Monthly Archives: October 2017

CMS Proposes to Allow States to Define Health Benefits

A connection of mine today posted a link to a CMS Fact Sheet in which they propose to allow states to define essential health benefits beginning January 1, 2019.

According to the fact sheet, this rule is intended to increase flexibility in the individual market, improve program integrity, and reduce regulatory burdens associated with the PPACA in the individual and small group markets. (See my post, “Regulation Strangulation“)

The rule also includes proposals that would provide states with more options in how the essential health benefits (EHBs) are defined for their state, it would also enhance the role of states related to qualified health plan (QHP) certification, and to provide states with additional flexibility in the operation and establishment of Exchanges, particularly the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchanges.

Finally, they propose to permit states to reduce the magnitude of risk adjustment transfers in the small group market to minimize unnecessary burden, and proposes other changes that would streamline the Exchange consumer experience and the individual and small group markets.

What does this really mean?

Anytime the federal government attempts to allow the individual states to determine or define certain social benefits, we end up with a hodgepodge of rules, regulations, costs of impairment, etc.

We know that in certain states, the loss of a body part in one state has an impairment value different from the same body part in another state, according to the ProPublica report .

So when I see that CMS wants to allow states to define what essential health benefits are,  we have to ask ourselves, what do they mean by essential, and is one state’s essential health benefits, another state’s burden?

I understand that certain states, particularly so-called “Red” states with conservative governors and legislatures, will be free to decide that certain treatments and procedures are just too expensive for them to cover, or that they violate the ethical or moral sentiments of the community in the state, i.e., abortion, birth control, sexual reassignment surgery, etc.

Allowing states to define and decide what is essential and what is not, may be harmful to the health of many of their citizens, even if it saves the state money.

And I am rather leery of CMS’s desire to “strengthen” the individual or small group markets, because who decides what constitutes strengthening, and who makes those decisions and under what circumstances.

Rather than allowing legislators and governors to decide what medical care their citizens can receive in their state, rather than trying to shore up a market, whether it is the individual market or the group market, we should move to provide all Americans with the same health care and the same medical benefits, coast to coast, under a Medicare for All plan.

Anything less would be worse than what we have now, and would be more costly and more complex and confusing. This rule should be scraped.

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Five Years

Yesterday marked my five year anniversary as your humble blogger. But all through the month, many of my LinkedIn connections have congratulated me prematurely, only to have me set them straight as to the actual date. LinkedIn does not do a very good job of capturing exact dates on your profile.

But be that as it may, it has been a great five years. Let me recap.

To begin with, I began the blog three days after returning from the 5th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress in Hollywood, Florida where I met many people from around the world engaged in the Medical Travel industry.

After attending two more conferences in 2014, one in Miami Beach, and the other in Reynosa, Mexico, where I presented my paper on Medical Travel and Workers’ Comp, my blog was viewed by increasing numbers of people in multiple countries around the world.

To date, my blog is viewed in every continent except Antarctica, and places like Greenland, several countries in Africa, Iran and two of the countries in Central Asia, and North Korea (but who cares?). Even China, with it’s limited access to the internet has viewed my blog.

So it has been a productive five years, and I hope that you have enjoyed reading it. I know not all of my posts are prize winners, but then again, not every writer wins a Pulitzer every day. You may have noticed that my focus has shifted and my tone has gotten more pointed. I make no apologies for the tone, there are too many bad things happening in this country for me to be silent. And as for the focus changing, my medical condition has personalized the fight for health care for all, and not just for those who can afford it.

Let me know what you think, after all, after five years, you must have some thoughts. Also, if you can help me personally with extra work, I would appreciate it.

Thank you, and here’s to another year, and another five years.

 

Regulation Strangulation

The American Hospital Association (AHA) released a report that stated that there is too much regulation that is impacting patient care.

The report, Regulatory Overload Assessing the Regulatory Burden on Health Systems, Hospitals, and Post-acute Care Providers, concludes with the following assessment:

Health systems, hospitals and PAC providers are besieged by federal regulatory requirements promulgated by CMS, OIG, OCR and ONC, many of which are duplicative and cumbersome and do not improve patient care. In addition to the regulatory burden put forth by those agencies, health systems, hospitals and PAC providers are subject to regulation by additional federal agencies, such as the Department of Labor, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and by state licensing and regulatory agencies. They also operate under stringent contract requirements imposed by payers, such as Medicare Advantage, Medicaid Managed Care plans and commercial payers, which also require reporting data in different ways through different systems. States and payers contribute to burden through, for example, documentation, quality reporting and billing procedures layered on top of the federal requirements.
Regulatory reform aimed at reducing administrative burden must not approach the regulatory environment in a vacuum — evaluating the impact of a single regulation or requirements of a single program — but instead must look at the larger picture of the regulatory framework and identify where requirements can be streamlined or eliminated to release resources to be allocated to patient care.
In a previous post, Models, Models, Have We Got Models!, I said that from the beginning of my foray into the health administration world, I noticed that there were too many models, programs, and schemes dedicated to lowering costs and improving quality of care, that only raised the cost of health care and did not improve quality of care.
This is what I said then about all the models, programs, and rules promulgated by CMS over decades that have not made things better:
The answer was simple. Too many models, programs, rules, and so on that only gum up the works and make real reform not only impossible, but even more remote a possibility as more of these inane models are added to what is already a broken system.
So it seems that I was right even then, and now the AHA has proved it so. Why not scrap these models, programs, and rules and institute real reform…Medicare for All and be done with it?

CVS to Buy Aetna

This should wake you up before your morning coffee.

Reuters is reporting that pharmacy operator, CVS Health Corp. is making a bid for Aetna Insurance.

Bid is more than $66 Billion.

Here is the article from Reuters.

Do we really think a pharmacy should own an insurer? What ever happened to the idea of competition is good?

One day, we will live in a world like that of the movie, Rollerball (the one with James Caan), where corporations run the world, and your wife can be taken anytime by a corporate executive.

Ashley Furniture and Medical Travel, part 1

From the One Hand Washes the Other department comes the following Spotlight article from Medical Travel Today.com.

Ashley Furniture, based in Wisconsin, is one of the largest manufacturers of home furnishings in the world.

I met Rajesh Rao in 2014 when I attended the Costa Rican Medical Travel Summit in Miami Beach. Rajesh’s company was also instrumental in convincing another furniture manufacturer, HSM in North Carolina, to first send patients to India, then to Costa Rica for medical care. I have written about this in previous posts.

This article is part one, and part two will run next month.

Copper, or Cop Out?

The recent bipartisan health care bill, posted here, is an attempt to save the cost-sharing reimbursements that the Orangutan ended last week, and that the White House (the adult day care center) has not endorsed.

This is what Health Care.gov says about these copper plans, with commentary from Don McCanne of Physicians for a National Health Plan.

HealthCare.gov
ACA Catastrophic Plans
Catastrophic health insurance plans have low monthly premiums and very high deductibles. They may be an affordable way to protect yourself from worst-case scenarios, like getting seriously sick or injured. But you pay most routine medical expenses yourself.
Deductibles — the amount you have to pay yourself for most services before the plan starts to pay anything — are very high. For 2017, the deductible for all Catastrophic plans is $7,150.
According to Dr. McCanne, the bill will extend CSR’s for two years in exchange for concessions from Sen. Patty Murray.
One of those concessions, Dr. McCanne says is  to allow anyone to purchase on the exchange the catastrophic plans that are currently available only to individuals under 30 or those who qualify for certain hardship exemptions. These plans are sometimes referred to as copper plans, indicating that they have an actuarial value below the other metal tier plans (bronze, silver, gold, and platinum).
The appeal of these plans, he adds, is that their premiums are very low, but that is because their actuarial value is only 50 percent – they cover an average of about half of health care costs.
For 2017, the deductible for these plans is $7,150.
He believes that the concept that we can take beneficial policies and detrimental policies and combine them to come up with a reasonable compromise is a fallacy. Bad policies are bad policies, and they cannot be neutralized by political accommodations.
His solution is a national health plan.
Otherwise, it is either copper or a cop-out.

The Fork in the Road in Medical Travel

Returning to the main theme of this blog, I came across the following insightful article by Ruben Toral last week that posed the question, “Is Medical Tourism Dying a Slow Death?”

As someone who has been interested in opportunities in Medical Travel for some time, and  disappointed in not being able to elicit interest in my idea for Medical Travel, I was interested in seeing what Ruben had to say, and to see if it measured up to my views of the industry, as I know it.

According to Ruben, the industry exhibits the traits of a typical product/business cycle, whereby the first and fast movers establish leadership by developing and commercializing the concept, then late adopters pile in to get in on the action.

He goes on to decry the same speakers at every medical tourism event around the world talking about the same things, which is enough to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep.

He also laments the lack of innovation, and says that key players are just trying to manage the slow growth rather than investing in the next wave.

VC investors, Ruben says, talk of getting burned on medical tourism investments that simply cannot scale like other businesses, because, as they quickly learn, healthcare is a different animal than retail and you burn through a lot of cash fast trying to buy eyeballs and audience.

And investment analysts ask the same question after pouring through hospital financial reports and see how hospitals are managing and protecting profit margins: “Where’s the growth?” And even large meeting and events companies are not “flogging medical tourism” because attendance and interest is way down.

So, is this the beginning of the end or the inflection point for medical tourism?, Ruben asks. For his part, he does not know, but if it is not the beginning of the end, or an inflection point, it is most certainly a fork in the road.

Where it goes from here is as good a guess as mine and Ruben’s, but it is up to those who are serious and dedicated to growing the industry to regroup and start again to build interest and enthusiasm for medical travel, and to address some of the glaring issues facing the industry.

But that won’t happen until there are changes within and without the industry…in technology and in strategy.