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…
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…
According to the Times:
The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to re-frame the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.
As a student of American history, I was fully exposed to the current literature of the time regarding slavery, slaveholders, and the impact it had on the African-American culture and people, through my introduction to such historians as Eric Foner, Eugene Genovese, Leon Higginbotham, and John Blassingame, as well as from my three African-American/Sociology courses as an undergraduate.
So, I believe that this series by the Times, is not only needed, but timely, given the racial animus we see day after day from the White House, the far right, and on the Internet.
Readers of this blog have seen that I have advocated on behalf of Medicare for All/Single Payer, because of the many causes for our broken health care system. However, it is not solely based on economics, politics, or defending the profits of the insurers and pharmaceutical companies. But rather due to race, as Jeneen Interlandi writes.
According to Interlandi, the first federal health care program served freedmen after the Civil War, but white legislators argued that it would breed dependence.
This health care program, the medical division of the Freedmen’s Bureau addressed the health care crisis due to the smallpox virus spreading across the post-war South. And according to Jim Downs, white leaders were worried about black epidemics spilling into their communities, and wanted the former slaves to be healthy enough to go back to the plantation. However, they feared that free and healthy African-Americans would upend the racial hierarchy.
Interlandi describes how whenever there was some move to deal with health care, there was always some backlash or outright ignoring of the solutions to the problems facing the south in the post-war period and Reconstruction. Not only that, but when federal social programs were introduced, Southern Democrats (yes, but now they would be, and are Republicans) forced concessions to bar African-Americans from receiving the benefits of those programs, or the AMA barred black doctors, medical schools excluded black students, and most hospitals and clinics segregated black patients.
There is the story of the African-American doctor who discovered blood types, and died because he was refused admittance to a hospital because he was black. This story was brought to the attention of viewers of MASH when the subject of race was part of that episode’s plot.
In college, I wrote a paper on the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment that exposed African-American men to syphilis to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis; the African-American men in the study were only told they were receiving free health care from the United States government.
So those of you who oppose single payer health care should stop and consider if being the only nation in the Western world to not provide its citizens with universal health care should continue to be based on racial prejudice or simply because you want to profit by not doing so.
Don McCanne’s Quote-of-the-Day brings us an article from the Los Angeles Times by Michael Hiltzik about how useless health insurance companies are.
The most perplexing aspect of our current debate over healthcare and health coverage is the notion that Americans love their health insurance companies.
This bizarre idea surfaced most recently in the hand-wringing over proposals to do away with private coverage advocated by some of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for president. Oddly, this position has been treated as a vote-loser.
During the first round of televised debates on July 30 and 31, only four of the 20 candidates raised their hands when asked if they would ban private insurers as part of their proposals for universal coverage: Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Harris later backed away, releasing a “Medicare for all” proposal that would accommodate private insurers at least for the first 10 years.
Health insurers have been successful at two things: Making money and getting the American public to believe they’re essential.
HEALTH INSURANCE EXPERT WENDELL POTTER
She should have stood her ground. The truth is that private health insurers have contributed nothing of value to the American healthcare system. Instead, they have raised costs and created an entitled class of administrators and executives who are fighting for their livelihoods, using customers’ premium dollars to do so.
“Health insurers have been successful at two things: Making money and getting the American public to believe they’re essential,” says Wendell Potter. He should know, since he spent decades as a corporate communications executive in the industry, including more than 10 years at Cigna.
The insurers’ success in making themselves seem essential accounts for the notion that Americans are so pleased with their private coverage that they’ll punish any politician who dares to take it away. But the American love affair with private insurance warrants close inspection.
Let’s start by examining what the insurers say are their positive contributions to healthcare. They claim to promote “consumer choice,” simplify “the health care experience for individuals and families,” address “the burden of chronic disease” and harness “data and technology to drive quality, efficiency, and consumer satisfaction.” (These claims all come from the website of the industry’s lobbying organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).
They’ve achieved none of these goals. The increasingly prevalent mode of health coverage in the group and individual markets is the the narrow network, which shrinks the roster of doctors and hospitals available to enrollees without heavy surcharges. The hoops that customers and providers often must jump through to get claims paid impose costly complexity on the system, not simplicity. Programs to manage chronic diseases remain rare, and the real threat to patients with those conditions was lack of access to insurance (until the Affordable Care Act made such exclusion illegal).
Private insurers don’t do nearly as well as Medicare in holding down costs, in part because the more they pay hospitals and doctors, the more they can charge in premiums and the more money flows to their bottom lines. They haven’t shown notable skill in managing chronic diseases or bringing pro-consumer innovations to the table.
Insurers cite these goals when they try to get mergers approved by government antitrust regulators. Anthem and Cigna, for example, asserted in 2016 that their merger would produce nearly $2 billion in “annual synergies,” thanks to improved “operational” and “network efficiencies.”
The pitch has a long history. The architects of a wave of health insurance mergers in the 2000s also proclaimed a new era of efficient technology and improved customer service, but studies of prior mergers show that this nirvana seldom comes to pass. The best example may be that of Aetna’s 1996 merger with U.S. Healthcare in a deal it hoped would give it access to the booming HMO market.
According to a 2004 analysis by UC Berkeley health economist James C. Robinson, the merger became a “near-death” experience for Aetna. The deal was expected to bring about “millions in enrollment and billions in revenue to pressure physicians and hospitals” to accept lower reimbursement rates, he wrote.
“The talk was all about complementarities, synergies, and economies of scale… The reality quickly turned out to be one of incompatible product designs, operating systems, sales forces, brand images, and corporate cultures.” Aetna surged from 13.7 million customers in 1996 to 21 million in 1999, but profits collapsed from a margin of nearly 14% in 1998 to a loss in 2001.
Even when they don’t happen, insurance merger deals cost customers billions of dollars. That’s what happened when two proposed deals — Aetna/Humana and Anthem/Cigna — broke down on a single day in 2017. The result was that Aetna owed Humana $1.8 billion and Anthem owed Cigna $1.85 billion in breakup fees — money taken out of the medical treatment economy and transferred from one set of shareholders to another.
In reality, Americans don’t like their private health insurance so much as blindly tolerate it. That’s because the vast majority of Americans don’t have a complex interaction with the healthcare system in any given year, and most never will. As we’ve reported before, 1% of patients account for more than one-fifth of all medical spending and 10% account for two-thirds. Fifty percent of patients account for only 3% of all spending.
Most families face at most a series of minor ailments that can be routinely managed — childhood immunizations, a broken arm here or there, a bout of the flu. The question is what happens when someone does have a complex issue and a complex claim — they’re hit by a truck or get a cancer diagnosis, for instance?
“We gamble every year that we’re going to stay healthy and injury-free,” Potter says. When we lose the gamble, that’s when all the inadequacies of the private insurance system come to the fore. Confronted with the prospect of expensive claims, private insurers try to constrain customers’ choices — limiting recovery days spent in the hospital, limiting doctors’ latitude to try different therapies, demanding to be consulted before approving surgical interventions.
Indeed, the history of American healthcare reform is largely a chronicle of steps taken to protect the unserved groups from commercial health insurance practices.
When commercial health insurance became insinuated into the American healthcare system following World War II via employer plans, it quickly became clear who was left behind — “those who were retired, out of work, self-employed, or obliged to take a low-paying job without fringes,” sociologist Paul Starr wrote in his magisterial 1982 book, “The Social Transformation of American Medicine.”The process even left those groups worse off, Starr observed, because insurance contributed to medical inflation while insulating only those with health plans. “Government intervention was required just to address the inequities.”
Insurers wouldn’t cover the aged or retirees, so Medicare was born in 1965. Insurers refused to cover kidney disease patients needing dialysis, so Congress in 1973 carved out an exception allowing those patients to enroll in Medicare at any age. (So much for addressing the “burden of chronic disease.”)
Individual buyers were charged much more for coverage than those buying group plans through their employers — or barred from the marketplace entirely because of their medical conditions — the Affordable Care Act required insurers to accept all applicants and, as compensation, required all individuals to carry at least minimal coverage.
The health insurance industry’s most telling contribution to the debate over healthcare reform has been “to scare people about other healthcare systems,” Potter told me. As a consequence, discussions about whether or how to remove private companies from the healthcare system are chiefly political, not practical.
The Affordable Care Act allowed private insurers to continue playing a role in delivering coverage not because they were any good at it but because their wealth and size made them formidable adversaries to reform if they chose to fight it. They were sufficiently mollified to remain out of the fray, but some of the big insurers then did their best to undermine the individual insurance exchanges once they were launched in 2015.
Even as individual Americans fret over losing their private health insurance, big employers have begun to see the light. Boeing, among other big employers, is experimenting with bypassing health insurers as intermediaries with providers by contracting directly with major health systems in Southern California, Seattle and other regions where it has major plants. It would not be surprising to see the joint venture of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase try a similar approach in its quest to bring down costs.
That’s an ironic development, since the private insurers first entered the market precisely by offering to play the role of intermediaries for big employers. But instead of fulfilling the promise of efficiency and cost control, they became rent-seeking profiteers themselves.
There’s no doubt that it will take years to wean the American healthcare system off the private insurance model; Kamala Harris’s proposal may be merely a recognition of the necessary time frame. It’s true that some countries with universal healthcare systems preserve roles for private insurance, including coverage for services the government chooses to leave out of its own programs or providing preferential access to specialists, at a price.
But the private insurers’ central position in America’s system is an anachronism dating back some 75 years. The sooner it’s dispensed with, the better — and healthier — America will be. The next time a debate moderator asks presidential candidates if they favor doing away with private insurance, let’s see all the hands go up.
Dear Insurance company execs, pharmaceutical company execs, employee benefits consultants and executives, Wall Street investors, and all other stakeholders in the current dysfunctional, broken, complex, complicated, and bloated mess called the US health care system.
You have heard many politicians, and journalists, not to mention your own peers, or even you yourselves label the push for Medicare for All as “Socialism.”
We even have the Administrator of CMS, Seema Verma, calling it, and the public option plan, “radical and dangerous for the country” recently when she spoke to the Better Medicare Alliance’s Medicare Advantage Summit in Washington, D.C.
Her solution, and probably yours as well, is to keep selling Medicare Advantage plans, which only makes the current system worse.
So, to help you get over your fear and loathing of Socialism, and to prove to you that the only reason why the US is the only Western, industrial nation to not provide its citizens with universal health care is because you are making money off of other people’s health, or lack thereof.
You are doing so, because you are greedy. There I said it. Now I hope you will pay attention to the following graphic:
Do you see any socialist countries? Do you see any radical and dangerous regimes that are hostile to the interests of the US? Well, maybe Slovenia. After all, they did send us Melania and her illegal family.
But back to the case at hand. I defy any of you hotshots in the health care space to prove to me that all of these Capitalist, free-market countries are flaming Reds, or even a bit Pinko.
You can’t, because it is not true. You and those who call Medicare for All, Single Payer, or even the so-called “public option” radical, just don’t want the government to interfere with your looting the pockets of the American people for your financial gain.
And that is why we are the only country with an “X”, instead of a check mark below our name.
The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that a new study found that Medicaid expansion brought appreciable improvements in health to enrollees, but also that full expansion nationwide would have averted 15,600 deaths among the vulnerable Medicaid-eligible population.
This is in contrast to the view of opponents of Medicaid expansion who have said that lack of evidence that enrollment in Medicaid improves health and saves lives, and therefore they believed that expansion was a waste of money.
In the 22 mostly red states that refused expansion, the cause of the 15,600 deaths of their state’s residents was attributed to failure to expand.
“This highlights an ongoing cost to non-adoption that should be relevant to both state policymakers and their constituents,” the authors of the study said.
Fourteen states are still holding out, States such as Wyoming and South Dakota, the article states, have a warped sense of “freedom.” States such as Maine and Louisiana, who have had a change in governors from Republican to Democrat, have recently adopted expansion.
Fourteen states still resist Medicaid expansion, at great cost to their residents (Kaiser Family Foundation)
The article takes a dim view of the entire rationale for refusing to expand Medicaid, and cites a few noted Conservative voices against the entire idea of expansion and Medicaid itself.
Conservatives have worked hard to depict Medicaid as ineffective, the article reports. They’ve done so, it continues, by overinterpreting limited studies such as a 2013 study of a Medicaid expansion in Oregon.
Critics focused on the researchers’ finding of “no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years” of expansion, but they overlooked the findings that the expansion did “increase use of healthcare services, raise rates of diabetes detection and management, lower rates of depression, and reduce financial strain.”
Conservative health policy Avik Roy has crowed, the article states, that the result “calls into question the $450 billion a year we spend on Medicaid, and the fact that Obamacare throws 11 million more Americans into this broken program.”
Another right-wing critic of Medicaid expansion, and not to mention, also of Medicare for All, and now more recently, the public option for Medicare, is CMS Administrator Seema Verma, a Trump flunky.
(Credit: Getty Images ) Picture worth a thousand words was never more true. What a piece of work!
Verma has argued that the expansion hasn’t been a success despite its enrollment figures and has been a leader in undermining the program by allowing states to impose premiums, work requirements and punitive disenrollments on patients. (Her efforts have been blocked by a federal judge, for now.)
This is why advocates for Medicare for All are so passionate and determined, in the face of even the slightest opposition to improving the health and lives of millions of Americans for small changes to our nation’s health care system.
Failure to expand Medicaid, failure to enact universal health care, even if it is a public option, is challenged from the right for morally indefensible and reprehensible reasons.
The cry of “freedom” from conservatives is a smoke-screen to hid their true purpose. To dismantle all social programs and funnel that money to the wealthy and corporations, as they have already done with the Trump tax giveaway.
All these schemes have one purpose in mind, to kill off their most ardent supporters in Southern and Midwestern states that continue to vote for these sociopaths. To them, freedom means, freedom for a company to profit off of your misfortune, whether that misfortune is due to poor diet, poor personal habits such as smoking and drug abuse, and poor health outcomes due to poverty and economic distress.
Naturally, any attempt to improve the health and lives of the poor, black or white, or Latino, etc., is viewed as “Socialism” and is deemed bad for the country, as Ms. Verma did this week to the Better Medicare Alliance’s Medicare Advantage Summit in Washington, D.C.
No, it’s not bad for the country. It’s bad for the profits of the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the benefit managers industry, the health care consultants, and Wall Street investors.
Wanting to cut of food stamps, fail to expand even Medicaid, tightening rules for who is eligible for these programs, is not only bad for the health of average Americans, it is bad for the economic vitality of the nation in an era of global competition.
The men and women at Trump rallies are angry, but they are angry at the wrong people. The clown on the stage is the person they really should be angry at, and his entire swamp of “the best people.”
Axios reported yesterday that American voters are tuning out of the health care debates dominating Washington, the presidential campaign, and the politically active talking about Medicare for All and other proposals, according to an article by Drew Altman.
Axios conducted six focus groups in three states, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania. It was facilitated by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s director of Polling and Survey Research. The focus groups consisted of independent, Republican, and Democratic voters in several swing states and districts.
They were only aware of candidates’ and elected officials’ proposals on health care, but they did not see them as relevant to their struggles to pay medical bills or navigating the health care system.
Each of the six focus groups had between 8 and 10 people who are regular voters and said that health care will be an important issue for them in the 2020 election for President.
Here are the takeaways from the focus groups:
Most of the voters in these groups did not see any of the current proposals from either side of the aisle as solutions to their top problems: namely paying for care or navigating the insurance system and red tape.
The debates on health care have gotten too far into the weeds and are too complex and complicated for the average voter to understand, let alone follow at this early stage of the presidential campaign.
The debate will become more meaningful, the article contends, when they see stark differences between the health plan of the Democratic nominee and Trump. This way, they will be able to focus more on what those differences mean for themselves and the country.
Here is the comment posted in response by Don McCanne:
Although we should be cautious about trying to draw Great Truths from half a dozen focus groups, we should be concerned about what these groups revealed about their understanding of the basis of the problems that they experience with our health care system.
They see problems with navigating the health care system and with paying their medical bills. But when offered solutions for these problems they show little understanding of even basic health policy, and they seem to be influenced more by political memes expressing a distrust of government, complexity of public solutions, and government interference with their interactions with the health care system.
A particularly important example of this is, “When asked what they knew about Medicare for all… almost no one associated the term with a single-payer system or national health plan.”
This lack of sophistication leaves them unaware that the government Medicare program is far more deserving of our trust than the private insurers (“surprise medical bills” anyone?), that a government program that includes everyone though a publicly funded universal risk pool is far less complex than a multitude of private insurers with various complex rules for accessing and paying for care, and that a single payer system interferes less since the patient has free choices in health care whereas the private plans are more restrictive of benefits while limiting coverage to their contracted provider lists (a minute fraction of the physicians and hospitals available throughout the nation).
Health policy is complicated, but the message for single payer Medicare for All need not be: enrollment for life, free choice of physicians and hospitals and other health care professionals and institutions, and automatic payment by our own public program. The focus groups already understand that the Republicans do not have a replacement plan, but what they do not understand is that only the single payer model of Medicare for All meets these goals whereas the ACA/public option Medicare for Some often leaves them exposed to the access and affordability issues they already face.
Again, single payer Medicare for All means:
None of these are features of either the Republican proposals or the Democratic ACA/public option proposals. It’s a simple message. Let’s do our best to see that the American voter understands it.
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.