Category Archives: Medicare

No Paradox

Sometimes, the solution to a problem is staring you right in the face, but you refuse to see it because you are blinded by your perceptions, your beliefs, or the distortions others have placed in your mind by lies and falsehoods spread about the real benefits of the solution, or the downsides.

Case in point, the question of single-payer health care in the US. The health insurance industry and their lobbyists and defenders in Congress have done a great job poisoning the minds of many Americans against the idea of single-payer, whether on ideological or economic grounds.

Yet, many of these same Americans are getting some form of government-sponsored health care, either Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, or health care through the Veterans Administration. So, it was striking that before the enactment of the ACA, many Tea Party protesters shouted or carried signs that read, “Keep your hands off of MY Medicare!”

What they did not know or realize, was that it wasn’t THEIR Medicare, but the government’s Medicare. They were ones receiving the benefits.

So, it struck me this morning when I read an article by Tom Lynch of the Lynch Ryan blog, Workers’ Comp Insider.com.

The article, The American Health Care Paradox: A Lot Of Money For Poor Results, compares the US health care system with the health care systems of the OECD nations (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

The OECD has 35 members, of which the US is one, and was formed in Paris in 1961. They promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. It also performs annual comparative analyses of issues affecting its members.

Health care is one such issue, as is life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, and death rates from cancer, among other health care-related topics.

But regarding health care, as Tom reports, on a per capita basis, we spend 41% more on health care than our wealthy nation peers in the OECD, and 81% more than the entire OECD average.

The following graph indicates amount of public versus private funding of health care among the OECD nations, as well as the OECD average. The light blue bars indicate private funding; the dark blue bars indicate public funding.

OECD Health Care Funding — 2015

According to Tom, while our public funding (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) is comparable to many of the other countries in the OECD, private funding in the US is more than 100% greater tham Switzerland, and 300% greater than the OECD average.

Life expectancy:            US: 78.8 years (76.3 men, 81.2 women)
UK: 81 years (79.2 men; 82.8 women)
Japan: 83.9 years (80.8 men; 87.1 women)

Infant mortality:          US: 6.1% (per 1000 live births) 45% higher than UK at 4.2%, and 265%                                                higher than Japan’s at 2.3%.

Obesity and overweight rate is exceeded only by New Zealand. Finally, the rate of death from cancer per 100,000 people is 188, Mexico’s is 115, Japan’s is 177. But we lead the world in smoking cessation (whoopee!). So, I guess we can all breathe easier now than the rest of the world, especially the third world where so many start smoking at a very young age.

Into this discussion, Tom throws the current Republican tax plan, which he rightly says will throw 13 million people off of health care, and see $25 billion cut from Medicare.

Tom says that fixing health care will take time and a lot more money, and he is skeptical that the GOP tax scam will do that.

Duh! Of course it won’t. That’s the whole point of the tax scam and the umpteenth attempts to scuttle the ACA. They don’t believe in health care as a right for all Americans. It is in their DNA as Libertarian Conservatives. They are not Republicans, at least not like the two Republican presidents who tried to get health care passed, Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon.

No, they want the money for their fat cat donors. They even said so publicly and bragged about it. And if all those votes to repeal and replace ACA didn’t convince you that they are fundamentally opposed to any government-sponsored health care, except their own, then you are blind.

The solution is staring you in the face on the above chart, Every other OECD member nation spends more publicly for health care than we do privately, and we are getting bad outcomes. Why is that? It is because health care is not like other consumer goods, and therefore should not be funded or marketed by private companies.

It is long past the time we should follow suit and do what every other OECD country has done, create a single-payer, improved Medicare for All system and stop fooling ourselves that the private market works. It does not, and the proof is in the metrics on cost, life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity and cancer deaths, etc.

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Illogical!

Picking up where I left off last week with my post, Regulation Strangulation, regarding too much regulation, a series of articles from earlier this week, published in various health care journals and magazines, discussed a new scheme the good folks at CMS have cooked up to make our health care “system” better. (Or worse, depending on whether you have drunk the kool-aid yet)

You may recall my post from late last year, Models, Models, Have We Got Models!, that reported that CMS was launching three new policies to continue the push toward value-based care, rewarding hospitals that work with physicians and other providers to avoid complications, prevent readmissions and speed recovery.

In that article, I mentioned the various models CMS was implementing. My view then, as it remains today, is that these models have not worked, and have only made matters worse, not better.

So when CMS unveiled their latest scheme recently when Administrator Seema Verma spoke at the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network (LAN) Fall Summit, this is what she said:

The LAN offers a unique and important opportunity for payors, providers, and other stakeholders to work with CMS , in partnership, to develop innovative approaches to improving our health care system. Since 2015, the LAN has focused on working to shift away from a fee-for-service system that rewards volume instead of quality…We all agree that quality measures are a critical component of paying for value. But we also understand that there is a financial cost as well as an opportunity cost to reporting measures…That’s why we’re revising current quality measures across all programs to ensure that measure sets are streamlined, outcomes-based, and meaningful to doctors and patients…And, we’re announcing today our new comprehensive initiative, “Meaningful Measures.”

Let’s dissect her comments so we can understand just how complicated this so-called system has become.

  1. Develop innovative approaches? How’s that working for you?
  2. Improving our health care system? Really? What planet are you living on?
  3. Financial cost? Yeah, for those who can afford it.
  4. Revising current quality measures? Haven’t you done that already after all these years?
  5. “Meaningful Measures”. Now there’s a catchy phrase if I ever heard one. You mean they weren’t meaningful before?

You have to wonder what they are doing in Washington if this is the level of insanity and inanity coming out of the bureaucracy on top of our health care system.

In an article in Health Data Management, Jeff Smith, vice president of public policy for the American Medical Informatics Association stated the following regarding the new CMS initiative.

According to Smith, “the goals are laudable, but the talking points have been with us for several years’ now…measurement depends on agreed-upon definitions of quality, and in an electronic environment, it requires access to and use of computable data. If CMS is going to turn these talking points into reality, it will need to put forth far more resources and commit additional experts to a complete overhaul of electronic quality measures for value-based payments.”

Mr. Smith’s comments are at least an indication that not everyone goes along with CMS every time they unveil some new initiative, model, or program, but again we see the words associated with the consuming of health care being used in discussing the current state of affairs. Terms like “value-based payments”, and “quality measures”, and “financial/opportunity cost”, etc., only obscure the real problem with our health care system. It is a profit-driven system and not a patient-driven system.

Let’s push on.

A report mentioned Monday in Markets Insider showed that 29% of total US health care payments were tied to alternative payment models (APMs) in 2016, compared to 23% in 2015, an increase of six percentage points. These APMs were discussed previously in Models, Models, Have We Got Models!,

The report was issued by the LAN, and is the second year of the LAN APM Measurement Effort (try saying that three times fast). They captured actual health care spending in 2016 from four data sources, the LAN, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), and CMS across all segments, and categorized them to four categories of the original LAN APM Framework. (Boy, you must be tired trying to remember all these acronyms and titles!)

Here are their results:

  • 43% of health care dollars in Category 1 (traditional FFS or other legacy payments)
  • 28 % of health care dollars in Category 2 (pay-for-performance or care coordination fees)
  • 29% of health care dollars in a composite of Categories 3 and 4 (shared savings, shared risk, bundled payments, or population-based)

Speaking of shared savings, an article in Modern Healthcare reported that CMS’ Medicare shared savings program paid out more in bonuses to ACO’s than the savings those participants generated.

As per the report, about 56% of the 432 Medicare ACOs generated a total of $652 million in savings in 2016. CMS paid $691 million in bonuses to ACOs, resulting in a loss of $39 million from the program.

Chief Research Officer at Leavitt Partners, David Muhlestein said, “Medicare isn’t saving money.”

This is attributed to the fact that 95% of the Medicare ACOs (410) participated in Track 1 of the Medicare Shared Savings Program. Only 22% participated in tracks 2 and 3.

Two more articles go on to discuss a Medicare bundled-pay initiative and the Medicare Merit-based Payment System (MIPS) .

What does this all mean?

It has been long apparent to this observer that the American health care system is a failure through and through. Sure, there are great strides being made daily in new technology and therapies. A member of my family just benefited from one such innovation in cardiac care. But luckily, they have insurance from Medicare and a secondary payor.

But many do not, and not many can afford the second level of insurance. From my studies and my writing, I have seen a system that is totally out of whack due to the commercialization and commodification of health care services.

And knowing a little of other Western nations’ health care systems, I find it hard to believe that they are like this as well. We must change this and change this now.

If Medicare is losing money now, with the limited pool of beneficiaries, perhaps a larger pool, with little or no over-regulation and so many initiatives, models, and programs, can do a better job. Because what has been tried before isn’t working, and is getting worse.

The logical thing to do is to make a clean break with the past. Medicare for All, or something like it.

 

 

Executive (Dis)order

The signing this morning of an executive order by the Orangutan will have, in the opinion of some of the bloggers and politicians, spell disaster for the nation’s health care system.

It will, if carried into action, likely siphon healthy people from the Affordable Care Act-compliant market, continuing a pattern of regulatory actions under the Trump administration that have undermined the ACA.

The rationale for such a move that has been given is that since Congress has not been able to repeal and replace the ACA, an executive order will, piece by piece.

Coupled with the recent budget move to eliminate the CHIP program for children’s health (New York State faces dire consequences if Congress does not act on CHIP), and cut backs to Medicare and Medicaid, the intent here is to privatize health care for some, and eliminate it for others, and to get government out of health care providing altogether.

There are provisions in this order for greater competition, short-term coverage, and lower premiums with less coverage. Why this is better is beyond me, unless the Orangutan is seeking to destroy health care so that single-payer will be the only option.

Cutting healthy people out of the ACA means leaving sick people to struggle with a health care law that many say needs to be fixed, not repealed and replaced. But because the Tea Party ranted and raved before it was enacted, and the Orangutan and the GOP campaigned on getting rid of it, they had no choice but to sabotage it if they could not do so through legislation.

I predict that we will soon see the total collapse of our health care system thanks to this stupid, overreaching, and ill-advised Executive Order. I even read today that the Vice President had to remind the Orangutan to sign the darn thing, something that almost slipped what is left of his so-called mind.

Welcome to Crackerbox Palace.

“Yes, We Have No Humana”

Have you ever gone into a store looking to purchase an item they are supposed to carry because that is the kind of store they are, and been told that it is not available in your area?

For example, if I walked into a shoe store and wanted to buy a certain kind of very nice, but not too expensive shoe, and was told that shoe is not available in this area, I would feel that the act of buying shoes from a shoe store was somewhat disorganized and complicated. Especially if the store sells under their name (remember Florsheim?).

This is what happened to me today when I tried to get a Medicare Advantage plan for my medical condition from, you guessed it, Humana.

As my readers well know, I’ve been critical of Humana before due to issues with my late mother. However, after learning about Special Needs Plans from CMS, my agent informed me that Humana does not offer a Medicare Advantage plan for people with my condition in my area.

So, to use my shoe store analogy above, Humana does not sell Special Needs Plans (certain kind of nice, but not too expensive shoe) under their name in my area of the country.

How stupid is that?

Why shouldn’t everyone be able to buy the same shoe no matter where they live?

Naturally, if you wanted to buy sandals, and lived in Alaska during the winter, you wouldn’t, but all things being equal, you should.

Now I understand why in some counties there are only one exchange to purchase insurance, but again that is like saying there is only one shoe store in a certain county where you can buy shoes.

Totally wrong and bad for business. This is why we need Medicare for All, and should stop denying coverage to anyone, anywhere in the country, for whatever reason. If I buy that certain shoe in New York, I should be able to buy it also in California, Kansas, or anywhere else in the country.

To do anything less only makes the system worse.

So, “yes, we have no Humana, we have no Humana today.”

Now It’s Personal

Last week, some of my LinkedIn connections, as well as several other connections, learned of my recent hospitalization. The reason for this was not mentioned at the time, but I will tell you now.

Not having health insurance through an employer, and being denied renewal of a local county health care program, led to my going from Stage 4 to End Stage Kidney Disease.

The hospitalization last week was to place a catheter in me for peritoneal dialysis, and to repair an umbilical hernia.

My hospitalization was brought to light quite unexpectedly by my friend, Maria Todd. Maria’s sending best wishes for my speedy recovery and quick discharge from the hospital was much appreciated, and the warm words by others in response, and the thirty plus “likes” made me feel that people cared. For that. I am grateful.

But the events of the past month have brought home to me one very important point, given the current activity surrounding the so-called “repeal and replace” of the ACA, and the two Congressional bills that many consider doing more harm than good.

This nation needs Medicare for All.

There, I said it.

I know in the past, I have advocated single payer for others, but my illness has shown that anyone who loses health care for any amount of time, once they have reached adulthood, cannot go without health insurance.

This is what happens when men and women are removed prematurely from the workforce, for whatever reason, employer decides you are no longer wanted, economic downturn or just to eliminate positions that affect the bottom-line of the company, and are generally targeted to individuals in their 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s so that the company can save on health care costs for those employees, and so that younger workers can be hired to replace them.

This is not something new, and not related to automation and artificial intelligence disrupting whole industries, which is inevitable.

My initial view on single-payer was that if employers were no longer responsible for the health insurance of their employees, and they were guaranteed full coverage by the government, some of the job losses of the past decades would not have happened, and many talented men and women out of the workforce would be employed until their retirement.

If you don’t believe me, go to LinkedIn and read the many posts from such individuals who are still unemployed. One fellow in Texas even got turned down from jobs at fast food restaurants.

So, now it is personal for me.

I also know that many of you make your living from the health care system we currently have, and that some of you have expounded on why you think a single payer system is unrealistic.

I get it that your financial outlook depends on working in a broken, free-market system because it pays your salary, but healthcare was not supposed to be a business, nor was it supposed to marketed like any other commodity.

If you don’t believe me, read what Pope Francis said: “health is not a consumer good, but rather a universal right, and therefore access to health care services cannot be a privilege.”

But try telling that to Messrs. McConnell, Ryan, Paul, et al in Congress, and the current POTUS, all of whom want to eliminate medical coverage for millions of Americans they received under the ACA, cut back Medicare and Medicaid, and destroy Social Security.

Now that I will be receiving dialysis, and quite likely will qualify for disability, the prospect of not having those resources is very personal to me, and could literally mean my life.

Look in the mirror, then look at your spouse, your children, your parents, your neighbors, friends, etc. What do you think would happen to them if these programs were eliminated? Would you have enough money to care for them? Would you have money to pay for private insurance?

I lost my mother last month to dementia. She died on her 85th birthday in a nursing home some miles from my home (the home she and my father bought), but if the Republicans in Congress had gotten their way, and she had lived longer, I feared she would have been forced out of that nursing home, with no place to go, and would have been an even bigger burden to me.

So, I really don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Socialist, Liberal, or Conservative, we all need health care at some point in our lives.

One of the friends I met here in Florida back in the 90’s died last July of a stroke. He was 73. He worked out, never smoked, had a good life, three kids, and like many of you, worked in Risk Management, as well as Human Resources, the legal profession, and served in Vietnam. But despite all that, he died prematurely, and went into involuntary retirement because he was in his 60’s. Luckily, his wife worked. But you get the picture.

We must all do our part to see that every American can get health care. Not just access to care, which is a Republican euphemism for being able to afford it, and if you can’t, too bad. But actual health insurance. Medicare for All.

Despicable!

“Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.”

Karl Marx

“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.”

Winston Churchill

 

Here we have two quotes dealing with the same subject. The first quote is from the father of Scientific Socialism, i.e., Marxism and Communism, and the second quote is from the wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain, who was a staunch anti-Communist.

But what transpired today in Washington, is far from the view of Marx, or the view of Churchill. In other words, it is DESPICABLE!

Never before in the history of the United States, has the government of the people, by the people, and for the people ever taken away something the government gave them in the first place.

Not even the enactment of the 18th Amendment outlawing the sale and production of alcohol, stoops to the level of total disregard for the health and welfare of the American people. Alcohol was never something the government had to give to people, they produced it themselves. Our founding fathers were brewers and distillers of alcoholic beverages.

But the vote this afternoon represents a step towards a society this nation has not seen in many decades. You hear that Republicans want to take the country back. The obvious place they want to take us to is the 19th century, when no one had health care, there was no Medicare or Medicaid, or Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and Workers’ Comp.

There are specific reasons for this, which I will discuss.

First, pure and simple, it is greed. They want the money dedicated for health care and the other medical plans for a huge tax cut for their wealthy friends.

Second, the health insurance companies can now get to pick and choose who they want to cover, what they will cover, and what they will charge you if you have a serious pre-existing condition or a life-threatening disease. We know this as adverse selection.

Third, they don’t believe in giving “entitlements” to anyone except the military and the wealthy.

Fourth, their libertarian, puritanical, Calvinism teaches them that the poor are undeserving of the benefits that money brings, so let them die, and who cares if they are poor, it is a sign of a moral failing.

Another quote from Churchill says that you can always trust the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else.

Well, after today, we have tried everything else. We have given employers the right to offer health insurance to their employees, we have allowed private insurance companies to sell policies to individuals, and we have created separate health care plans for children, the elderly, the military and their families, members of Congress, and the poor.

But for all the reasons I have given above, and many more, this nation refuses to enact single payer health care, the only thing we haven’t tried, and the one form of universal health care every other Western nation provides its citizens.

One fellow blogger last year during the Democratic Primary, said that while he liked Bernie Sanders, he knew that the health insurance companies were not going to scrape their businesses and start from scratch.

But maybe they should. It is because the capitalist profit motive is at the heart of what, in the words of Walter Cronkite, our health care system really is. “America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” Too many are profiting from other people’s misery, and driving many into poverty. This is the richest nation on Earth, and this is how we treat our fellow citizens.

It is strange that the Conservative Party of Great Britain believes in single payer, but the American Republican Party does not. The truth is, they are no longer the Republican Party but the Republican Libertarian Party.

Once upon a time, members of their right-wing decried the nation’s drift towards “Creeping Socialism.” With this vote, and with executive orders flowing from 1600 every day, we are witnessing “Creeping Fascism.’ The new Secretary of Labor comes from the fast food industry where workers were mistreated, and still are in some places.

Worker’s rights are being eroded with new overtime rules, wages are stagnant, unemployment is still too high despite what the government says.

One other reason for enacting single payer is that doing so will free employers from having to provide it to their employees, and workers over forty will not have to face losing their jobs and careers they spent their lives in.

We, as a nation, must decide; either we take away health care for millions of Americans, or we make sure everyone has it. There can be no half-measures. Many pundits have said the AHCA (Zombie Health Care Bill) will not pass the Senate, but that is what they said about the House of Representatives.

I hope the Senate will defeat this, but if they don’t, the only option left is single payer.

Disaster Averted

Yesterday’s crushing defeat of the so-called “American Health Care Act” or AHCA, signals the end of the seven-year long attempt by the Republican Party to legislatively kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Yet, as was pointed out on one cable news network last night, it won’t stop the health insurance industry from getting the Republicans in Congress to kill parts of the law slowly by eliminating the taxes that go to pay for the coverage.

Call it “genocide by stealth”, since millions of Americans will die, as per the Congressional Budget Office (CBO’s) scoring of AHCA. If they can’t kill the law outright, the so-called “Freedom Caucus”, actually the Congressional version of the Tea Party, will kill it slowly.

Why do you think they keep saying it is a disaster and it is crumbling? It’s because they are dead set against anyone getting health care unless someone else can make a profit from selling a policy.

Then there is the other question, the one usually raised by liberals and progressives, especially those who supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders last year in the primaries, as to why we are the only Western country without universal coverage.

The answer is complex, but not complicated (“who knew health care was so complicated?). First, everything the government of the US has ever implemented for the benefit of people has had to pass muster with the Constitution. It either has to be covered by the Constitution directly, or implied through the taxing mechanism.

Second, the Founding Fathers never mentioned or promoted the right to health care, as the prevailing political and social philosophy of the day was concerned with freedom, liberty, and private property. It has been unclear what, if anything, was meant by the phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, let alone, the phrase, “promote the general welfare.”

Why they never mentioned health care and why other nations have it, is due to the fact that the US was founded during the first half of the period historians call, “the Enlightenment”, when the right to private property, liberty, and freedom were the topics of discussion on both sides of the Atlantic. Basically, the difference between Classical Liberalism (Conservatism) and Modern Liberalism (Liberalism) is between negative rights (the right not to be killed) versus positive rights (the right to a job, education, housing, health care, etc.)

Canada gained its limited independence from Britain nearly a hundred years after we did, and therefore was influenced by the philosophy of the second half of the Enlightenment, which stressed involvement by government in the economy.

The only time the Founders cared about providing some kind of health care plan was directed towards a particular group of citizens in the late eighteenth century, as I wrote about in this post.

What is now called the Public Health Service began as a government-sponsored, health plan for merchant sailors on ships entering and leaving US ports and on inland waterways. It was never challenged in the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, nor was it ever attacked by members of the opposition party. In fact, it was supported by both Federalists and Anti-Federalist politicians of the day.

The third reason why we don’t have universal, single-payer is because the government allowed employers to provide coverage during WWII to attract women into the workplace when the men went overseas. The UK is often cited as an example for single-payer, but what most supporters of this type of plan do not realize is that because of the devastation the UK suffered at the hands of German bombs, their health care system needed to be re-built from scratch, so the government stepped in with the NHS. Even Churchill supported it.

Fourth, we have always provided health care to certain at risk groups like the poor (Medicaid), the elderly (Medicare), and to children (CHIP), as well as to former service persons and their families (Tricare), etc. Perhaps the way to begin to get universal coverage is to merge all of these programs into one, then expand it to cover everyone else.

But for the time being, a major disaster was averted, but we should not think this is the end of the debate, nor is there victory. The battle lines are drawn, and the enemy is not surrendering. This is not a time for congratulation, but for vigilance and resolve.