Category Archives: Health Care Spending

COVID-19 and the End of the Neoliberal Era in Health Care

The subject of neoliberalism has been discussed in this blog five times between 2018 and 2019, and is the focus of an article in The Milbank Quarterly, by John E. McDonough, professor of public health practice at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

In the article, Professor McDonough points to a Commonwealth Fund chart (see below) that shows the growth in gross domestic product (GDP) for health care, comparing the US to 10 other high income nations. The chart shows that from 1980 to 2018, spending by the US was among the highest 40 years ago, but that in the early 1980s, US spending leapt above the others. and growing wider over four decades.


He then asks, “what happened to US health care in the early 1980s-and since then?”

McDonough responds by pointing to two New York Times columns by Austin Frakt, Medical Mystery: Something Happened to U.S. Health Care Spending After 1980 and Reagan, Deregulation and America’s Exceptional Rise In Health Care Costs.

McDonough suggested that a big part of the answer involves the broad economic and political trade winds of the late 1970s and 1980s, often called “Reaganomics” or “supply-side economics”, because Reagan ushered in a new era in the US. Some, like George H. W. Bush, running for President in 1980 for the Republican nomination, called it “voodoo economics.” However. as McDonough states, and as my previous posts on the subject calls it, it is “neoliberalism.”

This term evokes Adam Smith, but the 20th century version owes itself more to the works of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, among others. According to McDonough, the neoliberal agenda consists of cutting taxes, repealing regulations, shrinking or privatizing government (remember Grover Norquist’s desire to shrink government to fit in his bathtub and strangle it), suppressing labor, encouraging free-market trade, accepting inequality as price for economic freedom (something that has come under fire this year and since the 2016 election, making people receiving services and benefits pay as much as possible, and reorienting corporate thinking and behavior to promote return on equity as their only goal.

The New Deal era that was replaced by neoliberalism, McDonough states, lasted 48 years, from 1933 to Reagan’s inauguration in 1981. The neoliberal era, he points out, is 40 years old and showing signs of rust, cracks, and failing systems. Signs of this are Trump’s war on trade, deficit-exploding tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations,, anger over “deaths of despair” from opioid and other addictions and economic distress, awareness and revulsion about rising levels of inequality across society, and spreading rejection of absolutist “shareholder capitalism.”

In addition, recent protests over the deaths of African-American males at the hands of police, coupled with the Corona virus pandemic, are all signs that something is terribly wrong.

But what about health care, McDonough asks again?

Reiterating what he said above, US health care between 1980 and 2020 saw spending rise far above US economic growth, while growth in insurance premiums and cost-sharing increased well beyond advances in household incomes. On key indicators, he reports, the US performs worse than most nations on life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, chronic disease mortality, levels of overweight and obesity, suicides, and gun violence, as well as glaring systemic health inequalities, as has been discussed during the BLM protests as one factor in people taking to the streets.

Despite the advances in technology and high spending, Americans give their system the lowest satisfaction ratings.

Yet, between 1965 and the 1980s, major infusions of investor capital has gone to all corners of our health care system, courtesy of shareholder-owned for-profit companies who often cut long-lasting ties with local communities, according to McDonough. It did not help that in 1986, the Institutes of Medicine, instead of convicting for-profits of “killing” health care, released a 600 page report on “For-Profit Enterprises in Health Care, that identified pluses and minuses that called for greater monitoring.

Finally, McDonough concludes that the US need to look outward, not inward, as is usually the case to solve big problems with health care. One such study, in 2018 from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Beyond Neoliberalism, is a clarion call for a new policy sphere forming in think tanks, academia, advocacy and activist groups, and the legal community, as well as some Republican/conservative quarters as Marco Rubio, who rejects shareholder primacy. He says the search is on for a new paradigm, and hopes the election in November will bring it forth.

He doesn’t have to look far. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, the PHNP, and others have the paradigm. It is Medicare for All/Single Payer. But first we have to rid ourselves of the baboon in the Oval Office and his economic minions, Mnuchin the Mieskeit, and Kudlow the Meshuggeneh.

Stay safe everyone.

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

For all those skeptics and naysayers who say we can’t afford single payer, 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 |

The $8,000 Rip-off That Is Healthcare

Picking up on a theme I presented in two earlier posts this year, Health Care is Not a Market  and The Free Market Utopian Fantasy, Joe Paduda today asks “what would you do with another $8,000?”

Joe’s post outlines how providers, big pharma, device companies, and healthplans make money from a system designed to do so, and not to help you and your family stay healthy and functional. [ Emphasis Joe’s]

He shows us graphically how big health sector profit margins are, how we spend more than any other country, but die younger, and how healthcare premiums and deductibles and out of pocket costs keep climbing, but wages do not.

His one key point, is the following:

Healthcare is not, and cannot ever be, a free market. A free market requires buyers have the ability to make sellers respond to buyers’ needs – yet we all know we consumers have zero ability to make pharma, hospitals, big doctor groups, device companies respond to our needs.

Lastly, Joe asks the question: “If air travel worked like health care?” [Video link]

Would you rely on the airlines with your health care? Would you rely on the health care industry to fly you to your nephew’s wedding in Orlando? Of course, not.

So, why would you continue to defend, support and protect a dysfunctional, broken, wasteful, bloated, health care system that does not work like the free market, but only makes huge profits for the insurance companies, drug companies, device manufacturers, hospitals, investors, stock and shareholders.

And yes, you hanger’s on in consulting and research organizations who constantly attack single payer health care because it, one, puts you out of a job, and two, takes away any profits you and your company makes from advising  on or researching how to squeeze more profit out of the system.

One thing is for certain. I could sure use that $8,000 right now. My health care and other issues have taken a lot more from me than $8,000, but I’d settle for that. Wouldn’t you?

Friday Morning Catch-Up

It’s been a while, so I thought I’d play catch-up this morning with some relevant postings from Don McCanne and Joe Paduda.

First up is an article from The New York Times of December 3rd by Margot Sanger-Katz. The article, “Why the Less Disruptive Health Care Option Could Be Plenty Disruptive” explains that moderate Democratic plans for health care that does not fall in line with those proposed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren can be as disruptive as not implementing Medicare for All.

Sanger-Katz writes: “The single-payer health plans proposed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are often assailed as being too disruptive. A government plan for everyone, the argument goes, would mean that tens of millions of Americans would have to give up health insurance they like.

Democratic presidential candidates with more moderate brands have their own proposal: a “public option” that would preserve the current private insurance market, while giving people the opportunity to choose government insurance.

A public option would be less disruptive than a plan that instantly eliminated private insurance. But a public option that is inexpensive and attractive could shake up the private market and also wind up erasing some current insurance arrangements. Conversely, a public option that is expensive and unattractive might not do much good at all.

A public option would cover a smaller population at first, and might have to negotiate with hospitals for good deals, just as other insurance companies do. In those circumstances, several economists said, the public option might look a lot like existing insurance: pretty expensive, and covering a limited set of doctors and hospitals.”

Next, Health Affairs published an article by Tara Straw, also on December 3rd, that examines how low-income workers fare poorly under the ACA. According to Ms. Straw, “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) extended health coverage to more than 20 million people and strengthened consumer protections for millions more, but it didn’t dramatically change employer-sponsored coverage, the primary source of private health insurance. Employer coverage often works well, allowing many people to enroll in comprehensive health benefits using employer contributions that make premiums affordable. But compared to middle and upper-income employees, low-income workers are often offered less robust coverage, get less employer help with their premiums, and must pay a greater share of their income toward health care costs. Among workers with job-based coverage, those with income below 200 percent of the poverty line spend 14 percent of their income on premiums and out-of-pocket costs, on average. That’s far more than people between 200 and 400 percent of poverty, who spend 7.9 percent of their income, and people over 400 percent of poverty, who spend only 4.5 percent.

Some low-income workers are actually worse off with an offer of employer-sponsored coverage than without one because it locks them out of premium tax credit (PTC) eligibility in the ACA’s health insurance Marketplaces, a prohibition known as the “firewall.”

Under the ACA, the worker’s share of the employee-only premium must not exceed 9.86 percent of family income (in 2019), irrespective of the cost of family coverage, and the plan must cover at least 60 percent of expected medical costs. When an employer’s coverage offer meets that low federal bar, the ACA’s firewall provision makes low-income workers and their family members ineligible to receive a PTC for Marketplace coverage. However, employer coverage that meets the ACA standard may be more expensive and less comprehensive than Marketplace coverage. For example, under the ACA standard, a worker making $18,000 (about 150 percent of poverty) could pay up to nearly $1,800 toward premiums for single coverage in an employer plan. But if allowed to purchase a benchmark Marketplace plan, the worker’s expected contribution, net of the PTC, would be less than $750 (4.15 percent of income in 2019).

Again from Health Affairs, comes the following on national health spending in 2018:


US health care spending increased 4.6 percent to reach $3.6 trillion in 2018, a faster growth rate than the rate of 4.2 percent in 2017 but the same rate as in 2016. The share of the economy devoted to health care spending declined to 17.7 percent in 2018, compared to 17.9 percent in 2017. The 0.4-percentage-point acceleration in overall growth in 2018 was driven by faster growth in both private health insurance and Medicare, which were influenced by the reinstatement of the health insurance tax. For personal health care spending (which accounted for 84 percent of national health care spending), growth in 2018 remained unchanged from 2017 at 4.1 percent. The total number of uninsured people increased by 1.0 million for the second year in a row, to reach 30.7 million in 2018.”

Additionally, CMS published the National Health Expenditure Fact Sheet (NHE).

Next, Christopher Cai and James Kahn wrote in Health Affairs that Medicare for All would improve hospital financing. According to Cai and Kahn, “Hospitals account for more than one trillion dollars of health expenditures annually, and analysts have raised concerns that a shift to single payer, or Medicare for All, might adversely affect hospital care. A common narrative has emerged in the popular press and in medical journals, suggesting that Medicare for All would decrease reimbursements and force hospitals, particularly rural hospitals, to cut back on much needed services or even close altogether. These concerns have received increased attention with Elizabeth Warren’s recently released financial proposal for Medicare for All. Understandably, these points have raised concern about the feasibility of Medicare for All. But is this narrative evidence based?

Their conclusion states that “Under single payer, patients could choose any doctor and hospital, everyone would be insured, and bureaucratic burdens would be greatly diminished. Furthermore, under global budgeting, payment levels would be monitored and adjusted over time by a panel of health care experts.

And lastly, here is a post from Joe Paduda of a Gallop poll that says Americans can’t afford healthcare, According to Joe, Gallup reported that quarter of Americans have put off treatment for serious medical conditions because they can’t afford it.

These are the reasons they can’t afford it:

  • US physicians make twice what docs in other countries do
  • Drug costs are much higher here than elsewhere
  • Hospitals are making bank
  • Administrative costs are twice what they are in other developed countries.

Physician incomes by specialty exceed $400,000. No wonder Americans can’t afford health care. The doctors are making more than they are.

So, the future of health care as we know it looks very bleak from these and other experts on the matter. It would be criminal for any rational person to not explore the Medicare for All/ single Payer option, rather than to continue to prop up a market-based system that is out of control and getting worse every year.

But so long as many Americans claim they like their private health insurance, whether it is from their employer or they purchase it directly from an insurance carrier, the fact remains that no other solution will fix the problems other than Medicare for All.

All Americans need to realize this before it is too late.

Wise Words on Medicare for All


November 25, 2019

Politco published yesterday an interview with William Hsiao, the architect of Taiwan’s single payer system. The article is re-posted in full:


November 25, 2019

“There’s a Fear Factor, a Fear of Change.”

William Hsiao knows more about single payer systems than pretty much any other American. What does he think about ‘Medicare for All’?

By Maura Reynolds

Plenty of Americans have opinions about single-payer health systems like “Medicare for All,” and some have even studied them closely. But vanishingly few individuals in the world have actually built one from scratch.

One who has is William Hsiao.

A health care economist now retired from Harvard University, Hsiao designed a national health care system for Taiwan in the 1990s, and helped manage that country’s transition from American-style employer-based insurance to a national single-payer system. He has also designed single-payer reform programs for Cyprus, Colombia and China. And not too long ago, after Vermont voted in 2011 to enact a statewide single-payer system, he worked on what would have been called Green Mountain Care, a project that eventually collapsed because of concerns over financing.

This all gives Hsiao a nearly unique vantage point on the current U.S. debate over Medicare for All. And while he’s a fan of single-payer health care, which he thinks leads both to better health and greater efficiency, he’s a pessimist about its chances to take root in the United States.

The reason? It’s not the economics. It’s the politics.

Given the public’s attachment to doctors and concerns about their own health, Hsiao says there’s a powerful “fear factor” associated with any major change — one easy for opponents to exploit, and hard to overcome. Fans of Medicare for All haven’t yet grappled with the heavy lift of educating the public enough to overcome people’s attachment to the status quo, and the powerful forces that can fan their anxieties.

Opponents of change “have done it before,” he says. “They were very effective in using keywords. The American Medical Association used the words ‘socialized medicine.’ People don’t know what that is. Most Americans do not like ‘socialized’ anything. But if you told most Americans that public schools are ‘socialized education,’ they would be really surprised. Fortunately, we had public schools set up before any powerful interest groups were formed.”

Hsiao was born in China, came to live in the United States when he was 12, and eventually became an insurance actuary. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he worked for the Social Security Administration, eventually becoming the deputy chief actuary. In that position, Hsiao worked to implement not only the program’s retirement benefits but also the then-new Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and disabled. Hsiao says that work convinced him of the value of social insurance and that government has a critical role in providing safety net programs for its citizens.

In recent years, Hsiao, now 83, has consulted with Sen. Bernie Sanders on his Medicare for All plan, and also supports Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s version. But his reality-check prediction is that it will take two more election cycles, at least, before the political groundwork for Medicare for All will be laid. With powerful lobbies like insurers, hospitals and drug companies dug in against such plans, he points to two other forces that will need to play key roles: big employers, which he sees as nearing an inflection point where they will insist on a better system; and doctors, who are increasingly being paid as salaried employees, which is changing their views of private insurance. “When the United States has a majority of its doctors being on salary, I predict American doctors will come out and support Medicare for All,” Hsiao said.

Hsiao spoke to Politico senior editor Maura Reynolds from his office in Cambridge, Mass., about what the challenges are, why he believes the change needs to happen, and how we might actually pay for it.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Reynolds: What’s the most important thing that you think proponents of Medicare for All don’t understand about single-payer systems?

Hsiao: The most important thing is that there’s a fear factor, a fear of change. There is a group of people who are opposing Medicare for All, and that includes the private insurance industry, pharmaceutical companies and, of course, some doctors and hospitals. They fear their income may be affected. So, for the common people, the fear is that they don’t understand how it would impact their health care, as well as their health insurance. And for the vested interest groups, they are in fear of their income and revenues.

Reynolds: Aren’t those fears justified?

Hsiao: I think they’re totally unjustified, but there’s a history to it. The last time the United States talked about universal health insurance was under President Truman. Subsequently, President Clinton also tried to propose a plan. And each time, the vested interest groups put on a very effective and powerful campaign to block it by offering common people a great deal of misinformation. In the late 1940s, the American Medical Association led the fight and called universal health insurance “socialized” medicine. And the Clinton plan, there were TV ads that said it would make medical care and claim filing much more complicated. Both of them, those kinds of public campaigns, of course, are untrue.

Reynolds: Is there a case that proponents of single payer should be making to the public that they aren’t making now?

Hsiao: I would actually show film clips from countries that have Medicare for All, like Canada, Taiwan, Germany and other countries. Taiwan educated people first that everyone would be covered by the same health insurance, a comprehensive plan, much better than what most of the people had then. That’s what I think persuaded people.

Reynolds: Many Americans say that they prefer market-based solutions as a lever for public policy, and those can be easier political lifts.

Hsiao: Markets have a serious failure in health care. That’s been proven empirically in the United States and throughout the world. I’ll describe the fundamental failure. You and I, common people, we have a symptom, a headache, a fever. We have pain. We go to a physician for diagnosis and treatment. That’s not like buying a pair of shoes or buying a shirt where the buyer and seller pretty much have an equal position. We go to physicians seeking their expertise. Even if you watch TV ads for drugs, the drug advertisers say, “Talk to your doctor.” That’s because even in their advertisement, they know you would not understand all of the possible effects of that drug.

So the physician holds a superior position in the marketplace. That’s proven. As a result, physicians can charge you any price, particularly if you are in surgery. If you operate on people’s vital organs, like brain, heart, eyes, and even orthopedics — people are willing to go bankrupt to go see a doctor if they need, let’s say, heart surgery. In medicine, actually, there is an opposite effect [from the way the market usually works]: People believe that doctors who charge higher fees must be better. That’s because they don’t understand medicine. So they figure if you can charge higher fees, you must be a better doctor. Those are market failures.

I’ll give you another example. A few decades ago, American doctors who were trying to do the right thing for their patients, for exactly the same service, would charge the poor nothing. If you were rich, they would charge you, let’s say, $8,000 for an operation. If the doctor thinks you are an average earner, he might charge you only $4,000. At the time, this was praised as doctors performing a social service. But that also tells you what kind of market power doctors have over patients. Can you imagine you go to a car dealer; you want to buy a Chevrolet. The Chevrolet dealer sees you as an average citizen and tells you, “That’s $25,000.” For rich people, “That’s $50,000.” You would say, “Wow. There’s something wrong with this market.”

Reynolds: How do you explain the health care industry’s resistance to current measures to increase transparency in pricing?

Hsiao: That’s very unique to the United States. United States has many insurance companies. The insurance companies negotiate with, let’s say, hospitals for the price, for a discount from their list price. By the way, their list price is not based on any facts of the cost; It’s a price that hospitals would like to charge. There’s no cost study to support that price. So if you are an insurance company, you say, “I can bring 50,000 patients to your hospital.” The hospital may give you an 80 percent discount from the list price. If you are representing a company that employs 200 employees and their families, they say, I’ll give you only a 25 percent discount. If you are an insurance company representing only two employees, I may not give you any discount. That’s why the hospitals don’t want to publish their price, because they may have five to 10 different prices, depending on which insurance company negotiates with them and how many insured people they can bring to their hospital.

Reynolds: What’s a better way of setting prices for that hospital?

Hsiao: I would set the price based on the actual cost of the hospital and give them a small margin of profit, so they can have some flexibility to improve and to expand. That’s how Medicare sets its prices.

Reynolds: Right, but many players in health care say Medicare pays far too little — and that if a Medicare for All system were to force doctors and hospitals to accept Medicare prices for everything they do, they’d go out of business. Do you think that’s a fair argument?

Hsiao: No, that’s misinformation. In the United States, in the same community, hospitals have different costs partly because they’re managed differently. Some hospitals are managed well and some hospitals are not managed that well. This was studied three decades ago: In Boston, for example, for a normal baby delivery, the cost and charges could vary three times between hospitals. That’s one other piece of evidence that the market doesn’t work: that in the same community, the price could be varying that much. So those opponents who claim they’re going to lose money, they may be high-cost hospitals. They may be poorly managed or they may be too small to operate. They should have gone out of existence a long time ago.

Reynolds: But hospital closures aren’t a minor problem. There’s real concern about rural hospitals being the first to close, right?

Hsiao: Yes, you should see them differently. Rural hospitals serve a social purpose. But that’s a special category.

Reynolds: One issue any reform faces is that health costs in the U.S. are just far higher than other countries. Why is that?

Hsiao: Efficiency, duplication, very high salaries for some people. Our surgeons, particularly surgeons dealing with vital organs, are making half a million dollars or more every year. Meanwhile, your family doctors and pediatricians are only making $200,000 each year.

Reynolds: And in other countries, is there less disparity between the different levels of—?

Hsiao: Specialties. Yes, there may be a 50 percent differential. Here, we have a differential of 2.5 or 3 times. That’s how the market works. When you’re dealing with people’s vital organs, with people in fear of their lives, you can charge them much higher.

Reynolds: One of the big arguments in the presidential campaign right now is about how the country would actually pay for a universal system. There’s a lot of discussion over whether taxes would increase, particularly for the middle class. There’s less discussion about whether we should retain an employer-based system, and whether employers should contribute. You’ve recently written that the growth of the gig economy, of less formal forms of employment, is also creating problems for the employer-based model. What’s your recommendation for a better financing system for the United States?

Hsiao: I would base the financing of health care on income because, in an advanced economy, some people’s incomes are from lots of things — rent, dividends, interest and capital gains — not just wages. So the first principle is to tax people based on their income. But I support what Senator Warren has proposed, a tax on financial transactions. You add on only a little bit on each financial transaction, [but] you can generate tremendous amounts of income.

Under Senator Sanders’ proposal, and I worked on the cost of it, you can save close to $800 billion a year — $800 billion a year — from inefficiency, from fraud and abuse of claims, and from duplication of services and also, from using your buying power to bargain with pharmaceutical companies for a reasonable price. That $800 billion has to be used partly to pay for the uninsured people and the underinsured people. Even then, every American, on average, could save $1,000 every year. Those are the numbers.

Now, if you tax rich people more, or like Senator Warren proposes, then, of course, rich people would not save [money]. But 90 percent or more of Americans will find they actually can save money from Medicare for All. That point has not been made strongly at all by the proponents of Medicare for All.

Reynolds: You’ve been around these issues for a long time. Do you think that we’re actually at a moment now in the United States where the American public is ready for this kind of sweeping health care change? Or do you think that we’re not there yet?

Hsiao: My honest answer, even though I know that this is recorded, is that I don’t think we are there yet.

Reynolds: Why is that?

Hsiao: We’re not there yet because the common, average American is not educated yet and there is a lot of misinformation being directed at them. And you haven’t even seen the insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry come out yet with really well-organized campaigns against it. The private insurance industry’s annual revenue is $1.3 trillion. The pharmaceutical industry’s annual income is $400 billion.

They only have to use one-thousandth of 1 percent of their revenue to fight [this]. They can elect the key decision-makers in Congress, [the Senate and the House of Representatives], because they can mobilize literally a billion dollars. And those powerful, wealthy, well-organized, vested interest groups have not come out openly yet. That’s the reality of American money, politics.

Reynolds: And you think when those monied interest groups do start fighting, that they will swamp this new interest in Medicare for All?

Hsiao: Yes. Look at what happened with Clinton’s plan. [It was] only the insurance companies who came out in an organized way for the Clinton plan, and the Clinton plan couldn’t even get a hearing before the U.S. Congress. No committee in the U.S. Congress held a hearing about what Clinton proposed. Of course, Hillary Clinton overplanned the Clinton plan. She planned out every detail; she left no decision for congressmen and senators. But still, not even one hearing. However, I do think two elections from now, the United States may see Medicare for All.

Reynolds: Why two elections?

Hsiao: To make a big change like this, you need to educate the public. You need to sharpen the issues and sharpen the key points. Right now, there’s a lot of confusion in the public’s mind and even among the political candidates.

Reynolds: But it sounds like you feel that economically, there really isn’t any question that either single-payer or a public option is the right answer for the United States. The question in your mind is the politics.

Hsiao: I think that most people who specialize in this field, the majority at least, think that single payer is the right solution because it’s much more efficient. You create a unified electronic record that can improve the quality of care and also give patients much better information about their history and their treatments.

I see changes in America. American employers find health insurance, the costs are rising faster than they can afford. As a result, because of the costs of health insurance for their employees, they can’t give them raises. Meanwhile, their employees demand higher cash wages, as well as to keep their health insurance. That can’t last that long.

Reynolds: So do you think that the employers hold the key to solving this problem?

Hsiao: They do. They are silent right now. But if you look at three powerful, big companies — Amazon, JPMorgan, Berkshire Hathaway — they have united together trying to form a health company, trying to innovate to do something. That tells you these corporations find this burden something they cannot continue to afford. That’s one change.

Another change is American doctors are supporting Medicare for All in larger numbers. American doctors today, 47 percent of them are salaried now. They are not in private practice. The doctors who oppose Medicare for All, the older doctors who are in private practice, they like the autonomy of their own office and they also do not want any interference from any semi-government agency. But the salaried doctors today find that the paperwork imposed on them by insurance companies is so horrendous that they cannot really devote enough time to the patients. They are in support of Medicare for All. When the United States has a majority of its doctors being on salary, I predict American doctors will come out and support Medicare for All. The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association will not be able to say, “We are against it,” like they did before.

Reynolds: Doctors hold the blame for scuttling a national health care system after World War II, but you think that they hold the key to solving that problem when the next generation of physicians is in the majority?

Hsiao: Yes, and that majority is going to emerge in the next five years. Look at the figures. Already 47 percent of American practicing doctors are salaried. And every year that number increases by 1 or 2 percentage points.

It would seem that Dr. Hsiao believes that if either Sanders or Warren would be elected next November, neither one would be able to get Medicare for All passed through the Senate. He states that it would take two election cycles to educate the public, get doctors on board, have employers demand change, and the state of the US health care system get worse before single payer would be feasible,

So, it is incumbent upon any Democrat interested in running for President in 2024 or 2028 to be able to convince voters that the time is right for single payer. What Dr. Hsiao is also saying, although not in so many words, is we will have to continue with the ACA for some time to come, especially if former Vice President Biden is elected, or someone else is who advocates keeping the ACA and improving it. Otherwise, the Orangutan and his Russian-asset House and Senate members will repeal it if the Democrats

Don’t Listen to the Noise Coming From Naysayers

Quote of the Day re-posted this article from Common Dreams on why those in the Democratic Party are wrong to dismiss Medicare for All. You hear them during the debates, and as any well-informed advocate of MFA knows, their arguments are red herrings and even outright lies and misinformation.

Here is the article:

Published on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 by CNN

Democratic Naysayers Are Wrong on Medicare for All

“Americans know that their current private health care payments, whether insurance premiums or out-of-pocket, are nothing other than ‘taxes’ they pay to stay alive.”

Supporters rally for universal health care in Chicago. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The American political debate over health care is absurd. Americans pay twice as much as any other nation for health care, and then are told daily that they “can’t afford” to switch to a lower-cost system very similar to those of Canada and Europe. If President Donald Trump and the plutocratic Republican party were the only ones carrying this ridiculous message, it would be understandable. Yet this message is also coming from media pundits aligned with the Democratic Party and the most conservative wing of the party.

Let’s be clear on the central point. Medicare for All, as first proposed by Bernie Sanders and endorsed by Elizabeth Warren, is affordable precisely because it is cheaper, much cheaper, than the current system.

America’s health care system relies on local monopolies (such as a health care provider centered at the sole major hospital in a city) and national monopolies, notably pharmaceutical companies holding exclusive patents.

In other countries, the government sets delivery prices and typically pays the health bills through the budget. In the US, the monopolists set the prices.

The sky-high revenues end up as huge corporate profits, wasteful administrative costs, useless and even harmful advertising and lavish salaries. Health care CEOs are making gargantuan salaries, many exceeding $10 million per year.

Who loses? Almost all Americans, whose insurance costs and out-of-pocket outlays inevitably lead to lower income because of unaffordable health care costs, untreated chronic illnesses, premature mortality and personal bankruptcies. Single-payer systems such as in Canada and Europe are cheaper, fairer and have better outcomes.

A recent international comparison of the performance of 11 national health systems on five main dimensions (care process, access, efficiency, equity and health care outcomes) ranked the US health system dead last.

Despite all of this, the US pundits profess to be alarmed about the prospect of Medicare for All. There has been a wave of op-eds and columns published (for example, here and here and here) declaring that Medicare for All would lead to massive tax increases, and that Sanders’ and Warren’s support for Medicare for All threatens to reelect Trump. It’s ridiculous.

Both Sanders and Warren poll well against Trump, ahead in the overall popular vote (though like all Democrats, facing headwinds of the Electoral College).

And at this stage of a national campaign, the goal should be to explain to voters the vast benefits of a single-payer system rather than to prejudge the politics based on self-fulfilling fear-mongering.

Yes, one way or another, taxes would rise with Medicare for All, but private health outlays would go down by much more. Total health costs would fall.

That idea is not so hard to understand.

One influential pundit, economist Paul Krugman, has come around. In the 2016 election cycle, Krugman railed against Medicare for All. Yet after Warren laid out her proposal, Krugman supported Medicare for All. In truth, he was simply returning to the economically sound observations that he had long made before 2016.

The pundits seem to believe that Americans will rebel at “higher taxes.” Actually, Americans are much smarter than that. They know that their current private health care payments, whether insurance premiums or out-of-pocket, are nothing other than “taxes” they pay to stay alive. They’ll agree to pay higher taxes to the government if those new taxes eliminate larger private health care bills — again, there are “taxes” by any other name — that they now pay.

Some mainstream pundits are simply repeating what they hear from Democratic Party conservatives and centrists, the wing that has been dominant since Clinton’s election in 1992. They are following the lead of Nancy Pelosi, Pete Buttigieg and others who are trashing Medicare for All.

What in the world are these leading Democratic Party politicians doing in opposing the transition to a fairer, more efficient and lower cost health care system? I would suggest it’s not a lack of understanding. It’s the power of campaign financing. These Democrats are funded by the status quo. The health sector contributed $265 million to federal campaigns in 2018, of which 56% went to Democrats. The sector spends nearly $500 million per year on lobbying. Money talks. Meanwhile, Americans go bankrupt or die early.

There remains the issue of the best way to raise budget revenues for Medicare for All. The basic answer is to use progressive taxation to fund the program. In this way, the nation as a whole will pay much less for health care and the vast majority of households will as well. The highest income households will end up paying a bit more because their funds will not only finance their own health care but will help to pay the health care costs of the poorest households as well.

Sanders rightly proposed a menu of options to pay for Medicare for All, including payroll and income taxation. Warren has proposed one specific approach: progressive taxes on the super-rich and the corporate sector but also a surprisingly regressive “head tax” on companies. She took great pride in not charging a penny of new income or payroll taxes on middle class households. But the proposed head tax on companies would hit wages indirectly and regressively.

Still, both Sanders’ and Warrens’ approaches would result in a more equitable and less expensive system. For most households, overall health care costs will decline.

The most worrisome thing about Warren’s statement as she introduced her Medicare for All plan, is her emphasis on “not one penny” of new middle-class taxes. Here we go again. The Democrats have, for far too long, copied the Republican mantra about “no new taxes,” even as our public debt soars, our infrastructure and public services collapse and inequality reaches stratospheric dimensions.

To honor the silly stricture of “no new taxes” directly paid by middle-class households, Warren ended up endorsing a regressive head tax paid by the employer, which would end up hitting lower-wage workers even though its paid by their employers.

Let’s hope this blunder is a one-time stumble for Warren. Most importantly, both Sanders and Warren are pointing the correct way to reform America’s costly, unfair and inefficient health care system. And this is a goal that most Americans support.

Jeffrey D. Sachs

Jeffrey D. Sachs is the Director of The Earth Institute, Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He is Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He is co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, and is director of the Millennium Villages Project. A recent survey by The Economist Magazine ranked Professor Sachs as among the world’s three most influential living economists of the past decade. Sachs is the author, most recently, of The Age of Sustainable Development,” 2015 with Ban Ki-moon.

Public Option A Bad Policy

I’m back!

In case you missed me, I have been busy with personal matters and preparing for a trip out of town. Now that I am back, I have decided to pick up where I left off, and re-post an article from The Nation by Himmelstein and Woolhander on why private insurance or the public option is a bad policy choice. This article comes courtesy of Don McCanne, so thanks go to him.

Here is the entire article:

The Nation
October 7, 2019
The ‘Public Option’ on Health Care Is a Poison Pill
Some Democratic candidates are pushing it as a free-choice version of Medicare for All. That’s good rhetoric but bad policy.
By David U. Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler
Health care reform has been the most hotly contested issue in the Democratic presidential debates. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been pushing a single-payer Medicare for All plan, under which a public insurer would cover everyone. They would ban private insurance, except for items not covered by the public plan, such as cosmetic surgery or private rooms in hospitals. The other Democratic contenders favor a “public option” reform that would introduce a Medicare-like public insurer but would allow private insurers to operate as well. They tout this approach as a less traumatic route to universal coverage that would preserve a free choice of insurers for people happy with their plans. And some public option backers go further, claiming that the system would painlessly transition to single payer as the public plan outperforms the private insurers.
That’s comforting rhetoric. But the case for a public option rests on faulty economic logic and naive assumptions about how private insurance actually works. Private insurers have proved endlessly creative at gaming the system to avoid fair competition, and they have used their immense lobbying clout to undermine regulators’ efforts to rein in their abuses. That’s enabled them to siphon hundreds of billions of dollars out of the health care system each year for their own profits and overhead costs while forcing doctors and hospitals to waste billions more on billing-related paperwork.
Those dollars have to come from somewhere. If private insurers required their customers to pay the full costs of private plans, they wouldn’t be able to compete with a public plan like the traditional Medicare program, whose overhead costs are far lower. But this is not the case: In fact, taxpayers—including those not enrolled in a private plan—pick up the tab for much of private insurers’ profligacy. And the high cost of keeping private insurance alive would make it prohibitively expensive to cover the 30 million uninsured in the United States and to upgrade coverage for the tens of millions with inadequate plans.
Public option proposals come in three main varieties:
§  A simple buy-in. Some proposals, including those by Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, would offer a Medicare-like public plan for sale alongside private plans on the insurance exchanges now available under the Affordable Care Act. These buy-in reforms would minimize the need for new taxes, since most enrollees would be charged premiums. But tens of millions would remain uninsured or with coverage so skimpy, they still couldn’t afford care.
§  Pay or play. This variant (similar to the plan advanced by the Center for American Progress and endorsed by Beto O’Rourke) would offer employers a choice between purchasing private insurance or paying a steep payroll tax (about 8 percent). Anyone lacking employer-paid private coverage would be automatically enrolled in the public plan. The public option would be a good deal for employers who would otherwise have to pay more than 8 percent of their payroll for private coverage—for example, employers with older or mostly female workers (who tend to use more care and incur high premiums) or with lots of low-wage workers (for whom 8 percent of payroll is a relatively small sum). But many firms employing mostly young, male, or highly paid workers (e.g., finance and tech) would likely stay with a private insurer.
§  Medicare Advantage for All. The public option approach favored by Kamala Harris would mimic the current Medicare Advantage program. Medicare Advantage plans are commercial managed care products currently offered by private insurers to seniors. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that administers Medicare, collects the taxes that pay for the program and passes the funds ($233 billion in 2018) along to the insurance companies. Under this approach, the public option would operate alongside the private Medicare Advantage plans and compete with them, as the traditional fully public Medicare program currently does.
No working models of the buy-in or pay-or-play public option variants currently exist in the United States or elsewhere. But decades of experience with Medicare Advantage offer lessons about that program and how private insurers capture profits for themselves and push losses onto their public rival—strategies that allow them to win the competition while driving up everyone’s costs.
A public option plan that facilitates enrollees’ genuine access to health care can’t compete with private insurers that avoid the expensively ill and obstruct access to care. Despite having overhead costs almost seven times that of traditional Medicare (13.7 versus 2 percent), Medicare Advantage plans have grown rapidly. They now cover more than one-third of Medicare beneficiaries, up from 13 percent in 2005. Greed has trumped efficiency, and the efforts of regulators to level the playing field have been overwhelmed by insurers’ profit-driven schemes to tilt it.
Private insurers employ a dizzying array of profit-enhancing schemes that would be out of bounds for a public plan. These schemes, which continually evolve in response to regulators’ efforts to counter them, boil down to four strategies that are legal, in addition to occasional outright fraud.
§  Obstructing expensive care. Plans try to attract profitable, low-needs enrollees by assuring convenient and affordable access to routine care for minor problems. Simultaneously, they erect barriers to expensive services that threaten profits—for example, prior authorization requirements, high co-payments, narrow networks, and drug formulary restrictions that penalize the unprofitably ill. While the fully public Medicare program contracts with any willing provider, many private insurers exclude (for example) cystic fibrosis specialists, and few Medicare Advantage plans cover care at cancer centers like Memorial Sloan Kettering. Moreover, private insurers’ drug formularies often put all of the drugs—even cheap generics—needed by those with diabetes, schizophrenia, or HIV in a high co-payment tier.
Insurers whose first reaction to a big bill is “claim denied” discourage many patients from pursuing their claims. And as discussed below, if hassling over claims drives some enrollees away, even better: The sickest will be the most hassled and therefore the most likely to switch to a competitor.
§  Cherry-picking and lemon-dropping, or selectively enrolling people who need little care and disenrolling the unprofitably ill. A relatively small number of very sick patients account for the vast majority of medical costs each year. A plan that dodges even a few of these high-needs patients wins, while a competing plan that welcomes all comers loses.
In the employer market, cherry-picking is easy: Private insurers offer attractive premiums to businesses with young, healthy workers and exorbitant rates to those with older, sicker employees. As a letter this summer to The New York Times put it, like casinos, health insurers are profitable because they know the odds of every bet they place—and the house always wins.
The CMS, in theory, requires Medicare Advantage plans to take all comers and prohibits them from forcing people out when they get sick. But regulators’ efforts to enforce these requirements have been overwhelmed by insurers’ chicanery. To avoid the sick, private insurers manipulate provider networks and drug formulary designs. Despite the ban on forcing enrollees out, patients needing high-cost services like dialysis or nursing home care have switched in droves from private plans to traditional, fully public Medicare. And as a last resort, Medicare Advantage plans will stop offering coverage in a county where they’ve accumulated too many unprofitable enrollees, akin to a casino ejecting players who are beating the house.
Finally, Medicare Advantage plans cherry-pick through targeted marketing schemes. In the past, this has meant sign-up dinners in restaurants difficult to access for people who use wheelchairs or offering free fitness center memberships, a perk that appeals mainly to the healthiest seniors. But higher-tech approaches are just around the corner. Will Oscar, the health insurer founded by Jared Kushner’s brother—with Google’s parent company as a significant investor—resist the temptation to use Google’s trove of personal data to target enrollment ads toward profitable enrollees like tennis enthusiasts and avoid purchasers of plus-size clothing or people who have searched online for fertility treatments?
§  Upcoding, or making enrollees look sicker on paper than they really are to inflate risk-adjusted premiums. To counter cherry-picking, the CMS pays Medicare Advantage plans higher premiums for enrollees with more (and more serious) diagnoses. For instance, a Medicare Advantage plan can collect hundreds of dollars more each month from the government by labeling an enrollee’s temporary sadness as “major depression” or calling trivial knee pain “degenerative arthritis.” By applying serious-sounding diagnoses to minor illnesses, Medicare Advantage plans artificially inflate the premiums they collect from taxpayers by billions of dollars while adding little or nothing to their expenditures for care.
Though most upcoding stays within the letter of the law and merely stretches medical terminology, the CMS’s (rare) audits of enrollees’ charts indicate that Medicare Advantage plans are collecting $10 billion annually from taxpayers for entirely fabricated diagnoses. And that’s only a small fraction of their overall take from upcoding. Private insurers keep most of this pilfered money for their profits and overhead, but they use a portion to fund added benefits (for example, eyeglasses or slightly lower co-payments for routine care) that attract new enrollees and help private plans to seemingly outcompete traditional Medicare.
§  Lobbying to get excessive payments and thwart regulators. Congress has mandated that the CMS overpay Medicare Advantage plans by 2 percent (and even more where medical costs are lower than average). On top of that, Seema Verma, Trump’s CMS administrator, has taken steps that will increase premiums significantly and award unjustified “quality bonuses,” ignoring advice from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission that payments be trimmed because the government is already overpaying the private plans. And she has ordered changes to the CMS’s Medicare website to trumpet the benefits of Medicare Advantage enrollment.
In sum, a public option insurer that, like traditional Medicare, doesn’t try to dodge unprofitable enrollees would be saddled with more than its share of sick, expensive patients and would become a de facto high-cost, high-risk pool. The CMS’s decades-long efforts to level the playing field have been thwarted by insurers’ upcoding, belying their promises of fair competition. And insurance companies have used their political muscle to sustain and increase their competitive advantage over traditional Medicare. The result: The public plan (and the taxpayers) absorbs the losses while private insurers skim off profits, an imbalance so big that private plans can outcompete a public plan despite squandering vast sums on overhead costs, CEO salaries, and shareholder profits.
This year alone, private insurers will take in $252 billion more than they pay out, equivalent to 12 percent of their premiums. A single-payer system with overhead costs comparable to Medicare’s (2 percent) could save about $220 billion of that money. A public option would save far less—possibly zero, if much of the new public coverage is channeled through Medicare Advantage plans, whose overhead, at 13.7 percent, is even higher than the average commercial insurer.
Moreover, a public option would save little or nothing on hospitals’ and doctors’ sky-high billing and administrative costs. In a single-payer system, hospitals and other health facilities could be funded via global, lump-sum budgets—similar to the way cities pay fire departments—eliminating the need to attribute costs to individual patients and collect payments from them and their insurers. That global budget payment strategy has cut administrative costs at hospitals in Canada and Scotland to half the US level. The persistence of multiple payers would preclude such administrative streamlining, even if all of the payers are charged the same rates. (Under Maryland’s mislabeled global budget system, the state’s hospitals charge uniform rates but continue to bill per patient; our research indicates that their administrative costs haven’t fallen at all, according to their official cost reports.)
Similarly, for physicians and other practitioners, the complexity involved in billing multiple payers, dealing with multiple drug formularies and referral networks, collecting co-payments and deductibles, and obtaining referrals and prior authorizations drives up office overhead costs and documentation burdens.
The excess overhead inherent to multipayer systems imposes a hidden surcharge on the fees that doctors and hospitals must charge all patients—not just those covered by private insurance. All told, a public option reform would sacrifice about $350 billion annually of single payer’s potential savings on providers’ overhead costs, over and above the $220 billion in savings it could sacrifice annually on insurers’ overhead.
Finally, a public option would undermine the rational health planning that is key to the long-term savings under single payer. Each dollar that a hospital invests in new buildings or equipment increases its operating costs by 20 to 25 cents in every subsequent year. At present, hospitals that garner profits (or “surpluses” for nonprofits) have the capital to expand money-making services and buy high-tech gadgets, whether they’re needed or not, while neglecting vital but unprofitable services. For instance, hospitals around the country have invested in proton-beam-radiation therapy centers that cost hundreds of millions of dollars apiece. (Oklahoma City alone now has two.) Yet there’s little evidence that those machines are any better for most uses than their far cheaper alternatives. Similarly, hospitals have rushed to open invasive cardiology and orthopedic surgery programs, often close to existing ones. These duplicative investments raise costs and probably compromise quality.
Meanwhile, primary care and mental health services have languished, and rural hospitals and other cash-strapped facilities that provide much-needed care spiral toward closure. As in Canada and several European nations, a single-payer system could fund new hospital investments through government grants based on an explicit assessment of needs, instead of counting on private hospitals to use their profits wisely. That strategy has helped other nations direct investments to areas and services with the greatest need and to avoid funding wasteful or redundant facilities. Public option proposals would perpetuate current payment strategies that distort investment and raise long-term costs.
Because a public option would leave the current dysfunctional payment approach in place, it would sacrifice most of the savings available via single-payer reform. The bottom line is that a public option would either cost much more or deliver much less than single payer.
Public option proponents often cite Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands as exemplars of how private insurers can coexist with thriving public health care systems. But they ignore the vast differences between those nations’ private insurers and ours.
The nonprofit German “sickness funds,” which cover 89 percent of the population (only wealthy Germans are allowed to purchase coverage from for-profit insurers), are jointly managed by employers and unions—a far cry from our employer-based coverage. The government mandates identical premium rates for all the sickness funds, takes money from those with low-risk enrollees and subsidizes others with older and sicker ones, and directly pays for most hospital construction. All sickness funds offer identical benefit packages, pay the same fees, and cover care from any doctor or hospital.
Although the details differ, a similarly stringent regulatory regime applies in Switzerland, whose system descended from Otto von Bismarck’s original German model, and as in Germany, the government funds most hospital construction. While for-profit insurers can sell supplemental coverage, only nonprofits are allowed to offer the mandated benefit package.
Since 2006, the Netherlands has been transitioning from the German-style universal coverage system to a more market-oriented approach championed by corporate leaders. However, the government pays directly for all long-term care, and a strong ethos of justice and equality has pressured both public and private actors to avoid any erosion of social solidarity. The Netherlands has long enjoyed ready access to care, and its system hasn’t descended (yet) into an American-style abyss. But under the new regime, hospital administrative costs have risen nearly to US levels, overall health costs have increased rapidly, doctors complain of unsustainable administrative burdens, and even in such a small nation, tens of thousands of people are uninsured. Insurers spend massively on marketing and advertising, and private insurers’ overhead costs average 13 percent of their premiums. Moreover, the United States and the Netherlands aren’t the only places where for-profit insurers’ overhead costs are high: They average 12.4 percent in Switzerland, 20.9 percent in Germany, and 26.2 percent in the United Kingdom.
Transforming the immensely powerful, profit-driven insurance companies of the United States into benign nonprofit insurers in the Swiss or German mold would be as heavy a lift as adopting Medicare for All. Nor can we count on the cultural restraints that have thus far softened the Dutch insurers’ rapacious tendencies and prevented a reversal of that country’s long-standing health care successes.
A final point: While allowing private insurers to compete with a public plan amounts to a poison pill, the same isn’t true for supplemental private plans that are allowed to cover only those items excluded from the public benefit package. While Canada bans the sale of private coverage that duplicates the public plan’s benefits, it has always allowed supplemental coverage, and that hasn’t sabotaged its system.
The efficiencies of a single-payer system would make universal coverage affordable and give everyone in the United States their free choice of doctors and hospitals. But that goal will remain out of reach if private insurers are allowed to continue gaming the system. Preserving the choice of insurer for some would perpetuate the affordability crisis that has bedeviled the US health care system for generations. Proponents of the public option portray it as a nondisruptive, free-choice version of single payer. That may be good campaign rhetoric, but it’s terrible policy.
David U. Himmelstein, MD and Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH are Distinguished Professors of Public Health at the City University of New York at Hunter College and are co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program.

KFF Health Tracking Poll – September 2019: Health Care Policy In Congress And On The Campaign Trail | The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

This month’s poll probes Democrats’ views about the general approaches to expanding health coverage and lowering costs put forward by the candidates; the public’s health care prio…

Source: KFF Health Tracking Poll – September 2019: Health Care Policy In Congress And On The Campaign Trail | The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation


Comment by Don McCanne
According to this new poll, Democrats support Medicare-for-all (“a national health plan”), Independents are split, and Republicans are opposed. Also, Democrats and Independents both support a public option (“a government-administered health plan”), and Republicans are split. However, the public is confused as to whether Medicare-for-all and a public option are similar or different, and half have not heard much about Medicare-for-all and even more have not heard much about a public option.
It seems as if individuals do have an opinion on Medicare-for-all and on a public option even though many are confused as to what they are. The fact that the pollsters referred to one as “a national health plan” and the other as “a government-administered health plan” likely leaves many of those polled with little understanding of the refinements distinguishing the two models.
Features that people might be interested in include the following:
Everyone is automatically covered for life
Affordability is assured through equitable taxes based on ability to pay
Financial barriers such as high deductibles are eliminated
Choices of physicians and hospitals are assured through elimination of insurer networks
Hundreds of billions of dollars in administrative waste is recovered
Of course, these are features of the single payer model of Medicare for all and none would apply by merely adding a public option to our fragmented financing system of a multitude of public and private insurance programs.
When will the pollsters finally ask the following questions?
Should everyone be covered or just some of us?
Should insurance be automatic forever or should it depend on life circumstances?
Should payments into the system be made affordable based on income, or should many be left out because they can’t afford the premiums?
Should high deductibles and surprise medical bills be used to deprive individuals of health care that they should have?
Should patients have choices of their physicians and hospitals or shall we continue to allow private insurers to restrict choices to their networks?
Should we continue to tolerate wasting about half a trillion dollars in administrative excesses, or should we redirect those funds that so that we can pay for care for those currently uninsured or underinsured?
In other words, do we want a health care system that we can afford that takes care of all of us, or do we want to merely add a public option and a couple of tweaks to ACA that leaves our overpriced, highly dysfunctional system in place? People really need to understand the differences between Medicare-for-all (single payer version) and a public option. Let’s see that they do.

ACOs Do Not Improve Spending or Quality

Thank to Dr. McCanne, I am re-posting the following article from the Annals of Internal Medicine that was published Tuesday. I have written before about MSSPs, so I thought it would be a respite from talking about single payer.

Here is the article in its entirety:

Annals of Internal Medicine
June 18, 2019
Performance in the Medicare Shared Savings Program After Accounting for Nonrandom Exit: An Instrumental Variable Analysis
By Adam A. Markovitz, BS; John M. Hollingsworth, MD, MS; John Z. Ayanian, MD, MPP; Edward C. Norton, PhD; Phyllis L. Yan, MS; Andrew M. Ryan, PhD


Accountable care organizations (ACOs) in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) are associated with modest savings. However, prior research may overstate this effect if high-cost clinicians exit ACOs.

To evaluate the effect of the MSSP on spending and quality while accounting for clinicians’ nonrandom exit.

Similar to prior MSSP analyses, this study compared MSSP ACO participants versus control beneficiaries using adjusted longitudinal models that accounted for secular trends, market factors, and beneficiary characteristics. To further account for selection effects, the share of nearby clinicians in the MSSP was used as an instrumental variable. Hip fracture served as a falsification outcome. The authors also tested for compositional changes among MSSP participants.

Fee-for-service Medicare, 2008 through 2014.

A 20% sample (97 204 192 beneficiary-quarters).

Total spending, 4 quality indicators, and hospitalization for hip fracture.

In adjusted longitudinal models, the MSSP was associated with spending reductions (change, −$118 [95% CI, −$151 to −$85] per beneficiary-quarter) and improvements in all 4 quality indicators. In instrumental variable models, the MSSP was not associated with spending (change, $5 [CI, −$51 to $62] per beneficiary-quarter) or quality. In falsification tests, the MSSP was associated with hip fracture in the adjusted model (−0.24 hospitalizations for hip fracture [CI, −0.32 to −0.16 hospitalizations] per 1000 beneficiary-quarters) but not in the instrumental variable model (0.05 hospitalizations [CI, −0.10 to 0.20 hospitalizations] per 1000 beneficiary-quarters). Compositional changes were driven by high-cost clinicians exiting ACOs: High-cost clinicians (99th percentile) had a 30.4% chance of exiting the MSSP, compared with a 13.8% chance among median-cost clinicians (50th percentile).

The study used an observational design and administrative data.

After adjustment for clinicians’ nonrandom exit, the MSSP was not associated with improvements in spending or quality. Selection effects — including exit of high-cost clinicians — may drive estimates of savings in the MSSP.

Primary Funding Source:
Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and National Institute on Aging.

In addition, here is an article from The Incidental Economist of June 17th on the same subject:

The Incidental Economist
June 17, 2019
Spending Reductions in the Medicare Shared Savings Program: Selection or Savings?
By J. Michael McWilliams, MD, PhD, Alan M. Zaslavsky, PhD, Bruce E. Landon, MD, MBA, and Michael E. Chernew, PhD.

Prior studies suggest that accountable care organizations (ACOs) in the MSSP have achieved modest, growing savings. In a recent study in Annals of Internal Medicine, Markovitz et al. conclude that savings from the MSSP are illusory, an artifact of risk selection behaviors by ACOs such as “pruning” primary care physicians (PCPs) with high-cost patients. Their conclusions appear to contradict previous findings that characteristics of ACO patients changed minimally over time relative to local control groups.


Monitoring ACOs will be essential, particularly as incentives for selection are strengthened as regional spending rates become increasingly important in determining benchmarks. Although there has likely been some gaming, the evidence to date — including the study by Markovitz et al. — provides no clear evidence of a costly problem and suggests that ACOs have achieved very small, but real, savings. Causal inference is hard but necessary to inform policy. When conclusions differ, opportunities arise to understand methodological differences and to clarify their implications for policy.

And finally, Don McCanne’s comment:

This important study in the highly reputable Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that accountable care organizations (ACOs) participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) did not show any improvement in spending or quality when adjustments were made for selection effects, especially the non-random exit of high-cost clinicians (“I’m worth the extra money, and if you’re gonna cut my fees, I’m outta here.”)

The conclusions were immediately challenged by others in the policy community who have previously published studies indicating that “ACOs have achieved very small, but real, savings,” albeit admitting that “there has likely been some gaming.” And the savings were, indeed, very small. Others have suggested that the very small savings did not take into consideration the significant increase in provider administrative costs for technological equipment and personnel to run the ACOs, and certainly did not consider other unintended consequences such as the tragic increase in physician burnout.

Another problem with the infatuation for ACOs is that politicians and the policy community are insisting that we continue with this experiment in spite of the disappointing results to date. That simply postpones the adoption of truly effective policies, such as those in a single payer Medicare for All program, that would actually improve quality while greatly reducing administrative waste. The tragedy is that this also perpetuates uninsurance, underinsurance, and personal financial hardship from medical bills.

People are suffering and dying while the policy community continues to diddle with ACOs and other injudicious policy inventions. Enough! It’s long past time to reduce suffering and save lives! Single Payer Medicare for All!

(Yes, I’m angry, but even more I’m terribly anguished over the health care injustices that we continue to tolerate through our collective inaction.)

See, we can’t get away from Medicare for All after all.


The Free Market Utopian Fantasy

Whenever the subject of what to do about the cost of health care arises on the social media site, LinkedIn, invariably there is someone who attempts to deflect the discussion away from the logical solution of Medicare for All/Single Payer, to what I am calling the Free Market Utopian Fantasy.

Those of you who read my post, “Health Care Is Not a Market”, will understand that when it comes to health care, the rules of the market do not apply. That is why I have called the attitude and comments made by these individuals, the Free Market Utopian Fantasy. Because the free market in health care is a fantasy. It is usually the expression of economic libertarianism coming from the right-wing propaganda machine.

Simply put, the Free Market Utopian Fantasy states that if we only had a truly free market health care system, costs would regulate themselves through competition, as in other areas of the free market.

In fact, one observer recently said the following in a thread on LI: “This would not be the case IF there were created and implemented an ORDERLY market for health care services based upon free market enterprise principles whereby ALL costs are transparent to ALL parties.”

An orderly market? Are you serious? More of the same BS from the Free Market Utopians.

Then there is the idea that consumers, read that as patients, must educate themselves as to the best choice. Choice? When you are dying of a heart attack? Choice, when you only have a short time to live due to a serious illness like Cancer or Diabetes?

Folks, we are not talking about choosing between buying steak or chicken. This is not choosing to go to Italy next summer or to the Caribbean. We are talking about life and death. And the only choice is to do what will save your life, not choose between colors on a swatch.

This Free Market Utopian Fantasy has infected so many people in the health care industry, and they are trying to prevent the American people from receiving the same quality of care at lower cost than all the other Western and other nations already do for their people.

They claim that we can’t afford to do it. I ask, can we afford not to?

They cite statistics about Medicare like some cite similar statistics about Social Security, but they are wrong then, and they are wrong about Medicare for All, because it will be expanded to cover everyone and everything, not requiring separate insurance for things like vision and dental care, mental health, and long-term care.

Here is what one person said in the same thread cited above:

“We can barely afford Medicare for the 60 million current Medicare recipients. Adding another 270 million recipients would bankrupt the nation in short order. Latest data (2017) on Medicare shows an annual cost of $700 billion, and projections show the Medicare Trust Fund will be insolvent in 2026 – and by the way, Medicare actually only covers about half of the real cost because the rest is covered by supplementary insurances that have to be bought by the patient. If you assume that Medicare expansion was at the same cost rate as current Medicare, Medicare for all would cost at least $3.15 trillion in 2017 dollars. Total 2019 federal government revenue is estimated at $6.5 trillion, and estimated Medicare for all costs for 2019 would be $3.5 trillion. It is simply not feasible.”

Boy, they really know how to BS their way to keeping us the only Western nation that does not have universal health care. What they don’t realize is, there won’t be any private insurance, because it is private insurance that drives up the cost of health care with administrative costs and waste,

Well, it is high time we call BS on all of them, and their Free Market Utopian Fantasy. Until we stop listening to these folks who are protecting their careers and profits, no American will never have to worry if they or a loved one gets sick and cannot afford the needed medical care without going bankrupt or dying without ever receiving the care they so desperately need. I said as much in my other post, “By What Right”, where I took these folks to task for preventing the enactment of MFA/Single Payer.

These Free Market Utopians are not doing anyone any favors. They are only hurting millions of Americans, born or not-yet-born who will someday need a truly comprehensive, universal health care system, and it won’t be there thanks to them and their associates.