Category Archives: individual market

Health Care Is Not a Market

For the next twenty-one months, there will be a national debate carried on during the presidential campaign regarding the direction this country will take about providing health care to all Americans.

However, to anyone who reads the articles, posts and comments on the social media site, LinkedIn, that debate is already occurring, and most of it is one-sided against Medicare for All/Single Payer. The individuals conducting this debate are for the most part in the health care field, as either physicians, pharmaceutical industry employees, hospital systems executives, insurance company executives, and so on.

We also find employee benefits specialists and other consultants to the health care industry, plus many academics in the health care space, and many general business people commenting, parroting the talking points from right-wing media.

That is why I re-posted articles from my fellow blogger, Joe Paduda last week and yesterday,  who is infinitely more knowledgeable than I am on the subject, and has far more experience in the health care field, that not only predicts Medicare for All (or what he would like to see, Medicaid for All), but has vigorously defended it and explained it to those who have misconceptions.

For that, I am grateful, and will continue to acknowledge his work on my blog. But what has caused me to write this article is the fact that most of the criticism of Medicare for All/Single Payer is because those individuals who are posting or commenting, are defending their turf.

I get that. They get paid to do that, or they depend on the current system to pay their salaries, so naturally they are against anything that would harm that relationship.

But what really gets me is that they are deciding that they have the right to tell the rest of us that we must continue to experience this broken, complex and complicated system just so that they can make money. And that they have a right to prevent us from getting lower cost health care that provides better outcomes and does not leave millions under-insured or uninsured.

However, not all these individuals are doing this because of their jobs. Some are doing so because they are wedded to an economic and political ideology based on the free market as the answer to every social issue, including health care. They argue that if we only had a true free market, competitive health care system, the costs would come down.

But as we have seen with the rise in prices for many medications such as insulin and other life-saving drugs, the free market companies have jacked up the prices simply because they can, and because lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry have forced Congress to pass a law forbidding the government from negotiating prices, as other nation’s governments do.

Yet, no other Western country has such a system, nor are they copying ours as it exists today. On the contrary, they have universal health care for their citizens, and by all measures, their systems are cheaper to run, and have better outcomes.

None of these countries can be considered “Socialist” countries, and even the most anti-Socialist, anti-Communist British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill said the following, “Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.”

Notice that Sir Winston did not say, free market competition. He knew that competition is fine for selling automobiles, clothing, food, and other goods and services. But not health care.

He also said that you can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else. We’ve tried the free market in health care, and drug prices and other medical prices are through the roof.

However, another thing they have not done, and I believe none of the other OECD countries have done about health care, is to divide the “market” into silos such as the elderly with Medicare, the poor with Medicaid, children with CHIP, veterans with the VA, and their families with Tricare, etc.

No, they pay for all their citizens from a global budget, and do not distinguish between age level, income level, or service in the armed forces.

And their systems do not restrict what medical care their people receive, so that no only do they have medical care, but dental care, vision care, and hearing care. It is comprehensive. And if they have the money to pay for it, they can purchase private health insurance for everything else.

In the run-up to the debate and vote in the UK on Brexit, the point was raised that while Britain was a member of the EU, their retirees who went to Spain to retire, never had to buy insurance because the Spanish providers would bill the NHS.

However, once Britain leaves the EU, they will have to buy insurance privately, because the NHS won’t pay for it. But not all retirees can afford private insurance, so many British citizens will have a problem.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I was diagnosed with ESRD, and am paying $400 every three months for Medicare Part B. I was doing so while spending down money I received after my mother passed away in 2017. My brother and I sold her assets and used that money to purchase property so that she could go on Medicaid, and eventually into a nursing home when the time came for her to be cared for around the clock.

Since my diagnosis, and prior, I was not working, so spending $400 every three months, and paying for many of my meds, has been difficult. I am getting help with some of the meds, and one is free because my local supermarket chain, Publix gives it for free (Amlodipine).

I hope to be on Medicaid soon, but would much rather see me and my fellow Americans get Medicare for All, and not have to pay so much for it. (a side note: we have seen that Medicaid expansion has been haphazard, or reversed, even when the government is paying 90% of it)

So why are we not doing what everyone else does? For one thing, greed. Drug companies led by individuals like Martin Shkreli, who is now enjoying the hospitality of the federal government, and others are not evil, they are following the dictates of the free market that many are advocating we need. No thanks.

For another, Wall Street has sold the health care sector as another profit center that creates a huge return on investment by investors and shareholders in these companies and hospital systems. Consolidation in health care is no different than if two non-health care companies merge, or one company buys another for a strategic advantage in the marketplace.

There’s that word again: market. We already have a free market health care system, that is why is it broken. What we need is finance health care by the government and leave the providing of health care private. That’s what most other countries do.

So those of you standing in the way of Medicare for All/Single Payer, be advised. We are not going to let you deny us what is a right and not a privilege. We will not let you deny us what every other major Western country gives its people: universal, single payer health care.

Your time is nearly up.

ACA Declared Unconstitutional: Now What?


In another example of how cruel and inhumane the radical Conservative/Libertarian Republican Party has been regarding health care, a Federal judge in Texas late Friday, struck down the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional.

The judge, Reed O’Connor, appointed by George W. Bush, struck down the law on the grounds that its mandates requiring people to buy health insurance is unconstitutional and the rest of the law cannot stand without it, as reported yesterday in the New York Times.

According to the Times article, the ruling was over a lawsuit filed earlier this year by a group of Republican governors and state attorneys general. States led by Democrats promised to appeal the decision, which will not have immediate effect.

However, the Times reports, it will make its way to the Supreme Court, where the survival of the law and the health of millions of Americans will be in doubt.
Judge O’Connor said, the Times quoted, that the individual mandate requiring people to have health insurance “can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s tax power.” In addition, the judge said, “the individual mandate is unconstitutional” and that the remaining provisions of the ACA are invalid.

The main issue, pointed out in the Times piece, was whether the law’s mandate still compelled people to buy coverage after Congress zeroed out the penalty as part of the tax overhaul this year.

20 states, led by Texas, argued that with the penalty zeroed out, the mandate had become unconstitutional, and that the rest of the law could not be severed from it, the Times wrote.

The Justice Department under former Attorney General Sessions, declined not to defend just the individual mandate, but the pre-existing conditions provision as well.

A spokesman for California attorney general Xavier Becerra said that California, and other defendant states, would challenge the ruling with an appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

Becerra’s statement, reported by the Times, said the following, “ Today’s ruling is an assault on 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, on the 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA’s consumer protections for health care, on America’s faithful progress towards affordable health care for all Americans…The ACA has already survived more than 70 unsuccessful repeal attempts and withstood scrutiny in the Supreme Court.”

The chief plaintiff in the case, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, applauded the decision, and was quoted in the Times in a statement, “Today’s ruling enjoining Obamacare halts an unconstitutional exertion of federal power over the American health care system.”

Meaning that the American “health care system” can only be a private insurance-based system that allows companies to profit off some people’s health, or lack thereof. He is upholding the “right” of insurance companies, drug companies, medical device manufacturers, and others to profit at our expense and to play with the lives of millions of Americans who will lose what coverage the ACA gave them.

This also means, that any attempt to enact Medicare for All/single payer health care will result, at some future date, to a judge or court striking it down as unconstitutional.

Simply put, Conservative jurisprudence believes that the Constitution enshrines free-market health care.

The Times added that Paxton also said, “Our lawsuit seeks to effectively repeal Obamacare, which will give President Trump and Congress the opportunity to replace the ‘failed’ [quotes added] social experiment with a plan that ensures Texans and all Americans will again have greater choice (to be ripped off and overcharged) about what health coverage they need and who will be their doctor.”

In other words, Mr. Paxton wants the American health care system to stay where it is, so long as companies can make money from it.

Here are a few takeaways from the rest of the Times’ article:

• If the judge’s decision stands, about 17 million Americans will lose their health insurance, according to the Urban Institute. This includes millions who gained coverage through Medicaid expansion, and millions more who receive subsidized private insurance through the ACA marketplaces.
• Insurers will also no longer have to cover young adults up to age 26 under their parents’ plans
• Annual and lifetime limits on coverage will again be permitted
• And there will be no cap on out-of-pocket costs
• Also gone will be the law’s popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions

This last takeaway was front and center of the Democrats midterm campaigns, and while most Republicans insisted that they did not want to withdraw those protections, the article reported that most were silent after the ruling.

Without those protections, insurers could deny coverage to such people or charge them more; they could also return to charging them based on age, gender or profession, according to the Times.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, the Times noted, estimated that 53 million adults from 18 to 64 — 27 percent of that population would be rejected for coverage under practices in effect before the ACA.

Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation wrote on Twitter, “If this Texas decision on the ACA is upheld, it would throw the individual insurance market and the whole health care system into complete chaos…But the case still has a long legal road to travel before that’s an immediate threat,” the Times quoted.

Democrats attacked the decision as absurd. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that when the party took control of the House next month, it would “move swiftly to formally intervene in the appeals process to uphold the lifesaving protections for people with pre-existing conditions and reject Republicans’ effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act.”

Healthcare Dive.com, in reporting Friday about the decision, wrote that a decision had been waiting in the wings since September, when the Justice Department asked Judge O’Connor to wait until the individual market’s open enrollment period ended, which was also a convenient time for Republicans running in the midterms.

Healthcare Dive.com also stated that the decision would be appealed to the conservative Fifth Circuit, and possibly to the Supreme Court, where advocates worry that it will be struck down.
Providers such as the American Hospital Association (AHA) and American Medical Association (AMA) urged a stay until a higher court could take it up.

One state not a part of the defendants was Maryland, according to Healthcare Dive.com. Maryland’s Democratic Attorney General, Brian Frosh, brought its own case seeking a reaffirmation of the ACA’s constitutionality.

Attorney General Frosh argued that Maryland residents who became insured under the ACA would be harmed if the law was unconstitutional or eliminated. About 150,000 people in Maryland gained insurance through the ACA marketplace in 2018, and more than 300,000 are insured through the state’s expanded Medicaid program.

The Maryland case is still ongoing.

So now what?

In the short-term, nothing will change, as mentioned in the two articles above. However, in the long-term, there will be serious consequences, just as Larry Levitt said on Twitter Friday.

But more importantly than chaos in the insurance market and health care system, millions of Americans will once again be at the mercy of insurance companies, be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, including pregnancy, cancer, and a whole host of illnesses, be denied life-saving drugs, or rejected for surgeries, etc.

And among those millions, many will die needlessly because of the greed of the insurance companies and the actions of a Cowboy judge.

What does this mean?

Allow me to put on a different hat here and offer an opinion as to what may transpire in the future, since none of us are clairvoyant. As someone who studied both American history and American government and politics, in my opinion, we will not see universal health care in this country unless and until, to use a medical metaphor, this Conservative/Economic Libertarian virus is eradicated from the American political system, or at least is brought under control.

I do not say this lightly, nor am I being flippant here. Let’s face facts. The Republican Party stands in the way of the adoption of rational, universal health care for all Americans because they are the defenders of a rapacious, greedy Capitalist health care system that demands that investors, shareholders, insurers, manufacturers, and service providers and consultants, be allowed to profit by the health and welfare of the American people.

However, as also reported in the New York Times on Sunday, the ACA could be hard to knock down, despite the judge’s ruling, according to legal scholars quoted in the article.

Yet as Ezra Klein writes in Vox.com, Republicans have refocused Democrats on building what they failed to build in 2010: a universal health care system simple enough and popular enough that it is safe from constant political and legal assault. And that means some version of Medicare-for-all. Democrats are promising swift action once they take over the House in a few weeks, so we wait and see how that will turn out.

But on the other hand, as I have pointed out in previous posts, both those penned by myself, and those that I reposted from other sources, the medical-industrial complex is pushing back hard against any move to alter this broken system.

Two recent posts, Healthcare Lobbying Group Double-Crossing Democratic Voters and Establishment looks to crush liberals on Medicare for All – POLITICO highlights the attempt by the health care industry to keep the status quo, or at least to convince Democratic politicians who might be opposed to full single payer health care, to offer alternatives that will allow the insurance companies to profit from providing coverage to only those who are not sick, which is called adverse selection.

There are some people in this country who argue that what we need is not less competition in health care, but more. However, this misses the point. Whether or not there is more or less competition is not the reason why our health care system is broken. The reason why it is broken is because there is competition in the first place. No other Western country has this problem, and they all have some form of universal, single payer health care.

So, the prognosis for the future of universal health care is cloudy, if not downright gloomy. Advocates for single payer, improved Medicare for All must take a sober hard look at reality and formulate a strategy to meet this new and regrettable challenge. And they must do so with a clear eye and mind on the realities of the political landscape, and not be lulled into thinking that just because polls indicate approval by voters, that enacting Medicare for All will be easy or accomplished quickly. We have enemies, and one of them is Reed O’Connor.

Additional Reading:

Judge Rules Obamacare unconstitutional, endangering coverage for 20 million
Obamacare ruling delivers new shock to health system

 

Americans Are Skipping Health Insurance

Bloomberg on Monday published an article by John Tozzi that reported that some Americans are taking a risk and skipping health insurance because of the cost.

In the article, “Why Some Americans Are Risking It and Skipping Health Insurance”, Bloomberg interviews three families; the Buchanans of Marion, North Carolina, the Owenses of Harahan, Louisiana, and the Bobbies in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.

The Buchanans decided that paying $1,800 a month was too much for health insurance and decided to go without it for the first time in their lives.

Doubling insurance premiums convinced the Owenses to do so as well, and Mimi Owens said that, “We’re not poor people but we can’t afford health insurance.”

Saving money to pay for their nine-year-old daughter Sophia, who was born with five heart defects, forced the Bobbies to go uninsured for themselves and their son Joey.

These three families are but a small part of the dozen other families Bloomberg is following to understand the trade-offs when a dollar spent on health insurance cannot be spent on something else. Some are comfortable financially, others are just scrapping by.

According to Tozzi, the share of Americans without insurance is near historic lows, the current administration is rolling back parts of the ACA. At the same time, Tozzi reports, the cost for many people to buy a plan is higher than ever.

In the case of the Buchanans, wife Dianna, 51, survived a bout with cancer 15 years ago, her husband, Keith has high blood pressure and takes testosterone. Both make more than $127,000 a year from an IT business and her job as a physical therapy assistant. They have additional income from properties they own.

However, their premium last year was $1,691, triple their mortgage payment, and was going up to $1,813 this year. A deductible of $5,000 per-person meant that having and using coverage would cost more than $30,000.

What made the Buchanans take this step was when Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and the major hospital system in Asheville, could not reach an agreement, putting the hospital out of network. Keith Buchanan said, “It was just two greed monsters fighting over money.” He also said, “They’re both doing well, and the patients are the ones that come up short.”

The Buchanans are now members of a local doctors’ practice, for which they pay $198 a month. They also signed up for a Christian group that pools members’ money to help pay for medical costs. For this membership, it costs the Buchanans $450 a month, and includes a $150 surcharge based on their blood pressure and weight.

After dropping their coverage with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Keith injured his knee, went to an urgent care center and was charged $511 for the visit and an X-ray. “If we can control our health-care costs for a couple of years, the difference that makes on our household income is phenomenal,” Keith said.

There is evidence, Tozzi writes, that having insurance is a good thing. People with insurance spend less out of pocket, are less likely to go bankrupt, see the doctor more often, get more preventive care, are less depressed and have told researchers they feel healthier.

Yet, some 27.5 million Americans under age 65 were uninsured in 2016 (myself included), about 10 percent of the population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The most common reason cited by KFF was that the cost was too high. A Gallup poll suggested that despite declining for years, the percentage of adults without coverage has increased slightly since the end of 2016.

However, other data, Tozzi writes, showed no significant change.

The following chart outlines the household income and health insurance status of people under 65 who qualify for government help with having insurance.

For the Bobbie family, the current administration’s proposal to make it easier for Americans to buy cheaper health plans could open options for the rest of the Bobbie family, but with over $1 million in medical costs for Sophia, these less-expensive choices would lack some of the protection created by the ACA that allowed her to get coverage.

The tax scam that became law in December will lift the ACA’s requirement that every American have coverage or pay a fine.

Some states are trying out the new rules, offering plans that don’t adhere to ACA requirements. This is the case in Idaho where the state’s Blue Cross insurer attempted to offer a so-called “Freedom Plan” that had annual limits on care and questionnaires that would allow them to charge higher premiums to sick people or those likely to become sick.

The current administration judged reluctantly that this plan violated ACA rules.

The Owenses decided to do something like what the Buchanans did. They tried a Christian health-sharing ministry for a few months, but joined a direct-primary care group, which Mimi Owens called, “the best care we’ve ever had.”

The three American families are by no means not alone in having to decide whether to have insurance or to take the risk and forgo paying huge premiums to save money or to use it for another family member with more pressing medical issues.

Two of these families are not low-income, as they both earn over $100,000 a year and could afford to buy health coverage if it was affordable. But the reality is that premiums have risen and will continue to rise and will price them out of the market.

Except for the Bobbies, no one in the other two families have serious medical issues that are exceedingly expensive, and they have found lower cost alternatives, but for many other families in the U.S., that may not be an option.

The only real solution is universal health care. Then the Buchanans, Owenses, and Bobbies of America will not have to worry about how they are going to pay for medical bills if some serious medical condition arises. We can and should be better than this.