with this claim.

The states say that without the individual mandate, the whole ACA should be struck down as unconstitutional. Trump’s Justice Department didn’t go quite that far. But it did say that the ACA provisions on pre-existing conditions are so linked to the individual mandate that it should now be struck down.

Legal observers are pretty upset about this — but not all for the reason you’d think. Some are focused on the strange circumstance that Justice is arguing that the law is unconstitutional. It’s not supposed to work that way. The executive branch is supposed to argue in favor of the constitutionality of laws currently on the books.

That’s bad, without a doubt. But it seems less worrisome than the possibility that courts, including the Supreme Court, might actually adopt the Trump administration’s view and strike down the ACA provisions on pre-existing conditions.

Legally, I don’t think that would be the right decision. I don’t think that the repeal of the penalty means that the no-penalty individual mandate is necessarily unconstitutional, since there is no sanction for violating it, so it isn’t really much of a law at all.

And even if the no-penalty mandate were unconstitutional, it doesn’t follow that the mandatory coverage provisions need to go. They are logically separate from the individual mandate. The mandate may have been thought been necessary to make those provisions work in practice, but it turns out that, so far at least, they are operating without it, and the death spiral hasn’t happened.

But it is entirely possible that five justices would follow the chain of formal logic laid out by the states and adopted by the Justice Department. The best argument in favor of that position is that the Obama Department of Justice told the Supreme Court years back that these provisions were interlinked – “inseverable” in legal jargon.

There is, therefore, a real and indeed significant chance that the most popular part of the ACA could be struck down. You may have thought that the whole ACA-and the-courts topic was over. But as it turns out, it keeps coming back, like a figure from a horror movie. Don’t turn your back.

And look at all of the campaign “idiots” who are experts on health care and declare that their State will have better healthcare by adopting Medicare for All. Don’t they know that Medicare is a Federal program that States can’t themselves change? And how are they going to pay for it if the prediction that Medicare and Social Security programs will be out of money by 2026-2034?

Let’s talk more about Medicare for All!

The Biggest Losers

I ended the last blog hinting about the losers in this new health care program and was encouraged to pursue this discussion while reviewing two articles.

But let me first set things straight, as a strategic planner, the reason we are where we are is due to the lack of real research and planning. As much as I am not a President Obama fan, I really believe he and years before, Hillary Clinton, really believed what they were proposing was a good thing for the American people. I only object to the method that was chosen and the politicization, the lack of real research and planning with people in the know.

I comments in this last paragraph were further strengthened when I read the comments by the Speaker of the House discussing the Republicans mistakes and the lack of ability to overturn the health care law and the need to modify it and make it work. It was interesting to read that House Speaker John Boehner inadvertently revealed that repealing Obamacare “isn’t the answer,” and that “Republicans also need to offer a replacement.”

I also object to Harry Reed and Nancy Pelosi being so arrogant and closed minded in not allowing a non partisan discussion and resolution of difficulties to result in a bill which can “get the job done” efficiently and effectively for all the American people.

This has become a political ping-pong ball and shows that our elected officials really don’t care about Middle America especially and also points to the necessity for term limits.

Jonathan Bernstein wrote that“ The challenge is that Obamacare is the law of the land. It is there and it has driven all types of changes on our health care delivery system. You can’t recreate an insurance market overnight…. So the biggest challenge we are going to have is—I do think at some point we’ll get there—is the transition of Obamacare back to a system that empowers patients and doctors to make choices that are good for their own health as opposed to doing what the government is dictating they should do.”

This is interesting to me due to one of my previous blogs and the strategy that needs to be embraced- getting over the repeal idea and instead find ways to make the law work.

Think about the question that I posed at the end of my last blog-Who are the Biggest Losers? Byron York in his latest Op-Ed piece notes that Obamacare losers are harder to discern. I think not! He finally noted that “The plans being offered through the exchanges in 2014 appear to have, in general, lower payment rates for providers, narrower networks of providers, and tighter management of their subscribers’ use of health care than employment-based plans do.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said “These features allow insurers that offer plans through the exchanges to charge lower premiums (although they also make plans somewhat less attractive to potential enrollees).”

The health care analyst, Bob Laszewski, questions who is harmed and points out that “when carriers converted their old policies to Obamacare-compliant policies, it was typical for the insurance company to increase costs about 35%” and “That increase could come in the form of higher premiums, more co-pays and deductibles and narrower networks.” This is what we are seeing in that enrollees are facing higher premiums and higher deductibles, which add up to a total higher cost, as well as a narrower choice of hospitals, doctors and prescription drugs than they had before. Therefore, what we are finding is that health care is becoming a more expensive and troublesome system.

Rick Newman in his article in The Exchange (April 25, 2014) points out that there are three subsets of people whose policies were canceled and then are the posers under the Affordable Care Act (ACA): people who are self-employed, those over 35, those who are white, or some combination of all of these three.

The biggest losers to ACA are the people who lost their insurance coverage but are unlikely to qualify for subsidies through one of the exchanges, which require an income of less than $47,000 for an individual or $95,000 for a family of four. Some of these people who lost insurance coverage report paying twice as much with deductibles of $4,500-$7,500 or more. It was interesting that Mr. Newman pointed out that it so happens that these groups so impacted negatively tend to be Obama’s political opponents.

Do the insurance companies lose? In a previous blog I pointed out that WellPoint was planning to increase their premiums and now I read that CEO of Aetna, Mark Bertolini, stated that their premium increases would range from low single digit to double digits, based on its first quarter earnings. So the insurance companies never lose. The have to make a profit and usually the profit is much larger than the proposed profit margins that the committees and government departments are demanding for health care facilities.

Ethan Rome (The Truth About Health Insurance Company Profits: They’re Excessive) reviewed health insurance company profits and went on to further review the American trade group American Health Insurance Plan’s (AHIP) focus on profit margins which he thought was misleading when they quoted 4.4%, and designed to protect their massive income by shifting attention away from their return on equity — a key measure of profits as a percentage of the amount invested. “That return is a phenomenal 16.1% as of today. By that measure, health insurers are ranked fourth highest of the 16 industries in the health care sector. They also deliver a higher return for investors than cellphone companies, beer companies, mortgage companies, life insurance companies, TV broadcasters, drug store companies or grocery stores.”

In May 2011, the New York Times reported “the health insurance industry is enjoying record earnings while millions of Americans get less medical care. Wall Street investors are delighted with the industry’s profits, and to health insurance executives, that’s all that counts. Insurance CEOs want investors to buy their stock and keep share prices marching higher, and that’s exactly what has happened. To achieve excessive profits, insurers are happy to gouge consumers and small businesses, do little to rein in medical costs and spend billions of our premium dollars on lobbying, secret political activities, bloated executive pay and stock buybacks.”

How about the greedy doctors? Are they losers? In the beginning and for quite a while they will lose as they have for years as their reimbursements (what they are paid by the insurance companies and the government, i.e. Medicare and Medicaid) are further discounted. But they will not be able to keep their offices open unless they become employees of the hospitals, universities or convert to boutique type practices. The boutique practices will charge patient fees to become practice members and or start to do procedures that they are not trained for and for which the complication rate will be high. But the added income will be necessary to maintain their overhead expenses.

Having insurance policies that include $5,000- $7,500 deductibles means that almost all health care needs, office visits, tests and surgery will be out of pocket expenses. How does the new plan then encourage good health care behavior and encourage preventative care?

Yes, the uninsured, if they fulfill the requirements for the government subsidies, will get coverage, but who will take care of these patients and cane you change their “bad” behavior? Will we have enough doctors to provide care and what type of care will be provided? I will discuss these topics further in future blogs.

Let us also consider who is in control of the ACA and what their history predicts. These are the same government systems that have control of the problematic Medicare, Medicaid and Veteran health systems. Remember what we have been hearing about concerning the Veteran Administration Health Care problems in the last few weeks. Long waiting times, poor care, lack of care, deaths, suicides, etc. What then can we expect for the future control and management of the ACA?

Let’s Look at the Equation Again

This past week I was interested in a front-page article in our local paper-Rural healthcare lags behind. What does that mean and how does the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affect areas like the Eastern Shore of Maryland as well as other rural areas of this State and around the country?

There are other areas in similar to the Eastern Shore of Maryland where the rural population consists of a large Medicare and Medicaid patient population needing health care.

Isn’t this why ACA was designed? The article describes these areas as challenges of providing health care where the patients are very sick and the resources, which are very scarce. These areas are lacking health care providers contributing to health disparities that include higher rates of heart disease and obesity and lower life expectancy. The author, Megan Brockett, compares the situation is akin to a “Third World country.”

Maryland is especially problematic in that in the national 2014 County Health Rankings released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, found that five of the 10 least healthy jurisdictions in Maryland are considered partially or completely rural by federal standards and three others in the bottom 10 fall under the state’s broader definition of rural. The article further points to the lower rankings in health care outcomes.

The experts and advocates link the disparities to the scarcity of health care providers in these rural areas and the decreased access to care. The ratio of primary care providers to residents is horrible from a best-case scenario of 1 in 1,056 – to the worst case of 1 to 2,915.

“As a result, people living in rural areas often have to travel long distances for health care, a disincentive to getting even the basic preventative care they should be receiving.” Now add the additional burden of high deductibles, where the patient has a higher out of pocket expense in their health care.

Ms. Brockett goes on to point out that the rate of specialty care providers is worse in the rural areas through out the state. And the effects are seen regularly in the clinics around the state.

Much of the campaign to improve the situation centers on efforts to recruit and retain health care providers to practice in these rural communities and the workforce shortage in rural areas is the biggest barrier to care.

This article is so interesting to me, a specialist practitioner, who practices in one of the state’s rural areas. I have had my billing agency beg me to move my practice out of the rural area to increase my reimbursements by 17-20 %. This is true in a state, which is so backward in that they have demographic areas that pay the physicians at a lower rate than a county/ areas 30 to 45 minutes away. Why would any new physician graduating with a debt in loans of on average of $325, 000 want to practice here where they may never be able to pay back their debts?

Do we get a break in malpractice premiums or practice overhead in the rural areas? No and No.

So, why would any new practitioner want to come to one of the rural areas in Maryland or in any rural area in the US?

Nothing will change regarding the practitioner to patient ratio to acre for the additional enrollees until the educational costs and tort reform is reality.

Another article appeared in The Week magazine, April25, 2014, Page 12 by Daniela Drake-Why doctors are so unhappy. It is a summary of her review in The Daily Beast, starting with the quote “Being a doctor has become a miserable and humiliating under taking.” She states something those of us who went into medicine 20-30 years ago, that “caring for the sick used to be the country’s most prestigious and admired professions.” However, today an emotion that I feel almost daily, that America has declared war on physicians and yes I continuously attempt to discourage others from entering the practice of medicine.

Not only primary care physicians, but also all physicians toil thanklessly in a hectic, unsatisfying profession, which is dominated by the insurers, politicians and their agencies, and malpractice attorneys. We physicians work long hours cramming in more patients than reasonable, 20-30 per day because of regulated fees and the cost of filling out insurance forms, which averages $58 per patient. Right now without all the added enrollees secondary to the ACA the average patient visit lasts 12 minutes. What information, what type of diagnosis can be made in that short period of time?

It is amazing to me that no one challenges the “salaries” that actors or professional athletes make, however they try to make doctors feel guilty when they make money. Do you think that it costs nothing to run a practice with electronic medical records. computers, specialized staff of nurses, billing personnel, etc.?

Patients question and try to make doctors feel guilty about changing their practices to boutique or concierge type of practices. However, more and more physicians will need to convert their practices to this type of practice as the government further discounts physician’s reimbursements and deductibles rise or face bankruptcy or early retirement.

Affordable health care will add more bureaucracy and pressure to cut costs and make it more expensive to maintain their practices. Health care providers, doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians and the hospitals will be losers in the future of the new system. Who are the other losers? I will delve deeper in the “losers” of ACA or Obamacare. Can you think who will be the “Biggest Losers?”

Doesn’t anybody care except the perceived “rich” doctors?

Again I say, wake up America! We need to have a system that understands what it takes to have a truly affordable health care system that is sustainable and fair to all.

Does the Affordable Care Act Work?

Today is Easter Sunday, which is a time of reflection and renewal for those of the Christian faith. Easter is also a time when we reaffirm family traditions and break bread with our friends and loved ones. I’m hoping that everyone had a wonderful Sunday no matter what your religious beliefs and what holidays you celebrate.

It brings to mind an article that Dr. Ben Carson wrote and appeared in today’s Opinion section of our local newspaper: Recovering America’s exceptionalism. He reflects on the famous French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, who came to America to study our nation. He concluded his American analysis by saying, “America is great because she is good. If America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” Interesting observation. Our we seeing the degradation of our greatness??

Dr. Carson delves into religion, slavery and history. He further discusses the wisdom and goodness of learning from our mistakes. He finds it “disturbing in the pursuit of goodness the turning of a blind eye toward corruption, much like the Romans did before the fall of their empire.” He is concerned regarding scandals that been characterized as “phony scandals” based on politics and “tells you a great deal about the loss of honesty in our society.”

So, how does this discussion fit our discussion of the Affordable Care Act? “The fact that one party is willing to use its majority status to cram a health care bill down the throats of the minority party and the American people and then refuses to acknowledge the obvious illegitimacy of a bill passed largely on the basis of false information provides a barometer on the lack of importance placed on virtue in our society today. How can such a society in any way claim to be good?”( The Sunday Star, April 20, 2017, Page A7).

My son this weekend, after a number of frustrating discussions with me, his mom and his friends, asked the question-What is really wrong with “Obamacare”? It really seems like such a great idea. My very intelligent wife then pointed out reality to the younger generation, who will soon see the obvious errors of the Bill. She realized the fallacy of the design when she was notified of her huge jump in our health insurance premium as well as the more than doubling of our deductible. She is now considering the delay in many of her doctor visits and diagnostic tests/exams.

Interesting and it brings up the major topic of discussion of this weeks blog. Read on.

Normally I appreciate and respect the opinion of Donna Brazile, appearing many times in our local opinion section of our and I’m sure many other newspapers.

In her article “Health care works on many levels” she tries to point how well the ACA works for the enrollees. As she ends her rant, she states “Numbers do not measure the ACA’s sign-up success. As a result of the Affordable Care Act- Obamacare- illnesses are prevented, people have a greater security in their lives, more money in their pockets (because insurance companies can’t make a profit higher than 20 percent), and families have a parent or child with them because a disease was cured. These are the true measures of success. And that is priceless” (The Star Democrat, April 9, 2014, Page A4).

My problem with these comments and the whole process is what we are really seeing in our medical practices. That Middle Class Americans are really being missed or made to bear the burden/cost again of the “real” health care solutions. Also, the numbers may really do measure the sign-up failure and the failure of the bill/law itself. We need to evaluate the breakdown of the enrollee numbers carefully.

Our President, when he first got into office, stated that he was going to protect the middle class of America. However, the middle class enrollees have had their insurance premiums increased by double digit percentages as well as have had huge increases in their deductibles, as I cited with my wife’s experience. They then are delaying their routine follow-ups for primary as well as specialty care as well as diagnostic tests and even surgeries. How does this prevent illnesses, give people a greater security in their lives or more importantly, keep more money in their pockets? In fact with the increase in deductibles, as seen by examples of $ 4,500 on average, they are now paying more out of pocket portions toward their health care bills. I was pulled aside by one of my”former”patients,who wanted to apologize for having to cancel his routine cancer post operative exams. He explained that his deductible of $5,000 made it very difficult to see me as well as his primary care doctor. Again, this is reality not media hype!

To the rich, this probably will never be a problem or a concern for this group. The poor, who is the only group that this program will help, are not going to contribute to the sustainability of the system. Paying $66-$110 toward their health care insurance coverage does little to cover the costs of health care. Unless health care system pays very little to the doctors and nurses who are given the job of caring for the increased numbers of patients that are going to seek care. Also, the statistics show the enrollees represent a sicker portion of the patient populations. This represents a more costly group of enrollees to treat. Yes, the government is going to subsidize this group of patients, but where are we going to see evidence of sustainability? We do need to see evidence of young, healthy enrollees who can afford the huge premiums and deductibles to assist in sustaining the health care system.

So, Chris, my son with the questions, read on as I attempt to point out the problems with the ACA. But unlike most of the people that object to the Bill and try to repeal the Bill, let us see if there is a way to make it work and provide what the President really wanted- a valuable health care program for all. Is there anything wrong with this goal? No, as long as the population for which it serves realizes the limitations and what is required by all of the enrollees. Look to the British health care system and their problems!