Category Archives: Health Plans

Whistleblower Reveals Effort of Employer to Crush Medicare for All

An employee at the insurance giant UnitedHealthcare leaked a video of his boss bragging about the company’s campaign to preserve America’s for-profit healthcare system.

“I felt Americans needed to know exactly who it is that’s fighting against the idea that healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” the anonymous whistleblower told the Washington Post‘s Jeff Stein.

UnitedHealthcare CEO Steve Nelson boasted at an employee town hall about how much his company is doing to undermine Medicare for All, which is rapidly gaining support in Congress.

So begins an article from Common Dreams.org by staff writer Jake Johnson.

Naturally, UnitedHealthCare is not the only insurance company that is actively seeking to thwart the move towards Medicare for All, but this is the first time that an insider actually provided the media with proof that their leaders are engaged in such activities.

As I wrote in my post, By What Right?, these individuals believe they can supersede the right of all Americans to have decent, affordable health care that does not force them into bankruptcy, or to go without because they cannot afford treatment for serious illnesses or diseases, or expensive medications.

Like the individuals I cited in that post, Mr. Nelson and his colleagues at other insurance companies are defending a turf that is indefensible. Their only motive is greed and profit at the expense of those who suffer from disease or life-threatening illnesses.

They are protecting their companies bottom-lines and their investors’ money, and don’t care about the people who need medicines and treatments that can extend their lives or save their lives.

How much longer will we let the Steven Nelson’s dictate to the American people what form our health care takes, and who gets to decide who gets covered and who doesn’t. He shouldn’t, and neither should anyone else in the medical-industrial complex.

Medicare for All and Its Rivals | Annals of Internal Medicine | American College of Physicians

Richard’s Note: A shout-out to Don McCanne for posting this today from the Annals of Internal Medicine, which is providing the full article for free. The authors, Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, both MDs, should be familiar to readers as two of the authors I covered in my review of the Waitzkin, et al. book, Health Care Under the Knife: Moving Beyond Capitalism for Our Health. In the spirit of the AIM, I am posting the entire article below with link to the original. It is that important.

Medicare for All and Its Rivals: New Offshoots of Old Health Policy Roots

The leading option for health reform in the United States would leave 36.2 million persons
uninsured in 2027 while costs would balloon to nearly $6 trillion (1). That option is called the
status quo. Other reasons why temporizing is a poor choice include the country’s decreasing life
expectancy, the widening mortality gap between the rich and the poor, and rising deductibles
and drug prices. Even insured persons fear medical bills, commercial pressures permeate
examination rooms, and physicians are burning out.
In response to these health policy failures, many Democrats now advocate single-payer,
Medicare-for-All reform, which until recently was a political nonstarter. Others are wary of
frontally assaulting insurers and the pharmaceutical industry and advocate public-option plans
or defending the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Meanwhile, the Trump
administration seeks to turbocharge market forces through deregulation and funneling more
government funds through private insurers. Here, we highlight the probable effects of these
proposals on how many persons would be covered, the comprehensiveness of coverage, and
national health expenditures (Table).

Table. Characteristics of Major Health Reform Proposals as of March 2019

Medicare for All

Medicare-for-All proposals are descendents of the 1948 Wagner–Murray–Dingell national health
insurance bill and Edward Kennedy and Martha Griffiths’ 1971 single-payer plan (2). They would
replace the current welter of public and private plans with a single, tax-funded insurer covering
all U.S. residents. The benefit package would be comprehensive, providing first-dollar coverage
for all medically necessary care and medications. The single-payer plan would use its
purchasing power to negotiate for lower drug prices and pay hospitals lump-sum global
operating budgets (similar to how fire departments are funded). Physicians would be paid
according to a simplified fee schedule or receive salaries from hospitals or group practices.
Similar payment strategies in Canada and other nations have made universal coverage
affordable even as physicians’ incomes have risen. These countries have realized savings in
national health expenditures by dramatically reducing insurers’ overhead and providers’ billing-
related documentation and transaction costs, which currently consume nearly one third of U.S.
health care spending (3). The payment schemes in the House of Representatives’ Medicare-for-
All bill closely resemble those in Canada. The companion Senate bill incorporates some of
Medicare’s current value-based payment mechanisms, which would attenuate administrative
savings. Most analysts, including some who are critical of Medicare for All, project that such a
reform would garner hundreds of billions of dollars in administrative and drug savings (4) that
would counterbalance the costs of utilization increases from expanded and upgraded coverage.
Reductions in premiums and out-of-pocket costs would fully offset the expense of new taxes
implemented to fund the reform.

 

“Medicare-for-More” Public Options

Public-option proposals, which would allow some persons to buy in to a public insurance plan,
might be labeled “Medicare for More.” Republicans Senator Jacob Javits and Representative John
Lindsay first advanced similar proposals in the early 1960s as rivals to a proposed fully public
Medicare program for seniors. This approach resurfaced during the early 1970s as Javits’
universal coverage alternative to Kennedy’s single-payer plan and gained favor with some
Democrats during the 2009 ACA debate.
Policymakers are floating several public-option variants, most of which would offer a public plan
alongside private plans on the ACA’s insurance exchanges. Although a few of these variants
would allow persons to buy in to Medicaid, most envision a new plan that would pay Medicare
rates and use providers who participate in Medicare. Positive features of these reforms include
offering additional insurance choices and minimizing the need for new taxes because enrollees
would pay premiums to cover the new costs. However, these plans would cover only a fraction
of uninsured persons, few of whom could afford the premiums (5); do little to improve the
comprehensiveness of existing coverage; and modestly increase national health expenditures.
The Medicaid public-option variant, which many states might reject, would probably dilute
these effects.
Medicare for America, the strongest version of a public-option plan, would automatically enroll
anyone not covered by their employer (including current Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s
Health Insurance Program enrollees) in a new Medicare Part E plan. It would upgrade
Medicare’s benefits, although copayments and deductibles (capped at $3500) would remain.
The program would subsidize premiums for those whose income is up to 600% of the poverty
level, and employers could enroll employees in the program by paying 8% of their annual
payroll. The new plan would use Medicare’s payment strategies and include private Medicare
Advantage (MA) plans (which inflate Medicare’s costs [6]) and accountable care organizations.
Medicare for America would greatly expand coverage and upgrade its comprehensiveness but
at considerable cost. As with other public-options reforms, it would retain multiple payers and
therefore sacrifice much of the administrative savings available under single-payer plans.
Physicians and hospitals would have to maintain the expensive bureaucracies needed to
attribute costs and charges to individual patients, bill insurers, and collect copayments. Savings
on insurers’ overhead would also be less than those under single-payer plans. Overhead is only
2% in traditional Medicare (and 1.6% in Canada’s single-payer program [7]) but averages 13.7%
in MA plans (8) and would continue to do so under public-option proposals. Furthermore, as in
the MA program, private insurers would inflate taxpayers’ costs by upcoding as well as cherry-
picking and enacting network restrictions that shunt unprofitable patients to the public-option
plan. This strategy would turn the latter plan into a de facto high-risk pool.

The Trump Administration White Paper and Budget Proposal

Unlike these proposals, reforms under the Trump administration have moved to shrink the
government’s role in health care by relaxing ACA insurance regulations; green-lighting states’
Medicaid cuts; redirecting U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs funds to private care; and
strengthening the hand of private MA plans by easing network-adequacy standards, increasing
Medicare’s payments to these plans, and marketing to seniors on behalf of MA plans. A recent
administration white paper (9) presents the administration’s plan going forward: Spur the
growth of high-deductible coverage, eliminate coverage mandates, open the border to foreign
medical graduates, and override states’ “any-willing-provider” regulations and certificate-of-
need laws that constrain hospital expansion. The president’s recently released budget proposal
calls for cuts of $1.5 trillion in Medicaid funding and $818 billion in Medicare provider payments
over the next 10 years.
Thus far, the effects of the president’s actions—withdrawing coverage from some Medicaid
enrollees and downgrading the comprehensiveness of some private insurance—have been
modest. His plans would probably swell the ranks of uninsured persons and hollow out
coverage for many who retain coverage, shifting costs from the government and employers to
individual patients. The effect on overall national health expenditures is unclear: Cuts to
Medicaid, Medicare, and the comprehensiveness of insurance might decrease expenditures;
however, deregulating providers and insurers would probably increase them.
In 1971, a total of 5 years after the advent of Medicare and Medicaid, exploding costs and
persistent problems with access and quality triggered a roiling debate over single-payer plans.
As support for Kennedy’s plan grew, moderate Republicans offered a public-option alternative,
1 of several proposals promising broadened coverage on terms friendlier to private insurers.
Kennedy derided these proposals by stating, “It calms down the flame, but it really doesn’t meet
the need” (10). President Nixon’s pro market HMO strategy—a close analogue of the modern-
day accountable care strategy—ultimately won out, although his proposals for coverage
mandates, insurance exchanges, and premium subsidies for low-income persons did not reach
fruition until passage of the ACA.
Five years into the ACA era, there is consensus that the health care status quo spawned by
Nixon’s vision is unsustainable. President Trump would veer further down the market path.
Public-option supporters hope to expand coverage while avoiding insurers’ wrath. Medicare-
for-All proponents aspire to decouple care from commerce.

Why Medicare for some is the wrong idea | TheHill

From the Overnight News Desk:

Diane Archer wrote in The Hill Monday on why half measures on Medicare for All, so-called “Medicare for Some” is not the answer to our current health care crisis.

In her article, she takes aim at the very root of the problem, commercial health insurance. This article should serve as confirmation of the issues I raised in previous posts, By What Right? and Health Care Is Not a Market.

The “pragmatists” she speaks of, naturally are many of you out there who have criticized the push towards Medicare for All, simply because you have a personal, financial and career stake in the status quo.

It is high time you put aside your personal and professional interests, and put the interests of the American people ahead of all other considerations. Doing so will improve your value as health care and related industries professionals, because you will be serving a higher cause than yourselves.

Here is Ms. Archer’s article:

The American people deserve a frank conversation about how we can guarantee access to health care as a right in this country. That conversation does not begin with Medicare for some. It begins – and ends – with Medicare for all.

Source: Why Medicare for some is the wrong idea | TheHill

Beware Billionaires Against Medicare for All

This week, the former CEO of everyone’s favorite coffee house and time waster, Starbucks, declared that he was considering a run for president next year as an independent.

This announcement brought immediate response from both wings of the Democratic Party, as they said it would result in the re-election of the current occupant of the White House.

Even former NYC Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, another billionaire, said that he should not run.

However, as this is a blog about medical care, and not politics, I will leave the discussion as to the efficacy of an independent run for president by another billionaire for others.

What I do want to focus on is this overpaid former barista’s belief that the US cannot afford a Medicare for All, single-payer health care system.

Incidentally, this is also Bloomberg’s view as well.

But I do not think their opposition is based solely on the belief that Medicare for All, single-payer is too expensive. Rather, I believe they are afraid that after the results of last November’s midterm elections, the Democratic Party is poised to win back the White House and possibly the Senate, and that Medicare for All, in whatever form it takes, will be enacted.

I have written about the health care industry’s efforts to derail Medicare for All in previous posts. (See the following: https://wp.me/p2QJfz-QIyhttps://wp.me/p2QJfz-Jki, and https://wp.me/p2QJfz-WI5)

While I cannot accuse Schultz and Bloomberg of being in the pocket of the healthcare industry, it does look suspicious that now that the Democrats control the House, they are coming out against a health care plan that many Americans voted for when they voted for Democrats.

But billionaires should not be the ones deciding whether or not we enact Medicare for All. That should be up to the voters (patients and non-patients), their elected representatives, and most importantly, those in the medical profession who believe the time has come for Medicare for All, single-payer.

One such group are physicians themselves, as reported back in August in the magazine of the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), which I was informed of this morning by a high school alumnus who posted the article on another alum’s Facebook post.

The article was originally posted in Jacobinmag.com.

Here is the link to the article by Meagan Day.

One caveat to progressives: Don’t assume that every American voter who is undecided, declared themselves as an independent, or are unhappy with their choice in the last presidential election, and his behavior and actions, will vote for your chosen candidate. That is why Schultz is contemplating running. And he can do a lot of damage to your plans for 2020.

 

 

This election is about your pre-existing medical condition – Managed Care Matters

Fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, summed up what is at stake for millions of Americans, your humble blogger included, if the GOP holds onto the House and Senate after the Midterm election thirteen days from today.

At the bottom of Joe’s post is a link to a Blue Cross/Blue Shield website. Scroll down to the part labeled “Medical Condition Rejection List.” It covers every conceivable illness and condition that human beings may suffer from, and included on that list is peritoneal dialysis, which I am undergoing, and hemodialysis also.

If the Republicans get their way, the only people who will have health insurance are perfect specimens, and we all know that there is no such thing as a perfectly healthy human being. We are all born with, or have the potential to get, some form of illness or disease at some time in our lives. It’s in our genes.

Unless of course, you are Superman/Superwoman.

Here is Joe’s post:

Will you be able to afford health insurance, and will that insurance cover your pre-existing medical conditions? For most, that’s the biggest issue in the upcoming election. Congressional Republicans are planning to pass legislation that allows insurers to: a) stop … Continue reading This election is about your pre-existing medical condition

Source: This election is about your pre-existing medical condition – Managed Care Matters

Critics pounce as CMS gives states more leeway to skirt ACA | Healthcare Dive

Slowly, but surely, we are moving inexorably towards the adoption of single payer healthcare, even though the current regime and the medical-industrial complex is doubling or tripling down on a free-market, for-profit health care system that will split into two classes – those who can afford it, and those who cannot.

So, it is no surprise that the people in charge of the US health care system are systematically dismantling the ACA, and pushing dubious, short-term limited plans that do nothing but line the pockets of the corporate health insurance sector. Appointments such as Mary Mayhew, the former DHHS Commissioner from Maine, and an aide to Governor Paul Le Page, as deputy administrator and director of Medicaid and CHIP, is symbolic of how the regime is attempting to roll back health care for Americans, and now that work requirements are being implemented, is throwing thousands off of rolls in some states.

The following from Healthcare Dive is instructive of this blatant attempt at destroying health care for millions of Americans who never had it, or couldn’t afford to pay large premiums.

Here is the article:

New guidance on 1332 Medicaid waivers makes it easier for states to use association and short-term health plans that limit coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Source: Critics pounce as CMS gives states more leeway to skirt ACA | Healthcare Dive

Healthcare Lobbying Group Double-Crossing Democratic Voters

For nearly a year now, I have been advocating single payer health care ever since I was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. BTW, I am doing fine, even if I have been rejected twice for access to transplant centers due to personal reasons I won’t go into here.

Today, I found an article on The Intercept.com that reported that several candidates for Congress and other offices in Hawaii and other states have secretly secured opposition to “Medicare for All” single payer healthcare, even though they have told their voters that they support it.

According to the article, the candidates in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, former state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Doug Chin, and Honolulu City Council Member Ernest Martin are taking heat from opponents for talking to an industry-friendly group, the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC).

The Healthcare Leadership Council seeks to advance the goals of the largest players in the private health care industry. These candidates are talking to the HLC even as public opinion is moving towards positions opposed by giant health care companies.

Kaniela Ing, a state lawmaker running for the seat on a democratic socialist platform stated that, “Democrats running in a primary election will say they support ‘Medicare for All,” but what do they say to lobbyists behind the scenes?”

In fact, the article reports, one leading candidate has campaigned on a pledge to crack down on over-priced pharmaceuticals and promote single payer, but told the consultant sent from the HLC that he would maintain drug industry friendly pricing policies and views Medicare for All with skepticism.

HLC spends over $5 million a year on industry advocacy and brings together chief executives of major health corporations, and represents an array of health industries — from insurers, hospitals, drugmakers, medical device manufacturers, pharmacies, health product distributers, and information technology companies.

HLC’s outreach in Hawaii began in January. The group told candidates, in an email obtained by The Intercept, that it was in the process of forming a coalition to “jointly develop policies, plans, and programs to achieve their vision of a 21st century system that makes affordable, high-quality care accessible to all Americans.”

This language obscures their national campaign to monitor and blunt the energy behind progressive policy reform. In an email to The Intercept, Michael Freeman, executive vice president of HLC said that they survey “congressional candidates every election cycle regarding their views on a wide range of healthcare issues.”

Former state Sen. Kim’s dossier profile said she is very pro-market, opposes any attempt at single payer, does not support price controls on pharmaceuticals and agrees that Medicare and Medicaid need to be managed by the private market.

It would seem that besides the opposition from the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry, single payer, Medicare for All, is under assault below the radar of most voters, if not most Democratic voters during the primaries.

Despite alleged strong support for bills such as the one Bernie Sanders introduced, lobbyists for the medical-industrial complex are fighting hard to defeat health care reform for all Americans, and no matter what the public attitude is, they will prevent at all costs, the transition to single payer.

HLC also keeps tabs on candidates who could be a threat to their agenda, such as Ing, stating that she vocally supports a single payer, public health care system.

Lobbyists have told executives in the health care industry to be vigilant about the threat of single payer.

“It would be a mistake for us to overlook the growing number of lawmakers who are supportive of measures to expand significantly government’s role in healthcare,” according to a report HLC published at the end of last year. The report went on to say that while these ideas do not have the political support to pass at the moment, the “momentum on the Democratic side of the aisle is undeniable,” They have dispatched teams of lobbyists to keep tabs on rising candidates.

So, even if you vote for a Democrat in November, chances are, that they will double-cross you when it comes to supporting Medicare for All. Which is wrong-headed on their part, especially the hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

If more people are covered, and the government pays for their health care, hospitals will get more patients covered under the plan and thus more revenue, even if they charge lower prices than for private insurance, and drug companies will sell more drugs to these patients, even if the prices are brought under control.

What difference does it make if a patient gets their health are from a government plan like Medicare or Medicaid, as many already do, or if they get it through private insurance? The hospitals and drug companies still make money, just a smaller amount. The number of newly insured will offset any assumed loss of profit, thereby increasing profit, and just not from a select group of people who can afford health care on their own.

Advocates for single payer need to be vigilant also. Don’t buy a pig in a poke. Confront these and other candidates for office to see if they really believe in single payer, or are pigs with lipstick.