Category Archives: COVID-19

Eligibility Waivers to Leave Many With Costs From COVID-19

One more reason, now that COVID is causing so much unemployment, that we desparately need Medicare for All, with no qualifications other than US citizenship. We can give corporations and wealthy people billions in tax breaks, but not one red cent for people’s health care in a nationwide, single payer system that would have responded rationally and logistically to a pandemic, instead of as a “chaotic disaster.”

Health Affairs Blog

May 8, 2020

Medicaid Retroactive Eligibility Waivers Will Leave Thousands Responsible For Coronavirus Treatment Costs

By Paul Shafer  Nicole Huberfeld  Ezra Golberstein

The coronavirus pandemic has led to record numbers of American workers being laid off or seeing their hours and paychecks dwindle. The economy is on the brink of a deep recession, and waves of coronavirus infections may continue for the foreseeable future. Medicaid will be a crucial piece of the puzzle that helps to ensure access to health care while protecting people from further financial ruin. Yet, one of Medicaid’s key provisions has been weakened by recently approved section 1115 “demonstration projects”, commonly referred to as waivers, that eliminate or reduce retroactive coverage. These waivers will diminish coverage for thousands of people seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19 and other medical care.

Retroactive eligibility is a long-standing feature of Medicaid that covers health care expenses for three months prior to the application date, provided that the beneficiary would have been eligible during that period. Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a handful of states imposed narrow restrictions on retroactive eligibility, but these limitations were paired with expansions of eligibility and had exemptions for vulnerable groups. Recently, however, many states—including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and New Hampshire—have gained Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) approval for 1115 waivers that drastically limit or completely eliminate retroactive eligibility, though four have been stayed by courts or halted by states as part of litigation challenging the legality of those waivers that include work requirements (Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, and New Hampshire).

A core purpose of Medicaid is supporting people when they need help, which is why Medicaid has continual open enrollment and retroactive eligibility to cover the cost of care when those who are eligible aren’t already enrolled before a crisis. States should restore full retroactive eligibility immediately to protect thousands of newly-unemployed workers from even greater health and economic suffering.

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200506.111318/full/

The Sad Downside to Globalization: Economics Over Public Health In The Age of Covid-19

Tom Lynch of Workers’ Comp Insider posted the following yesterday about where most of the masks and other protective equipment worn by health care workers comes from, and in particular, one CEO’s experience with the beginning of a global pandemic.

Here is the article.

If you are wondering why there have been mass protests (mostly supported by, and instigated by, conservative groups and wealthy, libertarian right-wing families such as the DeVos, Dorr, and other families, and commentators such as Alex Jones and Fox News), it is because many of these people have been outsourced from jobs that were sent to China and elsewhere.

Some are just members of militia groups flexing their muscles, but thankfully, polls show more Americans support restrictions, rather than opening up the economy. Apparently, it is the economy of these families that are most affected by the shutdowns, and thus they are only interested in their economic interests, not public health.

Witness the statements of some GOP elected officials who stated that the economy was more important than living (Texas’ Attorney General, for one).

So, while Trump makes a clusterf**k of the response, let’s remember that we did not understand that there were consequences for shipping our manufacturing jobs to China, and COVID-19 is the result.

Richard’s note: The masks I use for my dialysis treatment come from China.

Mass Unemployment and COVID-19: What It Means for Health Insurance

Steffie Woolhandler, M.D. and David Himmelstein, M.D. wrote yesterday in the Annals of Internal Medicine that many of those who lose, or already lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic have a lack of health insurance. Many did not have insurance before the outbreak, and now that they are unemployed, their employer-based insurance will end as well.

Here is the article in full:

Annals of Internal Medicine

April 7, 2020

Intersecting U.S. Epidemics: COVID-19 and Lack of Health Insurance

By Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH; David U. Himmelstein, MD

During the final week of March 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that a record number of workers—6.648 million—filed new claims for unemployment benefits. That beat the previous record of 3.307 million filings, which was set the week before, bringing the 2-week total to 9.955 million. This is just the beginning of the surge in joblessness due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. A Federal Reserve Bank economist estimated that the ranks of unemployed persons will swell by 47.05 million by the end of June.

For many, job loss will carry the added sting of losing health insurance. Congress has moved to cover severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 testing for uninsured persons, but did not include provisions to cover treatment of COVID-19 (or other illnesses). The recent $2 trillion bailout bill offered no new health insurance subsidies or coverage.

Estimating Coverage Losses

We estimated the likely effects of current job losses on the number of uninsured persons by using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s March 2019 Current Population Survey on health insurance coverage rates among persons who lost or left a job. The uninsurance rate among unemployed persons who had lost or left a job was 26.3% versus 10.7% among those with jobs. Applying the 15.6–percentage point difference to the 9.955 million who filed new unemployment claims last week, we estimate that 1.553 million newly unemployed persons will lose health coverage. This figure excludes family members who will become uninsured because a breadwinner lost coverage and self-employed persons who may lose coverage because their businesses were shuttered, but are ineligible for unemployment benefits. If, as the Federal Reserve economist projects, an additional 47.05 million people become unemployed, 7.3 million workers (along with several million family members) are likely to join the ranks of the U.S. uninsured population.

Coverage losses are likely to be steepest in states that have turned down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. In expansion states, the share of persons who have lost or left a job who lacked coverage was 22.1% versus 8.3% for employed persons—a difference of 13.8 percentage points. In nonexpansion states, the uninsurance rate among such unemployed persons was 38.4% versus 15.8% for employed persons—a difference of 22.6 percentage points. In other words, nearly 1 in 4 newly unemployed workers in nonexpansion states are likely to lose coverage, bringing their overall uninsurance rate to nearly 40%.

Our projections are based on differences in coverage rates for employed and unemployed persons in 2019, but there is little reason to believe that the predicament of unemployed workers has improved since then. Although many who lose their jobs are likely to be eligible for Medicaid or subsidized Affordable Care Act coverage, and some will purchase continuing coverage under COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), the same was true in 2019. Indeed, the situation may be worse today because some laid-off workers probably gained coverage through an employed spouse in 2019, an option less likely to be available in the face of the impending massive layoffs.

Urgent Policy Needs and Longer-Term Solutions

With jobs and health insurance coverage disappearing as the COVID-19 pandemic rages, states that have declined to expand Medicaid should urgently reconsider. Yet, the high uninsurance rate among unemployed persons in Medicaid expansion states underlines the need for action in Washington. Tax revenues are plunging, and all states except Vermont are required to balance their budgets annually. Hence, only the federal government has the wherewithal to address the impending crisis.

Thus far, neither Congress nor the administration has offered plans to expand coverage. Some have suggested that the federal government cover COVID-19–related care for uninsured persons through Medicaid, but some states would probably decline such a Medicaid expansion, leaving many newly jobless persons—and the 28 million who were uninsured before the pandemic—without coverage. Instead, we advocate for passage of an emergency measure authorizing Medicare coverage for all persons eligible for unemployment benefits.

Although the COVID-19 crisis demands urgent action, it also exposes the imprudence of tying health insurance to employment, and the need for more thoroughgoing reform. A trickle of families facing the dual disaster of job loss and health insurance loss can remain under Washington’s radar. However, the current tsunami of job and coverage losses along with a heightened risk for severe illness demands action. A decade ago, Victor Fuchs forecasted that “National health insurance will probably come to the United States after a major change in the political climate—the kind of change that often accompanies a war, a depression, or large-scale civil unrest.” Such a major change may be upon us.

https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2764415/intersecting-u-s-epidemics-covid-19-lack-health-insurance

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

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.