Monthly Archives: August 2017

Follow-up to Insurers Jacking Up Premiums Ahead of End of CSR’s

Health Affairs blog posted the following stating that if the Administration terminates cost-sharing reduction payments (CSR’s), the states can use 1332 waivers to fund their own.

Here is the article in full by Steven Chen:

One of the main causes of instability in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health exchanges, aside from the constant stream of repeal-and-replace efforts, is the uncertainty over the future of the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments. CSR and the advanced premium tax credits (APTC) are subsidies created by the ACA to enhance the affordability of the qualified health plans sold on the health exchanges. Whereas the APTC reduces the cost of premiums to beneficiaries with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, CSR lowers the out-of-pocket expenses of beneficiaries with incomes between 100 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

Unlike the APTC, whose legal status is not in question, the U.S. House of Representatives had challenged the appropriation status of the CSR payments by filing a lawsuit against the Obama administration, thereby creating doubts about CSR’s future. In addition to the said litigation, the current administration has compounded the uncertainty by often withholding the CSR payments until the 11th hour and threatening to terminate the payments completely.

This uncertainty comes at a cost. Some insurers have cited the uncertainty as one of the reasons for their exodus from the health exchanges while others have referenced the uncertainty as a source for their 2018 premium hikes. While the extent of the premium increase is yet to be determined, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that without CSR payments, the insurers would need to raise silver plan premiums by about 19 percent.

Can States Step In?

What can States do if the administration follows through on its threat to terminate the CSR payments? A simple solution is for the States to provide the CSR payments themselves. In addition to making health insurance affordable, CSR payments are cost effective: The provision of CSR payments by the Federal government lowers the silver plan premiums offered on the health exchanges because the insurers are compensated for the reduced cost-sharing they are required to provide. Without the CSR payments, insurers will raise silver plan premiums—including the premiums for the benchmark silver plans—to offset their losses, which leads to higher APTC for all eligible beneficiaries, ultimately resulting in greater overall Federal expenditure. The aforementioned Kaiser Family Foundation study quantified this effect by demonstrating that if CSR payments were terminated in 2018, although the Federal government would save $10 billion from not making the CSR payments, it would have to pay an additional $12.3 billion in APTC, thus increasing overall Federal expenditure by $2.3 billion.

Creating a State-administered CSR mechanism will undoubtedly require expenditure from the State. While some will argue that the limited resources available in State budgets would render the idea all but theoretical, it would be beneficial to examine how States can use Section 1332 of the ACA to fund—and potentially profit from—providing CSR.

The California Example

The intricacies of a Section 1332 State Innovation Waiver (1332 Waiver) have been explained in depth elsewhere, but on a fundamental level, Section 1332 of the ACA permits a State to apply for a waiver to modify or waive certain provisions of the ACA, such as the individual mandate and the establishment of health exchanges, among others. The waiver application must satisfy four statutory constraints—comprehensiveness, affordability, scope of coverage, and will not increase the Federal deficit—but should an application meet all the criteria, the State is eligible to receive any APTC or CSR that the State would have otherwise received without the 1332 Waiver. In layman terms, if a State can create a system that meets the Federal standard at a cost that is the same or less than the existing Federal model, the State gets to keep the money the Federal government would have otherwise spent.

Using California as an example, Covered California showed that the termination of CSR payments by the Federal government would cause insurance premiums for silver plans in the individual market to increase by 16.6 percent in 2018. The study also showed an inverse relationship between CSR and APTC: The Federal government paid $750 million in CSR payments in 2016, but if it were to defund CSR payments, not only would it not receive any savings, it would incur an additional $976 million in APTC spending. Using these figures as illustration, if the Federal government had terminated CSR payments in 2016 and if California had provided CSR payments through a 1332 Waiver, under this scenario California would have to pay $750 million in CSR payments, but it would receive $976 million from the Federal government in lost APTC payments—payments California would have otherwise received without waiver—ending up with a total net profit of $226 million! California could use the profit to create a reinsurance program to bolster its health exchange, to increase payments to providers, or it could spend the excess on non-health related projects like fixing potholes and infrastructure because there is no restriction on the usage of the excess pass-through funding.

Even without a lengthy legal analysis, it is obvious this waiver satisfies all the statutory constraints: (1) since the waiver does not modify the Essential Health Benefits or any coverage requirements, it meets the comprehensiveness test; (2) since the waiver would lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs, it would actually improve affordability; (3) since the waiver would improve affordability, it is expected to increase scope of coverage; and finally (4) the numbers show that the waiver will not increase the Federal deficit. In fact, it should be intuitive why this proposal would meet the requirements of the ACA — it was built to be part of the ACA to begin with.

While the Administration isn’t obligated to approve any waiver applications, a 1332 Waiver application that creates a State-operated CSR payment mechanism—and uses the excess pass-through funding to finance a State reinsurance program—is conceptually consistent with the Administration’s emphasis on enhanced State flexibility and empowerment. The first executive order by the Administration, for example, promised to provide greater flexibility to the States under the ACA. Moreover, the Secretary of Health and Human Services recently sent a letter to State governors encouraging the application of 1332 Waivers and even provided a checklist to help expedite the process.

Given the cost-saving advantages of CSR payments, it is puzzling that the Federal government would consider terminating this effective subsidy. In addition to the money the Federal government would save, forcing States to spend the time and expense to develop and administer separate CSR operations also argue against ending Federal CSR payments. Indeed, even Republican members of Congress have begun to warm to the idea of continuing CSR payments. However, should the Federal government decide against it, States have a viable, and potentially profitable, means of administering CSR payments to stabilize their insurance markets.

 

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Single Payer Supported by Majority of Physicians

A shout-out to Dr. Don McCanne for posting the following article from Merritt Hawkins.

Merritt Hawkins
August 14, 2017
Survey: 42% of Physicians Strongly Support a Single Payer Healthcare System, 35% are Strongly Opposed
By Phillip Miller
A plurality of physicians strongly support a single payer healthcare system, according to a new survey by Merritt Hawkins.
The survey of 1,033 physicians indicates that 42 percent strongly support a single payer health care system while 14 percent are somewhat supportive. Over one-third (35 percent) strongly oppose a single payer system while six percent are somewhat against it. The remaining three percent neither support nor oppose single payer.
The results contrast with a national survey of physicians Merritt Hawkins conducted in 2008, which indicated that 58 percent of physicians opposed single payer at that time while 42 percent supported it.
In Merritt Hawkins’ experience, there are four reasons why a growing number of physicians are in favor of single payer. First, they are seeking clarity and stability. The fits and starts of health reform and the growing complexity of our current hybrid system are a daily strain on most doctors. Many of them believe that a single payer healthcare system will reduce the distractions and allow them to focus on what they have paid a high price to do: care for patients.
Second, it’s a generational issue. The various surveys that Merritt Hawkins has conducted for The Physicians Foundation in the past show that younger doctors are more accepting of Obamacare, ACOs, EHR, and change in general than are older physicians As the new generation of physicians comes up, there is less resistance among doctors to single payer.
Third, there is a feeling of resignation rather than enthusiasm among some physicians about single payer. These physicians believe we are drifting toward single payer and would just as soon get it over with. The 14% of physicians surveyed who said they “somewhat” support single payer are probably in this group.
Fourth, there is a philosophical change among physicians that I think the public and political leaders on both sides of the aisle now share, which is that we should make an effort to cover as many people as possible.
However, while single payer has gained acceptance among some physicians, it remains strongly opposed by over one third and strongly or somewhat opposed by over 40 percent. It is still a polarizing issue among physicians and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
So, if a majority of physicians support single payer, and they are the ones we should listen to when it comes to taking care of our health, and if a growing majority of Americans are coming around to this idea, then the only ones standing in the way are our politicians.
POTUS, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, and the medical-industrial complex of insurance companies, drug companies, and medical device manufacturers are all opposed and are preventing this nation from joining the rest of the developed world in providing health care to ALL its citizens.
And there is one more obstacle in our way: Wall Street investors and their clients who are funding insurance and medical companies, engaging in adverse selection and determining who lives and who dies. Who gets covered and who goes into bankruptcy.
They need to removed from the equation.

The Economist Explains it All: What the U.S, Needs to Do With Health Care

Thursday’s The Economist had the following article.

It explains what the U.S. needs to do to fix health care.

Our leaders in Congress, both Democrats, and especially Republicans should listen to what it has to say.

Medicare for All is not socialism, socialized medicine, or communism. But the status quo is health care capitalism, and has been a disaster.

Insurers Jacking Up Premiums Ahead of End of CSRs

An article in Healthcare Finance News.com on Friday, said that insurers are factoring in the end of the cost-sharing reduction payments into their rate increases from 2 to 23 percent, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The article states the following:

“Insurers in 20 states and the District of Columbia have filed premium rate requests for the federal exchange ahead of an August 16 deadline, many on the assumption that cost-sharing reduction payments will not be paid and that the individual mandate will either not be enforced or weakly enforced, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released Thursday.”

According to Kaiser, silver premiums would have to increase by 19 percent on average to compensate for the loss of CSR payments.

Susan Moore, the Associate Editor for Healthcare Finance News.com, also said that insurers are building uncertainty into their rates, filing under multiple scenarios involving CSRs and the individual mandate.

The threat from the POTUS to Mitch McConnell to push him to repeal and replace the ACA means that if POTUS does get his way, CSR’s would end and so would the individual and employer mandates. Also, the health insurance tax return in 2018 will add 3 percent to premiums.

You can read the rest of the article yourselves, but consider this. Isn’t time to end this nonsense of charging people insurance premiums that are constantly rising just so that a bunch of greedy health insurance companies and their Wall Street investors profit from people’s health?

When are we going to wise up and put and end to this game of playing with people’s health and forcing many into bankruptcy because they have severe medical issues?

When are we going to realize that health care is a human right, and not a commodity that can be marketed like consumer goods?

Medicare for All will end this constant round of rate increases and shenanigans the health insurers perpetrate on the American people.

Trump and the Social Determinants of Health

Here’s a little light reading for your weekend, courtesy of Patricia Illingworth, writing today in Health Affairs blog about the Social Determinants of Health and the take on it by the current administration.

Ms. Illingworth rightly points out that those below the poverty level and without a college degree, both whites and minorities, suffer more serious illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, as well as smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs more than those with college degrees.

She also states that cuts to education, energy, the environment, housing and urban development, among other social sectors, impacts health, and that if these social determinants are underfunded, people will need more health care. And now that the health care reform debate is stalled, the current POTUS is still trying to destroy the ACA, and has threatened members of his own party, including the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell.

Ms. Illingworth cites a study published by the Brookings Institution, that showed that “deaths of despair”—those associated with drugs, alcohol, and suicide—have risen significantly among middle-aged white non-Hispanic Americans without a college degree.

Living conditions, Ms. Illingworth reports, also affects rates of asthma, which are the leading cause of children’s visits to ER’s, hospitalizations, and absenteeism. And, it is more prevalent in poor and minority communities.

All of this is not surprising, since 1980, this nation has waged a relentless war against its poor and minority citizens. This war began the day Ronald Reagan took the oath of office and began dismantling not only the New Deal programs, but cutting back the programs created under the Great Society of the 1960’s.

With each successive Republican administration, as well as the rise of Republican power  in Congress since the ascension of Newt Gingrich to Speaker of the House, and in many states, especially in the formerly solid Democratic South, poverty and illness among the poor and minority, as well as whites have increased. And the loss of manufacturing and other support services jobs associated with manufacturing have resulted in the current opioid crisis, which only yesterday was addressed as a national emergency by the POTUS.

But Democrats are not without fault here too. Failure to stand up to the Reaganite Counter-Revolution, the pursuit of a failed “free trade” policy that has outsourced jobs or allowed companies to offshore jobs, as well as paying deference to the will of Wall Street and Corporate America, has brought us the current occupant of the Oval Office.

In the recent health care debate in Washington, many placed their confidence in moderate Republican senators to defeat the repeal and replace measures, but as Andrew Sullivan wrote four years ago in his blog, The Dish, “What Moderate Republicans?”, Sullivan says the following:

“There is effectively no Republican party any more. There is a radical movement to destroy the modern American state and eviscerate its institutions in favor of restoring a mythical, elysian, majority-white, nineteenth-century past. This crisis is proving that more powerfully than even watching Fox. We need to see what is in front of our nose: a cold civil war has broken out between those properly called conservatives, defending the credit of the government, empirical reality, and adjustments to modern life and those properly called radical reactionaries declaring our current elected president and Senate as illegitimate actors, bent on the destruction of America, and therefore necessitating total political warfare, even to the point of threatening to destroy the global economy.”

The current architect of this destruction is not the man with the orange hair, but one Stephen K. Bannon, the former head of Breitbart. Bannon’s radical agenda is to destroy the “deep state”, and to create what Sullivan so rightly predicted four years ago, as he said above.

Bannon has been identified as a racist, anti-Semite, and has no business in the White House. Another member of this cabal is Stephen Miller, who a few weeks ago, revealed his true colors by openly defending restricting legal immigration, something that brought his family, and mine, as well as millions of others, to this country.

I could go on, but this post is about health care.

The main point is, we need to stop playing games with people’s health and do what other Western and developed countries provide to their citizens, health care for all.

If you don’t believe me, then maybe the words of a billionaire will convince you. Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in America, and an astute and very successful businessman, unlike a certain neophyte politician, has said the following with regard to single payer.

“…government-run health insurance “probably is the best system” because it would control escalating costs. We are such a rich country. In a sense, we can afford to do it, … In almost every field of American business, it pays to bring down costs.”

It is time to give every American health care. Then we will see a vast improvement in the social determinants of health.

Another Scheme to Delay the Inevitable, part 2

Last week, I reported on an effort to create payer-provider partnerships, and said that it was another scheme to delay the inevitable move towards a Medicare for All, single-payer system.

Thanks again to Dr. Don McCanne for this week’s article from Modern Healthcare, on yet again another delaying tactic. This time it is from Congress, and while it purports to be “bipartisan”, it really isn’t, because they are very partisan in Congress today; partisan to the health care industry’s profit-making off of sick people.

Without further ado, here is the article in full:

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170803/NEWS/170809957

IT IS HIGH TIME TO STOP WASTING TIME, WASTING ENERGY AND THE PATIENCE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WITH “SOLUTIONS” THAT ONLY MAKE THINGS WORSE, NOT BETTER. IT IS TIME TO EXPAND MEDICARE TO EVERYONE, WITH NO BUY-IN, AND BE DONE WITH IT.