Another Reason for Medicare for All

While all of you are working from home, perhaps you can consider what Marcia Angell says below in between doing your work and playing with the kids.

Santa Fe New Mexican

March 21, 2020

Why the U.S. failed the coronavirus test

By Marcia Angell

The coronavirus pandemic is the best argument for “Medicare for All.” As it stands, most Americans get health care only if we have insurance that will pay for it. If we don’t or we can’t afford the deductibles and copayments, too bad. Every other advanced country provides universal health care in a predominately nonprofit system.

What happens, then, when Americans develop a fever and cough? Are they likely to seek medical help, despite the hefty bills they are sure to receive, particularly if, say, the radiologist is out of network or the insurance company refuses to pay for some other reason? The new coronavirus, while highly contagious, is usually mild, so people with minimal symptoms might simply take their usual cold remedies while they go about their business and spread the infection widely.

The problem is that we treat health care like a market commodity distributed according to the ability to pay in an uncoordinated system with hundreds of commercial insurers and profit-oriented providers. Some 30 million people have no access to health care because they are uninsured, and millions more don’t use their insurance because the deductibles and copayments are unaffordable. In addition, insurers usually require patients to get their care within a narrow network of providers and exclude certain services.

The shortage of test kits for coronavirus stems from a related problem. Since there was no commercial market for them, they didn’t get made immediately. While we’ve converted health care into a market commodity, we’ve hollowed out our public health system, so it couldn’t do the job.

For all we know, the coronavirus may already have spread widely within the United States. Although it has been in other countries for more than two months, we have not really looked for it here. Until the last week in February, our premier public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, limited its diagnostic testing to symptomatic patients who had traveled to China or had contact with someone known to be infected. This is akin to looking for lost keys only under a lamppost.

The CDC probably could not have done better, given its lack of funding and governmental support. But ignorance is hardly a good public health strategy. Right from the beginning, we should have made test kits available to state and local public health agencies (as was done in Italy and South Korea). The only way to deal with an epidemic of this scope is with a universal health care system like “Medicare for All” and a strong, well-funded public health network.

The political opposition to “Medicare for All” is puzzling, since Medicare is the most popular part of our current fragmented system. In fact, many 64-year-olds can hardly wait to be 65, so they will be eligible. Why, then, do opponents of “Medicare for All” seem to believe that extending this popular program to everyone would be a sacrifice? Would a 64-year-old really prefer private insurance, with its networks and variable benefits, to Medicare, with its free choice of doctors and guaranteed benefits?

It’s true that taxes would have to increase to pay for “Medicare for All,” but the taxes could be as progressive as we wanted. For most Americans, they would probably be completely offset by the elimination of premiums, deductibles and copayments. In addition, the system as a whole would be far more efficient, because of the reduction in our gigantic overhead costs and the elimination of most profits. Most important, cost inflation would slow greatly, so that in a few years we would come out well ahead.

But as important as cost control is, my reason for favoring “Medicare for All” is primarily moral. Health care is not like ordinary consumer goods that people can choose to purchase. Illness is not a choice; it’s a misfortune. So why should people have to pay for it, as if they wanted it? Providing health care, just like providing clean water or police protection or basic education, is simply what decent societies should do. And during an epidemic, it protects all of us. The coronavirus pandemic powerfully underscores the need for a coherent national health system, in which we all pull together.

Marcia Angell is a member of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, and a former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. She will soon be a resident of Santa Fe.

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/why-the-u-s-failed-the-coronavirus-test/article_cb92b8a6-694c-11ea-80b4-078d871fd2e9.html

If Not Now, When?

Don McCanne posted the following article from Health Affairs by Adam Gaffney, President of Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP). The full text and exhibits can be found at the link at the bottom.

Health Affairs Blog

March 9, 2020

Medicare For All: If Not Now, When?

By Adam Gaffney

The rise of Medicare for All has triggered mixed reactions.  Supporters see it as a cause for hope — the culmination of decades of research, education, and advocacy.  President Donald Trump, on the other hand, is dyspeptic, fuming in his recent State of the Union that single-payer would “bankrupt our nation,” and vowing not to “let socialism destroy American healthcare.”  A third group expresses sympathy for the goals of Medicare for All, and even acknowledges its policy merits, but sees the political obstacles as insurmountable — and advises that advocacy for such reform should be abandoned because it risks undermining beneficial, and more realistic approaches.

A clear-eyed assessment of institutional realities that will face the next presidential administration, Billy Wynn recently argued in the Health Affairs blog, should temper Democrats’ demands. He cautioned that Democratic victories in federal elections are far from secure; that Medicare for All may not be passable via budget reconciliation even if Democrats take the Senate with only a simple majority; and that Democratic legislators are, in any event, hardly unified in support of Medicare for All.  Similarly, John E. McDonough recently warned that comprehensive healthcare reform has, in the past, required an elusive “super-majority Trifecta” — Democratic control of the House, Senate (with 60-seats), and Presidency.  Even under such favorable conditions, he contends, our political capital might be better invested elsewhere.

While the hurdles are certainly formidable, steep political odds hardly compel us to abandon Medicare for All.  Indeed, advice to drop the push for such reform rests on a misunderstanding of the dynamics of political change.  History suggests that movements organized around ambitious demands can, over time, create the conditions for their passage — and that demands for radical change often advance, rather than undermine, the prospects for more incremental progress in the interim.  As important, the life-and-death urgency of single-payer healthcare reform – too often underemphasized by its critics – has the potential to bring together a coalition of supporters across cultural, geographic and even class lines.  It may, in other words, trigger a movement that could accomplish the unexpected.

The Dynamics of Political Change: Lessons from History

The institutional barriers that critics describe are real enough, and cannot be waved away.  But they are also not immutable: throughout history, energizing issues have changed political contexts.

Consider, for instance, the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.  Democrats had been stymied since the Truman administration in their efforts to pass a public national health insurance plan, obstructed in part by members of Congress intent on accommodating the insurance industry. John McDonough is right to emphasize that, from a narrow perspective, a super-majority Trifecta made Medicare achievable.  1964 saw a historic electoral shift, that, as Ted Marmor has noted, all but “guaranteed the passage of legislation on medical care for the aged.”  But the achievement was only possible because people had been laying the groundwork for Medicare for years prior to the pivotal election.  Senior citizen groups, progressive activists, organized labor, and allies in the civil rights movement forced it onto the national political agenda, holding politicians feet to the fire year after year — a point made by Natalie Shure in the Nation.  Moreover, it required years of legislative efforts and coalition building to ready the ground for the final push. Had supporters not done so — had everyone waited to design and advocate for Medicare until the political chess pieces were in perfect position — the window would have opened, the window would have closed, and Medicare might very well not have come to be.

The same can be said for almost every sweeping political change in US history. The abolition of slavery, the reforms of the New Deal era, the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, and the legalization of gay marriage — none would have happened if reformers had patiently waited for the proper political alignment in the halls of Congress before envisioning, designing, and demanding change.  The 2020 elections may or may not cause a political earthquake on par with 1964, but it hardly follows from this that we ought to lower our sights.  After all, nobody can accurately predict when the pivotal shift will come.  We do know, however, that if we wait for it happen, we will already be too late.

The Urgency of National Health Insurance

(Use the link below to access this important section of the article.)

Medicare for All — unlike other reforms — would alleviate such widespread and unnecessary suffering not merely by covering the uninsured, but by eliminating financial barriers to care.  Rising costs from higher care utilization will be offset by large savings from simplifying administration. Indeed, a recent systematic review found that some 19 out of 22 economic analyses of Medicare for All predicted overall savings in the first year as a result of such efficiencies.  Transforming healthcare financing is what makes such an unprecedented coverage expansion economically— and hence politically — feasible.

The policy advantages of Medicare for All, in other words, aren’t mere minutiae: they are part of the force for political change.

Medicare for All: The Link Between Policy and Politics

Yet policy and politics are linked in another, more fundamental way.  The experience of illness and of medical care is almost universal.  This means that in the United States, encounters with our dysfunctional healthcare financing system are also near universal.  How many have never had a spell of being uninsured, dealt with an onerous copay or deductible, contended with a medical bill or collections agency, gone without needed care because of cost, or faced a denial of care from their insurer?  It is not merely uninsured Americans who have much to gain from single-payer reform, but also those with chronic conditions who pay a tax for their illness in the form of cost-sharing; those with Medicare coverage who lack dental and long-term care benefits; those with Medicaid who must hurdle administrative barriers to remain covered and face frequent “churn” out of the program, and who sometimes have inferior access to care.  Indeed, even those satisfied with their employer-sponsored coverage know that they are but one sickness — and consequent job loss — away from losing it.

All of which is to say that at the end of the day, the vast majority of the nation could benefit from single-payer reform — and that fact makes it winnable.  Above all, however, we can be sure of one thing: not bothering to push for Medicare for All today will guarantee that it doesn’t happen tomorrow.

The author serves as President of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a non-profit organization that favors coverage expansion through a single payer program.

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200309.156440/full/

Job Churn Benefit of Medicare for All

For those who believe that MFA would be a job killer, here is an article from the Economic Policy Institute that dispeals that belief.

Economic Policy Institute

March 5, 2020

Fundamental health reform like ‘Medicare for All’ would help the labor market

Job loss claims are misleading, and substantial boosts to job quality are often overlooked

By Josh Bivens

Fundamental health reform like “Medicare for All” would be a hugely ambitious policy undertaking with profound effects on the economy and the economic security of households in America. But despite oft-repeated claims of large-scale job losses, a national program that would guarantee health insurance for every American would not profoundly affect the total number of jobs in the U.S. economy. In fact, such reform could boost wages and jobs and lead to more efficient labor markets that better match jobs and workers. Specifically, it could:

*  Boost wages and salaries by allowing employers to redirect money they are spending on health care costs to their workers’ wages.

*  Increase job quality by ensuring that every job now comes bundled with a guarantee of health care—with the boost to job quality even greater among women workers, who are less likely to have employer-sponsored health care.

*  Lessen the stress and economic shock of losing a job or moving between jobs by eliminating the loss of health care that now accompanies job losses and transitions.

*  Support self-employment and small business development—which is currently super low in the U.S. relative to other rich countries—by eliminating the daunting loss of/cost of health care from startup costs.

*  Inject new dynamism and adaptability into the overall economy by reducing “job lock”—with workers going where their skills and preferences best fit the job, not just to workplaces (usually large ones) that have affordable health plans.

*  Produce a net increase in jobs as public spending boosts aggregate demand, with job losses in health insurance and billing administration being outweighed by job gains in provision of health care, including the expansion of long-term care.

The upshot: M4A creates a small amount of manageable churn but increases the overall demand for labor and boosts job quality

The job challenge relating to a fundamental health reform is managing a relatively small increase in job churn during an initial phase-in period. Most Medicare for All plans explicitly recognize and account for the costs of providing these workers the elements of a just transition. This sort of just transition is far easier when health care is universally provided.

Besides this challenge, the effect of fundamental reform like M4A on the labor market would be nearly uniformly positive. The effect of a fundamental reform like M4A on aggregate demand is almost certainly positive and will therefore boost the demand for labor. The number of jobs spurred by increased demand for new health care spending (including long-term care) will certainly be larger than the number displaced by realizing efficiencies in the health insurance and billing administration sectors.

Finally, the introduction of fundamental health reform like M4A—particularly reform that substantially delinks health care provision from specific jobs—would greatly aid how the labor market functions for typical working Americans. Take-home cash pay would increase, job quality would improve, labor market transitions could be eased for employers and made less damaging to workers, and a greater range of job opportunities could be considered by workers. The increased flexibility to leave jobs should lead to more productive “matches” between workers and employers, and small businesses and self-employment could increase.

Fundamental health reform would benefit typical American families in all sorts of ways. Importantly, contrary to claims that such reform might be bad for jobs, this reform could substantially improve how labor markets function for these families.

https://www.epi.org/publication/medicare-for-all-would-help-the-labor-market/

Full report (13 page PDF):

https://www.epi.org/files/pdf/186856.pdf

Moderate Democrats Health Care Plans Fall Short

Listening to the Democratic debates since they began last year, I have been dumbfounded and angered that so many of the candidates running for President this year believe that some halfway measure to achieve universal coverage for health care is possible, if only voters would vote for them.

With the exception of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the rest of the candidates, those still running, and those who dropped out, advocate a public option or fixing the ACA. (see “Medicare for All and the Democratic Debates”) Their proposals fly in the face of study after study, article after article that firmly states that the only way to provide universal coverage at lower cost, and that will save money is Medicare for All.

They are trying to scare the American people with words like “Socialism” and suggesting that their taxes will go up, or that they will lose their employer-based or private health insurance.

As I have written in the past, there is a concerted effort on the part of the health care industry to defeat Medicare for All/Single Payer, and they have been targeting the Democrats to do so.

An article last Monday in The Hill by Diane Archer, senior adviser at Social Security Works states that twenty-two studies agree that Medicare for All saves money.

According to Ms. Archer, researchers at three University of California campuses examined 22 studies on the projected cost impact for single-payer health insurance in the United States and reported their findings in a recent paper in PLOS Medicine.

Every single study, they found, predicted that it would yield net savings over several years. In fact, it’s the only way to rein in health care spending significantly in the U.S.

In addition, all of the studies, regardless of ideological orientation, showed that long-term cost savings were likely. As reported last year, even the Mercatus Center, a right-wing think tank belonging to the libertarian Koch Brothers, recently found about $2 trillion in net savings over 10 years from a single-payer Medicare for All system. Most importantly, everyone in America would have high-quality health care coverage

The key takeaway from the studies is that Medicare for All is far less costly than our current system largely because it reduces administrative costs.

This is because Administrative savings from Medicare for All would be about $600 billion a year. Savings on prescription drugs would be between $200 billion and $300 billion a year, if we paid about the same price as other wealthy countries pay for their drugs. A Medicare for All system would save still more with implementation of global health care spending budgets.

None of the other Democratic candidates can make that assertion because their plans leave many uninsured and and keep in place the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies to make huge profits from the health of the American people.

While I am no fan of Bernie Sanders as a candidate, and his recent dispute with the Nevada Culinary Union not withstanding, his goal is to cover every American with universal health care. Elizabeth Warren’s plan differs somewhat from Sanders’, but has a more reasonable time frame for implementation.

The inconvenient truth, folks is that Medicare for All will save money, will cover everyone, and will finally bring down the cost of health care so that no one has to go broke paying for it, or decide not to get medical care when needed because they can’t afford it.’

Those of you who are not physicians or in the insurance industry, or the pharmaceutical industry who pontificate on social media that Medicare for All is bad, are only delaying the inevitable. You consultants, analysts, researchers and other auxiliary industries to health care must see the truth staring you in the face. You are on the wrong side of the debate, and on the wrong side of history.

COVID-19 and America’s Social Safety Net

Friday’s HuffPost published an article by Emily Peck on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on the country’s broken social safety net.

The article indicates that millions of working Americans do not get paid sick days. It also states that a stunning 70% of low-wage workers and one of three workers in the private sector, have no access to paid sick time.

According to Ms. Peck, the US is one of the few countries in the world without a national paid sick leave policy. In addition, she adds, millions of Americans do not have health insurance, or their policies are designed to keep them away from doctors with high co-payments and deductibles.

Both these issues, Ms. Peck writes, highlights how coronavirus, or COVID-19, could test the US’ uniquely weak social safety net.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, the executive director of MomsRising, a nonprofit advocating for paid leave is quoted in the article, “Right now we’re looking at a situation where we have a lack of policies that most other countries take for granted that protect their public health.”

This isn’t just a “coronavirus” problem, Ms. Peck says. Even though the CDC warned Americans earlier in the week, so far there have been very few case reported in the US. (Note: As of this writing,  there have been 74 reported cases in the US, and two men have died in Washington State, and one case was recently reported in Rhode Island, and one in Manhattan)

Yet, fears of an outbreak has put a spotlight on the public health system. With cuts to many agencies by Trump, many experts fear that we will be unable to deal with the crisis, especially since the Trump called it a hoax at a recent political rally.

He also appointed his evolution-denying Vice President, Mike Pence to coordinate the Administration’s response after gagging several Administration personnel from appearing on the Sunday talk shows. It was mentioned after the announcement that Pence did not believe that smoking causes cancer when he was Governor of Indiana.

For the Democrats, says Ms. Peck, coronavirus makes the case for policies like universal health care and paid sick and family leave.

Some key points to consider:

First, flu rates are higher without sick leave. What about coronavirus?

In the US, the article reports, just 10 states, 20 cities and three counties have some kind of paid sick leave. This is compared with the rest of the world, where more than 145 countries have this benefit. People who live in those places, research shows, are less likely to get sick, Ms. Peck reports.

And lack of paid sick leave is certainly a “risk factor”, according to Nicolas Ziebarth, associate professor in health economics at Cornell. Professor Ziebarth’s 2019 paper in the Journal of Public Economics, looked at Google data on flu rates, compared cities with leave policies with those without, and found that flu rates were 5% lower in places with sick leave.

An upcoming paper of Professor Ziebarth’s, based on CDC data, has found that the rates are actually 11% lower.

For those workers in low-wage jobs, if they get sick, they cannot afford to take time off of work because they are barely getting by. So, they end up going to work, and they get their co-workers sick.

Working from home isn’t an option.

Many companies are telling employees to work from home with the threat from coronavirus. However, for low-wage hourly workers, says Ms. Peck, this just isn’t an option. Many work in industries that have contact with the community — such as food servers, people who care for children, clean offices and homes.

As stated above, it is not just sick leave, The US also lacks any kind of comprehensive paid family leave policy, according to Ms. Peck, which would enable workers to take time off to care for a close family member’s health issues. This issue first came to light in 1993 when Bill Clinton signed into law, the Family and Medical Leave Act, which required covered employers to provide employees with job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons.

An example of just how needed is paid family leave, comes from the experience of Ericka Farrell, a mother of three in Maryland, who lost her temp job in the early 2000s because she had to take so much time off to care for her young son. She did not regret staying home, but now works with MomsRising to advocate for paid leave herself, writes Ms. Peck.

Millions are uninsured. Many more have terrible insurance.

According to Ms. Peck, even if you take time off when you are sick, you might not be able to afford to see the doctor. Slightly more than 10% of Americans. she mentions, or about 30 million people, don’t have health insurance. This is because their employers do not offer it, or it is too expensive.

Things to consider regarding the uninsured:

  • Far less likely to go to the doctor
  • Americans with insurance face obstacles to getting care due to high co-payments
  • Then there are the deductibles, which have been going up for decades
  • Most people haven’t come near clearing those deductibles at the beginning of the year

John Graves, associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center was quoted as saying, “If we as a society are going to face a spreading infectious disease, the worse time of the year is the beginning of the year.”

Graves added that the US health care system is simply not designed to deal with a potential pandemic.

First, he says, the US relies on employment-based insurance. If people are thrown out of work due to an economic downturn, they lose coverage.

Second, insurance is designed to encourage people not to see the doctor through so-called “cost-sharing.”  Co-payments and deductibles exist to discourage people from visiting the doctor or going to the hospital for every “cough and sniffle.” Graves said.

Lastly, in 2018, the Administration made it easier for people to buy insurance plans with less generous coverage, and don’t always cover expenses stemming from preexisting conditions, the article says. Experts have said that these plans they consider junk policies, have even higher out-of-pocket costs.

So what does this all mean?

It means that cuts to the social safety net guarantees that should the coronavirus get out of hand, the US is not prepared to deal with it effectively, and many more people will probably die who shouldn’t because of politics and ideology.

Hospital closings in rural areas, the firing of hundreds of health care personnel at the federal level, silencing the experts in infectious diseases, and the appointment of a man who rejects evolution and says smoking does not cause cancer to coordinate the Administration’s response, is a recipe for a catastrophe of unimanigable proportions. Calling it a hoax in front of your ardent supporters who believe everything you say, will only lead to more confusion and more deaths.

But this crisis also proves that it is high time those on social media sites like LinkedIn who are part of the health care industry, whether they are physicians, in the pharmaceutical industry, work in hospitals, are device manufacturers, or are consultants and researchers, accept the fact that single payer, universal health care (Medicare for All) is not just an economic necessity, but a public health necessity as well.

Is your big, fat five or six figure incomes more important than human health? It’s your call.

Multiple studies show Medicare for All would be cheaper than public option pushed by moderates | Salon.com

For all those skeptics and naysayers who say we can’t afford single payer, Salon.com has an article from Saturday (see below) that dispels the notion that Medicare for All is too expensive.

Yet, bear in mind, that we are spending billions on two wars, raising the military spending budget, wasting money on a stupid wall that is falling down, and a host of other useless and wasteful spending that is running up the deficit, at the same time health care companies and pharmaceutical companies are raking in huge profits and returning questionable outcomes.

But go ahead, believe the Republican lies, libertarian fantasies  and moderate Democrats wishful thinking about a public option. You only have your health to lose.

Here’s the article:

Yale and Harvard researchers found that Medicare for All reduces costs while public option makes health care more expensive.

Source: Multiple studies show Medicare for All would be cheaper than public option pushed by moderates | Salon.com

Appeals Court Rejects Medicaid Work Requirements

Since 2018, the Trump regime has been attempting to allow Arkansas to impose work requirements for Medicaid recipients.

In previous posts, Arkansas Medicaid Work Requirement Failing Out of the Gate, Nation’s First Medicaid Work Requirement Sheds Thousands From Rolls In ArkansasArkansas drops 3,815 more Medicaid enrollees over work requirement – Modern HealthcareMedicaid Work Requirements in the Courts, and Medicaid Work Requirements Are Detrimental, we have seen how the regime in Washington is attempting to re-write the rules on who gets Medicaid assistance in an attempt to begin the process of doing away with Medicaid altogether, which is a long-standing GOP goal.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that a federal appeals court ruled the Trump administration acted unlawfully when it allowed the state of Arkansas to impose requirements that some lower-income residents work or seek job training as a condition of receiving Medicaid health coverage.

According to the article, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in approving Arkansas’s plan.